Prominent American propagandist Howard French recently published a lengthy editorial in the Guardian titled, “Is it too late to save Hong Kong from Beijing’s authoritarian grasp?,” in which he attempts to buttress an otherwise categorically false narrative surrounding an alleged indigenous struggle for democracy and independence within Hong Kong.
French attempts to hold China accountable for backtracking on an agreement made with Britain over the return of its own territory taken from it by force in 1841. He also attempts to portray Beijing’s crackdown on US-UK subversion in Hong Kong as “authoritarian,” never making mention of the extensive funding and meddling both the United States and the United Kingdom are engaged in within Chinese territory.
The article documents only one side of the so-called “independence” movement in Hong Kong, sidestepping any critical analysis of the colonial background of the ongoing political crisis or the neo-colonial aspects that shape current events even now.
The lengthy piece was paid for by a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, a Washington D.C.-based front that collaborates with the New York Times, PBS, NPR, Time Magazine and other mainstays of US propaganda. These are the same media outlets that helped sell the US invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as US-led attacks on Libya and US meddling in Syria beginning in 2011. By supporting French’s work, they now help sell to the public a narrative that undermines Chinese sovereignty an ocean away from American shores.
The entire editorial, its contents, author and the special interests that paid for it as well as its placement in the Guardian, represent a continued and concerted effort to maintain an Anglo-American foothold in Hong Kong, part of the last vestiges of Western hegemony within Chinese territory.
The Truth About Hong Kong
Had Howard French penned an honest account of Hong Kong’s recent political crisis, he would have included the extensive, some may say exclusive, control the United States and the United Kingdom exercised over an otherwise fictitious and impossible pro-independence movement. Quite literally every leader of the so-called “Umbrella Revolution” is either directly funded and directed by the US and/or UK government, or possesses membership within an organisation, institution or front funded by Anglo-American money.
The notion that a teen-aged Joshua Wong was single-handedly defying Beijing is preposterous even at face value. He was but one cog of a much larger, well-documented foreign-funded machine aimed at stirring up conflict within Hong Kong, undermine Beijing’s control of the territory and infect Chinese society as a whole with notions of Western-style “democracy.”
Just months before the 2014 “Umbrella Revolution,” one of its leaders, Martin Lee, was literally in Washington D.C., before members of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), pleading for material and political support for upcoming demonstrations. Toward the end of that same year, and despite NED denying Lee was a protest leader, Lee would find himself in the streets of Hong Kong leading the protests from the front shoulder-to-shoulder with Benny Tai and Joshua Wong.
Ironically, after the protests diminished and were finally pushed off the streets by both local police and impatient residents, Lee, Tai and Wong would be invited to Washington D.C. for a special event organised by NED subsidiary, Freedom House, dubbed, “Three Hong Kong Heroes.” The three protest leaders, having attempted to shake off accusations of being Washington puppets, or even protest leaders altogether, would take to the stage with yellow umbrellas in hand.
Howard French, and others attempting to persuade Western audiences of their version of events in Hong Kong omit these critical facts regarding the foreign-funded and directed nature of the “pro-independence” movement. They do so intentionally, with French himself being a 2011 Open Society fellow, Open Society being one of several fronts the US has channelled money through in support of subversion in Hong Kong.
In reality, there is nothing “pro-independence” about the movement in Hong Kong. It is simply the latest in a centuries-long attempt by Western powers to project geopolitical hegemony into Asia and more specifically, upon China itself.
French’s lengthy lament regarding China’s “authoritarianism” captures what may possibly be frustration that Washington and London’s tricks no longer work, and the more “Umbrella Revolutions” they attempt to organise against Beijing, the more familiar the Chinese public will be with them and subsequently, the more determined they will become to frustrate them.
Additionally, China’s influence over Hong Kong and even across Asia as a whole, is stronger, more sustainable and continuously expanding versus waning Western influence. Spectacular political stunts like the “Umbrella Revolution” attempt to leverage global public opinion over which the US media still maintains considerable influence, but ultimately such strategies have been confounded by Beijing and are, in the long-term, unsustainable.
Hong Kong represents a past, strong bastion of Western colonial power, now struggling to maintain itself even as a minor regional foothold. Despite the efforts of manipulators like Howard French and media platforms that lend themselves to his disingenuous narrative, footholds like Hong Kong will continue to diminish until the last remnants of the West’s colonial past are all but swept from modern geopolitics and permanently assigned to the pages of history.
Perhaps this is the beginning of a new series for the Guardian ? Maybe in the future we can expect stories entitled “Man who voted Brexit regularly beats wife” and “Angela Merkel lives in the same city Adolf Hitler called home”.
Has the Guardian hit a new low in shameless, dishonest, click-bait headlines? You be the judge.
I think the “Global Laundromat” scandal might not be having the massive impact that The Guardian expected it to (personally, I blame the rather silly name). When it was launched yesterday it was meant to be a splash, but it has landed more like a ripple, so far failing to even repeat the short-lived intensity of the Panama Papers.
Todays article is simply a readjustment of all same talking points mentioned several times each yesterday, only chopped up into a different order. Like that episode of the Simpsons where Marge keeps chopping up one Chanel suit into a variety of different outfits.
You can tell they are desperate to get people clicking, because they’ve tried to tie it into an actual talking point: Donald Trump’s “Russia connections”. The entirety of this “new information” is contained within the headline:
Bank that lent $300m to Trump linked to Russian money laundering scam
That’s it. That’s not a teaser for more information. That’s not a summary of a complex plot. That is literally all the information. To quote the article directly:
The German bank that loaned $300m (£260m) to Donald Trump played a prominent role in a money laundering scandal run by Russian criminals
That’s right: Deutsche Bank, one of the largest and most important banks in the world, handling literally billions of dollars worth of business, received exchanges from Latvian banks implicated in money laundering AND lent money to Donald Trump. This is a wonderful new method of reporting, simply stating two completely unrelated incidents and hoping people make the connection themselves. It would allow headlines like:
Jeremy Corbyn’s favourite tooth-paste also used by Pol-Pot
Later in the article, they try REALLY hard to big-up the whole Trump-Russia thing:
Ties with Russia are a matter of acute sensitivity for Deutsche. In February, it emerged that Deutsche had secretly reviewed multiple loans made to President Trump by its private wealth division to see if there was a connection to Russia.
But are forced to admit:
Sources say the bank discovered no evidence of any Moscow link.
Just to put in context how completely inconsequential this information is – All five of the biggest banks in Britain have been “implicated” too, each will have a client/customer list literally millions of names long – some of those people will be famous. Obviously their doing business with a bank where money launderers also do business is meaningless.
From all over the world there have, so far, been 19 Russian banks, handfuls of banks in Moldova and Latvia and at least 2 German banks “implicated” in this “scheme”. In fact:
Deutsche Bank is one of dozens of western financial institutions that processed at least $20bn – and possibly more – in money of “criminal origin” from Russia.
“Dozens” of Western banks are possibly involved. Let’s hope the Guardian doesn’t reprint the same article, with a new headline, for every person each one of the “dozens” of banks lent money to.
The latest “breaking” story from the Guardian and Luke Harding is hitting the headlines. Almost exactly 1 year after the explosive anti-climax that was “The Panama Papers”, Harding and the coterie of NGOs for which he acts as de-facto spokesperson have a big announcement to make: Banks launder money, and some of it is Russian.
I don’t know why they use American money with a Russian flag superimposed. They were probably afraid nobody would recognise roubles.
We are nearing the anniversary of the release of the Panama Papers, a “big story” involving years of work, hundreds of leaked documents, a team of exceptional journalists (and Luke Harding) and a dramatic reveal: “Sometimes, very rich people use legal loopholes to avoid paying their taxes.”
The list of implicated parties included heads of state, celebrities, athletes, David Cameron’s dad and a cellist that knows Vladimir Putin. We all remember who the Guardian decided to focus on, and we all know why.
Today the same crack-team (and Luke Harding) are releasing the long-awaited sequel to their original hit. “The global Laundromat”, it’s called. It’s a product of a years-long investigation into money laundering in ex-Soviet states, using British shell companies. I can’t comment on the truth of these allegations, because we don’t get to see the evidence, we are simply told that it’s true “according to letters The Guardian has seen”, and “reports shown to the Guardian ”… and other variations on that theme.
They may well be true. Big business and billionaires take part in shady and/or illegal business practices all the time. Just as was the case in the Panama Papers, they tell us something we all already know to be true, and then act like it was a surprise.
There’s a lot to like here. The simultaneous publication of four different articles on the subject, all practically identical. The implication that it is “breaking news”, when their prize factoid is three years old, and the scheme itself hasn’t operated since 2014. The fact that Luke Harding has to publicly declare the US government’s involvement, to stop people like us from pointing it out and making them look silly (like last time). The persistent use of the old Harding trick of simply dotting your story with plenty of “could haves” and “speculations suggests”. It’s all good stuff.
Where it becomes hilariously cack-handed in their agenda-pushing is in trying to force tenuous links to the Kremlin and, of course, Vladimir Putin in particular.
Last year they plastered their front page with pictures of Putin and videos about Putin and editorials about corruption in Russia… despite having to admit in the text:
… the president’s name does not appear in any of the records…
This year they can’t even go that far. They fall to the level of implication. Talking around inconvenient facts on the one hand, and then wildly speculating on the other. Leaving deliberate dots for the reader to join up, whilst never having the courage of their convictions to make plain their insinuations (probably for fear of being sued and/or corrected in the alt-media).
Much like the Panama Papers launch, there’s an awful lot of verbiage to work through, implications are thick on the ground, evidence less so. No direct sources are named, it is always “an ex-banker living in exile said”, or “a Russian business-man said”. Gorge on words and starve of meaning seems to be the message of the day.
Some interesting bullet points I pulled out:
Now we can reveal Britain’s role in this scheme – and how vast sums of potentially tainted money flowed into and out of western banks, including HSBC and the Royal Bank of Scotland, without raising any alarm.
This is taken from this piece, one of the four long reads The Guardian is currently devoting to this topic. You can tell it’s a Harding creation because of the prose… for want of a better word… style. It might seem inconsequential at first, but note the use of the phrase “potentially tainted”, that means there is no proof of any wrong-doing at all. It means, the money is “potentially” untainted. As in just totally legal money being used to buy things.
Normally speaking I would expect a crime to at least have definitely happened before a paper put it in their headlines. But maybe I’m being old-fashioned.
The ingenious scheme has its origins in Russia. Put simply, it was a way for Kremlin insiders and other well-known Russians to shift cash abroad.
Not a single “Kremlin insider” is named in any of the four stories currently running on this issue.
Before it was rumbled, the scheme was one of several mafia operations that have allowed the rich to spirit money out of the country to spend in the west.
There’s no evidence to back-up this statement, not a single connection to the mafia is ever mentioned again. But even so it’s worth noting. The money is leaving Russia and coming here. Remember that, because it will be important later on.
“Money laundering is the biggest business in Russia,” one former Moscow banker, now living in exile, explained. “You steal from the budget. You’ve got this dirty money. You have to do something with it.”
The source here, the “former banker living in exile”, is naturally unnamed. As an educated guess it’s probably Sergei Pugachev, a banker and oligarch who has fled both Russia and Britain on charges of embezzling and money laundering. Harding has interviewed him before, it would make sense if he became Harding’s primary source on Russian banking.
Pugachev fled Russia after the government seized his assets and charged him with various financial crimes. That’s an important pattern that will repeat, and has repeated, many times over.
Here we come to the “Putin connection”, are you ready?
It features Russian banks, Moldovan oligarchs, and a network of fake UK companies fronted by fake or “nominee” directors, many of them in Ukraine. It had impeccable Moscow connections. Vladimir Putin’s cousin Igor sat on the board of a bank which held accounts that laundered billions.
His cousin worked at one of the banks that held accounts that may have laundered money. That’s it. These are connections that Harding considers “impeccable”. Is there any evidence connecting the two cousins? Phone calls? Photographs? If any exists, none is presented.
Interestingly, Igor Putin is actually a member of an opposition political party in Russia, which supported an alternative presidential candidate in 2012.
You can put the above quote together with another statement, from this article, to see just how completely meaningless it is:
Accounts held at 19 Russian banks were involved in the scheme. In 2014, it was reported that one financial institution was the Russian Land Bank (RZB). A bank board member at the time was Igor Putin.
Yes nineteen, nineteen(!), different Russian banks are “involved” with the scheme, and the “impeccable Moscow connections” are that Putin’s cousin worked at one of them. At least five different British banks were involved, HSBC, Barclays, Lloyds TSB, NatWest and RSB. It’s hard to imagine that every cousin, of every board member, of every bank is currently under investigation by Scotland Yard.
In fact, nobody is under investigation by Scotland Yard, at all. Every single reference to a criminal investigation is talking about Latvia, Moldova… and Russia.
Once the goods had been cleared the UK firms were liquidated. No duty was paid. Often, Russia’s tax inspectors then took the UK companies to court.
In practice, the Laundromat made possible three different crimes inside Russia: tax evasion, evasion of customs duty and money laundering. In 2013 grey import schemes cost the state $40bn, a Russian parliament committee said.
… alleged ringleader Alexander Grigoriev was detained in November 2015 while eating in a Moscow restaurant… In 2014-15, [Russian] regulators stripped Grigoriev of his banking licences amid concerns that funds were mysteriously vanishing… Russian police sources told Kommersant that Grigoriev was one of a number of prominent people who used the Laundromat to move $46bn in liquid assets out of Russia.
In three separate paragraphs, dotted throughout the four different articles he has contributed to, Harding makes reference to three different Russian governmental efforts to control illegal movement of money: Taking foreign companies to court, parliamentary enquiries, and the arrest and suspension of (alleged) criminal bankers.
He makes no such mention of any British efforts to do the same, because there were none.
The FSB, the Russian security service Harding routinely refers to as “the successor to the KGB” (in fact, in one article today he simply calls them the KGB), have apparently launched an investigation into this scheme. How does Harding address this issue? Very simply:
The Russian investigation into Laundromat has been cursory.
There are suspicions the FSB’s real goal was merely to find out how much investigators knew.
… officers from Russia’s FSB spy agency visited detectives in Moldova. They took away records. It is unclear if this was a genuine investigation or an attempt to discover how much the Moldovans knew. Probably the latter.
No sources are linked to back up these assertions. He completely dismisses, without evidence or argument, the FSB investigations.
He doesn’t dismiss the intentions of Britain’s NCA investigations… because, once again, there were none.
A step back, and a gentle examination, paints a rather different picture from the one with which the Guardian is trying to present us. It shows us Russian oligarchs and bankers shifting vast sums of money OUT of Russia and INTO the EU. Now why would this be?
Logic would suggest that money flows FROM regulation INTO corruption. That’s a natural physical force, like water running downhill. Like osmosis. Russia, since the end of the chaotic Yeltsin era, has been going through a slow process of de-oligarchisation, even Shaun Walker (grudgingly) admitted that. The aforementioned Sergei Pugachev can attest to it (he does so, often and loudly). The Russian government has jailed billionaires for embezzling. Russia prosecutes bankers, and demands companies pay their taxes. Is the same true of Britain? Did a single banker see the inside of jail cell after the 2008 crash? Have Amazon, Google or Vodafone been brought to court for their massive tax evasion?
What you’re looking at here, like the Panama Papers, is just further evidence of that which we already know, that the deregulated bank and business sectors in the UK can be abused by the super wealthy for their own personal gain. And, like the Panama Papers, it was deliberately misrepresented by “investigative journalists” in order to exaggerate any connection with the Russian government, and just generally shine a poor light on Russia.
So, who is behind this revelation?
To answer that, let’s take a look at the about page of the driving force behind this “scandal”, The Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP). The following is taken directly from their own website:
OCCRP is supported by grants by the Open Society Foundation, Google Digital News Initiative, the Skoll Foundation, the Sigrid Rausing Trust, Google Jigsaw, the National Endowment for Democracy and the Knight Foundation. OCCRP also receives developmental funds for improving journalism from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) through the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ), the United States Department of State and the Swiss Confederation.
The bolded are all very familiar to us here at OffG, and should be to anyone that has followed our work on US-back NGOs. They form an argument on their own, you don’t need me to tell you what it means.
All this really tells us, so far, is that the US government, their corporate allies and puppet NGOs have spent years of their time, and God knows how much of their near-limitless resources, trying to tie the current Russian administration to any kind of criminal corruption. What have they found? A cellist legally avoiding his taxes and that Russian oligarch’s think their ill-gotten gains are safer in British banks, than Russian ones. A rather damning fact, when you think about it.
This is the result of years of work from the world’s business and intelligence elites (and Luke Harding), and it is, frankly, pitiful.
It seems the unofficial Minitrue we predicted in yesterday’s piece is already here. Google’s “Quality raters” will, from Tuesday, be combing the net with fresh vigour looking for “upsetting-offensive” things and making sure we never get to see them.
The article in the Guardian covering this new development highlights its use against the usual suspect – “Holocaust denial”, which is of course the thinnest and most entirely acceptable end of the wedge. The one they always use as a poster child for censorship of any kind. But we would have to be cosmically naive to believe Google’s anonymous and entirely unaccountable “10,000-strong army of independent contractors” will stop there. We should also remain a little sceptical about Google’s vaguely worded claim that these new guidelines will not effectively remove certain opinions from the web. The only way the quality control can work is through promoting some sites while suppressing others.
We might not be concerned when white supremacists sites are being targeted for such suppression, but what about alternative health sites? Truther sites? Or indeed alt news sites such as ours? How will Google’s busy crusaders for “quality” deal with them?
Alex Hern, in the Guardian, predictably thinks Google isn’t going far enough, and that:
Google’s failure to keep fake news and propaganda off the top of search results is broader than simply promoting upsetting or offensive content.
He illustrates this with Google’s “snippets in search” feature quoting “questionable sites”, leading to “the search engine claiming in its own voice that “Obama may be planning a communist coup d’état”, and – even worse – the same feature once:
lied to users about the time required to caramelise onions
Hern does rather grudgingly admit that “shortly after each of these stories were published, the search results in question were updated to fix the errors,” but that apparently doesn’t mitigate the indictment.
So, be warned. Google may be showing us the way to a simpler and safer world where upset and offence will just be a distant and fading memory, but that’s only a beginning. If the Graun and other neoliberal opinion-makers have their way there will be a time in the not too distant future when merely referencing any “controversy” from debatable optimum cooking times to the alleged funding of ISIS will be about as socially unacceptable as urinating in public.
In the past year the Guardian has been overtly promoting internet censorship. A while back they uncritically coordinated with Yvette Cooper’s insinuating “take back the internet” programme to make sure we all get “the web
we they want”. Last week they uncritically published an opinion piece from Tim Berners-Lee, where he claims we should:
… push back against misinformation by encouraging gatekeepers such as Google and Facebook to continue their efforts to combat the problem…
While, of course….
… avoiding the creation of any central bodies to decide what is “true” or not.
Hmm… tough thing to achieve you may think. Which is possibly why Tim doesn’t bother to tell us how he thinks it should be done. In fact we can be pretty sure, being a bit of a genius allegedly, Tim knows pretty well that Governments and corporations are so irreversibly intertwined, their policies and goals so similar, that by instructing Facebook to “take measures” you are, in effect, privatising Orwell’s Minitrue, and creating precisely the “central bod[y] to decide what is true or not” that he affects to fear.
We can also be pretty sure that if/when Facebook/Twitter and the rest announce the creation of some new “special department” for further “fact-checking”, people at the Guardian will write editorials congratulating them on saving the internet.
That brings us to today. Today the Guardian are – again uncritically – reprinting censorship advocacy, this time by their very close associates GCHQ. This article quotes Paul Chichester, the head of GCHQ’s new National Cyber Security Centre, who says that Facebook and Twitter have a
“social responsibility” to do more to “limit the spread of fake news” and control the flow of “misinformation”.
There is not a single word of analysis, doubt or even equivocation in the article. The headline reads [my emphasis]:
And that’s all the story is, a stenographic report of what Chichester said. Not a single question is asked about the implications of what said, or indeed why he might be saying it. It is a press release. It tells us what the people in power think and, worse than agreeing, simply refuses to acknowledge that disagreeing is even a possibility.
The “journalist” (Josh Halliday) who put this piece together doesn’t acknowledge that state agencies would have an obvious vested interest in controlling what the citizenry reads online, or that mega-corporations such as Facebook or Google could abuse this “plea” to take advantage of their users. He’s content to just reprint the head of the spy agency’s opinion, word for word. He is, essentially, reducing himself from a journalist to a state broadcasting service.
And he most likely has a long career ahead of him.
My analysis of EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s recent statements on climate change, and the response to his statements.
Last week, there was a controversial interview of Scott Pruitt on CNBC. A sampling of the headlines reporting on his interview:
New Yorker : Scott Pruitt rejects climate change reality. A relatively thorough summary of the interview with Scott Pruitt.
Guardian : EPA head Scott Pruitt denies that carbon dioxide causes global warming. Subtitle: Trump adviser shocks scientists and environmental advocates with statement that negates EPA policy and ‘overwhelmingly clear’ evidence on climate change
David Robert at Vox : Scott Pruitt denies basic climate science. But most of the outrage is missing the point. Subtitle: It’s not about Pruitt and it’s not about facts. Excerpt: The right’s refusal to accept the authority of climate science is of a piece with its rejection of mainstream media, academia, and government, the shared institutions and norms that bind us together and contain our political disputes.
A number of scientists have responded in various venues regarding their opinion on Scott Pruitt’s statements. Here I include the ‘official’ statement from the AGU:
AGU Responds to Statements from EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt on Climate Change. Excerpt: The position statement of the American Geophysical Union regarding climate change leaves no doubt that increasing atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide resulting from human activity is the dominant source of climate change during the last several decades.
You may recall my concerns about the AGU policy statement on climate change [link]
What Scott Pruitt actually said
Listen to what Scott Pruitt actually said on CNBC and then compare it to the portrayal in the media. Here is the key text:
I think that measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do and there’s tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact, so no, I would not agree that it’s a primary contributor to the global warming that we see. But we don’t know that yet. We need to continue the debate and continue the review and the analysis.
Can you square what Pruitt actually said with the distorted quotes and headlines about this? I can’t.
I think that these two statements made by Pruitt are absolutely correct:
I think that measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do and there’s tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact
We need to continue the debate and continue the review and the analysis.
The other two statements give slightly conflicting messages:
I would not agree that it’s a primary contributor to the global warming that we see. But we don’t know that yet.
The main statement of controversy is:
I would not agree that it’s a primary contributor to the global warming that we see.
You can interpret this in two ways:
1.Pruitt is denying that CO2 is a primary contributor to recent global warming
2.Pruitt is saying that he does not accept as a ‘fact’ that CO2 is a primary contributor because we simply don’t know.
Since his subsequent statement is “But we don’t know that yet”, #2 is obviously the correct interpretation.
I think he is saying that he is not convinced that we know with certainty that humans have caused 100% of the recent warming (which is what some climate modelers are saying, see recent tweets from Gavin Schmidt), or that humans have caused ‘more than half’ of the recent warming (which was the conclusion from the IPCC AR5.
If I am interpreting Pruitt’s statements correctly, I do not find anything to disagree with in what he said: we don’t know how much of recent warming can be attributed to humans. In my opinion, this is correct and is a healthy position for both the science and policy debates.
Exactly what the Trump administration intends to do regarding funding climate science, energy policy and the Paris climate agreement presumably remain as subjects of debate within the administration. Looking at every little leak and quote out of context as a rationale for hysteria simply isn’t rational or useful.
The most interesting reaction to all this is David Robert’s Vox article:
The right’s refusal to accept the authority of climate science is of a piece with its rejection of mainstream media, academia, and government, the shared institutions and norms that bind us together and contain our political disputes.
The ‘problem’: a change of administration and party after 8 years, mainstream media no longer has a lock on the media’s message (given all of the new news sources on the internet), academia’s profoundly liberal bias is being challenged, and the consensus that has been negotiated and enforced by certain elite scientists is being challenged.
Three cheers for democracy, the internet and the scientific process.
The two minute hate redefined for the Facebook age
Light often arises from a collision of opinions, as fire from flint & steel”Benjamin Franklin, 1760
“The peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.” John Stuart Mill
The “collision of opinion” so endorsed by enlightenment thinkers, is not currently encouraged. If someone says something stupid or blatantly false our first response is no longer to try to prove them wrong – it’s to silence them. To quote Jonathan Pie we focus on “stopping debates instead of winning them.” A good recent example of that is the bizarre trial-by-media of Polish right-wing MEP Janusz Korwin-Mikke.
Let’s be clear. JKM seems to hold a pretty reactionary and unpleasant set of views, about women and much else. Speaking as a woman, I’m not a fan of that. Here is the gentleman, talking about the gender pay gap, in the discourse that ignited the current eruption of outrage:
His English is broken, his reasoning shaky and his conclusions pretty flawed. He’s a self-created straw man, waiting to be knocked over by any reasonably intelligent or astute opponent. But what has the response in the media been?
Yes, that’s right, not a series of rational refutations, but a chorus of offended people hurling abuse and demanding the clown be censored.
Piers Morgan, who invited Korwin-Mikke on to Good Morning Britain did little more than exchange playground insults with the man. Korwin-Mikke says his opinions are based on “scientific studies”. Did Morgan bother to ask what these “studies” might be? Did he offer counter-evidence that proves the nonsense Korwin-Mikke is talking?
No. He just called him “stupid” and a “sexist pig”. Ok, maybe JKM is both those things, but that’s not the point. If he’s wrong he should be shown to be wrong, with rebuttal, not ad hominem. What Morgan did, and was lauded for, isn’t debate, it’s an ignorant brawl, or the two-minutes hate. The fact the hate-figure on this occasion is some man with unpleasant ideologies and dodgy data does not make it a great day for democracy.
The call is mounting for Korwin-Mikke to be “kicked out” of the European parliament. The Soros-funded fake grassroots group Avaaz is leading this campaign, and lying about him into the bargain, publishing photos of him doing a Nazi salute, without bothering to tell anyone he was, as the Independent grudgingly confirms in its text, doing this as a derogatory commentary on current German policies, and not as a tribute to Hitler (yes, it was still inappropriate, but that doesn’t justify a blatant falsehood being propagated in pursuance of a witch hunt). Avaaz’s campaign already has over 700,000 signatories. And indeed Korwin-Mikke is going to be dealt with by the EP itself, who have promised:
… a penalty commensurate with the gravity of the offence”
Offence? Is it actually illegal now to say untrue things about women? We’re going to punish this guy, not prove him wrong?
So, who cares, right? So, one misogynistic fool gets falsely maligned and hounded in the tabloids and maybe even “kicked out” of parliament, who is any the worse for it?
To which the obvious reply is – do you really think it will end there? Do you think the neoliberal press and toxic propagandists such as Avaaz are busy fostering this atmosphere of anti-intellectual intolerance just so they can deal with a handful of women-haters or other nasties?
The point is, once you have installed the culture of suppression, you can use it in any way you like.
The insidious new meme being developed in “progressive” places like the Guardian, and other neoliberal strongholds is that free speech is all very well, but has its limits. Not, you understand, the already established limits defined by law which make it clear free speech does not include the right to threaten, defame or incite violence. No, these are new and woolly limits that involve misty concepts like “hate” (not hate-speech, which is also defined by certain laws, but “hate”, which isn’t), and “consensus facts.” We are told that people who transgress these vague new limits need to be stopped – for the good of society. We are told we are living in a time of unprecedented “hate”, even though prosecutions for hate-crime are dropping. We are told we need to take a stand, “stamp out” this “hate” and make a statement of zero tolerance.
On the surface that’s a reasonable thing. No one sane wants to encourage hate or to be a “hater”. But what we may not notice is that the “progressives” advocating this approach never say exactly what they mean by “hater”. “Hater” of what exactly? Ethnic minorities? Women? Trans people? White men? Oligarchs? Israel? Corrupt politicians? The NSA? What if the corrupt politician is a woman? What if the NSA spokesman is black?
And exactly how far can we go to stamp out “hate”? Is it acceptable – for example – to rescind an elected representative’s right to sit in the European Parliament if he’s branded a “hater”? Who would be empowered to make this decision? The parliament itself? Oligarch-funded pressure groups with hordes of unverified signatories? What are the exact definitions? Where is the line drawn? We aren’t told, and that’s probably not an oversight.
“Denier” is another word like “hater.” “Deniers” are the boogeymen to sell us the idea that free speech is dangerous, not just for minorities, but also for the preservation of truth. The same people who talk about “haters” frequently ask how we can allow “deniers” to keep muddying the argument about [insert contentious issue here], when the world/human health/the future of the universe is at stake.
The starting point is always the fallacy that we can establish truth to a degree that makes further discussion of evidence unnecessary and doubt a sort of crime. Once we know the Truth, the argument goes, we don’t really need free speech any more. In fact free speech in a time of established Truth becomes a regressive force, since it will enable those who don’t believe the Truth, or who are paid to besmirch it, to lead the unwary from the path of certainty into darkness and doubt.
If that sounds like religious fundamentalism it’s because essentially that’s what it is. It’s the fundamentalism of a post-deist world. Just as anti-rational, just as anti-factual, just as atavistic as any other expression of certitude that requires unqualified acceptance as the first article of faith. But this particular “fundamentalism” is being used cynically as another way of levering public opinion away from real free speech and toward “modified” free speech, where the right to air your opinion is conditional upon a lot of poorly defined, and often faith-based ideas about public health and social responsibility.
Let’s pause for a moment and evaluate.
Why do so many of the same neoliberals who support environmental disasters such as global wars and nuclear energy, also swarm the issue of climate change, and so vocally agitate for the silencing or denigration of “deniers”? Why when the absolutely not “denialist” IPCC is openly admitting there can at present be no certainty about the extent or direction of longterm global temperatures, is any kind of demurring from the belief that manmade climate change is not only real but deadly, presented to us in the liberal media as something malign or insane that should not be given airtime?
If the IPCC’s 2013 report on everything from the net warming potential of C02 to the true extent of ice-loss in the Arctic, is a long list of best guesses ranging from “high probability” to “low probability”, with no mention of certainty, how do we even begin to justify dismissing and demonising people whose views of these probabilities may be different?
Note, I’m not saying “why do people believe in the reality of manmade climate change”? I absolutely understand why they do. It’s a very reasonable thing to believe. I’m asking specifically why we are being encouraged to consider doubt or even nuance is invalid and should be expunged, when the IPCC and scientists on both sides acknowledge that doubt and nuance of varying degrees, and indeed complete absence of knowledge, inevitably goes with the territory?
Is the demand for the exclusion of certain points of view based on a) the fear the public may get confused by conflicting viewpoints and accidentally let the planet burn up, or b) the recognition this is a nice thin end of a very thick wedge?
Just as no one sane wants to encourage hate, no one rational wants to destroy the planet. It’s a pretty easy sell to persuade us that we shouldn’t listen, or give air time, to lunatics or shills who apparently want to let the oceans swallow the land and the skies boil. I mean, I don’t want that to happen, do you? Faced with a stark alternative, where we either censor the bad guys or let them usher in the end of the world, which side are we going to pick? Green David versus Goliath the Oil Monster, is a no-brainer, add in George Monbiot, or someone, pointing to the undeniably egregious suppression of the connection between smoking and lung cancer as proof that narrow special interests can confuse arguments and hinder progress, and we’re sold. Let’s silence the pesky deniers and save the planet.
The argument is superficially persuasive because it’s partly true. Big Tobacco did use its clout to suppress inconvenient research and pay off scientists to lie or obfuscate, and this had a very negative impact on public health over many years. It’s reasonable to want to avoid that in future.
But let’s stop and think for a moment. How, in heaven’s name, is the fact Big Tobacco managed to suppress research and manipulate the debate an argument for censoring anyone? What this case proves is the need for more openness and debate, not less. It proves that good science will win out over false representation, when both sides are given equal opportunity to be heard. It was Big Tobacco’s big bucks that kept the truth from coming out, not the principle of free speech. Imagine, forty years ago, Philip Morris International had been able to not simply suppress and distort but to label its critics “tobacco deniers” and demand their voice be banned from the airwaves for the good of humanity?
Are we supposed to believe this kind of suppression is a step forward, just because right now the perceived “good guys” are doing it? Or that the new age of “consensus-driven”, Avaaz-sponsored grass-roots endorsed censorship would only be used by the weak against the strong, truth against lies? Are we supposed to believe, once we have set a precedent of denying the “deniers” and the “haters” their platform, the neoliberal media won’t pretty soon be labeling anyone their bosses don’t like a “denier” or a “hater” and demanding they be silenced or sent to jail? And, if we can be persuaded to stop listening to one side of this argument can’t we most likely be persuaded to stop listening to one side of any argument.
Are we supposed to overlook the fact that while Goliath the Oil Monster certainly does fund climate skeptics, “Green David” is backed by some of the richest and most influential people on the planet?
No, once again, I’m not saying manmade climate change isn’t real. I’m saying, quite specifically, that the current drive to politicise and censor this debate has nothing to do with protecting truth or saving the planet and everything to do with attacking the most important principle of freedom. I’m saying Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, George Soros, Richard Branson, Reid Hoffman, Tom Steyer, the UN, NASA, NOAA, the IPCC, the EU, the Democratic Party et al can probably compete on equal terms with Big Oil. I’m saying their message is getting across and the idea that manmade global warming is some underfunded grassroots campaign that needs special pleading to defend its corner is just another way of persuading people that censorship can be progressive. I’m saying let’s stop buying that schtick.
I’m saying we need to reassert the fact that truth doesn’t require to be defended by censorship, government prosecution, or simplistic one-sided arguments. Truth thrives in open debate and the exchange of ideas. It dies when one side is denied a voice because “If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.”
And that is only more true when the truth may have a dozen billionaires and the entire neoliberal establishment advocating for it.
I’m saying that in a society of “believers” and “deniers” we all become Inquisitors, of each other and ourselves. We are currently encouraged by our betters to be Brown Shirts, dumb as a bag of hammers, zero-tolerant and proud of it, beating down unacceptable minority views with a big populist stick. We are urged, not to arrive at opinions through analysis, but to just know what’s true, because the right people say so, because our Facebook friends give it a lot of likes, because it just is ok? We don’t engage with different opinions we scream at them until they go away or get put down.
I’m saying that as a modern day Milgram experiment this push to get intelligent, caring people to act like Salem witch hunters is interesting, demonstrating that the smartest, sanest person can be enjoined to act against their deepest ideals and even common sense, if given the proper cues.
We’re forgetting that the point of free speech is it guarantees a voice to the weaker party, the oppressed, the otherwise disenfranchised. And in the age of the internet this principle can be put into practice to a degree unimaginable.
This is why the powerful and the wealthy are currently trying to persuade us to fear and distrust each other. To hate in the name of anti-hate, silence in the name of progress. Bit by bit. Voice by voice. Until the only sound left is the dispossessed lunatic scream.
The horrible thing about the Two Minutes Hate was not that one was obliged to act a part, but that it was impossible to avoid joining in. Within thirty seconds any pretence was always unnecessary. A hideous ecstasy of fear and vindictiveness, a desire to kill, to torture, to smash faces in with a sledge hammer, seemed to flow through the whole group of people like an electric current, turning one even against one’s will into a grimacing, screaming lunatic. And yet the rage that one felt was an abstract, undirected emotion which could be switched from one object to another like the flame of a blowlamp George Orwell, 1984
PS: Just once again and to be quite sure any skim-readers get the message – No, I am still NOT saying man made climate change is a lie.
Following Saturday’s charges come Sunday’s denials.
On Saturday in a series of tweets Donald Trump accused his predecessor Barack Obama of wiretapping his office in Trump Tower. A few hours later Obama responded with a statement published by his spokesman which neither admitted nor denied the wiretap but which said that Obama himself had never ordered surveillance within the US on anyone.
Then came an interview for NBC by Obama’s former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. In it in carefully chosen words Clapper said that he had “no knowledge” of any FISA court authorising wiretaps of Trump Tower, and that no section of the US intelligence community which he supervised had carried out such a wiretap.
Some sections of the media – especially in Britain the BBC and the Guardian – have reported these denials in a way that gives the impression to a casual viewer or reader that Clapper has denied the existence of the wiretap outright. This is certainly not so. Clapper’s careful words were
[For the part of the national security apparatus that I oversaw] there was no such wiretap activity mounted against the president, the president-elect at the time, or as a candidate, or against his campaign….. I can’t speak for other authorized entities in the government or a state or local entity (bold italics added)
In words which have received far less publicity, Clapper also denied that he had seen any evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, and said that the report on Russian interference in the election submitted to Obama and Trump, a redacted version of which was provided to Congress, and a further redacted (and content free) version of which was made public, made no such claim
Clapper was also asked on “Meet the Press” if he had any evidence that the Trump campaign was colluding with the Russian government while the Kremlin was working to influence the election.
“Not to my knowledge,” Clapper said, based on the information he had before his time in the position ended.
“We did not include anything in our report … that had any reflect of collusion between members of the Trump campaign and the Russians. There was no evidence of that included in our report,” he said. “We had no evidence of such collusion.”
A few hours after Clapper’s comments, there appeared an article in The New York Times drawing on the usual anonymous sources. This claimed that shortly after the President published his tweets on Saturday FBI Director Comey contacted the Justice Department to say that the President’s claim that Obama had ordered Trump’s phone in Trump Tower wiretapped was false, and asked the Justice Department to publish a retraction (as of the time of writing the Justice Department has published no such retraction).
In a comment which I see as intended to goad Comey into publishing his own statement denying the President’s claims, The New York Times questions why he has not done so
It is not clear why Mr. Comey did not issue a statement himself. He is the most senior law enforcement official who was kept on the job as the Obama administration gave way to the Trump administration. And while the Justice Department applies for intelligence-gathering warrants, the F.B.I. keeps its own records and is in a position to know whether Mr. Trump’s claims are true. While intelligence officials do not normally discuss the existence or nonexistence of surveillance warrants, no law prevents Mr. Comey from issuing the statement.
As I recall, The New York Times initially also made the very strange claim that because Jeff Sessions has recused himself from the investigation into the Trump campaign’s alleged contacts with Russia, Comey was finding it difficult to find anyone in the Justice Department competent to handle his request.
That cannot be true since Sessions’s statement on Friday made it clear that it would be the acting Deputy Attorney General Dana Boente who would henceforth be supervising the investigation and who Comey would therefore be dealing with. I notice that the current version of the story in The New York Times no longer makes this claim.
It is always difficult (and perhaps unwise) to comment on something someone is reported to have said based on accounts of what that person is reported to have said which are provided anonymously and at second hand. Assuming however that The New York Times story is true (as I believe) and assuming that Comey’s concerns are also being reported accurately (which with some qualifications I also believe) then Comey is not actually denying that a wiretap took place, merely that Obama ordered it. Here is the first paragraph of The New York Times report
The F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, asked the Justice Department this weekend to publicly reject President Trump’s assertion that President Barack Obama ordered the tapping of Mr. Trump’s phones, senior American officials said on Sunday. Mr. Comey has argued that the highly charged claim is false and must be corrected, they said, but the department has not released any such statement.
This is of course what Obama said in his statement on Saturday, and which (as I have already pointed out) is almost certainly true
The statement does not deny that Donald Trump’s office in Trump Tower was wiretapped. Nor does it deny that Donald Trump’s ‘associates’ (a flexible word the precise meaning of which has never been made clear) or members of his campaign team were placed under surveillance.
Instead it indirectly denies that Obama himself or people working directly under him in the White House ordered these actions. It does so by denying they have ever ordered surveillance of any US citizen, something which by the way is almost certainly true.
The statement hints than any order to wiretap Donald Trump’s office or for carrying out surveillance on Donald Trump’s ‘associates’ was the work of officials in the Justice Department, and it seeks to shift responsibility – or blame – onto them.
This too is almost certainly true. (bold italics added)
On the face of it therefore Comey’s comments – if they are being reported accurately – do not add anything to what following Obama’s statement of Saturday we already know.
Certain other comments attributed to Comey in The New York Times article are attracting less attention, though they are actually very interesting.
Firstly, it seems that what drove Comey to contact the Justice Department is concern that Donald Trump’s tweets on Saturday implied that the FBI by wiretapping his office had broken the law.
Mr. Comey, who made the request on Saturday after Mr. Trump levelled his allegation on Twitter, has been working to get the Justice Department to knock down the claim because it falsely insinuates that the F.B.I. broke the law, the officials said.
Comey’s concern here is entirely legitimate. As I have said previously, if there was a wiretap and if it was authorised by a court after an application made in the proper way by the Justice Department, then the wiretap was legal. Comey is absolutely right to want to set the record straight about this. Presumably in the absence of a public statement that will be done over the course of the Congressional inquiries which the President has now requested.
The second point is even more interesting, which is that The New York Times story again essentially confirms that the FBI investigation into the alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia is drawing a blank.
In addition to being concerned about potential attacks on the bureau’s credibility, senior F.B.I. officials are said to be worried that the notion of a court-approved wiretap will raise the public’s expectations that the federal authorities have significant evidence implicating the Trump campaign in colluding with Russia’s efforts to disrupt the presidential election. (bold italics added)
This is very twisted language which shows that The New York Times is not reporting this part of the story straightforwardly. However the meaning is clear enough. The FBI is worried that the more discussion of its investigation there is – extending all the way to discussions by no less a person than the President himself of court approved wiretaps – the more people will fall for the false ‘no smoke without fire’ argument, and will feel let down by the FBI when it eventually announces that its investigation has drawn a blank.
This is an entirely valid concern, and is one of several reasons why such investigations are supposed to be confidential.
This is the second confirmation within a few hours from people who have held posts within the national security bureaucracy that the endlessly repeated claims of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia are not supported by evidence. The first was made by Clapper (see above) and the second was made anonymously to The New York Times by officials of the FBI.
These admissions follow a continuous pattern of admissions from officials within the national security bureaucracy now stretching back months that inquiries into claims of collusion by the Trump campaign and Russia are drawing a blank.
Not only in the present paranoid atmosphere are these admissions being ignored, but the security agencies are being constantly bullied to divert more and more resources into more and more inquiries to find the evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia which officials of the security agencies repeatedly say is not there.
Students of political witch-hunts eg. the Popish Plot in Seventeenth Century England, the Stalinist purges of the 1930s, or the McCarthyite witch-hunts of the 1950s, will recognise the phenomenon.
The position therefore as of the time of writing is that Obama has denied – though in a very convoluted way – that he ordered a wiretap (though he has hinted that if there was a wiretap it was the Justice Department which requested it), Comey is reported as having also denied that Obama ordered a wiretap, and Clapper has denied that the part of the bureaucracy that he supervised sought or carried out a wiretap.
These are not denials that a wiretap took place. Neither are they admissions that it did take place. I have repeatedly warned against the logical error of inferring a positive from a negative, and of treating a denial of one thing as an admission of something else. What it is fair to say is that the fingers are being pointed towards Obama’s Justice Department, and that so far its senior officers – Loretta Lynch and Sally Yates – are staying silent.
Image from popularresistance.org
The ongoing clashes between the factions that make up the US political elite keep getting more and more absurd. And annoyingly, as no particular fan of Donald Trump, I keep finding myself in the position of having to fight his corner.
In this instance it is about wire-tapping. Donald Trump tweeted out that the Obama’s previous administration had pulled a Watergate and had his office phones monitored during the election. As yet there is no proof, something everyone from CNN to the Guardian to The NYT were very eager to point out.
In fact, every single MSM source that covered this story mentioned the lack of evidence in the headline:
Somebody get these guys a thesaurus.
Whilst simultaneously quoting the other side of the story, without feeling the need to be quite so thoroughly honest:
Don’t worry everyone… Obama denied it. So that settles that.
And honestly, yes, there is (as yet) no proof. There may not be any proof, ever. It’s a possibility that Trump simply made it up. Politicians make things up all the time. I doubt one word in fifty spoken in Washington DC has any kind of basis in fact.
There is, indeed, no proof. However, there is quite a large piece of evidence, one that the media seem to have neglected to mention.
This is where we need to have a quick reality check, because it seems our friends in the media have forgotten:
The Obama administration spied. A lot.
They spied on American civilians, foreign nationals, domestic political figures, and international heads of state. They monitored our internet histories and our phone calls and read our e-mails. None of this is disputed. Obama did one of his hokey phony apologies about it. He almost certainly used the word “folks”.
This was famously reported exclusively in the Guardian just 4 years ago. They stood by their serious journalism back then… right up until GCHQ told them to smash their hard drives with a sledgehammer. Edward Snowden (perhaps you remember him?) is currently hiding-out in Russia for telling us all about it. Luke Harding, a Guardian star reporter, wrote a not-very-good book about it. It seems odd they’ve all forgotten.
The refutation of Trump’s claim, offered by former Obama admin. officials went roughly as follows:
No President can order a wiretap. Those restrictions were put in place to protect citizens from people like you. https://t.co/lEVscjkzSw
— Ben Rhodes (@brhodes) March 4, 2017
There was also this statement from an Obama spokesperson.
The argument being that Barack Obama can’t have ordered a wire-tap on Donald Trump… because it would exceed his legal authority. Now, I’m all for living in a world where the US Government, and all the elected and unelected officials there-in, act only according to their legal authority. It would be a nice world…a lot of people would still be alive that, currently, are not.
But time has shown, hundreds (if not thousands) of times over the past few decades, that legality is not an obstacle to an American political establishment driven to protect their financial interests and military empire.
Torture camps, extraordinary renditions, drone executions, funding of terrorist groups, targeting of civilians, use of cluster munitions, use of chemical weapons, use of depleted uranium, terrorist attacks, mass surveillance and all out wars of conquest are all very, very illegal. That has never been a problem.
To suppose that adding illegal wire taps on presidential candidates to this list is a line they would not cross is naive to the point of insanity.
It is inherently ridiculous to openly acknowledge the existence of a massive (illegal) surveillance network, and not assume that bombastic, populist political opponents would be at the top the target list.
In summary: of course the Obama administration spied on Donald Trump. They spied on everybody.
It’s very important we don’t let them shove that fact down the memory-hole.
I have never been overly sold on Owen Jones. From his platform at the Guardian, he has spent far too much time whining about Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and his failure to reach out to voters rather than using his rare spot in the mainstream media to help him to do precisely that.
But this news has knocked me sideways. It was announced yesterday that Jones is lined up to give a memorial lecture in April on behalf of the Jewish Labour Movement – the same group implicated in the recent efforts of the Israeli embassy to damage a Corbyn-led Labour party with confected allegations of anti-semitism. All of this was exposed last month in an undercover Al Jazeera investigation.
The Jewish Labour Movement was effectively shown to be acting as a front for the Israeli government’s efforts to oust Corbyn over a supposed anti-semitism crisis in the party. Israel hates Corbyn because of his long-standing position in support of Palestinian rights.
The announcement of Jones’ lecture was written by Ella Rose, the former Israeli embassy official who tried to conceal her past after she became the director of the Jewish Labour Movement.
She was one of those caught on Al Jazeera’s hidden cameras – in her case threatening to beat up black-Jewish Labour party activist Jackie Walker, who has been the prime target of these phoney anti-semitism allegations. None of this is secret history. I first wrote about the Jewish Labour Movement’s role in trying to subvert Corbyn back in September.
It is not even as though we can credit Jones with some kind of live-and-let-live attitude to free speech. Remember back in 2013 he pulled out at the last minute, and without warning, as a speaker at an important Stop the War rally to prevent British military intervention in Syria. His grounds? He had come under fire from the armchair interventionists because he was to speak alongside Mothers Agnes, a Syrian-based nun who was seen as being too pro-Assad. (The reasons Syrian Christians like Mother Agnes might support Bashar al-Assad were pretty obvious even then, but are blindingly so now.)
Mother Agnes pulled out of the rally to try to salvage it, but Jones continued to refuse to take part.
I criticised Jones then over his cowardly and irresponsible behaviour. Now he needs to explain how the principles that drove him away from the Stop the War rally can allow him to support a group, the Jewish Labour Movement, that is so clearly and maliciously attempting to subvert the elected leader of the Labour party.
Owen Jones has responded to this blog post both on Twitter, calling it “tedious nonsense” in his usual, dismissive style, and with a post here that tries to deflect attention from my argument with a straw man: that a conspiracy theory is painting him as a stooge of the Israeli government.
No conspiracy is being posited here – only very, very poor judgment. I have also not accused him of working on behalf of the Israeli government. Only of assisting, presumably thoughtlessly, those who are working on behalf of the Israeli government inside the Jewish Labour Movement, including most definitely its current director, Ella Rose.
Sadly, though predictably, he has avoided addressing the point of my criticism.
It is great that he wants to pay his respects to a friend’s late father, and I am sure there are responsible ways he can do that. But one of them is certainly not by adding his name and credibility to an organisation that was recently exposed by an undercover investigation to have been acting as a front for Israeli government efforts to subvert the elected leadership of Jeremy Corbyn.
The Jewish Labour Movement has been working to confect allegations of anti-semitism against other Labour party members. That is a serious form of verbal violence against members of Jones’ own party that has the power to do its victims great harm, personally and professionally.
Let’s not also forget, as I pointed out, that Ella Rose, who will be hosting Owen Jones’ lecture, was filmed threatening physical violence against a fellow Labour party member, Jackie Walker.
I was astounded that Jones accepted this offer from the Jewish Labour Movement. I am even more astonished that he is so casually dismissive of the very real harm caused by the actions of this organisation and its leaders.
Depressing to see that Owen Jones has now retweeted approvingly a conspiracy theory against critics like me. Apparently we are CIA-funded. Paradoxically, in Jones’ original response, he accused his critics of being “conspiracy theorists”.
US President Donald Trump has landed in hot water yet again when he told media that he respected Russian leader Vladimir Putin – in spite of (unfounded and sensationalist) accusations that the latter is responsible for killing journalists and political opponents.
Trump was being interviewed on Fox News by Bill O’Reilly, and while expressing respect for Putin as the president of Russia, his interlocutor interrupted with the terse assertion: «He’s [Putin] a killer, though. Putin’s a killer».
Unfazed, Trump replied: «We’ve got a lot of killers. What, do you think our country’s so innocent?»
The program went on air Sunday ahead of the US Super Bowl football final, and so is sure to have drawn a record audience. Western media outlets also reported the interview in advance with outraged tone that Trump was offering an apology for the Russian leader, and equally as bad, that the president was making a moral equivalence with the misconduct of the US.
Britain’s Guardian headlined: «Donald Trump repeats his respect for ‘killer’ Putin».
The news outlet added: «Asked on Fox about the Kremlin chief’s bloody reputation, the US president said: ‘There are a lot of killers. We’ve got a lot of killers’».
The Washington Post, among other outlets, noted that this was not the first time that Trump has appeared insouciant in front of interviewers who make claims about Putin’s alleged involvement in violent repression against opponents.
The Post recalled: «It wouldn’t be the first time Trump has brushed aside the topic of Putin’s political killings».
As with much of Western media coverage on Russia and its leader, there is an offending journalistic sloppiness that states allegations and even slander («Putin’s political killings») as if they are factual.
On one hand, Trump deserves a measure of credit for the way he handled the testy media questioning. He did not fully capitulate to the assertion about Putin being a «killer»; and, rightly, Trump reminded his interlocutor that American official hands are indeed covered in blood from the killing of countless human beings.
One can well imagine how other American politicians, including Trump’s defeated presidential rival Hillary Clinton, would have indulged in ramping up the allegations against Putin in a similar media situation.
However, on the other hand, Trump’s response was far from adequate. What he should have done was hold to legal principle and put his interlocutor on the defense, by asking for evidence to support such a sensational claim that «Putin is a killer».
While Trump did not jump on the bandwagon of denouncing Putin, he nevertheless through his response lent tacit credibility to the claim – a claim which actually could qualify as insulting slander against a foreign head of state.
Hence what we got from Trump’s inadequate response was the follow-up headlines proclaiming that Trump pays respect to «killer Putin».
The problem with Trump’s apparent apology for Putin is that it tends to substantiate the Western media demonization of the Russian leader.
In the Guardian report cited above, the article goes on: «According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 36 journalists have been murdered in Russia since 1992, 23 since Putin first became president in 2000. Most famously Anna Politkovskaya was shot dead in 2006 while investigating torture in Chechnya».
The British newspaper, like other Western media outlets, insidiously conflates Trump’s apparent ceding to allegations against Putin – with the deaths of journalists in Russia being ascribed to the Russian president.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) does indeed list 36 journalists killed in Russia since 1992. (During the same period four were killed in the US.) But the CPJ does not imply that the Kremlin was involved in the killings. Most of the case studies, including that of well-known journalist Anna Politkovskaya, were related to Russia’s violent conflict zones of the northern and southern caucasus where there has been an ongoing Islamist insurgency. Still another category of journalist deaths in Russia is associated with media investigations into its notoriously dangerous criminal underworld.
There is no evidence that any of the deaths could be attributed to involvement of the Russian government, let alone Vladimir Putin.
What is commonly asserted in Western media is that deceased journalists such as Anna Politkovskaya were «critics of Putin». Such a qualifier is an absurd premise upon which to make the allegation that Putin is somehow personally responsible.
Another source relied on by Western media are assertions made by exiled Russians like the late Alexander Litvinenko. Litvinenko claimed that Putin ordered the killing of journalist Politkovskaya and also accused Putin of poisoning himself before Litvinenko died in 2006. Living in exile in Britain and working commercially as a «Putin critic», Litvinenko had plenty of self-serving reasons to make such claims. But, again, where is the evidence?
Alternatively, there are substantial grounds to believe that Litvinenko, as with Politkovskaya, may have been the victims of vendettas carried out by criminal gangs.
The point is that there is a dearth of facts but lots of innuendo in the Western narrative imputing crimes to Russian President Putin. Indeed, one can argue the case that this is just part of the Western propaganda campaign of Russophobia and demonization to project Washington’s geopolitical agenda of undermining Moscow.
American politicians like Senator John McCain are given ample media platforms to call Putin a «thug and a murder». But the same media do not question McCain on where he sourced his sensationalist claims, which more accurately should be termed as «slander».
During Congressional confirmation hearings of cabinet nominees for the Trump administration, Senator Marco Rubio again reiterated claims that Putin was a murderer. When pressing Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson to call Putin a murdering criminal, Tillerson, to his credit, said that he had seen no evidence to make such a claim. Rubio arrogantly retorted that the number of dead journalists and political opponents in Russia was the «proof» of Putin’s criminal responsibility.
Such reasoning is beyond fatuous, devoid of any legal or intelligent standards. It is simply anti-Russian propaganda that has become internalized by Western media and politicians, who then regurgitate on cue.
This is the kind of delegitimizing, demonizing and dehumanizing mindset that is cultivated as a prelude to launching war on a designated enemy.
One can be sure that if Vladimir Putin were an American vassal giving US capital rampant access to exploit Russian resources or facilitating Washington’s overseas illegal wars, then none of the tendentious smears against Putin would ever be vented.
Admittedly, it would be an extremely difficult position politically to take, but Trump should boldly challenge US media allegations/slander against Putin. He should make lazy journalists and politicians actually do work by obliging them to provide some factual evidence to back up their hysterical speculations. In short, they should be made to put up or shut up.
The trouble with Trump’s response to media claims about Putin is that it is misconstrued as an apology. This can then be used to beat up on Trump as an unscrupulous «Putin stooge».
As for the «moral equivalence» complaint, the truly objective answer is that there is no comparison between unfounded allegations against Putin as a «killer» and what US presidents actually do as a matter of routine.
Just this week, Trump reportedly ordered a raid by US navy commandos in Yemen which resulted in over 20 civilians, including a newborn baby, being murdered along with Al Qaeda militants. Trump’s predecessors, Obama and Bush, between them killed millions of innocent civilians in drone assassinations and illegal wars across North Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia.
The consternation expressed by Western media about Trump’s «moral equivalence» is a reflection of just how propagandized Western journalists and politicians are. Amazingly, they are blind to the glaring facts of mass murder committed by US presidents on an habitual basis. Yet they leap up and down with tendentious, unfounded allegations/slander concerning Vladimir Putin.
The neoconservative Henry Jackson Society (HJS) think tank is on the payroll of the Japanese embassy, charged with drafting in public figures to spread anti-Chinese propaganda, investigators claim.
The Times’ investigation suggests the London-based HJS is paid £10,000 (US$12,500) per month to spread anti-Chinese propaganda, including through public figures like former British Foreign Secretary Malcolm Rifkind.
HJS frames itself as a pro-intervention and pro-capitalist voice, which aims to spread freedom and democracy around the world. It is run by the academic and failed Tory parliamentary candidate Alan Mendoza.
The deal between the think tank and the embassy was reportedly reached to counter the growing cooperation between the UK and China, championed by former Chancellor George Osborne.
The agreement reflects the rising tensions between China and Japan – the latter a close US ally in the Asia-Pacific region.
Rifkind confirmed to the Times over the weekend that he had been asked by HJS in August to put his name to an article called ‘How China could switch off Britain’s lights in a crisis if we let them build Hinkley C’, which criticized a UK-Chinese nuclear power station deal.
The comment piece claimed there may be a risk of a Chinese-funded power station having cyber-backdoors built into it which could present a risk to UK security.
Rifkin told the Times he had not been aware of the links between HJS and the Japanese embassy and said the think tank “ought to have informed me of that relationship when they asked me to support the article they provided. It would have been preferable if they had.”
The report indicates that HJS originally approached the Japanese embassy alongside a PR firm named Media Intelligence Partners (MIP), which is run by a former Tory PR man named Nick Wood.
The Times says it saw an early version of a proposal which would see the think-tank and PR firm develop a communications strategy for the embassy for a fee of £15,000 per month.
This, they said, would allow Japan’s concerns to be placed “on the radar of mainstream UK journalists and politicians.” It includes journalists from major papers like the Telegraph and the Guardian.
Other aims included the creation of “an engaged and interested cadre of high-level politicians” and a focus on the “threat to Western strategic interests posed by Chinese expansionism.”
The actual deal reached was for a lower figure of £10,000 plus expenses, according to the Times.