2020-12-29

Tyrannies and Godfathers

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

China’s Communist Party jails a Chinese citizen journalist for four years for reporting a narrative inconsistent with the one the authorities sought to present:

Her live reports and essays were widely shared on social media platforms in February, grabbing the attention of authorities, who have punished eight virus whistle-blowers so far as they try to stamp out criticism of the government’s response to the outbreak.

UK, Australia and the US have acted even more viciously against Julian Assange:

 

Meanwhile in the US, with the acquiescence of the Republican Party —  Trump’s Pardons Show He’s Just a Mob Boss; His Presidency Is a Criminal Enterprise

Trump’s choices made clear he is a crime boss.

Four Blackwater mercenaries who, working for Trump ally Erik Prince murdered Iraqi civilians, were pardoned. But there was no pardon for Jeremy Ridgeway, the soldier-for-hire who pleaded guilty to manslaughter, testified against the others and was sentenced to a year and a day in federal prison.

Roger Stone, dirty trickster confidant; former General Michael Flynn, national security adviser who was on the Kremlin payroll; and 2016 campaign manager Paul Manafort were pardoned. But Trump didn’t pardon Manafort deputy Rick Gates, who turned state’s evidence and confessed.

Earlier, Trump pardoned Rod Blagojevich, the former Illinois governor convicted of trying to sell a Senate seat. But there was no pardon for lawyer Michael Cohen, Trump’s longtime fixer who confessed to committing felonies at the direction of unindicted co-conspirator “Individual 1,” identified in federal court as Trump.

In true mobster fashion, Trump once referred to Cohen as a “rat” for confessing. He praised Manafort for not “flipping” to testify against him.

The boss takes care of friends and allies if they lie for the boss or keep silent, but does nothing for those who cooperate with law enforcement.

2020-12-07

The Why and What of WikiLeaks — and the Fear and Self-Censorship Response

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

When WikiLeaks first appeared in 2006 . . . human rights lawyers immediately paid attention. WikiLeaks was publishing important information that had been kept from the public but was essential for human rights accountability.

Julian Assange’s 2006 OKCupid dating profile using the name Harry Harrison:

“WARNING: Want a regular, down to earth guy? Keep moving. I am not the droid you are looking for. Save us both while you still can. Passionate, and often pig headed activist intellectual seeks siren for love affair, children and occasional criminal conspiracy. Such a woman should be spirited and playful, of high intelligence, though not necessarily formally educated, have spunk, class & inner strength and be able to think strategically about the world and the people she cares about.

“I like women from countries that have sustained political turmoil.
Western culture seems to forge women that are valueless and inane. OK. Not only women!

“Although I am pretty intellectually and physically pugnacious I am very protective of women and children.

“I am DANGER, ACHTUNG, and ??????????????!”

“Harry” went on to say he was directing a “consuming, dangerous, human rights project which is, as you might expect, male dominated”. . . . The profile warned: “Do not write to me if you are timid. I am too busy. Write to me if you are brave.”

Investigative journalism depends on leaks

Principled government bureaucrats hand journalists documents when they see wrongdoing because they believe the public ought to know what the government is really up to. Principled corporate employees hand journalists confidential documents, which demonstrate the unlawful or unethical practices of powerful corporations. Whatever the public interest is in the material disclosed, public and private sector whistleblowers can face criminal and civil legal action for ensuring the public has the information we need to hold these powerful interests to account

The imperative to protect journalists’ sources

Protection of journalistic sources is one of the basic conditions for press freedom … Without such protection, sources may be deterred from assisting the press in informing the public on matters of public interest. As a result the vital public-watchdog role of the press may be undermined and the ability of the press to provide accurate and reliable information may be adversely affected. — European Court of Human Rights, ‘Factsheet: Protection of Journalistic Sources’, February 2019 [pdf]

This is why WikiLeaks is so dangerous to those in power with something to hide – and why WikiLeaks must be defended and protected.

The role of Wikileaks

Unfortunately, however, in many places around the world journalists can face prosecution if they refuse to reveal their source.

WikiLeaks’ model provides a practical solution: its anonymous submission system was specifically designed to provide protection to journalists and whistleblowers that the law does not provide, thereby providing greater encouragement to sources to come forward to better enable ‘the vital public-watchdog role of the press’. Together with its robust publication policy, WikiLeaks provides sources better protection and a promise that their material – once verified – will be published. And published with maximum global effect: rather than documents being the preserve of certain elite journalists in the world’s capitals, WikiLeaks makes its information available to journalists, citizen journalists, activists and lawyers the world over.

This is why WikiLeaks is so dangerous to those in power with something to hide – and why WikiLeaks must be defended and protected.

A partial list of significant publications

The classified Guantanamo Bay manual detailing US torture techniques

The Minton report detailing Trafigura’s toxic dump on the Ivory Coast affecting over 100,000 people which the company had suppressed with a gag order in the UK

Collateral Murder, a video showing the US military killing two Reuters employees in Iraq

The Afghan War Diary, then ‘the most significant archive about the reality of war to have ever been released during the course of a war’ [revealing the Australian government lied when it announced the withdrawal of most Australian combat troops from Afghanistan]

The Iraq War Logs – the largest leak in US military history . . . The documents demonstrated there were many thousands more civilian deaths than reported or acknowledged by the US government, as well as the systemic failure to investigate reports of abuse, torture, rape and even murder by Iraqi forces and abuse in US detention facilities. [The Iraq War Logs were used by lawyers in filing a case against the UK before the International Criminal Court.]

Cablegate became known as ‘the largest set of confidential documents ever to be released into the public domain’ and there is no denying the overwhelming public interest in the material. From Tunisia to Tonga, Canberra to Cairo, and the West Bank to West Papua, WikiLeaks disclosures provided an unprecedented insight into the conduct of diplomacy and revealed corruption, abuse of power and human rights abuse the world over. [For example, WikiLeaks disclosures related to West Papua confirmed what those of us working on human rights there have long known – the Indonesian military is engaging in widespread human rights abuse while on the payroll of the huge US/Australian-run Freeport gold and copper mine – but the existence of these documents makes it much harder for our governments to deny that it is happening.] [A cable was cited before the European Court of Human Rights in a CIA rendition case from Italy.] [WikiLeaks cables were cited by lawyers fighting for the rights of the Chagos Islanders against the British government]

Reports about Sri Lankan military operations against the Tamils and in the groundbreaking documentary No Fire Zone, which led to a UN investigation into war crimes, and were cited by Tamil lawyers in London seeking an arrest warrant for former President Rajapaksa.

All of the above quotations and data is from Jennifer Robinson‘s chapter in A Secret Australia. I have added the links. The dating profile comes from Leigh and Harding’s WikiLeaks

See also: List of material published by WikiLeaks (Wikipedia); for a brief review of WikiLeaks releases relevant to Australia up to early 2011, see Michelle Fahy, with Bill Williams, Sue Wareham and Gerry Schulz, What has WikiLeaks Revealed?, Medical Association for Prevention of War, January 2011. (Cited by Richard Tanter in A Secret Australia)

One would think that the Australian government would be doing something to protect democracy’s and Assange’s interests. One would also think that all journalists and scholars would be going out of their way to make use of the material and the questions it all raises. The following observations are depressing:

Academic self-censorship

Given more than half a century of such apparently successful attempts to displace attention from the actual nature and consequences of US foreign policy and that of its allies, it is surprising how little academics in Australia have directly utilised the documentary evidence provided by WikiLeaks and Edward Snowden, or used the issues raised by them as a stimulus to further inquiry. Displacement on an institutional scale prevails, in part as a result of purposive state action, and partly the consequence of academic self-censorship.18 — Richard Tanter, “WikiLeaks, Australia and Empire”, A Secret Australia, pp. 23 f

18 On self-censorship in academic international relations, see the Forum ‘Censorship in Security Studies’ in the Journal of Global Security Studies, vol. 1, issue 4, November 2016, pp. 323-360, especially Benoît Pelopidas, ‘Nuclear Weapons Scholarship as a Case of Self-Censorship in Security Studies’ and Richard Ned Lebow, ‘Self-Censorship in International Relations and Security Studies’. — pp. 40 f

And giving Assange the last say in this post:

Of course the phenomena that occurs with us, and that we arc able to document in quite a concrete way, simply reflects the corruption of US academia and English-speaking academia more generally in terms of its understanding of international relations, because of its over-proximity to the State Department, in terms of feeder schools, or think-tanks where people aspire to security clearance or they have other forms of proximity to it, or they are scared about being prosecuted, That has been going on for decades. So the description we have of the world is not the description of the world as it actually exists, because our description of the world rests significantly on what academics have been able to do, and what journalists have been able to do. Enormous sections of that are opaque as a result of this type of self-censorship. So we had to produce a book instead. — Julian Assange in Scott Ludlam and Julian Assange, “Despair and Defiance: An Audience with Julian Assange”, A Secret Australia, p. 215


Cronau, Peter, and Felicity Ruby, eds. A Secret Australia: Revealed by the WikiLeaks Exposés. Clayton, Vic.: Monash University Publishing, 2020.

Leigh, David, and Luke Harding. WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange’s War on Secrecy. London: Guardian Books, 2011.

See also:

Brevini, Benedetta, Arne Hintz, and Patrick McCurdy, eds. Beyond WikiLeaks: Implications for the Future of Communications, Journalism and Society. Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.


 


2020-11-26

On Internet Censorship and Mainstream Propaganda, Substance and Image in Domestic and International Political Power

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

I still recall those early days of the internet when it was said to be in some sort of “wild west” stage of development, when we could talk about it being a great democratizing medium . . . but now, in this interview with Glenn Greenwald, the focus is on the new reality of censorship and the forces behind that censorship.

Also of interest: the role of progressives like Bernie Sanders and AOC in the Democratic Party; looking beyond styles to a comparison of what was actually done by the Obama-Biden administration in contrast with Trump’s term; how the different styles have real significance for US power relationships in the world and the perpetuation of wars and harsh treatment of refugees; . . . .

 


2020-05-16

The Weaponization of Language (Part 2a): Censorship update

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

From The Guardian the day after I posted The Weaponization of Language (Part 2): Censorship

Faced with an appalling US coronavirus death toll, the right denies the figures

Fox News is foremost in promoting the idea that official figures are inflated, whereas experts believe more people have died

.

As Donald Trump agitates for the US to reopen, the American right appears to have found a novel way to deal with the rising coronavirus death toll: deny it altogether.

Top Trump officials, huddled in the White House, itself the subject of a coronavirus outbreak, have according to reports begun questioning the number of deaths – and the president is among the skeptics.

It’s a handy thought process for an administration desperate to send Americans back to work even as deaths from the virus rise each day, with marked surges in some traditionally Republican states.

. . . . 

Worryingly, the disinformation push seems to be working. An Axios-Ipsos poll found that the death toll has become a political issue, 40% of Republicans believing fewer Americans are dying from coronavirus than the official toll says.

A separate study, published at the end of April, revealed the stark consequences of prominent figures underplaying the impact of Covid-19. A group of researchers tracked the spread of coronavirus among viewers of Sean Hannity’s Fox News show, after Hannity spent weeks downplaying the threat.

“Greater exposure to Hannity,” the researchers wrote, “leads to a greater number of Covid-19 cases and deaths.”

.

 


2020-05-15

The Weaponization of Language (Part 2): Censorship

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

Continuing extracts from the article The Weaponization of Language: Discourses of Rising Right-Wing Authoritarianism by Celine-Marie Pascale. The previous post is here.

Censorship

On how capitalism survives and thrives through propaganda see posts addressing aspects of Alex Carey’s Taking the Risk Out of Democracy. Or better still, read the book to see how capitalism relied on advances in propaganda techniques to survive against popular interests and guide the democratic processes.

While media censorship may be the hallmark of authoritarian regimes around the globe, censorship also is associated with capitalist systems that prioritize the interests of advertisers, boards of directors, and profits over the interests of consumers and the general public . . . .

In an era that might be called ‘the information age,’ censorship flourishes in old and new forms. Fundamentally, censorship prohibits language that threatens hegemonic power. Consider that the interests of a free press have long been overshadowed by governments, corporations, and religious groups.

. . .

Historically, US news corporations have censored information that would negatively affect the interests of advertisers and owners. Recently, censorship has taken a different form in the US. 

. . .

This is a new face of censorship for the United States and in line with what appears to be the cultivation of state control over news.

George Orwell is credited with warning that the further a society drifts from the truth, the more it will hate those who speak it. 

[Though the quote is widely attributed to Orwell there is no confirmation that he wrote it. A similar sentiment was expressed by Gramsci — we have posted about him before — who said, “To tell the truth, to arrive together at the truth, is a communist and revolutionary act.“]

. . .

In 2019 the number killed dropped but that’s hardly a substitute for not being targeted by death squads at all.

Reporters Without Borders publishes a World Press Freedom Index.

According to the International Federation of Journalists,

  • 94 journalists and media staff were killed in 2018 
  • Ninety percent of all journalist deaths remain unresolved.

According to Reporters Without Borders, 

  • Around the globe 348 reporters were detained in connection with their reporting in 2018 

. . .

Journalists are persecuted in countries around the globe including Eritrea, Turkey, Argentina, Ecuador, Venezuela, Honduras, Guatemala, China, Russia, South Africa, and Uganda.

In Hungary, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s regime collects detailed information about journalists as well as about media advertising and editorial content …

In the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte has called reporters ‘spies’ …

In the United States, Donald Trump has called both the press and individual journalists ‘enemies of the people’ …

Trump also has ordered the Department of Homeland Security to collect information on reporters and news media, as well as on individuals who post news on social media platforms …

The US State Department’s Global Engagement Center, created to combat disinformation and online extremism, has recently used online trolls to attack US journalists for disinformation, branding them as ‘Tehran collaborators’ for writing articles the US government perceived as being ‘soft on Iran’ …

Reporters Without Borders added the United States to its list of most dangerous places for reporters after a mass shooting at a local paper that left five reporters dead …

. . .

To break for a moment from Pascale’s article and look across at other instances of media censorship in the West, in particular USA and Australia: Continue reading “The Weaponization of Language (Part 2): Censorship”


2020-03-02

Declaration of the Freedom of Mind

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

I found this declaration on https://medium.com/@bandyxlee/declaration-of-the-freedom-of-mind-f093fa0cd711 — Quite a revolutionary idea, yes?

. . . .

Written by Bandy X. Lee (Forensic psychiatrist, violence expert, president of the World Mental Health Coalition (dangerouscase.org), and editor of “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump.”)

This statement originated from a meeting with citizen organizers in New York City on President’s Day, February 17, 2020, when we noted a public not lacking in resources or will but gripped with disappointment, demoralization, and despair at a government’s lack of concern for its citizens. The failure to grasp a problem of mental health had resulted in the failure of a political process (impeachment), and the psychological oppression of a populace was proving to be the most pernicious form of oppression of all. The phenomenon of oppression is no different from what our Founders experienced at the time of the Revolutionary War, but it needs updating, taking into account the psychological weapons that have become available. To help protect the most sacred right to freedom of mind, along with the nurturance and societal support that make it possible, we offer a tool for citizen groups to identify correctly and target precisely the problem, by drafting the following.

We at the World Mental Health Coalition believe that freedom of mind is a basic human right. It is at the core of all other freedoms and is fundamental to a working democracy. Without it, all rational systems break down. It is a right that is derived from the Declaration of the Rights of Man (1789) and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We declare that the ignorance, neglect, or contempt of the human right to freedom of mind are the principal cause of public disempowerment and oppression by governments. People denied of agency become easy tools of those intent on ruling, rather than serving, them. When this happens, police and prisons are no longer necessary: people themselves enthusiastically volunteer to their own servitude.

We therefore announce a solemn declaration of the natural, unalienable, and sacred human right to freedom of mind, as a derivation of the above Declarations. We aspire toward reminding the people continually that they have this right, that political bodies should not abuse or suppress it, and that social systems ought to protect and nurture it. With this awareness, we believe that the people, based on the simple laws of nature, will be empowered to live out their full potential to the happiness of all.

Therefore the World Mental Health Coalition recognizes and upholds the following human right to freedom of mind:

1. As stated in the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights, endowed with reason and conscience and the obligation to act towards one another in a humane spirit.

2. Everyone is entitled to make informed decisions for themselves. The people shall have access to information and the best available knowledge, including expertise, so that they can make informed choices about health care, education, distribution of wealth, and organization of power or other decisions that affect them. Access to information and knowledge is critical to the people’s ability to secure conditions that are necessary for their collective health, including mental health.

3. No one shall be held in mental slavery or servitude. Without being agents of their own minds, a people cannot make reasoned judgments and decisions that will help their situations. When information control, mass manipulation through lying, and thought reform are allowed to occur, mass hysteria and cults of personality replace informed, autonomous rule.

4. The people shall retain the right to have a wholesome environment for the mind. An environment that is flooded with false information, manipulative techniques, and malign psychological conditioning injures their mental health and stunts their ability to reach their full mental potential. Mental health professionals shall make recommendations for maintaining and reclaiming mental health and self-reliance.

5. Law is an expression of the general will. The people have a right to participate personally, or through a representative, in shaping laws that protect freedom of mind and prevent its slavery. Information from journalists, professionals, and whistleblowers increases freedom of mind and needs to be protected. Propaganda and large-scale psychological abuse and oppression should be identified and curtailed, just as other forms of violence and abuse, as impingement on others’ rights, are punishable by law.

6. Since freedom of mind is an inviolable and sacred right, no one shall be deprived of it, actively or passively. Children shall be nurtured for healthy mental development, safety, and supportive education so that they may build autonomy and critical thinking skills. Adults shall be treated with dignity, whereby no locus of control shall be external, rather than internal, whether coerced or manipulated.

7. We recognize that society, as a whole, is far from perfect in mental health and that a healing process is necessary for even the awareness of mental health matters to grow. There shall be no abridging of speech, of the press, or of the right of the people peaceably to assemble around matters that affect their mental health.

. . .

Recommendation: Precisely at a time when the president is using his power to conceal Russian schemes to reelect him, and to muzzle health officials before an impending pandemic, this statement is all the more relevant. Use it to claim your rights! While we are seeking a governmental body or international organization to adopt it, it is our official interpretation, as a professional organization of mental health experts, of your rights.


2018-05-10

Still True After All These Years

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

The sinister fact about literary censorship in England is that it is largely voluntary.

Unpopular ideas can be silenced, and inconvenient facts kept dark, without the need for any official ban. Anyone who has lived long in a foreign country will know of instances of sensational items of news—things which on their own merits would get the big headlines—being kept right out of the British press, not because the Government intervened but because of a general tacit agreement that “it wouldn’t do” to mention that particular fact. So far as the daily newspapers go, this is easy to understand. The British press is extremely centralised, and most of it is owned by wealthy men who have every motive to be dishonest on certain important topics. But the same kind of veiled censorship also operates in books and periodicals, as well as in plays, films and radio. At any given moment there is an orthodoxy, a body of ideas which it is assumed that all right-thinking people will accept without question. It is not exactly forbidden to say this, that or the other, but it is “not done” to say it, just as in mid-Victorian times it was “not done” to mention trousers in the presence of a lady. Anyone who challenges the prevailing orthodoxy finds himself silenced with surprising effectiveness. A genuinely unfashionable opinion is almost never given a fair hearing, either in the popular press or in the highbrow periodicals.

From George Orwell’s 1945 Preface to Animal Farm

It surely applies to more than just the media industries in countries like the UK, USA, Australia . . . . .

 


2018-03-20

Forbes Posts Article on the Cruelty of White Evangelicalism, Then Pulls It

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Tim Widowfield

On 11 March 2018, Forbes posted Chris Ladd’s article, “Why White Evangelicalism Is So Cruel.” It didn’t last the day. You’ll probably want to read it, as well as Forbes’ weak-tea explanation for taking it down.

We’ve discussed many times here how censorship traditionally works in the West. The government rarely gets involved, nor does need to, since the press dutifully polices itself. Even in the digital age, our media gatekeepers still keep at it, perhaps out of habit, but mostly out of cowardice.

These dinosaurs, reaching the end of the line, stumbling toward extinction, haven’t given up yet. And when somebody crosses the line, they’re ready to scold the offenders and tell them their message is “way out of bounds.”

As we all know, the truth has boundaries.