4 things the media won’t tell you about Assange

English: Demonstration in front of Sydney Town...

Demonstration in front of Sydney Town Hall in support of Julian Assange, 2010, December 10 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Media interest in the Julian Assange case reached fever pitch again this week with the Ecuadorian government’s decision to grant him asylum. As usual though, much of the coverage continues to ignore important facts and context, spin the story in a way that suit their own political and economic agendas or simply attack Assange and anyone that disagrees with them. It’s important to highlight some important facts that are routinely being ignored in the media regarding the current plight of the WikiLeaks founder.

1. Assange has already been questioned once in Sweden.

The prosecution is perfectly within its right to re-question Assange but hardly a single media outlet offers any context by mentioning the fact that he’s already been questioned once in Sweden and released without charge. Shortly after, the interview transcript was mysteriously leaked to the Swedish press. Nor does the media highlight that Assange waited for 5 weeks before being granted permission to leave the country and continue his work on the War Logs and Cablegate releases with The Guardian in the UK. Some newspapers, especially in Sweden, instead say that he “fled” the country implying that he is somehow “on the run” from the allegations.

2. Assange is willing to return to Sweden but prosecutors can also question him in the UK.

Assange has stated his willingness to return to Sweden if a legal guarantee is made that he will not be extradited to the USA for his work with WikiLeaks. However, there is no compelling reason for him to be in Sweden for questioning. It is standard Swedish practice that when there is no charge and someone is merely wanted for questioning, it can be conducted anywhere in the world including over the phone and via video call. Swedish prosecutors also frequently travel to other countries to question suspects as they did recently to question a man suspected of murder in Serbia. In Assange’s case however, Swedish prosecutor Marianne Nye is insisting that Assange must physically be in Sweden to be questioned. No reason has been given for this inflexibility but Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter justifies it by saying it is “a matter of prestige” for Sweden.

3. There is mounting evidence that the US are compiling a criminal case against Assange.

There is enough to suggest that Assange’s legal team’s fears are justified. Australian diplomatic cables released to the Sydney Morning Herald under the freedom of information act reveal that the Australian government has confirmed that WikiLeaks has been the target of a US Justice Department investigation in Australia “unprecedented both in its scale and nature”. The Australian government also suggests that media reports that a secret grand jury has been convened in Alexandria, Virginia, were ”likely true”. In addition, the WikiLeaks Stratfor Intelligence releases revealed that the Stratfor vice president Fred Burton claimed that: “We have a sealed indictment on Assange“. Besides this, considering the atrocious treatment of Bradley Manning currently in a military jail in the US for allegedly leaking documents to Assange, you don’t have to wear a tin-foil hat to believe that the US will do whatever it takes to get their hands on Assange and make an example of him.

4. It’s actually easier for the US to extradite Assange from Sweden than the UK.

Many people dismiss Assange’s US extradition fears on the basis that if it wanted Assange, it would be easier to get him from the UK anyway. However, it’s actually considerably harder to extradite him from the UK for various reasons. One is that the UK does not have the “temporary surrender” extradition agreement that exists between Sweden and the USA which can be used to override current international extradition agreements and effectively give the US “instant” extradition powers. Another problem is that if the US were to issue an extradition order for Assange from the UK to the US, it would put the UK in a very difficult position because normally, the first extradition request received from Sweden would have to be honored first. In addition, the more diverse media and greater public support in the UK are factors that would make it harder for the US to extradite from the UK. And for all those that think that the Swedish justice system is somehow the best in the world, the Human Rights Watch archive on Sweden makes some interesting reading.

24-08-12: It’s since come to my attention that the “temporary surrender” agreement also exists between the US and UK which is definitely something that many of Assange’s supporters don’t seem to be aware of. However, the same problem would apply – since Sweden has already issued an extradition request, it would put the British Government in a very tricky position. There’s an interesting discussion on this here.

There are many more examples of facts and context routinely left out in media coverage that are important to understanding the Assange case. These are some of the more important ones but as the propaganda war goes on in this increasingly dramatic legal battle, they surely won’t be the last.

Postscript: If you want a really revealing and disturbing insight into how the sex allegations against Assange in Sweden unfolded, read the comment thread on my original post about Assange written almost exactly 2 years ago today.

Sweden – Where liberal left is right

Mona Sahlin - Current leader of the center "left" Social Democrat party which has lead the dismantling of the Swedish welfare state over the past 40 years.

Sweden is regularly held up as a model of social democracy, equality and of a “cradle-to-grave” welfare state. But while it still has a welfare state and level of equality that’s ahead of most countries, the truth is that it has been in terminal decline for the past 40 years. The astonishing thing is, this decline has happened under a liberal center-left government – the Social Democrats – who have been the ruling party in Sweden for all but 13 of the last 78 years. It is their failure to stand-up for working Swedes that has seen the country shift even more to the right in this year’s General Election. While many liberal-left Swedes are outraged at the success of a racist far-right party in this year’s election, they show little outrage at this right-wing attack on their society by liberal-left wing governments since the 1970s.

Sweden’s social democracy and welfare state reached a peaked in the 1950s and 60s when unemployment reached virtually zero for a while and it was considered one of the richest countries in the world. Since the 1970s however, Sweden’s welfare state has been subject to a series of vicious attacks by successive center-left Social Democratic governments which have failed to stand-up to corporations and international right-wing organizations such as the IMF and OECD and aggressively applied pro-corporate neo-liberal economic policies ushered in by the Reagan and Thatcher eras and which still continue today.

In the 1990s, after an economic crisis which saw unemployment reach 40% bringing the Swedish economy to its knees, the Swedish government commissioned a study into the state of its famous welfare state entitled Welfare in Sweden: The Balance Sheet of the 1990s. It provided a damning indictment of the performance of the center-left Social Democrat party:

Over the last decade, the most noticeable change was the increase in the proportion of the population that encountered various kinds of disadvantage and ill-health. Negative psychosocial working conditions and short-term employment became more common. Progressively larger groups suffered financial difficulties and low incomes. In the health field, we find a significant decline in specific areas, especially as regards mental well-being. In the area of chronic disadvantage, the number of long term social assistance recipients increased significantly.

The report pointed out that public service workers saw their wage levels fall continually and around 60,000 lost their jobs to private contractors. Immigrant areas became more segregated. Higher fees were introduced for child, elderly, health and dental care. Almost 20% of elderly people who needed home support did not apply for it anymore because it was too expensive. 12% less was spent on teachers as fewer and less qualified teachers were employed to teach ever increasing class sizes. And since 1997, social security was no longer linked to inflation and housing support was removed for single people over 28 years of age.

As the new millennium arrived, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) felt these cuts hadn’t gone far enough and were outraged in particular that in their eyes, too many Swedes took sick leave from work. In a 2002 report, they concluded that there wasn’t enough workers in Sweden because too many were signed-off sick:

The Swedish government spends 113 billion Skr ($12 billion) per year, or 16 percent of the national budget, on sickness and disability payments. The surge in sickness absenteeism and continued high levels of disability retirement have eroded the labour supply.

Perversely however, they acknowledged that the huge cuts in government spending had been mainly responsible for creating high levels of sickness and absenteeism saying:

It is possible that cuts in fiscal expenditures during the second half of the 1990s led to a rise in work-related stress, particularly in the health and education sectors.

The center-left Social Democrats agreed with them that sick Swedes had it way too easy and planned to cut central government spending on sickness and disability benefits in half by 2008 through an Orwellian sounding scheme called “The programme for a humane working life.” They never got the chance however.

Completely disillusioned with the Social Democrats, Swedes abandoned them in the 2006 election paving the way for Frederik Reinfeldt and his center-right Moderate party to form a government with other center-right parties (including one party called “Center” Party which launched a campaign of hate against Swedish workers at the 2010 election called “Fuck Facket Forever” – meaning effectively “Fuck Swedish Workers Forever” since Facket is the biggest workers union in Sweden). Naturally, Reinfeldt’s Alliance government not only continued the public spending slashing of the Social Democrats but accelerated it. Today, claiming sickness benefit in Sweden has been made as difficult and humiliating as possible leading to cases such as this where a woman who was declared unfit to work for the rest of her life by 5 different doctors, was turned down for sickness benefit by the Swedish government.

There is virtually no opposition to this dismantling of the Swedish welfare state in the mainstream Swedish political system. One party in Sweden – The Left Party – has in the past rejected at least some of this path that Sweden is taking. But the Social Democrats have refused to even consider entering into a deal with them unless they water down their principles and accept that Sweden “has to” carry out even more more major public spending cuts – which the Left Party have more or less agreed to. Social Democrat leader Mona Sahlin calls this “responsible economics”. What she means however, is that perpetual large cuts to public spending are responsible to the needs of capital and big business in Sweden, not to the social and economic needs of Swedish people.

Only the Trade Unions in Sweden offer any kind of voice for working Swedes nowadays. One Trade Union leader, Ylva Thörn, summed-up the failure of the liberal left in Sweden when she said: “The typical working class feels left out. People with low wages and women need to feel that a better alternative for them exists.” It is precisely this alienated state of the Swedish working class that Thörn talks about which has seen working Swedes turn increasingly right-wards in search of solutions in the 2010 election. While the center-right Alliance looks almost certain to retain power, early indications are that the Sweden Democrats – a far-right party which wants to expel large numbers of immigrants from Sweden – has won almost 6% of the national vote. That’s almost the same percentage of the vote as the Green Party won in a country that’s one of the most environmentally conscious in the world.

Many people on the liberal left who consider themselves Social Democrats will no doubt bemoan this rise of a racist far-right party in Sweden. But they don’t see that Sweden has already been under a right-wing attack from the left for the last 40 years. This is in large part because they are subject to intense subtle propaganda by the mainstream corporate media which perpetuates the illusion of a vibrant left and right debate in Sweden while expressing liberal outrage at the racism of the far right. But while working class Swedes feel that they can’t turn to the Swedish political left to solve their problems anymore, the popularity of those parties on the right that offer scapegoats and oversimplified solutions to the failures of the liberal left will only increase.

Howard Zinn 1922-2010

Considering the subject of the last post I wrote, today seems an appropriate if rather sad occasion to start blogging again. I’m very sad to learn that Howard Zinn has died of a heart attack at the age of 87. I was only listening to a talk by him a few days ago and his mind was still so lucid, its hard to believe he has died so suddenly.

Zinn will be sorely missed as one of the few American historians who told history from the perspective of the people and not the powerful and always encouraged listeners that the lessons of history are that they can confront power and change things for the better. Zinn started his life killing thousands in World War 2 bombing raids and spent the rest of it trying to raise awareness about the realities of American abuse of power throughout the ages.

It’s a funny world he leaves behind. As I highlighted in the last post, try and tell history from the perspective of working people nowadays and you’re labeled a “Marxist”.

Send thousands of young people to their deaths, and you’re awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

In-depth tribute on Democracy Now and commentary piece in The Guardian.

Hollywood is full of Marxists

It’s not difficult to get accused of being a Marxist nowadays – especially if you’re in Hollywood. Just try to suggest that the perspective of the poor and oppressed is important and watch how they chase you down Hollywood Boulevard with burning copies of the Communist Manifesto.

Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the USA is one of the best selling history books in America. It attempts to do something that most history books don’t – report history from the point of view of common people involved in the fight for civil and working rights. Recently, it has been turned into a star-studded documentary that yesterday got its first showing on the History Channel.

I haven’t seen it yet and I’m not sure when it will be aired in Europe where there are even more Marxists sitting around enjoying their free health care, public transport, worker’s rights etc. What’s impressive however is the conservative backlash in the USA against the documentary. The History Channel’s official forum and right-wing entertainment websites are outraged that this work of Satan has been turned into a documentary. Some examples include:

Have you people lost your freaking minds – or just your objectivity. Enter Howard Zin: Zinn has spent a lifetime teaching college students about the evils of capitalism, the promise of Marxism, and his version of American history – a history that has, in his view, been kept from students.

Howard Zinn?? Howard Zinn?? The History Channel expects us to believe Howard Zinn and his hand-picked crew of Hollywood leftist are about to give us an accurate and unbiased account of American history..,. Shame on the History Channel… Shame, shame, shame……

This two hour special full of the spewings of a twisted Marxist like Howard Zinn is the last straw.

Shame, shame, indeed!! This is a vitriolically anti-American editorial and does not deserve to be shown on a channel whose business it is to present facts, not opinions. Leave it to a bunch of Hollywood types to spit in the face of a country that has given them everything!

This is an act of war, the clear intention here is to plant the seeds of revolutionary hatred into a whole generation of youth. Such brainwashed youth will regard the generations before them as vermin who are pure evil and in need of punishment. This is the beginning of training for future revolutionary soldiers who will happily make the streets run red while thinking of themselves as white nights.

(There was ONE happy viewer incidentally):

I guess it’s just a relief to see some “History” on a channel that still calls itself HISTORY, and not some fat guy doing some scripted ‘dangerous’ job.

And the bile just goes on and on. So basically, according to these guys, be very careful if you go to Hollywood because nowadays it’s full of liberals and communists that are trying to suggest that the plight of the poor and working population in history is worth hearing (even if it is from the mouths of a bunch of rich film stars). I mean, they might as well rename Hollywood Boulevard Karl Marx Strasse and give Fidel Castro the green light to invade from the Hollywood Hills!

Where have the good old days of Hollywood gone such as Showgirls and Basic Instinct 2?

Ridiculing the right to avoid our own failings

One thing that’s been common in the wake of Nick Griffin’s infamous appearance on Question Time has been to ridicule him for his far right beliefs. Many liberals have been patting themselves on the back and celebrating a witty remix of Griffin’s appearance on the show making him out to be an absolute buffoon. Satire can be a powerful political tool where the truth can’t be told but what’s happened to Griffin and his supporters isn’t so much satire as ridicule and humiliation.

This is very dangerous. It may be considered harmless fun but the effect of it is to whip-up even more hatred on the right who perceive – correctly so – their problems are being laughed at by the liberal elite. In fact, I wonder if this ridiculing doesn’t create more racial tensions than actually giving the far right a platform as some people argue. Judging by some of the comments following the YouTube clip in question, it has certainly flared-up more hatred than any of the unedited clips from the show.

Noam Chomsky will address the annual Amnesty International lecture tonight (unfortunately I don’t think you can watch it online but a video and transcript should be released shortly afterwards) and an excerpt from his forthcoming speech is very telling:

In the US, inequality has soared to unprecedented heights. There is now a mass of people with real grievances, who want answers but are not receiving them. The far-right is providing answers that are completely crazy: that rich liberals are giving their hard-earned money away to illegal immigrants and the shiftless poor.

A common reaction in elite educated circles and much of the left is to ridicule the right-wing protesters, but that is a serious error.  The correct reaction is to examine our own failures.  The grievances are quite real and should be taken seriously.

It’s growing inequality in the UK that has created the racial tensions that have given rise to the BNP. And ridiculing them is a convenient way for those on the left to avoid “examining their own failings” as Chomsky says. The failings are of course, allowing things to get to this stage. It’s very easy to blame Blair, Brown, big business and the mainstream media for creating this state of affairs but too many on the liberal-left have gone along with their agendas while turning their back on the social and economic problems that are right in front of their eyes.

The answer, is not ridicule, but for the public to reject these agendas, and organize locally to deal with these problems. Chomsky adds:

In South America, there are at last serious steps to confront poverty and other severe human rights abuses. The driving force is mass popular movements. They are beginning to address what Amnesty calls ‘the unheard truth': that ‘poverty is the world’s worst human rights crisis, this generation’s greatest struggle.

If as Chomsky adds, that the poverty stricken in South American have overcome death squads and worse to create a better society, the same is surely true in a rich society like the UK.

Question Time revealed more about the liberal elite than the BNP

screen-captureThe appearance of British National party leader Nick Griffin on the BBC’s Question Time served to prove many things about the media and political elite in the UK, two of which are particularly notable and concerning. One is that a rational, open and honest political debate is impossible in the mainstream media. Two is that mainstream political parties and liberal elites will now do anything to win moral authority and avoid talking about policy and real issues that affect the majority of the population. This is nothing new but it was illustrated acutely and obscenely in this particular show.

Some of the questions asked during and after the event are also mystifying to say the least in a supposedly democratic and intelligent current affairs show. Two examples are:

Should Nick Griffin have been allowed on Question Time?

This is a non-question. Anyone that professes to be in favor of free-speech and claims to oppose a party such as the BNP has to say yes. It is an insult to people’s intelligence – especially the 1 million that voted for him – to suggest they are unable to assess whether the BNP are fit to vote for. The answer to dealing with extremist organizations such as the BNP is not to repress them. It’s to prove the irrationality of their more extreme viewpoints (which isn’t hard).

Would Winston Churchill have joined the BNP?

Again, I don’t see why there’s been so much debate over this. The answer is unequivocally yes because Churchill lived in a far more “backwards” era towards race relations which is where the BNP belong. During that time,  it was fine for Churchill to proudly proclaim such things such as “I am strongly in favour of using poisonous gas against uncivilised tribes” and “I do not admit… that a great wrong has been done to the Red Indians of America, or the black people of Australia… by the fact that a stronger race, a higher grade race… has come in and taken its place.”

The point is, Nick Griffin is a racist and even a panel of kids could have proved that. The main reason the liberal elite i.e. BBC, New Labour, Conservatives and Liberal Democrats were so keen to debate him is because they know how morally bankrupt they are and how little they have to offer the electorate in terms of policy, solutions and debate so they pick on an easy target to lynch to get the public onside. It is the very same political establishment’s fault the BNP have come this far. They long ago jumped into bed with big business leading to the deteriorating social and economic conditions which have inflamed the racial hatred the BNP thrive on. It was particularly sickening to see Jack Straw – a man with the blood of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, Afghanis and Western soldiers on his hands – reveling in some kind of moral superiority over Griffin. If actions speak louder than words, then he is as offensive – if not more so – than the BNP leader.

There has been little decent commentary worth reading in the aftermath of the debate but Brendan O’Neil writes an excellent piece here in Spiked and prior to the event, Neil Clarke highlighted the reasons behind the rise of the BNP.

Ask Chomsky a question on HARDtalk

The BBC are currently asking viewers of HARDtalk to submit questions to Noam Chomsky for a show to be broadcast on Thursday 29th October. Two questions will be chosen for broadcast. They must be grabbing their chance while he’s in London on the same day to talk on Human Rights in the 21st Century at the LSE.

I quite like HARDtalk because they do generally probe political figures harder than most mainstream current affairs programs. You can of course always e-mail Chomsky directly too as apparently he responds in person and usually pretty quickly but if you’d like to see Tim Sebastian do the probing for you, then you can do so here.

One thing I’d definitely like to ask him is where the hell he finds the time to lecture in linguistics, write countless books on the subject as well as engage in political analysis, writing, speaking events and interviews like the one on HARDtalk. And all at the ripe old age of 80. The man is a phenomenon.

The last time he was on HARDtalk can be seen here by the way although the image quality isn’t great: