How to smear a hero

Julian Assange, Wikileaks

Image by New Media Days via Flickr

How do you discredit someone who undermines systems of power? In the old days, the CIA would just assassinate and murder them (they’ve tried 638 times to get Castro), even topple entire governments if need be. However, since the world is now much more aware of the dirty tricks or “Black Ops” that they use, powerful interests have had to find other ways of “subtly” smearing them in the public eye. Calling them a rapist is one way of doing it which is what has happened today to Julian Assange founder of WikiLeaks.

Firstly, let’s get the rather flimsy circumstances straight. Assange is accused of prancing around the Greater Stockholm area like a crazed animal between 15th to 17th August. According to center-right wing newspaper Expressen, last weekend, he sexually harassed a woman in Södermalm, Stockholm. Two or three days later, he traveled 20km to the quiet nearby town of Enköping where he supposedly raped another woman. The two women – aged “between 20-30” according to Expressen and by an astonishing coincidence, friends also – decided a week later to go to a police station and said that “Julian Assange has raped and harassed us” and that they “didn’t want to press charges but just wanted some advice”. The first Assange knew of these allegations were when he saw the front on Expressen this morning. He denied it in an e-mail to Dagens Nyheter newspaper saying:

Why these accusations are coming at this point in time is an interesting question. I haven’t been contacted by the police. The allegations are false.

Assange is now understood to be making his way to a police station.

Secondly, let’s get the context clear to recent events in Assange’s life. The Pirate Party – a political party in Sweden dedicated to freedom of information – have this week agreed to host WikiLeaks documents on their servers since the organization is banned from publishing in many other countries. Assange has been in Sweden to arrange this deal and also agreed to write a column for centre-left Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet (the main rival to Expressen who “broke” this “story”), the first of which was due to be released today. Incidentally, Aftonbladet have decided to postpone publication in the light of the rape allegations.

Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, let’s get the wider context clear. Assange and his team at WikiLeaks are on the verge of publishing 15,000 more Afghan war documents which the US Government and Pentagon are desperate to suppress. Whether orchestrating a smear campaign against Assange would even stop that, I very much doubt it. And even if Assange were a rapist – or even worshiped Beelzebub and Hitler – it takes nothing away from the incriminating Collateral Murder video and Afghan war documents that WikiLeaks have already released.

Whether this is an orchestrated smear campaign, just two very silly girls, or a genuine case of rape and harassment, the fact is that WikiLeaks is bigger than Assange as he I’m sure would be the first to admit. It, and other projects like it, cannot be stopped. It’s like Chavez in Venezuela – even if the CIA assassinated him now, it’s too late to stop the popular revolution he’s unleashed and the same goes for the spirit of exposing abuses of power that WikiLeaks has ushered in since the corporate mainstream media are utterly impotent and unwilling to do so.

Unfortunately for the powerful, dirty tricks, black-ops and even assassinations simply can’t stop the tide of change and revolutions once they’ve begun in an inter-connected globalized age.


A former Wall Street worker speaks-out

Couldn’t help but re-post this great comment by a former Wall Street insider on a recent interview with Naomi Klein by OnPoint Radio. Sometimes, only an honest insider can say it best.

I was a senior, high profile stock/company analyst in a major global (and still extant) Wall Street firm and witnessed firsthand the greed-driven, destructive policies pursued by the executive management teams of the many companies I followed for institutional clients during my career. The cynicism of these ‘managers’ with their huge self-dealing stock options grants (some offered at a discount to the company’s stock price only days before the business announced positive “news”) can’t be overstated. They orchestrated massive layoff schemes in which tens of millions of their colleagues lost their livelihoods, benefits & pensions to global offshoring centers while they simultaneously presided over insider-stuffed corporate boards that rewarded them with ridiculous and ever-escalating salary, benefits and options packages, private planes, ultra exclusive golf and country club memberships, private staffs, 8-figure office decorating budgets and many other excesses, all under the chimera of “adding value”. I voluntarily left my position because these practices were repugnant to the Midwestern, middle class values of hard work, fairness and community I’d been raised to believe mattered. The few journalists, politicians, intellectuals and others who openly questioned these policies were branded as ‘losers’, ’socialists’ and ‘radicals’ who were presumed to lack the intelligence, Ivy League education and/or connections to become highly paid corporate managers, consultants, investment bankers, hedge fund managers themselves, rather than the white, pink and blue-collar schmucks who worked for shrinkng pay, benefits and job security – that is if they were fortunate enough to have a job.

If anyone believes this era is over, ask yourselves who received the massive no-strings-attached, taxpayer (and Chinese) funded bailout packages (Wall Street & other finacial elites) and who didn’t (most taxpayers & the economically dispossessed). Yup – the same small, elite group who made billions of dollars in bonuses before they engineered the near- catastrophic collapse of our economic and financial system, are once again making record bonuses when our true national unemployment rate (e.g., the short- and long-term unemployment rate plus those who’ve given up looking for work) is nearly 20%. And in January 2010, the US Supreme Court overruled two important precedents by banning the government from limiting corporate spending on political campaigns as if the business lobby doesn’t already have enough influence on our political process. Where is the outrage? Unfortunately, many Americans are either too busy working (many have 2 or 3 jobs and dependent children and/or parents), too afraid or both, to protest a system some barely comprehend. And the nation’s traditional watchdog – the media – is either too hallowed out and/or owned by huge, rich global conglomerates which are too invested in the system to investigate the architects of the problems, or even register discontent. Even the much-lauded ‘Tea Party’ movement is largely populated by older, right wing, economically and financially privileged white men and wealthy PACs who want US tax dollars to be spent on programs that enrich their personal and business priorities rather than the needs of the majority of U.S. citizens. However, the Pied Pipers of this elitist system are mostly Baby Boomers – the infamous “Me Generation” – so perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised.

Ms. Klein was spot on ten years ago with “No Logo” and her thesis on “disaster capitalism” is just as prescient. It’s truly disturbing to realize that after the shattering natural, economic and military developments of the last decade, crony capitalism is still alive and thriving. But there are small cracks, and I hope readers of this book realize that we have the power to influencee and change this corrupt and corrosive system in a democratically-elected government despite its flaws. When a former Wall Streeter feels like a radical for having progressive views, the system well and truly needs reform.

The interview incidentally is also well worth listening to for an insight into “Brand Obama” and how branding has evolved since Klein wrote No Logo. Someone actually tried to copyright the logo of her book after it came-out and then sue her for using it!

That’s just twisted.

“WikiLeaks did what journalists should have done”

Great interview here with John Pilger on Russia Today (Pilger is not particularly welcome in the mainstream media nowadays because he’s a bit too honest about the crimes of the West). Pilger highlights the fact that since journalists are now “embedded” in warzones, have had their budgets cut or simply spout the same garbage that come out of the mouths of the Pentagon or Ministry of “Defence”, they are not investigating what’s really going on.

WikiLeaks has done the job that Pilger, and other crusading journalists did in years gone by such as his reports from Vietnam that made the West realize the full horror of the crimes that we’re being done in their name and helped turn public opinion against the tide of the war.

It’s inspiring to see that where the powerful try to suppress information in subtle ways in liberal democracies, technology and the internet is finding new ways to expose the truth.

An excerpt from the 12 minute interview:

Recent sanctions against Iran are an attempt by the US to return the country to its sphere of influence, claims veteran journalist John Pilger.

”Iran was a pillar of the American empire in the Middle East. That was swept away in 1979 when there was an Islamic revolution, and it has been American foreign policy to get that back,” he said.

“It has absolutely nothing to do with so-called nuclear weapons. The nuclear power in the Middle East is the fourth biggest military power in the world and that is Israel. It has something like 500 or more nuclear warheads. It is never discussed.”

Pilger added that Barack Obama has failed to change the trajectory of US foreign policy, which dates back to as early as 1945 and follows George W. Bush’s line.

“For the first time in US presidential history – it has not happened before – a president has taken the entire defense department bureaucracy, and the Secretary of State for Defense, from a previous administration, a discredited one,” he said. “We have basically Robert Gates and the same generals running American foreign policy with a lot of help from people of like mind.”

Why the public remains Obama’s biggest enemy

Noam Chomsky’s latest article “Why WikiLeaks Won’t Stop the War” highlights perhaps the most important part of the WikiLeaks disclosures (largely overlooked by the mainstream media for obvious reasons). They are internal CIA memos that express huge concern that popular opposition in France and Germany to Obama’s war may make it increasingly difficult for the US Government to pressure their governments into sending more troops to the region.

Chomsky writes:

In May, WikiLeaks released a March CIA memorandum about how to sustain Western Europe’s support for the war. The memorandum’s subtitle: “Why Counting on Apathy Might Not Be Enough.”

“The Afghanistan mission’s low public salience has allowed French and German leaders to disregard popular opposition and steadily increase their troop contributions to the International Security Assistance Force,” the memorandum states.

“Berlin and Paris currently maintain the third and fourth highest ISAF troop levels, despite the opposition of 80 percent of German and French respondents to increased ISAF deployments.” It is therefore necessary to “tailor messaging” to “forestall or at least contain backlash.”

The CIA memorandum should remind us that states have an internal enemy: their own population, which must be controlled when state policy is opposed by the public.

Democratic societies rely not on force but on propaganda, engineering consent by “necessary illusion” and “emotionally potent oversimplication,” to quote Obama’s favorite philosopher, Reinhold Niebuhr.

The clear lessons of these memos are that powerful interests are terrified of democracy and popular resistance in the West still remains the most effective way of stopping Obama’s war.

Documentary Review: American Radical – the trials of Norman Finkelstein

There are many ways censorship works in Western liberal societies. Usually it’s very subtle – a kindly rejection from an editor, a journalistic or academic budget cutback, a media blackout of an issue or point of view etc. In the case of Norman Finkelstein, all of the above apply plus the added humiliation of being effectively fired after nine years in his job at Chicago’s DePaul University. Finkelstein’s colleagues voted 17-7 in favor of granting him tenure (giving an academic the right to not to have their position terminated without just cause). However, under immense pressure from a smear campaign largely lead by neo-conservative academic Alan Dershowitz, Finkelstein’s superiors denied him tenure and effectively forced his resignation.

His crime: criticizing Israeli aggression towards Palestians.

American Radical is a fascinating insight into the molding and work of one America’s finest dissidents. Finkelstein had both sides of his family exterminated in the Holocaust with only his mother and father surviving the Warsaw Ghetto. Finkelstein is therefore motivated by a deep sense of injustice and hypocrisy at what he sees as Jewish use of the Holocaust to detract attention away from the crimes they are committing against Palestinians.

Finkelstein’s understandable passion sometimes erupts in talks to students at universities, especially when some accuse him of being a “self-hating Jew” an anti-Semite or using the Holocaust to make money from the books he has written. To this latter point Finkelstein makes the point along the lines of, “It’s a strange kind of profiteering that I’m conducting when I’ve been fired from my job and made an exile from the city and university where my entire life is.”

Finkelstein speaks with amazing precision, clarity and passion. The documentary also provides an interesting insight into the non-academic side of him and the way he deals with criticism (largely laughing it off as much as possible). Sometimes however, you can’t help feeling that Finkelstein should argue a little more diplomatically. For instance, a girl bursts into tears during one of his lectures because of his use of the word “Nazi” to describe those Jewish people who use the Holocaust to deflect any responsibility away from the crimes of Israel. Finkelstein clearly has no sympathy with her and berates her for her “crocodile tears” (i.e. an insincere show of emotion) and says “If you had any heart at all, you would shed tears for the suffering of the Palestinian people.” While this received a great deal of cheering and support from the other students, I don’t think it does Finkelstein any favors in trying to win people over to his argument. Many people may interpret him as a heartless, arrogant academic who just drove a girl to tears and this detracts from his central message.

The same goes from his criticism of Alan Dershowitz. Dershowitz is a very popular academic on the right who has led a smear campaign to destroy Finkelstein’s reputation. The main reason for this is that Finkelstein exposed him as a fraud in his book “The Case For Israel” in which Dersovitz defends Israeli aggression but as Finkelstein discovered, uses references and footnotes from another book that has been proved to fabricate the history of Israel and suggest that Palestinians suddenly appeared out of thin air and occupied Jewish land. Finkelstein’s insistence on labeling Dershowitz a fraud got him in very hot water, Dershowitz called some of his powerful friends, and Finkelstein soon lost his job. As Noam Chomsky says in the documentary, “I advised him to play down the plagiarism aspect – what was important was the content of Dershowitz book was false and that’s what he should focus on.”

Ultimately, the story of Norman Finkelstein tells us a lot about how censorship works in the “liberal” academic world. And when it comes to Israel, there are simply things that you are not allowed to say. Although it was released in late 2009, I’ve only just watched it now and it goes down as one of the most interesting and important documentaries I’ve seen this year. It should be essential viewing for anyone involved in academia or with an interest in Israel.

Many plaudits should go the way of makers David Ridgen and Nicolas Rossier who let Finkelstein do the talking and the viewer be the judge.

Oliver Stone’s South of the Border…

…is released at cinemas in the UK tomorrow. Stone goes to Venezuela to see what Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela is really like.

Incidentally, another excellent documentary on Venezuela is The Revolution Will Not Be Televised made by two Irish journalists. They were actually in Venezuela when Chavez was overthrown in a US sponsored private coup in 2002 but later returned to power under popular pressure from the Venezuelan people. Conducting clandestine dirty coups just isn’t as easy as it used to be in South America.

It makes for some dramatic viewing and is worth viewing before the South of the Border to give a little historical context to the film.

Food Inc Review

Last night I saw the documentary film Food Inc. The film tells the story of how large parts of the American farming industry have become an industrial monster producing diseased, high calorie, unhealthy food and treating both animals and employers like dirt.

One of the biggest culprits of this is the corn industry which is now grown so widely and cheaply by American farmers that it has become a base of almost all the foods on supermarket shelves including even coca cola and batteries. Instead of grass, cows are fed corn in huge industrial farms but because their stomachs are not designed to process it, it has lead to several devastating e-coli breakouts in America from infected burgers which have resulted in the death of young children. The film also covers the way agribusiness giant Montsanto has “copyrighted” soy beans meaning that if farmers are found to be accidentally growing their genetically modified seeds (because of cross pollination in their fields by insects, birds, the wind etc), they are prosecuted. Montsanto have effectively made nature illegal.

The film ends on a positive note however highlighting the rapidly increasing organic farming sector and how consumers are demanding it. Even stores like Walmart have jumped on the bandwagon and have started selling organic food. However, I couldn’t help but feel that Food Inc acts as an advert for the organic food industry which is all very well, as long as the food being grown is genuinely organic. As I investigated in Spain a few years ago here and here, one of the problems with organic farming is that due to cross pollination from non-organic farms, an organic seal of approval on the label is no guarantee that a product is definitely organic.

I highly recommend Food Inc however. Although such industrial farming methods are not as widespread in Europe as they are in the USA (and Europe grows far more organic food than the USA) the film serves as a warning that consumers must constantly be aware of where their food is coming from and demand that both food workers and animals are treated humanely. It might even put you off meat and non-organic food for good – its certainly made me think twice.