Saturday, November 02, 2013

Prisoner Omar Khadr: Canada's Crimes and the Punishment of Innocence

How Canada Has Hidden the Truth About Omar Khadr: US War Crimes, Institutional Racism, and Media Failures

by Andy Worthington

I’m cross-posting below an excellent article about Omar Khadr, the child prisoner held at Guantánamo for ten years, from 2002 to 2012, written by Heather Marsh, a journalist and activist who ran WikiLeaks Central, the WikiLeaks news site, from 2010 to 2012. Omar, who was just 15 years old when he was seized in Afghanistan after a firelight with US Special Forces in July 2002, was returned to Canada in September 2012 as the result of a plea deal negotiated in Guantánamo, in which, in exchange for admitting killing a US soldier with a grenade (which was almost certainly untrue), Omar received an eight-year sentence in October 2010, with one year to be served in Guantánamo, and seven in Canada.

Heather’s article was initially published on her website, between a court hearing that Omar had on September 23, and the ruling on October 18. As I explained in an article after the ruling, in the initial submission in August, and in the hearing in September, his lawyer, Dennis Edney, sought his transfer from a maximum security prison (where he is currently held) to a provincial prison, arguing that an eight-year sentence ought to have been regarded as a youth sentence (because a life sentence is mandatory for an adult murder conviction), and therefore Khadr should not have been sent to a maximum security prison in the first place.

However, in delivering his ruling, Justice John Rooke refused to allow Khadr to be moved. Although he agreed that eight years was not an adult sentence for murder, he accepted eight years as an appropriate punishment for the other four war crimes that Khadr agreed to in his plea deal.

Edney plans to appeal, but in the meantime Heather’s article is a powerful analysis of the lies and distortions used to continue holding Omar, and to erode what would obviously be sympathy for him if he were someone from a different background who was manipulated by his father whilst a juvenile. I was particularly impressed with Heather’s research into the deficiencies in the statements of the witnesses who were present at the time of the firelight and Omar’s capture, and I commend her detailed analysis of bias in the Canadian media, including that bastion of liberalism, the Toronto Star.

I must mention, though, that I have no particular complaint against Michelle Shephard, the journalist who has covered Omar’s story for the Star for many years, and whose reporting has often proved very useful to me. Nevertheless, Heather is correct to identify biased reporting throughout the mainstream media, including in the liberal media. This is something that concerns me about much mainstream reporting here in the UK as well — as seen in much of the BBC’s editorial stance since it was set upon by Tony Blair and Alistair Campbell in the run-up to the illegal invasion of Iraq — although my most regular disappointment with the mainstream liberal media centers on their obsession with so-called “objectivity,” in which, by perpetually trying not to put forward a particular point of view, even about the most horrendous crimes committed by, for example, the US government, those in charge succeed only in playing into the hands of the right-wing media, who have no problem with broadcasting and printing lies and propaganda on a regular basis.

The silence surrounding Omar Khadr

By Heather Marsh, Georgie BC’s Blog, October 8, 2013

Omar Khadr was a Canadian kid caught in a firefight in Afghanistan in 2002. He was captured by the US and tortured at Bagram and Guantánamo for ten years. Eventually, he signed a plea deal admitting guilt in killing Special Forces Sergeant First Class Christopher Speer during the battle. He continues his legal saga in solitary confinement in Canada.

Omar was not supposed to be in the compound on the day he was injured. A family acquaintance had taken 15 year old Omar with him as a translator as he was fluent in four languages. According to multiple sources close to him, Omar says he was the first person wounded in the attack on the compound he was in. He says the others carried him to shelter throughout the hours of fighting until he was shot twice in the back. He survived so long because he was not in the active fighting.

His story, the only firsthand account possible, still has not been heard by the Canadian public or Canadian courts. It can’t be heard at this point because if he says he didn’t throw the grenade the parole board will say he is not taking responsibility for his actions. If he talks about his captivity, the US military will call it recidivism as they have in the past when Guantánamo victims were released and spoke about their experiences.

At Guantánamo, his conversations with other captives, guards and even his lawyers were strictly controlled. His defence counsel Dennis Edney says he was repeatedly dragged off to a cell by guards simply for asking his client, “What’s wrong?” Edney was accompanied to the washroom by guards and if he had been discovered smuggling news to Omar (which he did) he would have faced thirty years in a US prison himself. Omar’s counsel were even prevented from playing dominos and chess during counsel visits. “There was no attorney-client privilege,” says Edney.

Omar refused for eight years to sign a plea deal confessing his guilt to a crime he says he did not commit as he told Edney repeatedly, “What would Canadians think of me?” Edney says he did everything he could to convince Omar to take the plea deal for eight additional years as he was never going to get a fair trial. Omar’s previous US military counsel Colby Vokey said in 2007 he would encourage Khadr to plead guilty to the “JFK assassination,” if it meant he could go home.

Omar told Edney during the August 2010 Guantánamo commission trial, “We’re embarrassing ourselves by being here.” He boycotted the proceedings in July, saying, “How can I ask for justice from a process that does not have it or offer it?” Videos of Omar’s interrogation in a documentary by the same name show him telling his captors, “You don’t like the truth.”

“The whole trial system is a sham. There was a complete lack of due process. It is disturbing and embarrassing what is going on down there,” said Colby.

“But let’s face it, this is all about politics,” said Former Chief Prosecutor Colonel Morris Davis. By Davis’s account, Jim Haynes, the man who oversaw the tribunal process, told him, “Wait a minute, we can’t have acquittals. We’ve been holding these guys for years. How are we going to explain that? We can’t have acquittals. We’ve got to have convictions.”

“The compound could not be secured as there were other Taliban around”

When Omar was captured, we were first told he had killed a US ‘medic’ and he was the only one still alive to do so. This would have been a real war crime under the Geneva Conventions, if it had been done knowingly, the medic was wearing clear insignia and the medic was not active in combat. We know Christopher Speer was an elite commando and a member of the 19th Special Forces Group. The Guantánamo Commission witness known only as OC-1, a member of Speer’s unit, testified that training as a medic was a standard part of the training of the elite Special Forces unit which all members went through. They did not act as medics.

Edney described the testimony of OC-1 to me. “He told the judge, the firefight is what he would refer to as a clusterfuck. He enters the compound, shoots one man in the head, sees Omar with his back to him and facing a wall — Omar is screaming from his injuries from the bombing — and OC-1 shoots him twice in the back. OC-1 then exits the alley. In doing so he hears a grenade being thrown. He does not see who threw it. What is also significant is that he orders everyone to leave the compound as it could not be secured as there were other Taliban around — meaning other individuals could have thrown the grenade.”

From OC-1’s verbal account of not being able to secure the area, it is apparent there were far more people than just Omar still alive and capable of throwing grenades at that point. In 2008 the US military accidentally gave a room full of reporters the original report filed from OC-1 which, while leaving out the testimony of a grenade being thrown after Omar was shot, showed that the US military had falsified the official report and the other man beside him was still alive. There was also forensic wound analysis on US Special Forces Sergeant Speer that indicated friendly fire from a US grenade and OC-1’s report and testimony confirm the US was throwing grenades at the time Speer was killed.

OC-1 also testified that his actions in the compound were completed in under a minute. Quite a feat if he had been a medic.

OC-1 testified that Sergeant Layne Morris was injured by pebbles spitting back from the rock wall they were stationed behind. Morris himself said, “I thought, dang, my rifle just exploded on me.” Morris successfully sued Omar’s father for damages of $102.6 million in 2006, along with Speer’s widow. He claimed he was partially blinded in one eye by shrapnel from the grenade which killed Speer even though he was airlifted out with a bleeding nose hours before Speer was killed. Morris retired at 40 and has since been a media favourite for providing testimony against Omar, a child and man he never met.

Omar’s cellmate Omar Deghayes had his eye gouged out by a Guantánamo guard during an interrogation, but has never received compensation. Neither has Omar ever received compensation for his ongoing injuries.

“Our definition of sexy was something like Khadr”

Information on Omar’s case has been kept under intense lockdown since he was captured. He was not allowed to speak to his family for five years. He did not have even a US military lawyer for over two years. When he did talk to his family, a Foreign Affairs official had to be present and ensure “Absolutely NO ATTORNEYS can be present or the call will be refused.” The calls had to be in English despite other detainees being allowed to speak in Arabic. He was forbidden a pen in his room when other detainees were allowed them.

The leaked Guantánamo files showed us in the first line of Omar’s file that the primary interest the US had in him was they didn’t like his dad’s friend. Osama bin Laden was an acquaintance of Omar’s dad from back in the days when the US considered bin Laden a ‘good guy’, when al Qaeda were backed by the US to fight the Russians. Omar’s continued detention was recommended as “Detainee continues to provide valuable information on his father’s associates.”

In 2003, the year after Omar’s capture, Canada suddenly acquired a Ministry of Public Safety which appears to trump both the Canadian courts and the Ministry of Justice in issuing decrees over Omar’s future. We probably should ask how we are ensuring public safety now if not through justice.

This Orwellian Ministry was not much help when a Canadian murdered and ate someone, posted a video of it to our heavily surveilled Internet and then passed through four heavily surveilled international airports before being caught by a German citizen. The Ministry is however, interrupting our prison systems with an unprecedented order stopping Omar from speaking to reporters, overriding our parole boards with statements on Omar’s ineligibility for parole and vowing to fight ‘vigorously’ any attempt to move Omar from solitary confinement in federal prison.

The Ministry has also made a statement that sounds very much like it would not recognize a successful appeal by Omar in a US appeal court, despite the fact that they recognized his conviction by a Guantánamo commission. In case the message wasn’t clear, Prime Minister Harper echoed the Minister’s warnings on the day of Omar’s hearing to be transferred to a provincial prison in what can only be seen as attempted political interference in the judicial system.

The Canadian government has appealed Omar’s right to see the evidence against him all the way up to the Supreme Court. They refused to allow his interrogation videos to be released because Canadians might have “paroxysms of moral outrage, a Canadian specialty.” The Minister of Public Safety demanded Omar’s psychiatrist interviews from the US but refused to release them. Someone leaked them for us. After all the legal battles we still have seen only about fourteen pages of the thousands Canada has in his interrogation file. Considering what has already been revealed, Canadians really need to see what else is in there.

Canada, unlike every other western country, refused to request repatriation or humane treatment of their citizen. They were offered the opportunity to try Omar in a Canadian court and they refused because they said he would never be convicted in a Canadian court. This we learned from the US state cables (thank you, Chelsea Manning).

The US was left with the task of inventing a court and some crimes to apply retroactively. They destroyed evidence, disallowed defence witnesses, used evidence obtained under torture and hired the best discredited witness money could buy. All of this to get Omar labeled with a guilty verdict and out of Guantánamo as the only person charged with murder despite the 6,735 US military killed in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Five years after Omar’s capture, the first incarnation of the Guantánamo trials began. Omar was selected, out of all the possible contenders, to represent the so-called ‘worst of the worst’ at Guantánamo and stand trial. There was no question his case would have appeal, Chief Prosecutor Colonel Morris Davis said. “Our definition of sexy was something like Khadr. People understand murder.”

Most people didn’t understand it wasn’t a real murder charge, which would have been tried in a civilian court. Murder is unlawful killing; in war it is legal, protected as “combatant’s privilege.” Most people’s sex lives don’t involve trying a tortured child on a trumped up charge that carried the death penalty either.

Khadr’s case appeared personal for some members of the US military and not just from loyalty to their own. The persistent rumours (and evidence) of Speer’s death by friendly fire may have contributed to the need for deflection, but the highly sympathetic presence of his widow was another definite factor. She had spent the trial period in close social contact with all members of the jury, a fact mentioned by most in attendance but not reported in the news. She also gave lengthy testimony at his trial on the impact of Speer’s death on her family, referring to Omar as forever a murderer and “someone who is so unworthy”. Most observers described the testimony as “heart wrenching” or similar and it received extensive media coverage.

There was also lengthy victim impact testimony from members of the US military, referred to by Canada’s media as “warrior brothers of the US soldier killed by Mr. Khadr.” In the end, the jury sentenced Omar to forty years on top of the eight he had already served without knowing he had signed a plea deal. For a sentence greater than ten years, six of the seven jurors must have agreed to it. Speer’s widow gave a fist pumping cheer when she heard the sentence, which was fifteen years more than the prosecution had asked for. The Speer family have been the beneficiaries of several fundraising campaigns since the trial.

“Serious legal consequences”

In 2011, Edney, Omar’s most outspoken advocate and legal counsel, was planning on bringing a challenge to Omar’s verdict. In April 2011 we had a taped conversation which we agreed to resume when he returned from seeing Omar at Guantánamo. Edney was concerned that if the full information in the interview was printed at that time, he would not be allowed on the plane to Guantánamo as had happened in the past. When he returned from Guantánamo he was fired by Omar, who told several sources he was given misinformation to encourage him to do so. Omar’s new counsel had a gag order on Edney.

Those new lawyers took five and a half months past the date Omar was eligible for transfer to file an application for Ottawa to transfer him and another three months to ask for a review of the delay in transferring. On July 3, 2012, two of my full taped conversations with Edney were leaked to the online website Cryptome. Within minutes of Cryptome posting the link on Twitter, I received an email asking me to phone Omar’s new counsel. This efficiency and speed from the firm that brought Omar home eleven months late was breathtaking.

When I spoke to counsel Brydie Bethell she demanded repeatedly to know who had authorized the leak, apparently not being familiar with the nature of leaks. She stated that both Edney and I could face “serious legal consequences”, presumably for having a conversation about Omar over a year earlier, long before Edney’s gag order. She said it would “hurt Omar’s cause” if I were to speak of his case, and that I “certainly wasn’t entitled” to know how it could.

This has been a typical reaction from many officially mandated to help Omar’s case. With a few notable exceptions, the advice is for all concerned to sit down, shut up, and let ‘justice’ run its tedious course. Most of our politicians, media and NGO’s have obediently complied for over eleven years.

Omar went on a hunger strike in Guantánamo to protest the lack of progress in his transfer, according to several sources close to him. If he hadn’t, and the US had not continued to pressure Canada, there is no reason to believe he would be in Canada today. He re-hired Edney when he was brought home.

“A right-wing terrorist group”

Most people consider Sun media and the Toronto Star to be the extreme ends of the spectrum of Canadian media coverage on Omar with everyone else falling between. If that were true (and it largely is) a decade long faux debate over Omar’s return is being used to drum the identical very narrow negative message about Omar from every outlet. Even the debate itself is interesting, with outlets from the Sun to state media CBC inferring that media polls are the method we use to decide citizenship rights in Canada.

The Free Omar Khadr campaign has started a spreadsheet charting coverage of Omar Khadr for the last eleven years. The spreadsheet so far includes all of the Star coverage since the trial week, beginning in October 25, 2010.

I wrote in July 2012:

The ‘trial’ was held with the most widely derided court and procedures since the Salem witch trials and a newly created ‘military commission’ instead of either of the two legitimate US courts (civilian or military), but the word ‘convicted’ occurs uncontested 34 times in 24 articles. The crimes Omar Khadr was charged with include ones which the US calls war crimes. None of the rest of the world, including Canada, recognize the impossible ‘murder in violation of the laws of war’ as a war crime in Khadr’s case or any of the others as war crimes, and they could not be legitimately applied to Khadr’s case anyway since they were invented in 2006 and he was captured in 2002. Nevertheless, the words ‘war crime(s)/criminal’ occur 40 times in 24 articles as factual detail of the case.

The highly suspect plea deal which Omar signed after eight years of torture as his only path out of a legal black hole has been rubbed in his face by the Star 40 times, in the words ‘pleaded guilty/admitted/confessed’, presented without qualifiers. Despite there being absolutely no evidence to point to Khadr killing anyone, and a great deal of evidence that shows it would have been impossible for him to throw the grenade, the words ‘murder/killer’ are used against him 50 times, more than two times per article. In 24 articles, the word ‘jihad’ was worked in eight times, ‘al Qaeda’ 25, and ‘terrorist’ or ‘terrorism’ (the word terror was not included in the count) 30 times.

Most other outlets over the years have had a very similar message. While articles like this and reports on Speer’s widow and children are constant, there has not been one mainstream Canadian media article about Omar’s medical condition in over eleven years except a dry mention when it delayed a court hearing. While a random al Qaeda story was mined salaciously by the Star for a remote link with Khadrs, no article was written regarding the United Nations Committee Against Torture criticizing the Canadian government for delaying Omar’s return to Canada and recommending that Canada (presumably including the largest circulation newspaper) raise awareness of the Convention against Torture requirements amongst judges and members of the public.

Sun Media, established in 1996, takes the same message and drums for a variety of extreme and illegal remedies. The appeal it makes to mentally unstable elements of the population cannot be ignored, particularly when it posts the address of Omar’s grandparents and tells its viewers that they may soon be housing ‘the little terrorist Omar Khadr’ as he is constantly referred to by Sun commentators. To say their coverage of Omar over the years has been an attempt to instigate violence is a gross understatement but they continue unchallenged. As of last June, Canada no longer has a provision against hate speech in our Human Rights Act. The Star as well posted this article (since modified) originally with a picture of Omar’s sister’s door bell with name and apartment number.

Canadian media also makes a point of reporting, and in the case of Sun Media promoting, a group presented as average Canadian citizens against Omar Khadr’s return. Despite this opposition being openly created by the Jewish Defense League who have a “multi faith coalition” with the Hindu Advocacy Group, and the Christian Heritage Party, they are never mentioned by name except by Sun media. Tom Flanagan, former advisor to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, traces the roots of the current Conservative Party in power in Canada to the Christian Heritage Party.

The JDL is the Canadian chapter of a US group which is on the FBI terrorist watch list. In 1994, a US member killed 29 Palestinians at prayer, and in 2011 the RCMP launched an investigation against at least nine members of the Canadian JDL with regard to an anonymous tip that they were plotting to bomb the Palestine House in Mississauga. They are supporters of the English Defence League and the wannabe Canadian Defence League, which appears to be made up of the same people. On September 11, 2012, community activists gathered at the home of Omar’s family after JDL bikers promised to assemble there and “send a message” to the Khadr family, instigated by Sun media who had earlier published the address. The bikers eventually rode away after they met the crowd at the door.

It is hard to imagine Golden Dawn or neo-Nazis in Europe lobbying against a Muslim man and harassing his family and the media not pointing out that the harassers are members of far right extremist groups, especially in the case of the JDL, classified “a right-wing terrorist group” by the FBI in 2001. The Toronto Star pointed out JDL’s terrorist designation recently, and JDL protested what they called the paper’s “anti-Israeli bias” in 2010, but the Toronto Star consistently reports anti-Khadr protesters without mentioning the affiliation.

Comments on any articles about Khadr in Canadian media are very quickly flooded with negative comments which are voted up. The Harper government is no stranger to astroturfing and manipulation of public perception of the Khadr case has preoccupied this government as shown in the US state cables. Media manipulation is also a primary goal of the JDL.

“You killed yours; we starved ours to death”

There are real, internationally recognized war crimes in Omar Khadr’s case. Shooting a blinded child twice in the back is one. Torture of a prisoner of war is another, in which Canada was complicit. The investigations into Canada’s actions in this case have been blocked for more than eleven years.

Omar completely lost the sight in one eye in the firefight. He has since come close to losing the vision remaining in the second eye. Faced with his one remaining eye containing shrapnel, the US military chose to shine bright lights into it while interrogating him. Canada simply refused to give him sunglasses for eight years while he sat first in the Cuban sun then in 24 hours a day of fluorescent lighting. The US forced him through a corrupt show trial; Canada has locked him in solitary and refuses to allow him to be interviewed.

There is an apocryphal story in which a US diplomat said to Canada’s former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, “You treated your Indians a lot better than we treated ours.”

Trudeau replied, “Yes, you killed yours; we starved ours to death.”

Apocryphal or not, it is hard not to remember in the case of Omar Khadr.

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer and film-maker. He is the co-founder of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here – or here for the US).

To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the four-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, and “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” an ongoing, 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011. Also see the definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

Please also consider joining the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.
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Raping Ireland Again: An Old Enemy Behind a New Sort of Famine

The Bank Guarantee that Bankrupted Ireland

by Ellen Hodgson Brown - Dissident Voice

The Irish have a long history of being tyrannized, exploited, and oppressed—from the forced conversion to Christianity in the Dark Ages, to slave trading of the natives in the 15th and 16th centuries, to the mid-nineteenth century “potato famine” that was really a holocaust. The British got Ireland’s food exports, while at least one million Irish died from starvation and related diseases, and another million or more emigrated.

Today, Ireland is under a different sort of tyranny, one imposed by the banks and the troika—the EU, ECB and IMF. The oppressors have demanded austerity and more austerity, forcing the public to pick up the tab for bills incurred by profligate private bankers.

The official unemployment rate is 13.5%—up from 5% in 2006—and this figure does not take into account the mass emigration of Ireland’s young people in search of better opportunities abroad. Job loss and a flood of foreclosures are leading to suicides. A raft of new taxes and charges has been sold as necessary to reduce the deficit, but they are simply a backdoor bailout of the banks.

At first, the Irish accepted the media explanation: these draconian measures were necessary to “balance the budget” and were in their best interests. But after five years of belt-tightening in which unemployment and living conditions have not improved, the people are slowly waking up. They are realizing that their assets are being grabbed simply to pay for the mistakes of the financial sector.

Five years of austerity has not restored confidence in Ireland’s banks. In fact the banks themselves are packing up and leaving. On October 31, reported that Danske Bank Ireland was closing its personal and business banking, only days after ACCBank announced it was handing back its banking license; and Ulster Bank’s future in Ireland remains unclear.

The field is ripe for some publicly owned banks. Banks that have a mandate to serve the people, return the profits to the people, and refrain from speculating. Banks guaranteed by the state because they are the state, without resort to bailouts or bail-ins. Banks that aren’t going anywhere, because they are locally owned by the people themselves.

The Folly of Absorbing the Gambling Losses of the Banks

Ireland was the first European country to watch its entire banking system fail. Unlike the Icelanders, who refused to bail out their bankrupt banks, in September 2008 the Irish government gave a blanket guarantee to all Irish banks, covering all their loans, deposits, bonds and other liabilities.

At the time, no one was aware of the huge scale of the banks’ liabilities, or just how far the Irish property market would fall.

Within two years, the state bank guarantee had bankrupted Ireland. The international money markets would no longer lend to the Irish government.

Before the bailout, the Irish budget was in surplus. By 2011, its deficit was 32% of the country’s GDP, the highest by far in the Eurozone. At that rate, bank losses would take every penny of Irish taxes for at least the next three years.

“This debt would probably be manageable,” wrote Morgan Kelly, Professor of Economics at University College Dublin, “had the Irish government not casually committed itself to absorb all the gambling losses of its banking system.”

To avoid collapse, the government had to sign up for an €85 billion bailout from the EU-IMF and enter a four year program of economic austerity, monitored every three months by an EU/IMF team sent to Dublin.

Public assets have also been put on the auction block. Assets currently under consideration include parts of Ireland’s power and gas companies and its 25% stake in the airline Aer Lingus.

At one time, Ireland could have followed the lead of Iceland and refused to bail out its bondholders or to bow to the demands for austerity. But that was before the Irish government used ECB money to pay off the foreign bondholders of Irish banks. Now its debt is to the troika, and the troika are tightening the screws. In September 2013, they demanded another 3.1 billion euro reduction in spending.

Some ministers, however, are resisting such cuts, which they say are politically undeliverable.

In The Irish Times on October 31, 2013, a former IMF official warned that the austerity imposed on Ireland is self-defeating. Ashoka Mody, former IMF chief of mission to Ireland, said it had become “orthodoxy that the only way to establish market credibility” was to pursue austerity policies. But five years of crisis and two recent years of no growth needed “deep thinking” on whether this was the right course of action. He said there was “not one single historical instance” where austerity policies have led to an exit from a heavy debt burden.

Austerity has not fixed Ireland’s debt problems. Belying the rosy picture painted by the media, in September 2013 Antonio Garcia Pascual, chief euro-zone economist at Barclays Investment Bank, warned that Ireland may soon need a second bailout.

According to John Spain, writing in Irish Central in September 2013:

The anger among ordinary Irish people about all this has been immense…. There has been great pressure here for answers…. Why is the ordinary Irish taxpayer left carrying the can for all the debts piled up by banks, developers and speculators? How come no one has been jailed for what happened? … [D]espite all the public anger, there has been no public inquiry into the disaster.

Bail-in by Super-tax or Economic Sovereignty?

In many ways, Ireland is ground zero for the austerity-driven asset grab now sweeping the world. All Eurozone countries are mired in debt. The problem is systemic.

In October 2013, an IMF report discussed balancing the books of the Eurozone governments through a super-tax of 10% on all households in the Eurozone with positive net wealth. That would mean the confiscation of 10% of private savings to feed the insatiable banking casino.

The authors said the proposal was only theoretical, but that it appeared to be “an efficient solution” for the debt problem. For a group of 15 European countries, the measure would bring the debt ratio to “acceptable” levels, i.e. comparable to levels before the 2008 crisis.

A review posted on Gold Silver Worlds observed:

[T]he report right away debunks the myth that politicians and main stream media try to sell, i.e. the crisis is contained and the positive economic outlook for 2014.

… Prepare yourself, the reality is that more bail-ins, confiscation and financial repression is coming, contrary to what the good news propaganda tries to tell.

A more sustainable solution was proposed by Dr Fadhel Kaboub, Assistant Professor of Economics at Denison University in Ohio. In a letter posted in The Financial Times titled “What the Eurozone Needs Is Functional Finance,” he wrote:

The eurozone’s obsession with “sound finance” is the root cause of today’s sovereign debt crisis. Austerity measures are not only incapable of solving the sovereign debt problem, but also a major obstacle to increasing aggregate demand in the eurozone. The Maastricht treaty’s “no bail-out, no exit, no default” clauses essentially amount to a joint economic suicide pact for the eurozone countries.

… Unfortunately, the likelihood of a swift political solution to amend the EU treaty is highly improbable. Therefore, the most likely and least painful scenario for [the insolvent countries] is an exit from the eurozone combined with partial default and devaluation of a new national currency…

The takeaway lesson is that financial sovereignty and adequate policy co-ordination between fiscal and monetary authorities are the prerequisites for economic prosperity.

Standing Up to Goliath

Ireland could fix its budget problems by leaving the Eurozone, repudiating its blanket bank guarantee as “odious” (obtained by fraud and under duress), and issuing its own national currency. The currency could then be used to fund infrastructure and restore social services, putting the Irish back to work.

Short of leaving the Eurozone, Ireland could reduce its interest burden and expand local credit by forming publicly-owned banks, on the model of the Bank of North Dakota. The newly-formed Public Banking Forum of Ireland is pursuing that option. In Wales, which has also been exploited for its coal, mobilizing for a public bank is being organized by the Arian Cymru ‘BERW’ (Banking and Economic Regeneration Wales).

Irish writer Barry Fitzgerald, author of Building Cities of Gold, casts the challenge to his homeland in archetypal terms:

The Irish are mobilising and they are awakening. They hold the DNA memory of vastly ancient times, when all men and women obeyed the Golden rule of honouring themselves, one another and the planet. They recognize the value of this harmony as it relates to banking. They instantly intuit that public banking free from the soiled hands of usurious debt tyranny is part of the natural order.
In many ways they could lead the way in this unfolding, as their small country is so easily traversed to mobilise local communities. They possess vast potential renewable energy generation and indeed could easily use a combination of public banking and bond issuance backed by the people to gain energy independence in a very short time.

When the indomitable Irish spirit is awakened, organized and mobilized, the country could become the poster child not for austerity, but for economic prosperity through financial sovereignty.

Ellen Brown is an attorney in Los Angeles and the author of 11 books. In Web of Debt: The Shocking Truth about Our Money System and How We Can Break Free, she shows how a private banking cartel has usurped the power to create money from the people themselves, and how we the people can get it back. Read other articles by Ellen, or visit Ellen's website.

Friday, November 01, 2013

Britain's Privy Council Rams Press Gag Legislation Through

UK’s Privy Council used to steamroller press regulation

By Chris Marsden - WSWS

1 November 2013

Across-party Royal Charter on press regulation in the UK has been granted by the Privy Council, after a court challenge by the newspaper industry was rejected.

The move constitutes a major threat to free speech and freedom of the press in Britain and internationally, including for Internet publications.

The Privy Council, made up of government ministers, met in private with the Queen at Buckingham Palace. It included Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the Liberal Democrats Nick Clegg, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, Culture Secretary Maria Miller and Liberal Democrat Justice Minister Lord McNally of Blackpool. The Queen will have been read out the wishes of parliament and signalled her approval.

The Royal Charter will create a watchdog, which will in turn oversee a new press regulator. The move was taken following the Leveson Inquiry into newspaper ethics and practices and has sought to capitalise on widespread revulsion over the “industrial scale” hacking of private communications by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp/News International publications such as the now defunct News of the World .

Publishers were only given until 5:30 pm Wednesday to prevent the approval of the charter by the Privy Council.

The body, essentially a feudal relic, and the mechanism of a Royal Charter were chosen as means of circumventing continued opposition from within the media to plans backed by both governing parties, Conservative and Liberal Democrat, and the opposition Labour Party.

In November 2012, Lord Justice Leveson published his nearly 2,000-page report calling for a new system of press regulation to replace the Press Complaints Commission (PCC), which is run by the newspaper industry as a token gesture. Leveson’s proposal was for a self-regulating body, overseen by an independent “recognition body” and with statutory underpinning.

To counter arguments against political interference and state control of the press, Prime Minister David Cameron rejected the idea of legislation to underpin regulation and advanced the alternative of a Royal Charter.

Royal Charters are generally a means of approving decisions that have already been taken by parliament in the name of the monarch.

The new body will be made up of non-journalists and have no serving editors, unlike the PCC, and will draw up a code of standards covering privacy, when there is no public interest justification, as well as accuracy. The body will be able to impose fines of up to one percent of turnover, capped at £1 million for breaches of the code.

A great deal is made of such “safeguards” as the non-inclusion of civil servants and Members of Parliament and of the freedom of the media to either sign up or stay outside the new system. But both are paper-thin disguises for de facto state and political regulation.

Although not part of the state, the new body will still enforce a system of press regulations determined by the state .

There is also a coercive element. Under the Crime and Courts Act 2013, courts have already been advised to treat publishers differently if they are part of an approved regulator or not—especially when it comes to exemplary damages in a libel action for those not registered.

In addition, under the PCC, only people directly affected by a story could complain. Now third parties “seeking to ensure accuracy of published information” can register complaints.

This will inevitably include the government in both categories. It will provide a new mechanism for censorship when it comes to issues such as publishing the revelations by whistleblower Edward Snowden of mass state surveillance.

The charter includes the provision that any changes to its strictures require a two-thirds majority in parliament, but this still means that it can be made yet more restrictive in future.

Many websites will be covered by the legislation—if they “contain news related material” or have more than one author. The Department of Culture, Media and Sport has stressed that the location of the servers is not relevant. Officials told the BBC, “What is relevant is whether the alleged libel (or other relevant media related offence as covered by the new provisions) was committed here, e.g. the article was published here. Downloading here can count as publication in the law.”

In the run-up to the Privy Council meeting, press and publishing industry bodies such as the Industry Steering Group laid out the case against the new legislation. They proposed a new Independent Press Standards Organisation (Ipso) to replace the Press Complaints Commission, which would have included former editors and possibly an MP sitting on the recognition panel, and no changes to be allowed by parliament, even with a two-thirds majority.

A group of seven international press freedom groups urged the Queen not to sign the charter, describing it as “toxic” and as camouflage for a “set of repressive statutory controls.”

The signatories were the World Association of Newspapers & News Publishers and FIPP, the worldwide magazine media association, the Commonwealth Press Union Media Trust, the Inter American Press Association, the International Association of Broadcasting, the International Press Institute and the World Press Freedom Committee. These organisations said the charter “will have a chilling impact on journalism throughout the United Kingdom” and that “the actions of Britain’s parliament will be used as an excuse by those who want to muzzle the press in their own country and stifle the free flow of information.”

The newspapers’ alternative proposals were rejected by a subcommittee of the Privy Council on October 8 on the grounds that they did not comply with “government policy.”

On Wednesday, High Court judges refused a last-minute injunction sought by the Press Standards Board of Finance (PSBF) and said there were no grounds for a judicial review. The injunction was backed by the Newspaper Publishers Association, the Newspaper Society, the Scottish Newspaper Society and the Professional Publishers Association.

As the Privy Council met, publishers appealed to Court of Appeal judges to reconsider. This too was denied by Lord Dyson, Master of the Rolls, Lord Justice Moore-Bick and Lord Justice Elias, who refused an interim order pending further legal action. Richard Gordon QC, representing the PSBF, commented in court,
“This process, we say, was conspicuously unfair. It’s almost Kafkaesque in terms of not knowing what the next step is intended to be.”

The newspaper industry described proceedings leading to the rejection of their right of appeal as “unfair and unlawful.” A further appeal is expected within the next seven days, calling for a judicial review.

As has now become the norm, the absence of any defence of democratic rights from the pseudo-liberal fraternity has left mainly right-wing elements within ruling circles to strike a pose as guardians of liberty.

Murdoch’s The Sun declared that the resort to a closed session of the Privy Council “has more in common with tyranny than a nation that founded parliamentary government.”

The Daily Telegraph notes that it is not hard to conceive of the charter being amended and made more restrictive by a two-thirds majority in parliament: “The Guardian ’s recent investigation into state spying is exactly the kind of reporting that could spark a moral panic among politicians and give them cause to limit what the press can publish.”

The Daily Mirror editorialised that “many newspapers are refusing to deal with a regulatory body that is, in effect, an extension of the state.”

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How Smart Is This! Smart Grids and the Future of Power

The "smart" grid: What's really at stake?


Around the globe, citizens of all walks of life are invited to realize that we're all now on the playing field of a corporate control end-game. Through power grid modifications and smart meter installations, monopolistic forces are currently implementing a highly-hackable "smart" system of wireless utility metering, monitoring, selling private data, and control of life in citizens' homes.

But a new day dawns. And we have solutions and renewable energy technology available -- here and now -- to rise above and create a better way of living. We no longer need to be under the thumb, or the spell, of corporate power centers which care neither for planet nor people.


Either stream the movie online for under $3 or purchase a copy or 10.

1. Show it to your friends and neighbors.
2. Order an extra one for your local public library.
3. Get a copy and give it to your Congressman.
4. Organize viewings of the movie at your local clubs, churches and community groups.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Roundabout Route to Total Information Awareness

MUSCULAR Spasm: Let’s Blame Canada for NSA Surveillance

by Peter Lee - China Matters

Back in August, I e-mailed a Guy Who Knows Stuff:

 In order to fudge the legal limitations on collection of strictly intra-US phone calls by US persons, could the US gov ask ATT (which, I expect, has a pretty close working relationship with Bell Canada) to route calls either by number or in bulk to Canada and then back to the USA? Then the NSA could pick up the traffic on the outbound or inbound end, or the Canadians could rummage through it on our behalf. Unfortunately, I have no concrete information to back up this brainwave, but it would seem to be a logical way for the NSA to advance its goal of getting all the data. Any thoughts on this?

And he replied:

Yes. They could certainly do that.

But then I came across:

David Skillicorn, a professor in the School of Computing at Queen’s University, says this is one piece of the data-sharing relationship "that has always been carefully constructed."
"The Americans will not use Canadians to collect data on U.S. persons, nor will any of the other Five Eyes countries," Skillicorn says.

"In fact, in practice, it’s as if the five countries’ citizens were one large, collective group, and their mutual communications are not intercepted by any in the Five Eyes community."

Poked around a bit, came up empty, didn’t pursue it.

Then, today, courtesy of Barton Gellman at the Washington Post, there’s this, describing an NSA program that circumvents limits on domestic surveillance by intercepting Google and Yahoo! traffic between their data centers through our Anglophone allies/proxies:

The NSA’s principal tool to exploit the data links is a project called MUSCULAR, operated jointly with the agency’s British counterpart, GCHQ. From undisclosed interception points, the NSA and GCHQ are copying entire data flows across fiber-optic cables that carry information between the data centers of the Silicon Valley giants.

As for that “undisclosed intercept point”, I vote for Canada as the most likely suspect. North American traffic traverses Canada, gets bundled off to Blighty, and stored for sharing with the NSA.
Naturally, we’re treated to generous descriptions of Google outrage and privacy heroism:

In order to obtain free access to data center traffic, the NSA had to circumvent gold standard security measures. Google “goes to great lengths to protect the data and intellectual property in these centers,” according to one of the company’s blog posts, with tightly audited access controls, heat sensitive cameras, round-the-clock guards and biometric verification of identities.

Google and Yahoo also pay for premium data links, designed to be faster, more reliable and more secure. In recent years, each of them is said to have bought or leased thousands of miles of fiber optic cables for their own exclusive use. They had reason to think, insiders said, that their private, internal networks were safe from prying eyes.

In an NSA presentation slide on “Google Cloud Exploitation,” however, a sketch shows where the “Public Internet” meets the internal “Google Cloud” where their data resides. In hand-printed letters, the drawing notes that encryption is “added and removed here!” The artist adds a smiley face, a cheeky celebration of victory over Google security.

Two engineers with close ties to Google exploded in profanity when they saw the drawing. “I hope you publish this,” one of them said.

Publish what? Evidence that Google's security is cracked? Or document Google's hyperbolic anger at NSA transgressions to reassure Google Cloud customers?

If you’re searching for privacy heroes, I think you’d better scratch Google off your list. Per Gellman:

Last month, long before The Post approached Google to discuss the penetration of its cloud, vice president for security engineering Eric Grosse announced that the company is racing to encrypt the links between its data centers. “It’s an arms race,” he said then. “We see these government agencies as among the most skilled players in this game.”

Google knew, kids. Get used to it.

Another guy I’m crossing off my personal list together with David Skillicorn is John Schindler, whose tweets, posts, and sneers are a mainstay of defenders of the NSA:

John Schindler, a former NSA chief analyst and frequent defender who teaches at the Naval War College, said it was obvious why the agency would prefer to avoid restrictions where it can.

“Look, NSA has platoons of lawyers and their entire job is figuring out how to stay within the law and maximize collection by exploiting every loophole,” he said. “It’s fair to say the rules are less restrictive under Executive Order 12333 than they are under FISA.”

But what about that "honesty" elixir you were peddling to the NSA in that smarmy open letter that appeared the same day Gellman's piece came out?

[H]ey, I’m fine with secrecy in principle – intelligence is conducted in secret by its very nature. But the current crisis has exposed the Agency to scrutiny based on falsehoods proffered by Kremlin-backed scoundrels and their useful idiots among activists masquerading as journalists. Time to beat that back with some honesty, what might seem scarily radical honesty to old SIGINT hands. ...

Rebrand now while you still can and regain the public’s trust. I’m confident that, once they understand what NSA really does, the vast majority of Americans will be glad the Agency is on watch.

Good luck with that rebranding, "Dash".

I also think the NSA has platoons of shills and their entire job is figuring out how to stay within the realm of plausible deniability and minimize transparency by exploiting every loophole. But, given their commitment to suppressing instead of informing public debate about surveillance, I don’t see any reason to trust them or listen to them. Why anyone would rely on Schindler for objective and honest insight into the scope and implementation of the US surveillance regime is beyond me.

Hydrogen Bombs and Human Intent

Hydrogen Bombs and Other Surprises

by Ray Grigg - Shades of Green

On January 23, 1961, an American Strategic Air Command B-52 bomber, on a routine flight along the northeast coast of the US, went into a fatal tailspin after losing a wing over Goldsboro, North Carolina. Military aircraft sometimes crash but this event was special because of the two Mark 39 Mod 2 hydrogen bombs on board. Each had the explosive power of 4 million tons of TNT, about 260 times more powerful than the atomic blast that instantly killed an estimated 135,000 people at Hiroshima in 1945.

But the 1961 event was special for another reason. As the aircraft broke apart during its descent, both bombs tore loose from their moorings in the bay of the bomber. One was found in a meadow off Big Daddy's Road. The other, its opened parachute draped over a tree, was easily located in a field close to the nearby town of Faro. It was the Faro bomb that sent a shiver of chill through the nuclear experts.

Somehow, while being ejected from the disintegrating aircraft, the safety pin on this bomb was pulled free, an event that simulated the manual removal of the pin as the first stage in the activation sequence that was supposed to culminate in a nuclear explosion. The bomb thought it was falling toward a real target. The batteries began supplying power to the operating systems. The arming rods were pulled. All the timing switches were energized. The parachute deployed. The last step needed for detonating the bomb was a single device called a “pre-arming ready-safe switch” that moved the final explosive process from “off” to “on”. This 28-volt switch needed to be activated by a signal from the B-52's cockpit — fortunately, a signal that did not come. However, this safety device was known to be notoriously unreliable. On at least 30 previously recorded occasions it had malfunctioned to the “on” position. If the switch had failed on this occasion, if a single circuit had inadvertently closed, a 4 megaton hydrogen bomb would have exploded over Goldsboro, North Carolina.

Goldsboro would have disappeared in a flash of intense light and heat. The detonation would have incinerated a portion of North Carolina. Lethal radioactive fallout would have killed millions and threatened additional millions in Washington D.C., Baltimore, Philadelphia, and as far away as New York city. America and the world was as close to a nuclear catastrophe as an unreliable switch. But this event was just one of “at least 700 'significant' accidents and incidents involving 1,250 nuclear weapons recorded between 1950 and 1968 alone” (Macedonian International News Agency, Sept. 21/13).

This B-52 cautionary tale corresponds to another that occurred during the October, 1962, Cuban Missile Crisis when a USSR submarine commander refused a captain's and crew's request to fire a nuclear-tipped torpedo at US warships, an event that could have triggered a nuclear war. And it's comparable to a situation in January, 1995, when USSR President Boris Yeltsin — who, fortunately, was not drunk at the time — refused to authorize a missile attack on the United States because he didn't believe the US would attack them — the incoming American missile turned out to be a Norwegian scientific rocket sampling the electrical charges in the aurora borealis.

These events should serve as reminders of how frequently our technology brings us to the edge of the unthinkable. The tenuous difference between ingenuity and disaster can be little more than an unreliable switch that happens to work, an imaginative leap that initiates an act of defiant bravery, a lucid hunch that fails to believe in faulty evidence. Our technology has brought us to the place where safety is often as precarious as good luck.

Margaret Atwood, in a CBC interview about her latest book, MaddAddam (Sept. 30/13), is well aware of this precariousness. “Human intention,” she said, “is scary.” Her twin fears are climate change and genetic engineering. Each is a high-risk activity. In the first case, using the atmosphere as an industrial sewer for billions of tonnes of carbon dioxide has disturbing effects on weather, species, agriculture, sea levels, ocean acidification, ecological integrity and the stable social structures we need for economic order and political civility. As for the genetic modification of organisms, inventing artificial life forms while mixing plants and animals into wholly unnatural combinations are also “scary” enterprises if we give a moment of thought to the huge consequences of possible miscalculations.

We are assured, of course, by flushes of undue optimism and surges of wanton pride, that our adventurous behaviour is manageable risk. All the necessary precautions have been taken. The ubiquitous chemical concoctions that inhabit our daily lives are deemed harmless. Engineered safeguards will avoid the environmental hazards of mining, oil drilling and fracking. Forests will be wisely managed. Nanotechnology can be trusted. Banks will be adequately regulated. Corporations will serve the pubic good. Salmon farms will not import foreign viruses potent enough to collapse wild marine ecologies. Things are under control — until they aren't.

Granted, the very act of living is a succession of risks. But the new risks in our technological world are growing disproportionally larger than the benefits. The consequences of mistakes are magnified by the rising influence of our human presence. We've adjusted so well to living with escalating risk that we don't expect to be blasted out of existence by an errant hydrogen bomb.

The Other Elephant in the Senate Scandal Living Room

Quid pro quo: The missing puzzle piece in Duffy-Harper Senate Scandal

by Damien Gillis -

Patronage. It’s the petard with which Stephen Harper slew Paul Martin – and upon which he may yet hoist himself.

In the Liberals’ case, it was a slush fund for Quebec power brokers, wrapped in a patriotic bow. For Harper’s Conservatives, it’s the Old Faithful of patronage: that incestuous cesspool, otherwise known as the Senate.

In a recent monologue for CBC’s The National, Canada’s windbag laureate Rex Murphy compared the Senate to the Grimpen Mire – that bog of despair in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Hound of the Baskervilles.

But the Grimpen Mire of Canadian politics oozes beyond the Red Chamber’s walls – it encompasses a broader system of patronage that serves to insulate and reward a small cabal of power brokers, at the tax payer and citizen’s expense.

Fees for services rendered

The longstanding complaint of Senate critics is the partisan manner in which seats are awarded. Most go to political allies who have been particularly helpful to the governing party. Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin fall into a different category.

While each has been a loyal party supporter and done their level best in the media to give their Tory friends a break, it is what these two well-connected celebrities offered the party as senators that was of the greatest value.

This is no secret. Wallin and Duffy racked up travel expenses in promoting the Harper government and Conservative Party. They provided a valuable service to both – though lines were blurred and crossed on numerous occasions, which is the crux of Wallin’s present troubles. Conservative senator Don Plett put it this way to The Globe and Mail:

We won the [2011] election, and I’m sure Mike [Duffy] was very instrumental in that…He was a huge asset to us.

Stephen Harper initially defended Wallin’s $350,000 travel bill as “reasonable” – a very reasonable return on investment, he might have said.

Neither Duffy nor Wallin should be assumed to have performed these services – raising both the financial and public profile of their patrons – free of charge. In exchange, they got a Senate seat, a lifetime pension, a jet-setting lifestyle, and some extra expenses on the side – at least, that was their impression. Duffy’s lawyer swears his client was cleared by then-Senate government leader Marjory LeBreton, in a 2009 internal memo, to declare his PEI home as his principal residence, thus enabling him to collect Ottawa living expenses.

Our version of British MP expense scandal?

Duffy and Wallin are far from alone in receiving such ungodly perks – as this Senate Scandal and its surrounding investigations have and will continue to demonstrate. Harb, Brazeau, and surely more to come.

This may prove our version of the British MP expense scandal. And it’s not cottages in Cavendish or moats cleaned in the English countryside that rankle the public. These sordid examples of our patronage system evoke deeper, more fundamental faults within our democracy. The back room dealings, the pandering to powerful interets, the secret handshakes with lobbyists, the revolving door between government and industry, the special treatment of corporations over the public and environmental interest.

Harper’s ever-changing story

In the early days of the Senate Scandal, Mike Duffy was barely scolded. Rather, the party and some of its key actors worked diligently to cover up the problem and the PM gave the repayment his stamp of approval. Though Stephen Harper throws Wright and Duffy under the bus on a daily basis now, initially, he came, relatively speaking, to both of their defenses, even claiming – falsely, we now know – that his chief of staff had resigned voluntarily.

None of this speaks to shocked indignation at Mr. Duffy’s surprise greed and betrayal that we see today.
A deal’s a deal

Rather, it hints at an arrangement – a deal. Mr. Duffy now reveals that the Conservative Party cut him a cheque for legal services in connection to the repayment of his $90,000 in illegitimate expenses (Harper is confirming this). The cheque, signed by senior party lawyer Arthur Hamilton, was purportedly in connection to this “secret” deal with Wright. Hamilton also allegedly handled Wright’s $90,000 payment. Duffy claims he was coached to lie about the source of these funds – saying they came from an RBC mortgage on his home – by Conservative insiders involved in the deal.

Even at this late stage in the game, Senator Patrick Brazeau is claiming he was recently offered a back room deal in exchange for a public apology.

These are, of course, partly allegations that need to be investigated further. But it all fits within a pattern of dealmaking between high-profile senators and the party they were brought in to help.

So we have the PM’s chief of staff and now his party paying all Mr. Duffy’s costs, then pretending everything was all cleaned up – plus at least 11 other Conservative insiders who knew about the Duffy-Wright bailout - and yet Mr. Harper had no idea and is now furious at the mere notion of all his underlings’ deceitful actions? This from the most top-down, micro-managing, control-freak of a prime minister this country has ever known!

It is only with the mushrooming RCMP investigation and the glare of the national media that this cast of characters has been cut adrift by their prime minister.

A rare window of opportunity

Patronage is the corrupt glue that binds our political system, while occasionally ensnaring its participants. Maybe Stephen Harper will evade yet another quagmire in his long, resilient political career.

Or perhaps the Senate Scandal will be his Grimpen Mire. His Alamo. His Paul Martin moment.

Time will tell. But if Canadians are serious about getting to the rotten root of the problem, they’ll seize this rare window of opportunity and demand real Senate and patronage reform now. Or sooner or later, we’ll all be dragged into the mire.

Damien Gillis is a Vancouver-based documentary filmmaker with a focus on environmental and social justice issues - especially relating to water, energy, and saving Canada's wild salmon - working with many environmental organizations in BC and around the world. He is the co-founder, along with Rafe Mair, of The Common Sense Canadian, and a board member of both the BC Environmental Network and the Haig-Brown Institute.
More articles by Damien Gillis

When Jeremy Met Russell: Brand New Revolutionary?

Launchpad For A Revolution? Russell Brand, The BBC And Elite Power

by David Cromwell  - Media Lens

When someone with interesting things to say is granted a high-profile media platform, it is wise to listen to what is being said and ask why they have been given such a platform. Comedian and actor Russell Brand's 10-minute interview by Jeremy Paxman on BBC's Newsnight last week was given considerable advance publicity and generated enormous reaction on social media and in the press, just as those media gatekeepers who selected Brand to appear would have wished.

The interview was hung on the hook of Brand's guest-editing of a special edition of New Statesman, the 'leftwing' weekly magazine owned by the multimillionaire Mike Danson. In a rambling 4500-word essay mixing political comment, spiritual insight, humour and trademark flowery wordplay, Brand called for a 'total revolution of consciousness and our entire social, political and economic system.'

'Apathy', he said, 'is a rational reaction to a system that no longer represents, hears or addresses the vast majority of people'. He rightly noted that the public is, however, 'far from impotent', adding:

'I take great courage from the groaning effort required to keep us down, the institutions that have to be fastidiously kept in place to maintain this duplicitous order.'

These were all good points. But one of these institutions, unmentioned even once in his long essay, is the BBC.

Last Wednesday, from the safe confines of the Newsnight studio, Jeremy Paxman introduced his Russell Brand interview in archetypal world-weary mode like some kind of venerable patrician inviting a precocious, innocent upstart to join an exalted circle, just for a few moments. Paxman began by characterising Brand's New Statesman essay as a 'combination of distaste for mainstream politics and overweening vanity'. A Newsnight professional then flicked a switch and the prepared interview ran, filmed in an anonymous luxury hotel room. Paxman's line of attack was that Brand couldn't 'even be arsed to vote'.

It continued like this:

Jeremy Paxman: 'Well, how do you have any authority to talk about politics then?'

Russell Brand: 'Well I don't get my authority from this pre-existing paradigm which is quite narrow and only serves a few people. I look elsewhere for alternatives that might be of service to humanity. "Alternate" means alternative political systems.'

JP: [Sceptical look] 'They being?'

RB: 'Well, I've not invented it yet, Jeremy. I had to do a magazine last week. I had a lot on my plate. But here's the thing it shouldn't do. Shouldn't destroy the planet. Shouldn't create massive economic disparity. Shouldn't ignore the needs of the people. The burden of proof is on the people with the power, not people doing a magazine.'

JP: 'How do you imagine that people get power?'

RB: 'Well, I imagine there are hierarchical systems that have been preserved through generations.'

JP: 'They get power by being voted in. You can't even be arsed to vote!'

RB: 'That's quite a narrow prescriptive parameter that change is within the...'

JP: 'In a democracy that's how it works.'

Of course, Paxman's establishment-friendly remarks may be attributed to playing devil's advocate. But it seems clear that Paxman really does believe we live in a functioning democracy. Certainly, the BBC man has an embarrassing faith in the good intentions of our leaders. In 2009 he commented of the Iraq war:

'As far as I personally was concerned, there came a point with the presentation of the so-called evidence, with the moment when Colin Powell sat down at the UN General Assembly and unveiled what he said was cast-iron evidence of things like mobile, biological weapon facilities and the like...

'When I saw all of that, I thought, well, "We know that Colin Powell is an intelligent, thoughtful man, and a sceptical man. If he believes all this to be the case, then, you know, he's seen the evidence; I haven't."

'Now that evidence turned out to be absolutely meaningless, but we only discover that after the event. So, you know, I'm perfectly open to the accusation that we were hoodwinked. Yes, clearly we were.'

It is indeed ironic, then, that the gullible Paxman should cast himself as a hard-bitten realist challenging a well-intentioned but naïve fantasist.

As we've noted before, the notion that we live in a proper democracy is a dangerous illusion maintained by a state-corporate media to which Paxman himself is a prominent contributor. Brand confronted Paxman directly about the limited choice of policies and politicians offered to the public:

'Aren't you bored? Aren't you more bored than anyone? You've been talking year after year, listening to their lies, their nonsense – then it's that one getting in, then it's that one getting in. But the problem continues. Why are we going to continue to contribute to this façade?'

But that was about as far as Brand went. He had nothing to say about the insidious role of the BBC in maintaining support for the crushing economic and political system that is, as Brand stated, destroying the planet, creating massive economic disparity and ignoring the needs of the people. By agreeing to enter the lion's den of a BBC interview, edited and packaged as a high-profile 10-minute segment on Newsnight, knowing that he would likely boost viewing figures amongst a target younger audience without drawing attention to these parameters, far less criticising them, Brand let a major component of state-corporate power off the hook. He effectively contributed to the illusion that the BBC is a level platform for reasoned, vigorous and wide-ranging debate on the most serious issues affecting people and planet.

This matters because, as we have noted before, the most effective propaganda systems provide opportunities for some dissent while the overwhelming pattern of media coverage strongly supports state-corporate aims. And the BBC, regarded by many people as the epitome of all that is good about Britain, is arguably the most powerful media institution in this equation. After all, the BBC is still the news source for the majority of the public, and thus the establishment-friendly window through which the population views domestic and world affairs. An opinion poll published in May 2013 showed that 58% of the British public regards the BBC as the most trustworthy news source, far higher than its closest rivals: ITV (14%), Sky News (6%), Channel 4 News (2%) and the Guardian (2%).

The irony is that Brand referred in the interview to the safety 'valves' that allow steam to be let off, keeping an unjust system in place. But he was only referring to recycling and driving 'greener' cars like the Prius which 'stop us reaching the point where you think it's enough now'. So when is it 'enough now' to draw attention to the destructive role played by powerful elite news media, most especially the BBC?

More than once, Brand backed off from putting Paxman and the BBC in the spotlight:

RB: 'The planet is being destroyed. We are creating an underclass. We are exploiting poor people all over the world. And the genuine legitimate problems of the people are not being addressed by our political class.'

JP: 'All of these things may be true...'

RB: [Interjecting] 'They are true.'

JP: '... but you took – I wouldn't argue with you about many of them.'

RB: 'Well how come I feel so cross with you. It can't just be because of that beard. It's gorgeous!'

The trivial diversion to the topic of Paxman's beard meant that Brand's question, 'Well how come I feel so cross with you?' was left hanging in mid-air. This is the point where Brand could, and should, have gone on the offensive about Paxman's privileged position as a supposed fearless interrogator of power, the BBC man's connection with the British-American Project once described as a 'Trojan horse for US foreign policy', and then extending to a critique of the BBC itself. There is no shortage of examples of BBC propaganda that could have been raised.

None of that happened.

A Menagerie Of Mockers

Brand's espousal of popular views on Newsnight was sufficiently unsettling, however, that reactionary voices from the media class were quick to mock, denigrate or patronise him. Former Guardian journalist Jonathan Cook explained why this is the case:

'What indicates to me that Julian Assange, Glenn Greenwald and Russell Brand, whatever their personal or political differences, are part of an important social and ethical trend is the huge irritation they cause to the media class who have spent decades making very good livings being paid by the media corporations to limit our intellectual horizons.'

Tom Chivers, the assistant comment editor of the Daily Telegraph told his readers that Brand is an 'unnecessary revolutionary', and that basically the current system of capitalism works fine apart from a few 'pockets of regression, little eddies in the forward current'.

David Aaronovitch of The Times declared via Twitter:

'In what way was Russell Brand not an anarchist version of the maddest kind of UKIP supporter?'


'If you're angry enough it absolves you from actually thinking anything through. That's what I got from the Brand interview on #newsnight'

Cook provided other early responses from 'Britain's elite journalists in Twitterland' which 'illustrated the general rancour they feel towards those who threaten to expose them as the charlatans they are.'

Media commentators continued to spring up to take a pop at Brand. Robin Lustig, who until last year presented The World Tonight on BBC Radio 4, asserted that Brand is 'not only daft but dangerous'. Lustig said dismissively of Brand:

'The truth is that he has nothing to contribute, other than the self-satisfied smirk of a man who knows he'll never go hungry or be without a home.'

Joan Smith exhorted Brand in the oligarch-owned Independent on Sunday:

'Go back to your lovely home in the Hollywood Hills and leave politics to people who aren't afraid of difficult ideas and hard work. You're one celebrity, I'm afraid, who's more idiot than savant.'

Just last month, Smith was bemoaning the MPs who had voted against a possible war on Syria or, as she called it, 'intervention on humanitarian grounds'. She had written:

'We believe in universal human rights; our laws, treaties and political leaders say so.'

To be this openly credulous, to declare a belief in something because 'our leaders say so', is a remarkable admission for an ostensible journalist.

Simon Kelner, editor-in-chief of the Independent newspapers, acknowledged that Brand 'articulates a strain of thinking among a growing number of young people'.

He added:

'there was just the sense, when Jeremy met Russell, that some of the old certainties may be shifting.'

True enough. But Kelner made sure his readers knew that Brand's call to overthrow the system of capitalism that is killing the planet is 'Spartist nonsense'.

In the Observer, pro-war commentator Nick Cohen even went as far as an insidious comparison between comedian Russell Brand and fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, and slyly suggested that Brand was calling for a violent revolution. Not true. Somehow Cohen had mangled Brand's peaceful call to 'direct our love indiscriminately.'

Cohen then added:

'artists have always made a show of being drawn towards fanaticism. Extremism is more exciting and dramatic, more artistic perhaps, than the shabby compromises and small changes of democratic societies.'

For Cohen, the 'shabby compromises' include neverending support for Britain's participation in bloody wars and violent 'interventions' in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Pakistan...

Back To The 1980s

When the media commentariat have to resort to smears and insults you can be sure that fear of the public is playing a part. Readers may feel, then, that we are being a tad harsh on Brand. Didn't he make many cogent points, and more than hold his own against Paxman, the BBC's famed rottweiler? Indeed, yes. Brand rightly pointed out that politicians are not taking the necessary action on pressing issues such as climate:

'They're not attempting to solve these problems. They're not. They're attempting to placate the population. Their measures that are currently being taken around climate change are indifferent, will not solve the problem.'

Adding later:

'What I'm saying is that within the existing paradigm, the change is not dramatic enough, not radical enough.'

But is this really any different from what environment and social justice campaigners have been saying for decades? Go back to the 1980s, and weren't we hearing the same thing from Jonathan Porritt and the Greens, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and other campaigners? In many media alerts over the years, such as here and here, we have pointed out that the corporate media has long suppressed, marginalised and diverted any radical challenges to the status quo. Campaigners and activists, of whatever hue and driven by whatever issue, can no longer ignore this crucial issue.

Even in Brand's 4500-word New Statesman piece, he had very little to say about the corporate media. There were two passing mentions of 'media', but no mentions of 'press', 'journalism' or 'television'. Perhaps we should not be surprised that the well-intentioned Brand, a former 'MTV journalist', presenter of Big Brother's Big Mouth and an actor in big-budget movies, should have a bit of a blind spot when it comes to the corporate media.

George Monbiot declared on Twitter, perhaps only with part of his tongue in cheek, that:

'The realisation that Russell Brand (@rustyrockets) is in fact the Messiah is disorienting on so many levels.'

Others applauding Brand on social media included Alain de Botton and Jemima Khan. But few prominent supporters of Brand's 'revolution', if any, have said anything that is genuinely critical of elite power; especially of the corporate media, including the BBC. We have, for example, discussed de Botton's corporate-sponsored 'branded conversations' here.

It is understandable that there was much praise for Russell Brand's Newsnight interview and New Statesman essay. To a large extent, this signifies the desperation of people to hear any challenge to the power-protecting propaganda that we are force-fed every day. But two crucial factors here are that Brand was selected to appear by media gatekeepers; and that media institutions, notably the BBC, escaped serious scrutiny. If Brand was a serious threat to the broadcaster's projected image as a beacon of impartiality, he would not have been chosen.

Noam Chomsky has a cautionary note on high-profile exposure in the corporate media:

'If I started getting public media exposure', he once said, 'I'd think I were doing something wrong. Why should any system of power offer opportunities to people who are trying to undermine it? That would be crazy.'

Given all that, how likely is it that the BBC would really provide a launchpad for a revolution?

The Shades of Lebanon's Long Civil War

Israel on the Lookout: Lebanon Haunted by the Ghosts of Civil War

by Ramzy Baroud -

Throughout the years, Lebanon’s demographics have experienced periodic influx. But particularly in the last two years, the demographic shift has been so overwhelming due to the flood of Syrian refugees in desperate need for shelter. The situation is highly charged, if not perilous, considering Lebanon’s unmanageable sectarian balances, let alone the direct involvement of Lebanese parties in the brutal Syrian war. If not treated with utter sensitivity and political wisdom, Lebanon’s vastly changing demographics will not bode well in a country of exceedingly fractious sectarian politics.

The numbers speak for themselves. According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), 790,000 Syrian refugees have crossed into Lebanon since the beginning of the conflict. The number is constantly increasing, as an estimated 75,000 make the difficult journey from Syria to Lebanon every month. Those refugees also include tens of thousands of Palestinians that have borne the brunt of the war in the last two years.

In addition to approximately 250,000 Syrians working and living in Lebanon, the country already hosts hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees who were driven out of Palestine in several waves, starting with the Nakba, or Catastrophe in 1947-48. While the refugees were initially welcomed by their host country – as Syrians were initially welcomed in Lebanon – they eventually became a party in Lebanon’s war of numbers, as each sect was terrified by the prospect of losing political ground to their rivals. It was only a matter of time before the Palestinian presence in Lebanon became heavily politicized, thus thrusting Palestinian factions into the heart of Lebanon’s sectarian brawl. The weakened and fragmented Lebanon was an easy prey for Israel, which has jumped at every opportunity to invade the small country, leaving behind a trail of blood and destruction. And with every Israeli military onslaught came an attempt at rearranging the power paradigm in favor of Tel Aviv’s allies at the expense of the rest.

This bloody legacy is making a comeback due to the sectarian nature of the Syrian war, and Israelis are already on the lookout for a possible future role. Aside from the flood of Syrian refugees in Lebanon, legions of Lebanese fighters from Hezbollah and other groups are fully engaged in the Syrian strife based on clear sectarian lines. Eventually, the fight crossed over into Syrian borders and made it into Lebanon in the form of cars bombs, mortar shells, hostage taking and occasional street fighting. If tension continues to build up, there is little question that Lebanon will become embroiled in its own civil war.

All of this is of course, welcomed news in Israel, which prefers to wait until the warring parties exhaust each other in every way before Israel decides the time and place of the new confrontation. Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon was quoted in the Jerusalem Post on Oct 24 saying that a civil war between Hezbollah and ‘Global Jihad’ had erupted in Lebanon. “To those who are not yet aware, there is already a civil war in Lebanon. Global Jihad, which has infiltrated Lebanon and is attacking Hezbollah, is blowing up car bombs in Dahia and is firing rockets at Dahia and the Beka'a Valley,” he said.

This is a win-win situation for Israel, which continues to navigate the Syrian war so very carefully, so that it is not directly involved in the war, but ready to deal with its consequences whenever suitable.

History is of the essence here. The Israeli attitude towards the war in Syria and the fledgling civil war in Lebanon is similar to its attitude towards Lebanon a few decades ago in the lead up to the Israeli invasion of 1978 and again in 1982, mostly aimed at destroying the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).

Lebanon’s political and social upheaval dates back to the pre-existence of both the PLO and Israel, to the years of French colonialism in the Middle East. In 1920, France separated Lebanon from greater Syria, which was under French mandate. The country was then run by various Christian sects who represented a slight majority according to a 1932 consensus.

When Lebanon became completely independent in 1945, a political arrangement on how to run the country was reached. Christian Maronites were given the seat of presidency, Sunnis the premiership, and a Shiite was installed as the speaker of parliament. Other sects received less consequential positions, but the parliament control ratio still favored Christian sects.

The PLO’s arrival to Lebanon in the early 1970’s – following its departure from Jordan - worsened an already difficult situation. The PLO represented Palestinians who were largely Sunni Muslims, and its existence and growth in Lebanon complicated the extremely delicate demographic balance.

The fiasco in Lebanon however was not a simple tit-for-tat action, but reflected internal and external balances and calculations. On one hand, the ruling Maronite leadership was greatly challenged by the presence of the PLO and the alliance between the latter and Lebanese opposition groups. The routine Israeli raids on Lebanese territories undermined the Lebanese army’s role as a protector of the country. Israel was determined to eradicate the “terror infrastructure” in Lebanon, i.e. PLO factions, thus using the civil war as an opportunity to intervene in 1976 by arming Christian militias. Additionally, Syria, who also intervened in 1976, did so first on behalf of the Palestinians, then on behalf of the Maronites, when it appeared that they were losing the fight.

A brief lull in the fighting in 1976, was soon interrupted by violence that engulfed Lebanon for nearly 15 years. In 1978, Israel occupied South Lebanon, driving away thousands of PLO fighters from the area, whose arrival to Beirut had shifted the balance of power, altering the alliances, and, once again Syria’s position. Tens of thousands of Lebanese and Palestinian civilian casualties however, paid the heavy price of the fighting.

The PLO remained in Lebanon until the Israeli invasion of the country in the summer of 1982. Ultimately, the civil war achieved little for the warring parties except that it fit perfectly into Israel’s strategic goal of removing the PLO from South Lebanon, and eventually the country altogether. When Israeli forces finally occupied Lebanon in 1982, as PLO fighters were being shipped by sea to many countries around the Middle East, a triumphant Israeli Defense Minister Ariel Sharon permitted his Christian Phalangist allies to carry out a notorious massacre in the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps.

Yes, the circumstances are not exactly identical, and history cannot repeat itself in a carbon copy fashion. But these historical lessons should not escape us as we watch Lebanon descend into another abyss. Judging by the brutality of the Syrian war, Lebanon’s own bloody history, and Israel’s familiar military tactics, another Lebanese war is very much possible. Such a war will revive old animosities and establish new military alliances, but as always the most vulnerable will pay the price as they already have in Syria’s unending bloodbath.

- Ramzy Baroud ( is an internationally-syndicated columnist and the editor of His latest book is: My Father was A Freedom Fighter: Gaza's Untold Story (Pluto Press).