Saturday, 5 May 2018

The end of freedom in Britain


2018: When Orwell’s 1984 stopped being fiction




Jonathan Cook,
4 May, 2018


This is the moment when a newspaper claiming to uphold that most essential function in a liberal democracy – acting as a watchdog on power – formally abandons the task. This is the moment when it positively embraces the role of serving as a mouthpiece for the government. The tell is in one small word in a headline on today’s Guardian’s front page: “Revealed”.
When I trained as a journalist, we reserved a “Revealed” or an “Exposed” for those special occasions when we were able to bring to the reader information those in power did not want known. These were the rare moments when as journalists we could hold our heads high and claim to be monitoring the centres of power, to be fulfilling our sacred duty as the fourth estate.
But today’s Guardian’s “exclusive” story “Revealed: UK’s push to strengthen anti-Russia alliance” is doing none of this. Nothing the powerful would want hidden from us is being “revealed”. No one had to seek out classified documents or speak to a whistleblower to bring us this “revelation”. Everyone in this story – the journalist Patrick Wintour, an anonymous “Whitehall official”, and the named politicians and think-tank wonks – is safely in the same self-congratulatory club, promoting a barely veiled government policy: to renew the Cold War against Russia

It is no accident that the government chose the Guardian as the place to publish this “exclusive” press release. That single word “Revealed” in the headline serves two functions that reverse the very rationale for liberal, watchdog-style journalism.
First, it is designed to disorientate the reader in Orwellian – or maybe Lewis Caroll – fashion, inverting the world of reality. The reader is primed for a disclosure, a secret, and then is spoonfed familiar government propaganda: that the tentacles of a Russian octopus are everywhere, that the Reds are again under our beds – or at least, poisoning our door handles.
British diplomats plan to use four major summits this year – the G7, the G20, Nato and the European Union – to try to deepen the alliance against Russia hastily built by the Foreign Office after the poisoning of the former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal in Salisbury in March.

This – and thousands of similar examples we are exposed to every day in the discourse of our politicians and media – is the way our defences are gradually lowered, our critical thinking weakened, in ways that assist those in power to launch their assault on democratic norms. Through such journalistic fraud, liberal media like the Guardian and BBC – because they claim to be watchdogs on power, to defend the interests of the ruled, not the rulers – serve a vital role in preparing the ground for the coming changes that will restrict dissent, tighten controls on social media, impose harsher laws.
The threat is set out repeatedly in the Guardian’s framing of the story: there is a self-evident need for “a more comprehensive approach to Russian disinformation”; Moscow is determined “systematically to divide western electorates and sow doubt”; “the west finds itself arguing with Russia not just about ideology, or interests, but Moscow’s simple denial, or questioning, of what the western governments perceive as unchallengeable facts.”
Tom Tugendhat, son a High Court judge, a former army officer who was honoured with an MBE by the Queen in his thirties, and was appointed chair of the Commons’ important foreign affairs select committee after two years in parliament, sets out the thinking of the British establishment – and hints at the likely solutions. He tells the Guardian:
Putin is waging an information war designed to turn our strongest asset – freedom of speech – against us. Russia is trying to fix us through deception.

Second, there is a remedy for the disorientation created by that small word “Revealed”. It subtly forces the reader to submit to the inversion.
For the reasons set out above, a rational response to this front-page story is to doubt that Wintour, his editors, and the Guardian newspaper itself are quite as liberal as they claim to be, that they take seriously the task of holding power to account. It is to abandon the consoling assumption that we, the 99 per cent, have our own army – those journalists in the bastions of liberal media like the Guardian and the BBC – there to protect us. It is to realise that we are utterly alone against the might of the corporate world. That is a truly disturbing, terrifying even, conclusion.
But that sense of abandonment and dread can be overcome. The world can be set to rights again – and it requires only one small leap of faith. If Russian president Vladimir Putin truly is an evil mastermind, if Russia is an octopus with tentacles reaching out to every corner of the globe, if there are Russian agents hiding in the ethers ready to deceive you every time you open your laptop, and Russian cells preparing to fix your elections so that the Muscovian candidate (Donald Trump, Jeremy Corbyn?) wins, then the use of that “Revealed” is not only justified but obligatory. The Guardian isn’t spouting British and US government propaganda, it is holding to account the supremely powerful and malevolent Russian state.

Once you have stepped through this looking glass, once you have accepted that you are living in Oceania and in desperate need of protection from Eurasia, or is it Eastasia?, then the Guardian is acting as a vital watchdog – because the enemy is within. Our foe is not those who rule us, those who have all the wealth, those who store their assets offshore so they don’t have to pay taxes, those who ignore devastating climate breakdown because reforms would be bad for business. No, the real enemy are the sceptics, the social media “warriors”, the political activists, even the leader of the British Labour party. They may sound and look harmless, but they are not who or what they seem. There are evil forces standing behind them.
In this inverse world, the coming draconian changes are not a loss but a gain. You are not losing the rights you enjoy now, or rights you might need in the future when things get even more repressive. The restrictions are pre-emptive, there to protect you before Putin and his bots have not only taken over cyberspace but have entered your living space. Like the aggressive wars of “humanitarian intervention” the west is waging across the oil-rich areas of the Middle East, the cruelty is actually kindness. Those who object, those who demur, do so only because they are in the financial or ideological grip of the mastermind Putin.
This is the moment when war becomes peace, freedom becomes slavery, ignorance becomes strength.
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Freedom No More

4 May, 2018


As I write, with over 75% of all yesterday’s English local election results in, Labour has a net gain of 55 councillors compared to the high water mark of the 2014 result in these wards, while the Tories have a net gain of one seat against a 2014 result which was regarded at the time as disastrous for them, and led the Daily Telegraph to editoralise “David Cameron Must Now Assuage the Voters’ Rage”.

Yet both the BBC and Sky News, have all night and this morning, treated these results, in which the Labour Party has increased by 3% an already record number of councillors in this election cycle, as a disaster. What is more, they have used that false analysis to plug again and again the “anti-Semitism in the Labour Party” witch-hunt. It was of course the continuous exacerbation of this mostly false accusation by Blairite MP’s which – deliberately on their part – stopped the Labour Party doing still better. The Blairites are all over the airwaves plugging this meme again today.

What is more this Labour result has been achieved despite the complete collapse of the UKIP vote, which collapse had been expected to boost the Tory Party. In fact the net loss of over 100 UKIP seats has not resulted in overall net gains for the Tory Party, even though those ex-UKIP voters demonstrably did mostly split to Tory. The very substantial UKIP voter reinforcements simply saved the Tories from doing still worse. The Liberal Democrats are showing some signs of life.

Yesterday was World Press Freedom Day, and the tendentious media misrepresentation of the election results reminds me why I could not get excited about it. A media with the extremely concentrated ownership we see in the UK can never be free, and certainly does not represent a wide spread of political opinions. Even the views of the official Leader of the Opposition are almost entirely deemed to be outside the Overton window. In Scotland the Scottish government is subject to unreasoning mediaattack, day in and day out, which contrasts strikingly with the treatment of Westminster ministers and issues.

There is a seriously worrying example from Leeds of the decline of free speech, where disgracefully a meeting discussing the bias of the corporate and state media has now been banned by Leeds City Council because of its content. We are not allowed even to get together to discuss media bias. Retired Ambassador Peter Ford, Professors Piers Robinson and Tim Hayward, Vanessa Beeley and Robert Stuart were to address the meeting at Leeds City Museum entitled “Media on Trial”. I cannot sufficiently express my outrage that Leeds City Council feels it is right to ban a meeting with very distinguished speakers, because it is questioning the government and establishment line on Syria. Freedom of speech really is dead.
British society truly has changed fundamentally if a former British Ambassador to Syria is banned from speaking in public premises on his area of expertise. What is still worse is the tone of this sneering report from Huffington Post, now firmly a part of corporate media, in which Chris York libels the speakers as “Assad supporters”, interviews none of the speakers and nobody to make the argument for free speech, but does manage to interview the “founder” of the jihadist “White Helmets.” In terms of banning dissent while simultaneously ramping up the official narrative, York has won himself top establishment brownie points. The man – and I use the term loosely – is unfit for polite company.

Media Use Disinformation To Accuse Russia Of Spreading Such

4 April, 2018

The Grauniad is slipping deeper into the disinformation business: Revealed: UK’s push to strengthen anti-Russia alliance is the headline of a page one piece which reveals exactly nothing. There is no secret lifted and no one was discomforted by a questioning journalist. 

Like other such pieces it uses disinformation to accuse Russia of spreading such.
The main 'revelation' is stenographed from a British government official. Some quotes from the usual anti-Russian propagandists were added. Dubious or false 'western' government claims are held up as truth. That Russia does not endorse them is proof for Russian mischievousness and its 'disinformation'.

The opener:
The UK will use a series of international summits this year to call for a comprehensive strategy to combat Russian disinformation and urge a rethink over traditional diplomatic dialogue with Moscow, following the Kremlin’s aggressive campaign of denials over the use of chemical weapons in the UK and Syria.
...
“The foreign secretary regards Russia’s response to Douma and Salisbury as a turning point and thinks there is international support to do more,” a Whitehall official said. “The areas the UK are most likely to pursue are countering Russian disinformation and finding a mechanism to enforce accountability for the use of chemical weapons.”
There is a mechanism to enforce accountability for the use of chemical weapons. It is the Chemical Weapon Convention and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). It was the British government which at first rejected the use of these instruments during the Skripal incident:
Early involvement of the OPCW, as demanded by Russia, was resisted by the British government. Only on March 14, ten days after the incident happened and two days after Prime Minister Theresa may had made accusations against Russia, did the British government invite the OPCW. Only on March 19, 15 days after the incident happen did the OPCW technical team arrive and took blood samples.
Now back to the Guardian disinformation:
In making its case to foreign ministries, the UK is arguing that Russian denials over Salisbury and Douma reveal a state uninterested in cooperating to reach a common understanding of the truth, but instead using both episodes to try systematically to divide western electorates and sow doubt.
A 'common understanding of the truth' is an interesting term. What is the truth? Whatever the British government claims? It accused Russia of the Skripal incident a mere eight days after it happened. Now, two month later, it admits that it does not know who poisoned the Skripals:
Police and intelligence agencies have failed so far to identify the individual or individuals who carried out the nerve agent attack in Salisbury, the UK’s national security adviser has disclosed.
Do the Brits know where the alleged Novichok poison came from? Unless they produced it themselves they likely have no idea. The Czech Republic just admitted that it made small doses of a Novichok nerve agent for testing purposes. Others did too.

Back to the Guardian:
British politicians are not alone in claiming Russia’s record of mendacity is not a personal trait of Putin’s, but a government-wide strategy that makes traditional diplomacy ineffective.
Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, famously came off one lengthy phone call with Putin – she had more than 40 in a year – to say he lived in a different world.
No, Merkel never said that. An Obama administration flunky planted that in the New York Times:
Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany told Mr. Obama by telephone on Sunday that after speaking with Mr. Putin she was not sure he was in touch with reality, people briefed on the call said. “In another world,” she said.
When that claim was made in March 2014 we were immediately suspicious of it:
This does not sound like typically Merkel but rather strange for her. I doubt that she said that the way the "people briefed on the call" told it to the Times stenographer. It is rather an attempt to discredit Merkel and to make it more difficult for her to find a solution with Russia outside of U.S. control.
A day later the German government denied (ger) that Merkel ever said such (my translation):
The chancellery is unhappy about the report in the New York Times. Merkel by no means meant to express that Putin behaved irrational. In fact she told Obama that Putin has a different perspective about the Crimea [than Obama has].
McClatchy journalist investigated further and came to the same conclusion as I did. The 'leak' to the New York Times was disinformation.

That disinformation, spread by the Obama administration but immediately exposed as false, is now held up as proof by Patrick Wintour, the Diplomatic editor of the Guardian, that Russia uses disinformation and that Putin is a naughty man.

The British Defense Minister Gavin Williamson wants journalists to enter the UK reserve forces to help with the creation of propaganda:
He said army recruitment should be about “looking to different people who maybe think, as a journalist: ‘What are my skills in terms of how are they relevant to the armed forces?’
Patrick Wintour seems to be a qualified candidate.

Or maybe he should join the NATO for Information Warfare the Atlantic Council wants to create to further disinform about those damned Russkies:
What we need now is a cross-border defense alliance against disinformation — call it Communications NATO. Such an alliance is, in fact, nearly as important as its military counterpart.
Like the Guardian piece above writer of the NATO propaganda lobby Atlantic Council makes claims of Russian disinformation that do not hold up to the slightest test:
By pinning the Novichok nerve agent on Sweden or the Czech Republic, or blaming the UK for the nerve gas attack in Syria, the Kremlin sows confusion among our populations and makes us lose trust in our institutions.
Russia has not pinned the Novichok to Sweden or the Czech Republic. It said, correctly, that several countries produced Novichok. Russia did not blame the UK for the 'nerve gas attack' in Syria. Russia says that there was no gas attack in Douma.

The claims of Russian disinformation these authors make to not hold up to scrutiny. Meanwhile there pieces themselves are full of lies, distortions and, yes, disinformation.

The bigger aim behind all these activities, demanding a myriad of new organizations to propagandize against Russia, is to introduce a strict control over information within 'western' societies.

Anything that may not confirm to the 'truth' as prescribed from above must be overwhelmed with an onslaught of more lies or, if that does not work, be discredited as 'enemy' disinformation.

That scheme will be used against anyone who deviates from the ordered norm. You dislike that pipeline in your backyard? You must be falling for Russian trolls or maybe you yourself are an agent of a foreign power. Social Security? The Russians like that. It is a disinformation thing. You better forget about it.



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