Jun 202022
 

The UK Government is capitalising on the conflict between Russia and the US-led alliance, to try to push a National Security Bill through Parliament. If enacted, the legislation in question will make it a criminal offence for anybody to report “restricted” information if that person – say a journalist or his/her organisation – has received funding from abroad. Investigative journalists and whistle blowers will risk ending up in jail for life.

In my country, the press is pusillanimous these days, now that our former folksy prime minister is the warmongering Secretary General of NATO. So on Monday, the UK Government’s decision to sign Julian Assange’s extradition order was only mentioned on pages 14 and 18 respectively in two of the country’s leading dailies [Dagsavisen and Aftenposten]. Admittedly the heading in both papers was “A dark day for press freedom”. When questioned about the extradition order, the Norwegian Foreign Minister was quoted as blithely “confident that the British authorities adhered fully to their international human rights obligations in this matter.” [Aftenposten, 18/02.22, p. 14]

Not in any Norwegian paper do I find a word about the United Kingdom’s proposed National Security Bill. Russia is ahead of us, of course, as far as persecution of journalists is concerned, but we’re learning, and we’re learning fast:

Allow me to Introduce Section I of the bill:

  1. Obtaining or disclosing protected information
    1. A person commits an offence if—
      • (a) the person—
        • (i) obtains, copies, records or retains protected information, or
        • (ii) discloses or provides access to protected information,
      • (b) the person’s conduct is for a purpose that they know, or ought reasonably to know, is prejudicial to the safety or interests of the United Kingdom, and
      • (c) the foreign power condition is met in relation to the person’s conduct (see section 24).
    2. In this section “protected information” means any information, document or other article where, for the purpose of protecting the safety or interests of the United Kingdom—
      • (a) access to the information, document or other article is restricted in any way, or
      • (b) it is reasonable to expect that access to the information, document or other article would be restricted in any way.
    3. Subsection (1) applies whether the person’s conduct takes place in the United Kingdom or elsewhere.
    4. A person who commits an offence under this section is liable on conviction on indictment to imprisonment for life or a fine (or both).
    5. For the purposes of this section—
      • (a) a person retains protected information if the person retains it in their possession or under their control;
      • (b) disclosure includes parting with possession.

Notice the expression in subsection 2: ” safety or interests of the United Kingdom”. The “interests” of UK could be defined as anything, at the discretion of the powers that be. Obviously.

Notice too, the “foreign power condition”. Just like Russia. Putin must be beaming with pride.

A bill is considered drab reading and rarely makes much headlines. Legalese is a near incomprehensible jargon, and there tends to be introductory assuaging references to “public interest … safety… security” and “protection of the general public”. By the time you get to the crux of the matter, you’ve fallen asleep. But this is a matter of freedom of the press! Have mainstream news outlets ceased to care (unless, of course, the press in question is Russian)? Have they simply given up already?

Please note that many, or maybe even most, humanitarian NGOs apply for and receive aid from numerous countries other than their own. Most worthwhile news publications, including the Guardian, depend on donors from all over the world. Many investigative journalists – those that still dare to operate as such – devote their efforts to exposing corruption. (One of the key characteristics of corruption is that it involves national or local government officials.) The bill in question would threaten them all.

I’m not British. But the British courts have so blatantly disregarded due process on a number of counts in the Assange case, and the frivolous British head of state is so quite obviously not to be trusted and, moreover, not accountable , either to the public or to the prosecuting authority, that I find myself doubting that the British Parliament is any better. If the UK enacts the National Security bill, I fear the rest of Europe will sooner or later follow suit. After all, in all of Europe, a lot of very powerful people have plenty to hide.

A number of prominent foreign affairs experts, historians and diplomats have suggested that Biden and most of his immediate predecessors have orchestrated the Ukraine war. Their articles and warnings are not being printed in the mainstream press, which is why some of them are turning to non-mainstream outlets, such as https://consortiumnews.com, while others just shut up. You’re welcome to believe that what they are saying is “Putin propaganda”, but I put to you that we are all, on both sides of the divide, bombarded with propaganda. Meanwhile, the fate of Assange does not invite out-spoken critique of the Western narrative.

If https://consortiumnews.com were based in Russia, its editor in chief would no doubt be prosecuted. What I fear is that in the not too distant future, his freedom might be threatened, also in the West. At any rate, the fate of Assange demonstrates that “freedom of the press” is already very limited.

Dec 212021
 

The Social Democrat Salvador Allende was elected President of Chile in 1970, and again in 1973. His re-election in 1973, in spite of the United States’ destabilization activities (which effectively paralysed Chile) was the last straw for the U.S. and the Chilean upper class. The role played by the United States in the bloody 9/11 coup and the dismantling of Chilean Social Democracy is well documented not least by declassified documents from the US National Security Archive.

The blood-curdling bestiality of the subsequent dictatorship has also been painstakingly researched, not least by some of the victims’ next of kin (e.g. the UN Human Rights High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet). Incidentally, allow me to recommend the six episodes of the Netflix documentary, “Colonia Dignidad” established shortly after WWII and later used as one of the dictatorship’s myriad torture and detention centres.

The next opportunity for Chilean voters to make their wishes known came on 5 October 1988. To prove to his Western friends, not least Margaret Thatcher, how much his people loved him, and thus to justify continued dictatorship, Pinochet had allowed the “YES or NO plebiscite”. It didn’t occur to him that people would vote NO (i.e. NO more Pinochet!)

Again I recommend a film, “NO”, by Pablo Larrain. The fictional protagonists playfully use the enemy’s Neoliberal marketing tricks to win voters.

Equally important, I think, is another lesson learnt: David can beat Goliath. Pinochet held absolute power over all media, which trumpeted, day in and day out, Chile’s impressive GNP, its wealth and strength. All known leftist activists were either dead, abroad or in jail. Pinochet was handsome, elegantly courteous to the ladies, a “real man” for the men and devout (i.e. “a good man”). He was indeed beloved by many. His detractors were portrayed as dangerous communists, determined to strip you of all your property.

Still, Pinochet’s opponents won!

His “Chicago boys” had been hand-picked by Milton Friedman to reform the economy of the country, which became a testing ground for market fundamentalism, commonly referred to as “Neoliberalism”. After Pinochet stepped down, market fundamentalism was still enshrined in “his” Constitution, which was promulgated in 1980. For decades now, the world has considered Chile an economic miracle.

Was it?

The day 18 October 2019 saw the start of the “Estallido” (explosion). Just a few days earlier, President Piñera had boasted that Chile is the “oasis of Latin America”, failing to mention who owned the “oasis”. “Not us, to be sure,” said most people. “To be eligible for retirement benefits, we have to pay private pension funds that only repay a fraction of what we paid. We have to pay for private health insurance and for the education of our children. We are hopelessly indebted; we work from dawn till midnight; we hardly even know our children!”

When “our children” were castigated for refusing to pay the Metro fare to get to school because of a small price hike, parents stood by them. What started as a juvenile prank (the kids simply jumped over turnstiles) ended up as a major riot with tanks and a president who declared the country at war.

“War?” spat the infuriated hundreds of thousands of protesters on the streets. “You are going to war against your own people?” Indeed, President Piñera was castigated by his own allies when Chile made international headlines due to the authorities’ brutality against peaceful demonstrators.

The uprising lasted for weeks and only ended after President Piñera had promised a new plebiscite. On October 25 the people of Chile were allowed to answer two questions: 1) Should the existing constitution be replaced? 2) In the event, should a new constitution be drafted by a democratically elected constitutional committee?

The voters responded with a resounding “YES” to both questions.

Alas, the subsequent backlash included the usual lies about what would become of Chile in the hands of idealistic fools manipulated by Russia, Cuba and China. I shall refrain from giving you the full text with which, I’m sure, you are already familiar. You know as well as I do that the Neoliberal set adroitly tailor the “information” they provide to fit their customers’ educational level, religion and culture. Above all, they make sure to filter “information” and spice it with titbits of fiction. “Truth” is not in the Neoliberal dictionary.

Many Chileans will literally have wept when a Fascist won the first round of this year’s presidential election. Referring to politicians you dislike as “fascists” is not comme il faut, but Jose Antonio Kast really is just that, a Fascist. A soft-spoken, handsome religious conservative like his hero Pinochet, he has the political outlook of an iron fist. Just as in Brazil, voters had tired of moderate conservatives and the only right wing person who could rally support was one who promised the moon. Electoral participation in the first round was, however, no more than 47%.

Voter turnout in the second round, on 19 December 2021, was 56%, even though most buses mysteriously stopped running that day, and people had to stand in line for hours in the scorching heat. Moreover, many Chileans living abroad were also prevented from voting when they discovered that Pinochet’s constitution requires them to register with their embassies almost half a year in advance of elections.

Chile is a deeply polarised country. That’s what dictatorships do to countries: They cleave them, and the wounds last for generations. Take Spain, for instance. Franco died in 1975, but the country has not healed, it is merely hushed. Silence is not always golden.

But in Chile, a young and fresh generation has taken charge, a generation that appears determined to dismantle Neoliberalism. To quote President-elect Gabriel Boric: “if Chile was the birthplace of Neoliberalism, Chile will also be its grave.”

Let us hope.

Aug 082021
 

The winged snow-white horse Pegasus was the offshoot of a Gorgon, Medusa (the lady whose hair consisted of vipers). Since he now resides among the stars in the sky (the great square of Pegasus), we may have forgotten what his mother was. But we have recently been told that he now also resides in an unknown number of mobile phones.

Mainstream media have made a big fuss about the Pegasus spyware issue. Indeed, the issue merits a rumpus, but just what have the Guardian, the Washington Post, Le Monde and BBC been saying about it? If you open the links, you will see that the articles are near identical.

This is the take of all the articles linked above: Israel has been naughty because it has been selling cutting-edge spyware to countries that regard political opponents, journalists and human rights activists as terrorists.

The journalists have discovered that everywhere Netanyahu went, Pegasus went too, as in the nursery rhyme:

Mary had a little lamb,
Its fleece was white as snow,
And every where that Mary went,
The lamb was sure to go

Put differently, Netanyahu was on an ingratiation spree, offering Pegasus to his hosts. Since time immemorial people have brought gifts when they went a-visiting. I am sure that offering a beautiful white horse was not uncommon in the Middle East.

Somebody joined the dots and found that Kashogi was killed shortly after Netanyahu’s visit to Saudi Arabia and that Pegasus had been lodged in the phones of several of his closest contacts. This effectively indicates that Israel might have been accessory to Kashogi’s death. But then again, Israel maintains that the country is perpetually at war, and that collateral damage is therefore unavoidable. For my part, I have never had the impression that loss of non-Jewish lives worries Israeli authorities, so this is not “news”.

Now you will not often catch me defending Israel, and strictly speaking I shall not do so now either, except by pointing out one small detail: selling weapons and drones (and other devices that disseminate death and despair) to any country that is willing to pay is not normally the stuff headlines are made of. It is what most countries do on a regular basis. I mean, honestly, our so-called democratic countries doing business with murderous dictators is what keeps those dictators afloat. Not that I defend such practices, but the press is distorting the Pegasus spyware issue. Israel is merely doing what most other countries do.

The problem about Pegasus is not that Israel has been naughty, but that Pegasus exists at all. When your mother is so hideous to behold that you are struck dead from just a glimpse of her, no wonder you turn into an instrument of evil. Pegasus is an example of scientific advances that are detrimental to the future of mankind. I quote Edward Snowden as quoted by the Guardian:

“for traditional police operations to plant bugs or wiretap a suspect’s phone, law enforcement would need to “break into somebody’s house, or go to their car, or go to their office, and we’d like to think they’ll probably get a warrant”. But commercial spyware made it cost-efficient for targeted surveillance against vastly more people. “If they can do the same thing from a distance, with little cost and no risk, they begin to do it all the time, against everyone who’s even marginally of interest,” he said. “If you don’t do anything to stop the sale of this technology, it’s not just going to be 50,000 targets. It’s going to be 50 million targets, and it’s going to happen much more quickly than any of us expect.”

These are, I repeat, Snowden’s words, not the Guardian’s. Snowden is, you will remember, already a fugitive because he spoke out about the massive unconstitutional surveillance being conducted by NSA against his country’s citizens. The Guardian’s reporters are perhaps not willing to risk everything, as did Snowden, by broadcasting what the existence of Pegasus actually means for the future of news reporting.

Nor do the above linked articles even hint at how so-called democratic countries to whom Israel has sold Pegasus – including the countries home to the Guardian, Washington Post, Le Monde and BBC – how those countries use the spyware. Do the said countries’ legislators even know it is being used? Are the courts duly informed each time a subject is subjected to the most invasive surveillance known to history?

I put to you that the journalists writing the near identical stories in the above linked articles will have been near paralysed. Petrified. I put to you that they are asking themselves whether Pegasus has already been stabled in their phones.

May 082021
 

The lesson should have been learnt a long time ago, back in 2013, when Edward Snowden revealed that the United States helps itself to just about any information it wants, about anybody. I won’t go into details about his assertions, as they are very beautifully explained and substantiated in his book Permanent Record.

US surveillance programmes also cover European and goodness knows what other countries, including mine, the purpose allegedly being national security, just as the invasion of Iraq was for national security reasons. In practical terms that means that if somebody reveals anything that embarrasses the powers that be, that person must be hunted to the ground and destroyed, to wit, the shameful case vs Julian Assange (see Deutsche Welle), and that vs Snowden himself who has had to apply for citizenship in Russia, of all places, so as not to suffer Assange’s deplorable fate. I’m sure Putin must be laughing.

Now the US is definitely not the only country that destroys those who would cast aspersions on its greatness and best-ness and Democratic-ness. On the Press Freedom Index, the US now ranks as no. 44, which isn’t so bad, really, only marginally behind South Korea, though considerably worse than the UK which ranks at no. 33.

Nonetheless, I guess no whistle-blower in his sane mind would turn to US American bona fide media outlets — not that I’m suggesting that Snowden was insane. As a matter of fact, he didn’t turn to the US American press but to Glenn Greenwald; speaking of whom, I urge you to read his latest article on substack.

At any rate, today, the New York Times has a very dry article, way below the main headings on its website, the sub-heading of which is directly misleading: “Federal prosecutors sought phone records for three Washington Post journalists as part of an investigation into the publication of classified information in 2017.” The main heading which, I repeat, was way below the rest of the news, is actually more accurate: “Justice Dept. Seized Washington Post’s Phone Records“. The key word here is seized. I don’t know about you, but I almost overlooked the heading. Justice departments are always seizing something or other, it’s their job. (The highlights are mine.)

The point is: The authorities not only sought but obtained all they wanted in order to uncover certain journalists’ whistle-blowing source. This was, admittedly, onTrump’s watch, but is the US Justice Dept. the President’s lapdog? The NYT fleetingly mentions, en passant, “a case where prosecutors secretly seized years’ worth of a New York Times reporter’s phone and email records. That case signaled a continuation of the aggressive prosecutions of leaks under the Obama administration.” The NY Times refrains from going into details here; after all, the present incumbent of the presidency is on Obama’s side, as it were. The NY Times knows who butters its bread, let’s face it.

Nevertheless, the USA’s position 44 on the Press Feeedom Index is vastly better than that of the United Arab Emirates, at 131. You don’t get much worse than that, do you?

Or what? Well, yes, you do: India at no. 142 – repeat – one hundred and forty two – is the world’s largest so-called Democracy. The country’s president, Narendra Modi, is a pretty nasty piece of work, if you ask me. I leave you to a few sources in chronological order (all regarding India).

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) claims to be a-political. Already in 2018, the organisation noted red lights for the Indian press: Troll armies in PM Modi’s “pay”

In February this year RSF reports: Raids on critic al outlets in India.

In April the New York Times started looking at the matter.: NYT: India’s press not so free and NYT: Covid – Critical posts taken down

Al Jazeera’s The Listening Post, which discusses how the media discusses big topics, has been following India for a while, for instance here: Al Jazeera: Navigating bad Covid stats

Finally, a wonderful Indian author writes about Covid in India: Arundathi Roy: Covid in India

And the lesson? The one I referred in my first paragraph? It is very simple: Encrypt, encrypt, encrypt.

Apr 222021
 

Now that spring has reached the northern hemisphere, now that we northerners can raise our faces to the sun, pull our hands out of our coat pockets or, even, take off our coats, we tell ourselves once again that the task of living is indeed worth the effort. After all, birds are a-courting, yellow flowers humbly brighten road-sides, and nothing but nothing can dim the optimism of swelling and bursting buds on tree tops.

Sitting in a nearly empty subway carriage today, I longed for the pre-pandemic afternoon throng, the tired faces, the weary postures of people of all social classes on their way home from work. (Where I live, even the fairly rich use public transportation, if only because there is hardly any parking in the city. The extremely rich are probably driven to work by chauffeurs. ) Today, we were few and far apart, most of us dressed neither for work nor play, our expressions literally veiled by masks.

I wondered: Who are they? Have they been laid off?

What about you: Have you by any chance lost your job or been evicted from your house? Or are you working from home? Maybe you are what is called “a critical employee”, so that you have to brave Covid on a day-to-day basis. Whether you belong to the first, the second or the third category, I should stress that I do not belong to any of them. What I’m trying to say is that regardless of how life is hitting you, I am unable to imagine what it is like.

True, I am not without imagination, so I have a fair theoretical idea of what it means to inhabit categories 1 and 3, both of which involve professional activity coupled with social paralysis. Category 2, however, …

I was once poor, many years ago and for many years. Really poor. But then I got lucky, and the pandemic has left me high and dry. The strange thing is, however, that I am now unable to remember what it was like to be “really poor”. At least I know and will never forget that anybody, absolutely anybody, could be born into poverty, struck down by poverty, or slide into poverty through an amalgam of unfortunate circumstances. And I shall never ever forget that being poor is very expensive. To put it differently: Getting out of poverty requires money.

In Utopia for Realists (2016), Rutger Bregman cogently stressed that part of the problem “poverty” is the sadly prevailing fallacy that poverty is due to laziness or other kinds of good-for-nothingness. If you are, say, a Central American illegal alien working till your hands, lungs or feet bleed, you will be socially branded as lazy or at least delinquent, alcoholic or otherwise undesirable. Let me tell you, in case Rutger Bregman has not yet hit your bookshelf, that poverty is due to anything but laziness.

If the pandemic has struck you where it hurts, you will know what I mean. Maybe you have contacts that can lend you a hand. Maybe, on the other hand, you find yourself on your own. If that is the case, all I can say is, to quote Bob Dylan, “the times are a-changin”. True, wealth inequality has augmented during the past 15 months, BUT so has awareness of wealth inequality.

I did not take much note of the news of the conviction of George Floyd’s murderer – after all, we’ve all seen the video. What moved me to tears, however, were the images on the evening news of people sobbing in the streets. Sobbing for joy! I had not fully taken in, until then, that blacks actually feared Chauvin would be acquitted. Gosh! I mean, really: Wow. Can I even imagine what it must feel like to be a 24/7 walking and talking bullet target for so-called law enforcement? No I cannot.

Imagination is a strange thing: Under certain conditions, most of us are able to imagine unlikely situations and events. Some of us honestly fear that the air plane they are in might fall down, or that a sinister creature could be lurking in a corner or under the bed. Some fondly fantasise about the sweet scent of wood burning in a fire place. Oddly, however, few of us are able to imagine spending a cold night in a refugee camp, or even on the pavement, home to the homeless, in any one of our big cities.

The pandemic has left each and every one of us more or less imprisoned, alone or with household members, hence also far more emotionally vulnerable, perhaps also more sensitive. We are vulnerable not only to what surfaces from our own interiors, but also to what the few voices we hear tell us. From an anthropological viewpoint the past 15 months have been a tremendously exciting global experiment. Have our baseline attitudes changed?

Jan 312021
 

Somebody with an Algerian IP address has been trying to hack his way into this site. That’s a novelty. Ukrainian, US American, Russian and Indian IPs, sure – I’m used to them, but never Algerian. Is he trying to tell me something?

So what’s with Algeria? Well, for one thing, the country has had an excruciatingly bloody recent history. There are people out there, less well-informed than yourselves, who would echo a typically colonialist (frankly: racist) statement: “That just goes to show that Algerians are…” something-or-other. But you and I know that colonialism comes at a terrible price, for the colonised. Just how that price is paid, however, is less known to us; there seems to be a reticence to go into detail in our school textbooks.

So let me just start by urging you – imploring you – to watch the remarkable documentary Blood and Tears: French Decolonisation.

Like so many other former colonies, Algeria has not completely managed to turn a page. To quote one of the interviewees in the said documentary: “How can you turn a page that has yet to be written?”

For instance, the journalist Khaled Drareni was jailed last year and subsequently sentenced to two years’ imprisonment simply for covering protests in Algeria. This is yet another instance of attempts to throttle the press and hide information from us. Please sign Amnesty’s call to Free Khaled Drareni.

One of Algeria’s problems is that around here, we’re too Eurocentric to notice much outside our own garden. We simply don’t know enough. There are valuable sources, though, and I recommend two:

In “The Art of Losing”, the French novelist Alice Zeniter explores the fate of an Algerian “Harki” and his family after liberation in 1962. The novel earned her the prestigious Prix Goncourt.

Aljazeera’s in-depth analysis of current issues: Critics say the new constitution does not meet popular demands for an independent judiciary and empowered parliament.

Jan 312021
 

The word “transparency” is very much in vogue these days, particularly in the EU, which attempts to monitor financial transactions and disclose hidden accounts, for instance in tax havens. Personally, I would gladly see lightning strike all shell companies whose beneficial owners are filthy rich. We use the expression “filthy rich” when someone’s inordinate wealth may have been built on the backs of underpaid labour or thanks to otherwise unethical acts or un-exposed crimes, be they financial, environmental or political, crimes against humanity or disrespect of civil rights.

People like that tend to fiercely resist being exposed, and may go to extremes to silence whistleblowers.

Yes, the keyword here is “exposed”. Just by reading Wikipedia, we have no way of knowing whether for instance Elon Musk (the now richest man in the world) has played straight throughout his career. He is obviously very smart. Personally, I believe that Mozart – to pick a politically neutral example – should have been blessed with a beautiful palace and life-long comfort, although his remarkable brain was just a fluke of nature, presumably a mutation of some sort. In view of his extraordinary output, I would not have begrudged him wealth, which would have been deserved. Instead, he was destitute at his death.

Elon Musk, who has contributed significantly to innovation and technological development may, for all I know, be some kind of wizard, a techno-equivalent of Mozart. In Wikipedia, I see that he has been sued a number of times for his views and/or statements. He is certainly entitled to having and expressing views, even if I don’t like them. But has he played straight? Wikipedia does not tell.

So to my knowledge, no serious ethical wrongdoing has been exposed on the part of Elon Musk. Yes, again: exposed is the keyword. Is there any Navalnyj in the USA?

True, the USA had Edward Snowden. He exposed – revealed – that in his country (and many others, including mine) “big brother [NSA] is watching you [us]” (cf. “1984” by George Orwell).

No matter what country we inhabit, our futures depend on those who expose serious wrongs which may or may not be punishable by law. Laws are created by humans, who are not infallible. Legislators are informed by clerics, public opinion, pressure groups, powerful lobbies, etc. Legislators are only men, after all, and sometimes women.

I don’t know about you, but I definitely lack the skills to analyse anyone’s financial empire. Even if I had them, I would never be able to devote years of unpaid labour to such a pursuit. I have not personally witnessed the war crimes and crimes against humanity perpetrated in the Middle East and elsewhere. Even if I had, my indignant voice would not have been heard.

We, the general public, need – here, there and everywhere – to be informed of such wrongdoings so that we can demand whatever measures are necessary to put things right. That is what Democracy is all about, informed decision-making.

We need – here, there and everywhere – to protect those who expose serious wrongdoings and inform us of them. Some of them have risked everything to do so, for instance in Italy, where the Mafia still has vastly more financial muscle than the State, and in Russia, where the State and the mafia appear to be one.

We need – in my country and in yours – people
like Navalnyj,
like Julian Assange and
like Edward Snowden
to expose what you and me cannot see,
what media that depend on wealthy sponsors are unwilling to see.

We need them; we desperately need them. We need, in fact, more like them, not as presidents, not to govern our countries, but to expose and continue to expose what is terribly wrong.

And we need to defend them when they need us.

Jan 242021
 

I’m getting off the US’s back now. I’m hoping that after having agonised, day in and day out for four interminable years, over “how we got into this mess”, even the Democratic Party finally understands that Trump wasn’t its cause, only its regrettable result.

So I’ll cross over to another superpower: Russia. Not that Russia normally bothers me much – after all, Russia doesn’t call the shots, NATO does. Still.

But now, Russia is starting to bother me. I happen to like Navalnyj’s style, and I definitely don’t approve of killing political opponents, particularly not when the said opponents expose massive corruption – i.e. risk their lives by challenging criminal big shots. After he was poisoned, I angrily wrote that for Putin, killing political opponents seemed to be a “cup of tea” and fervently hoped health workers would be able to save Navalnyj’s life. They managed, and Navalnyj returned home to Russia.

… where he was promptly arrested.

Russia is starting to bother me.
Russia is starting to bother me in a big way.

Today, I read in the news that Navalnyj’s team has published what the Washington Post calls a “bombshell video” on Youtube, one that actually kicks Putin in the teeth.

Before I continue, let me introduce you, in case you don’t know it, to the little icon at the bottom right under Youtube videos. If you click this icon, you can chose subtitles + language.

So I looked for the famous “bombshell video”, but before I found it, I listened to Navalnyj’s own investigation into the attempted murder of his own person. This is terrific entertainment, mind you, and the translation is good:

FSB – murder attempted

Now for the kicking of Putin’s teeth. Here is a carefully prepared nearly two-hour long documentary, signed Navalnyj and his team, about how Putin became one of the world’s richest men. Two hours is a long time, but believe me, this is extremely interesting. I put to you that Mafia bosses around the world will seem like small fry in comparison. Again the translation is excellent:

Navalnyj’s bombshell video

Russia is not Putin and his gang, but 146 million people. I believe most Russians love their country passionately, I mean really passionately. Their country has been raped.

What about the prosecutors?
What about the judiciary?
What about Russia’s Federal Assembly?

Have they all been bribed?

СТЫДНО!

20 February 2021:

Bill Browder’s take on Putin’s wealth.

So who is Bill Browder? Well, apparently he’s quite a colourful character. I won’t tell you whether he is a good guy or a bad guy — personally I never trust financiers — but he is certainly more closely and unhappily acquainted with Russian powers-that-be than most.

Here is Wired’s take on the adventures of Bill Browder. Not boring at all, I assure you.

And here is the Huffington Post’s angry story about the demise of Sergei Magnitsky, Browder’s close associate; you know, the guy whose death triggered the creation of the Magnitsky Act.

From the above two linked articles, written long before Navalnyj hit the headlines, it seems clear that Putin is an extortionist who spares no effort to increase his wealth, and that murder is truly a cup of tea for him. It would thus appear that the President of Russia is a rapacious predator.

And if you feel like practicing your Russian, here is a very good place to start: The Insider. If you prefer to get a peek behind the scenes, but in English go here: https://theins.ru/en

Oct 302020
 

There is absolutely nothing I can do about the shoot-out between Trump and Biden, other than to commiserate with US citizens in both camps who have had to watch their American dream go down the drain.

Had I been a US citizen, I would have voted, sure, but as I am not, I do not intend to sit up all night, every night of this last week, waiting for the election results, so please have me excused. Nor do I intend to incur headaches, hypertension, muscular pains, insomnia, or psychosis by following the news byte by byte. It is nearly all about Trump and Covid, even in my country. You could almost envy the people in Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan, who have issues that take their mind off Covid-Trump.

However, there are actually enjoyable pieces of news out there, would you believe it? True, my country’s national broadcasting company did not see fit to inform us about the outcome of the 25 October plebiscite in Chile, but we still have internet. (By the way, did you know that in Kashmir they don’t, thanks to “Democratic” India’s rabid PM Narendra Modi’s having slapped a one-year-long internet blackout on Kashmir.) So I watched a Chilean TV channel for – yes, for a whole night.

General Pinochet, whose US-assisted dictatorship had engaged in a particularly sadistic effort to exterminate the regime’s political opponents, stepped down in 1990 following a plebiscite he had allowed, believing that it would grant his dictatorship legitimacy. To everybody’s surprise, it didn’t. See the film No! directed by Pablo Larrain (trailer).

However, Chile was not rid of Pinochet. He left his mark in a Constitution (adopted back in 1980, when people were too terrified to oppose it), a constitution that seemed a hymn to Milton Friedman’s market fundamentalism.

Subsequent legislative efforts to protect the population from the effects of that constitution have been a seemingly hopeless uphill battle.

Milton Friedman often proudly referred to “the miracle of Chile”. Moreover, the father of Neoliberalism (albeit Neoliberal economists indignantly declare there is no such thing as Neoliberalism) Friedrich Hayek, visited Pinochet. If you are an economist, and if you still adhere to the “classical” economic precepts of Hayek, I suggest you take a look at Wikiquotes and search “Chile”.

Chile’s economy has been a model of stability, the darling of the IMF, with steady and uninterrupted growth in terms of GNP. But let me declare loudly, let me stand on a chair, let me shout, let me scream, as the Chilean protesters have been screaming: GNP does not reflect the welfare of the vast majority of a country’s inhabitants.

True, the number of people defined as living in extreme poverty has declined markedly from year to year. However, how do you define poverty? I put to you, that the majority of Chile’s population is living in what I consider poverty. I am sure you would agree if you were put to the test.

I quote from the think tank www.americas.org:

Fifty percent of the economically active population earns less than 550 dollars per month, with the minimum wage equivalent to 414 dollars. Overwhelmed by the narrow strip that separates it from poverty, an important part of the population lives in fear of seeing their income fall. In Chile, downward social mobility is greater than upward social mobility, and downward mobility is more highly correlated to political protest than poverty itself.

The biggest factor that exacerbates inequality is probably the nation’s pension system, in force since 1982. Designed during the military government, the pension mechanism has not met Chileans’ expectations. According to the group No + AFP (No More Pension Fund Managers), which in 2016 organized a march of 600,000 people, these are “undercover banks of the richest entrepreneurs in our country who use the pension funds to expand their investments and further concentrate capital in a few hands”. The average pension for retirees is $286 per month, and 80% receive pensions below the minimum wage. The amount of pensions is on average close to 40% of people’s income at the time of retirement.

Education is the second major source of inequality. In 2006 and 2011, students organized massive demonstrations calling for profound reforms in the education system. Chilean education is characterized by the huge gap between public and private education. The withdrawal of the State from its functions as generator, regulator and supervisor of the education sector led to the gap as part of neoliberal reforms beginning in the 1980s.

The above quote is far too polite, in my mind. (The NY Times does a better job of it.) Then again, I suspect that working and living conditions for more than half the population in the USA is not very much better than for the majority of the population in Chile.

Now back to the night when the votes were being counted. The below link will take you to the infamous Stadium in Santiago during the last minutes before voting ends. Then you will see how counting starts at various polling stations, how amazed silence follows the first signs of what seems to be happening,

If you go on watching, you will see that dazed spectators surrounding the polling stations (las mesas) start to understand that they may actually have won. Eventually, they will find themselves in the streets, deliriously celebrating, and although there is a curfew, neither the police nor the army intervenes.

What emerges when all the votes have been counted is that only 5 of the 346 electoral districts were opposed to the trashing of Pinochet’s constitution. Two of them are so small they are statistically insignificant. Three of them, however, constitute the part of Santiago that houses the top of the social pyramid, the epicentre of political and economic power: Vitacura, las Condes and Lo Barnochea. In an interesting article, BBC explains that Santiago consists of two distinct universes. What is clear is that from the top of a pyramid, you don’t see the ants swarming down below.

President Piñera deserves praise for at least not having declared a civil war on the night when it became clear that 78.2 % of the population of Chile, had declared the country’s constitution worthless.

Look to Chile, my friends. Change is indeed possible.

Sep 202020
 

No, I’m not done yet. And the extradition hearing isn’t over. Its outcome is crucial not only for Assange, but for us all.

For many people, the Trump period has been a watershed, a scales-falling-from-the-eyes event. For others, the turning point came much earlier, with Wikileaks, which is why the US authorities hate Assange so vehemently. Moreover, many honest US American citizens have clung at length to the hope that the Iraq war and Bush had merely been aberrations, so defence of Julian Asange has therefore not been deafening in the USA, a country where brave men and women are willing to risk their lives in the great “Black Lives Matter” battle, and where many firefighters are loosing their lives in the fight against climate devastation. There is no lack of bravery in the USA, just a lack of information. Julian Assange attempted to provide some of the missing information. He was not thanked.

Daniel Ellsberg‘s Pentagon Papers in 1971 were also a scales-falling-from-the-eyes event from which we have unfortunately not learned enough. I recommend listening to Daniel Ellsberg’s explaining why he is a witness for the defence of Julian Assange. What he says applies specifically to the prosecution’s hypocritical charges that Assange put people’s lives at risk with Cablegate.

European authorities, fearing US backlashes, appear to be discouraging the media from highlighting the ignoble (i.e. illegal ) conditions of Julian Asange’s lengthy captivity and the parody of the legal proceedings against him. In any civilised court, illegally obtained evidence would not be acccepted. Not so, in this case, it seems; see example of illegal surveillance of Julian Assange.

I have just discovered, that there is a small newspaper in my own small country, that has been granted access to the preposterous extradition hearing and is diligently covering it. I expect it has been granted access because it is not widely read.

Saturday’s issue includes an article about a US torture victim who had just witnessed for Assange. If I have understood correctly – after all, I wasn’t there – the US tried and eventually succeeded in blocking the witness’s appearance. In the end, however, his written statement was read to the court. The witness stated that diplomatic notes among Wikileaks’s “Cablegate” were instrumental as evidence in his own legal battle for justice (in Europe, that is, not in the USA).

Since I’m sure you may be as ignorant as I was about the legal battle in question, I would like to direct your attention to the Wikipedia article that covers it. However, since there is a risk that the article will be tampered with in the wake of the Assange hearing, I think I had better just paste a quote from Wikipedia as at 20/09/2020 (without the reference numbers).

Khaled El-Masri … ,[born] 1963, is a German and Lebanese citizen who was mistakenly abducted by the Macedonian police in 2003, and handed over to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). While in CIA custody, he was flown to Afghanistan, where he was held at a black site and routinely interrogated, beaten, strip-searched, sodomized, and subjected to other cruel forms of inhumane and degrading treatment and torture. After El-Masri held hunger strikes, and was detained for four months in the “Salt Pit”, the CIA finally admitted his arrest and torture were a mistake and released him. He is believed to be among an estimated 3,000 detainees whom the CIA abducted from 2001–2005.

In May 2004, the U.S. Ambassador to Germany, Daniel R. Coats, convinced the German interior minister, Otto Schily, not to press charges or to reveal the program. El-Masri filed suit against the CIA for his arrest, extraordinary rendition and torture. In 2006, his suit El Masri v. Tenet, in which he was represented by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), was dismissed by the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, based on the U.S. government’s claiming the state secrets privilege. The ACLU said the Bush administration attempted to shield its abuses by invoking this privilege. The case was also dismissed by the Appeals Court for the Fourth Circuit, and in December 2007, the United States Supreme Court declined to hear the case.

On 13 December 2012, El-Masri won an Article 34 case at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. The court determined he had been tortured while held by CIA agents and ruled that Macedonia was responsible for abusing him while in the country, and knowingly transferring him to the CIA when torture was a possibility. It awarded him compensation. This marked the first time that CIA activities against detainees was legally declared as torture. The European Court condemned nations for collaborating with the United States in these secret programs.

The Julian Assange case (not to mention the El Masri case before him) is critical for all Europeans, not to mention US nationals. It is a demonstration of the bullying our governments submit to from the USA. Our European governments are accessories to US government-sponsored outrageous acts of every conceivable flavour. The extradition case is also an example of how due process is being eroded in the UK.