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Sunday, May 29, 2011

Human Intelligence and the Environment by Noam Chomsky

I’LL BEGIN with an interesting debate that took place some years ago between Carl Sagan, the well-known astrophysicist, and Ernst Mayr, the grand old man of American biology. They were debating the possibility of finding intelligent life elsewhere in the universe. And Sagan, speaking from the point of view of an astrophysicist, pointed out that there are innumerable planets just like ours. There is no reason they shouldn’t have developed intelligent life. Mayr, from the point of view of a biologist, argued that it’s very unlikely that we’ll find any. And his reason was, he said, we have exactly one example: Earth. So let’s take a look at Earth. 

And what he basically argued is that intelligence is a kind of lethal mutation. And he had a good argument. He pointed out that if you take a look at biological success, which is essentially measured by how many of us are there, the organisms that do quite well are those that mutate very quickly, like bacteria, or those that are stuck in a fixed ecological niche, like beetles. They do fine. And they may survive the environmental crisis. But as you go up the scale of what we call intelligence, they are less and less successful. By the time you get to mammals, there are very few of them as compared with, say, insects. By the time you get to humans, the origin of humans may be 100,000 years ago, there is a very small group. We are kind of misled now because there are a lot of humans around, but that’s a matter of a few thousand years, which is meaningless from an evolutionary point of view. His argument was, you’re just not going to find intelligent life elsewhere, and you probably won’t find it here for very long either because it’s just a lethal mutation. He also added, a little bit ominously, that the average life span of a species, of the billions that have existed, is about 100,000 years, which is roughly the length of time that modern humans have existed.

With the environmental crisis, we’re now in a situation where we can decide whether Mayr was right or not. If nothing significant is done about it, and pretty quickly, then he will have been correct: human intelligence is indeed a lethal mutation. Maybe some humans will survive, but it will be scattered and nothing like a decent existence, and we’ll take a lot of the rest of the living world along with us.

So is anything going to be done about it? The prospects are not very auspicious. As you know, there was an international conference on this last December. A total disaster. Nothing came out of it. The emerging economies, China, India, and others, argued that it’s unfair for them to bear the burden of a couple hundred years of environmental destruction by the currently rich and developed societies. That’s a credible argument. But it’s one of these cases where you can win the battle and lose the war. The argument isn’t going to be very helpful to them if, in fact, the environmental crisis advances and a viable society goes with it. And, of course, the poor countries, for whom they’re speaking, will be the worst hit. In fact, they already are the worst hit. That will continue. The rich and developed societies, they split a little bit. Europe is actually doing something about it; it’s done some things to level off emissions. The United States has not.

In fact, there is a well-known environmentalist writer, George Monbiot, who wrote after the Copenhagen conference that “the failure of the conference can be explained in two words: Barack Obama.” And he’s correct. Obama’s intervention in the conference was, of course, very significant, given the power and the role of the United States in any international event. And he basically killed it. No restrictions, Kyoto Protocols die. The United States never participated in it. Emissions have very sharply increased in the United States since, and nothing is being done to curb them. A few Band-Aids here and there, but basically nothing. Of course, it’s not just Barack Obama. It’s our whole society and culture. Our institutions are constructed in such a way that trying to achieve anything is going to be extremely difficult.

Public attitudes are a little hard to judge. There are a lot of polls, and they have what look like varying results, depending on exactly how you interpret the questions and the answers. But a very substantial part of the population, maybe a big majority, is inclined to dismiss this as just kind of a liberal hoax. What’s particularly interesting is the role of the corporate sector, which pretty much runs the country and the political system. They’re very explicit. The big business lobbies, like the Chamber of Commerce, American Petroleum Institute, and others, have been very clear and explicit. A couple of years ago they said they are going to carry out—they since have been carrying out—a major publicity campaign to convince people that it’s not real, that it’s a liberal hoax. Judging by polls, that’s had an effect.

It’s particularly interesting to take a look at the people who are running these campaigns, say, the CEOs of big corporations. They know as well as you and I do that it’s very real and that the threats are very dire, and that they’re threatening the lives of their grandchildren. In fact, they’re threatening what they own, they own the world, and they’re threatening its survival. Which seems irrational, and it is, from a certain perspective. But from another perspective it’s highly rational. 

They’re acting within the structure of the institutions of which they are a part. They are functioning within something like market systems—not quite, but partially—market systems. To the extent that you participate in a market system, you disregard necessarily what economists call “externalities,” the effect of a transaction upon others. So, for example, if one of you sells me a car, we may try to make a good deal for ourselves, but we don’t take into account in that transaction the effect of the transaction on others. Of course, there is an effect. It may feel like a small effect, but if it multiplies over a lot of people, it’s a huge effect: pollution, congestion, wasting time in traffic jams, all sorts of things. Those you don’t take into account—necessarily. That’s part of the market system.

We’ve just been through a major illustration of this. The financial crisis has a lot of roots, but the fundamental root of it has been known for a long time. It was talked about decades before the crisis. In fact, there have been repeated crises. This is just the worst of them. The fundamental reason, it just is rooted in market systems. If Goldman Sachs, say, makes a transaction, if they’re doing their job, if the managers are up to speed they are paying attention to what they get out of it and the institution or person at the other end of the transaction, say, a borrower, does the same thing. They don’t take into account what’s called systemic risk, that is, the chance that the transaction that they’re carrying out will contribute to crashing the whole system. They don’t take that into account. In fact, that’s a large part of what just happened. The systemic risk turned out to be huge, enough to crash the system, even though the original transactions are perfectly rational within the system.

It’s not because they’re bad people or anything. If they don’t do it—suppose some CEO says, “Okay, I’m going to take into account externalities”—then he’s out. He’s out and somebody else is in who will play by the rules. That’s the nature of the institution. You can be a perfectly nice guy in your personal life. You can sign up for the Sierra Club and give speeches about the environmental crisis or whatever, but in the role of corporate manager, you’re fixed. You have to try to maximize short-term profit and market share—in fact, that’s a legal requirement in Anglo-American corporate law—just because if you don’t do it, either your business will disappear because somebody else will outperform it in the short run, or you will just be out because you’re not doing your job and somebody else will be in. So there is an institutional irrationality. Within the institution the behavior is perfectly rational, but the institutions themselves are so totally irrational that they are designed to crash.

If you look, say, at the financial system, it’s extremely dramatic what happened. There was a crash in the 1920s, and in the 1930s, a huge depression. But then regulatory mechanisms were introduced. They were introduced as a result of massive popular pressure, but they were introduced. And throughout the whole period of very rapid and pretty egalitarian economic growth of the next couple of decades, there were no financial crises, because the regulatory mechanisms interfered with the market and prevented the market principles from operating. So therefore you could take account of externalities. That’s what the regulatory system does. It’s been systematically dismantled since the 1970s.

Meanwhile, the role of finance in the economy has exploded. The share of corporate profit by financial institutions has just zoomed since the 1970s. Kind of a corollary of that is the hollowing out of industrial production, sending it abroad. This all happened under the impact of a kind of fanatic religious ideology called economics—and that’s not a joke—based on hypotheses that have no theoretical grounds and no empirical support but are very attractive because you can prove theorems if you adopt them: the efficient market hypothesis, rational expectations hypothesis, and so on. The spread of these ideologies, which is very attractive to concentrated wealth and privilege, hence their success, was epitomized in Alan Greenspan, who at least had the decency to say it was all wrong when it collapsed. I don’t think there has ever been a collapse of an intellectual edifice comparable to this, maybe, in history, at least I can’t remember one. Interestingly, it has no effect. It just continues. Which tells you that it’s serviceable to power systems.

Under the impact of these ideologies, the regulatory system was dismantled by Reagan and Clinton and Bush. Throughout this whole period, there have been repeated financial crises, unlike the 1950s and 1960s. During the Reagan years, there were some really extreme ones. Clinton left office with another huge one, the burst of the tech bubble. Then the one we’re in the middle of. Worse and worse each time. The system is instantly being reconstructed, so the next one will very likely be even worse. One of the causes, not the only one, is simply the fact that in market systems you just don’t take into account externalities, in this case systemic risk.

That’s not lethal in the case of financial crises. A financial crisis can be terrible. It can put many millions of people out of work, their lives destroyed. But there is a way out of it. The taxpayer can come in and rescue you. That’s exactly what happened. We saw it dramatically in the last couple of years. The financial system tanked. The government, namely, the taxpayer, came in and bailed them out.

Let’s go to the environmental crisis. There’s nobody around to bail you out. The externalities in this case are the fate of the species. If that’s disregarded in the operations of the market system, there’s nobody around who is going to bail you out from that. So this is a lethal externality. And the fact that it’s proceeding with no significant action being taken to do anything about it does suggest that Ernst Mayr actually had a point. It seems that there is something about us, our intelligence, which entails that we’re capable of acting in ways that are rational within a narrow framework but are irrational in terms of other long-term goals, like do we care what kind of a world our grandchildren will live in. And it’s hard to see much in the way of prospects for overcoming this right now, particularly in the United States. We are the most powerful state in the world, and what we do is vastly important. We have one of the worst records in this regard.

There are things that could be done. It’s not hard to list them. One of the main things that could be done is actually low-tech, for example, the weatherization of homes. There was a big building boom in the post–Second World War period, which from the point of view of the environment was done extremely irrationally. Again, it was done rationally from a market point of view. There were models for home building, for mass-produced homes, which were used all over the country, under different conditions. So maybe it would make sense in Arizona, but not in Massachusetts. Those homes are there. They’re extremely energy-inefficient. They can be fixed. It’s construction work, basically. It would make a big difference. It would also have the effect of reviving one of the main collapsing industries, construction, and overcoming a substantial part of the employment crisis. It will take inputs. It will take money from, ultimately, the taxpayer. We call it the government, but it means the taxpayer. But it is a way of stimulating the economy, of increasing jobs, also with a substantial multiplier effect (unlike bailing out bankers and investors), and also making a significant impact on the destruction of the environment. But there’s barely a proposal for this, almost nothing.

Another example, which is kind of a scandal in the United States—if any of you have traveled abroad, you’re perfectly aware of it—when you come back from almost anywhere in the world to the United States, it looks like you’re coming to a Third World country, literally. The infrastructure is collapsing transportation that doesn’t work. Let’s just take trains. When I moved to Boston around 1950, there was a train that went from Boston to New York. It took four hours. There’s now a highly heralded train called the Acela, the supertrain. It takes three hours and forty minutes (if there’s no breakdown—as there can be, I’ve discovered). If you were in Japan, Germany, China, almost anywhere, it would take maybe an hour and a half, two hours or something. And that’s general.

It didn’t happen by accident. It happened by a huge social engineering project carried out by the government and by the corporations beginning in the 1940s. It was a very systematic effort to redesign the society so as to maximize the use of fossil fuels. One part of it was eliminating quite efficient rail systems. New England, for example, did have a pretty efficient electric rail system all the way through New England. If you read E. L. Doctorow’s novel Ragtime, the first chapter describes its hero going through New England on the electric rail system. That was all dismantled in favor of cars and trucks. Los Angeles, which is now a total horror story—I don’t know if any of you have been there—had an efficient electric public transportation system. It was dismantled. It was bought up in the 1940s by General Motors, Firestone Rubber, and Standard Oil of California. The purpose of their buying it up was to dismantle it so as to shift everything to trucks and cars and buses. And it was done. It was technically a conspiracy. Actually, they were brought to court on a charge of conspiracy and sentenced. I think the sentence was $5,000 or something, enough to pay for the victory dinner.

The federal government stepped in. We have something that is now called the interstate highway system. When it was built in the 1950s, it was called the national defense highway system because when you do anything in the United States you have to call it defense. That’s the only way you can fool the taxpayer into paying for it. In fact, there were stories back in the 1950s, those of you who are old enough to remember, about how we needed it because you had to move missiles around the country very quickly in case the Russians came or something. So taxpayers were bilked into paying for this system. Alongside of it was the destruction of railroads, which is why you have what I just described. Huge amounts of federal money and corporate money went into highways, airports, anything that wastes fuel. That’s basically the criterion.

Also, the country was suburbanized. Real estate interests, local interests, and others redesigned life so that it’s atomized and suburbanized. I’m not knocking the suburbs. I live in one and I like it. But it’s incredibly inefficient. It has all kinds of social effects which are probably deleterious. Anyway, it didn’t just happen; it was designed. Throughout the whole period, there has been a massive effort to create the most destructive possible society. And to try to redo that huge social engineering project is not going to be simple. It involves plenty of problems.

Another component of any reasonable approach—and everyone agrees with this on paper—is to develop sustainable energy, green technology. We all know and everyone talks a nice line about that. But if you look at what’s happening, green technology is being developed in Spain, in Germany, and primarily China. The United States is importing it. In fact, a lot of the innovation is here, but it’s done there. United States investors now are putting far more money into green technology in China than into the U.S. and Europe combined. There were complaints when Texas ordered solar panels and windmills from China: It’s undermining our industry. Actually, it wasn’t undermining us at all because we were out of the game. It was undermining Spain and Germany, which are way ahead of us.

Just to indicate how surreal this is, the Obama administration essentially took over the auto industry, meaning you took it over. You paid for it, bailed it out, and basically owned large parts of it. And they continued doing what the corporations had been doing pretty much, for example, closing down GM plants all over the place. Closing down a plant is not just putting the workers out of work, it’s also destroying the community. Take a look at the so-called rust belt. The communities were built by labor organizing; they developed around the plants. Now they’re dismantled. It has huge effects. At the same time that they’re dismantling the plants, meaning you and I are dismantling plants, because that’s where the money comes from, and it’s allegedly our representatives—it isn’t, in fact—at the very same time Obama was sending his Transportation Secretary to Spain to use federal stimulus money to get contracts for high-speed rail construction, which we really need and the world really needs. Those plants that are being dismantled and the skilled workers in them, all that could be reconverted to producing high-speed rail right here. They have the technology, they have the knowledge, they have the skills. But it’s not good for the bottom line for banks, so we’ll buy it from Spain. Just like green technology, it will be done in China.

Those are choices; those are not laws of nature. But, unfortunately, those are the choices that are being made. And there is little indication of any positive change. These are pretty serious problems. We can easily go on. I don’t want to continue. But the general picture is very much like this. I don’t think this is an unfair selection of—it’s a selection, of course, but I think it’s a reasonably fair selection of what’s happening. The consequences are pretty dire.

The media contribute to this, too. So if you read, say, a typical story in the New York Times, it will tell you that there is a debate about global warming. If you look at the debate, on one side is maybe 98 percent of the relevant scientists in the world, on the other side are a couple of serious scientists who question it, a handful, and Jim Inhofe or some other senator. So it’s a debate. And the citizen has to kind of make a decision between these two sides. The Times had a comical front-page article maybe a couple months ago in which the headline said that meteorologists question global warming. It discussed a debate between meteorologists—the meteorologists are these pretty faces who read what somebody hands to them on television and says it’s going to rain tomorrow. That’s one side of the debate. The other side of the debate is practically every scientist who knows anything about it. Again, the citizen is supposed to decide. Do I trust these meteorologists? They tell me whether to wear a raincoat tomorrow. And what do I know about the scientists? They’re sitting in some laboratory somewhere with a computer model. So, yes, people are confused, and understandably.

It’s interesting that these debates leave out almost entirely a third part of the debate, namely, a very substantial number of scientists, competent scientists, who think that the scientific consensus is much too optimistic. A group of scientists at MIT came out with a report about a year ago describing what they called the most comprehensive modeling of the climate that had ever been done. Their conclusion, which was unreported in public media as far as I know, was that the major scientific consensus of the international commission is just way off, it’s much too optimistic; and if you add other factors that they didn’t count properly, the conclusion is much more dire. Their own conclusion was that unless we terminate use of fossil fuels almost immediately, it’s finished. We’ll never be able to overcome the consequences. That’s not part of the debate. 

I could easily go on, but the only potential counterweight to all of this is some very substantial popular movement which is not just going to call for putting solar panels on your roof, though it’s a good thing to do, but it’s going to have to dismantle an entire sociological, cultural, economic, and ideological structure which is just driving us to disaster. It’s not a small task, but it’s a task that had better be undertaken, and probably pretty quickly, or it’s going to be too late. 



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Saturday, May 28, 2011

Welcome to the violent world of Mr. Hopey Changey by John Pilger

When Britain lost control of Egypt in 1956, Prime Minister Anthony Eden said he wanted the nationalist president Gamal Abdel Nasser "destroyed… murdered… I don’t give a damn if there’s anarchy and chaos in Egypt". Those insolent Arabs, Winston Churchill had urged in 1951, should be driven "into the gutter from which they should never have emerged".

The language of colonialism may have been modified; the spirit and the hypocrisy are unchanged. A new imperial phase is unfolding in direct response to the Arab uprising that began in January and has shocked Washington and Europe, causing an Eden-style panic. The loss of the Egyptian tyrant Mubarak was grievous, though not irretrievable; an American-backed counter-revolution is under way as the military regime in Cairo is seduced with new bribes and power shifting from the street to political groups that did not initiate the revolution. The western aim, as ever, is to stop authentic democracy and reclaim control.

Libya is the immediate opportunity. The Nato attack on Libya, with the UN Security Council assigned to mandate a bogus "no fly zone" to "protect civilians", is strikingly similar to the final destruction of Yugoslavia in 1999. There was no UN cover for the bombing of Serbia and the "rescue" of Kosovo, yet the propaganda echoes today. Like Slobodan Milosevic, Muammar Gaddafi is a "new Hitler", plotting "genocide" against his people. There is no evidence of this, as there was no genocide in Kosovo. In Libya there is a tribal civil war; and the armed uprising against Gaddafi has long been appropriated by the Americans, French and British, their planes attacking residential Tripoli with uranium-tipped missiles and the submarine HMS Triumph firing Tomahawk missiles, a repeat of the "shock and awe" in Iraq that left thousands of civilians dead and maimed. As in Iraq, the victims, which include countless incinerated Libyan army conscripts, are media unpeople.

In the "rebel" east, the terrorising and killing of black African immigrants is not news. On 22 May, a rare piece in the Washington Post described the repression, lawlessness and death squads in the "liberated zones" just as visiting EU foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, declared she had found only "great aspirations" and "leadership qualities". In demonstrating these qualities, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, the "rebel leader" and Gaddafi’s justice minister until February, pledged, "Our friends... will have the best opportunity in future contracts with Libya." The east holds most of Libya’s oil, the greatest reserves in Africa. In March the rebels, with expert foreign guidance, "transferred" to Benghazi the Libyan Central Bank, a wholly owned state institution. This is unprecedented. Meanwhile, the US and the EU "froze" almost US$100 billion in Libyan funds, "the largest sum ever blocked", according to official statements. It is the biggest bank robbery in history.

The French elite are enthusiastic robbers and bombers. Nicholas Sarkozy’s imperial design is for a French-dominated Mediterranean Union (UM), which would allow France to "return" to its former colonies in North Africa and profit from privileged investment and cheap labour. Gaddafi described the Sarkozy plan as "an insult" that was "taking us for fools". The Merkel government in Berlin agreed, fearing its old foe would diminish Germany in the EU, and abstained in the Security Council vote on Libya.

Like the attack on Yugoslavia and the charade of Milosevic’s trial, the International Criminal Court is being used by the US, France and Britain to prosecute Gaddafi while his repeated offers of a ceasefire are ignored. Gaddafi is a Bad Arab. David Cameron’s government and its verbose top general want to eliminate this Bad Arab, like the Obama administration killed a famously Bad Arab in Pakistan recently. The crown prince of Bahrain, on the other hand, is a Good Arab. On 19 May, he was warmly welcomed to Britain by Cameron with a photo-call on the steps of 10 Downing Street. In March, the same crown prince slaughtered unarmed protestors and allowed Saudi forces to crush his country’s democracy movement.  The Obama administration has rewarded Saudi Arabia, one of the most repressive regimes on earth, with a $US60 billion arms deal, the biggest in US history. The Saudis have the most oil. They are the Best Arabs.

The assault on Libya, a crime under the Nuremberg standard, is Britain’s 46th military "intervention" in the Middle East since 1945. Like its imperial partners, Britain’s goal is to control Africa’s oil. Cameron is not Anthony Eden, but almost. Same school. Same values. In the media-pack, the words colonialism and imperialism are no longer used, so that the cynical and the credulous can celebrate state violence in its more palatable form.

And as "Mr. Hopey Changey" (the name that Ted Rall, the great American cartoonist, gives Barack Obama), is fawned upon by the British elite and launches another insufferable presidential campaign, the Anglo-American reign of terror proceeds in Afghanistan and elsewhere, with the murder of people by unmanned drones - a US/Israel innovation, embraced by Obama. For the record, on a scorecard of imposed misery, from secret trials and prisons and the hounding of whistleblowers and the criminalising of dissent to the incarceration and impoverishment of his own people, mostly black people, Obama is as bad as George W. Bush.

The Palestinians understand all this. As their young people courageously face the violence of Israel’s blood-racism, carrying the keys of their grandparents’ stolen homes, they are not even included in Mr. Hopey Changey’s list of peoples in the Middle East whose liberation is long overdue. What the oppressed need, he said on 19 May, is a dose of "America’s interests [that] are essential to them". He insults us all.

26 May 2011

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Assange: 'WikiLeaks is an intelligence agency of the people'


Below is the transcript of Julian Assange’s acceptance speech of the Sydney Peace Foundation Gold Medal at the Frontline Club in London on May 10.

Thank you Professor Rees and Mary Kostakidis. I think Professor Rees has stolen all my good lines and Mary’s stolen all my jokes, so I’m not sure that I have much left.

However, I would like to begin first of all with a status update because there has been a change since December last year and the present moment, and it is as a result of our very strong supporters, many of you are in this the audience at the moment, others are sitting on the two chairs here and many other people in countries across the world that have kept us safe.

The change in position can be understood by looking at what the Australian government was doing last year. The Australian government under the surface had been involved in giving information and speaking to intelligence agencies from other countries about us, but it engaged in a public attack by setting up what it called a whole of government enquiry into us; publicly stating that it involved ASIO (the domestic intelligence service), ASIS (the foreign intelligence service), the Department of Defence, the AFP (the equivalent of the FBI in Australia) and the Australian Attorney General’s Department.

The Australian Attorney General Robert McCallum said that we could not, and I could not, from the safety of my office publish and he would assist any country anywhere in the world to prosecute me. He also stated that as an Australian travelling overseas they would attempt to revoke my passport and two weeks later decided not to revoke my passport, using the statement that the Australian government and its partners found it helpful for tracking my movements.

This year the Australian government has found that we breached no Australian laws in any of our activities. The public enquiry by the domestic intelligence service ASIO has stopped, the foreign enquiry by ASIS has stopped, the Australian Federal Police enquiry (which the Attorney General had said might take up to 18 months) has stopped.

It has been wound up and found that we had engaged in no crimes. That is not due to the good sense of the Australian Labor Government, it is not due to the good sense of the people it was working with in Washington; it is entirely due to the Australian people and the people who fight for us. I would like to draw people’s attention to that and have you understand that your actions have made a difference.

But there are enquiries that have not stopped and not been wound up. The CIA publicly declared a WikiLeaks Task Force. The Pentagon publicly declared a 120-man operation into us working 24hours a day, 7 days a week. When it was revealed that the CIA had its own special dedicated Task Force the reaction of the majority of the press was not to go ‘is this acceptable that there is a publicly declared CIA Task Force into a publishing organization?’

Rather the media as a whole was very effectively spun.

The name of the Task Force: WikiLeaks Task Force was WTF: “What The Fuck”, and of course everyone went: ‘oh what a joke. What a joke, the Task Force is WTF isn’t that funny?’ No it’s not funny that there is a dedicated CIA Task Force into our organization. That is not funny, that is serious.

It is not funny when the CIA received a Freedom of Information Act request asking about whether the CIA has any information about plots or plans to assassinate me and refused to confirm or deny whether it did or did not. That is not funny, that is very serious. And it is not just serious for me it is serious for our staff, our volunteers and our sources. It is serious for those people being called to the secret Grand Jury investigation in Alexandria, Virginia on Wednesday.

Called to testify in secret to try and establish an espionage connection between me and our volunteers and the young military intelligence soldier Bradley Manning.

The real value of this award and the Sydney Peace Foundation is that it makes explicit the link between Peace and Justice. It does not take the safe, feel-good option of shunning controversy by uttering platitudes. Instead, it goes into difficult terrain by identifying organizations or individuals who are directly engaged in struggles of one kind or another.

With WikiLeaks, there is no doubt that we are all engaged in a struggle — a generational struggle for a proposition that is no more radical than that the citizens have a right, indeed a duty to scrutinize the state and to scrutinize states.

I always keep in mind something that was said by the great poet and novelist May Sarton: you have to think like a hero in order to act like a merely decent human being.

And there is a wonderful scene in The Russia House, a movie based on John le Carre’s novel, where a whistle-blower pleads with a potential publisher — “promise me that if I ever find the courage to think like a hero, then you will act like a merely decent human being.” And that has always been our promise to whistle-blowers and sources: that if you have the courage to act like a hero, then we will act like merely decent human beings as publishers.

And that is why we have never unpublished anything that we have published, no matter what kind of threats have been leveled against us we have never yielded to attacks on history that our sources have helped us make. That is your common intellectual record and it must remain sacrosanct. We keep the faith with our sources, whose anonymity and courage always humble us.

We are objective but we are not neutral. We are on the side of justice. Objectivity is not the same as neutrality. We are objective about the facts when it comes to reporting and not distorting facts. But we are not neutral about what kind of world we would like to see. We want to see a more just world.
This means giving people access to the information that is the power behind justice. Without this free flow of information, an organized minority will always dominate a disorganized majority. That means that most people cannot participate in power, and until people participate in power, we will not have a just world.

These ideas are not new this basic notion really stems back to Madison who said that if a people mean to be their own rulers and given that knowledge will always rule ignorance that people must have the power that knowledge will bring.

In 2006 in a letter to our people I wrote: “Every time we witness an injustice and do not act, we train our character to be passive in its presence and thereby lose all ability to defend ourselves and those we love. In a modern economy it is impossible to seal oneself off from injustice…If we can only live once, then let it be a daring adventure that draws on all our powers… Men in their prime, if they have convictions, are tasked to act on them.”

Our work at WikiLeaks has surprised many people, including some journalists, who have reacted with hostility to us and I would argue in a hostile manner to the basic ethics of journalism. which is to hold power to account. We come from a long line of free-speech traditions. These go back in the UK to the time of the Civil War of the 1640s.

I pointed out in the New Statesman recently, guest-edited by Jemima Goldsmith, that a man named Clement Walker wrote about how the press at the time of those struggles was rousing the population into action. He wrote:

“They have cast all the Mysteries and secrets of Government, both by Kings and parliaments, before the vulgar (like Pearl before Swine), and have taught both the Soldiery and People to look so far into them as to ravel back all Governments, to the first principles of nature… They have made the People thereby so curious and arrogant that they will never find humility enough to submit to a civil rule.”

He was right, of course.

And John Pilger who I see has just joined us put it right when he said in Sydney that it is not WikiLeaks the United States government is afraid of, it is not Julian Assange that they are afraid of. What does it matter what I know, what does it matter what WikiLeaks’ knows? It matters not at all. What matters is what you know. And these organizations are scared of what you know and they are scared of what the general population knows and they want to put a stop to us because they want to put a stop to you knowing.

And the great Australian historian, Humphrey McQueen, said in a rally in Canberra defending me and WikiLeaks that a free press was won by London radical printers, such as Richard Carlile, who, along with more than a hundred tradesman and others, went to prison for a total of 200 years between them.

The rights that we know take for granted were all won by a struggle. The tally would have been greater had London juries not often refused to convict, so our free speech rights are also a product of the jury system. Something that is absent, you may note, in extradition cases. And the governors in New South Wales and Tasmania had a long history of imprisoning newspaper editors. Once again those editors continued to publish even though they continued to be imprisoned and we might ask where are the newspaper editors today who will risk being imprisoned for their craft?

These radical publishers and activists took matters into their own hands by embodying the freedoms they wished to see. They did not suffer, as Rudolf Rocker says, the ruinous delusion that salvation will come from above. That’s what we hope to change — to give people everywhere who have information from below the tools and the knowledge to change their world.

The democratic implications of the material released by WikiLeaks are only just beginning to be seen. People everywhere are clamoring for materials relevant to their cause or country. Initially we partnered, for reasons of Realpolitik, with a small number of very large media organizations.

But since then, we have been working alongside a much larger range of media organizations and nonprofit groups form Global Witness to Amnesty to small groups working in Latin America, giving them access to hundreds — or, in some cases, thousands – of cables relevant to their regions or causes. We now have 73 partners from El Salvador to Lebanon publishing in their own language exposing the corrupt in their own countries and without.

I, and my staff are very grateful to the Sydney Peace Foundation for honoring us with the Gold Medal for Peace with Justice not because it is merely an accolade but because it is a certification to attract the support of people like those in this room, who are committed to bringing Peace with Justice.

In the same way, we believe it is a certification to bring the hostility of people who are opposed to Peace with Justice; it is a sign that we are doing what journalists ought to be doing every day — afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted, as the Chicago writer Finley Peter Dunne, once put it.

And the comfortable have certainly been afflicted. There are those Task Forces that I spoke of and illegal calls for me to be arrested or assassinated as a terrorist. But to terrorize politicians is not to be a terrorist. Governments that have no intention of applying the precautionary principle when it comes to protecting the environment assert it when it comes to our activities reporting. They conjure up hypothetical scenarios and claim that our stories may someday harm someone somewhere. Yet they have provided no evidence over four years of any actual harm.
For my staff and me, WikiLeaks will always strive to be an intelligence agency of the people. And we will always — as long as whistle-blowers are willing to act as heroes — act like merely decent human beings.

Thank you.

Friday, May 20, 2011 Green Left Weekly








Sunday, May 22, 2011

Lots of Rhetoric – But Very Little Help by Robert Fisk

"Then we had to hear what America's 'role' was going to be in the new Middle East. We did not hear if the Arabs wanted them to have a role."

It was the same old story. Palestinians can have a "viable" state, Israel a "secure" one. Israel cannot be de-legitimised. The Palestinians must not attempt to ask the UN for statehood in September. No peace can be imposed on either party. Sometimes yesterday, you could have turned this into Obama's forthcoming speech to pro-Israeli lobbyists this weekend. Oh yes, and the Palestinian state must have no weapons to defend itself. So that's what "viable" means!

It was a kind of Second Coming, I suppose, Cairo re-pledged, another crack at the Middle East, as boring and as unfair as all the other ones, with lots of rhetoric about the Arab revolutions which Obama did nothing to help. Some of it was positively delusional. "We have broken the Taliban's momentum," the great speechifier said. What? Does he really – really – think that?

Of course, there was the usual rhetoric bath for Libya, Syria, Iran, the usual suspects. And there were the words. Courage. Peace. Dignity. Democracy. A creature from Mars would think that the man had helped to bring about the revolutions in the Middle East rather that sat primly to one side in the hope that the wretched dictators might survive.

There was some knuckle-rapping to Bahrain (no revolution there, of course) and there was not a word about Saudi Arabia, although I rather fancy its elderly king will be on the blower to Obama in the next few days.
What's all this about change in the Middle East?

We got one timid reference to "Israeli settlement activity", a crack at Hamas (naturally), lots of tears for the Tunisian vegetable vendor, Mohamed Bouazizi, who started off the revolutions – Tunisia being one state that Obama never actually mentioned until Ben Ali had run away. The "humiliation of occupation" for the

Palestinians – this was a straight repeat of Cairo two years ago – and the tale of a Palestinian "who lost three daughters to Israeli shells" in Gaza. I got the point, of course. The man just "lost" his daughters to shells that happened to fall on them; no suggestion that anyone actually fired them.

Is Obama just talking too much? I fear so. He was cashing in, bathing in his own words as he did in his miserable performance when he got the Nobel Peace Prize for Speechmaking.

And then, I guessed it before he said it, he compared the Arab revolutions to the American revolution. We hold these truths to be self-evident, etc, etc. That many Arabs fought and died to be free of us than to be like Americans was quite lost on him. And then we had to hear what America's "role" was going to be in the new Middle East. We did not hear if the Arabs wanted them to have a role. But that's Obama for you. Always searching for a role.

Well, this weekend is Netanyahu's weekend and the Israeli settlements – more were flagged only hours before Obama spoke – will go on as before. And by the time Obama ends up swearing eternal loyalty to the Israelis, the Arabs will forget yesterday's posturing. And the reference to the "Jewish state" was obviously intended to make Netanyahu happy. Last time I went there, there were hundreds of thousands of Arabs who lived in Israel, all of them with Israeli passports. They didn't get a reference from Obama. Or maybe I was just imagining.


Robert Fisk
Robert Fisk is Middle East correspondent for The Independent newspaper.  He is the author of many books on the region, including The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

John Pilger: How the Murdoch press keeps Australia's dirty secret

 
The illegal eavesdropping on famous people by the News of the World is said to be Rupert Murdoch’s Watergate. But is it the crime by which Murdoch ought to be known? In his native land, Australia, Murdoch controls 70 per cent of the capital city press. Australia is the world’s first murdochracy, in which smear by media is power.

The most enduring and insidious Murdoch campaign has been against the Aboriginal people, who were dispossessed by the arrival of the British in the late 18th century and have never been allowed to recover. “Nigger hunts” continued into the 1960s and beyond. The officially-inspired theft of  children from Aboriginal families, justified by the racist theories of the eugenics movement, produced those known as the Stolen Generation and in 1997 was identified as genocide. Today, the first Australians have the shortest life expectancy of any of the world’s 90 indigenous peoples. Australia imprisons Aborigines at five times the rate South Africa during the apartheid years. In the state of Western Australia, the figure is eight times the apartheid rate.

Political power in Australia often rests in the control of resource-rich land. Most of the uranium, iron ore, gold, oil and natural gas is in Western Australia and Northern Territory – on Aboriginal land.  Indeed, Aboriginal “progress” is all but defined by the mining industry and its political guardians in both Labor and coalition (conservative) governments. Their faithful, strident voice is the Murdoch press. The exceptional, reformist Labor government of Gough Whitlam in the 1970s set up a royal commission that made clear that social justice for Australia’s first people would only be achieved with universal land rights and a share the national wealth with dignity. In 1975, Whitlam was sacked by the governor-general in a “constitutional coup”. The Murdoch press had turned on Whitlam with such venom that rebellious journalists on The Australian burned their newspaper in the street.

In 1984, the Labor Party “solemnly pledged” to finish what Whitlam had begun and legislate Aboriginal land rights. This was opposed by the then Labor prime minister, Bob Hawke, a “mate” of Rupert Murdoch. Hawke blamed the public for being “less compassionate”; but a secret 64-page report to the party revealed that most Australians supported land rights. This was leaked to The Australian, whose front page declared, “Few support Aboriginal land rights”, the opposite of the truth, thus feeding an atmosphere of self-fulfilling distrust, “backlash” and rejection of rights that would distinguish Australia from South Africa. In 1988, an editorial in Murdoch’s London tabloid, the Sun, described “the Abos” as “treacherous and brutal”. This was condemned by the UK Press Council as “unacceptably racist”.

The Australian publishes long articles that present Aboriginal people not unsympathetically but as perennial victims of each other, “an entire culture committing suicide”, or as noble primitives requiring firm direction: the eugenicist’s view. It promotes Aboriginal “leaders” who, by blaming their own people for their poverty, tell the white elite what it wants to hear. The writer Michael Brull parodied this: “Oh White man, please save us. Take away our rights because we are so backward.”

This is also the government’s view. In railing against what it called the “black armband view” of Australia’s past, the conservative government of John Howard encouraged and absorbed the views of white supremacists -- that there was no genocide, no Stolen Generation, no racism; indeed, whites are the victims of “liberal racism”. A collection of far-right journalists, minor academics and hangers-on became the antipodean equivalent of David Irving Holocaust deniers. Their platform has been the Murdoch press.

Andrew Bolt, columnist on Murdoch’s Melbourne Herald-Sun tabloid, is currently the defendant in a racial vilification case brought by nine prominent Aborigines, including Larissa Behrendt, a professor of law and indigenous studies in Sydney. Behrendt has been an authoritative and outspoken opponent of Howard’s 2007 “emergency intervention” in the Northern Territory, which the Labor government of Julia Gillard has reinforced. The rationale to “intervene” was that child abuse among Aborigines was in “unthinkable numbers”. This was a fraud. Out of 7,433 Aboriginal children examined by doctors, four possible cases were identified – about the rate of child abuse in white Australia.  What this covered was an old-fashioned colonial grab of mineral-rich land in the Northern Territory where Aboriginal land rights were granted in 1976.

The Murdoch press has been the most lurid and vociferous in its promotion of the “intervention”, which a United Nations special rapporteur has condemned for its racial discrimination. Once again, Australian politicians are dispossessing the first inhabitants, demanding leasehold of land in return for health and education rights that whites take for granted and driving them into “economically viable hubs” where they will be effectively detained -- a form of apartheid.

The outrage and despair of most Aboriginal people is not heard. For using her institutional voice and exposing the government’s black supporters, Larissa Behrendt has been subjected to a vicious campaign of innuendo in the Murdoch press, including the implication that she is not a “real” Aborigine. Using the language of its soulmate the London Sun, the Australian derides the “abstract debate” of “land rights, apologies, treaties” as a “moralizing mumbo-jumbo spreading like a virus”. The aim is to silence those who dare tell Australia’s dirty secret.

12 May 2011


Saturday, May 07, 2011

Noam Chomsky On Bin Laden's Assassination



It’s increasingly clear that the operation was a planned assassination, multiply violating elementary norms of international law. There appears to have been no attempt to apprehend the unarmed victim, as presumably could have been done by 80 commandos facing virtually no opposition—except, they claim, from his wife, who lunged towards them. In societies that profess some respect for law, suspects are apprehended and brought to fair trial. I stress “suspects.” In April 2002, the head of the FBI, Robert Mueller, informed the press that after the most intensive investigation in history, the FBI could say no more than that it “believed” that the plot was hatched in Afghanistan, though implemented in the UAE and Germany. What they only believed in April 2002, they obviously didn’t know 8 months earlier, when Washington dismissed tentative offers by the Taliban (how serious, we do not know, because they were instantly dismissed) to extradite bin Laden if they were presented with evidence—which, as we soon learned, Washington didn’t have. Thus Obama was simply lying when he said, in his White House statement, that “we quickly learned that the 9/11 attacks were carried out by al Qaeda.”

Nothing serious has been provided since. There is much talk of bin Laden’s “confession,” but that is rather like my confession that I won the Boston Marathon. He boasted of what he regarded as a great achievement.

There is also much media discussion of Washington’s anger that Pakistan didn’t turn over bin Laden, though surely elements of the military and security forces were aware of his presence in Abbottabad. Less is said about Pakistani anger that the U.S. invaded their territory to carry out a political assassination. Anti-American fervor is already very high in Pakistan, and these events are likely to exacerbate it. The decision to dump the body at sea is already, predictably, provoking both anger and skepticism in much of the Muslim world.


It’s like naming our murder weapons after victims of our crimes: Apache, Tomahawk… It’s as if the Luftwaffe were to call its fighter planes “Jew” and “Gypsy.”

We might ask ourselves how we would be reacting if Iraqi commandos landed at George W. Bush’s compound, assassinated him, and dumped his body in the Atlantic. Uncontroversially, his crimes vastly exceed bin Laden’s, and he is not a “suspect” but uncontroversially the “decider” who gave the orders to commit the “supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole” (quoting the Nuremberg Tribunal) for which Nazi criminals were hanged: the hundreds of thousands of deaths, millions of refugees, destruction of much of the country, the bitter sectarian conflict that has now spread to the rest of the region.

There’s more to say about [Cuban airline bomber Orlando] Bosch, who just died peacefully in Florida, including reference to the “Bush doctrine” that societies that harbor terrorists are as guilty as the terrorists themselves and should be treated accordingly. No one seemed to notice that Bush was calling for invasion and destruction of the U.S. and murder of its criminal president.

Same with the name, Operation Geronimo. The imperial mentality is so profound, throughout western society, that no one can perceive that they are glorifying bin Laden by identifying him with courageous resistance against genocidal invaders. It’s like naming our murder weapons after victims of our crimes: Apache, Tomahawk… It’s as if the Luftwaffe were to call its fighter planes “Jew” and “Gypsy.”
There is much more to say, but even the most obvious and elementary facts should provide us with a good deal to think about. 


Bin Laden's death: 'Why kill the goose?' by Tariq Ali


 Tariq Ali

Blinded by the thirst for vengeance, the United States targets and kilBlinded by the thirst for vengeance, the United States targets and kills another enemy. Its citizens celebrate. And functionaries of the George W Bush period tell us that what it proves is torture at Guantánamo worked, after all. Europe applauds. Vassals elsewhere (including Pakistan's president) congratulate the US on mission accomplished. This is slightly bizarre, given that Bin Laden had apparently been in a safe house near the Pakistan military academy for six years.

Nobody believes this could have happened without the knowledge of senior intelligence officials. A meeting with one such person in 2006, which I recounted in my last book on Pakistan, confirmed that Bin Laden was in the country and being kept safe. The person concerned told me the Americans only wanted Bin Laden dead, but that it was in Pakistan's interest to keep him alive. In his words: "Why kill the goose that lays the golden eggs?" – a reference to the billions in aid and weaponry being supplied to the army. At the time I wasn't sure whether my informant was fantasising to amuse or misinform me; he was obviously telling the truth.

Pakistan is in the grip of a fierce debate, its politico-military establishment damned whatever the case. If they admit they were in the know, they stand condemned within their own ranks. There is a great deal of dissension among junior officers and soldiers unhappy about border missions in which they are forced to target their own people. If it turns out that the US didn't even bother to inform the Pakistanis that helicopters were on the way to clip Bin Laden, they stand exposed as leaders who permit the country's sovereignty to be violated at will.

The departing CIA chief Leon Panetta has said the decision was made early not to tell Pakistan so as not to compromise the operation. But stories are changing rapidly, and nothing can be taken at face value. As WikiLeaks revealed, there was a US-Pakistan agreement, that while the latter would tolerate drone attacks they would be forced to denounce them because of public anger. On the other hand, given that within the CIA the ISI is referred to as a terrorist organisation, there may have been anxiety about leaks.

The helicopters that entered Pakistan airspace would have been cleared as part of routine reconnaissance, though in the past Pakistani radar has been jammed to facilitate raids. This time it was not. Reliable sources in Pakistan are insistent that the army had no prior knowledge of this raid. Since there is absolutely no way Pakistan could have come out of this looking good, the ISI, had it known, would undoubtedly have attempted a pre-emptive move as this event will almost certainly affect future US aid.

If the Pakistani army or intelligence were involved they could have easily moved the final showdown to a less embarrassing location – the mountains in Waziristan, for instance. Furthermore it has handed both India and Afghanistan a major opportunity to settle scores in the propaganda wars.

In reality, Bin Laden's death changes nothing, except perhaps to ensure that, economy permitting, Barack Obama is re-elected. The occupation of Iraq, the Af-Pak war and Nato's Libyan adventure look set to continue. Israel-Palestine is stalemated, though the despotisms in the Arab world that Obama has denounced are under pressure – except the worst of them all, Saudi Arabia.

In Afghanistan, the Taliban leaders will be relieved that they can no longer be tarred with the Bin Laden brush, but his killing does not change the situation there one bit. The insurgents might not be in a position to take Kabul, (they never could even during the Russian occupation) but elsewhere they control a great deal. The US cannot win this war. The sooner it gets out, the better. Until it does, it will remain dependent on Pakistan, the ally Americans love to hate. 

guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 4 May 2011 

Friday, May 06, 2011

Robert Fisk: If this is a US victory, does that mean its forces should go home now?


"Iran spoke for many Arabs when it said Bin Laden's death took away the West's reason to have troops in the region"

 Robert Fisk

So why are we in Afghanistan? Didn't the Americans and the British go there in 2001 to fight Osama bin Laden? Wasn't he killed on Monday? There was painful symbolism in the Nato airstrike yesterday – scarcely 24 hours after Bin Laden's death – that killed yet more Afghan security guards. For the truth is that we long ago lost the plot in the graveyard of empires, turning a hunt for a now largely irrelevant inventor of global jihad into a war against tens of thousands of Taliban insurgents who have little interest in al-Qa'ida, but much enthusiasm to drive Western armies out of their country.

The gentle hopes of Hamid Karzai and Hillary Clinton – that the Taliban will be so cowed by the killing of Bin Laden that they will want to become pleasant democrats and humbly join the Western-supported and utterly corrupt leadership of Afghanistan – shows just how out of touch they are with the blood-soaked reality of the country. Some of the Taliban admired Bin Laden, but they did not love him and he had been no part of their campaign against Nato. Mullah Omar is more dangerous to the West in Afghanistan than Bin Laden. And we haven't killed Omar. 

Iran, for once, spoke for millions of Arabs in its response to Bin Laden's death. "An excuse for alien countries to deploy troops in this region under the pretext of fighting terrorism has been eliminated," its foreign ministry spokesman has said. "We hope this development will end war, conflict, unrest and the death of innocent people, and help to establish peace and tranquility in the region."  

Newspapers across the Arab world said the same thing. If this is such a great victory for the United States, it's time to go home; which, of course, the US has no intention of doing just now. 

That many Americans think the same thing is not going to change the topsy-turvy world in which US policy is framed. For there is one home truth which the world still has not grasped: that the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt – and, more pressing, the bloodbaths in Libya and Syria and the dangers to Lebanon – are of infinitely graver importance than blowing away a bearded man who has been elevated in the West's immature imagination into Hitlerian proportions. 

Turkish prime minister Erdogan's brilliant address in Istanbul yesterday – calling for the Syrians to stop killing their people and for Gaddafi to leave Libya – was more eloquent, more powerful and more historic than the petty, boastful, Hollywood speeches of Obama and Clinton on Monday. We are now wasting our time speculating who will "take over" al-Qa'ida – Zawahiri or Saif al-Adel – when the movement has no "leadership" as such, Bin Laden being the founder rather than the boss. 

But, a day being a long time in the killing fields of the Middle East, just 24 hours after Osama Bin Laden died, other questions were growing thicker yesterday. If, for example, Barack Obama really thinks the world is "a safer place" after Bin Laden's death, how come the US has increased its threat alert and embassies around the world are being told to take extra precautions against attack? 

And just what did happen in that tatty compound – no longer, it seems, a million-dollar "mansion" – when Bin Laden's sulphurous life was brought to an end? Human Rights Watch is unlikely to be the only institution to demand a "thorough, transparent investigation" into the killing. 

There was an initial story from Pentagon "sources" which had two of Bin Laden's wives killed and a woman held as a "human shield" dying too. Within hours, the wives were alive and in some accounts, the third woman simply disappeared. 

And then of course, there's Pakistan, eagerly telling the world that it participated in the attack on Bin Laden, only to have President Zardari retract the entire story yesterday. Two hours later, we had an American official describing the attack on Bin Laden as a "shared achievement". 

And there's Bin Laden's secret burial in the Arabian Sea. Was this planned before the attack on Bin Laden, with the clear plan to kill rather than capture him? And if it was carried out "according to Islamic rights" – the dead man's body washed and placed in a white shroud – it must have taken a long time for the officer on the USS Carl Vinson to devise a 50-minute religious ceremony and arrange for an Arabic-speaking sailor to translate it. 

So now for a reality check. The world is not safer for Bin Laden's killing. It is safer because of the winds of freedom blowing through the Middle East. If the West treats the people of this region with justice rather than military firepower, then al-Qa'ida becomes even more irrelevant than it has been since the Arab revolutions.
Of course, there is one positive side for the Arab world. With Bin Laden killed, the Gaddafis and the Salehs and the Assads will find it all the more difficult to claim that a man who is now dead is behind the popular revolutions trying to overthrow them.

The Independent Wednesday, 4 May 2011