Posts Tagged ‘freedom’

Wot he said.

Wot he said.

We thoroughly enjoyed the recent TV mini series on the life of John Adams, second President of the United States, Dear Reader, not least because of the joy of watching the marvellous Paul Giamatti give it his all playing the title role.

In fact, we tend to enjoy anything which looks at the soaring ideals behind any major change in society that affected the course of history – the revolution against Charles I is another era where we voraciously consume both drama and documentaries.

We were pondering the life and thoughts of Mr Adams today who floated briefly across the environs of our internet world wide webby consciousness thingy, and were minded to look up some of his more brilliant aphorisms. And lo and behold, some of them as as valuable today as a few hundred years back.

On “Innocent before proven guilty”

“It is more important that innocence be protected than it is that guilt be punished, for guilt and crimes are so frequent in this world that they cannot all be punished. But if innocence itself is brought to the bar and condemned, perhaps to die, then the citizen will say, ‘whether I do good or whether I do evil is immaterial, for innocence itself is no protection,’ and if such an idea as that were to take hold in the mind of the citizen that would be the end of security whatsoever.”

A very good point, well made, right there.

On “Facts”

“Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”

We need to remind more than a few of today’s politicians of that comment. And while we’re about it, this one, too:

“Liberty cannot be preserved without general knowledge among the people.”

John AdamsWhen one witnesses the lengths so-called democratic Government today goes to keep information away from the Governed, (you and me), this strikes us as a huge issue.

Do we, indeed, enjoy the liberties that for many decades now we have believed we do, or has the pendulum swung back the other way in so many gradual movements that we haven’t noticed the change?

Given the challenges faced by “liberal democracy” in the world, I must admit I found the next quotation rather chilling for a number of reasons.

On “Democracy”

“Democracy … while it lasts is more bloody than either aristocracy or monarchy. Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There is never a democracy that did not commit suicide.”

Hmm. Is democracy inherently more bloody than authoritarian rule? There are many humanists and respected philosophers who have wondered so, despite their instinctive affection for democracy.

We have oft heard it said, for example, that “Left-wing Governments start more wars”, and our reading of history supports that notion to a degree. People of a progressive mindset tend to believe more passionately that things can be “fixed”, if necessary by the use of force, whereas the conservative mindset tends to preserve the status quo more deliberately.

Why would anyone prefer a powerful central government to democracy? Well, if one stifles dissent, one also stifles the painful struggles that invariably accompany dissent. But if one accepted that uncomfortable notion for a moment, then how would one ensure that any dictatorship is “benign”? And in any event, does not the very nature of a dictatorship mean that it cannot be benign, because it’s essential throttling of dissent is an act of violence against free expression?

Interesting stuff.

Decision making in a centralised system is also faster and more dramatic than in a democracy. Then20071025_JohnAdams again, that is something of a mixed blessing, is it not? Slower, more cautious decision-making processes can often lead to better decisions as well as worse ones. Not for nothing has the world been advised to Festina Lente since Roman times.

He destested anti-intellectualism.

On “Knowledge”.

“Let us tenderly and kindly cherish, therefore, the means of knowledge. Let us dare to read, think, speak, and write.” And also:

“I read my eyes out and can’t read half enough … the more one reads the more one sees we have to read.”

And then again, ever the lover of liberty, he also saw the danger of over-cherishing the knowledge of the elite.

On “Power”

“Power always thinks it has a great soul and vast views beyond the comprehension of the weak.”

Quite so. We can list a dozen or so major world leaders off the top of our heads who exhibit that failing in spades. As communications is our lifelong obsession, when we were actively involved in politics (many, many moons ago) we never tired of counselling our colleagues thusly: “Never under-estimate the understanding or wisdom of the common folk: they may not speak in our sophisticated political language, that doesn’t mean they don’t know the answers to what ails them.”

Indeed, as a brilliant and inspirational (albeit somewhat irascible) wordsmith himself, he railed against politicians that used smart language to obscure or mislead.

On “Language”

“Abuse of words has been the great instrument of sophistry and chicanery, of party, faction, and division of society.”

But it was two of his longer and more thoughtful mental meanderings that really caught our eye. The first was on the very nature of American society, which Adams understood as a “work in progress”, a great on-going experiment. He said:

“While our country remains untainted with the principles and manners which are now producing desolation in so many parts of the world; while she continues sincere, and incapable of insidious and impious policy, we shall have the strongest reason to rejoice our local destination.

But should the people of America once become capable of that deep simulation towards one another, and towards foreign nations, which assumes the language of justice and moderation, while it is practising iniquity and extravagance, and displays in the most captivating manner the charming pictures of candour, frankness, and sincerity, while it is rioting in rapine and insolence, this country will be the most miserable habitation in the world.”

Thoughts On Government Applicable To The Present State Of The American Colonies.: Philadelphia, Printed By John Dunlap, M,Dcc,Lxxxvi

It has always been our belief that America is both the worst of times and the best of times. For example, it is easy to forget that (despite turning up late, twice, as my sainted Mother always pointed out) the country made huge sacrifices in the cause of freedom in both World Wars. Yet did any country ever engage in a more brutal series of quasi-colonial adventures that have (usually entirely predictably) resulted in the impoverishment, injury and death of millions? It is easy to forget that America is hugely generous in terms of foreign aid just as it can simultaneously appear to be an economic tyrant, raping and pillaging its way across the globe. Internally, it is a country engaged in a permanent and roiling debate about the nature of society itself, and it’s civic discourse can reach depths (heights?) that are breathtaking in their profundity, and yet it’s everyday political discourse can be as mind-numbingly idiotic and ill-informed as an unsupervised kindergarten full of chimpanzees. It produces more “high art” than any other society on earth, and more dross, as well.

It seems Adams clearly saw both the opportunity and the risks.

The last, which is absolutely fascinating, refers to the relationship between America and Muslims.

If only ...

If only …

The relevance to today is obvious. In submitting and signing the Treaty of Tripoli more than three hundred years ago, Adams wrote:

“As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion, as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen [Muslims], and as the said States never entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mahometan [Mohammedan] nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.”

Thoughts On Government Applicable To The Present State Of The American Colonies.: Philadelphia, Printed By John Dunlap, M,Dcc,Lxxxvi

If only he’d been as right on that one, too.

I am all for peaceful protest. It doesn't usually involve AR-15s.

I am all for peaceful protest. It doesn’t usually involve AR-15s.

 

A question for all my America friends, especially those on the right of the political spectrum.

So, if irregular militia turn up and point semi-automatic guns at lawful officers who are simply trying to enforce multiple court orders to make a greedy rancher stop free-loading his cattle on public land, (which he’s done for 15+ years) how are those people not terrorists?

How is defending someone’s right to make money illegally about freedom?

Can you imagine the hoo-ha if the Occupy movement did anything remotely resembling this? Blocking a highway, defying lawful commands, ignoring court orders year after year, and threatening to shoot officers?

Please. Explain.

Seriously.

stoning

In case anyone was wondering what the nature of the extreme Islamist groups running the “Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)” are like, reports are emerging that they just stoned to death a young Syrian girl for membership of the Facebook social network.

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Arabic: الدولة الاسلامية في العراق والشام‎ ad-Dawla al-Islāmiyya fi al-’Irāq wa-sh-Shām), abbreviated as ISIS, is an armed resistance group active in Iraq and Syria. It was established in the early years of the Iraq War, and pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda in 2004, becoming known as “al-Qaeda in Iraq”. The group was composed of and supported by a variety of insurgent groups, including its predecessor organisation, the Mujahideen Shura Council, Al-QaedaJaysh al-FatiheenJund al-SahabaKatbiyan Ansar Al-Tawhid wal SunnahJeish al-Taiifa al-Mansoura, etc., and other clans whose population is of Sunni faith. It aimed to establish a caliphate in the Sunni majority populated regions of Iraq, later expanding this to include Syria.

In an unprecedented move in February 2014, al-Qaeda cut off all ties to the ISIS. The new generation of radicals appear too extreme even for what has hitherto been considered the world’s most extreme terrorist organisation.

The ISIL militants took the Syrian girl, Fatoum Al-Jassem, to Al-Reqqa religious court and the judge ruled that membership in Facebook is tantamount to adultery and sentenced her to death by stoning, the Iranian news agency FNA reported on February 12 quoting the Arabic news and opinion website Al-Rai Al-Youm.

ISIL, an Iraq-based militant group, is now fighting against Syrian government. Syria has been experiencing unrest since March 2011 with organised attacks by well-armed terrorists and militants against the Syrian army and civilians across the country.

Thousands of people have been killed since terrorist and armed groups turned protest rallies into armed clashes.

The Syrian Government – also one of the most murderous regimes anywhere in the world – blames outlaws, saboteurs, and armed terrorist groups for the deaths, stressing that the unrest is being orchestrated from abroad.

What is also certain, however, is that some of the groups fighting them make the cure look worse than the illness. How ironic, too, that the Syrian rebel forces are being armed by the West, and that many of those arms are now in the hands of groups like ISIL, which wages war against the West relentlessly in other countries.

syria-strangling

Alleged strangling of a young woman in Manbij, Aleppo

Ironically, rebel groups frequently make full use of social media including Facebook to publicise their beliefs and actions. YouTube is full of scenes of beheadings and, in one particularly tragic case allegedly involving ISIS, that came to light about two days ago, the unverified murder by strangulation with wire of a young woman who refused to agree with the prevailing philosophy of the group. We forced ourselves to watch the video out of respect to the woman concerned. If a death is not witnessed, the murderers live on with impunity.

As Syria lurches yet deeper into violence as the peace talks stumble, the West needs to choose its allies with great care, and a long view.

The image at the head of this article is a scene from the movie The Stoning of Soraya M. The movie makes horrendous viewing, but is strongly recommended, to understand how cultural influences rob innocent women in many situations of even the most basic human rights, condemning them to horrific deaths.

Little by little.

Shin

Shin Dong-hyuk

Shin Dong-hyuk is a human rights activist and the only person born in a North Korean labor camp known to have escaped to the West. We salute him.

Dear Mr. Rodman

I have never met you, and until you visited North Korea in February I had never heard of you.

Now I know very well that you are a famous, retired American basketball player with many tattoos. I also understand that you are returning this week to North Korea to coach basketball and perhaps visit for the third time with the country’s dictator, Kim Jong Un, who has become your friend.

I want to tell you about myself. I was born in 1982 in Camp 14, a political prison in the mountains of North Korea.

Rodman and Kim

Rodman and Kim

For more than 50 years, Kim Jong Un, his father and his grandfather have used prisons such as Camp 14 to punish, starve and work to death people who the regime decides are a threat.Prisoners are sent to places like Camp 14 without trial and in secret. A prisoner’s “crime” can be his relation by blood to someone the regime believes is a wrongdoer or wrong-thinker.My crime was to be born as the son of a man whose brother fled to South Korea in the 1950s.You can see satellite pictures of Camp 14 and four other labor camps on your smartphone. At this very moment, people are starving in these camps. Others are being beaten, and someone soon will be publicly executed as a lesson to other prisoners to work hard and obey the rules.

I grew up watching these executions, including the hanging of my mother.On orders of the guards in Camp 14, inmates are forced to marry and create children to be raised by guards to be disposable slaves. Until I escaped in 2005, I was one of those slaves. My body is covered with scars from torture I endured in the camp.

Mr. Rodman, if you want to know more about me, I will send you a book about my life, “Escape From Camp 14.” Along with the stories of many other camp survivors, my story helped persuade the United Nations to create a commission of inquiry that is now investigating human rights atrocities in my country. I was “witness number one.” In the coming year, the commission’s findings may force the U.N. Security Council to decide whether to approve a trial in the International Criminal Court of the Kim family and other North Korean officials for crimes against humanity.

I happen to be about the same age as your friend Kim Jong Un. But if you ask him about me, he is likely to refer to me as “human scum.” That is how his state-controlled press refers to me and all other North Koreans who have risked death by fleeing the country. Your friend probably also will deny that Camp 14 exists, which is the official position of his government. If he does, you can show him pictures of it on your phone.

Mr. Rodman, I cannot presume to tell you to cancel your trip to North Korea. It is your right as an American to travel wherever you wish and to say whatever you want. It is your right to drink fancy wines and enjoy yourself in luxurious parties, as you reportedly did in your previous trips to Pyongyang. But as you have a fun time with the dictator, please try to think about what he and his family have done and continue to do. Just last week,Kim Jong Un ordered the execution of his uncle. Recent satellite pictures show that some of the North’s labor camps, including Camp 14, may be expanding. The U.N. World Food Programme says four out of five North Koreans are hungry. Severe malnutrition has stunted and cognitively impaired hundreds of thousands of children. Young North Korean women fleeing the country in search of food are often sold into human-trafficking rings in China and beyond.

I am writing to you, Mr. Rodman, because, more than anything else, I want Kim Jong Un to hear the cries of his people. Maybe you could use your friendship and your time together to help him understand that he has the power to close the camps and rebuild the country’s economy so everyone can afford to eat.

No dictatorship lasts forever. Freedom will come to North Korea someday. When it does, my wish is that you will have, in some way, helped bring about change. I end this letter in the hope that you can use your friendship with the dictator to be a friend to the North Korean people.

Originally published in the Washington Post

 

Thank you, Madiba.

For freeing the people. Not just in South Africa.

For saving a country I love from civil war.

And for showing us what a man can be.

Wandering the world wide interweb thingy this morning, with our eyes drawn by the massive opening weekend success of the second Hunger Games movie, we were also taken with the ongoing popularity of the film 12 years a slave.

A contemporary portrait of Solomon Northup

A contemporary portrait of Solomon Northup

It is the incredible true story of Solomon Northup who was a free African-American in New York who was kidnapped and held as a slave in the South before winning his freedom. No doubt the popularity of the film in the United States has been boosted by its appeal to the African-American audience, but it is also surely a universally appealing tale of the triumph of the human spirit over adversity and bigotry, and we look forward eagerly to seeing it.

His astonishing history is related here.

Popular culture tackles the problem of the overweening State.

Popular youth culture tackles the problem of the overweening State.

Indeed, both movies are testaments to the power of the individual versus the state, and clearly tap into some deep need we have to believe that we can overcome awesome odds even when faced with the conspiracies of those in power, even if the politics of the Hunger Games series is a tad more subtle than Northup’s story, capable of being adopted by both sides of the political spectrum as a crie de couer for their side.

It may also be, however, that both movies simply leverage some deep need we have as humans to overcome the worst sides of our nature.

One of the more curious features of slavery in the United States was that of manumission, whereby an owner would free a slave, typically as a reward for long service, an act which was often used by proponents of slavery to go to the essentially benevolent nature of the system, or, at least, that it was not as bad as it was painted.

Exploring the phenomenon of manumission, one was then led, click by click, to read the fascinating historical snippet that in Ancient Rome, under the rule of Caesar Augustus, a law had to be passed to reduce the number of slaves freed by owners. Who knew? Indeed, over time, and counter-intuitively, slaves gained increased legal protection, including the right to file complaints against their masters. Attitudes changed in part because of the influence among the educated elite of the Stoics, whose egalitarian views of humanity extended to slaves. It has been said that one of the more important Roman Stoics, Epictetus, spent his youth as a slave.

The lex Fufia (also ‘Furia, Fusia’) Caninia (2 BC) was one of the laws that national assemblies had to pass, after they were requested to do so by Augustus. This law, along with the lex Aelia Sentia, placed limitations on manumissions. In numerical terms the laws meant that a master who had three slaves could free only two; one who had between four to ten could free only half of them; one with eleven to thirty could free only a third, and so on. Manumissions above these limits were not valid.

The limitations were established at the end of the Republic and the beginning of the Empire, at a time when the number of manumissions was so large that they were perceived as a challenge to a social system that was founded on slavery, especially when Romans harked back to the chaos of the slaves’ rebellion led by Spartacus known as the Third Servile War.

That so many Romans were so keen to free their slaves that a law had to be passed to limit their doing so surely changes our popular view of their society, and also poses some fascinating questions about human nature.

A frieze of freed Roman slaves: such Freedmen could achieve high status within Roman society, but were not considered of the same social status are free-born Romans.

A frieze of freed Roman slaves: such Freedmen could achieve high status within Roman society, but were not considered of the same social status are free-born Romans.

Certainly, a large number of slaves in Rome worked in close proximity to their owners, as house slaves, whose duties included cleaning, bathing, sexual services, and cooking. Over a period of time, it is perhaps understandable that mutual respect grew up between the parties to this social arrangement.

It is surely not some kind of 20-20 hindsight aided by rose-tinted spectacles to wonder if, in a society founded on concepts of liberty, many Romans might have been acutely aware that the rapid development of their Empire based of foreign subjugation and domestic slavery was a contradiction of their most profoundly held beliefs which simply made them feel uncomfortable, and especially so when they developed human relationships with their slaves.

One little known historical anomaly is that the role of master and slave was sometimes reversed, as at the celebrations of Saturnalia, where it was the tradition for the slaves of a household to sit down to the type of feast normally enjoyed by their owners, and actually to be served by their owners at table, during which time they could speak freely and critically of their owners. Clearly, the relationship between slaves and slave owners in Rome was far more complex than it is commonly portrayed. But with Saturnalia, everyone knew that the levelling of the social hierarchy was temporary and had limits; no social norms were ultimately threatened, because the holiday would end. Another slaves’ holiday (servorum dies festus) was held August 13 in honor of Servius Tullius, the legendary sixth King of Rome, who was the child of a slave woman. Like the Saturnalia, the holiday involved a role reversal: the matron of the household washed the heads of her slaves, as well as her own. But temporary or no, it is hard to imagine these celebrations occurring commonly if the basic setting for slave-owner relations was one of mutual distaste and loathing. Another curiosity is revealed by examining other Roman laws: if a master wished to marry his female slave and produce legitimate children with her, then he could free her before the age of 30, the minimum age for freedom set by Augustan law. Clearly, as such marriages were so common as to require legislation, such a woman could not have been regarded with such stigma that she could not be socially enfranchised by marriage to an owner.

The stories led us to consider how the abolition of the slave trade, and the eventual eradication of slavery in the United States, was actually led by members of the ruling class who were morally confronted – affronted – by the essentially amoral nature of the societies they ruled over.

It is easy to forget, in a world where daily cruelty and inhumanity seems to be a rule, that humane instincts and behaviour also have their day.

Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy informed each other, thrown together by history. When King was shot, Kennedy's respectful oration has been credited with preventing America's cities descending into social turmoil.

Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy informed each other, thrown together by history. When King was shot, Kennedy’s respectful oration has been credited with preventing America’s cities descending into social turmoil.

It is surely churlish to note, for example, and especially in proximity to the hagiographical anniversary of his death, that John F Kennedy was not especially personally committed to civil rights, and his administration had to be constantly encouraged to take up the fight. Yet there is a process whereby those that rule become aware of the depth of the wrong they inflict on others, and we should also, as we examine JFK’s legacy with clear eyes, celebrate the growth in consciousness, for example, of Lyndon Johnson and subsequently Bobby Kennedy, which was surely in direct relation to their increasing exposure to the legitimate demands of leaders of the African-American community. Jack Kennedy was a product of the ivory tower created by his father. After his death, both Johnson and RFK swung to the left on social justice issues, partly because of their life experience, and partly because of pressure from a growing and widespread liberalism in the community. Justice “seeped into” the ruling class, little by little.

It is a shame, perhaps, that we need our noses repeatedly rubbed into the ordure of injustice before we take up arms against it. But despite this uncomfortable recognition, we can also surely celebrate that one perceives a deep, abiding desire for justice at the heart of humanity that eventually wins out, again and again.

It seems to us that when we examine the entire sweep of history, human nature is ultimately attuned to reject the unjust, the domineering, the brutal, and to embrace the hopeful, the reasonable, and the inclusive.

One sees it in the predictable and certain implosion of autocratic dictatorships throughout the ages.

People power in action. Hundreds of Buddhist monks lead a protest in Myanmar/Burma in 2007.

People power in action. Hundreds of Buddhist monks lead a protest in Myanmar/Burma in 2007.

Recently it has been evidenced in the peaceful “people’s revolutions” in the Eastern European block and Russia and in countries like the Philippines, in the progressive move away from military dictatorship in a country like Burma, and in the stumbling progress towards true, robust democracy in countries like Malaysia, Indonesia, South Korea, Taiwan, and even, haltingly, China. Even, perhaps, in the unlikely election – and then re-election – of an African-American President in the USA. The outworkings of the “Arab Spring” are unquestionably a mixed bag, but here again, there is the unmistakable urge towards freedom – individual, communal, social, economic – that will simply not be quieted despite the odds against it, and those who have taken advantage of the chaos in the Middle East to erect newly-authoritarian replacements for what had gone before should look out for their heads. The genie of freedom, once having stretched its wings, rarely stays in the bottle for long.

It is as if we instinctively understand that a balance needs to be struck between free expression and freedom of choice and the needs of the State, and that when the balance is tilted too far towards a crushing of the human spirit we will, sooner or later, rebel.

Whereas becoming too granular and examining too many examples that appear to shove the argument one way or another would probably unhelpful, the simple fact is that by any rational analysis (of wealth, of disputation and wars, of the growth of representative democracy, of trade) our world is actually growing, inch by inch, less authoritarian and more open, such as with, for example, the general removal of fascist dictatorships in South America, (and the onward march of their economies), the reduction in internecine strife in Africa, the refusal of societies in Europe to descend into civil collapse despite the effects of the worst economic conditions in decades, and so on, and so on.

Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden - one jailed for 35 years, one forced to flee to a foreign country or risk a similar fate. Heroes or villains?

Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden – one jailed for 35 years, one forced to flee to a foreign country or risk a similar fate. Heroes or villains?

Needless to say, however, the forces of convention, of conformity, of suffocating adherence to authority, are ever-present and tireless. The assumption that power corrupts is nowhere more obviously demonstrated than in the enthusiasm with which one-time liberals are content to crush freedom of expression when it serves their agenda. There can be little doubt that the Obama Administration has been sucked into the vortex of dissembling, suppression and intolerance, just as, for example, the Blair government in the UK were, as the current Abbott Government in Australia is now, and as Putin rolls back the green shoots of Russian democracy. It is for this reason, surely, that we should applaud the whistle-blowing of people like Bradley Manning and Edward Snowdon, and the militant advocacy of groups like Wikileaks, Anonymous, Greenpeace, Sea Shepherd, Pussy Riot, Femen and others, no matter how “inconvenient” they are to the smooth running of the State.

At the outer reaches of protest, they carry a torch for humanity. They puncture complacency. They tell us things that no one else was going to: things we need to know.

And if we are to be fair, we should also applaud the grassroots activism of the likes of the Tea Party in the USA, because in criticising the growing incompetence and waste of the bloated and complacent American Government they raise issues that should be a concern to everyone, not just the right. A dollar that is invested in mindless administrationism – a dollar eaten up by self-sustaining bureaucracy that has long since stopped caring about outcomes – is a dollar that isn’t spent on an aged pension, a sick child, a much-needed improvement to road safety, a diversion program for addicts, or social housing. In demanding that we hold to account the voracious appetite of Government for our tax dollars the Tea Party and their equivalents around the world serve a useful purpose regardless of what one thinks of their wilder assertions or tactics.

Knowledge is the oxygen of freedom: anything that feeds knowledge to the masses will inevitably result in greater freedom, and deliver stronger constraints on the excesses of those that govern us.

We have an absolute requirement for knowledge of those things we still need to rebel against.

propaganda

Which is why, if there is any one thing we should be more wary of than anything else, it is surely the trend of “embedding” of our media with government, the increasingly cosy relationships (which go much further than battlefield reporting), where it becomes more and more difficult to discern news from propaganda, and in the reduction in media diversity as newspapers fold one after another and television channels sub-contract their news gathering from a small number of sources. The growth in Internet-based news and comment of which this blog is a tiny part will compensate to a degree, but as major media organisations gobble up successful purveyors of alternative news and opinion, the creeping hand of conformity moves ever onward and threatens our access to knowledge.

This battle will never end, and in a media saturated world we need to be aware that an appearance of more media does not necessarily mean better media. However, we cannot but view the free availability of an uncomfortable, uncompromising and above all external news source such as Al Jazeera in America, Australia and elsewhere as a very positive development.

reality-tv

We need to rail against homogenised, dumbed down, and supine reporting, too. We once saw a statistic that over 80% of the news covered by newspapers was reprinted directly from press releases.

That was 20 years ago.

Do we really think the situation has improved as media management has become increasingly sophisticated? We suspect not.

And we need to guard against the endless trivialisation of mass media.

Not for nothing did the Roman elite maintain power through “bread and circuses”.

In short, humanity needs people who “subvert the dominant paradigm”, whether or not the paradigm is one with which we agree.

And thank goodness, those people always seem to appear when we need them most.

Whether it’s an uppity slave refusing to accept his kidnapping 170 years ago, a flame-haired Hunger Games contestant from some dystopian future, or, indeed, this collection of philosophers who wrote to the Guardian a couple of days ago, highlighting the ongoing travesty of the imprisonment of Pussy Riot members, we should praise those who subvert the dominant paradigm, and join them.

Wot they said.

For singing a “punk prayer” against Vladimir Putin in the cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow, Nadia Tolokonnikova and Maria Alekhina, of the collective Pussy Riot, were sentenced in August 2012 to two years’ detention in a “prison colony” for “vandalism motivated by religious hate”. After having denounced the inhuman prison conditions and begun a hunger strike, Tolokonnikova, 24, mother of a five-year-old girl, was transferred 4,000 kilometres from Mordovia to the Krasnoyarsk region in Siberia (Nadezhda Tolokonnikova of Pussy Riot’s prison letters to Slavoj Žižek, 16 November).

According the Russian human rights commissioner Vladimir Loukine, “serving her sentence in this region would contribute to her re-socialisation”.

Now there is language we had not heard in Russia since the Soviet era and its hunt for all deviants.

The courage of Tolokonnikova and other protestors in Russia leaves us breathless with admiration.

The courage of Tolokonnikova and other protestors in Russia leaves us breathless with admiration.

In fact, the singer of Pussy Riot has become a symbol of those repressed by the regime: gays hounded in the name of the now legalised struggle against homosexual “propaganda”, immigrant workers exploited and brutalised on the construction sites of Sochi and elsewhere, penalisation of anti-religious speech, significant ecological damage caused by construction projects undertaken without consulting local residents, the opposition muzzled, NGOs persecuted.

In the face of these increasingly numerous human rights violations, Europe has remained shockingly silent.

In a letter addressed from her prison cell to the philosopher Slavoj Žižek, Nadia Tolokonnikova criticises the complacency of western governments towards Vladimir Putin’s repressive and freedom-destroying policies. In particular, she writes in Philosophie magazine (November 2013): “The boycott of the Olympic Games at Sochi, in 2014, would be perceived as an ethical gesture.” As called for by Philosophie magazine, we, European intellectuals, call on our governments and all of Europe to break with their attitude of culpable tolerance and put pressure on the government of Vladimir Putin to immediately release Nadia Tolokonnikova and Maria Alekhina.

Russia is a constitutional republic and permanent member of the UN security council. It has signed the European convention for the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms. With the Olympic Games approaching this February, it is time to give them a reminder.

Elisabeth Badinter, Pascal Bruckner, Alain Finkielkraut, Marcel Gauchet, André Glucksmann, Agnès Heller, Axel Honneth, Claude Lanzmann, Edgar Morin, Antonio Negri, Hartmut Rosa, Fernando Savater, Richard Sennett, Bernard Stiegler, Gianni Vattimo, Slavoj Žižek

The very brave Anton Kraskovsky ... out, and out of work.

The very brave Anton Kraskovsky: out, and out of work.

Russian television anchor Anton Krasovsky has been fired from his job after coming out on the air earlier this year.

“I’m gay, and I’m just the same person as you, my dear audience, as President Putin, as Prime Minister Medvedev and the deputies of our Duma,” he said, according to an interview with Snob.ru.

He was reportedly fired from KontrTV, a government-backed cable network that he helped launch in December, and the footage of his announcement was quickly deleted from KontrTV’s website and YouTube.

Krasovsky also spoke to CNN from Lisbon this week and said he knew he would lose his job for coming out.

“Somebody should do it,” he said. “I decided it’s time to be open for me. That’s it.”

He told Snob.ru that he felt like a hypocrite after covering the so-called gay propaganda law on a show.

“The meaning of this whole story we are discussing now is that throughout my whole life, I’ve been struggling with myself,” Krasovsky said. “And this — as you call it — coming out is just another battle with myself, with my own hypocrisy, my own lies, and my own cowardice.”

He said after making the announcement at the end of the show, Angry Guyzzz, the audience and the crew applauded. He said he then went into his dressing room and cried for 20 minutes before being fired a few hours later.

“They immediately blocked all my corporative accounts, my email. Literally immediately, overnight,” Krasovsky said. “They deleted not only my face from the website, but also all of my TV shows, as if I’d never really existed. The next day I wrote to [network head Sergey] Minaev that I was totally shocked. Because it takes them half a day to put up a banner when I ask them to, and here we had such efficiency. One could say they can when  they want to. Now they’ve put everything back, but you couldn’t say why, really.”

While his firing occurred earlier this year, his story is catching the attention of international press now that Russia’s antigay law has passed and is clearly being enforced. In February, he told the Los Angeles Times that he had kept trying to persuade himself that working with the government to launch the network would keep him secure.

“I kept trying to persuade myself all the time that working for the Kremlin also gives me a better chance to combat idiots and idiocy at all levels,” he said. “But they soon found a way to show me who ran the show as I was trying to stop short of turning into a Kremlin propaganda tool.”

(As reported at TheAdvocate.com)

Individual liberty is on retreat the world over, and in Russia as rapidly as anywhere on the planet. Citizens Awake!

English: Slogan for the support of the persecu...

Slogan for the support of the persecuted American ex-soldier who is claimed to have leaked secret documents to WikiLeaks.

A lot of hoo-hah has been made about whether American whistle-blower Bradley Manning should have released the quantity of cables he did – and what his motivations were, and what the outcomes have been – in what became known as Cablegate or the Wikileaks scandal. I feel it is time Manning’s actions and their consequences – as he approaches 1,000 days in jail without trial, which is a direct contravention of the American constitution – be put in some sort of perspective.

First: did the documents reveal anything new or important?

While some of the revelations in the documents were previously suspected by academics or human rights advocates carefully studying these topics, the documents uncovered many details that were previously unknown.

The documents give American (and world) citizens greater insight into the reasoning behind U.S. foreign policies than they have ever been privy to before. It is one thing to suspect something is occurring, but is another thing to have it confirmed by primary sources in the government.

At the end of April 2011, The Atlantic Wire published a study in which they found that for the first four months of 2011, nearly one-half of New York Times editions cited one or more of the leaked cables in their news stories. Many facts brought forth in the documents are of great significance to those working in the fields of foreign policy and human rights advocacy.

Dead child in Iraq

The civilian dead in Iraq and elsewhere are not mere statistics. They are people. And they are innocent. Thanks to Bradley Manning, we know the American Government knows how many have died.

The leaked documents include information about the following:

1. There is an official policy to ignore torture in Iraq.
2. There is an official tally of civilian deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan.
3. Guantanamo prison has held mostly innocent people and low-level operatives.
4. The State Department authorized the theft of the UN Secretary General’s DNA.
5. The U.S. Government withheld information about the indiscriminate killing of Reuters journalists and
innocent Iraqi civilians.
6. The State Department backed corporate opposition to a Haitian minimum wage law.
7. The U.S. Government had long been faking its public support for Tunisian President Ben Ali.
8. U.S. officials were told to cover up evidence of child abuse by contractors in Afghanistan.
9. The Japanese and U.S. Governments had been warned about the seismic threat at Fukushima.
10. The Obama Administration allowed Yemen’s President to cover up a secret U.S. drone bombing
campaign.
11. Known Egyptian torturers received training from the FBI in Quantico, Virginia.

I simply ask anyone who believes Bradley Manning should be in prison – which of these didn’t you want to know, or don’t think you have a right to know? Which of these are you too stupid or too irresponsible to know?

Yes, you. You personally.

Let us now consider a few of the other oft-repeated canards about Manning’s action.

Did Bradley Manning endanger lives?

To date, the government has made no allegation that any U.S. soldier, citizen, ally, or informant has been physically injured as a result of the revelations.

Many facts that the leaks brought to light about U.S military actions in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Yemen, for example, were already well known by citizens of those countries, experiencing the reality at their doorstep.

Wikileaks redaction

Wikileaks redaction of the Manning material was so thorough and responsible that to date the US Government has not claimed a single person was harmed by the secret information’s release. Manning is denied the right to enter this fact in his defence, however. Why?

The leaks merely served to inform the American people of aspects of the U.S. governments’ actions abroad that are not frequently covered by domestic mainstream news outlets.

The Iraq War Logs and the Afghan War Diary were comprised of years-old field reports written by combat troops in the midst of battle.

Names of local persons are spelled phonetically in these reports, usually with general descriptions of region or cities.

The majority of these names were redacted (removed/obscured) by WikiLeaks prior to release.

The U.S. State Department has declared that of the non-redacted names, there was not enough identifying information released on any individual to justify taking preventive action.

Meanwhile, scores of U.S. and foreign citizens continue to die on a daily basis in these occupation zones due not to Bradley Manning, but due to the controversial policies that he exposed.

But what about the quantity of material exposed by Manning? It is often asked: wasn’t he just thoroughly irresponsible?

Did Bradley Manning leak documents “indiscriminately”?

PFC Bradley Manning held a Top Secret clearance while working as an army intelligence analyst in Iraq.

Yet the vast majority of documents he is accused of leaking consisted of low-level classified documents – about half of the documents were even “unclassified”. Of those that were classified, most were simply “Confidential.”

About 11,000 documents were “Secret.” None of the released documents were “Top Secret,” the highest classification. Bradley Manning clearly had access to a much larger number of documents than what was leaked.

Disgracefully, in our opinion, President Obama encouraged the perception that Bradley Manning leaked documents indiscriminately when he declared in April, 2011 that Bradley Manning “dumped” information.

He then went on to mistakenly declare that now widely-respected Pentagon Papers whistle-blower Daniel Ellsberg was “different” than Bradley Manning because Ellsberg didn’t release information that was classified in the same way.

The fact is that Ellsberg (who is campaigning for Manning’s release) released “Top Secret” information when he gave information to The New York Times, while Manning is only accused of releasing lower-level classified information.

Daniel Ellsberg has also stated in interviews that alongside critical revelations the Pentagon Papers contained thousands of pages of information of little to no public significance. Like many other whistle-blowers, Ellsberg had to trust media organizations to do some of the sorting of an immense amount of data.

In the online chat logs between Adrian Lamo and Bradley Manning, Manning allegedly describes the documents he was later accused of leaking, along with some reasons why he felt they needed to be public:

Bradley Manning: Hypothetical question: if you had free reign over classified networks for long periods of time… say, 8-9 months… and you saw incredible things, awful things… things that belonged in the public domain, and not on some server stored in a dark room in Washington DC… what would you do?
Bradley Manning: or Guantanamo, Bagram, Bucca, Taji, VBC for that matter…
Bradley Manning: things that would have an impact on 6.7 billion people
Bradley Manning: say… a database of half a million events during the iraq war… from 2004 to 2009… with reports, date time groups, lat-lon locations, casualty figures… ? or 260,000 state department cables from embassies and consulates all over the world, explaining how the first world exploits the third, in detail, from an internal perspective?

Adrian Lamo: What sort of content?
Bradley Manning: Uhm… crazy, almost criminal political backdealings… the non-PR-versions of world events and crises… uhm… all kinds of stuff like everything from the buildup to the Iraq War during Powell, to what the actual content of “aid packages” is: for instance, PR that the US is sending aid to pakistan includes funding for water/food/clothing… that much is true, it includes that, but the other 85% of it is for F-16 fighters and munitions to aid in the Afghanistan effort, so the US can call in Pakistanis to do aerial bombing instead of Americans potentially killing civilians and creating a PR crisis
Bradley Manning: theres so much… it affects everybody on earth… everywhere there’s a US post… there’s a diplomatic scandal that will be revealed … Iceland, the Vatican, Spain, Brazil, Madagascar, if its a country, and its recognized by the US as a country, its got dirt on it

Adrian Lamo: what kind of scandal?
Bradley Manning: hundreds of them
Adrian Lamo: like what? I’m genuinely curious about details.

Bradley Manning: uhmm… the Holy See and its position on the Vatican sex scandals
Adrian Lamo: play it by ear
Bradley Manning: the broiling one in Germany
Bradley Manning: im sorry, there’s so many… its impossible for any one human to read all quarter-million… and not feel overwhelmed… and possibly desensitized

Bradley Manning: Apache Weapons Team video of 12 JUL 07 airstrike on Reuters Journos… some sketchy but fairly normal street-folk… and civilians

Bradley Manning: at first glance… it was just a bunch of guys getting shot up by a helicopter… no big deal… about two dozen more where that came from right… but something struck me as odd with the van thing… and also the fact it was being stored in a JAG officer’s directory… so i looked into it… eventually tracked down the date, and then the exact GPS co-ord… and i was like… ok, so thats what happened… cool… then i went to the regular internet… and it was still on my mind… so i typed into goog… the date, and the location… and then i see this http://www.nytimes.com/2007/07/13/world/middleeast/13iraq.html

Adrian Lamo: what do you consider the highlights?
Bradley Manning: The Gharani airstrike videos and full report, Iraq war event log, the “Gitmo Papers”, and State Department cable database

So last, but by no means least, is what Manning did treason?

Bradley Manning fits the definition of a whistle-blower – not a traitor.

shhh

The state wants us silent, and compliant. If we do nothing to save Bradley Manning, we are as guilty of his persecution as those who are embarrassed by his honesty. Civil society will be immeasurably weakened if he is convicted.

In online discussions attributed to PFC Bradley Manning, he says that he hopes his actions will spur “discussion, debates, and reforms” and that he “want[s] people to know the truth, no matter who they are, because without information you cannot make informed decisions as a public.”

This is the classic definition of a whistle-blower (a person who tells the public about alleged dishonest or illegal activities or misconduct occurring in a government department).

Unfortunately, the government is charging PFC Bradley Manning with “knowingly [giving] intelligence to the enemy, through indirect means,” under Article 104 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice – an allegation of treason and a capital offense.

By this rationale, scores of service-person-posted blogs, photos, and videos, would now be punishable by death – simply because they are accessible on the Internet.

The charge against Bradley Manning appears to be about sending a message to other would-be whistle-blowers.

The Founding Fathers restricted the definition of treason in the U.S. Constitution to, “Treason against the United States shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort….” They did so because they wanted to prevent a repeat of Britain’s abuse of power when it was the colonial overlord of America.

The information above is mainly from bradleymanning.org, the website devoted to securing Manning’s release. In the opinion of this writer, the legal shenanigans over what Manning’s defence lawyers can and cannot say in court, the previous illegal detention of Manning in solitary confinement, the gale of misinformation and bias about his case emanating from Washington, and the inordinate amount of time he has been held without trial, all point to one thing.

Obama and the American ruling elite and their allies wish Manning persecuted because they are embarrassed by his actions, not because they genuinely believe what he did was wrong, or dangerous.

Securing Manning’s release should unite people of conscience from all sides of politics, and because what he disclosed affects the entire world, it should unite them from all countries, but especially America’s allies.

I have no doubt that in due course Bradley Manning will come to be seen as a hero for the common man, the man who rolled back to curtains of Government secrecy for no other reason other than he believed ordinary people have the right to know what is being done and said in their name. Meanwhile, he rots in jail, an intelligent, passionate, but frightened young man who sought to serve his country – and a higher purpose, too.

I am Bradley Manning. Most importantly, so are you.

Are you?

Are you?

Bradley Manning

Bradley Manning

If you want to know what it must be like to be trapped in a legal system which shows no sign of wanting you to have a fair trial, and every sign of being determined to punish you for your offensiveness to the state, you might look at the case of Pussy Riot in Russia, a group of young female musicians locked up in the harshest possible conditions for daring to sing a song for two minutes.

Or you could imagine you were a young American soldier, horrified by what you were reading in secret transcripts, who wanted his country to return to the principles on which it was founded, and who decided to leak the contents of those transcripts so the world could see what was happening, and make a judgement.

Not the great and good of the world, but people just like you and me.

Indeed, one has to ask, if Bradley Manning is charged with “aiding the enemy” for sharing government lies and secrets with us, then are we the enemy?

At every turn the United States Government, presumably with the full cognisance and approval of the so-called Democratic president, Barack Obama, has treated Bradley Manning with mental cruelty beyond belief – including for a time keeping him locked in a small windowless solitary confinement cell for no good reason – which led to a paltry reduction in any future terms of imprisonment – and has steadfastly refused to allow him to make the defence he wishes to make.

Just so that is clear, in some Kafkaesque world of their own making, the military and civil authorities in the USA are telling this man how to, and how not to, defend himself against the charges laid against him.

Bradley Manning served his country. Now his country wants to lock him up and throw away the key - or worse.

Bradley Manning served his country. Now his country wants to lock him up and throw away the key – or worse.

Now the military judge in his case has ruled that Manning will not be allowed to present evidence about his motives for the leak – a key plank of his defence. Colonel Denise Lind ruled that general issues of motive were not relevant to the trial stage of the court martial.

This must be the first time in legal history that motive could not be considered germane to the question of guilt.

By denying Manning the chance to make a whistleblower defence in his upcoming court martial in which he faces possible
life in military custody with no chance of parole his situation will be rendered much weaker. Manning’s lead defence
lawyer, David Coombs, had argued that his motive was key to proving that he had no intention to harm US interests
or to pass information to the enemy.

It should also be noted that neither the US government (nor anyone else) has ever claimed that the information released by
Manning has caused any harm to a single individual, such as soldier, spy, or government official.

Unsurprisingly, given the way this is going, the judge also blocked the defence from presenting evidence designed to
show that WikiLeaks caused little or no damage to US national security. Coombs has devoted considerable time and
energy trying to extract from US government agencies their official assessments of the impact of WikiLeaks around the
world, only to find that he is now prevented from using any of the information he has obtained.

The general issue of motive must be held back until Manning either entered a plea or was found guilty, at which
point it could be used in mitigation to lessen the sentence. The ruling is a blow to the defence as it will make it harder
for the soldier’s legal team to argue he was acting as a principled whistleblower and not as someone who knowingly
damaged US interests at a time of war.

“This is another effort to attack the whistleblower defence,” said Nathan Fuller, a spokesman for the Bradley Manning
Support Network, after the hearing.

The 25-year-old intelligence analyst faces 22 charges relating to the leaking of hundreds of thousands of classified
diplomatic cables, war logs from the Afghan and Iraq wars, and videos of US military actions. The most serious
charge, “aiding the enemy”, which carries the life sentence, accuses him of arranging for state secrets to be published
via WikiLeaks on the internet knowing that al-Qaida would have access to it.

The US government is expected at trial to present evidence that allegedly shows that Osama bin Laden personally
requested to see some of the WikiLeaks publications attributed to Manning and that documents were found on his
computer following the US navy Seals raid that killed him.

In a limited victory for the defence, Coombs and the defence team will be allowed to talk about the soldier’s motives
on two narrow counts: where it can be used to show that he did not know that his leaks would be seen by al-Qaida;
and as evidence that he consciously selected certain documents or types of documents in order to ensure they
would not harm the US or benefit any foreign nation.

Lind’s ruling means that some of the most impassioned statements by Manning about why he embarked on the
massive transfer of information to WikiLeaks will now not be heard at trial. In the course of a now famous web chat
he had with the hacker-turned-informer Adrian Lamo, Manning wrote : “information should be free / it belongs in
the public domain / because another state would just take advantage of the information … try and get some edge /
if its out in the open … it should be a public good.”

Public pressure is the key to determining whether this man gets anything remotely resembling a fair trial. Many,
including this writer, consider him a hero for wanting the public to know what was being done and said in their
name, including when their Governments were openly lying to them.

You can read more about the case, and get involved in the fight for justice for Bradley Manning, as many of
your fellow concerned citizens such as veterans, journalists, Nobel Peace Prize winners, and legal experts
worldwide already have, at http://www.bradleymanning.org/

Facebookers will also find this page interesting https://www.facebook.com/savebradley?ref=ts&fref=ts and
you can also visit a remarkable outpouring of popular outrage and at your own photograph at
http://iam.bradleymanning.org/

Expect to hear much more from Wellthisiswhatithink on this vital public interest case as the trial continues …

Are you?

Are you?

20120818-234012.jpg

The sort of young person that Vladimir Putin should be drafting in to help him run the country – virbant, toughtful, well-educated, unselfish. So what does he do? Throw her in jail for daring to criticise him. How much longer will the world tolerate this petty tyrant turning Russia back to the days of Stalin, and before that, the Tsars … how much longer?

I am indebted to mishato for posting thisinformation as a response to my earlier piece on Pussy Riot, the music group being disgracefully persecuted by the morons in the Kremlin.

Religion Dispatches has posted an English translation of 22-year-old Nadezhda Tolokonnikova’s closing statement in their trial for singing a song, which saw them jailed for two years having already spent months in jail. Please: read it. It’s long, but read it. It was spoken by a woman facing an unknown period in jail simply for daring to speak her mind – and nothing else.

Please: read it.

I was literally moved to tears by her words – tears of sympathy, tears of rage – and very impressed by the breadth and depth of the arguments she puts forth. Please: take the time to read this, and then join the fight to free these incredibly brave women, which even the might of the Russian pseudo-democratic dictatorship will not silence.

http://www.religiondispatches.org/dispatches/theeditors/6295/pussy_riot_members_sentenced_to_2_years_for_offending_russian_orthodox_church/

The Salon has an excellent summary of the important just-breaking ACLU report into the continuing erosion of American civil liberties which began under Bush and continues un-checked under Obama. It’s an important read, especially for Obama supporters, and the Salon summary contains a link to the whole ACLU report.

Must do reading for anyone concerned that key freedoms are leaching away, bit by bit, not only in America, as outlined here, but around the world.

http://www.salon.com/news/aclu/?story=/opinion/greenwald/2011/09/07/liberties