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Kafka on Steroids: Summarising the Extradition Hearing of Julian Assange

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 08/10/2020 - 3:03am in

[This is the second in a trilogy. The first, ‘‘Kafka on Acid’, covered the opening of Assange’s evidentiary hearing. The title of the third piece might be ‘Kafka on Amphetamines’ or maybe ‘Kafka Goes to Rehab’, depending on the final judgment handed down on 4 January 2021.] 

Who doesn’t miss hearing the news from Mary Kostakidis? For the last four weeks, from seven at night until three in the morning in Australia, she has reported up-to-the-minute news of the Assange extradition hearing via Twitter. On 7 September, the first day of this resumed COVID-delayed hearing that commenced in February, district judge Vanessa Baraitser revoked the approval given to forty political and human rights organisations to follow proceedings. The interested public were forced instead to rely on the furious typing of a handful of journalists granted access to a video stream, among them @MaryKostakidis, @kgosztola @jamesdoleman, @richimedhurst, @jlpassarelli and @tareqhaddad, and the blogs of former UK ambassador Craig Murray, the Courage Foundation and Bridges for Media Freedom, each of which summarises all witnesses and describes the mood of the court.

Books will be written about the last four weeks; in fact, one could emerge from each of the detailed and substantive witness statements. Books will need to be written, both because open justice was prevented but so much was revealed, and because the fate of press freedom and national-security journalism hangs in the balance. If a precedent is set that allows the United States to assert its laws (but none of its legal protections) over non-citizens publishing outside the United States, press freedom and national-security journalism will never be the same again.

What also hangs in the balance is Julian Assange’s life. Will he walk free into the arms of his partner, family and friends? Or will his life end in Belmarsh prison in the United Kingdom, where a second wave of COVID-19 threatens prisoners and staff alike, or in ADX Florence, the cruellest of US supermax prisons, the architecture of which was designed to isolate and destroy human beings, as described in chilling detail in the testimony of a former prison warden and several lawyers who visit prisoners there. 

The case is extremely complex—politically, technically, legally—and with so much at stake the defence team packed in a great many powerful and moving witnesses. Prominent people such as Noam Chomsky and Daniel Ellsberg provided political testimony, computer and forensic experts provided technical evidence, and many lawyers and journalists explained the grounds for why Assange should not be extradited for publishing and journalistic activity.

The four-week evidentiary hearing finally set the historical record straight, with so many elements of the story now officially on the record. Here is what the court heard:

  • The prosecution of Assange and WikiLeaks is political. The significance of the Obama administration ruling out prosecution of Assange and WikiLeaks due to the press-freedom implications was again underlined. The testimony of human rights lawyer Jennifer Robinson reinforced the political nature of the prosecution: the Trump administration offered Assange a pardon if he would reveal his sources for the DNC leak. Soon after Assange refused to reveal sources and reminded the emissary of First Amendment principles, the Trump administration prosecution was stepped up, with the testimony of Cassandra Fairbanks revealing that Trump himself was giving orders to proceed. In addition, the judge stated an intention on 26 September to issue a decision after the US election: ‘I agree that one way or the other my decision will come after an election in the United States’. Could it get more political? This is significant because the United Kingdom–United States Extradition Treaty prohibits extradition for political offences.
  • The conduct of US government agencies in surveilling Assange’s meetings with lawyers, and the seizure of legally privileged material from the embassy by the FBI is illegal. To protect their security, the judge allowed anonymous testimony from two members of UC Global, the firm initially hired by Ecuador and then engaged by US intelligence to spy on Assange, with particular emphasis on his meetings with lawyers, doctors and Ecuadorian officials. Seizing Assange’s property has fatally undermined his defence because the documents in the embassy contained his defence. It’s important to recall that the case against Ellsberg for releasing the Pentagon Papers was thrown out with prejudice due to the abuse of process entailed in the bugging of his phone, the raiding of his psychiatrist, and offering the judge directorship of the FBI. The judge deemed the case so blighted that there was no possibility to appeal.
  • The health of Assange is gravely compromised and would be broken in the US system under Special Administrative Measures (SAMS). While Assange has proven resilient and remarkably focused, the attempts to grind him down through lawfare and endless delay are having an effect. Material admitted into evidence on his failing health and how it would be further eroded in the US prison and justice system was deeply disturbing. In one of few sympathetic rulings, the judge refused to release those statements to the press. Recognising the private and personal nature of physical and psychological health evidence provided to the court, many journalists refused to amplify the details, but it is known that Assange has Asperger’s syndrome and is on the autism spectrum. And who wouldn’t be depressed? This softly spoken intellectual has been in a maximum-security prison built to house murderers and terrorists for over a year for daring to combine technology with journalistic practice and honouring the trust of whistle-blowers who relied on his platform to publish their material in order to bring about reform. His tiny children are growing up without him and his older children have missed their father for a decade. He hasn’t seen a sunset or experienced a moment unwatched for over a decade. The health material is significant to the legal decision in the United Kingdom, given the precedents of both Lauri Love and Gary McKinnon that saw their extradition to the United States from the United Kingdom prevented on health grounds.
  • Assange and WikiLeaks engaged in journalistic activity, including meticulous redaction processes. – This was recounted over three days of evidence by senior, award-winning journalists, underlining the enormous journalistic value, insight and public-policy change brought about because of WikiLeaks publishing. Partners and eyewitnesses to WikiLeaks publishing practice and the security preoccupations of Assange (at the time viewed as excessive and paranoid) overturned years of myth making about WikiLeaks ‘dumping’ materials online and Assange taking no care. There can now be no doubt that it was the cavalier approach of two Guardian journalists—Luke Harding and David Leigh—that undid nine months of redaction when they published the password of the diplomatic cables. In addition, hard forensic evidence was provided that WikiLeaks published the cables after other outlets (Cryptome and Pirate Bay) had already done so.
  • No harm was done by WikiLeaks, but enormous harm was revealed. Testimony after testimony shone light on how WikiLeaks published information on countless thousands of dead, droned and maimed in war, the renditioned and tortured, rather than revealing the identity of US government informants, about which the US government is still unable to provide any evidence. WikiLeaks publishing has revealed war crimes, torture, crimes against humanity, and corruption. Embarrassing the powerful is the harm for which the publisher is on trial, while those who have committed the crimes revealed are free to strike again, to profit again and to continue killing in cold blood. This is not hyperbole, but rather a summary of harrowing detail provided to the court of war, death, atrocity and murder, including the 15,000 dead Iraqi people unaccounted for among the one million Iraqis known to have died from the 2003 war based on lies. The court heard about a family killed there in cold blood, with an air strike called in to level the house and erase evidence. The court heard from a torture victim, Khalid El Masri, a German citizen plucked off the street while on holiday, renditioned to a black site and tortured by the CIA. He was then dumped in Albania when the US government realised a mistake had been made. When this was confirmed through WikiLeaks publications, the suffering and torture of this man was recognised by the European Court of Human Rights. Had it not been revealed, no one would have cared. We heard about the reform brought about when cynical statements by the Prime Minister of Pakistan on US drone strikes were revealed: ‘We’ll protest in the National Assembly and then ignore it’. This wasn’t possible after Pakistani citizens knew that their lives were seen as so expendable. These are just some of the examples provided on the horrors of the Afghan and Iraq wars that show that WikiLeaks revealed rather than did harm.
  • Computer forensic evidence was among the most significant in demolishing the hacking allegations. Evidence provided by Patrick Eller, a digital forensics expert employed for two decades by the US army, reminded the court that Chelsea Manning’s prosecution failed to find any proof of Assange’s involvement. While Manning has admitted to her identity in the chat logs, it has never been proven that the Nathaniel Frank of the chat logs was indeed Assange. This demolishes one of the central accusations in the indictment: that Assange was aiding or conspiring to procure documents and anonymising the source.

The four weeks of the hearing were very emotionally and psychologically draining, and not only for those of us up all night in the Antipodes screaming in frustration at yet another technical bungle. Assange has waited a decade for his day in court, only to be confronted by a shambles. To instruct his lawyers, Assange had to wave to get attention and then get on his knees and whisper through a crack in a glass box at the back of the courtroom at the Old Bailey. That he was kept from sitting with his lawyers was an indignity and a basic violation of due process. Even murderers and terrorists get to privately instruct their lawyers, but not this publisher. 

That the prosecution derided and insulted every witness was probably par for the course, but it also provoked much anger and distress. Such behaviour indicated desperation and duly backfired; James Lewis, appearing for the prosecution, apologised more than once to the judge for intemperate language and losing his temper. The fact that witnesses were, over and over, provided with hundreds of pages by the prosecution to digest only hours before the witness appeared was an obvious abuse of process.

Assange’s voice was heard only in protest. For example, when El Masri was prevented from providing his own testimony Assange loudly stated, ‘I will not accept you censoring a torture victim’s statement to this court’. I found it very moving that El Masri was willing to risk further intimidation and exposure to testify for Assange, and that Assange risked the ire of the judge in continuing to stand up for El Masri.

Blinder and greyer than I was a month ago, I’m also bursting with admiration for journalists like Mary Kostakidis, and for Assange’s magnificent legal team, who mounted steep obstacles to combine evidence and testimony that should see Assange walk free. Great admiration is also owed to the small core of courageous people who have stuck by Assange for a decade at some peril, and the loud supporters who have gathered, rain, hail or shine, at every court hearing, including hundreds of events that were held around the world during the last four weeks. Each and every action, from the hanging of a banner on the Puffing Billy railway trestle bridge, to the yellow ribbons tied on trees, to the street theatre outside the Sydney Town Hall, to the courage of Stella Moris, cumulatively loads. The circle of support is growing by the day, even among former adversaries, a consensus from the mainstream to the fringe press and broader public that must keep growing to Free Julian Assange.

Eyewitness to the Agony of Julian Assange

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 02/10/2020 - 8:56pm in

Journalist John Pilger has spent the last three weeks watching Julian Assange’s extradition trial at London’s Old Bailey. He spoke with Arena Online’s editor, Timothy Erik Ström:

Q:  Having watched Julian Assange’s trial firsthand, can you describe the prevailing atmosphere in the court?

The prevailing atmosphere has been shocking. I say that without hesitation; I have sat in many courts and seldom known such a corruption of due process; this is due revenge. Putting aside the ritual associated with ‘British justice’, at times it has been evocative of a Stalinist show trial. One difference is that in the show trials, the defendant stood in the court proper. In the Assange trial, the defendant was caged behind thick glass, and had to crawl on his knees to a slit in the glass, overseen by his guard, to make contact with his lawyers. His message, whispered barely audibly through face masks, was then passed by post-it the length of the court to where his barristers were arguing the case against his extradition to an American hellhole.

Consider this daily routine of Julian Assange, an Australian on trial for truth-telling journalism. He was woken at five o’clock in his cell at Belmarsh prison in the bleak southern sprawl of London. The first time I saw Julian in Belmarsh, having passed through half an hour of ‘security’ checks, including a dog’s snout in my rear, I found a painfully thin figure sitting alone wearing a yellow armband. He had lost more than 10 kilos in a matter of months; his arms had no muscle. His first words were: ‘I think I am losing my mind’.

I tried to assure him he wasn’t. His resilience and courage are formidable, but there is a limit. That was more than a year ago. In the past three weeks, in the pre-dawn, he was strip-searched, shackled, and prepared for transport to the Central Criminal Court, the Old Bailey, in a truck that his partner, Stella Moris, described as an upended coffin. It  had one small window; he had to stand precariously to look out. The truck and its guards were operated by Serco, one of many politically connected companies that run much of Boris Johnson’s Britain.

The journey to the Old Bailey took at least an hour and a half. That’s a minimum of three hours being jolted through snail-like traffic every day. He was led into his narrow cage at the back of the court, then look up, blinking, trying to make out faces in the public gallery through the reflection of the glass. He saw the courtly figure of his dad, John Shipton, and me, and our fists went up. Through the glass, he reached out to touch fingers with Stella, who is a lawyer and seated in the body of the court.

We were here for the ultimate of what the philosopher Guy Debord called The Society of the Spectacle: a man fighting for his life. Yet his crime is to have performed an epic public service: revealing that which we have a right to know: the lies of our governments and the crimes they commit in our name. His creation of WikiLeaks and its failsafe protection of sources revolutionised journalism, restoring it to the vision of its idealists. Edmund Burke’s notion of free journalism as a fourth estate is now a fifth estate that shines a light on those who diminish the very meaning of democracy with their criminal secrecy. That’s why his punishment is so extreme.

The sheer bias in the courts I have sat in this year and last year, with Julian in the dock, blight any notion of British justice. When thuggish police dragged him from his asylum in the Ecuadorean embassy—look closely at the photo and you’ll see he is clutching a Gore Vidal book; Assange has a political humour similar to Vidal’s—a judge gave him an outrageous 50-week sentence in a maximum-security prison for mere bail infringement.

For months, he was denied exercise and held in solitary confinement disguised as ‘heath care’. He once told me he strode the length of his cell, back and forth, back and forth, for his own half-marathon. In the next cell, the occupant screamed through the night. At first he was denied his reading glasses, left behind in the embassy brutality. He was denied the legal documents with which to prepare his case, and access to the prison library and the use of a basic laptop. Books sent to him by a friend, the journalist Charles Glass, himself a survivor of hostage-taking in Beirut, were returned. He could not call his American lawyers. He has been constantly medicated by the prison authorities. When I asked him what they were giving him, he couldn’t say. The governor of Belmarsh has been awarded the Order of the British Empire.

At the Old Bailey, one of the expert medical witnesses, Dr Kate Humphrey, a clinical neuropsychologist at Imperial College, London, described the damage: Julian’s intellect had gone from ‘in the superior, or more likely very superior range’ to ‘significantly below’ this optimal level, to the point where he was struggling to absorb information and ‘perform in the low average range’.

This is what the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, Professor Nils Melzer, calls ‘psychological torture’, the result of a gang-like ‘mobbing’ by governments and their media shills. Some of the expert medical evidence is so shocking I have no intention of repeating it here. Suffice to say that Assange is diagnosed with autism and Asperger’s syndrome and, according to Professor Michael Kopelman, one of the world’s leading neuropsychiatrists, he suffers from ‘suicidal preoccupations’ and is likely to find a way to take his life if he is extradited to America.

James Lewis QC, America’s British prosecutor, spent the best part of his cross-examination of Professor Kopelman dismissing mental illness and its dangers as ‘malingering’. I have never heard in a modern setting such a primitive view of human frailty and vulnerability.

My own view is that if Assange is freed, he is likely to recover a substantial part of his life. He has a loving partner, devoted friends and allies and the innate strength of a principled political prisoner. He also has a wicked sense of humour.

But that is a long way off. The moments of collusion between the judge—or magistrate, a Gothic-looking Vanessa Baraitser, about whom little is known—and the prosecution acting for the Trump regime have been brazen. Until the last few days, defence arguments have been routinely dismissed. The lead prosecutor, James Lewis QC, ex SAS and currently Chief Justice of the Falklands, by and large gets what he wants, notably up to four hours to denigrate expert witnesses, while the defence’s examination is guillotined at half an hour. I have no doubt, had there been a jury, his freedom would be assured.

The dissident artist Ai Weiwei came to join us one morning in the public gallery. He noted that in China the judge’s decision would already have been made. This caused some dark ironic amusement. My companion in the gallery, the astute diarist and former British ambassador Craig Murray wrote:

I fear that all over London a very hard rain is now falling on those who for a lifetime have worked within institutions of liberal democracy that at least broadly and usually used to operate within the governance of their own professed principles. It has been clear to me from Day 1 that I am watching a charade unfold. It is not in the least a shock to me that Baraitser does not think anything beyond the written opening arguments has any effect. I have again and again reported to you that, where rulings have to be made, she has brought them into court pre-written, before hearing the arguments before her.

I strongly expect the final decision was made in this case even before opening arguments were received.

The plan of the US Government throughout has been to limit the information available to the public and limit the effective access to a wider public of what information is available. Thus we have seen the extreme restrictions on both physical and video access. A complicit mainstream media has ensured those of us who know what is happening are very few in the wider population.

There are few records of the proceedings. They are: Craig Murray’s personal blog, Joe Lauria’s live reporting on Consortium News and the World Socialist Website. American journalist Kevin Gosztola’s blog, Shadowproof, funded mostly by himself, has reported more of the trial than the major US press and TV, including CNN, combined.

In Australia, Assange’s homeland, the ‘coverage’ follows a familiar formula set overseas. The London correspondent of the Sydney Morning Herald, Latika Bourke, wrote this recently:

The court heard Assange became depressed during the seven years he spent in the Ecuadorian embassy where he sought political asylum to escape extradition to Sweden to answer rape and sexual assault charges.

There were no ‘rape and sexual assault charges’ in Sweden.Bourke’s lazy falsehood is not uncommon. If the Assange trial is the political trial of the century, as I believe it is, its outcome will not only seal the fate of a journalist for doing his job but intimidate the very principles of free journalism and free speech. The absence of serious mainstream reporting of the proceedings is, at the very least, self-destructive. Journalists should ask: who is next?

Check out the most recent edition of our flagship publication Arena.

How shaming it all is. A decade ago, the Guardian exploited Assange’s work, claimed its profit and prizes as well as a lucrative Hollywood deal, then turned on him with venom. Throughout the Old Bailey trial, two names have been cited by the prosecution, the Guardian’s David Leigh, now retired as ‘investigations editor’ and Luke Harding, the Russiaphobe and author of a fictional Guardianscoop’ that claimed Trump adviser Paul Manafort and a group of Russians visited Assange in the Ecuadorean embassy. This never happened, and the Guardian has yet to apologise. The Harding and Leigh book on Assange—written behind their subject’s back—disclosed a secret password to a WikiLeaks file that Assange had entrusted to Leigh during the Guardian’s ‘partnership’. Why the defence has not called this pair is difficult to understand. 

Assange is quoted in their book declaring during a dinner at a London restaurant that he didn’t care if informants named in the leaks were harmed. Neither Harding nor Leigh was at the dinner. John Goetz, an investigations reporter with Der Spiegel, was at the dinner and testified that Assange said nothing of the kind. Incredibly, Judge Baraitser stopped Goetz actually saying this in court.

However, the defence has succeeded in demonstrating the extent to which Assange sought to protect and redact names in the files released by WikiLeaks and that no credible evidence existed of individuals harmed by the leaks. The great whistle-blower Daniel Ellsberg said that Assange had personally redacted 15,000 files. The renowned New Zealand investigative journalist Nicky Hager, who worked with Assange on the Afghanistan and Iraq war leaks, described how Assange took ‘extraordinary precautions in redacting names of informants’.

Q: What are the implications of this trial’s verdict for journalism more broadly—is it an omen of things to come?

The ‘Assange effect’ is already being felt across the world. If they displease the regime in Washington, investigative journalists are liable to prosecution under the 1917 US Espionage Act; the precedent is stark. It doesn’t matter where you are. For Washington, other people’s nationality and sovereignty rarely mattered; now it does not exist. Britain has effectively surrendered its jurisdiction to Trump’s corrupt Department of Justice. In Australia, a National Security Information Act promises Kafkaesque trials for transgressors. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation has been raided by police and journalists’ computers taken away. The government has given unprecedented powers to intelligence officials, making journalistic whistle-blowing almost impossible. Prime Minister Scott Morrison says Assange ‘must face the music’. The perfidious cruelty of his statement is reinforced by its banality.

‘Evil’, wrote Hannah Arendt, ‘comes from a failure to think. It defies thought for as soon as thought tries to engage itself with evil and examine the premises and principles from which it originates, it is frustrated because it finds nothing there. That is the banality of evil’.

Q: Having followed the story of WikiLeaks closely for a decade, how has this eyewitness experience shifted your understanding of what’s at stake with Assange’s trial?

I have long been a critic of journalism as an echo of unaccountable power and a champion of those who are beacons. So, for me, the arrival of WikiLeaks was exciting; I admired the way Assange regarded the public with respect, that he was prepared to share his work with the ‘mainstream’ but not join their collusive club. This, and naked jealousy, made him enemies among the overpaid and undertalented, insecure in their pretensions of independence and impartiality.

I admired the moral dimension to WikiLeaks. Assange was rarely asked about this, yet much of his remarkable energy comes from a powerful moral sense that governments and other vested interests should not operate behind walls of secrecy. He is a democrat. He explained this in one of our first interviews at my home in 2010.  

What is at stake for the rest of us has long been at stake: freedom to call authority to account, freedom to challenge, to call out hypocrisy, to dissent. The difference today is that the world’s imperial power, the United States, has never been as unsure of its metastatic authority as it is today. Like a flailing rogue, it is spinning us towards a world war if we allow it. Little of this menace is reflected in the media.

WikiLeaks, on the other hand, has allowed us to glimpse a rampant imperial march through whole societies—think of the carnage in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Yemen, to name a few, the dispossession of 37 million people and the deaths of 12 million men, women and children in the ‘war on terror’—most of it behind a façade of deception. 

Julian Assange is a threat to these recurring horrors—that’s why he is being persecuted, why a court of law has become an instrument of oppression, why he ought to be our collective conscience: why we all should be the threat.

The judge’s decision will be known on the 4th of January.

Kafka on Acid: The Trial of Julian Assange

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 17/09/2020 - 3:03am in

Julian Assange needs to wake before dawn to get from Belmarsh Prison to the Old Bailey courthouse, where his extradition hearing resumed on 7 September, for four weeks. He gets dressed for court only to be strip-searched before being placed in a ventilated coffin Serco van for a 90-minute trip across London in peak-hour traffic. After waiting handcuffed in the holding cells, he is placed in a glass box at the back of the courtroom. Then he is forced back into the Serco van to be strip-searched back at Belmarsh to face another night alone in his cell. 

The latest act of legal theatre began with Julian’s rearrest down in the cells of the Old Bailey, before seeing his lawyers for the first time in six months. Despite all deadlines for documents having long passed, despite the extradition hearing being underway since February (with May hearings postponed to September due to COVID-19), and after the defence had submitted all of their arguments and swathes of evidence, the United States issued yet another indictment, for which Julian needed to be arrested again.

The first indictment was unsealed by the United States, as Julian said would happen, on the day Ecuador ejected him from its embassy, on 11 April 2019. The charge was conspiracy to commit computer intrusion.  The second indictment came a few weeks later, on 23 May 2019, adding seventeen more charges under the US Espionage Act, the first time the Act has been used against a journalist or publisher.  The third and replacement indictment was issued via press release on 24 June 2020, with the United States not bothering to serve it properly to the court until 15 August. It includes the same charges, but, having benefited from all of the evidence and arguments submitted by the defence, it also introduces new material and description to reinforce the narrative that Assange’s work is hacking rather than journalistic or publishing activity, by alleging association with ‘Anonymous’.  It also criminalises Assange’s assistance of Edward Snowden, and adds new material from FBI asset and convicted thief, fraudster and paedophile Sigurdur ‘Siggi’ Thordarson.   

Assange saw the new indictment only just before being rearrested. Having neither received instructions from him nor prepared evidence or witnesses on the new material, the defence team called for the hearing to set the new material aside and continue or to be adjourned so that  a defence on the new indictment could be prepared.  By waving all this through̶  refusing either to strike the new material out or grant an adjournment ̶ Magistrate Vanessa Baraitser turbocharged the tradition written about long ago by Charles Dickens in A Tale of Two Cities, where he described the Old Bailey as, ’a choice illustration of the precept that “Whatever is, is right”’.

Then, the technical theatre began.  Until this hearing, the UK Ministry of Justice had dealt with COVID-19 by using a 1980s teleconferencing kit that announced every time someone entered or left the conference, with no central mute function, meaning everyone was subjected to the background noise of dozens of homes and offices. The tech during this session is only marginally improved, with fuzzy video streaming available to approved journalists outside the United Kingdom. Their twitter streams constantly complain of people being unable to hear or see, of being held in limbo waiting rooms, or seeing only into the lounge rooms of the tech support crew.  In this case open justice is open only so far as the twitter threads of people such as @MaryKostakidis and @AndrewJFowler, typing through the Antipodean night, or the comprehensive and compelling blog posts of Craig Murray, are available.  Ruptly streams from outside the courtroom providing updates from the Don’t Extradite Assange campaign team, who also produce videos to decode the legalese of proceedings.

Around forty organisations, including Amnesty International, had received accreditation to remotely observe the proceedings. However, this was revoked without warning or explanation, leaving only Reporters Without Borders (RSF) to observe on behalf of civil society organisations. RSF Director of Campaigns Rebecca Vincent stated,

We have never faced such extensive barriers in attempting to monitor any other case in any other country as we have with proceedings in the UK in Julian Assange’s case. This is extremely worrying in a case of such tremendous public interest. 

Kristinn Hrafnsson, Editor-in-Chief of WikiLeaks, was first offered a seat in a room that looked down on other journalists, without a view of the screen. Perhaps due to his eloquent televised protest, he was allowed into the courtroom on subsequent days, but John Pilger, Julian’s father John Shipton and Craig Murray each day climb five flights of stairs to the viewing gallery, as the Old Bailey lifts are conveniently not working.

Despite this festival of ad hockery and lost time, and despite the prosecution demanding Yes or No answers to lengthy and complex questions in reference to hundreds of pages provided to witnesses the night before their appearance, the first four witnesses called by Julian’s defence have done a fine job of emphasising the political nature of the charges, and the journalistic nature of Assange’s and WikiLeaks’ work.  The expert statements they each provided were all prepared under the earlier indictment.

The first witness was British-American lawyer and founder of Reprieve Clive Stafford Smith, whocited numerous human rights and legal cases against unlawful actions such as kidnapping, rendition, drone strikes and torture in which WikiLeaks publications had enabled justice for his clients.  His familiarity with both the British and US justice systems meant that Stafford Smith could state confidently that while there is no public interest defence allowed under the UK Official Secrets Act, that defence is allowed in US courts.  During cross-examination, prosecution QC James Lewis clarified the US line of argument, which is that Assange is accused of publishing names, to which Stafford Smith said that he would eat his hat if that was all that was introduced at trial in the United States.  In re-examination, the indictment was re-examined to confirm that it does not refer only to names but also to ‘wilfully communicating documents relating to national defence’ and that other counts too are not limited to publishing names.

The second witness was academic and investigative journalist Mark Feldstein, Chair of Broadcast Journalism at Maryland University, whose testimony had to be discontinued due to technical dramas and recommenced the following day.  Feldstein commented on a large number of WikiLeaks publications demonstrating the range of issues and countries it has covered, stating that gathering classified information is ‘standard operating procedure’ for journalists, adding that soliciting information is ‘not only consistent with standard journalistic practice, they are its lifeblood, especially for investigative or national security reporters’. He went on: ‘My entire career virtually was soliciting secret documents or records’. Feldstein’s evidence included references to Nixon (including quotes that included profanity; nothing wakes you up at 3 am like hearing the word ‘cocksucker’ uttered to a bewigged and bewildered British court). Feldstein asserted that the Obama administration had realised it was impossible to charge Assange or WikiLeaks without also charging the New York Times and others who had published the WikiLeaks material in question, with  Lewis countering that the Obama administration had not ceased the grand jury and that it had passively received information, whereas Assange had conspired with Chelsea Manning to receive information.  Craig Murray notes that Lewis spoke between five and ten times as many words as this witness.

The third witness was Professor Paul Rogers of Bradford University, author of many books on the War on Terror and responsible for training armed forces in the law and ethics of conflict for the UK Ministry of Defence for some fifteen years.  Rogers provided testimony on the political nature of Assange and WikiLeaks’ work and on the significance of the revelations for understanding the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. He noted that Assange was not anti-US as such but opposed to some US policy that he and many others sought to reform.  Describing the Trump administration’s hostility to transparency and journalism, he characterised the prosecution as political.  When cross-examined, Rogers refused to be reduced to Yes or No answers, as ‘these questions did not permit binary answers’.

Trevor Timm, co-founder of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, then spoke. His organisation helped such media organisations as the New York Times, the Guardian and the ABC to take up software developed by Aaron Swartz called SecureDrop, based on the anonymous dropbox pioneered by WikiLeaks so that leaks can be supplied to journalists anonymously.  Timms stated that the current indictment against Assange was unconstitutional on First Amendment (free speech) grounds, and that the Espionage Act was so widely drafted that it would even pose a threat to purchasers and readers of newspapers containing leaked information. In cross-examination, Lewis again alluded to the fact that not all of the evidence has been made available to the UK court and that it is held by the US grand jury. Timm asserted again and again that countless court decisions over centuries in the United States had upheld the First Amendment.

Chair of the board of Reprieve Eric Lewis—a US lawyer with thirty-five years’ experience who has represented Guantanamo and Afghan detainees seeking redress for torture—expanded on his five statements to the court in response to the various indictments. He confirmed that WikiLeaks documents have been essential in court cases. He also said that, should Assange be sent to the United States, he would first be held in the Alexandria City Jail under Special Administrative Measures, and after conviction would at best spend twenty years at the super-maximum-security ADX Florence prison in Colorado and at worst spend the rest of his life in a cell for twenty-two or twenty-three hours a day, unable to meet other prisoners, with exercise once a day while shackled. The prosecution became very cross during the cross-examination of this witness, complaining to the magistrate that, despite having four hours, he needed more time as the witness refused to give ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ answers. She refused to control the witness, who was giving relevant answers, to which prosecutor Lewis replied that this ‘would not happen in a real court’.  He apologised for his intemperate language after a break.

Journalist John Goetz testified about working in the consortium with other media partners and WikiLeaks while at Der Spiegel in 2010 on releases of the Afghan War Diary, Iraq War Logs and diplomatic cables. He asserted that Assange and WikiLeaks had meticulous security protocols and had undertaken great effort to redact names from documents. He testified to being somewhat irritated and annoyed by the ‘paranoid’ security measures Assange insisted upon, which he later realised were justified. He pointed out several times that the diplomatic cables only became available because Guardian journalists Luke Harding and David Leigh published the password in a book, and anyway the website Cryptome had published them all first. The defence attempted to have Goetz testify that he attended a dinner at which Assange allegedly said, ‘They are informants; they deserve to die’, which he simply did not say. The prosecution objected to this line of questioning, and the judge upheld this objection.

Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg recently turned eighty-nine, but he accomplished technological feats to appear as a witness for many hours. He had read in full the 300 pages provided by the prosecution the night before his appearance. He noted that Assange would not be able to argue that his disclosures were in the public interest because that defence does not exist under the Espionage Act, the same law under which Ellsberg had faced twelve charges and 115 years—charges that were dropped when it was revealed that the government had collected evidence about him illegally. He stated that ‘the American public needed urgently to know what was being done routinely in their name, and there was no other way for them to learn it than by unauthorised disclosure’.  He reminded the court that, unlike Assange, he hadn’t redacted a single name of an informant or CIA agent from the Pentagon Papers, and that Assange had approached the Defense and State Departments in order to more fully redact names.

Further witnesses to be called by the defence in coming weeks are outlined here by Kevin Gosztola.

Before the hearing recommenced, Reporters Without Borders attempted to deliver an 80,000-strong petition to 10 Downing Street, and were rebuffed.  In addition, several important media pieces were published, including in the UK Sunday Times, which put the case on the front page and included a full-colour magazine-feature-length piece on Julian’s partner and children. An editorial from the Times on Sunday made the case against extraditing Assange. Amnesty International conducted a video campaign that included former foreign minister Bob Carr and former senator Scott Ludlam and added over 400,000 signatures to their petition. Amnesty’s international human rights expert issued an opinion piece, echoing views also put forward by Ken Roth, head of Human Rights Watch, in various interviews.  Alice Walker and Noam Chomsky showed how ‘Julian Assange is not on trial for his personality—but here’s how the US government made you focus on it’.  One of Julian’s oldest friends, Dr Niraj Lal, wrote a moving piece about the founding philosophy of WikiLeaks and Julian’s life as a physics student.

Several documentaries have also been released; one outlining the press-freedom issues at stake called The War On Journalism: The Case of Julian Assange launched the week before the trial, and there is an excellent German public broadcasting documentary. Fran Kelly interviewed Assange’s Australian lawyer Jennifer Robinson on RN Breakfast, and Robinson once again called on the Australian government to act on behalf of a citizen.

Australian government silence has been broken by many citizen actions over a campaign stretching over ten years. Demonstrators have scaled Parliament House, organised weekly vigils outside Flinders Street Station and the Sydney Town Hall rain, hail or shine for the last two years, with arrests for occupation of the UK consulate leading to court hearings on 7 September this year. Every year, Julian’s birthday is marked with extravagant candle arrangements outside Parliament House and elsewhere, with the Greens’ consistent support finally being joined by others in the formation of the Bring Assange Home Parliamentary Group in October 2019, a group now twenty-four strong.  A petition has been submitted to our parliament and as at April 2020 it had 390,000 signatures, the fourth largest petition ever tabled. In May 2020, over 100 Australian serving and former politicians, writers and publishers, human rights advocates and legal professionals wrote to Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne calling on the government to end its official silence. And Assange’s union remained strong, with the MEAA issuing a short video on the importance of the case, reminding members of its public and private advocacy on behalf of Assange with the government and the UK High Commissioner, and continuing to issue his press card. In the first week of the hearings, the MEAA held a briefing with Kristinn Hrafnsson beamed in from London for Australian members. 

Voices supporting Assange from across the political spectrum, and among a broader chorus of civil society and media organisations, are getting louder.  The tide is turning, but will it turn in time?

The Stringer

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 15/09/2020 - 4:53am in

April 21, 2021

Ted Rall’s new graphic novel is ripped from the headlines.

Suffering from budget cuts, layoffs, and a growing suspicion that his search for the truth has become obsolete, veteran war correspondent Mark Scribner is about to throw in the towel on journalism when he discovers that his hard-earned knowledge can save his career and make him wealthy and famous. All he has to do is pivot to social media and, with a few cynical twists, abandon everything he cares about most.

Graphic Novel, 2021
NBM Publishing Hardback, 8.5″x11″, 152 pp., $24.99

Click here to Order Online.

The descent into Darkness of the UK and Victoria. Quo Vadis?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 10/09/2020 - 3:39am in

[Bottom line: the conflicting forces now being created in the UK and Australia are truly frightening.]

The UK government has just announced a nationwide return of one of the most destructive elements of lock downs: mandatory social isolation. Gatherings of more than 6 people are banned from next week onwards, not just outdoors but also in private homes. So no family X-mas, the one social outing the locked-away elderly had to look forward to. Also no outdoor raves, no dance events, no normal student life, no fun. An extreme form of puritanism is now with us in the UK, even with advice on how to take the fun out of casual sex: we are told to keep a mask on at all times!

The state of Victoria in Australia, which has almost an identical bureaucratic system to that in the UK, has had even worse restrictions for months now. People in Melbourne are only allowed out of their own home for an hour per day. Group gatherings of any kind, unless they are by the police or “essential services”, are subject to police brutality and a state premier who boldly states that protests are unlawful. To be fair, new lovers are allowed to go shag each other, but presumably only with masks on.

This ban on being human is but the latest in a creeping totalitarianism that, in the West, is seeing its worst expressions in the UK and Victoria. One is now fined and potentially locked away in both places for organising open protests, one of the most basic civil liberties in our political systems. Governments in both places rule by decree, with very little parliamentary oversight and almost no realistic chance of judicial review.

Its been a descent into darkness in both places. There are no other places in the West quite as bad, creating underlying forces quite as sinister. Yes, many American States have fanatical lock down supporters and most universities there have their own anti-fun police too, but you can escape. You are allowed to leave a State you don’t want to stay in and there is a vibrant opposition that you can join. You might think that opposition in the States is largely made up of conspiracy loonies (and you would not be entirely wrong), but at least there IS an opposition and they are not prevented from demonstrating, partying, and moving around. Freedom of speech and assembly are serious things in the US, even in lock down land. Their extreme partisanship has protected them.

Elsewhere in the West, the places that had their own totalitarian moments, such as France and Italy, are slowly returning to sanity. They have found out that they simply can’t afford totalitarianism, which is one of the deep points of history: totalitarianism fails not because it is unpopular – quite the opposite! – but because it is spectacularly inefficient. Eventually, people vote with their feet towards greener and freer pastures, though that is not possible in Australia, which is the only country in the West that has effectively banned its citizens from leaving, something we haven’t seen since the days of the Berlin Wall. That Wall crumbled because totalitarian communism couldn’t deliver.

What is remarkable is that this deep point of history is plain to see in both the UK and Victoria. Their economies are collapsing spectacularly in front of them, worse than elsewhere, with brave aristocratic commentators pointing this out in the UK, such as “Mervyn King”, the governor of the bank of England, or “Lord Sumption”, a former judge of the High Court. In Australia such things are pointed out by the odd brave economist like Gigi Foster, or a few hundred Victorian doctors. They find themselves in the unlikely company of Tony Abbott, Adam Creighton, and Alan Jones. But no-one in parliament of either major party.

In both the UK and Victoria, governments are trying to run a Soviet-style economy and failing miserably because bureaucracies cannot run whole economies. Both places are hiring armies of new civil servants to enforce the Covid mania, such as in their track and trace programs or covid-officers for the many workplaces. Lots of new vacuous change managers and covid-strategists too, of course. This whilst easily 30% of the workforce is sitting at home with no real job, kept docile by free government handouts. It’s like the Soviet system of full state employment with lots of people not doing anything at all. Hundreds of thousands of businesses are slowly dying in both places, only nominally kept afloat by massive government subsidies.

You can buy off public dissent by borrowing for a while, but it doesn’t take a genius to work out that it can’t last. The unseen problems just keep building. We know what happens next: governments print money to keep going a little longer (think of the Republic of Weimar, Zimbabwe, Russia in the 1990s), making the collapse even more spectacular when it comes. This is what the UK is now facing if it continues on the path it is on, with the Bank of England whispering it and the reformed marxist Peter Hitchens shouting it. Australia is already starting to see a bit of capital flight, a classic sign of unsustainable government borrowing and spending. The smart money doesn’t make a noise but is the first to leave.

Victoria is not in charge of printing money in Australia, so it cannot on its own drag the whole of Australia into Zimbabwe-territory, but it can blackmail the rest of Australia for quite a while to allow it to spend money that it doesn’t have. The prospect of an Australian state going bankrupt, which basically means civil servants and anyone getting payments from that State no longer being paid, is a nightmare scenario the federal government in Canberra will want to avoid as long as possible, even though the government is now projected to borrow around 100% of GDP before covid mania is done. I fear that is starting to look like the optimistic scenario.

Most extraordinary, while in most other Western countries sanity is slowly returning, both in the UK and in Victoria there are strong signs of lock-in. In both places, their governments promise an end to the misery somewhere in the future, but in both places things are actually getting worse quite rapidly. Not merely is the totalitarianism getting worse and worse, but there is also a rapid expansion of the groups that benefit from the totalitarianism, locking both places into increased covid mania. It is eerily reminiscent of the Death cult that typified Nazi Germany in the later stages of WWII: as the war was being lost, control was extended and fatalism spread.

Consider the trends in political power: in the UK, the covid mania industry now includes tens of thousands of contact tracers, health and safety officers that inspect workplaces, the police force that increasingly sees covid-compliance as its job (including all the way into private homes), the increasingly powerful and busy testing-labs and vaccine-companies, and a whole medical-regulatory layer inside public institutions. They are helped by the majority of the media which has been fanning the hysteria for months now and has a strong vested interest to keep going. That media too is now committed.

The government of the day in the UK is similarly committed, plunging headlong into new battles it can only lose, like Brexit fights with the EU, whilst bunkering down on its covid-policies. To be fair, my reading of the lack of any major stock market or currency market movements in the last week is that the latest announcement that the UK government will not follow International Law is not serious but just a deliberate distraction. Bojo and Cummings have form when it comes to this, most spectacularly at the end of 2020 when they first announced they would screw over the Irish Catholics, just before they signed an EU deal wherein they totally screwed over the Irish Protestants.

On covid though, its been a one-way descent into darkness. Disagreeing top civil servants were sidelined early on or have just given up and resigned along the way. The UK government is, like Nazi Germany in its dying days, pushing salvation stories of a miracle weapon (a vaccine) and miracle alliances (trade deals with the US) that will supposedly turn its losing war and collapsing economy around. Anything rather than admit the war was futile to begin with. Very tellingly, the main opposition is now from within the UK Conservative Party, such as in the form of Sir Brady, the chairman of the 1922 commission saying as politely as he can that the government has gone bonkers. Make no mistake, the knives are being sharpened in the Conservative Party.

In Victoria, things are possibly even worse. Thousands of additional covid-officers are being recruited right now to dream up more regulations and enforce them. What do you think they are going to do once employed in the system? Advocate for their cushy jobs to be axed or think of new ways to keep the “war of elimination” going? Do you really think they will win the war? That Oxford vaccine some were pinning their hopes on has seen its trial halted because they found the vaccine didn’t agree with someone. Not a magic weapon after all, what a surprise! Ominously, I read 60% of all those vaccinated had side-effects. Bit of a fever, bit of a headache, the odd person getting paralysed. Not a problem for 99% of the population, but if you’re over 80 and have a couple of other health problems already, well, those extra issues can be fatal. You know what I’m saying? Don’t worry if you don’t: the new covid-police forces will tell you the vaccines are not ready yet, so you need their constant presence and regulations to help you comply!

What’s extraordinary is that in the UK, covid was over 3 months ago. There have been no excess deaths since late May, and the number of hospital admissions from covid are essentially zero. The new cases are mainly young people for whom covid is a slight cough and whom you’d want to gain immunity anyway. New cases are just used by the covid-industry as the excuse to keep their jobs going.

Quo Vadis: how is this going to end?

I cannot think of another example in the last few centuries where totalitarianism became institutionally entrenched so rapidly via a new group of profiteers. The 14th century plague is the closest historical example I know of a peace-time economic and social collapse of the speed and magnitude we are now seeing in both the UK and Victoria.

Totalitarianism and democracy do not go together for long. It’s one or the other. I am confident that in the UK, democracy and some semblance of common sense will re-establish itself because of competitive forces (jealousy of neighbouring countries, deep hatred of Bojo and Cummings within the government) and a vocal high-status opposition that will eventually successfully blame the covid-industry for the economic and social collapse.

So yes, I do think there will be a reckoning in the UK, but there will be a lot of damage before we get to it. Still, several newspapers are now openly calling for the awakening needed to get to the reckoning. Along the way I think we will get regicide in the Conservative Party and I wouldn’t be surprised if Cummings ends up in jail, blamed for everything. I suspect Bojo and Cummings are feeling this heat and are trying to start new fronts (like the EU) to postpone the reckoning. Its a strategy that worked for Mao, but I don’t think it will work for them.

In Australia, it is less clear what to expect. It might evolve into something relatively benign, with only the huge damage I and others have documented previously as the main loss, but I fear that point is now past. Way more pain is to come, with the increasingly bellicose attitude towards Australia’s main trading partner a mere hint of the forces now unleashed. Here is my main scenario.

The economic and social devastation that is growing beneath the surface is getting bigger and bigger. The repressive industry is getting bigger and bigger. The debt and inequality is getting bigger and bigger. When the music stops, a large part of the population will find they have no job and little future. Masses of young students in particular will find they have been royally screwed. When that happens, the compliance that has been drilled into the population from child-care onward is going to give way to real anger. The Covid-industry gelled them into a crowd. Desperation will turn that crowd into an angry mob. Democracy will then seem their weapon.

At that point, the current political elite might panic and look for ways to escape the beast they have suckled. Yes, Australia has compulsory voting, strong federalism preventing the center from assuming power, and strong constitutional powers preventing the States from going alone. But will that be enough to contain a panicking political elite and their vastly expanded totalitarian apparatus? I am really not sure. Dark scenarios I till recently only held possible decades into the future suddenly look possible for the next 5 years.

The forces that are now being created in Australia truly frighten me. As in the picture above, the Furies are taking off.

Nonfiction and Narrative Popular Philosophy (guest post by Barry Lam)

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 07/09/2020 - 8:15pm in



“The design features that make for good academic philosophy might make for terrible public philosophy…”

The following guest post* is by Barry Lam, associate professor and chair of philosophy at Vassar College, and the creator and host of the Slate philosophy podcast Hi-Phi Nation (@HiPhiNation).

This post is the seventh installment in the “Philosophy of Popular Philosophy” series, edited by Aaron James Wendland (@ajwendland), a philosopher at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow.

[Jason Anderson, “Platform”]

Nonfiction and Narrative Popular Philosophy
by Barry Lam

After my friend CH got his first tenure-track job in philosophy, he found himself with a “bourgeois longing” for a nice hi-fidelity stereo system. He didn’t want to listen to music any longer on a cheap boombox. So, he went to the nicer local electronics store and asked the clerk to walk him through various amplifiers, speakers, CD and record players, and so forth. Toward the end of the purchase, in what was sure to be a hefty bill, the one item that bothered CH was the price of the speaker wire.

“Is it really necessary for me to pay $50 for speaker wire?” CH asked the clerk.
“Well”, the clerk said, “I have this $5 speaker wire I could sell to you. Let me change the wires out and you can see if you hear a difference.”
The clerk proceeded to insert the cheaper wire into banana clips and ran it from the same model amplifier to the same model speakers for a side-by-side comparison with the thick-gauge, $50 copper wires.
“I don’t hear any difference,” CH reported.
“Okay, let’s stop it. We’ll go from one to the other again. We’ll try different songs, voice, different ranges of music and see if you can tell the difference.”
After many minutes of close listening among a range of other options, CH confirmed that he could hear no difference whatsoever between the $5 and $50 speaker wire.
“All right that settles it then,” said the clerk.
“Right of course,” said CH, “I’ll take the $50 speaker wire.”

I’ve told this story to my students and colleagues many times, because it’s a great story. I even asked CH to record it on tape, and I plan to use it one day on the right episode of my philosophy-through-storytelling podcast: Hi-Phi Nation.

CH’s story is a great story not because it is exciting, or dramatic, or even funny. The stakes in the story are not at all high, it is a matter of saving $45. The conflict is not particularly exciting; will he buy one or the other speaker wire? Still, I love the story because it exhibits the power of storytelling. Once you start on it, you want to know what happens next, even with a low stakes conflict. And once I present CH’s decision, the surprise of it generates a desire to know why.

Yet before I explain the reasoning behind CH’s decision, let me present to you a different way I could have started this column. You’re going to have to pretend you are coming to this article with fresh eyes, having not read any of the story I just presented.

There is a long-held assumption that perceptual indiscriminability is intransitive, such that for any series of objects o1, o2,….on and any qualitative feature Q, such as color or pitch, any adjacent pair on, on+1 is indiscriminable with respect to Q for a subject S, but on, on+2 is discriminable. The intransitivity of indiscriminability is thought to generate the sorites paradox for a class of features Q. In this essay, I will argue that…

This is a very compact and effective opening to a paper about perceptual indiscriminability and the sorites paradox. In fact, I adapted it from Diana Raffman’s paper “Is Perceptual Indiscriminability Nontransitive?” It is sure to take in a philosopher working on vagueness. And since Raffman’s paper was published around the time CH was shopping for his stereo, it was Raffman-style thinking about perceptual indiscriminability and the sorites paradox that led him to purchase the $50 speaker wire.

You see, CH immediately worried about being victim to sorites-like reasoning. The fact that he couldn’t tell the difference between $5 and $50 speaker wire did not speak to the fact that there was no qualitative difference between the two. If he were to purchase the $5 speaker wire, what principle would prevent him from purchasing the slightly cheaper speakers that sounded the same to him? And then also the slightly cheaper amplifier, and then the even cheaper amplifier, and eventually he would be forced to admit that his $35 boombox was good enough all along! No, the bourgeois longings were calling, and he would not be denied a nice hi-fidelity stereo system on account of fallacious thinking arising from perceptual indiscriminability.

So here we have two openings raising the same philosophical issue, one written in story-form, the other written in academic-form. One of these openings targets a public audience, the other targets peer researchers. The peer-facing piece seeks to describe an issue with full generality, and therefore makes liberal uses of variables and subscripts. The public-facing piece presents an anecdote and a sequence of events that happened in the world with a surprising twist, a twist that raises an expectation and desire to know, a desire for a resolution. Both openings are about the same issue, but curate the experience of thinking about that issue differently. They are, in effect, different genres of nonfiction engineered for different purposes but nonetheless on the same topic.

It isn’t typical to characterize philosophical writing and speaking as a genre of nonfiction, but it is. And as a genre, it is not only characterized by its topic, choice, and writing style, but also its design. Style refers to the particular choice of word or sentence structure, the use of plain versus technical language, the introduction of drama, humor, or figurative language, and other subtleties we may use to distinguish “good writers” from “bad writers.” Design, on the other hand, means the basic engineering of a philosophical piece, what the writer would like the piece to do.

As a species of academic writing, much of philosophy is characterized as a genre engineered for epistemic justification, not for engagement, entertainment, and most certainly not for the task of holding the attention of an arbitrary reader. As Michael Lewis writes, the author of an academic paper is trying to survive its readers, not bring them joy. Surviving the reader means that every matter of misrepresentation, uncharitable reading, or objection, must be anticipated and alleviated. The biggest flaw of a piece of peer-facing philosophy is that its key idea is poorly supported.

Of course, all nonfiction aims to communicate some kind of idea, and by virtue of it being nonfiction it does so by using language in a way that is primarily literal and representative of something in the world. Yet in contrast to academic nonfiction designed around epistemic support, there are other forms whose design is nothing of the sort.

Narrative nonfiction, for instance, is not engineered primarily to survive the epistemic scrutiny of its readers, but rather to engage them and hold their attention for a duration of time in order to tell them a story whose character, plot, conflict, and resolution gives them some insight into something, whether it is the human condition, the reality of certain scientific postulations, or the supernatural. Given these constitutive aims, the design features that make for good academic philosophy might make for terrible public philosophy. Justifying a point against a knowledgeable but hostile audience demands all matters of things, objections to objections to objections, multiplying labels for positions in logical space, and so on. Needless to say, these academic devices may be antithetical to the primary public goal of sustaining attention over time for those who are not antecedently invested in the topic.

When it comes to public philosophy, we should look to the design principles of essentially temporal forms of expression, like music. In music, you sustain attention over time by raising tension to set up the mind to desire a resolution, and eventually to provide it at the end. Cognitive scientists call this “need to know”, something that can be generalized as “need to resolve.” C major to F major to G7 sets up tension requiring a resolution to C.  In narrative storytelling, ruling out the butler and the cook sets up the professor as the murderer, creating a tension as to the confrontation that must happen in the next act. This is why so many people stay tuned until after the commercial break.

Philosophy designed for such purposes will take engagement, attention-holding, tension-creation, and resolution as central to its construction, with epistemic justification of secondary importance. Unlike in academic writing, narrative writing does not anticipate that its reader starts with disbelief and requires persuading, but rather suspends disbelief with faith that you are taking her to a place worth going.

Moreover, when you write in the narrative style, the journey along the way to the ultimate philosophical insight is one the reader feels compelled to take with you, as you continually generate a need to know, or a desire for resolution. For example, in Season 2 of Hi-Phi Nation, I found Barbro Karlen, who told me the story of her childhood memories of having been the reincarnation of Anne Frank, only to one day as an adult face Frank’s only living cousin and trustee of The Anne Frank Foundation. Rather than excoriate her for being an imposter, the cousin verified to her that she had to be Anne Frank reborn. I didn’t raise Barbro’s story as a target for belief or disbelief, making a case for the truth or falsity of an afterlife. Instead, the story served to raise and sustain attention for a philosophical discussion about the role of memories in the persistence of the self and the prospects for mind-body dualism.

Philosophy as narrative storytelling for public engagement is why I would start an episode on perceptual discriminability with CH’s story, and not with an opening like Raffman’s, even a less technical version of it, whether by sorites paradox or otherwise. Philosophy as narrative storytelling taps into tension and resolution rather than truth and justification.

The pursuit of truth and the pursuit of a good quality story should not be as conflicted as it is presented, with academics skewering journalists with charges of butchering their research in the interest of selling books and magazines, and journalists charging academics with preoccupations so subtle and nuanced that they become arcane, with no one but their 20 peers understanding or caring about their work.

With that said, I think academics are in a better position than journalists for producing good public-facing philosophy. It is a lot easier for us to learn about the design-principles that make for great non-fiction writing than for them to acquire our subject-matter expertise. When academics take control of the narrative, and learn to curate the experience of their work for engagement rather than simply argue their way to professional success, we have the opportunity to create a whole new genre of nonfiction for print, audio, and video that will propel our visibility in the public sphere.

The post Nonfiction and Narrative Popular Philosophy (guest post by Barry Lam) appeared first on Daily Nous.

High Crimes against Journalism and Decency: Jeffrey Goldberg’s Insane “Trump Called Troops Suckers” Piece Is a New Low

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 07/09/2020 - 12:00am in


Jeffrey Goldberg wrote an article for The Atlantic that could harm Donald Trump’s chance to win re-election. Setting aside the controversial content of the remarks attributed to the president, it is important to note that this is an atrocious example of journalism.

You could almost call it “fake news.”

And corporate media is taking it at face value.

You may think Trump is a turd—I do. You may want him to lose the election—I do. (I also want Biden to lose, but that’s another column.) You may believe that Trump probably said what Goldberg reports—I think there’s a good chance. But everyone who cares about journalism ought to be deeply disturbed by the nonexistent sourcing for this story and its widespread acceptance by media organizations that ought to know better.

It’s easy to see why Democratic-leaning media corporations jumped all over Goldberg’s piece: it hurts the president and it reinforces militarism. But they’re degrading journalistic standards to manipulate an election.

According to Goldberg, four anonymous sources told him that Trump called American marines who died in World War I “losers” and repeatedly questioned why anyone smart would join the military or be willing to risk their life by fighting in one of America’s wars.

Anonymous sources have their place. I have used them. But basing a news story entirely on accounts of people who are unwilling to go on the record is journalistically perilous and ethically dubious. There are exceptions, as when a Mafia source fears physical retribution.

There is no such claim here. Most media organizations’ ethical guidelines are clear: news without attribution is not news. It is gossip.

            The Los Angeles Times, a publication my readers know that I hold in low regard, nevertheless takes a stance against anonymous sources. “When we use anonymous sources, it should be to convey important information to our readers. We should not use such sources to publish material that is trivial, obvious or self-serving,” the paper’s ethical standards say. “An unnamed source should have a compelling reason for insisting on anonymity, such as fear of retaliation, and we should state those reasons when they are relevant to what we publish.”

            The Atlantic piece falls way short.

Likewise, writing that strips statements of necessary context is anti-ethical. Trump, writes Goldberg, “expressed contempt for the war record of the late Senator John McCain, who spent more than five years as a prisoner of the North Vietnamese. ‘He’s not a war hero,’ Trump said in 2015 while running for the Republican nomination for president. ‘I like people who weren’t captured.’” He goes on to note that Trump wanted to deny McCain the honor of lowering flags to half-mast after McCain died.

Goldberg frames Trump’s comments as part of a general bias against the military and portrays his attacks as unprovoked. Truth is, long before Trump made those comments he had been engaged in a well-documented, long-running feud with the Arizona senator. McCain based his political career on his military service and the five years he spent as a POW in Vietnam. McCain was Trump’s enemy, and there is considerable evidence that McCain—known for a sharp tongue—started the war of words. Trump gave back in kind.

“Nor did he set his campaign back by attacking the parents of Humayun Khan, an Army captain who was killed in Iraq in 2004,” Goldberg continues in another context-free passage. Khan’s father famously spoke against Trump at the 2016 Democratic National Convention. “You have sacrificed nothing and no one,” Khan said. In Trumpian terms, Khan started it. But Goldberg’s omission makes it look like Trump attacked a fallen soldier out of the blue.

Goldberg does this a third time: “When lashing out at critics, Trump often reaches for illogical and corrosive insults, and members of the Bush family have publicly opposed him.” Both sides have insulted each other; as far as the record shows, Trump is usually running offense, not defense—but Goldberg falsely portrays the enmity as a one-way street.

One of the praiseworthy aspects of this president is his relatively restrained approach to military interventionism, coupled with his willingness to directly engage adversaries like North Korea and the Taliban in Afghanistan, the latter which recently signed a peace agreement with the United States. It is logical for Trump, who is skeptical of illegal wars of choice like Afghanistan and Iraq, to question why people would volunteer to fight and possibly die in such a pointless conflict. For Goldberg, militarism is a state religion. Questioning it is intolerable.

Goldberg’s piece, the tone of which reads like the pro-war hysteria following 9/11, reflects the aggressively militaristic neoliberalism of the Democratic Party in 2020.

Goldberg references Trump’s 2017 visit to Arlington cemetery with then-Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly. “A first lieutenant in the Marine Corps, Robert Kelly was killed in 2010 in Afghanistan … Trump, while standing by Robert Kelly’s grave, turned directly to his father and said, ‘I don’t get it. What was in it for them?’ Kelly (who declined to comment for this story) initially believed, people close to him said, that Trump was making a ham-handed reference to the selflessness of America’s all-volunteer force. But later he came to realize that Trump simply does not understand non-transactional life choices.”

            Joining the military, of course, is hardly a non-transactional decision. Soldiers get paid. They get medals. They get free college. They are revered and thanked for their service. Military service gives you a leg up when you run for political office.

Moreover, Trump’s question is one Americans should be asking more often. Why would a 29-year-old man volunteer to travel to Afghanistan in order to kill the locals? No one in that country threatened the United States. No one there did us any harm. Afghans don’t want us there. Why did Robert Kelly go?

Goldberg seems obsessed with Trump’s description of fallen soldiers as suckers. “His capacious definition of sucker includes those who lose their lives in service to their country, as well as those who are taken prisoner, or are wounded in battle,” Goldberg writes. But is he wrong?

            LBJ suckered us into Vietnam with the Tonkin Gulf incident, which historians of all stripes accept was a lie.

            George H.W. Bush suckered us into the first Gulf War with a tale of Iraqi soldiers rampaging through a Kuwaiti hospital and pulling babies out of incubators. Another lie.

            After 9/11 George W. Bush suckered us into Afghanistan by saying Osama bin Laden was there—he was not.

            Of course Bush lied about Iraq having weapons of mass destruction. More suckering. (At the time, Goldberg spread the lie that Saddam Hussein was allied with his enemy Al Qaeda.)

            Assuming that anything in Goldberg’s piece was true, Trump was right.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of the biography “Political Suicide: The Fight for the Soul of the Democratic Party.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)


The Honest Broker

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 03/09/2020 - 5:33am in

Our society prizes the detached, even-handed journalist. In Trump’s America, its job is more difficult, complicated, and imperiled than ever Continue reading

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Believing Donald Trump’s Lies is a Choice

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 31/08/2020 - 9:12pm in



Daniel Dale is a reporter for CNN. His beat is unique, but it shouldn’t be. Every reporter and editor following...

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Snowflakes Hither, Yonder and In the Tropics: Ungentrifying Journalism from Brazil to Ecuador

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 18/08/2020 - 4:02am in

In October 2019, Ecuador’s president Lenin Moreno announced a new round of austerity measures. As the cost of gasoline, diesel, transport and food skyrocketed in the wake of his announcement, the national strike quickly transformed into mass protests. I was in the heart of Ecuador’s capital, Quito, as riot police, tanks, untold amounts of tear gas, and the full gamut of the security apparatus was deployed against demonstrators.

Eleven days later, with an official death toll of eight people and almost 1,200 arrested, the government rescinded. The Kichwa, Shuar, Secoya, the full breadth of the 14 indigenous nations, including Afro-Ecuadoreans, the poor and working class — the people had won this round. And I, to the best of my knowledge, had become the sole person of African-descent to provide an international report of the events.


Segregated media reports from Brazil

The once popular hashtag, #NewsroomsSoWhite, carries a good measure of this malign. In Brazil, home to the second largest African-descendent population in the world behind Nigeria, gentrified, global-north newsmakers have spread like wild mushrooms after a downpour. Among this bunch, we count the Intercept-Brasil, Jacobin-Brasil, El Pais, and Le Monde Diplomatique. CNN Brasil launched this year.

In one report, CNN Brasil’s Shasta Darlington — a white woman — opens her coverage with video footage of black youths flashing guns and selling drugs in a Rio de Janeiro favela. It’s curious inasmuch as its striking resemblance to Adriana Diaz’s CBS News “On Assignment” report “The Guns of Chicago.” The general message: black youths are armed, shirtless, virulent, sorted into gangs, and pathetically dangerous. Popular, value-neutral consumption is its aim. No examination of Brazil being one of the most socially stratified countries on earth. No mention of a decades-long exodus of souls from the country’s northeast region, fleeing both drought and economic depravation in search of green pastures in the marvelous city and São Paulo. No subsequent comparative report on Operação Calabar, a 2017 investigation which led to the arrest of 80 Rio de Janeiro military police for selling automatic rifles and munitions to drug-traffickers.

If uncareful, one might mistake Darlington’s report for a promo hyping the ongoing militarization of Rio de Janeiro. Why not? As a 6-year-old girl in Quito’s Carolina Park told me one day, “Todos los negritos son ladrones” (All niggas are thieves). Unsure, and absolutely sure of my aural faculty, I hardened my face and asked, “What did you say?” Squaring me eye to eye, her sassy gull was anything but circumspect—“Todos los negritos son ladrones.” Indeed, Darlington’s reporting is as opaque as it is disaggregating, a notorious case study on segregated international news coverage and its belittling of global perspectives.

Meanwhile, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Glenn Greenwald has tasked himself with defending “Brazilian democracy.” Whatever that means. For us who speak Portuguese, it does mean having to endure his robotic enunciation of an otherwise beautiful language. Not that Tupí-Guaraní is of any less stature or beauty. “We don’t speak Portuguese, we sing it,” an artisan in the Pelourinho, Salvador’s historic centre, once told me.

Greenwald’s coverage has garnered ire from Brazil’s right-wing, even a few swings from Augusto Nunes. His commitment to unveiling how Sergio Moro conspired with other top officials to convict Brazil’s most popular and successful president, Luíz Inácio Lula da Silva, is unquestionable. As bounty, Bolsonaro handpicked Moro to serve as his Minister of Justice days after “winning” the presidency. After having been removed from the UN’s hunger list and millions lifted out of poverty during Lula’s presidency, Brazil was taking a sharp turn to an ungainful future.

Notwithstanding Greenwald’s defense of Lula, it cannot be ignored that his work dwells in a silo of privilege. In the current, polarized tug-of-war mouthing left-this, right-that, support fascism or democracy—dare the imagination recall a single day when Brazil held the status of democracy—voices ruminating as outliers wither away. The binaries at work don’t register their signals.

“Brazil has blacks too?” is a quote attributed to former U.S. president George W. Bush. However, Greenwald too seems to have forgotten that he lives in a country where black people are not only the majority, but have the agency and skills to hold their own in international journalism. This fact is not so much as an afterthought for the bevy of progressive media powers operating in the tropics: the mammoth machine of mainstream and western media at-large tells us who is articulate enough, indeed worldly, mindful, and honest enough to saddle the demands required of international journalism. In its view, people of color, in general, and black people, in particular, lack the wherewithal to assume this role.

Unfortunately, progressive Brazilian news outlets fare no better. The editorial board and international correspondents at Brasil 24/7, Carta Capital, Brasil de Fato, and Pragmatismo Político, to name a few, indicate that their staff is as exclusionary as Bolsonaro’s cabinet members, an issue they hotly opposed. Placing a mirror before his ministers merely reflects the callous, monolithic state of journalism.


Racial democracy vs reality

Last year (2019) the Rio de Janeiro police force set a new record. At least 1,546 people were killed by law enforcement. I emphasize at least because the body count, according to the Instituto de Segurança Pública, is comprised from January to October 2019. Black youths comprised the majority of victims. Does eight-year-old Ágatha Félix ring a bell? Shot in the back, killed by policemen who invaded the Complexo do Alemão favelas on the 20th of September 2019, Rio de Janeiro’s governor, Wilson Witzel, publicly blamed her murder on people who “smoke marijuana.” Daniel Lozoya, a member of Rio de Janeiro’s Public Defenders Office commented “the more the state kills, the more it strikes…young black youths in favelas.”

In 2017, Brazil broke another record. Government figures recorded 63,880 homicides, a number far exceeding annual casualties in countries at war. Despite this bloodbath, the country pampers itself to the inculpable PR tune of racial democracy. Heralded into the public imagination at the turn of the nineteenth century, racial democracy implies that miscegenation between Indigenous people, Africans and Europeans rendered a society free of institutional and picayune racism. Conceptually part and parcel of maintaining Brazil’s hyper-stratified society, it has systematically excluded and kept black people at the dirt end of the socioeconomic totem pole. In modern politics, the few exceptions—Marielle Franco, Talíria Petrone, Benedita da Silva, Áurea Carolina—only validate the rule. Exceptions are even slimmer in international media.

Two boys draw a depiction of the police shooting of 13-year-old girl during a shootout with alleged traffickers in Rio de Janeiro. Leo Correa | AP

In September 2018, Geysson Santos took to the mic of Hip-Hop Sem Maquiagem (Hip-Hop Without Makeup), a podcast hosted by Allison Tiago and produced from the periphery of São Paulo that routinely interviews black activists. He spared no bones in dismantling Brazil’s siloed leadership class and racial democracy. “The role the left purports to do,” Santos stressed, “falls short because they distance themselves from periphery communities.” He pointed out that traditional left-wing political parties have emerged, primarily, from university student movements or workers’ unions. Be they right or left-wing, the directorial makeup of both organizations remain dominated and controlled by Brazil’s privileged white minority.

Santos emphasized that because of their demographic makeup, traditional left-wing and progressive political parties distance themselves from the very communities they wish to salve. In his assessment, these political parties “don’t reflect our image and our day-to-day militancy… I believe vices exist… and it’s difficult for us, those from periphery communities, to take active roles in them… the way Brazil’s left was formed, even the foundation of Brazil itself, established through extreme racism and bureaucracy. So, it becomes a battleground within the left-wing and progressive camps just to discuss issues involving our youth, the genocide perpetrated against our black youth.” As a result, he concluded, “other structures are organized.”

Consigned to the periphery, forced to build “other structures” as Santos eluded to, independent black media outlets in Brazil have amassed significant followings on their websites and social media platforms. Still, news outlets like Alma Preta, Correio Nagȏ, Notícias Pretas, Hip-Hop Sem Maquiagem, CULTNE Acervo, and others lack the hard resources and, consequently, structural reach so readily available to their competitors and self-proclaimed allies. This includes, but not limited to, no funds, not even a pittance of an honorarium for working writers and staff members; research; on-the-ground and investigative reporting; travel; food; and other essentials of the trade. Unlike The Intercept, co-founded by Greenwald and funded by tech billionaire Pierre Omidyar (eBay founder), the aforementioned media outlets operate on shoestring to zero budgets. Meanwhile, salaries at The Intercept “dwarf those at other center-left, non-profit outlets,” according to a 2019 report published by Columbia Journalism Review. In 2015, Greenwald took home $518,000 and, in 2017, The Intercept, which is classified as a public charity, paid $9.3 million in salaries. In fact, “its largesse may force the non-profit side of the company to abandon its IRS charitable status and reclassify itself as a private foundation.”


International media for whose sake?

Before packing my bags and heading to Ecuador a black man asked me, “Are there black people in Ecuador?” This gentleman, an entrepreneur, was older than I and his query aroused great curiosity, to say the least. A few seconds passed. He had combined a sense of innocent naivety in posing his question. I finally responded. The question remains etched firmly in my mind. “Are there black people in Ecuador?”

Media is an extension of pedagogic work. Both are of strategic importance to any people, community, nation. Black and brown people, however, have been and continue to be marginalized in front of and behind the western news lens. It must be well understood that staking our understanding of the world around us on such media outlets, immobilizes, more often than not, the agency demanded of international solidarity. From Fox News to The Intercept Brazil, CNN to Brazil 24/7, right to left-wing and back again, this echo chamber of whiteness has rendered the narratives of black and brown people even more invisible.

Lack of diversity in media is by no means a natural phenomenon. It is not a creationist blip that white bodies must scientifically make right. The responsibility rests in our hands, you and me, to assume the reigns of our stories in order to broaden global perspectives. In doing so we, believe it or not, extend a hand of brother and sisterhood in international diplomacy and relations. If we are remissed, driven solely by careerism, oblivious to the zeal of bonafide world citizens, we will not know that more than one million Afro-Ecuadoreans exist. Most live in the northern province of Esmeraldas and Valle del Chota, as segregated from mainstream Ecuadorean society as a young black man in the Complexo do Alemão favelas in Rio de Janeiro. Ultimately, our knowledge of world events and affairs will remain dependent on and, consequently, stifled by media segregation.

A version of this article was previously published at Model View Culture

Feature photo | Bandeirantes television news reporter, Ernani Alves, right, reacts after his colleague Gelson Domingos was shot during a police operation in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Agencia O Globo | Fernando Quevedo via AP

Julian Cola is a translator (Brazilian-Portuguese to English). A former staff writer at the pan-Latin American news outlet, teleSUR, his articles and essays also appear in Africa is a Country, Black Agenda Report, Truthout, Counterpunch and elsewhere.

The post Snowflakes Hither, Yonder and In the Tropics: Ungentrifying Journalism from Brazil to Ecuador appeared first on MintPress News.