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Dr. Binoy Kampmark is a senior lecturer in the School of Global, Urban and Social Studies, RMIT University. He was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, University of Cambridge. He is a contributing editor to CounterPunch and can be followed at @bkampmark.

Letting the Side Down: Prince Andrew, the Royal Family and Jeffrey Epstein

The choking cloud of Jeffrey Epstein’s paedophilic legacy has been floating over the Atlantic for some time. It does its best (or worst) in matters of US and British celebrity, warts and all. It has not, for instance, exempted the British Royal Family, whose cupboard stocked with misbehaviours and raunchiness got just more crowded with the antics of the Duke of York.

Prince Andrew’s performance on Saturday on the BBC’s Newsnight was an object study of how not to self-exonerate. The prince had been thick with Epstein, though hardly a luminary when compared to that particularly chocked address book. The meetings between them were sufficiently frequent to warrant questions. Madeleine Aggeler reminds us: Mar-a-Lago in 2000; his presence at Epstein’s spacious abode in 2010; the foot massages from “two well-dressed Russian women” in 2013.

But when it came to alleged misdeeds, the prince can count himself high up in the rankings, with one of Epstein’s accusers, Virginia Roberts Giuffre, adamant that she was forced when underage to have sex with the royal on three separate occasions.

In September, it became clear that the FBI was conducting an investigation into Prince Andrew’s Epstein link. As a member of the US Department of Justice revealed, “The US investigation is focusing on several potential victims in the hope that they can provide more details about Prince Andrew and his connection to the Epstein case.”

The level of Buckingham Palace’s seriousness regarding such claims is measured by the degree royal excursions are shortened. The palace has not been quite so sympathetic to Prince Andrew as they might, a point made by the shortening of a golf vacation in Spain over the summer.

Feeling some pressure to make a statement on the matter, the prince took the plunge with Newsnight. It became clear early on that levels of remorse were low.  Knowing Epstein, for instance, had been a “useful” matter. “I wanted to know more about what was going on in the international business world, and so that was another reason for going there.” As for Epstein himself, the prince felt “regret that he quite obviously conducted himself in a manner unbecoming”.

Staying friends with Epstein despite his conviction did niggle, Prince Andrew. He saw little trouble with those regular accusations of Epstein being a sex offender, but once the law had caught up with him, the prince had to “kick” himself “on a daily basis because it was not something that was becoming of a member of the Royal Family and we try and uphold the highest standards and practices and I let the side down, simple as that.”  Trust a royal to deploy a sporting metaphor to paper over misdeeds.

Prince Andrew conceded making errors, but these were more in the case of being caught out. His visit to Epstein in New York in December 2010 had been advertised as their “breakup” meeting, as doing so by phone would have been a “chicken’s way of doing it”. This particular process seemed lengthy and luxuriant, taking four days and a dinner party. Put it down to convenience, explained Prince Andrew, a nice place to crash. Even better, put it down to a matter of honour: “I admit fully that my judgment was probably coloured by my tendency to be too honourable, but that’s just the way it is.”

As for Giuffre, the prince dug in. He had never met her, or at least never recalled doing so. An evening in March 2001 spent at the home of Ghislaine Maxwell, Epstein’s girlfriend and able procurer-in-chief, had escaped his memory, despite a photograph showing the Royal arm clasping Giuffre’s waist. “I’ve said consistently and frequently that we never had any sort of sexual contact whatever. I have no recollection of ever meeting this lady, none whatsoever.” That same royal could apparently bi-locate: while this kanoodling was supposedly taking place, he was at home with his family after a visit to the Pizza Express at Woking with daughter Beatrice.

In a darkly comical effort to sink Giuffre’s claims, notably, one involving both dining and dancing at the Tramp Nightclub in London, Prince Andrew suggested a most curious alibi. Giuffre had recalled profuse sweating. Impossible, retorted the prince. “There’s a slight problem with the sweating because I have a peculiar medical condition which is that I don’t sweat or I didn’t sweat at the time and that was… was it… yes, I didn’t sweat at the time because I had suffered what I would describe as an overdose of adrenaline in the Falklands War when I was shot at”.

Such a specimen devoid of empathy impressed, albeit negatively, the Sunday Mirror.  “No sweat… and no regret.” Read in a different way, Prince Andrew was being the consummate Britannic Royal: incapable of remorse or being flustered. In the face of such impropriety, the prince could summon smiles and even laugh, chided The Guardian.

That said, the prince’s sociopathic tendencies proved catching.  Ex-wife, Sarah Ferguson, only had praise for this man, an unusual species that combines honesty and “pure real truth”, remaining “steadfast and strong to their beliefs.” Perhaps her own degree of combination of pure real truth, with a pinch of honesty, could best be summed up by the assistance Epstein once gave her in the lean years: a gift of $15,000 to tie her over. That’s balance for you.

 

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Open Guidelines: The Foreign Interference Problem in Australian Universities

Education has always been a political matter, whatever the apolitical advocates of it think it is. In Australia, it has proven sectarian, ideological, and skewed, often on the issue of funding. At the schooling level, private institutions receive more worldly goods from the taxpayer than state institutions. It is an absurdity that has become commonplace and unchallengeable.

At the university level, Australia’s increasingly muddled and confused institutions are facing various crises in terms of an over reliance on foreign student numbers and, it must be said, an encroachment upon academic freedoms. The hoodwinked within these places assume that the threat is external: the personal interference of education ministers, for instance, in the awarding of grants.

Now, the political interference engineered by other states if figuring heavily in discussions that serve only one purpose: the greater regulation of academic life. In August this year, Education Minister Dan Tehan established the grandly named University Foreign Interference Taskforce “to provide better protection for universities against foreign interference.”

The one state that loomed large shadowing the entire affair was the People’s Republic of China, though the bureaucratic scribblers have been careful to avoid any direct finger pointing. In recent months, Beijing’s influence, actual or purported, has been alleged on Australian university campuses. Much publicity has been given to clashes between pro-democracy Hong Kong protesters and pro-mainland opponents. In July, a particularly violent encounter took place in the Great Court of the University of Queensland, featuring a range of attacks including acts of vandalism on the so-called Lennon Wall of solidarity. Such campus encounters have had the legs to make it on the US news circuit, figuring both in the Washington Post and Vice. Australia’s main ally, in other words, has taken note.

Australian universities have also been targets of cyber attacks. In November 2018, an email was sent to a senior staff member working at the Australian National University. Opening the email resulted in the attaining of access to the ANU network. The university subsequently decided that some 15 individuals have been involved in the operation deemed, in the words of ABC reporter Stephanie Borys, “so sophisticated” as to leave “the nation’s leading security experts shocked.” While ANU tiptoed around the issue of attribution, Tom Uren of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) nailed his colours to the mast. “It’s likely to be China, frankly, they’ve got strong interests in Australia for a number of different reasons.”

China continues to remain Australia’s Big Yellow Bogeyman, keeping watchful eye and occasionally mauling cybersecurity. Universities in Australia have also been accused of providing shelter for research that has been put to rather invidious ends. Both the University of Technology Sydney and Curtin University announced reviews on funding and research approval procedures in July after links with the PRC-owned CETC, a military tech company, were scrutinised. CETC, it transpires, had developed an app for the benefit of Chinese security forces to target Uighur citizens in Xinjiang.

In August, Alex Joske of the APSI teased out the implications of links between Koala AI Technology, a Chinese artificial intelligence start-up staffed by Australian-educated scientists, and the University of Queensland. The broader lesson here, he argues is that “Western universities and even government funding may be used to help carry out research as well as train, fund and recruit AI-enabled state surveillance.”

The problems in pursuing such regulations are evident from the start. What constitutes measurable interference? An audacious cyber-hack is one thing; but research that crosses boundaries and disciplines are not so easily assessed. Numerous cross-collaboration ventures between university staff in Australia and those in other countries take place. The measure, then, of what constitutes an unwarranted intrusion is hard to make. Given that much technology serves a dual-use purpose, the problems become even more pressing. According to the Vice-Chancellor of University of Sydney Michael Spence, “you don’t stop making kitchen knives just because they can be used to murder someone.”

Besides all that universities, certainly those based upon the US-model, have served to be annexes and extensions of the military industrial-corporate complex, making a mockery of the very idea of interference as a viable concept. What matters is whose complex one is feeding and who is permitted that degree of meddling.

The Taskforce’s role was to investigate four areas of interest: cyber-security in terms of boosting resilience against “unauthorised access, manipulation, disruption or damage”; the deterrence of “undue influence, unauthorised disclosure or disruption to our research, intellectual property, and research community, while protecting academic freedom”; the issue of foreign collaboration to ensure transparency, “undertaken with full knowledge and consent, and in a manner that avoids harm to Australia’s interests”; and culture and communication “to foster a positive security culture” regarding “research and cyber resiliency.”

The guidelines were released this month, and give the reader a set of hashed observations. “These guidelines recognise university autonomy. They are not intended to be prescriptive.” Not exactly persuasive, that. The authors acknowledge that the universities already have a pre-existing structure in place “to ensure a positive security culture.” (Why bother, then?) But the guidelines note that universities should “outline the requirements for staff, students, contractors and honorary staff engaging in international collaboration, proportionate to the risk.” Foreign interference threats are to be incorporated into existing frameworks, with necessary authorities overseeing “security risks and are responsible for risk mitigation strategies.”

Universities are encouraged to do their homework on the background of research partners and their links with foreign governments. Research, for instance, might be manipulated or altered “into particular areas.” Greater scrutiny of funding sources is also suggested. Reporting mechanisms designed to prevent a subversion of freedom of speech are advanced as necessary precautions. The policing of student populations is also outlined as a problem worth targeting.

What this particular circus of political indulgence does is ignore far more critical problems within the university, which has bred its own threats that have little to do with Beijing, Moscow or any interfering aspirant. From the Vice-Chancellors to underqualified heads of department, ideas are being murdered in the cradle. Expression is being drowned by a mindless form of spread-sheet fascism: if you cannot reduce the intellect to power points, dots of merciless mediocrity, you simply won’t cut the mustard. You are a threat to be silenced, forced to eat the sludge of a bumpkin class.

The guidelines have provided management gluttons a perfect chance to expand. It is worth noting that the guidelines were themselves developed with the acknowledged assistance of managerial heavy weights and cerebral lightweights: Vice-Chancellors from University of Newcastle, La Trobe University, University of Queensland and RMIT University and a range of grey suits in the guise of the CEO of Universities Australia Catriona Jackson and Chief Executive Vicki Thompson of the Group of Eight.

The agitprop has already been drizzling from various university bureaucrats. Vice-Chancellor of Curtin University Deborah Terry provides a fine example of this. “The intent is not to add to the regulatory or compliance burden of universities, nor to contravene university autonomy – but to enhance resources and intelligence to further safeguard our people, research and technology.”

The prospect for needless, wasteful employment in universities is very much in the offing. With such guidelines come job creation opportunities: the need for a team comprising a vacuous pro-vice chancellor who, in turn needs equally vacuous deputies and deputy deputies. Such ventures only bleed funding and serve no purpose other than self-aggrandizement on the part of management, much of which can be done away with at the stroke of a pen. No one, apart from happy accountants, would notice the difference.

If the education minister can be thankful for one thing, the guff about interference will serve to create employment in the worst monstrosities of the tertiary sector. With a fall of student numbers, Australian universities will face another deserved crisis, much of it of their own making. In the meantime, fortifying universities against the terror of external interference will be embraced with fatuous reverence.

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Business as Usual: Evo Morales and the Coup Condition

There is an inherent bestiality in the politics of the Americas that signals coup, assassination and disruption. No state is ever allowed to go through what is weakly called a transition, except over corpses, tortures and morgues. When a social experiment is conducted, rulers must ensure their wills are well inked ahead of time. Opponents, often funded and sponsored by external powers with an umbilical chord to Washington, lie in wait, hoping for an unequal status quo.

Evo Morales is no winged angel and much can be said about him getting drunk with power over the course of 14 years. He lost a February 2016 referendum on the subject of indefinite presidential re-elections by a slight majority. It took the October 20 election result, dismissed by his opponents as fraudulent, to galvanise the movement against him. The Organization of American States (OAS) decided to weigh in on the subject, claiming in its audit that the result could not be deemed accurate.

During his time in office, he did a certain bit of enlightening that cannot go past the economists and demographers. Even Time magazine had to concede that, as the country’s first indigenous head-of-state, “he oversaw an economic boom, a massive reduction in poverty and strides in social equality, earning him high approval ratings and three consecutive election wins.” But the social changers are always bound for the chop, their heads placed upon some platform for removal by those with deep pockets, corporate sponsorship and the tutored thugs from the School of the Americas.

The Morales exit would be described as a coup in most languages. Generals appearing on television demanding the removal of a civilian head of state would suggest as much. On Sunday, the calls were becoming particularly loud. In a short time, Morales was on a plane to Cochabamba, adding his name to the chocked bibliography of coups that South America is renown for (The last was the military ousting in 2009 of Honduran president Manuel Zelaya.)

But he who manufactures the press releases and opinion columns manufactures reality. As Alan Macleod in Jacobin points out, various US outlets had little interest, nor stomach, for the term. Morales had “resigned” according to the ABC. The New York Times drew attention to an “infuriated population” incensed by his efforts at “undermining democracy” while also noting the term resignation. Both Morales and his vice president, Álvaro García Linera “admitted no wrongdoing and instead insisted that they were victims of a coup.”

Any legitimacy on the part of Morales’s position in office was dismissed by the acceptance on the part of such networks as CNN that there were “accusations of election fraud.” CBS News accepted it as a point of record.  This particular tendency repeats instances of coverage in other elections – take the re-election of Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro in 2018 as a case in point. Former Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez expressed little doubt about the credibility of that result as did dozens of foreign electoral observers.  “It is an advanced automatic voting system.” But why bother about international observers when removing an irritating leftist leader is so much more fun?

Other states also showed various shades of enthusiasm for the removal. Brazil’s government, despite taking heart at the forced departure of the Bolivian leader, played the no coup card. Given that Brazil was to host the governments of Russia, India, China and South Africa, it paid to be a bit cautious. The foreign minister Ernesto Araújo wanted to get his opinions out of the way prior to the arrival of any Evo enthusiasts, suggesting that Morales had engaged in “massive electoral fraud.” It followed that, “There was no coup in Bolivia.”

Corporate America, soundly and boisterously perched at the Wall Street Journal, suggested a “democratic breakout in Bolivia”, a truly risible proposition given that corporations are distinctly anti-democratic by nature. But there was concern: “Eva Morales resigns but he’ll use the Cuba-Chávez playbook to return.” The key to ensure the country’s “immediate future” depended, in no small part, “on its ability to hold new elections and reinstate a legitimate government.”

US policy wonks and officials were merry. “These events,” went a statement from the White House, “send strong signals to the illegitimate regimes in Venezuela and Nicaragua that democracy and the will of the people will always prevail.” Even, it would seem, at the end of a gun barrel sported by the officer class. As ever, the concept of “the people” lacks meaning in such pronouncements, given the innumerable attempts on the part of Washington to destroy that very will throughout Latin America.

A dark note is struck in the linking of both people and the military, with the uniformed gatekeepers praised for their calm in protecting that fetish long revered in US circles. “The United States applauds the Bolivian people for demanding freedom and the Bolivian military for abiding by its oath to protect not just a single person, but Bolivia’s constitution.” All efforts at social reform, improving literacy and uplifting programs become the stuff of a deluded maniac who, for 14 years, ignored the “will of the people” and usurped legal strictures.

The Bolivian order was always going to be vulnerable. But as with other states strangled by the policies of austerity imposed by the International Monetary Fund, the savage dogma of privatisation, the mania with the balanced budget at the expense of poverty eradication, and a distinct lack of interest in social improvement, Bolivia found, for a time, efforts to improve its lot. Across the Americas, a trend of reversal is in evidence, and the departure of Morales is its testament.

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Incinerating Logic: Bushfires and Climate Change

Despite the Internet, connectivity, and linking technologies, distance has not shrunk the Australian sense of self, an often provincial appraisal of the world seen in slow motion and stills. Whether it’s the “flower revolution” or Michel Foucault, trends and ideas are often delayed, and seem almost cutely anachronistic by the time they make landfall down under. Wedded to the insatiable urge to reap, rent and remove from the earth, and you have the ultimate myopic: Australia, the exceptional country, outside the stream of history and, dare it be said, the inconveniences of science.

With some 11,000 scientists warning that planet Earth “clearly and unequivocally faces a climate emergency”, some sense of it was registered on the Australian political scene, if only barely. The “World Scientists’ Warning of a Climate Emergency” published in BioScience does not shy away from the language of catastrophe and emergency. “Despite 40 years of global climate negotiations… we have generally conducted business as usual and have largely failed to address this predicament.” Climate change had not merely arrived but bulldozed itself into recognition, “accelerating faster than many scientists expected.”

The authors and signatories suggest that, “An immense increase of scale in endeavours to conserve our biosphere is needed to avoid untold suffering due to the climate crisis.” Public debates on the subject of climate change had mostly focused on global surface temperature, a clearly inadequate approach that avoids “the breath of human activities and the real dangers stemming from a warming planet.”

Areas of urgent redress were also suggested. Energy efficiency and a reduction in the use of fossil fuels are high on the list. “We need a carbon-free economy that explicitly addresses human dependence on the biosphere and policies that guide economic decisions accordingly.” The call for a change of language is encouraged: rhetoric of GDP growth and affluence needs to be replaced by sustainability “and improving human well-being by prioritizing basic needs and reducing inequality.” Not exactly music for the muscular fossil fuel lobby.

Another song sheet that would not have impressed the fossil fuel industries was an event that barely disturbed the press releases. This month, the National Electricity Market in Australia received a contribution from wind, solar and hydro energy amounting to half of the total energy production. Rooftop solar contributions came in at 23.7 per cent, with wind (15.7 per cent), large-scale solar (8.8 per cent) and hydro (1.9 per cent) bringing up the rear.

With the release of the report, Australia braced itself for the incinerating fury of bush fires that have arrived earlier this season. The state of New South Wales is anticipating what the Rural Fire Services Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons describes as “the most dangerous bushfire week this nation has ever seen.”

The warnings were already pressing through the policy pipeline in the last decade. The National Inquiry on Bushfire Mitigation and Management’s 2004 report to the Council of Australian Government warned that, “Fires’ frequency, intensity and size are expected to increase under climate change as temperatures rise, rainfall variability increases, droughts become more severe and ecosystem dynamics alter, resulting in changed biomass fuel loads and types.”

The authors of the report go on to suggest that “projected hotter, drier and windier conditions associated with climate change caused by greenhouse warming would extend the period of fuel drying and increase rates of fire spread.”

Earlier this year, former NSW Fires Chief Greg Mullins and 22 other emergency honchos warned Prime Minister Morrison of the dangers that would face Australia this summer, suggesting that the government meet to discuss some form of action against risks of conflagration. The meeting has yet to take place, leaving such politicians as Adam Bandt, the Greens MP for Melbourne, certain that Morrison “bears some responsibility and must apologise to the communities impacted.”

Various Australian politicians, as then, were having none of it. Charged with the task of keeping a plunderer’s lifestyle in perpetuity, the well-fed pigs in clover, the following words of the BioScience report sit uncomfortably with members of the Morrison government. “The climate crisis is closely linked to excessive consumption of the wealthy lifestyle. The most affluent countries are mainly responsible for the historical GHG emissions and generally have the greatest per capita emissions.”

The Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack preferred some tea and sympathy in responding to the victims of the fires, not policy and prognosis. “They don’t need the ravings of some pure enlightened and woke capital city greenies at this time when they are trying to save their homes.”

McCormack’s primary target was the Green party itself, which he accused of fiddling politically while Australia burned. “That’s what Adam Bandt, and the Greens, and Richard Di Natale, and all those other inner-city raving lunatics – and quite frankly, that’s how he was carrying on yesterday – that’s what they want, we’re not going to go down that path.”

Other politicians have adopted a similar approach: the now is what matters, and never mind previous failings and future disasters. NSW Premier Gladys Berejikilian provided the stellar example. “For any of us on the ground, speaking to people traumatised, speaking to people fighting fires for weeks… know exactly what the priorities should be, and that is saving life and property.” Climate change, in other words, was something for another day, another slot in the packed meeting schedule.

Morrison reiterated the position. He was “focused on the needs of the people.” He spoke of having “firefighters out there saving someone else’s house while their own house is burning down, and when we are in that sort of situation, that is where attention must be.”

Mayors from the areas most affected by the recent conflagration have been crankily unimpressed by the platitudes. Climate change literature, they surmise, is being assiduously avoided by the government. The unfortunately named Carol Sparks, Mayor of Glen Innes, site of two deaths over the weekend, suggested that McCormack needed “to read the science, and that is what I am going by, is the science.” Forget, suggested the mayor, the politics here. Science had imposed its cold, objective hand on the matter. Mid Coast Mayor Claire Pontin was similarly riled, notably by suggestions that fires were the staple of Australian life and landscape. “We’ve not had situations like that. Fifty years ago, this would never happen.”

There are few incentives for humanity to adapt than through the infliction of catastrophic conditions. Pandemics, world wars and existential risk have done their bit in propelling change. But luxury produces complacency; well fed bellies induce sloth. Come the writing of humanity’s extensive biography of preying on the planet, Australia and its political classes will have much to answer for.

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Russian Connections in Albion: The ISC Report

The UK election campaign has kicked off, and merrily confused are the major candidates. The chaotic scene was made a touch more interesting with the refusal on the part of UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson to clear the release of a report by the intelligence and security committee on claimed Russian interference in British politics.

This did not impress the committee’s chairman Dominic Grieve, the Labour Party and the Scottish National Party. Shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornbury, speaking in the Commons on Tuesday, wondered what the government had “to hide”. In the absence of an explanation, the suggestion was that No 10 was cooking something smelly, and behind well-sealed doors.

News outlets have been left to speculate about the delay. The suggestion that the findings could damage the Conservatives is top of the list. “We know the report looks at a wide range of Russian activity – ranging from traditional espionage to subversion – and not just in the UK,” suggests Gordon Corera of the BBC. We also know that the report draws from figures within the intelligence community – MI5, MI6, GCHQ – and a number of selected experts.

But the scale of such interference, in terms of cyber infiltration and electoral meddling, has been questioned. This has not filled such individuals as Paddy McGuinness, former deputy national security adviser, with much confidence. Reforms in terms of transparency and the handling of data by political parties, he insists, should be of utmost importance.

Ones hypothesis doing the Whitehall crawl is the idea that the Kremlin has its paws over various notable Conservatives. This point was already being made last year when it was revealed that Sergey Nabolin of the Russian embassy had been keeping company with members of cabinet at London’s Hurlingham Club in 2014 at one of those rather expensive shindigs. (Nabolin, it had been noted, had gone so far as to call Johnson “our good friend”.) The next year, Nabolin’s diplomatic visa was revoked. Much handwringing ensued.

The exploits of Nabolin were noted by Paul Staines in The Spectator. He networked vigorously – though that could hardly be held against a person from the embassy, whose job it is to find the places, the spots, and the pulses of life in the host country. But the Hurlingham Club was another matter. “The security is extremely tight, and the guest list closely vetted, because guests mingle with the PM and cabinet ministers.” There was an unmistakable sense that Russian money was washing through, and that the link with the Conservatives was but as element of the entire picture.

The Sunday Times has made the claim that nine Russian business people who have donated money to the Conservative Party have been named in the ISC document. These include Alexander Temerko, whose previous employment includes a stint in the Kremlin’s defence ministry. Over the last seven years, his wallet has brought forth some £1.2 million for the Conservatives.

Johnson, it must be said, has also enjoyed himself at various gatherings with Russians of note.  While flying the British flag as foreign secretary, he spent time at an Italian villa with Evgeny Lebedev playing host. This might not have seemed that strange: Johnson had been an editor of The Spectator magazine; Lebedev runs the Evening Standard. But this has not stopped the tittering. The obvious point here is that politicians, notably the foreign minister, are bound to do this sort of thing, though post-2016 politics is filled with association and innuendo. To meet is to be complicit.

Johnson’s senior advisor, Dominic Cummings, has also made it into the ring of speculation. Between 1994 and 1997, he spent time in Russia, though not much is known of his stint. Nothing to get too excited about, but the point has drawn Thornbury’s interest, who has pressed the government with certain queries by letter. “I would assume that – given the seniority of  his position and the influence it gives him over decision-making at the top of government – that he was subject to the highest level of developed vetting (DV) and that – as a result – he is able to study ‘top secret’ intelligence and attend meetings on the UK’s military and security operations overseas.” If history is an aid to anything in this regard, such vetting processes are bound to count for little: class and education speak volumes, substance, less so. (The quibbler is bound to suggest that Oxford doesn’t do a good line in industrious traitors the way Cambridge does.)

Grieve is concerned that the letter of convention is not being followed with regards the report. “The protocols are quite clear. If the prime minister has a good reason for preventing publication he should explain to the committee what it is, and do it within 10 days of him receiving the report. If not, it should be reported.”

Chancellor Sajid Javid, in responding to this battle of formalities, is making the claim that normal process is being observed; nothing here to see, move on. But he is obviously being charged with the task of deflecting any claims that a Tory-Russian nexus of influence exists. He stressed the point on the BBC’s Andrew Marr programme. “When it comes to party donors, whether it is the Conservative Party or any other party, there are very strict rules that need to be followed and of course we will always follow those rules.”

Such an assertion is fairly meaningless, returning back to the basics of a gentleman’s old school understanding. They might give us money, but don’t worry yourselves about it, dear electors: this is money without influence. “I’m sure as sure as I can be,” insists Javid. “I’m absolutely sure in terms of our party and I am very confident about how we are funded and we are very transparent about that.” The ISC report might well suggest a different story and, Russia or not, donations do buy influence in politics, however gauged.

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Walls in the Head: Ostalgia and the Berlin Wall Three Decades Later

Walls have always served a dual purpose: they keep people in, and others out. The mentality of the wall is one of imprisonment and exclusion. Three decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall, we see such infrastructure, both symbolically and in actuality, potent.

On August 13, 1961, the German Democratic Republic began construction of the structure officially dubbed the Antifaschistischer Schutzwall ostensibly to keep fascism at bay. More astute observers felt that this was a survival strategy, one initiated to halt the flow of GDR residents to the West to prevent the disintegration of the state. It seemed, to use Neal Ascherson’s words, “a piece of sadism in concrete”, but possessed a certain cruel logic arising out of great power constipation to come to a solution without conflict. It was also very much a statement of GDR general secretary Erich Honecker’s own view that socialism and capitalism were essentially irreconcilable opposites, as fire and water.

According to Frederick Taylor, who visited Berlin in 1965 as a school boy, the wall and the state that created it were expressions of power, pure and simple. “East Germany, I realised, might pretend to be the workers’ paradise, but when you came down to it and put to one side the free nursery-school places… the place was about power.  Unrestrained, unmitigated power. The kind of power that could build a wall to keep 17 million people captive.”

The captives, in turn, did what asylum seekers and refugees do now: pay for flight; seek sponsorship for illegal exits; speculate about how best to tunnel under the infrastructure of death. The fatalities during the period of the Wall’s standing is put at 140, though this figure also takes into account the deaths of eight East German border guards and those who, despite not intending to flee, also suffered death.

Eventually, history proved its own corrosive agent, making apertures in the foundation that led to the opening of the barrier on November 9, 1989. The previous month, the Soviet Union’s last leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, was attending festivities in East Berlin commemorating the fortieth anniversary of the GDR’s foundation. “As I stood on the nostrum, greeting the columns of participants in the parade,” he reflected, “I felt almost physically the people’s discontent.” Not even a handpicked parade could dispel that sense.

Few then would forget the press conference in East Berlin presided over by the Socialist Unity Party media spokesman Günter Schabowski.  It was one riddled with uncertainty, given the increasing number of East Germans who had been fleeing to the West that summer. What, for instance, did he mean by the making of permanent exit applications that might be done immediately? It brought forth a media storm, and eventually, the words of a functionary became the wisdom of permissive movement, with media outlets such as Reuters and Associated Press deducing that the borders between the GDR the Federal Republic had been opened. With the Soviet Union keeping its soldiers in barracks, despite pleas for interference from the GDR leadership, the process for the dissolution of both the wall and the state commenced.

The removal of such barriers served a structural purpose, but did not result in total catharsis; psychic disturbances gnawed and remained. East Germans had lost their sense of home, the ridding of their Heimat as a biographical aberration; West Germans had to shoulder their poorer cousins, something done with mixed generosity. As an East German dissident remarked on the GDR’s absorption into the Federal Republic, “Yes, West Germany has swallowed us, but soon it will be having indigestion.” Novelist Peter Schneider described the condition in exemplary fashion as “the wall within the head.”

It did not take much time for some form of nostalgia, born of disaffection, to take root. West German firms preferred to focus to their patch, feeling little obligation to invest in the east.  Besides, East German labour could be called upon to swell their ranks. The ill-regarded Treuhandanstalt, or Handover Agency, was tasked with the mass privatisation of enterprises, a cumbersome legalistic process that consumed viable concerns while also embedding corruption. This left a telling legacy: no notable companies have their headquarters in the East.

In 2001, then president of the German parliament and deputy leader of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) Wolfgang Thierse warned that, “Any honest appraisal must establish that East Germany’s social and economic situation is approaching the brink.” Its de-industrialisation and underdevelopment had led to the region moving from one “in transition” to becoming a “second rate [area] in perpetuity.” The former GDR had become, essentially, an internalised colony.

East Germans came to be seen as a drain. Productivity fell in agriculture, machine production and textiles. Unemployment rose, as did emigration. (In 2018, the average unemployment in the former GDR was 6.9 percent; in the West, 4.8 percent). The political conditions were duly created for a spike in nationalist sentiment. Resentment found, and continues to find voice, at the polling booth. In 2017, the right wing Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) stormed onto the German political scene by winning 94 seats in the Bundestag. It also succeeded in pushing Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives into third place in regional elections in Thuringia. But gains have also been made by the left party, Die Linke.

In less belligerent and political form, nostalgia became Ostalgia for products from the GDR and their consumption: mustard from Bautzen, Spreewald gherkins, ClubCola, and Rotkäppchen sparkling wine from Freyburg. The marketization of such products has become capitalism’s great rebuke: the system in that form, at least, has won, and reduces all opposition and contradiction by way of a consumerist act. Memories can be purchased; historical re-enactments can be rented.

Beyond the market system lies ideology as concrete and barriers: the state keen to control the movement of populations; the state niggled by fears of losing control of borders. Walls are torn down, but also have a lingering habit of remaining in mind and material. The Berlin Wall is gone, but Germany, and Europe, is in the process of erecting new ones.

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Charter for Conservatism: The ALP Campaign Review

Reports on electoral strategies are often written in order to be avoided. They are scripted for the express purpose of gathering dust on shelves, or decaying in digital files rarely to be consulted except by historians. But the review of the reasons why the Australian Labor Party lost the May 2019 Australian federal election was deemed of particular interest. Authored by Jay Weatherill and Craig Emerson, the report was harsh. “Labor lost the election because of a weak strategy that could not adapt to the change in Liberal leadership, a cluttered policy agenda that looked risky and an unpopular leader.” The authors advance 60 findings and 26 recommendations.

The review does make relevant and cogent points. The campaign was deeply flawed: dissenters and contrarians concerned that Labor was not making the progress needed to win government were dissuaded. Victory would surely be inevitable. But with the campaign barely a week old, the primary vote had fallen to 34 per cent, with Labor coming out on the two-party vote with 47 per cent. This was at odds with the optimistic magic that seemed to be coming from internal polling, with Labor set to secure 37 to 38 per cent of the primary vote in marginal seats, and nab 51 per cent of the two-party vote.

Having Shorten as leader was a handicap. Six years which had included seeing off two prime ministers had taken a toll on popularity. (This ignores the obvious point that Shorten was never popular.) He was also “attacked through an enormously expensive campaign funded by Clive Palmer, which dovetailed into the Coalition’s campaign.” The review did concede that, especially when it came to Queensland, the opposition leader fared poorly, especially when compared with Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

The review suggests taking a battering ram to centralised campaigning. “Success is likely to require a campaign culture that is less centralised and encourages a greater diversity of views and more robust internal debates – to reflect the increasing diversity of Labor’s constituency from inner-city voters to those living in outer-urban, regional and country communities.” Australian regionalism, in other words, must become a serious feature of ALP policies.

One of those manifestations is a nod in favour of preserving such beasts as coal mining, thereby giving the renewables sector a generous shove off. The stranglehold of the resource sector is secure. “Labor should recognise coal mining will be an Australian industry into the foreseeable future and develop regional jobs plans based on the competitive strengths of different regions.” The stance taken by the party on the Adani coal mine project “combined with some anti-coal rhetoric, devastated its support in the coal mining communities of regional Queensland and the Hunter Valley.”

On the policy front, the report did not single out the tax policies as being, in of themselves, costly. What mattered was their complexity and their message, lost in the Coalition megaphone approach designed to foster “anxieties among insecure, low-income couples in outer-urban and regional Australia”.

An important point made by such commentators as Katharine Murphy is that the broad church of Labor is fracturing. The view of the congregants are at odds with each other; the high priests are not sure what line their sermons should take. “The central question of the review,” poses Murphy, “is how does Labor fuse its increasingly divided core constituencies – those constituencies being blue-collar workers and affluent metropolitan progressives?”

The reviewers have their own existential assessment. “Success in resolving this dilemma will first require Labor to acknowledge it exists. It will require Labor to devote the necessary time and energy as a party to address it.” The party had “been increasingly mobilised to address the political grievances of a vast and disparate constituency.” A certain core of “working people” facing “economic dislocation caused by technological change will lose faith in Labor if they do not believe the Party is responding to their needs, instead of being preoccupied with issues not concerning them or that are actively against their interests.”

Such analyses tend to contain a mandatory amount of self-flagellation. But the report’s sense of electoral contrition risks dulling the policy making arm of the party, giving the apparatchiks further reason to be more conservative. The focus there will be to push the party further into coalition territory and the political right, thereby making them even less appealing than they already are. Why go for Labor when you can get the true Conservative with reactionary trimmings?

Labor has already become the hostage of the poll meter, the statistical projection, the party factional machine. The Gillard-Rudd years were symptomatic of adjustments that did little to project a party secure about itself, and everything to suggest that demons of contradiction had taken residence in the castle. The poll dictated the policy, rather than policy driving the polls.  Fearful party factions, knives at the ready, did the rest.

The report does little to discourage that, even if it does suggest faults in the internal polling system of the party. Do not dare to dare, as it were. Restrain yourself: the electorate needs generalities, not complexities.

Australian politics lost its shine some time ago – if, indeed, it ever had it – obsessed as it is by various measures of the pragmatic and reactionary. This review is bound to re-enforce such tendencies, extinguishing any social democratic embers that might be lingering. But an important group who resist sufficient chastisement remain the pollsters who persist in their mawkish way to parade figures supposedly obtained with the highest degree of accuracy. The influence of such modern astrologers must be curbed.

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Corporate Mammon: Amazon and the Seattle Council Elections

An enduring US political tradition was in evidence in Seattle recently. Amazon had decided that the city council elections would be too important to leave alone. Seattle was their city after all. The aim of the company was much in keeping with the manor lord who prosecutes keen poachers: fund pro-business candidates sympathetic to its cause and defeat such Amazon critics as Kshama Sawant in their hometown.

Councilmember Sawant has become something of a minor celebrity and hate figure in Seattle political circles, having battled for a $15 minimum wage in 2014, and promoted the merits of an employee head tax in 2018. That tax policy, entailing a levy of $275 per employee on Seattle businesses making more than $20 million a year, was duly repealed in the face of heartily aggressive business opposition. Amazon preferred the blackmailing solution, floating the suggestion that it might leave Seattle, and halting construction projects. The seeds of fear were sown.

Business figures justified their opposition on the grounds that taxes are not solutions. Homelessness, for one, did not abate. When invited to participate in a task force seeking explore possible “progressive sources of revenue” in 2017, local businesses turned up their noses at the chance. According to Heather Redman of the venture capital firm Flying Fish Partners, this was so because “it was showing up to something where you are going to be yelled at, and you will not be listened to.”

In the scheme of things, Amazon was throwing a modest sum in this campaign: $1.45 million to the Civic Alliance for a Sound Economy (CASE), a political action committee proudly supported by Seattle’s chamber of commerce. CASE, in turn, was backing candidates in seven seats of the nine member city council, hiring canvassers for door knocking efforts and purchasing advertisements. Whatever crumbs Amazon offered the Super PAC in question dwarfed its donation from four years ago, an alms-for-the-poor $25,000.

The funding spike by Amazon did not go unnoticed in the federal scene. This was Corporate Mammon having a splash, and presidential aspirants Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren were concerned. Last month, Sanders noted that, “In a city struggling with homelessness, Amazon is dropping an outrageous amount of money to defeat progressive candidates fighting for working people.” Amazon’s conduct was “a perfect example of the out-of-control corporate greed we are going to end.”

Senator Warren openly expressed her support “with the Seattle council members and activists who continue standing up to Amazon.” This also gave her a chance to reiterate her point that, “Corporations aren’t people, and I have a plan to get big money out of politics.” US Rep. Pramila Jayapal was similarly troubled, claiming that Amazon had placed, “Not just a thumb, but a fistful of cash, on the scales of democracy.”

Amazon spokesman Aaron Toso responded the way of all companies who wish to diddle democracy: cite efficiency, smooth running operations and the merits of business acumen. “We are engaging in this election because we want Seattle to have a city government that works. Seattle deserves a council that delivers results for all of its residents on issues that matter, like homelessness, transportation, climate change and public safety.”

This rather cheeky take is elementary enough: Amazon will get candidates across the line who will be more active supposedly tackling problems that Amazon helped, if not create then certainly feed. Progressive candidates and incumbents can be accordingly blamed for not addressing homelessness and having a fetish for regulations and the deity of red tape. But the reason behind the company’s response lies in the ills of taxation: why tax these great American patriots who do so much for the reputation of Seattle?

Amazon is certainly correct in pointing out that opposing candidates have also received their donations. Being the United States, land of speaking money and action committees, funding has also been forthcoming from venture capitalist Nick Hausner, service workers unions, and hotel worker union Unite Here.

Nothing, however, can quite compare to the scale of Amazon’s influence, which amounts to an uncivil religion of sorts. Akin to a monstrous church organisation, it can afford to sin and forgive sinning. It offers dispensations and punishments. It can also absolve itself. One such gesture came in the form of building a homeless shelter crudely described as “state-of-the-art” (because you know they are worth it). Its singular feature? Being located in an Amazon corporate building. A charming move for a company famously resistant to paying its share of tax.

The council race has not quite gone the way of Amazon. On Tuesday, the CEO of the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, Marilyn Strickland, proved hesitant in making any pronouncements. “Tonight’s initial returns are not definitive enough to call these close races.”

Seattle City councilmember Lorena Gonzalez was more forward in an interview with KIRO Radio. “This is not a city council that the Chamber and Amazon wanted or expected to see after (their) investment.” The corporate dollar had not stretched with conviction.

Sawant has made a good fist of things despite initially trailing in District 3 by more than 8 points. “We faced an onslaught of corporate cash,” she explained to supporters at an election night party.  “If anything we underestimated the brazenness of (Amazon CEO Jeff) Bezos, corporate real estate, and big business.” After Thursday’s ballot drop, she was within 2.5 points of challenger Egan Orion. But irrespective of what happens in District 3, the role of Amazon in this electoral contest is symptomatic of a broader, and biting issue of US politics. Companies have no need to run for office to change policies inimical to their revenue; they just have to buy the relevant elected chamber. That said, voters of the more progressive persuasion can at least take heart that such efforts of purchase do not always succeed.

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Curfew Panda

It seems a tall, ambitious and very authoritarian order: imposing bans on persons under the age of 18 from playing online games between 22:00 and 08:00; rationing gaming on weekdays to 90 minutes and three hours on holidays and weekends. This is the response of the People’s Republic of China to fears that video game addiction must be combated, less with modest treatment regimes than the curfew method. Perhaps more importantly, the aim here, as with other systems of state surveillance, is to create a system of verification matching a user’s identity with government data.

The guidelines also seek to restrict the money minors can spend on online games – those between 8 and 16 are permitted additions of $29 in digital gaming outlay each month. Those between 16 and 18 can add $57. Teachers, parents and the good authorities are also encouraged to influence the gaming habits of the young. Onward principled instructors.

Video gaming, with its virtual communities, has created worlds of isolation. As John Lanchester would observe in 2009, “There is no other medium that produces so pure a cultural segregation as video games, so clean-cut a division between the audience and the non-audience.” When the video-gamer has made an appearance in cultural discourses, it has usually been as a spectacular horror story, violence on screen begetting violence off screen. This nexus remains forced but no less convincing for the morally concerned.

The concern now is less that minors will rush off and gun down their peers than dissipate themselves in cerebral sludge and apathy. In November 1982, the US Surgeon General C. Everett Koop declared his personal war on video games, which offered “nothing constructive” and consumed the “body and soul” of their users. While having no evidence at the time about the effect of such games on children, he, according to the New York Times, “predicted statistical evidence would be forthcoming soon from the health care fields.”

The current literature is peppered with warnings that the Internet has ceased being the rosy frontier of freedom and very much the hostage taker of controls and desires. Freedom has become vegetate and dulled; users have become narcotised. In 2012, Daria J. Kuss and Mark D. Griffiths in Brain Sciences observed that, over “the past decade, research has accumulated suggesting that excessive Internet use can lead to the development of a behavioural addiction.” Such an addiction “had been considered a serious threat to mental health and the excessive use of the Internet has been linked to a variety of negative psychosocial consequences.”

The review of 18 studies by Kuss and Griffiths makes for despairing reading. Neural circuitry is adjusted via internet and gaming addiction (“neuroadaptation and structural changes”); behaviourally, gaming addicts suggest constriction “with regards to their cognitive functioning in various domains.” But as with everything else such studies on claimed influence and corruption face the usual sceptical rebukes; research is criticised, if not ignored altogether, for being heavy with biases and distortions.

We are left with such non-committal observations as those of Pete Etchells, who makes the rather dull point in Lost in a Good Game that, “There are as yet no universal or conclusive truths about what researches do or do not know about the effects that video games have on us.” Etchells certainly does his best in underscoring the good effects, claiming that “video game play is one of the most fundamentally important activities we can take part in.” Consider, for instance, escapism when facing the death of a parent.

Such views have not impressed the World Health Organisation, which has come down firmly on the side of the anti-gaming puritans. The body has added its voice to the debate, describing such addiction rather discouragingly as “gaming disorder”. It is “defined in the 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) as a pattern of gaming behaviour (‘digital-gaming’ or ‘video-gaming’) characterised by impaired control over gaming, increasing priority given to gaming over other activities to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other interests and daily activities, and continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences.”

Such a view was bound to cause a flutter of irritation in the gaming industry. As Ferris Jabr noted last month in The New York Times Magazine, the word addiction is an uncomfortable combine involving religious scolding, scientific disapproval, and colloquial use describing “almost any fixation.”

With such opinions circulating, state regulators have decided to come out swinging. In 2018, a game-obsessed China, with the then world’s largest market, unearthed a new gaming regulator: the State Administration of Press and Publications, operating under the auspices of the publicity department of the Chinese Communist Party. The GAPP, as outlined in a document published on the website of the education ministry, would “implement controls on the total number of online video games, control the number of new video games operated online, explore an age-appropriate reminder system in line with China’s national conditions, and take measures to limit the amount of time minors [spend on games].”

But the rationale for having such a body is not exactly one of enlightenment. Fine to wean the young off their addictive devices and platforms, encouraging healthier living, but supplanting it with the guidance of the all-powerful President Xi Jinping? Much equivalent is this to the idea of replacing a symptom with a cult, a questionable solution at best.

Video game companies have made modest efforts to rein in times of use for those of certain age. The world’s largest gaming company, Tencent, took the plunge by limiting game time to one hour a day for those under the age of 12, and two for those between 12 and 18. Such moves seem ineffectual given the sheer variety of games users can expect to sample.

Having such regulators, whatever the noble purpose, is an incitement to capriciousness. Times of use can be adjusted in accordance with whim. The genres of games can be pulled from the market at any given moment for stretched political and social reasons. The Chinese case is rich with examples, including the designation that mah-jong and poker be removed the approval list over concerns regarding illegal gambling.

The effort to restrict those of a certain age from immersing themselves in virtual reality for fear of contaminating the world of flesh and feeling remains current and, in many circles, popular. The Chinese experiment is bound to be catching, but going behind the regulations, weaknesses are evident. The PRC gaming restrictions do not, for instance, cover offline experiences or single-player forms. The addict need merely modify the habit. The true purpose of such moves remain conventional and oppressive: the assertion of state power and surveillance over individual choice.

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The Hillary Clinton Resentment Machine

Only a sadomasochist would consider it a genuine prospect. A failed presidential candidate, the louse in the locks of the Democratic Party, keen to make yet another vain tilt at the White House. But in the rogues’ gallery of the defective and disturbed, Hillary Clinton can count herself as pre-eminent, a historical creature who should be preserved as a warning for the party faithful. But she refuses to lie (and lie) quietly, and has given ventriloquised clues via her husband that she might be readying for a return to competition.

The way Clinton disturbs the news bubble is through complaint heavy with spite. She gazes at the mirror in self-loathing, and claims to spot the faults of others. (The loathing is understandable to some degree: it was Clinton and her circle who decided, disastrously, to elevate Donald Trump as electable material ahead of rival Bernie Sanders). The story she bores her audience with lacks variation: The 2016 loss to Trump could never be put down to her, veteran political figure, establishment doyen. No, that would be inaccurate for a person with the credentials for office.

A person in such a state is bound to see any contender as dangerous. Heap upon them; dismiss them as lacking that scoundrel factor of patriotism. Hide behind some rich, over egged notion of fact checked veracity, while casting grave accusations of foreign control and veiled treason.

One of the Democratic fold has proven particularly troubling to Clinton (kudos to the candidate.) Tulsi Gabbard’s views on US foreign policy and the imperium’s insatiable appetite for interference and meddling is particularly worrying for the former Secretary of State.

Gabbard, in her electoral platform, insists on bringing “about a bold change in our foreign policy that bends the arc of history away from war and towards peace. That stops wasting our resources, and our lives on regime change wars, and redirects our focus and energy towards peace and prosperity for all people.” The United States best be done with notions of “gun boat diplomacy” focusing, instead on “differences with communication, negotiations, and goodwill.”

Light-on-hill romanticism was bound to figure in the rhetoric, and Gabbard insists that the United States lead in ensuring “the survival of the human race.” Power should only be used for “good”; the sleepwalking towards nuclear war stopped in what she hopes to be “the turning point of human history, that era in which the world’s greatest powers chose to abandon the path to confrontation and war and agreed to pursue the path of cooperation, diplomacy, and peace.”

There is much in Gabbard’s words to question, and these should linger with persistent tenacity. But the scorn from Clinton towards such views was evident, coming out in the Campaign HQ podcast last month that made the rippling rounds. “I’m not making any predictions, but I think they’ve got their eye on somebody who is currently in the Democratic primary and are grooming her to be a third-party candidate. She’s a favourite of the Russians. They have a bunch of sites and bots and other ways of support for her so far.”

While there was some doubt as to whether Clinton had intended Gabbard to be the subject of the barb, spokesman Nick Merrill’s remark on NBC news “if the nesting doll fits” suggested as much. (Merrill insisted, however, that the “grooming” reference was to Republicans, rather than Russians, but who, in this hyperventilating world of addled speculation can tell?)

To this resentment of slander, Gabbard was quick and sharp. On Twitter, she thanked Clinton with acid gratitude. “You, the queen of warmongers, embodiment of corruption, and personification of the rot that has sickened the Democratic Party for so long, have finally come out from behind the curtain.” A challenge was duly issued. “It’s now clear that this primary is between you and me. Don’t cowardly hide behind your proxies. Join the race directly.”

Another to receive the Clinton splash was Jill Stein, the Greens candidate for the White House in 2016. The Clinton set have had issues with Stein since she attended a media conference in Russia in 2015. To merely be in Russia was to be a Putin supporter; to have “Red Square as her backdrop” in a video that was attacked was sufficient to disqualify her from office.

Penning her defence in The Guardian, Stein saw dark clouds over US politics. The efforts by Clinton and her campaigners “to shift responsibility for their electoral failure to ‘Russian assets’ has fuelled a new era of McCarthyism – a toxic brew of warmongering, political repression and censorship now poisoning our public discourse.” In response to the Clinton wounded vanity machine, Stein issued a challenge similar to Gabbard’s. “It’s past time to give the American people the real debate they deserved in 2016, but were denied by the phony DNC/RNC-controlled Commission on Presidential Debates.”

As before, the Clinton ability to stir and invigorate Trump has no parallel. They provide the president a bounty of low lying fruit. In a cabinet meeting in October, Trump openly asserted that Gabbard was “not a Russian agent.” He considered the entire Clinton show to be “sick. There’s something wrong with them.” The common denominator remains, as ever, Russia.

Such adamant stirring leads to the question that refuses to leave the Democrats: will Hillary accept the challenge and run? Husband Bill is making sure his wife’s name blots the electoral news though, as ever, he can never avoid making an observation without referencing himself. “She may or may not run for anything, but I can’t legally run for president again.” The remark came during the course of an event at Georgetown University School of Law, one shared with Hillary and Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Philippe Reines, an advisor who has earned his bread from advising Clinton over the years, has also added kindling to the prospects. In a discussion with Tucker Carlson on Fox News, Reines speculated that “there might be a reason that she’d be the best person, not only to beat Donald Trump, but to govern after Donald Trump, which is a part we don’t talk about much. And, look, you can make fun of her all you want, but 65 million people voted for her and that’s second more to anyone except Barack Obama.”

This is not an issue of making fun, let alone making light of matters. If there is one candidate who can issue an iron-clad guarantee for a Trump victory, it is the same person who did so in 2016. Should the Democrats entertain the notion seriously, their inability to win the White House will be assured and long lasting.

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Scott Morrison’s Authoritarian Streak: Crushing Anti-Mining Protest in Australia

The Prime Minister of Australia is fuming. Having made his mark on Australian politics by being the mining sector’s most avid defender, Scott Morrison was disturbed by the week’s events in Melbourne that saw clashes between police and protesters outside the sixth annual international mining and resources conference.

It made sense for the protesters to kick up a fuss at the big-ticket event. IMARC, as the site states, “is where the global mining leaders connect with technology, finance and the future. It is Australia’s largest mining event bringing together over 7,000 decision makers, mining leaders, policy makers, investors, commodity buyers, technical experts, innovators and educators from over 100 countries to Melbourne for four days of learning, deal-making and unparalleled networking.”

The welcoming note from Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews was enthusiastic and distinctly not green in colouring. This was a chance to celebrate what Australians do best; no, not sustainable energy, nor technologies of ecological soundness, but boast “world class talent in the resources field”, “a sector that continues to grow and provide jobs for many Victorians, especially in country areas.” The Australian economy was inseparable from the resources sector, “creating jobs and driving investment.”

An ideal opportunity had presented itself for climate change protesters who converged on the Melbourne Convention Centre. By the third day, the patience of the cordoning police had worn thin. The blood was rushing, the red haze had descended.  Batons and capsicum spray were deployed. Over sixty protesters were arrested. “I haven’t seen this kind of aggression before,” observed Emma Black, a self-proclaimed seasoned veteran of the protest scene. Channel 7 journalist Paul Dowsley was more than bemused by being jostled by officers. “Incredible. I was obeying their direction to move to another area. I’m stunned.”

The response from Victoria Police was dismissive: “In this case, the reporter involved did not follow police instructions to move away from the area. This was a safety issue and Victoria Police believes an appropriate amount of force was used to move the reporter from the area.”

On Thursday, the anti-mining protesters turned their attention to the PwC’s Southbank offices. The conduct on the part of officers preventing disruptions to arriving delegates had been zealous enough to pique the interest of the Professional Standards Committee. In the words of a police spokesman, “Protesters have raised several concerns in relation to the police response during the protest. These concerns have been noted and are being assessed by our Professional Standards Committee.”

A sense about where that investigation will go can be gathered by the next remark. “A number of groups have engaged in more deliberate tactics including blocking disabled access… and ignored police directions. These protesters have been dealt with swiftly and effectively by the police.”

Another police statement addressing the second day of the blockade stressed that, “Whilst we respect the rights of people to peacefully protest, the unlawful action taken today is a drain on police resources from across the greater Melbourne.

The protesters proved sufficiently disruptive for Prime Minister Morrison to suggest a dark force at work: the “Quiet Australian”, that fictional confection he never tires of, is under siege. But what from?

In a speech to the Queensland Resources Council on Friday, Morrison suggested that a “new breed of radical activism” was harrying those in mining and businesses associated with it. “I am very concerned about this new form of progressivism… intended to get in under the radar but [which] at its heart would deny the liberties of Australians.” This breed of activism was “apocalyptic in tone, brooks no compromise, all or nothing, alternative views not permitted – a dogma that pits cities against regional Australia, one that cannot resist sneering at wealth creating and job creating industries, and the livelihoods particularly of regional Australians including here in Queensland.” The wedge politician par excellence.

Morrison was a touch too keen to inflate the level of threat posed by such groups, who are “targeting businesses of all sizes, including small businesses, like contracting businesses in regional Queensland.” This was far more serious than a “street protest”. (The distinction in Australian law and policy is rarely made, in any case).

His suggestion was as simple as it was authoritarian: protesters seeking to disrupt the chain of supply should be punished as saboteurs. They, he stressed, were the undemocratic ones, the silencers. His government, he explained on Melbourne radio 3AW, had “already taken action against their cousins who want to invade farms and we put legislation through to protect our farmers from that type of economic vandalism.” Instead of taking credit for having sparked interest in such protests, indifferent as he is to those obscene and rarely said words “climate change”, he was going to take credit for crushing the dissent, putting the outrage to bed.

It was enough to disturb Katharine Murphy of The Guardian. “As he rails against activism, Scott Morrison is turning a bit sinister, a bit threatening.” The prime minister had treated Australians to a spectacle of complaint “against intolerance while in the same breath foreshadowing his own bout of government sanctioned intolerance – the type where police might be involved, and people might be bundled away in vans.”

As in other countries where fossil fuels and natural resources reign, Australia is hamstrung, an aspiring banana republic in the deceptive guise of a first world country. Environmental pressure to alter their influence is not just seen as a matter of dissent but a threat. To go green is to turn gangrenous. To worry about environmental ruin and human causes is to be, in Morrison’s view, “indulgent and selfish” rather than responsible and cognisant. A true upending of logic, and a potentially imperilling one. Rather than confronting it, Morrison’s solution is drawn from the tradition and precedent of history: to protect resource industries, call in the police.

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Tethering Pegasus: WhatsApp takes NSO Group to Court

A lawsuit filed in a US federal court in San Francisco on Tuesday threw up a few interesting, and disturbing considerations. In it, the Facebook-owned platform WhatsApp advanced an allegation that now seems commonplace: that the Israeli spyware Pegasus (known in computer wonderland as a remote access trojan) had again made an appearance, deployed against 1,400 WhatsApp users. In a process that now seems familiar, the spyware made by Israeli cyber-firm NSO Group is triggered by activating a link sent to the phone, turning the device into a veritable surveillance machine.

In the case of WhatsApp, the attacks are focused on the video calling system as a supply line for the malware and were first detected in May 2019 after the platform noted suspicious activity on its network. The platform duly asked its users to upgrade its app to cope with any malicious code that had been transmitted between April 29 to May 10.

On October 28, WhatsApp made a public attribution to the NSO Group as a prelude to legal action in US courts. The legal action involves two main grounds: seeking a permanent injunction that would block NSO from accessing the systems of Facebook, its parent company and a ruling that NSO’s actions constituted a breach of US federal law and California state law on computer fraud. Additional grounds of breach of contract and wrongful trespass are also being ventured.

The targets seem to have varied, a true open church of monitored interests. Senior government and military officials in several US-allied countries are said to have had their phones sought through WhatsApp. But these are merely the cream of power and influence; scraping activists and those with stances against their governments have also been the subject of keen interest.

According to the independent research group Citizen Lab, a good hundred recipients of the spyware have been dissidents and journalists across 20 countries. “It is an open secret,” suggests John Scott-Railton from the group, “that many technologies branded for law enforcement investigations are used for state-on-state and political espionage.” Figures also include notable personalities, many women, who have been the subject of incessant hate campaigns, and those facing “assassination attempts and threats of violence.”

On Thursday, another country was added to the spyware casualty list. India has 400 million WhatsApp users, a truly rich target. According to a WhatsApp spokesman, “Indian journalists and human rights activists have been the target of surveillance and while I cannot reveal their identities and the exact number, I can say that it is not an insignificant number.” The period of interest spiked just prior to the 2019 general elections.

We know what inglorious role NSO Spyware played in the monitoring and eventual demise of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, though NSO Group’s CEO Shalev Hulio was adamant that “Khashoggi was not targeted by any NSO product or technology, including listening, monitoring, location tracking and intelligence collection.” From being a subject of interest, a Saudi hit squad was dispatched to butcher the unsuspecting journalist in the compound of the Kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul. Human rights figures and dissidents have also been the target of Pegasus in Mexico, the United Arab Emirates, Panama and the Kingdom of Bahrain. An employee of Amnesty International was also singled out.

NSO, for its part, is keen to boast a clean slate. It’s all business, and principled for the most part. “In the strongest possible terms,” the group claims in a statement, “we dispute today’s allegations and will vigorously fight them.” The company’s “sole purpose” was “to provide technology to licensed government intelligence and law enforcement agencies to help fight terrorism and serious crime.”

Such statements can be taken as disingenuous and daft. In seeing the licensing approval as the be-all and end-all of legitimacy, peering behind motivations and misuse is not in the firm’s interest. The supply of customers would dry up – not so much a case of buyer beware as vendor be cautious. What matters is the purchase, suitably washed, before it fulfils its sordid end.

Surveillance, in of itself, implies voyeurism, though it is often dressed up in a far more benign guise. That guise usually assumes the form of national security, safety, the well-being of the general, unsuspecting, and often apathetic citizenry. But dissidents and opposition politicians are ever the troublemakers the status quo wishes to mark, thereby becoming particular important subjects for the monitors.

NSO does its bit in a thriving global surveillance industry where it asserts a certain primacy; the state agencies in question do theirs. The company has also made various overtures claiming that it will start abiding by UN procedures established in 2011 to deal with instances where technology might breach human rights. Meek suggestions about evaluating processes of sale obliging customers to restrict the use of products to the prevention and investigation of serious crimes have also been mooted. Even the callous can be idealistic.

Such private sector vanguardism has troubled the United Nations special rapporteur of opinion and expression, David Kaye. His report in June called for an immediate moratorium on the sale, transfer and use of surveillance technology until such time human rights frameworks had been put in place. “Surveillance tools can interfere with human rights, from the right to privacy and freedom of expression to rights of association and assembly, religious belief, non-discrimination, and public participation.”

Danna Ingleton, deputy director of Amnesty Tech, suggests a simple, if imperfect solution to the problem. “The safest way to stop NSO’s spyware products reaching governments who plan to misuse them is to revoke the company’s export license.” But which government officials ever express a desire to officially misuse such products? The proof lies in the conduct.

On November 7, Tel Aviv’s District Court is scheduled to hear a case against NSO Group, arguing that Israel’s Ministry of Defence should reconsider the company’s export license. The action is being mounted by some 30 members and supporters of Amnesty International Israel and has the backing of the New York University School of Law’s Bernstein Institute for Human Rights and Global Justice Clinic.

Unfortunately, such reasoning does not go far enough. If you want to deal with such digital merchants of endangering surveillance, best prohibit their manufacture altogether. Ban and scrap them. Impose, not just moratoriums but injunctions. There are no good or bad governments in this business; there are only governments who share one common purpose: the ultimate erosion of encryption that protects privacy from the often nasty intrusions of the State.

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Boris Johnson Against Parliament

A pretty odd thing, this. The prime minister of Britain, supposedly of the conservative creed, making an almost violent dash against both parliament and the courts of law. While his presence is barely a patch on Margaret Thatcher, there is something about the Boris Johnson rabble that reeks of demagogic aspiration. Thatcher, for one, was not a conservative but a neoliberal, a demolisher of institutions rather than their preserver. Society was the enemy; there were only individuals with ambitions, talents and desires.

Boris Johnson has increasingly found his country’s institutions, namely Parliament and the Courts, irritating, intrusive and even inconvenient. During the course of September, Johnson was using the language of belligerence and conflict, suggesting, according to James Butler, that he was “dangling his toes in the linguistic swamp of the alt-right.” The prime minister had attacked legislation preventing a no-deal Brexit as “the surrender act”. Opposition MPs were accused of being saboteurs. Jess Phillips MP, a backbench Labour MP, had her constituency office in Birmingham Yardley attacked and her phone line jammed “with people shouting traitor and cunt to my staff.” (Phillips had accused Johnson for using language “entirely designed to inflame hatred or division.”)

It was a strategy that drew criticism from former justice secretary, David Gauke. Gauke, amongst others, had been accused for meeting with the enemy – the European Union – in drafting the Benn Act, which obligates the prime minister under certain conditions to seek an extension to the Brexit withdrawal date.

This conspiratorial thesis of treason was dismissed by Gauke on Sky, “but even if it were true the use of language of that sort is completely disproportionate, completely over the top, and feeds into this narrative that anyone who doesn’t agree with No 10’s position is somehow unpatriotic or betraying the country, or an enemy, or wanting the country to surrender.”

To delegates of the 2019 Conservative Party conference in Manchester, Johnson was all shallowness and thunder. He had “seen so many things that give cause for hope, hospitals that are finally getting the investment to match the devotion of staff, schools where the standards of reading are rising through the use of synthetic phonics.” (A warning about Johnson: whenever he mentions anything touching on technology, decline and decay are poking around the corner.)

Not so Parliament, a body that had refused to get onto his bus of optimism in exiting the EU. “If parliament were a laptop, then the screen would be showing the pizza wheel of doom,” he sniped. “If parliament were a school, Ofsted would be shutting it down,” he lamented. “If parliament were a reality TV show the whole lot of us would have been voted out of the jungle by now.” And, for good measure, Johnson had only contempt for one of Parliament’s most revered stations: the speaker of the house: “at least we could have watched the speaker being forced to eat a kangaroo testicle.”

It was Parliament that had held up Brexit, embraced vacillation instead of action, and refused to go to an election, leaving everyone to “chew the supermasticated subject of Brexit.” This was a Parliament that had frustrated what “people” and “the whole world” wants.

In this narrow view, such institutions as Parliament are not supreme voices of the people but beneath them. Indeed, Johnson has made “the people” a spectral and all-too-holy entity, the voters he hopes will deliver him the crushing numbers that will enable him to make Brexit possible. They are his get out of gaol card, and he hopes to play it with aggression.

In his short and unsuccessful spell in office, the prime minister has attempted to exercise powers in defiance of Parliament, but failed. Both the highest courts in Scotland and England found against him, suggesting that he had sought the suspension of parliament for improper purposes. Spitefully and very much in the fashion of Johnson, he decided to shoot off a letter to European Council president Donald Tusk seeking an extension, as per the Benn Act, but preferred to leave it unsigned.

This gesture of scoffing was accompanied by two other letters: an explanatory note from the UK’s ambassador to the EU, and one specific to the prime minister himself explaining why he was not actually seeking an extension. His personal note warned that “a further extension would damage the interests of the UK and our EU partners, and the relationship between us.” In it, a solid blow was reserved for Parliament which had “missed the opportunity to inject momentum into the ratification process.”

In Britain, it is now clear that the country will head to another election in December. The Financial Times has dubbed it a “people versus parliament” election. This will be a vote, not merely on British sovereignty vis-à-vis the European Union, but a deliberation on who holds the reins of power within the United Kingdom. For Johnson, it is a horrendous gamble, one based on the hope that he will clean the decks and cleanse the stables of obstructionist MPs. His yearning is that of the authoritarian who can take charge. As his predecessor Theresa May found to her horror in 2017, these elections are unpredictable things, able to either return thumping majorities, as she had hoped, or whittle them down.

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Unlevelled Fields: Brexit, Workers’ Rights and the Environment

The smorgasbord of Brexit terms has been further plated up with the latest acronym: the WAB or Withdrawal Agreement Bill. It comes in at 115 pages, with an added bonus of 126 pages of explanatory notes. For something seemingly so significant, not much time was on offer for those in the Commons to peruse, let alone digest it. Rushed before the members last Monday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson was hoping that the most significant constitutional change to Britain in decades would be a push over.

The WAB is intended to give the agreement between the UK and the European Union legal substance. But Halloween looms. The stress from Prime Minister Boris Johnson is on speed. What characterises the WAB from previous incarnations under the May government are various hooks to catch members of parliament who might otherwise dismiss it. A significant concern among Labour party members, for instance, is the issue of workers’ rights. By all means, initiate Brexit, but what of those protections incorporated under European law? Are they to go by the wayside in an ugly act of pro-corporation fancy?

The political declaration underpinning the Brexit transition deal for trade talks between the UK and Brussels makes it clear that “the future relationship must ensure open and fair competition, encompassing robust commitments to ensure a level playing field.” Workers’ rights drawn from EU law will continue in a Brexited Britain, with some unclear commitment to ensure “non-regression” in subsequent laws (that is, any subsequent laws after the transition period not abridge those rights).

The problem with this should have been evident to anyone noting the absence of the level playing field concept in the deal, which is instead found in the words of the non-binding political declaration. What the WAB does is actually make Northern Ireland the subject of level-playing field logic, permitting the rest of the UK to dabble in threatening alternatives.

On Saturday, the sweeteners on bringing in rebel Labour MPs into the fold seemed to sour. Documents obtained by the Financial Times suggested that commitments on workers’ rights and the environment had left considerable “room for interpretation”. The Brexit deal might well be, not just a matter of flexible interpretation but a boon for corporate vengeance.

It gave Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn, erratic of late, a platform to suspect the motivations of the government. Labour shadow Brexit minister Jenny Chapman found the revelations unsettling. “These documents confirm our worst fears. Boris Johnson’s Brexit is a blueprint for a regulated economy, which will see vital rights and protections torn up.”

This might well be true, but the EU can hardly claim a sense of purity in the guardianship of workers’ rights. A certain strain of EU jurisprudence suggests hostility to workers in employment law, while providing certain dispensations to corporations. Decisions by such bodies as the European Court of Justice have demonstrated that the right to strike is secondary to the freedom of employers to relocate their concern, a feature found in Article 43 of the EC Treaty which strikes at any fetters of “freedom of establishment”. In 2007, the ECJ notably found in the Viking Line case that a trade union’s threat to strike in an effort to force an employer to conclude a collective agreement constituted a restriction on the freedom of establishment.

The Laval case furnished another example of pro-company logic over union action. In that instance, the point of issue was how industrial action might square with freedom of movement under Article 49 of the EC Treaty. The Swedish building workers’ union had attempted to force Laval’s Swedish subsidiary to accept a collective agreement covering 35 Latvian workers sent to Sweden to refurbish a school. Negotiations failed; the company was picketed and eventually went bankrupt. In hearing the case against the union for compensation, the ECJ held that the Posted Workers Directive guaranteeing equal protections for posted workers and those in the host country, was inapplicable. It was too onerous to expect service provides to take part in peculiar collective bargaining practices. Economic uncertainty was the enemy.

In a sense, both EU diplomats and their Brexit ministry counterparts have kept up appearances, talking about level playing fields when knowing full well that the corporate sector will be well catered for, Brexit or otherwise. Tory government ministers, caught unawares, rallied against the leaks discussed by the FT. The Brexit department decided to ignore the document altogether, a habit that seems to be catching in Whitehall. The government, according to a spokesperson, “has no intention of lowering the standards of workers’ rights or environmental protection after we leave the EU”.

Junior business minister Kwasi Kwarteng dismissed it as “completely mad, actually.” It would make little sense “at all to dilute workers’ rights” given that some nineteen Labour MPs had actually voted for a second reading of the Brexit bill. Business minister Andrea Leadsom was also quick to deny the veracity of the reports. “The story is not correct. UK will maintain (the) highest standards of workers’ rights and environmental standards when we leave the EU.”

The feathers of environmental advocates have also been ruffled. Affirmations and promises made have been unconvincing. Benjamin Halfpenny, representing a coalition of environmental groups including Friends of the Earth and the National Trust, insists on additions to the Environmental Bill that will shore up broader European protections. “The government has had plenty of opportunities to put a commitment to existing standards into law, but has thus far not done so.”

In the tug-of-war between Brussels and the UK, it is clear that Britain, in angling for future free trade deals, will be tempted by the genie of deregulation and the self-imposed reduction of standards for the sake of a competitive advantage. It might well be that EU and UK diplomats are being rather sly about this: the EU is facing its own internal challenges and wishes an exit to take place within orderly reason. It cannot afford a messy divorce, a point that will looked upon by dissenting groups within the bloc. But should Johnson’s deal become a reality, fans of working welfare and environmental standards will be left disappointed.

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Libra and Calibra: Mark Zuckerberg appears before Congress

It was never going to be pretty. The Facebook CEO knew in appearing before the House Financial Services Committee to answer questions on the company’s proposed cryptocurrency that a few sizeable bumps would appear. As it turned out, much of the questioning had little to do with the Libra currency, along with its digital wallet format known as Calibra.

New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez exemplified the mood, and the method. “In order for us to make decisions about Libra, I think we need to kind of dig into your past behaviour and Facebook’s past behaviour with respect to our democracy.” It was a scene made out of crudely crafted scripts, albeit mildly spiced by convention: the elevated idealist, perhaps a bit sketchy about history, speaking to the sociopathic innovator; AOC versus Robot Zuck.

In any case, the occasion begged a few questions, as does the entire issue of approaching the power of Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg. To call it a threat to democracy is flabby logic, and distinctly lazy, given the use by Congress of that same company and its own elasticity on matters of fact.

What matters, evidently, is how strong those bonds of use are. For Ocasio-Cortez, the issue of packing Zuckerberg in the company of the far right somehow explains everything. “In your ongoing dinner parties with far-right figures, some of whom advance the conspiracy theory that white supremacy is a hoax, did you discuss social media bias against conservatives, and do you believe there is a bias?” The Facebook CEO remained non-committal.

The line being pushed here, and one that will be revisited with dreary repetition, is the notion of truthful advertising in politics. For a member of Congress to insist that Facebook “take down lies” or otherwise is a fabulous clash of oxymoronic variables. Once you leave it to Facebook to determine political advertising content, another beast is created, one bolstered by the fictional exercises of the “fact checker”.

Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-Penn) attempted to tie a neat bow around the presidency and Facebook, asking Zuckerberg whether Facebook conducted “any business with Trump International Hotel here in Washington, D.C.” She had noted “public reports of enterprises and even governments doing business with Trump hotels to curry favour with the Donald Trump administration.” The whiff of conspiracy and foreign intrigue is never far away from the post-2016 Democrat.

This point is supremely feeble, if only demonstrating a certain incredulity towards an obvious fact of US business: If you want things done, or at least done in your favour, its best to be in the good books of the administration. Even better, keep Congress in your pocket, a practice that companies from Boeing to Chase Bank do with zealous dedication. Instead of pointing out that obvious point, Zuckerberg preferred a softly, softly approach. “Congresswoman, I will look into it with my team.”

Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio) was enthusiastically grim, suggesting that the digital monster world of Facebook had devastated lives like the Grim Reaper. “It’s almost like you think this is a joke when you have ruined the lives of many people, discriminated against them. Do you know what percentage of African-Americans are on Facebook, in comparison to a majority of folks?” Zuckerberg professed ignorance: Facebook did not ask users to specify their race.

Such exchanges ignore the fundamental point that Facebook is voracious, its reach and keenness to identify what it calls “communities” insatiable. The chicken and egg problem presents itself: is the company generating a fictional community to control, or merely furnishing pre-existing communities with the means of engagement?

A clue was supplied back in 2015, when Facebook commissioned IPSOS MediaCT to conduct a study on “how African Americans communicate and consume media.” Of particular interest was the versatile movement between platforms and devices in efforts to “connect to community and sustain culture.” With some sense of contentment, it was found that Facebook was the “go-to source for connecting with” an extended family comprising immediate members, church groups and close friends. “Nearly 9 out of 10 African Americans use Facebook to keep up with friends and family, and 7 out of 10 use it to observe what friends and family are doing.”

Much of that reads like deodorised marketing tinged with a dash of the sinister, and should be treated as such, but such encounters as those between Beatty and Zuckerberg look all too much like strawman shows rather than cerebral jousts over policy.

Other axes were brought forth to grind. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY) levelled a few blows against Zuckerberg for being an “accelerant in many of the destructive” political confrontations across the globe. (That naughty business of interference, otherwise casual in the policy of the US imperium). Republican Rep. Ann Wagner from Missouri got heavy on the issue of online child exploitation while Democrat Rep. William Lacy Clay from the same state trod over ground on discrimination against various communities.

Facebook is an engine for facile, commodified social relations, the product of an asocial being who had to find his understanding of humanity through something called a “social network”. Its genius lies in mining the confessional, the exposure, the ridiculousness of humans who are garrulous behind the screen and forthcoming on it. It brings out the voyeur in its users and gives substance a profound shallowness. Little wonder that politicians both adore and dread the medium, using it one day to promote messages in the illusion of feeling closer to their constituents, and condemning it as being distinctly unprincipled and undemocratic the next.

For one, the manipulation of politics, the buying of votes, the wooing of legislatures, never began, nor will stop, with Facebook. Facebook is merely the acid manifestation of a long-term problem with managerial democracy, doomed to a slow and cruel death at the hand of amoral apparatchiks. Cambridge Analytica was not a revolutionary in the field, merely a successor to the public relations creatures that had come into gold with data mining and personality profiling.

Ironically enough, Zuckerberg’s under six-hour hearing absorbed much in the way of questions without giving much away. But on Libra, the main reason for his showing, he struggled. How would the company make money from Libra? How would the external Libra Association be fuelled? (To date, the 21 companies in the association have yet to fork out the minimum $10 million entry fee, suggesting the possibility of Facebook going alone). As Alex Heath noted, “Zuckerberg’s testimony didn’t shed any light on what specific laws Facebook thinks should govern Libra.” Much more time might have been expended on that instead of lobbing grenades at Big Bad Zuck, lies, identity politics and all.

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