Monday, 31 March 2014

I used to believe I had the right to be a bigot.

I used to believe I had the right to be a bigot. But reason prevailed

Australian proponents of the 'right to be a bigot' are keen to ignore the historical contexts which gave birth to hate speech – something which minority groups should never forget
Once upon a time, I believed in the right to be a bigot. I was a young, middle-class, private school educated white male living in Ireland, and I firmly believed in my right to offend.
At university, I was in more than one debating society. My idea of fun was to put on a tuxedo and solve the problems of the world one speech at a time. In all honesty, I was pretty good at it. With 15 minutes worth of prep and a seven minute speech, I could convince you that black was white or white was black.
Arguing that black is white is what got commentator Andrew Bolt into a spot of bother in 2010, when he implied light-skinned people who identified as Aboriginal did so for personal gain. Bolt was found guilty of a breach of section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, and that conviction has set a train in motion resulting in George Brandis, the Commonwealth attorney general, now declaring that there is a right to be a bigot.
I can’t speak for everyone but in my experience, many families have an ageing relative who pops up with the most inappropriate pronouncements at the Passover Seder or Christmas table. But having such opinions is not the same as having the right to broadcast those views. And that fundamental truth is revealed in the attitude of the attorney general towards Holocaust denial.
The Jewish community has been repeatedly assured that Holocaust denial would remain unlawful under the proposed exposure draft of 18C. Why? If this reform is about free speech, why is the government introducing an offence of racial vilification? Why is it at pains to stress that Holocaust denial remains beyond the pale? If this government believes in the marketplace of ideas, then why not open up that market? The cynic in me would argue that reassurances about Holocaust denial are an attempt to silence the Jewish community in this debate.
The thing that proponents of this marketplace of ideas ignore, but which minorities should never forget, is that speech has a context.
Take for example a mate of mine, who was recently on the train with his primary school aged kids. A drunk on the train starts having a go for no reason; he probably would have had a problem whether they were black, white, Asian, or Muslim. But on this occasion, they were Jewish. So the guy starts on about "rich Jews", and uses this trope to yell offensive nonsense at a seven-year-old boy. It's ghoulish, but it's also especially offensive because these insults have a history which cannot be simply brushed aside.
When someone makes monkey noises directed at a football player, we all know what it means. When someone making similar offensive noises is a young girl and the subject of the abuse is Adam Goodes, the Australian of the Year, it may attract more attention. But either way, portraying people as monkeys has a history and a specific context – which is why modern day politicians can't act as if the White Australia policy never happened and destroyed lives.
Bearing that history in mind, we should not forget how long it took before Gough Whitlam poured a fist full of sand through the hands of Vincent Lingiari. Before Paul Kelly sang about it. Before Nicky Winmar raised his jersey, taking a stand against racist comments. Before Kevin Rudd apologised to Indigenous people.
Likewise, there is a context to 18C. There is a context when people seek to belittle the fact that European settlement was based on the offensive legal pretext that the Australia was “unsettled” – that it wasterra nullius.
There is a context when the privileged seek to deny the Stolen Generations by implying that being light skinned makes someone less Aboriginal. That context can mean that a seemingly inoffensive phrase is, in fact, offensive. Given that history and context, it is wrong to privilege the rights of bigots over the rights of minorities, especially since there is no evidence that 18C was having a chilling effect on the debate about race in Australia. On the other hand, repealing 18C makes a statement: that there is a right to offend and that the determining what is offensive is a matter for the majority, for the privileged. Those priorities seem skewed to me.
I don’t speak for the Jewish community, or any minority group for that matter. But I know that the current exposure draft to amend 18C does not acknowledge the context within which hate speech occurs. 

Everyone who has ever felt belittled by speech, and who is capable of empathy with Australia’s First Peoples, ought to draw on that experience and oppose this amendment – even if we don’t think this change will affect the Irish, the Jews, the Lebanese or the Muslims.
This is about more than just Holocaust denial. And it’s not every day that you get to write that sentence.

Australia’s most militarised city, and a lily pad for the Pentagon

Darwin: Australia’s most militarised city, and a lily pad for the Pentagon

Australians know the isolated and exotic city of Darwin through stories about cyclones, crocodiles and Aboriginal art, but it really is a cleverly camouflaged garrison town
In his recent book Anzac’s Long Shadow: The Cost of our National Obsession, former ADF soldier James Brown correlates deep Australian ignorance about our contemporary military with our increasingly fantastical commemoration of the Anzac legend. Bedazzled by myths of Gallipoli, Australians neglect more pressing defence policy concerns.
It’s a compelling thesis, and one that closely parallels the situation in one of Australia’s most militarised city, Darwin.
Australians prefer to see the isolated and exotic city of Darwin through stories about cyclones, crocodiles, Aboriginal art, spicy market food and unlimited road speeds; a place that lets you go to the supermarket in bare feet and look normal. This way, we don’t have to notice the most significant militarisation effort in Australia’s post-war history, which is happening under our noses. The militarisation of the north is unknown to most of us and thanks to this ignorance, the new Cold War brewing in the Asia Pacific region, and Darwin’s place in it, is rarely being debated.
In 2012, US president Barrack Obama hailed "the next proud chapter in our alliance", announcing that up to 2,500 US Marine Corp personnel would permanently rotate through Darwin. The city is now a "lily pad" (the base America has when it doesn’t need to build a mini-city, just permanent access to a subordinate state’s geographic and strategic resources), adding to the largest empire of "not-really-bases" the world has ever known.
Darwin’s geo-strategic identity is a form of what old-school military manuals called "dazzle camouflage", where a combination of spectacle and background blending disrupts perception. Blinded by what is seen, the true dimensions of a thing escape view: Darwin is a garrison town that isn’t known as one, despite having been sculpted by defence. The first dam for drinking water was installed by the military; the Stuart Highway (Australia’s "Burma Road") was completed by soldiers. All air traffic at Darwin International Airport is controlled by the Royal Australian Air Force, for Darwin sits underneath the largest aerial defence training space in the world.
Of course, well before becoming a lily pad for the Pentagon’s pivot to Asia, Darwin became an important part of the global-technological security apparatus when, in the 1950s, mining began at Rum Jungle, 60kms to Darwin’s south, to supply uranium to the British and American nuclear weapons programs. For years, locals swam in the pit of that old mine, unaware that all biota for 15km down the Finniss River had been destroyed, and over 100 square km of surrounding floodplains contaminated.

During the second world war, the Top End was targeted by Japanese bombers for over 18 months. The most famous of these raids was the bombing of Darwin in February 1942, shortly after Pearl Harbour. More Americans than Australians died during the raids, many in unmarked sea graves. Today, this history of blood debt helps deflect any criticisms of what becoming a node in a US military map is drawing Australians into.
This is also how the US Marine Corps have bedazzled Darwin, not by concealing their presence but by broadcasting it. The "first long-term expansion of the American military’s presence in the Pacific since the end of the Vietnam War" has so far seen marines supporting the Aboriginal football academy, patiently fielding questions at information booths, playing with school children, and comparing their fitness coaching techniques to those of Australian soldiers.
Impressed, one forgets that Australia has sustained continual military action since 1999, from East Timor to Afghanistan and Iraq. In fact, a Roy Morgan poll before the last election listed defence issues as the second least important concern (outranked in unimportance by the needs of people outside of cities). Even for the ABC’s supposedly more politically aware constituency, less than 1% of respondents rated defence as the upmost election issue, compared with almost 13% rating asylum seekers.
The historian Regina Ganter makes the powerful point that Australian history begins in the north – not the south. Australia’s first international seafarers arrived this way, and many thousands of years later, a lucrative market in sea cucumbers made Top End Aboriginal groups veteran international traders long before British colonists arrived.
In fact, when he was circumnavigating Australia, Matthew Flinders relied on Dutch maps of Australia’s northern coastline drafted in the 1600s. The Dutch United East India Company had been sniffing around the manganese-rich Aboriginal lands in search of things to rip and ship, but had been repelled in their efforts by Australia’s original homeland security, at one time with a force of over 200 Aboriginal warriors, "in spite of our especial kindness and fair semblance," a frustrated Jan Carstensz wrote in his field reports.
Having repelled the Dutch, unimpressed by their nutmeg and beads, Aboriginal patriots fought outnumbered, out-legislated battles against the Martini-Henry military rifles and biological warfare of invading settlers. Dispossession bequeathed land the size of Cyprus to Bradshaw Station, first for cattle, and now as the Bradshaw Field Training Area, one of the largest weapons training grounds in the world.
Repulsed from expanding their empire, the Dutch returned their focus to the Straits of Malacca, the skinny stretch of water between Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia. Only 2.7km at its narrowest point, the Straits are a geographical chokepoint. Controlling the Straits, the Dutch controlled their empire. As the shortest sea route between the Gulf countries and Asia, today’s Straits are China’s and Indonesia’s energy corridor. Australia’s too for that matter. If blocked, nearly half the world’s fleet would need to reroute through the Indonesian archipelago. Handy, then, for a military hegemon to have sea-air striking range from a docile little place like Darwin.
While the mustering of force in Australia’s northern reaches can be interpreted as merely strengthening defence capabilities against an attack on continental Australia (purportedly our primary security threat), the imperial intent of our main ally, and the propensity for our defence deployments to threaten our neighbours must be interrogated far more thoroughly than is now the case.
In allowing Australia’s foreign policy interests to be played out of sight, out of mind, in a town that also hides its own nature from itself, we avoid debating difficult questions. What does being a subordinate ally to a military force clinging to its global primacy commit us to? What are our liabilities and responsibilities? At what point do Australian sovereign interests diverge from America’s security objectives? And what are we prepared to do about it?

Aid to Ukraine Is a Bad Deal for All

Aid to Ukraine Is a Bad Deal for All

Last week Congress overwhelmingly passed a bill approving a billion dollars in aid to Ukraine and more sanctions on Russia. The bill will likely receive the president’s signature within days. If you think this is the last time US citizens will have their money sent to Ukraine, you should think again. This is only the beginning.
This $1 billion for Ukraine is a rip-off for the America taxpayer, but it is also a bad deal for Ukrainians. Not a single needy Ukrainian will see a penny of this money, as it will be used to bail out international banks who hold Ukrainian government debt. According to the terms of the International Monetary Fund (IMF)-designed plan for Ukraine, life is about to get much more difficult for average Ukrainians. The government will freeze some wage increases, significantly raise taxes, and increase energy prices by a considerable margin.
But the bankers will get paid and the IMF will get control over the Ukrainian economy.
The bill also authorizes more US taxpayer money for government-funded “democracy promotion” NGOs, and more money to broadcast US government propaganda into Ukraine via Radio Free Europe and Voice of America. It also includes some saber-rattling, directing the US Secretary of State to “provide enhanced security cooperation with Central and Eastern European NATO member states.”
The US has been “promoting democracy” in Ukraine for more than ten years now, but it doesn’t seem to have done much good. Recently a democratically-elected government was overthrown by violent protesters. That is the opposite of democracy, where governments are changed by free and fair elections. What is shocking is that the US government and its NGOs were on the side of the protesters! If we really cared about democracy we would not have taken either side, as it is none of our business.
Washington does not want to talk about its own actions that led to the coup, instead focusing on attacking the Russian reaction to US-instigated unrest next door to them. So the new bill passed by Congress will expand sanctions against Russia for its role in backing a referendum in Crimea, where most of the population voted to join Russia. The US, which has participated in the forced change of borders in Serbia and elsewhere, suddenly declares that international borders cannot be challenged in Ukraine.
Those of us who are less than gung-ho about sanctions, manipulating elections, and sending our troops overseas are criticized as somehow being unpatriotic. It happened before when so many of us were opposed to the Iraq war, the US attack on Libya, and elsewhere. And it is happening again to those of us not eager to get in another cold – or hot – war with Russia over a small peninsula that means absolutely nothing to the US or its security.
I would argue that real patriotism is defending this country and making sure that our freedoms are not undermined here. Unfortunately, while so many are focused on freedoms in Crimea and Ukraine, the US Congress is set to pass an NSA “reform” bill that will force private companies to retain our personal data and make it even easier for the NSA to spy on the rest of us. We need to refocus our priorities toward promoting liberty in the United States!

Israel's water miracle that wasn't

Israel's water miracle that wasn't

Covering up a crime in plain sight: The dual function of Israel's water industry.

Charlotte Silver is an independent journalist currently based in San Francisco. She has written for Inter Press Service, Truthout, The Electronic Intifada, Al Ahkbar and many other publications. She is a graduate of Stanford University.
It was impressive at first: Long stretches of seemingly barren, beige hills punctuated by abundantly fertile farms growing oranges, dates and watermelons, first appearing in southern Israel in the middle of the 20th century. Unlike the gaudy, fake lakes and gushing fountains of Las Vegas plopped in the middle of the Mojave desert, this prodigious agricultural production was not meant to signal decadence; rather, it was a testament to Israel's prudent husbandry of the land, an intelligence and expertise that not only enriched the region but legitimised the presence of Israel and the expulsion of Palestinians.
Israel credits its use of desalination plants and drip-irrigation with enabling the desert to bloom - the iconic image reinforcing the still-lingering notion that the land of historic Palestine was a dry one, while further impressing Israel's world audience with the young country's wizardry with water.
Less attention is given to the Knesset report commissioned in 2002, nearly four decades after Israel's national water carrier began diverting the Jordan river to Israeli citrus orchards in the Negev region. The report concluded that the region's ongoing water crisis - a desiccated Jordan river and shrinking Dead Sea - was "primarily man-made".

In December 2011, Ben Ehrenreich reported the unrecuperated cost of such agricultural opulence: It required half of Israel's water while providing only three percent of the country's GDP. Nevertheless, the extravagance was deemed necessary by the commission, which determined it held a "Zionist-strategic-political value, which goes beyond its economic contribution".
But there is another motive behind peddling the myth of eternal water scarcity in Palestine: If you argue that you're creating potable water out of what was nothing, you've already successfully obscured your theft of something.
In fact, Palestinians have not historically wanted for water. But the characterisation of Palestine as a desperately arid land has, as Clemens Messerschmid wrote in 2011, "naturalised" the water crisis that Palestinians experience every day. Gaza, which is currently subsisting off of a water source that is 95 percent non-potable, long served as an oasis for travellers crossing from Cairo to Damascus. This history - and more - is important to consider amid the recent enthusiastic clamour over Israel's miraculous water surplus that promises to provide a glimmer of hope for peace and cooperation, but is, in truth, a helpful cover-up for its ongoing theft and exploitation.
The mythology is currently in a renaissance.
At the beginning of this month, Netanyahu paid a visit to California - which has experienced record-low rainfall this year - to create a pact with Governor Jerry Brown that vaguely promised a collaboration on future projects, especially those concerning water conservation and production. To nervous Californians, Netanyahu crowed, "
The theft
The Israeli military has governed all sources of water in the West Bank and Gaza since 1967 and 1974, respectively. Originally gained by military conquest, its control has subsequently been affirmed through the Oslo Accords and, increasingly, the work of the Palestinian Authority and international NGOs. 
A brief review of the state's dominion over water resources shows that Israel diverts the Jordan river into Lake Tiberias, as do Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon to their respective territories, leaving the Dead Sea with a declining sea-level. Flaunting international laws against the pillage of occupied lands, Israel controls the mountain aquifer - 80 percent of which lies beneath the West Bank - and over-extracts it for agriculture, as well as settlers' pools and verdant lawns. In 2009, the Mountain Aquifer supplied 40 percent of Israel's agricultural needs and 50 percent of its population's drinking water. 
Israel also takes more than its share from the coastal aquifer that lies beneath Gaza, and diverts the Wadi Gaza into Israel's Negev desert, just before it reaches Gaza. Lastly, Israel's wall conveniently envelops wells and springs that lie east of the Green Line.
With all these sources of water, it's no miracle that Israelis can comfortably consume about five times as much water as Palestinians.
In 1982, the Ministry of Defence - then led by Ariel Sharon - sold the entirety of the West Bank's water infrastructure to semi-private Mekorot for one symbolic shekel. What was once a military acquisition became the property of a state-owned company; today the Palestinians in the West Bank buy over half of their water from Mekorot, often at a higher price than nearby settlers.
Founded in 1937, Israel's water company, Mekorot, has been crucial to the Zionist state-building project, and to that end has aided in Israel’s erasure of its original boundaries. Israeli occupation watchdog group, Who Profits,notes that on Mekorot's map of its National Water System, there is no Green Line.

Mekorot's governance of water ensures Palestinians remain on their knees of dependence on Israel - prohibited from using the water flowing beneath their feet or develop their own water infrastructure. The years immediately following Israel's usurpation of Palestine's water resources saw a sharp 20 percent decline in Palestine's agricultural production. Nearly 200,000 Palestinians in the West Bank have no access to running water, nor do Palestinians have the ability to collect water themselves without explicit permission, which is rarely granted.
Mekorot executes this crime of theft all the while Israel maintains that it has the solutions to scant rainfall and scarcity of water, and that Mekorot provideshumanitarian assistance to parched and needy Palestinians.
March 22 marked World Water Day, a day commemorated globally every year since 1993. This year, the day was intentionally chosen to kick off a week-long protest against Mekorot - dubbed International Week Against Mekorot - that will end on March 30, Palestine's Land Day. The campaign is crucial amid the current amplification of Israel's trumpeting its water tech prowess.
Mekorot began expanding internationally in 2005; a year that also saw the launch of  Brand Israel Group, a multimillion-dollar initiative to improve the country's image abroad, in which the exporting of commodities plays a useful role. Israel is presented as the country that provides an answer to one of the globe’s most ominous threats - global warming, drought, and water scarcity.
"Israel has taken the challenge of water scarcity and built an export industry in water tech," Will Sarni of Deloitte Consulting, recently wrote, noting that the industry saw a 170 percent increase in exports in six years. McKinseyhas estimated that the global water market is the third or fourth largest commodity market in the world.
And, while the Palestinian Authority long resisted desalination projects as a substitute for restoring water rights to Palestinians, today it has embraced these technical solutions - yet another indication of its impotence as a political entity.
Yet in spite of all this, not everyone is buying Israel's campaign of bluster and braggadocio. Proponents of BDS, a movement calling for boycotts and sanctions against Israel, have already scored significant victories against Mekorot: The Netherlands and Argentina recently cancelled contracts with Mekorot, citing Mekorot's violation of international law.
The significance of these successes cannot be overstated: A clear indication that the call for BDS is reaching the ears of government leaders and, perhaps more important, that Zionists are failing in their ceaseless quest to make the world forget their crimes against Palestinians.

Charlotte Silver is an independent journalist in San Francisco. She was formerly based in the Occupied West Bank, Palestine.
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

Senate NSA critic urges Barack Obama to end bulk data collection now

Senate NSA critic urges Barack Obama to end bulk data collection now

• Ron Wyden: 'president ought to make the transition right away'
• Feinstein suggests data safer with NSA than phone companies
 in Los Angeles
Ron Wyden, the senator who is a leading voice in attempts to rein in the National Security Agency, has urged President Barack Obama to order an immediate halt to the bulk collection of domestic telephone metadata records.
The Oregon Democrat, who is a member of the Senate intelligence committee, said on Sunday the president should end the practice “right away”, rather than wait for Congress to pass legislation. The president's proposals were outlined this week; two reform bills are currently with Congress.
Wyden, a longtime critic of bulk surveillance, cautiously endorsed Obama's proposal to have such records remain with telephone companies rather than intelligence agencies, but said reform should not wait for a new law.
“I believe the president ought to make the transition right away,” he toldNBC's Meet the Press. “I believe strongly we ought to ban all dragnet surveillance on law-abiding Americans, not just phone records but also medical records, purchases and others.”
Under Obama's plan, the government could obtain telephone records only if it got individual orders for individual numbers from the foreign intelligence surveillance court, also known as the Fisa court.
Wyden spoke a day after the publication of fresh reports about NSA spying on Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, based on documents supplied to media outlets by the former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
The German magazine Der Spiegel said the NSA kept more than 300 reports on Merkel in a special databank concerning heads of state, including the leaders of Peru, Somalia, Guatemala, Colombia and Belarus.
Wyden's demand for immediate action contrasted with the views of Dianne Feinstein, chair of the Senate intelligence committee, who said Congress should debate the president's bill when it comes.
Feinstein, an outspoken defender of the NSA, also hinted that the embattled agency may be a better safeguard of privacy than phone companies.
If this [data] is held by a large number of telecoms, with their people doing the actual querying, is privacy as closely controlled as it is with 22 vetted people at the NSA, who are supervised and watched with everything they do?” she asked, on CNN's State of the Union.
The California Democrat welcomed Obama's suggestion that the Fisa court approve every request for phone records – with the caveat that security not be compromised. “I happen to support that,” she said, “if it can be done on an urgent basis because time is of the essence, then that will be helpful.”
Two former intelligence chiefs also welcomed Capitol Hill's apparent move towards a compromise between the president's proposals and a similar House bill.
“There's a powerful convergence,” Michael Hayden, a former head of the CIA and the NSA, told CBS's Face the Nation.
Hayden suggested change was needed not because of abuse but because of the “potential for abuse” and approvingly noted that the House bill left the NSA wide leeway.
“It actually talks about all communications,” he said. “So in this sense, the NSA is able to query not just phone data, but digital and email metadata too. So I think we've arrived at a solution that actually makes people more safe, that gives people higher comfort that the government would not potentially abuse its power.”
Hayden said the intelligence community was concerned with the constitution's guarantee of reasonable expectation of privacy, and added: “Now that definition of 'reasonable' is shifting, and that makes this issue very hard.”
On the same programme Michael Morrell, a former deputy CIA director and a member of Obama's NSA surveillance review group, said the reform proposals from the president and the House should ease people's fears.
“There is a difference between the government holding the data, which creates the possibility of abuse, and the government not holding it,” he said. “The phone companies have held this data all along, so there's no additional risk.”
No one appeared keen to talk about the whistleblower who ignited the debate and found exile in Russia. Asked if Snowden should be tried, Wyden declined to comment, saying he was not a prosecutor.
General Keith Alexander did not mention the former contractor in a retirement speech on Friday, which marked the end of his directorship of the NSA and Cyber Command. A similar silence was maintained by Feinstein, Hayden and Morrell.

No more NSA spying? Sorry, Mr Obama, but that's not true

No more NSA spying? Sorry, Mr Obama, but that's not true

An end to the 'bulk collection' of phone records won't stop the NSA from snooping on us online
Last week in the Hague, Barack Obama seemed to have suddenly remembered the oath he swore on his inauguration as president – that stuff about preserving, protecting and defending the constitution of theUnited States. At any rate, he announced that the NSA would end the "bulk collection" of telephone records and instead would be required to seek a new kind of court order to search data held by telecommunications companies.
This policy change is a tacit admission of what Edward Snowden (and2001 whistleblower William Binney before him) had been claiming, namely that the warrantless surveillance of US citizens by the NSA and other government agencies does, in fact, violate the constitution of the United States. Obama's announcement looked to some observers as the first crack to appear in the implacable facade of the national surveillance state. This looked promising because, as we know from second world war movies, the first crack is inevitably the harbinger of the eventual total collapse of the dam.
Dream on. The significant thing about Obama's announcement is the two things it left out: surveillance of the internet (as distinct from the telephonic activity of American citizens); and of the rest of the world – that's you and me. So even if Obama succeeds in getting his little policy swerve through Congress, the central capabilities of the national surveillance state will remain in place, untouched and unimpaired.
At the heart of these capabilities is the "bulk collection" (that is, warrantless) collection and storage of communications metadata on an unimaginable scale. Given that metadata in this context is essentially a log of every communicative act that you make in cyberspace – where you went; who you emailed or texted; who emailed or texted you; the URL of every website you visited; a list of every web search you've ever made; and so on – metadata nowadays constitutes information of a very detailed and intimate nature.
It's the kind of data that in a civilised society would only be accessible to state authorities under very strict conditions. Yet we now know, thanks to Snowden, that all of it is freely available to the NSA and its overseas franchises.
This is intolerable, for various reasons. The first and most obvious one is the intimacy of the data that is being collected. What is even more offensive is the speciousness of the rationale that is trotted out by state authorities to "justify" it. This goes back to the era of analogue telephony when the US supreme court decided that the "metadata" of a telephone subscriber consisted of a log of the numbers s/he called, and that this log was the product of the telephone company, not of the subscriber. This was perhaps a not reasonable judgment in an analogue era, but it is entirely inapplicable in a digital one. Our metadata should belong to us and should only be accessible under judicial supervision.
Equally offensive is the argument, regularly trotted out by government apologists, that "collection" does not mean what any normal person thinks it means. Sure, they say, the metadata may be hoovered up by the spooks' machines, but it isn't actually "collected" until it has been looked at by a human being. This is either breathtaking casuistry or evidence of startling official ignorance of current capabilities in machine learning and pattern recognition. Either way, it's bullshit.
Related to that is the way in which bulk collection of metadata undermines a fundamental principle of any civilised legal system – the presumption of innocence until proved otherwise. Current NSA/GCHQ practice effectively turns every citizen into a suspect to be surveilled, just in case, at some time in the future, the state decides to take an interest in him or her.
Finally, there is the legal issue. Ever since Snowden began telling it like it is, the ultimate fall-back position of the establishment has been that what the spooks are doing is "lawful". Even if we accept that proposition, there is still the problem of bad laws caused by incompetent or dishonest law-making. And what we are now discovering is how flawed the US law-making process relating to warrantless surveillance was. In the UK, the parliamentary process that led to RIPA, the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, was also flawed but in a different way. In the US, it was Dick Cheney and the politicians who decided what they wanted the NSA to do and drafted the law accordingly. Over here, the spooks told the politicians what they wanted and the legislators obliged. This is no way to run a democracy

Ukraine’s Inconvenient Neo-Nazis

Ukraine’s Inconvenient Neo-Nazis

Exclusive: When Ukrainian neo-Nazis – infuriated over the killing of an ultranationalist leader – surrounded the Parliament in Kiev, the incident presented a problem for the U.S. news media which has been trying to airbrush the neo-Nazis out of the Ukraine narrative, Robert Parry reports.

By Robert Parry

The U.S. media’s take on the Ukraine crisis is that a “democratic revolution” ousted President Viktor Yanukovych, followed by a “legitimate” change of government. So, to mention the key role played neo-Nazi militias in the putsch or to note that Yanukovych was democratically elected – and then illegally deposed – gets you dismissed as a “Russian propagandist.”

But Ukraine’s neo-Nazis are not some urban legend. Their presence is real, as they swagger in the paramilitary garb through the streets of Kiev, displaying Nazi insignias, honoring SS collaborators from World War II, and hoisting racist banners, including the white-power symbol of the Confederate battle flag.

Far-right militia members demonstrating outside Ukrainian parliament in Kiev. (Screen shot from YouTube video)
Far-right militia members demonstrating outside Ukrainian parliament in Kiev. (Screen shot from YouTube video)
Over the past few days, the neo-Nazis have surged to the front of Ukraine’s unrest again by furiously protesting the killing of one of their leaders, Oleksandr Muzychko, known as Sashko Bily. The Interior Ministry reported that Muzychko died in a Monday night shoot-out with police in Rivne in western Ukraine.
But the right-wing paramilitaries claim that Muzychko was murdered in a cold-blooded contract hit, and these modern-day storm troopers have threatened to storm the parliament building if the interim Interior Minister is not fired.
This renewed disorder has complicated the storytelling of the major U.S. news media by challenging the sweetness-and-light narrative preferred by U.S. policymakers. The New York Times, the Washington Post and other leading news outlets have worked hard to airbrush the well-established fact that neo-Nazi militants spearheaded the coup on Feb. 22.

To dismiss that inconvenient fact, the major U.S. media has stressed that the extreme rightists made up a minority of the demonstrators, which – while true – is largely irrelevant since it was the paramilitary Right Sektor that provided the armed force that removed Yanukovych and then dominated the “transition” period by patrolling key government buildings. As a reward, far-right parties were given control of four ministries.

Some U.S. outlets also have picked up on the unsubstantiated U.S. government theme that Russia is dispatching unidentified “provocateurs” to destabilize the coup regime in Kiev, though it doesn’t seem like Moscow would have to do much besides stand aside and watch the interim government’s unruly supporters turn on each other.

But reality has stopped playing much of a role in the U.S. news media’s Ukraine reporting as the U.S. press continues to adjust the reality to fit with the desired narrative. For instance, the New York Times, in its boilerplate account of the uprising, has removed the fact that more than a dozen police were among the 80 or so people killed. The Times now simply reports that police fired on and killed about 80 demonstrators.

Fitting with its bowdlerized account, the Times also ignores evidence that snipers who apparently fired on both police and protesters before the coup may have been working for the opposition, not Yanukovych’s government. An intercepted phone callby two European leaders discussed those suspicions as well as the curious decision of the post-coup government not to investigate who the snipers really were.

Surrounding the Parliament
But most significantly, the U.S. mainstream media has struggled to downplay the neo-Nazi angle as was apparent in the Times’ report on President Vladimir Putin’s call on Friday to President Barack Obama to discuss possible steps to defuse the crisis. Putin noted that neo-Nazis had surrounded the parliament.

“In citing extremist action, Mr. Putin sought to capitalize on a tense internal showdown in Kiev,” the Times wrote. “The presence of masked, armed demonstrators threatening to storm the Parliament building offered the Russian government an opportunity to bolster its contention that the ouster of President Viktor F. Yanukovych, a Moscow ally, after pro-European street protests last month was an illegal coup carried out by right-wing extremists with Western encouragement.”

But the Times couldn’t simply let those facts speak for themselves, though they were all true: right-wing extremists did provide the key manpower and organization to overrun government buildings on Feb. 22 and there is no doubt that these right-wing elements were getting Western encouragement, including a shoulder-to-shoulder appearance by Sen. John McCain.

The Times felt compelled to interject an argumentative counterpoint, saying: “In fact, the nationalist groups, largely based in western Ukraine, had formed just one segment of a broad coalition of demonstrators who occupied the streets of Kiev for months demanding Mr. Yanukovych’s ouster.”

And, that has been a consistent pattern for the supposedly objective U.S. news media. If the Russians say something, even if it is clearly true, the point must be contradicted. However, when a U.S. official states something about the Ukraine crisis, the claim goes unchallenged no matter how absurd.

For example, when Secretary of State John Kerry denounced Putin’s intervention in Crimea by declaring, “you just don’t in the 21st Century behave in 19th Century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped-up pretext,” mainstream U.S. news outlets simply let the statement stand without noting that Kerry himself had voted in 2002 to authorize President George W. Bush to invade Iraq in pursuit of non-existent weapons of mass destruction.

You might think that Kerry’s breathtaking hypocrisy would be newsworthy or at least a relevant fact that should be pointed out to readers, but no. The Times also has routinely distorted Crimea’s secession from Ukraine. The Black Sea peninsula, a longtime Russian province that was only attached to Ukraine for administrative purposes during Soviet days, asserted its independence after the coup ousting Yanukovych, who had won Crimea overwhelmingly.

No one seriously doubts that the vast majority of Crimean citizens wanted to escape the disorder and hardship enveloping Ukraine – and to return to Russia with its higher per capita income and functioning national government – but the Obama administration and the dutiful U.S. news media have pretended otherwise.

In New York Times speak, Crimea’s popular vote to secede from Ukraine and to join Russia was simply Putin’s “seizure” of Crimea. The Times and other mainstream news outlets dismissed Crimea’s March 16 referendum as somehow rigged – citing the 96 percent tally for secession as presumptive evidence of fraud – although there was no actual evidence of election rigging. Exit polls confirmed the overwhelming majority favoring secession from Ukraine and annexation by Russia.

IMF’s ‘Reforms’
And, really, who could blame the people of Crimea? As Ukraine’s acting Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk has said, Ukraine “is on the edge of economic and financial bankruptcy” and the International Monetary Fund agreed to throw a financial lifeline only if Ukraine imposes “reforms” that Yatsenyuk has admitted are “very unpopular, very difficult, very tough.”

They will be toughest on average Ukrainians who will face severe public sector budget cuts, slashed pensions, soaring heating costs and rapid inflation due to changes in the exchange rate. The cumulative impact of these IMF “reforms” is expected to result in a 3 percent contraction of Ukraine’s already depressed economy.

Yet, much of the mainstream U.S. media ignores the understandable desire of the Crimean people to bail out on the failed Ukrainian state. Instead, the MSM pretends that Russia simply invaded Crimea and now is threatening to do the same in eastern Ukraine, or as the Times put it, Putin has engaged in “provocative moves punctuated by a menacing buildup of troops on Ukraine’s border.”

The bottom line is that the U.S. government and media have constructed a substantially false narrative for the American people, all the better to manufacture consent behind a $1 billion U.S. aid package for Ukraine and the launch of a new Cold War with the expectation of many more exciting confrontations to come – in places like Syria and Iran – all justifying fatter military budgets.

A more objective and less alarmist narrative on the Ukraine crisis would describe Putin’s actions as primarily defensive and reactive. He was distracted by the Winter Olympics in Sochi and was caught off-guard by the violent putsch that removed Yanukovych.

In light of Yanukovych’s democratic election victory in 2010 and his agreement on Feb. 21 to speed up new elections (a deal that was negated within hours by the U.S./EU-supported coup), Russia has a legitimate argument that the coup regime in Kiev is illegitimate.

The removal of Yanukovych not only was spearheaded by neo-Nazi militias but subsequent parliamentary actions did not follow Ukraine’s constitutional rules. The putsch essentially disenfranchised the large ethnic-Russian populations in the east and south, where Yanukovych had his political base.

Then, the rump parliament in Kiev – reflecting the intense Ukrainian nationalism in the western section – passed punitive laws targeting these Russian speakers, including elimination of Russian as an official language. For Putin to be troubled by this crisis on his border — and to take action — was neither surprising nor particularly provocative.

If the New York Times and other leading U.S. outlets did their journalism in a professional way, the American people would have had a more nuanced understanding of what happened in Ukraine and why. Instead, the Times and the rest of the MSM resumed their roles as U.S. propagandists, much as they did in Iraq in 2002-03 with their usual preference for a simplistic “good-guy/bad-guy” dichotomy.

In the case of Ukraine, that happy dichotomy has been challenged again by the reemergence of those inconvenient neo-Nazis.

[For more on this topic, see’s “The Danger of False Narrative.”]

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book,America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazonand For a limited time, you also can order Robert Parry’s trilogy on the Bush Family and its connections to various right-wing operatives for only $34. The trilogy includes America’s Stolen Narrative. For details on this offer, click here.