Friday, February 01, 2019

Censored in 2018: The Enemy of a Pathetic Granfalloon

Censored in 2018: Julian Assange as the Enemy of a Pathetic Granfalloon

Following the lead of Project Censored, I like to do an annual column on what was (in my view) the most censored story of the previous  year. Censored 2019 (Seven Stories Press) names the "Global Decline in Rule of Law as Basic Human Rights Diminish" as the top censored story of 2018. 

In a variety of ways and at different levels of severity, millions of people around the world suffer from persecution at the hands of governments that respect neither international law nor, in many cases, the laws of their own countries. In large part due to the mind numbing propaganda spewed by establishment media that enables global power arrangements, the persecuted are often themselves thought to be oppressors, or thought to have somehow brought their misfortune on themselves. For example, many Americans today celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but they forget (or never knew) that government agents worked actively to discredit him from the mid-1950s until the day he died. While convincing evidence of a government directed conspiracy to kill King has never emerged, one need not be a conspiracy wacko to acknowledge that government forces and some in the establishment media created the hostile climate that made his assassination inevitable. And as the great writer George Bernard Shaw once wrote, "Assassination in the extreme form of censorship." 

He has not been assassinated--yet--but today Wikileaks founder Julian Assange serves as a representative anecdote of how governments and establishment media can censor anyone who dares expose their crimes and mendacity. In 2018 Assange, who since 2012 has been trapped in the Ecuadorian embassy in London out of legitimate concern that he would be extradited to the United States should he leave (to stand "trial" for "crimes" that are not exactly clear), literally had his Internet access cut off. But his situation is much more dire; Pultizer-Prize winning journalist Chris Hedges likens the treatment of Assange to a modern day crucifixion: 
Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has been unable to leave the Ecuadorian embassy in London for years out of concern that leaving would result in extradition to face government persecution in the United States. 
"Julian Assange’s sanctuary in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London has been transformed into a little shop of horrors. He has been largely cut off from communicating with the outside world for the last seven months. His Ecuadorian citizenship, granted to him as an asylum seeker, is in the process of being revoked. His health is failing. He is being denied medical care. His efforts for legal redress have been crippled by the gag rules, including Ecuadorian orders that he cannot make public his conditions inside the embassy in fighting revocation of his Ecuadorian citizenship." 

Hedges cites an appeal made by Assange's mother Christine on her son's behalf: 

“Despite Julian being a multi-award-winning journalist, much loved and respected for courageously exposing serious, high-level crimes and corruption in the public interest, he is right now alone, sick, in pain—silenced in solitary confinement, cut off from all contact and being tortured in the heart of London. The modern-day cage of political prisoners is no longer the Tower of London. It’s the Ecuadorian Embassy . . . Julian has been detained nearly eight years without charge. That’s right. Without charge. For the past six years, the U.K. government has refused his request for access to basic health needs, fresh air, exercise, sunshine for vitamin D and access to proper dental and medical care. As a result, his health has seriously deteriorated. His examining doctors warned his detention conditions are life-threatening. A slow and cruel assassination is taking place before our very eyes in the embassy in London.”

And she said this: "My son is in critical danger, because of a brutal political persecution by the bullies in power whose crimes and corruption he has courageously exposed when he was editor-in-chief of Wikileaks." 
Assange and Wikileaks receive little support from establishment media, even though Wikileaks releases have been used repeatedly by said media in thousands of stories. 
In 2016 a United Nations' Working Group on Arbitrary Detention found Assange's detention to be in violation of international law, but the group's report was not even acknowledged by the global powers that be. 

Thanks in large part to establishment media's willingness to carry water for oppressive global governments, Assange's situation is either ignored or--worse--he is not at all viewed as a sympathetic figure among politically active elites whose voices could be of assistance not just in securing his release, but of all political prisoners around the globe. My guess is that even many people reading this blog post, if they know of the Assange situation at all, respond to his name with deep suspicion; among hyperpartisan Democrats Assange supposedly conspired with Putin and Trump to undermine Hillary Clinton's campaign. Among hyperpartisan Republicans he is, in the words of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a "fraud, a coward hiding behind a screen." 

That so many establishment Democrats and Republicans, and their respective propaganda arms MSNBC and Fox News, can unite in mutual enmity against Julian Assange ought to give us pause. The situation is quite pathetic, perhaps in a way that only the late Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. could help us understand. 

Julian Assange as the enemy of a pathetic granfalloon

The late Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.'s voice is much missed today. His comic yet starkly insightful works of fiction and political prose were the epitome of bullshit-detector in action. One of my favorite Vonnegut concepts is from his classic Cat's Cradle: the "granfalloon";. i.e. the "proud and meaningless association of human beings." Members of a granfalloon typically feel some kind of superiority for being members of the "in" group. 
Kurt Vonnegut Jr.'s  concept of "granfalloon" is a perfect way to describe the union of establishment liberals, neocons, and Republican opportunists that want to see Assange prosecuted. 
The website Changing Minds had a good summary of the basic characteristics of a granfalloon, including this aspect that's most relevant to our discussion of the censorship and persecution of Mr. Assange: "Real or imagined enemies, such as government agents or anyone who criticizes the group."

In the Trump years, the so-called "Resistance" has become a most pathetic granfalloon. MSNBC watchers are treated daily to the remarkable spectacle of former intelligence agency heads (e.g. John Brennan, James Clapper, James Comey), neoconservatives (e.g. Bill Kristol, David Frum), and "never Trump" Republicans (e.g. Charlie Sykes, Steve Schmidt) in union with the "liberal" hosts as they endlessly dissect any and all Trump/Russia connection no matter how tenuous. The Intercept's Glenn Greenwald came up with a useful list of the top-ten most embarrassing media failures that this so-called resistance has had to apologize for. 

Just to be clear: my criticism of MSNBC for giving a forum to dubious characters whose commitment to the cause of democracy and freedom is at best questionable is not meant to suggest that Fox or other so-called "conservative" media are doing anything better. Indeed, Fox and their offspring continue to represent the absolute worst of what American media has to offer and have pretty much destroyed genuine political conservatism as a serious force in American politics. The problem is that the "Resistance" media, in giving safe haven to Russiaphobes and right wing opportunists, has actually managed to make Fox and others look only slightly more unhinged by comparison. 

How does this so-called Resistance impact political prisoners like Assange? Consider this Orwellian October, 2018 letter sent to Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno by two members of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs: the "liberal" Democrat Eliot Engel and the "conservative" Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. The letter is a textbook example of mindless granfalloon rhetoric: 

"We are very concerned with Julian Assange's continued presence at your embassy in London and his receipt of Ecuadorian citizenship last year. Most recently, we were particularly disturbed to learn that your government restored Mr. Assange's access to the Internet. On numerous occasions, Mr. Assange has compromised the national security of the United States . . . It is clear that Mr. Assange remains a dangerous criminal and a threat to global security, and he should be brought to justice." 

Mr. Moreno gave in to threats from the UK and US, and so Assange once again lost Internet access and faces the real possibility of losing his asylum status. 

As for Assange being a "dangerous criminal," he has now served what any fair and sane observer would call an eight year prison sentence, yet he's never actually been charged with a crime outside of "failure to surrender" to the British authorities when he entered the Ecuadorian embassy in 2012. Sexual assault charges against Assange in Sweden, which produced mountains of sensational headlines and unsubstantiated claims, were dropped in 2017. In 2013 the Obama Administration concluded that to charge Assange would mean having to charge other media publishers, because leaking classified documents is something that they all either have done and/or consider to be protected journalistic activity under the First Amendment. 

Perhaps the low point in the Resistance granfalloon's jihad against Assange was this recent exchange between NBC's Chuck Todd and Republican Senator Marco Rubio: 

Chuck Todd:  "Should it be a crime working with Wikileaks?"

Rubio: "I think certainly if you're wittingly doing it, it should be considered as such."

I think the appropriate follow-up question should have been, "should it be a crime working with NBC news?" Seriously, is Chuck Todd saying that if NBC had in its possession a classified document that proved Trump/Russia collusion, they would not publish it? Does Todd think that the Washington Post and New York Times should have faced criminal penalties for publishing the Pentagon Papers? 

Julian Assange is the enemy of the Resistance, a motley crew of establishment liberals, neoconservative hawks, Republican opportunists, and a wide range of academics and journalists who gleefully write about leaked documents but then lack the courage or integrity to defend the person(s) who put their lives at risk to make such documents available. In Vonnegutian terms, that motley crew is a truly pathetic granfalloon. 

Because Julian Assange is in a real sense a representative anecdote of what happens when someone doesn't just talk about speaking truth to power but actually does it, his story should be told accurately and persistently by all establishment media claiming to be defending journalistic values in the age of Trump. In 2019 Assange's story in establishment circles was told neither accurately nor persistently, making it my choice as the most censored story of 2018.