TBR News October 8, 2017

Oct 08 2017

The Voice of the White House

Washington, D.C., October 8, 2017: “”The Saudi attack on 9/11 is a subject that will be with us for years and will certainly grow in the telling. The WTC buildings collapsed solely for a number of rational, provable reasons but the following the Saudi attack, all manner of “expert” opinions erupted into the public like some kind of a tropical skin disease and a great army of conspiracy idiots left the stale fictions surrounding the Kennedy assassination and gratefully rush to embrace the new religion, a religion that had the exciting suggestions of “plasmoid clouds.” “Ex-Soviet controlled rockets,” “’Nano thermite explosives planted in both buildings,” and on and on.

And later we discover that brilliant, fearless reporters and daring bloggers  exposed and are still exposing, the Real Truth behind the 911 disaster. We are subjected to the Plasmoid Clouds, The Chinese/Bulgarian Guided Missiles, The ex-Soviet Scientists working with the CIA, and Mossad and the Illuminati.

Ah, and then we learned about the dread Nano Thermite! Yes, more “experts” (as always, unidentified) found traces of this fictive explosive all over the streets after the WTC building collapsed! Of course not a word was ever mentioned about this shocking fact for eight years but why let that bother the seekers after truth?

What about the self-sacrificing US Army Special Forces who actually went inside the buildings, acting on orders from Laura Bush, the Freemasons and their controllers, the Illuminati (who were working with the Mossad at the time),  and blew the Twin Towers, and themselves, up? And the acres of foreign rocket engine parts strewed all over New York’s streets, or huge lakes of molten steel found by unidentified “rescue workers” in the cellars of the WTC?

God, will these disillusions never end?

Two hijacked commercial airliners slammed into these buildings, setting fires that weakened the structure, causing the weight of the building above the point of impact to collapse down on itself.

There is absolutely no mystery at all about this.

Stories about rockets, explosives and other matters are entertaining and keep some people occupied but neither I nor most structural engineers I know believe any of these burgeoning urban legends for a nanosecond.

Next, I suppose, the killings at Coulmbine High School will be blamed on trained dwarves, members of the Mossad, killer robots, the Skull and Bones Society of Yale, the Teamsters, ABC News or the Mormon Church.

The public has lost confidence in their government and when that happens, all kind of rumor, theory and legends grow up like fungus in the woods after a long rain.

Those with a technical bent, endlessly postulate on the melting point of steel, the heat of burning jet fuel, the exact size of entrance holes in buildings and on and on. In the end, we have entertaining theory but no practice.

The same thing has become evident in the post mortem stories about the Kennedy assassination. Mongolian dwarves, the KGB, Richard Nixon, J. Edgar Hoover, the CIA and a dozen other entities are absolutely believed by this or that thrilled discoverer to have committed the deed.

Government stupidity, which is always with us, contributed to the growth of legend over the years until the underbrush is so thick that it could hide a wooly mammoth and sixteen naked university professors.”



Table of Contents

  • An ‘unknown disaster’ looms in Catalonia’s independence crisis
  • Iran warns U.S. against imposing further sanctions
  • Who Was Stephen Paddock? The Mystery of a Nondescript ‘Numbers Guy’
  • ‘Our minds can be hijacked’: the tech insiders who fear a smartphone dystopia
  • The rising of Britain’s ‘new politics’


An ‘unknown disaster’ looms in Catalonia’s independence crisis

Masses of Catalans gathered in Barcelona this weekend to call for dialog and protest further confrontation with Spain. Their demand? More solutions, fewer egos.

October 8, 2017

by Mariel Müller


On Saturday, Sant Jaume Square in the center of Barcelona was a sea of white T-shirts. The choice of clothing was intended to send a message of peace. Thousands of residents were gathered here between the Catalonian presidential palace and Barcelona city hall in answer to an anonymous call to demonstration. And on Sunday, hundreds of thousands once more took the Barcelona’s streets under two yellow-and-red flags — that of Spain and that of the autonomous region of Catalonia (above).

The weekend’s goal: to demand that leaders on both sides of an increasingly intense conflict, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and Catalonian President Carles Puigdemont, begin a dialog.

They must finally sit down with one another and talk, things cannot keep on like this,” said a man that came to Saturday’s protest with his daughter on his shoulders. He says he has an opinion about Catalonian independence, but that is not what is called for here. “If I had seen just one flag, no matter if Spanish or Catalonian, I would have left immediately,” he said. Saturday’s flags were all white, emblazoned with the words “parlem” and “hablemos,” Catalan and Spanish respectively for “Let’s talk.”

A young woman explains: “This is a people’s movement, not one sponsored by a political party.” That is also the reason that this particular protest is so much smaller that those which have been held over the last few weeks, such as the massive “Si” (Yes) rally that was staged before Catalonia held its controversial independence referendum on October 1. The demonstrator said it is hard to get hundreds of thousands of people out on the streets if a political party or major organization is not behind the call. And she is right: After about three hours, Saturday’s demonstration was over and the square was once again the stage for newlyweds armed with confetti cannons.

‘We are the silent majority’

But what will happen if Catalonian President Carles Puigdemont really does declare independence on Tuesday? Will the Spanish government invoke Article 155 of the Constitution and nullify Catalonian autonomy? Many are worried. Will Puigdemont be arrested? How will his supporters react? Will there be more violence? Those are all questions that the demonstrators are asking. One answer is repeatedly voiced, louder and clearer than any other: “The politicians should do their damn job — for us. They should let the people decide instead of trying to push their own political agendas at any cost,” said one agitated woman.

There is no doubt the majority of the people do not want independence. “We are the silent majority. We are the 60 percent that refused to vote, or voted ‘no.'” Indeed, the overwhelming majority of those gathered on Saturday say they are decidedly against breaking away from Spain.

The Catalonian government, however, says that 90 percent of those citizens that cast ballots in the contested independence referendum are for independence. They represent some 43 percent of all eligible Catalonian voters.

There are also a number of citizens that are open to negotiations, says Oriol Bartomeu, a political scientist at the Autonomous University of Barcelona. “Most Catalans want to remain within Spain if Catalonia’s autonomous powers are expanded and if Spain truly transform itself into a pluralist system.” The expert adds that if Madrid had taken steps in that direction when it had the chance to do so years ago, the situation today would look very different.

‘The Spanish side feels like it will win’

But right now that is not the case, and Madrid has refused to give an inch. “The Spanish side has the feeling that it will win out, so why should it make any concessions?” Bartomeu explains. It is currently pursing a strategy that says, either Catalonia gives in completely or it unilaterally declares independence. “And that would be very risky for the government of Catalonia, because it does not have majority support among the population,” he adds. Should that scenario come to pass, the Spanish government would then invoke Article 155. And then? “That’s the unknown disaster.”

One group that could greatly influence the Catalan decision is the left-wing party Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP), which guarantees President Puigdemont’s parliamentary majority. Party spokesman Quim Arrufat says that he “does not want to take any unilateral steps.” Especially not in the wake of the heavy-handed crackdown meted out by Spanish police on the day of the referendum, he clarifies. “If there is movement on the Spanish side, then we will wait and see what happens.” Arrufat says that the CUP is prepared to start a dialog with Madrid.

Separatist movement could become more radical

Ultimately, Arrafut believes the question is not if Catalonia will declare independence but when. He thinks that Tuesday, the day President Puigdemont is set to address Catalonia’s parliament, will be too soon. Will Puigdemont back down? “No,” says the party spokesman.

Political scientist Bartomeu says the situation is precarious. “If the Puigdemont government says, ‘let’s forget independence,’ it will have a big problem on its hands. They can say it, but that won’t mean that the separatist movement’s two million supporters will suddenly stop protesting — quite the opposite.” Then the Catalonian government will run the risk of losing control of the situation entirely, he explains. “The movement will be smaller, but much more radical,” warns Bartomeu. “At that point, no one can rule out violence between separatists and police.”


Iran warns U.S. against imposing further sanctions

October 8, 2017


BEIRUT/DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran warned the United States against designating its Revolutionary Guards Corp as a terrorist group and said U.S. regional military bases would be at risk if further sanctions were passed.

The warning came after the White House said on Friday that President Donald Trump would announce new U.S. responses to Iran’s missile tests, support for “terrorism” and cyber operations as part of his new Iran strategy.

“As we’ve announced in the past, if America’s new law for sanctions is passed, this country will have to move their regional bases outside the 2,000 km range of Iran’s missiles,” Guards’ commander Mohammad Ali Jafari said, according to state media.

Jafari also said that additional sanctions would end the chances for future dialogue with the United States, according to state media, and issued a stark warning to American troops.

“If the news is correct about the stupidity of the American government in considering the Revolutionary Guards a terrorist group, then the Revolutionary Guards will consider the American army to be like Islamic State all around the world particularly in the Middle East,” Jafari said.

The Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) are Iran’s most powerful internal and external security force. The Quds Force, the IRGC’s foreign espionage and paramilitary wing, and individuals and entities associated with the IRGC are on the US list of foreign terrorist organizations, but the organization as a whole is not.

Iran sees the Sunni Muslim militants of Islamic State as an existential threat to the Islamic Republic where the majority of the population are Shi‘ites.

On June 7, Islamic State claimed an attack on Tehran’s parliament and the mausoleum of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic, killing 18 people. The Guards fired missiles at Islamic State bases in Syria on June 18 in response.

Guards commanders have framed their military involvement in Iraq and Syria, where they are fighting to support the government of President Bashar al-Assad, as a fight against Islamic State.

Dozens of members of the Guards, including senior commanders, have been killed in Syria and Iraq.


The website for state TV reported Jafari as adding that the United States was mistaken if it thought it could pressure Iran into negotiating on regional issues.

Jafari also said that Tehran would ramp up its defense capabilities, including its missile program, if the U.S. undermined a nuclear deal between Iran and Western powers.

Under the 2015 deal, Iran agreed to limit its disputed nuclear program in return for the easing of economic sanctions.

However, Trump is expected to announce soon that he will decertify the deal, a senior administration official has said, in a step that potentially could cause the accord to unravel.

“The Americans should know that the Trump government’s stupid behavior with the nuclear deal will be used by the Islamic Republic as an opportunity to move ahead with its missile, regional and conventional defense program,” Jafari said, according to state media.

The prospect of Washington backtracking on the deal has worried some of the U.S. allies that helped negotiate it, especially as the world grapples with another nuclear crisis in the shape of North Korea.

If Trump does not certify that Iran is in compliance, the U.S. Congress will have 60 days to decide whether to reimpose sanctions waived under the deal. U.N. inspectors have verified Iranian compliance with the terms.

The Guards navy was also carrying out a military exercise on Sunday in the Gulf, an area of tension with the U.S. navy in recent months.

More than 110 vessels were involved in the exercise, including some that have rocket and missile capabilities, a state media report quoted a Guards commander as saying.

Reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh and William Maclean; Editing by Keith Weir



Who Was Stephen Paddock? The Mystery of a Nondescript ‘Numbers Guy’

by Sabrina Tavernise, Serge F. Kovalseki and Julie Turkewitz A

October 7, 2017

New York Times

LAS VEGAS — Stephen Paddock was a contradiction: a gambler who took no chances. A man with houses everywhere who did not really live in any of them. Someone who liked the high life of casinos but drove a nondescript minivan and dressed casually, even sloppily, in flip-flops and sweatsuits. He did not use Facebook or Twitter, but spent the past 25 years staring at screens of video poker machines.

Mr. Paddock, a former postal worker and tax auditor, lived an intensely private, unsocial life that exploded into public view on Sunday, when he killed 58 people at a country music festival and then shot himself. But even with nationwide scrutiny on his life, the mystery of who he was has only seemed to deepen.

On Friday, a law enforcement official said Mr. Paddock’s girlfriend, Marilou Danley, told investigators that he seemed to be deteriorating in recent months both mentally and physically. Perhaps his methodical and systematic mind had turned in a lethal and unpredictable new direction. To the few people who knew him well, it is the only plausible explanation.

“I wish I could tell you he was a miserable bastard, that I hate him, that if I could have killed him myself I would have,” said Eric Paddock, a younger brother. “But I can’t say that. It’s not who he was. We need to find out what happened to him. Something happened to my brother.”

The Las Vegas police believe Mr. Paddock may have had a secret life. He had been buying guns since 1982. But something seemed to change last October. He went on a shopping spree, adding to his arsenal until late last month. One of his purchases, a shotgun, came from Dixie Gunworx in St. George, Utah. Chris Michel, the owner, said Mr. Paddock visited the store three times in January and February, making the 40-minute drive from Mesquite, Nev.

Mr. Michel recalled Mr. Paddock saying that he was stopping at a number of local gun dealers, that he had retired and moved to the area, and that he was trying to get back into his hobbies.

When it came to guns, Mr. Michel said, “he was not a novice.”

The son of a bank robber and a secretary, Mr. Paddock grew up lower middle class in Southern California in the 1960s. From an early age, he focused on gaining complete control over his life and not having to rely on anyone. He cycled through a series of jobs he thought would make him rich, Eric Paddock said.

“He went to work for the I.R.S. because he thought that’s where the money was, but it turned out the money wasn’t there,” the younger Mr. Paddock said. “He went to the aerospace industry but the money wasn’t there either. He went to real estate and that’s where the money was.”

Stephen Paddock began buying and refurbishing properties in economically depressed areas around Los Angeles, teaching himself how to put in plumbing and install air-conditioning. By the late 1980s, “we had cash flow,” said Eric Paddock, who added that he had given his life savings to his older brother to invest and eventually became a partner in his company, because “that’s the kind of guy he was. I knew he would succeed.”

“He helped make my mother and I affluent enough to be retired in comfort,” he said.

With success came a rigidity and uncompromising attitude, along with two failed marriages, both short and childless. Stephen Paddock started gambling. Some who met him described him as arrogant, with a strong sense of superiority. People in his life bent to his will, even his mother and brother. He went out of his way for no one.

“He acted like everybody worked for him and that he was above others,” said John Weinreich, 48, a former executive casino host at the Atlantis Casino Resort Spa in Reno, where he saw Mr. Paddock frequently from 2012 to 2014. When Mr. Paddock wanted food while he was gambling, he wanted it immediately and would order with more than one server if the meal did not arrive quickly enough.

Mr. Weinreich said he would get irritated and “uppity about it.”

Mr. Paddock was uncompromising but he was also smart.“I would liken him to a chess player: very analytical and a numbers guy,” Mr. Weinreich said. “He seemed to be working at a higher level mentally than most people I run into in gambling.”

Mr. Paddock cherished his solitude, his brother said. In 2003, he got his pilot’s license after training in the Los Angeles area, eventually taking the extra step to get an instrument rating so that he could legally fly in cloudy conditions with limited visibility. He bought cookie-cutter houses in Texas and Nevada towns with small airports so that he could park his planes. He was utterly unremarkable.

“This guy paid on time every time and did not cause any problems at any time,” said Lt. Brian Parrish, the spokesman for the Police Department in Mesquite, Tex., where he rented a hangar for $285 a month from 2007 through 2009. He also stored planes at the small airport in Henderson, Nev., from 2002 to 2010, an airport spokesman said, though it is not clear he ever lived at the local addresses to which they had been registered.

Even in death, Mr. Paddock seemed to stay true to his ways. He remained in control, answerable to no one but himself. He was ensconced in a carpeted hotel suite. He was wearing gloves, as he often did to protect his sensitive skin. He shot himself before the police broke into his room. A piece of paper with numbers written on it lay on a table near his body.

“If Steve decided it was time for Steve to go, Steve got up and left,” Eric Paddock said. “He did what he wanted to do when he wanted to do it.”

The ‘Most Boring’ Son

Mr. Paddock was the oldest, and least angry, of four boys growing up in the 1950s, said another brother, Patrick Benjamin Paddock II, 60, an engineer in Tucson. Stephen Paddock was born in Iowa, the home state of their mother, Irene Hudson.

“My brother was the most boring one in the family,” Patrick Paddock said. “He was the least violent one in the family, over a 30-year history, so it’s like, who?”

Their father, Patrick Benjamin Paddock, also known as Benjamin Hoskins Paddock, was mostly absent, living a life of crime even before the boys were born. A 1969 newspaper story described him as a “glib, smooth talking ‘confidence man,’ who is egotistic and arrogant.”

His rap sheet was long and included writing bad checks, stealing cars and robbing banks. He was on the F.B.I.’s most wanted list. The agency described him as an avid bridge player, standing 6-foot-4 and weighing 245 pounds, who “has been diagnosed as being psychopathic, with possible suicidal tendencies.”

Stephen Paddock learned resourcefulness and self-reliance from an early age. In 1960, when he was 7, his father went to prison for a series of bank robberies and the family moved to Southern California.

The boys’ mother raised them alone on a secretary’s salary, the younger Patrick Paddock said. The brothers would fight over who would get the whole milk. Powdered milk, less tasty but cheaper, was the norm. Their mother never explained where their father was.

“She kept that secret from the family,” Patrick Paddock said.

Stephen Paddock graduated from John H. Francis Polytechnic Senior High School in the Sun Valley neighborhood of Los Angeles in 1971, according to a Los Angeles Unified School District official. Richard Alarcon, a former Los Angeles city councilman, who lived near the Paddocks, said their neighborhood was working class, with a Japanese community center and tidy ranch houses bought with money from the G.I. Bill.

Mr. Alarcon took a science class with Mr. Paddock and remembered him as smart but with “a kind of irreverence. He didn’t always stay between the lines.”

He recalled a competition to build a bridge of balsa wood, without staples or glue. Mr. Paddock cheated, he said, using glue and extra wood.

“Everybody could see that he had cheated, but he just sort of laughed it off,” Mr. Alarcon said. “He had that funny quirky smile on his face like he didn’t care. He wanted to have the strongest bridge and he didn’t care what it took.”

A Knack for Making Money

Mr. Paddock spent his 20s and 30s trying to escape the unpredictability of poverty. He worked nights at an airport while going to the California State University, Northridge, his brother Eric said, and then at jobs with the Internal Revenue Service and as an auditor of defense contracts. But it was real estate that ultimately lifted Mr. Paddock to financial freedom.

In 1987, he bought a 30-unit building at 1256 W. 29th Street in Los Angeles, near the University of Southern California, according to property records. His brother Eric Paddock said the buildings they bought were not “Taj Mahals, but they were nice safe places.”

Crucially, they were excellent investments: Stephen Paddock more than doubled his money on his California holdings, which included at least six multifamily residences, according to property records. He made money in Texas, too. In 2012, he sold a 110-unit building in Mesquite, outside Dallas, for $8.3 million.

He was a good landlord. He kept the rents low, responded promptly to his tenants’ complaints, learned all their names and made sure they were happy. When one reliable tenant complained about a rent increase, he took half off the difference. He designed the ownership structure so his family would profit and installed his mother in a tidy house just behind the apartment complex in Mesquite, Tex.

Mr. Paddock had an apartment in the complex, but he mostly lived elsewhere. He had been married twice, but the apartment looked like a bachelor pad, said Todd Franks, a real estate broker in Dallas. “What you would expect from a 25-year-old single guy.”

To Mr. Franks, Mr. Paddock stood out because it was unusual for the landlord of a property that size to pay such close attention to the day-to-day running of his complex.

“He was frustrated by people who did stupid things,” Mr. Franks said.

He was also willing to fight to defend what was his. During the riots in Los Angeles in the 1990s, he went to the roof of an apartment complex he owned in a flak jacket and armed with a gun, waiting for the rioters, Mr. Franks said.

Though Mr. Paddock might have adopted an accommodating attitude toward his tenants and dressed casually — Mr. Franks remembered him regularly wearing sandals and a sweatsuit — Mr. Paddock was focused and astute when he made deals.

“He was a tough negotiator,” Mr. Franks said. “He wanted his price. His terms. He was a very savvy businessman.”

The House Advantage

By the 2000s, with both of his marriages long over, casinos became Mr. Paddock’s habitat. He liked being waited on, seeing shows and eating good food.

“He likes it when people go, ‘Oh, Mr. Paddock, can I get you a big bowl of the best shrimp anybody had ever eaten on the planet and a big glass of our best port?” Eric Paddock said.

Gambling made him feel important, if not social.

“You could tell that being in that high-limit gambling environment would lift him up,’’ said Mr. Weinreich, the Atlantis casino host in Reno. “He liked everyone doting on him.”

He sometimes called for company, inviting his brother Eric and his children for a free weekend in a luxury suite. But mostly he stayed alone.

A couple of years ago, Mr. Paddock stayed in one Las Vegas hotel gambling for four months straight, said a gaming industry analyst here who was briefed on Mr. Paddock’s gambling history.

The analyst described him as a midlevel high roller, capable of losing $100,000 in one session, which could extend over several days. He said Mr. Paddock may have lost that amount at the Red Rock Casino in Las Vegas within the last few months.

Playing a slot machine can be mindless and is usually a guaranteed win for the casino. That is not what Mr. Paddock played. His game, video poker, requires some skill. Players have to know the history of a particular machine. They can do that by reading a pay table, which tells them what each possible winning hand pays out.

One of the ways that video poker players get an advantage is to play casino promotions, which essentially pay out bonuses to winners, said Richard Munchkin, author of “Gambling Wizards: Conversations With the World’s Greatest Gamblers.” A gambler like Mr. Paddock will often “lock” a machine, meaning he or she monopolizes it and makes sure no one else uses it during a gambling session.

For one casino promotion, Mr. Paddock showed up two hours early, locked two machines and played them for 14 hours straight, Mr. Munchkin said, based on information he had compiled from other gamblers who were there at the time. The promotion lasted 12 hours, he said, “but he wanted to play for two hours before anybody got those machines. He knew they were the best machines based on pay tables.”

Mr. Paddock “knew the house advantage down to a tenth of a percent,” he said.

As for the mystery of why Mr. Paddock would go on a shooting rampage at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino and then kill himself, most in the gambling industry do not believe it had anything to do with money.

He was in good standing with MGM Properties, the owner of the Mandalay and the Bellagio, according to a person familiar with his gambling history. He had a $100,000 credit limit, the person said, but never used the full amount.

The Absent Neighbor

Mr. Paddock spent so much time in casinos that he was mostly a ghost in the neighborhoods where he had homes.

Colleen Maas, a neighbor of Mr. Paddock’s in Reno, said she had not seen him once in a year and a half, despite walking her dog three times a day and going to line dancing events with his girlfriend, Ms. Danley, at the community center.

He did travel. On his 60th birthday, April 9, 2013, he flew to the Philippines on Japan Airlines and stayed for five days, according to a spokeswoman for the Philippine Bureau of Immigration. The family of Ms. Danley, his girlfriend, lived there and she was visiting the country at the time. The couple went again for his birthday the following year.

When he did appear at his Reno home, he could be curt. Another neighbor, John McKay, recalled a day when he was hanging Christmas lights on a railing in his front yard when Mr. Paddock walked by. Mr. McKay said hello and yelled out, “Merry Christmas!” Mr. Paddock kept walking. “He said nothing,” Mr. McKay said. “Not a word. No eye contact.”

Even more baffling, when Mr. McKay tried to strike up a conversation with Mr. Paddock about Donald Trump during the election campaign, he got no response.

“Almost everyone has a reaction to Trump,” said Mr. McKay’s wife, Darlene.

Ms. McKay said that she would usually get up early each morning to watch the sunrise and, when Mr. Paddock was at his home, she would see him dressed in his gym clothes walking to the community center for a workout. Ms. McKay recalled something peculiar: “He always walked across the street and would never pass in front of our house.”

Mr. McKay said that he rarely saw a window or a door open at the house. One day he saw Mr. Paddock’s garage door open, and noticed a large safe inside.

It is not clear what set Mr. Paddock on his path to destruction. As early as 2010, he could no longer fly his planes. His medical certificate expired, according to Federal Aviation Administration records, and there are no indications that he renewed it.

Mr. Paddock bought his last house in Mesquite, Nev., a retirement community of 18,000 people about 90 minutes from Las Vegas that attracts golfers and gamblers from around the country. He seems to have paid in cash, according to property records, and, as he did with other houses, spent very little time there.

His neighbors added personal touches to their yards — decorative pots, plants of all colors and sizes. Mr. Paddock’s house was unadorned. One of the few things neighbors remembered about him was the solid-panel fence he erected. The message was clear: Mr. Paddock was a man who did not want to be seen. On Thursday, investigators had left. A tiny paint-splattered easel, its brush drawer open and empty, stood in the back yard.

Ms. Danley worked in Mesquite. She took a job booking sports bets at a local casino called the Virgin River, where gamblers sat together in rows watching horse races and waitresses circled in tight black skirts.

Several days a week, she attended morning mass at a local Catholic church, said Leo McGinty, 80, a fellow parishioner who knew her from the casino.

Ms. Danley dressed smartly and modestly, he said. She usually sat alone.

Reporting was contributed by Stephanie Saul, Vivian Yee and Susan Beachy from New York; Adam Goldman from Washington; Kitty Bennett from St. Petersburg, Fla.; Miriam Jordan from Los Angeles; Sheryl Kornman from Tucson; and Richard C. Paddock from Manila.


‘Our minds can be hijacked’: the tech insiders who fear a smartphone dystopia

Google, Twitter and Facebook workers who helped make technology so addictive are disconnecting themselves from the internet. Paul Lewis reports on the Silicon Valley refuseniks alarmed by a race for human attention

October 6, 2017

by Paul Lewis in San Francisco

The Guardian

Justin Rosenstein had tweaked his laptop’s operating system to block Reddit, banned himself from Snapchat, which he compares to heroin, and imposed limits on his use of Facebook. But even that wasn’t enough. In August, the 34-year-old tech executive took a more radical step to restrict his use of social media and other addictive technologies.

Rosenstein purchased a new iPhone and instructed his assistant to set up a parental-control feature to prevent him from downloading any apps.

He was particularly aware of the allure of Facebook “likes”, which he describes as “bright dings of pseudo-pleasure” that can be as hollow as they are seductive. And Rosenstein should know: he was the Facebook engineer who created the “like” button in the first place.

A decade after he stayed up all night coding a prototype of what was then called an “awesome” button, Rosenstein belongs to a small but growing band of Silicon Valley heretics who complain about the rise of the so-called “attention economy”: an internet shaped around the demands of an advertising economy.

These refuseniks are rarely founders or chief executives, who have little incentive to deviate from the mantra that their companies are making the world a better place. Instead, they tend to have worked a rung or two down the corporate ladder: designers, engineers and product managers who, like Rosenstein, several years ago put in place the building blocks of a digital world from which they are now trying to disentangle themselves. “It is very common,” Rosenstein says, “for humans to develop things with the best of intentions and for them to have unintended, negative consequences.”

Rosenstein, who also helped create Gchat during a stint at Google, and now leads a San Francisco-based company that improves office productivity, appears most concerned about the psychological effects on people who, research shows, touch, swipe or tap their phone 2,617 times a day.

There is growing concern that as well as addicting users, technology is contributing toward so-called “continuous partial attention”, severely limiting people’s ability to focus, and possibly lowering IQ. One recent study showed that the mere presence of smartphones damages cognitive capacity – even when the device is turned off. “Everyone is distracted,” Rosenstein says. “All of the time.”

But those concerns are trivial compared with the devastating impact upon the political system that some of Rosenstein’s peers believe can be attributed to the rise of social media and the attention-based market that drives it.

Drawing a straight line between addiction to social media and political earthquakes like Brexit and the rise of Donald Trump, they contend that digital forces have completely upended the political system and, left unchecked, could even render democracy as we know it obsolete.

In 2007, Rosenstein was one of a small group of Facebook employees who decided to create a path of least resistance – a single click – to “send little bits of positivity” across the platform. Facebook’s “like” feature was, Rosenstein says, “wildly” successful: engagement soared as people enjoyed the short-term boost they got from giving or receiving social affirmation, while Facebook harvested valuable data about the preferences of users that could be sold to advertisers. The idea was soon copied by Twitter, with its heart-shaped “likes” (previously star-shaped “favourites”), Instagram, and countless other apps and websites.

It was Rosenstein’s colleague, Leah Pearlman, then a product manager at Facebook and on the team that created the Facebook “like”, who announced the feature in a 2009 blogpost. Now 35 and an illustrator, Pearlman confirmed via email that she, too, has grown disaffected with Facebook “likes” and other addictive feedback loops. She has installed a web browser plug-in to eradicate her Facebook news feed, and hired a social media manager to monitor her Facebook page so that she doesn’t have to.

“One reason I think it is particularly important for us to talk about this now is that we may be the last generation that can remember life before,” Rosenstein says. It may or may not be relevant that Rosenstein, Pearlman and most of the tech insiders questioning today’s attention economy are in their 30s, members of the last generation that can remember a world in which telephones were plugged into walls.

It is revealing that many of these younger technologists are weaning themselves off their own products, sending their children to elite Silicon Valley schools where iPhones, iPads and even laptops are banned. They appear to be abiding by a Biggie Smalls lyric from their own youth about the perils of dealing crack cocaine: never get high on your own supply.

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One morning in April this year, designers, programmers and tech entrepreneurs from across the world gathered at a conference centre on the shore of the San Francisco Bay. They had each paid up to $1,700 to learn how to manipulate people into habitual use of their products, on a course curated by conference organiser Nir Eyal.

Eyal, 39, the author of Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products, has spent several years consulting for the tech industry, teaching techniques he developed by closely studying how the Silicon Valley giants operate.

“The technologies we use have turned into compulsions, if not full-fledged addictions,” Eyal writes. “It’s the impulse to check a message notification. It’s the pull to visit YouTube, Facebook, or Twitter for just a few minutes, only to find yourself still tapping and scrolling an hour later.” None of this is an accident, he writes. It is all “just as their designers intended”.

He explains the subtle psychological tricks that can be used to make people develop habits, such as varying the rewards people receive to create “a craving”, or exploiting negative emotions that can act as “triggers”. “Feelings of boredom, loneliness, frustration, confusion and indecisiveness often instigate a slight pain or irritation and prompt an almost instantaneous and often mindless action to quell the negative sensation,” Eyal writes.

Attendees of the 2017 Habit Summit might have been surprised when Eyal walked on stage to announce that this year’s keynote speech was about “something a little different”. He wanted to address the growing concern that technological manipulation was somehow harmful or immoral. He told his audience that they should be careful not to abuse persuasive design, and wary of crossing a line into coercion.

But he was defensive of the techniques he teaches, and dismissive of those who compare tech addiction to drugs. “We’re not freebasing Facebook and injecting Instagram here,” he said. He flashed up a slide of a shelf filled with sugary baked goods. “Just as we shouldn’t blame the baker for making such delicious treats, we can’t blame tech makers for making their products so good we want to use them,” he said. “Of course that’s what tech companies will do. And frankly: do we want it any other way?”

Without irony, Eyal finished his talk with some personal tips for resisting the lure of technology. He told his audience he uses a Chrome extension, called DF YouTube, “which scrubs out a lot of those external triggers” he writes about in his book, and recommended an app called Pocket Points that “rewards you for staying off your phone when you need to focus”.

Finally, Eyal confided the lengths he goes to protect his own family. He has installed in his house an outlet timer connected to a router that cuts off access to the internet at a set time every day. “The idea is to remember that we are not powerless,” he said. “We are in control.”

But are we? If the people who built these technologies are taking such radical steps to wean themselves free, can the rest of us reasonably be expected to exercise our free will?

Not according to Tristan Harris, a 33-year-old former Google employee turned vocal critic of the tech industry. “All of us are jacked into this system,” he says. “All of our minds can be hijacked. Our choices are not as free as we think they are.”

Harris, who has been branded “the closest thing Silicon Valley has to a conscience”, insists that billions of people have little choice over whether they use these now ubiquitous technologies, and are largely unaware of the invisible ways in which a small number of people in Silicon Valley are shaping their lives.

A graduate of Stanford University, Harris studied under BJ Fogg, a behavioural psychologist revered in tech circles for mastering the ways technological design can be used to persuade people. Many of his students, including Eyal, have gone on to prosperous careers in Silicon Valley.

Harris is the student who went rogue; a whistleblower of sorts, he is lifting the curtain on the vast powers accumulated by technology companies and the ways they are using that influence. “A handful of people, working at a handful of technology companies, through their choices will steer what a billion people are thinking today,” he said at a recent TED talk in Vancouver.

“I don’t know a more urgent problem than this,” Harris says. “It’s changing our democracy, and it’s changing our ability to have the conversations and relationships that we want with each other.” Harris went public – giving talks, writing papers, meeting lawmakers and campaigning for reform after three years struggling to effect change inside Google’s Mountain View headquarters.

It all began in 2013, when he was working as a product manager at Google, and circulated a thought-provoking memo, A Call To Minimise Distraction & Respect Users’ Attention, to 10 close colleagues. It struck a chord, spreading to some 5,000 Google employees, including senior executives who rewarded Harris with an impressive-sounding new job: he was to be Google’s in-house design ethicist and product philosopher.

Looking back, Harris sees that he was promoted into a marginal role. “I didn’t have a social support structure at all,” he says. Still, he adds: “I got to sit in a corner and think and read and understand.”

He explored how LinkedIn exploits a need for social reciprocity to widen its network; how YouTube and Netflix autoplay videos and next episodes, depriving users of a choice about whether or not they want to keep watching; how Snapchat created its addictive Snapstreaks feature, encouraging near-constant communication between its mostly teenage users.

The techniques these companies use are not always generic: they can be algorithmically tailored to each person. An internal Facebook report leaked this year, for example, revealed that the company can identify when teens feel “insecure”, “worthless” and “need a confidence boost”. Such granular information, Harris adds, is “a perfect model of what buttons you can push in a particular person”.

Tech companies can exploit such vulnerabilities to keep people hooked; manipulating, for example, when people receive “likes” for their posts, ensuring they arrive when an individual is likely to feel vulnerable, or in need of approval, or maybe just bored. And the very same techniques can be sold to the highest bidder. “There’s no ethics,” he says. A company paying Facebook to use its levers of persuasion could be a car business targeting tailored advertisements to different types of users who want a new vehicle. Or it could be a Moscow-based troll farm seeking to turn voters in a swing county in Wisconsin.

Harris believes that tech companies never deliberately set out to make their products addictive. They were responding to the incentives of an advertising economy, experimenting with techniques that might capture people’s attention, even stumbling across highly effective design by accident.

A friend at Facebook told Harris that designers initially decided the notification icon, which alerts people to new activity such as “friend requests” or “likes”, should be blue. It fit Facebook’s style and, the thinking went, would appear “subtle and innocuous”. “But no one used it,” Harris says. “Then they switched it to red and of course everyone used it.”

That red icon is now everywhere. When smartphone users glance at their phones, dozens or hundreds of times a day, they are confronted with small red dots beside their apps, pleading to be tapped. “Red is a trigger colour,” Harris says. “That’s why it is used as an alarm signal.”

The most seductive design, Harris explains, exploits the same psychological susceptibility that makes gambling so compulsive: variable rewards. When we tap those apps with red icons, we don’t know whether we’ll discover an interesting email, an avalanche of “likes”, or nothing at all. It is the possibility of disappointment that makes it so compulsive.

It’s this that explains how the pull-to-refresh mechanism, whereby users swipe down, pause and wait to see what content appears, rapidly became one of the most addictive and ubiquitous design features in modern technology. “Each time you’re swiping down, it’s like a slot machine,” Harris says. “You don’t know what’s coming next. Sometimes it’s a beautiful photo. Sometimes it’s just an ad.”••

The designer who created the pull-to-refresh mechanism, first used to update Twitter feeds, is Loren Brichter, widely admired in the app-building community for his sleek and intuitive designs.

Now 32, Brichter says he never intended the design to be addictive – but would not dispute the slot machine comparison. “I agree 100%,” he says. “I have two kids now and I regret every minute that I’m not paying attention to them because my smartphone has sucked me in.”

Brichter created the feature in 2009 for Tweetie, his startup, mainly because he could not find anywhere to fit the “refresh” button on his app. Holding and dragging down the feed to update seemed at the time nothing more than a “cute and clever” fix. Twitter acquired Tweetie the following year, integrating pull-to-refresh into its own app.

Since then the design has become one of the most widely emulated features in apps; the downward-pull action is, for hundreds of millions of people, as intuitive as scratching an itch.

Brichter says he is puzzled by the longevity of the feature. In an era of push notification technology, apps can automatically update content without being nudged by the user. “It could easily retire,” he says. Instead it appears to serve a psychological function: after all, slot machines would be far less addictive if gamblers didn’t get to pull the lever themselves. Brichter prefers another comparison: that it is like the redundant “close door” button in some elevators with automatically closing doors. “People just like to push it.”

All of which has left Brichter, who has put his design work on the backburner while he focuses on building a house in New Jersey, questioning his legacy. “I’ve spent many hours and weeks and months and years thinking about whether anything I’ve done has made a net positive impact on society or humanity at all,” he says. He has blocked certain websites, turned off push notifications, restricted his use of the Telegram app to message only with his wife and two close friends, and tried to wean himself off Twitter. “I still waste time on it,” he confesses, “just reading stupid news I already know about.” He charges his phone in the kitchen, plugging it in at 7pm and not touching it until the next morning.

“Smartphones are useful tools,” he says. “But they’re addictive. Pull-to-refresh is addictive. Twitter is addictive. These are not good things. When I was working on them, it was not something I was mature enough to think about. I’m not saying I’m mature now, but I’m a little bit more mature, and I regret the downsides.”

Not everyone in his field appears racked with guilt. The two inventors listed on Apple’s patent for “managing notification connections and displaying icon badges” are Justin Santamaria and Chris Marcellino. Both were in their early 20s when they were hired by Apple to work on the iPhone. As engineers, they worked on the behind-the-scenes plumbing for push-notification technology, introduced in 2009 to enable real-time alerts and updates to hundreds of thousands of third-party app developers. It was a revolutionary change, providing the infrastructure for so many experiences that now form a part of people’s daily lives, from ordering an Uber to making a Skype call to receiving breaking news updates.

But notification technology also enabled a hundred unsolicited interruptions into millions of lives, accelerating the arms race for people’s attention. Santamaria, 36, who now runs a startup after a stint as the head of mobile at Airbnb, says the technology he developed at Apple was not “inherently good or bad”. “This is a larger discussion for society,” he says. “Is it OK to shut off my phone when I leave work? Is it OK if I don’t get right back to you? Is it OK that I’m not ‘liking’ everything that goes through my Instagram screen?”

His then colleague, Marcellino, agrees. “Honestly, at no point was I sitting there thinking: let’s hook people,” he says. “It was all about the positives: these apps connect people, they have all these uses – ESPN telling you the game has ended, or WhatsApp giving you a message for free from your family member in Iran who doesn’t have a message plan.”

A few years ago Marcellino, 33, left the Bay Area, and is now in the final stages of retraining to be a neurosurgeon. He stresses he is no expert on addiction, but says he has picked up enough in his medical training to know that technologies can affect the same neurological pathways as gambling and drug use. “These are the same circuits that make people seek out food, comfort, heat, sex,” he says.

All of it, he says, is reward-based behaviour that activates the brain’s dopamine pathways. He sometimes finds himself clicking on the red icons beside his apps “to make them go away”, but is conflicted about the ethics of exploiting people’s psychological vulnerabilities. “It is not inherently evil to bring people back to your product,” he says. “It’s capitalism.”

That, perhaps, is the problem. Roger McNamee, a venture capitalist who benefited from hugely profitable investments in Google and Facebook, has grown disenchanted with both companies, arguing that their early missions have been distorted by the fortunes they have been able to earn through advertising.

He identifies the advent of the smartphone as a turning point, raising the stakes in an arms race for people’s attention. “Facebook and Google assert with merit that they are giving users what they want,” McNamee says. “The same can be said about tobacco companies and drug dealers.”

That would be a remarkable assertion for any early investor in Silicon Valley’s most profitable behemoths. But McNamee, 61, is more than an arms-length money man. Once an adviser to Mark Zuckerberg, 10 years ago McNamee introduced the Facebook CEO to his friend, Sheryl Sandberg, then a Google executive who had overseen the company’s advertising efforts. Sandberg, of course, became chief operating officer at Facebook, transforming the social network into another advertising heavyweight.

McNamee chooses his words carefully. “The people who run Facebook and Google are good people, whose well-intentioned strategies have led to horrific unintended consequences,” he says. “The problem is that there is nothing the companies can do to address the harm unless they abandon their current advertising models.”

But how can Google and Facebook be forced to abandon the business models that have transformed them into two of the most profitable companies on the planet?

McNamee believes the companies he invested in should be subjected to greater regulation, including new anti-monopoly rules. In Washington, there is growing appetite, on both sides of the political divide, to rein in Silicon Valley. But McNamee worries the behemoths he helped build may already be too big to curtail. “The EU recently penalised Google $2.42bn for anti-monopoly violations, and Google’s shareholders just shrugged,” he says.

Rosenstein, the Facebook “like” co-creator, believes there may be a case for state regulation of “psychologically manipulative advertising”, saying the moral impetus is comparable to taking action against fossil fuel or tobacco companies. “If we only care about profit maximisation,” he says, “we will go rapidly into dystopia.”

James Williams does not believe talk of dystopia is far-fetched. The ex-Google strategist who built the metrics system for the company’s global search advertising business, he has had a front-row view of an industry he describes as the “largest, most standardised and most centralised form of attentional control in human history”.

Williams, 35, left Google last year, and is on the cusp of completing a PhD at Oxford University exploring the ethics of persuasive design. It is a journey that has led him to question whether democracy can survive the new technological age.

He says his epiphany came a few years ago, when he noticed he was surrounded by technology that was inhibiting him from concentrating on the things he wanted to focus on. “It was that kind of individual, existential realisation: what’s going on?” he says. “Isn’t technology supposed to be doing the complete opposite of this?”

That discomfort was compounded during a moment at work, when he glanced at one of Google’s dashboards, a multicoloured display showing how much of people’s attention the company had commandeered for advertisers. “I realised: this is literally a million people that we’ve sort of nudged or persuaded to do this thing that they weren’t going to otherwise do,” he recalls.

He embarked on several years of independent research, much of it conducted while working part-time at Google. About 18 months in, he saw the Google memo circulated by Harris and the pair became allies, struggling to bring about change from within.

Williams and Harris left Google around the same time, and co-founded an advocacy group, Time Well Spent, that seeks to build public momentum for a change in the way big tech companies think about design. Williams finds it hard to comprehend why this issue is not “on the front page of every newspaper every day.

“Eighty-seven percent of people wake up and go to sleep with their smartphones,” he says. The entire world now has a new prism through which to understand politics, and Williams worries the consequences are profound.

The same forces that led tech firms to hook users with design tricks, he says, also encourage those companies to depict the world in a way that makes for compulsive, irresistible viewing. “The attention economy incentivises the design of technologies that grab our attention,” he says. “In so doing, it privileges our impulses over our intentions.”

That means privileging what is sensational over what is nuanced, appealing to emotion, anger and outrage. The news media is increasingly working in service to tech companies, Williams adds, and must play by the rules of the attention economy to “sensationalise, bait and entertain in order to survive”.

In the wake of Donald Trump’s stunning electoral victory, many were quick to question the role of so-called “fake news” on Facebook, Russian-created Twitter bots or the data-centric targeting efforts that companies such as Cambridge Analytica used to sway voters. But Williams sees those factors as symptoms of a deeper problem.

It is not just shady or bad actors who were exploiting the internet to change public opinion. The attention economy itself is set up to promote a phenomenon like Trump, who is masterly at grabbing and retaining the attention of supporters and critics alike, often by exploiting or creating outrage.

Williams was making this case before the president was elected. In a blog published a month before the US election, Williams sounded the alarm bell on an issue he argued was a “far more consequential question” than whether Trump reached the White House. The reality TV star’s campaign, he said, had heralded a watershed in which “the new, digitally supercharged dynamics of the attention economy have finally crossed a threshold and become manifest in the political realm”.

Williams saw a similar dynamic unfold months earlier, during the Brexit campaign, when the attention economy appeared to him biased in favour of the emotional, identity-based case for the UK leaving the European Union. He stresses these dynamics are by no means isolated to the political right: they also play a role, he believes, in the unexpected popularity of leftwing politicians such as Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn, and the frequent outbreaks of internet outrage over issues that ignite fury among progressives.

All of which, Williams says, is not only distorting the way we view politics but, over time, may be changing the way we think, making us less rational and more impulsive. “We’ve habituated ourselves into a perpetual cognitive style of outrage, by internalising the dynamics of the medium,” he says.

It is against this political backdrop that Williams argues the fixation in recent years with the surveillance state fictionalised by George Orwell may have been misplaced. It was another English science fiction writer, Aldous Huxley, who provided the more prescient observation when he warned that Orwellian-style coercion was less of a threat to democracy than the more subtle power of psychological manipulation, and “man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions”.

Since the US election, Williams has explored another dimension to today’s brave new world. If the attention economy erodes our ability to remember, to reason, to make decisions for ourselves – faculties that are essential to self-governance – what hope is there for democracy itself?

“The dynamics of the attention economy are structurally set up to undermine the human will,” he says. “If politics is an expression of our human will, on individual and collective levels, then the attention economy is directly undermining the assumptions that democracy rests on.” If Apple, Facebook, Google, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat are gradually chipping away at our ability to control our own minds, could there come a point, I ask, at which democracy no longer functions?

“Will we be able to recognise it, if and when it happens?” Williams replies. “And if we can’t, then how do we know it hasn’t happened already?”


The rising of Britain’s ‘new politics’

October 7, 2017

by John Pilger


Delegates to the recent Labour Party conference in Brighton seemed not to notice a video playing. The world’s third biggest arms manufacturer, BAE Systems, supplier to Saudi Arabia, was promoting guns, bombs, missiles, naval ships and fighter aircraft.

It seemed a perfidious symbol of a party in which millions of Britons now invest their political hopes. Once the preserve of Tony Blair, it is now led by Jeremy Corbyn, whose career has been very different and is rare in British establishment politics.

Addressing the conference, the campaigner Naomi Klein described the rise of Corbyn as “part of a global phenomenon. We saw it in Bernie Sanders’ historic campaign in the US primaries, powered by millennials who know that safe centrist politics offers them no kind of safe future.”

In fact, at the end of the US primary elections last year, Sanders led his followers into the arms of Hillary Clinton, a liberal warmonger from a long tradition in the Democratic Party.

As President Obama’s Secretary of State, Clinton presided over the invasion of Libya in 2011, which led to a stampede of refugees to Europe. She gloated at the gruesome murder of Libya’s president. Two years earlier, Clinton signed off on a coup that overthrew the democratically elected president of Honduras. That she has been invited to Wales on 14 October to be given an honorary doctorate by the University of Swansea because she is “synonymous with human rights” is unfathomable.

Like Clinton, Sanders is a cold-warrior and “anti-communist” obsessive with a proprietorial view of the world beyond the United States. He supported Bill Clinton’s and Tony Blair’s illegal assault on Yugoslavia in 1998 and the invasions of Afghanistan, Syria and Libya, as well as Barack Obama’s campaign of terrorism by drone. He backs the provocation of Russia and agrees that the whistleblower Edward Snowden should stand trial. He has called the late Hugo Chavez – a social democrat who won multiple elections – “a dead communist dictator”.

While Sanders is a familiar American liberal politician, Corbyn may be a phenomenon, with his indefatigable support for the victims of American and British imperial adventures and for popular resistance movements.

For example, in the 1960s and 70s, the Chagos islanders were expelled from their homeland, a British colony in the Indian Ocean, by a Labour government. An entire population was kidnapped. The aim was to make way for a US military base on the main island of Diego Garcia: a secret deal for which the British were “compensated” with a discount of $14 million off the price of a Polaris nuclear submarine.

I have had much to do with the Chagos islanders and have filmed them in exile in Mauritius and the Seychelles, where they suffered and some of them “died from sadness”, as I was told. They found a political champion in a Labour Member of Parliament, Jeremy Corbyn.

So did the Palestinians. So did Iraqis terrorized by a Labour prime minister’s invasion of their country in 2003. So did others struggling to break free from the web of western power. Corbyn supported the likes of Hugo Chavez, who brought more than hope to societies subverted by the US behemoth.

And yet, now Corbyn is closer to power than he might have ever imagined, his foreign policy remains a secret.

By secret, I mean there has been rhetoric and little else. “We must put our values at the heart of our foreign policy,” he said at the Labour conference. But what are these “values”?

Since 1945, like the Tories, British Labour has been an imperial party, obsequious to Washington: a record exemplified by the crime in the Chagos islands.

What has changed? Is Corbyn saying Labour will uncouple itself from the US war machine, and the US spying apparatus and US economic blockades that scar humanity?

His shadow Foreign Secretary, Emily Thornberry, says a Corbyn government “will put human rights back at the heart of Britain’s foreign policy”. But human rights have never been at the heart of British foreign policy – only “interests”, as Lord Palmerston declared in the 19th century: the interests of those at the apex of British society.

Thornberry quoted the late Robin Cook who, as Tony Blair’s first Foreign Secretary in 1997, pledged an “ethical foreign policy” that would “make Britain once again a force for good in the world”.

History is not kind to imperial nostalgia. The recently commemorated division of India by a Labour government in 1947 – with a border hurriedly drawn up by a London barrister, Gordon Radcliffe, who had never been to India and never returned – led to blood-letting on a genocidal scale

It was the same Labour government (1945-51), led by Prime Minister Clement Attlee – “radical” by today’s standards – that dispatched General Douglas Gracey’s British imperial army to Saigon with orders to re-arm the defeated Japanese in order to prevent Vietnamese nationalists from liberating their own country. Thus, the longest war of the century was ignited.

It was a Labour Foreign Secretary, Ernest Bevin, whose policy of “mutuality” and “partnership” with some of the world’s most vicious despots, especially in the Middle East, forged relationships that endure today, often sidelining and crushing the human rights of whole communities and societies. The cause was British “interests” – oil, power and wealth.

In the “radical” 1960s, Labour’s Defence Secretary, Denis Healey, set up the Defence Sales Organisation (DSO) specifically to boost the arms trade and make money from selling lethal weapons to the world. Healey told Parliament, “While we attach the highest importance to making progress in the field of arms control and disarmament, we must also take what practical steps we can to ensure that this country does not fail to secure its rightful share of this valuable market.”

The doublethink was quintessentially Labour. When I later asked Healey about this “valuable market”, he claimed his decision made no difference to the volume of military exports. In fact, it led to an almost doubling of Britain’s share of the arms market. Today, Britain is the second biggest arms dealer on earth, selling arms and fighter planes, machine guns and “riot control” vehicles, to 22 of the 30 countries on the British Government’s own list of human rights violators.

Will this stop under a Corbyn government? The preferred model – Robin Cook’s “ethical foreign policy” – is revealing. Like Jeremy Corbyn, Cook made his name as a backbencher and critic of the arms trade. “Wherever weapons are sold,” wrote Cook, “there is a tacit conspiracy to conceal the reality of war” and “it is a truism that every war for the past two decades has been fought by poor countries with weapons supplied by rich countries”.

Cook singled out the sale of British Hawk fighters to Indonesia as “particularly disturbing”. Indonesia is “not only repressive but actually at war on two fronts: in East Timor, where perhaps a sixth of the population has been slaughtered … and in West Papua, where it confronts an indigenous liberation movement”.

As Foreign Secretary, Cook promised “a thorough review of arms sales”. The then Nobel Peace Laureate, Bishop Carlos Belo of East Timor, appealed directly to Cook: “Please, I beg you, do not sustain any longer a conflict which without these arms sales could never have been pursued in the first place and not for so very long.”

He was referring to Indonesia’s bombing of East Timor with British Hawks and the slaughter of his people with British machine guns. He received no reply.

The following week Cook called journalists to the Foreign Office to announce his “mission statement” for “human rights in a new century”. This PR event included the usual private briefings for selected journalists, including the BBC, in which Foreign Office officials lied that there was “no evidence” that British Hawk aircraft were deployed in East Timor.

A few days later, the Foreign Office issued the results of Cook’s “thorough review” of arms sales policy. “It was not realistic or practical,” wrote Cook, “to revoke licences which were valid and in force at the time of Labour’s election victory”. Suharto’s Minister for Defence, Edi Sudradjat, said that talks were already under way with Britain for the purchase of 18 more Hawk fighters. “The political change in Britain will not affect our negotiations,” he said. He was right.

Today, replace Indonesia with Saudi Arabia and East Timor with Yemen. British military aircraft – sold with the approval of both Tory and Labour governments and built by the firm whose promotional video had pride of place at Labour’s 2017 party conference – are bombing the life out of Yemen, one of the most impoverished countries in the world, where half the children are malnourished and there is the greatest cholera epidemic in modern times.

Hospitals and schools, weddings and funerals have been attacked. In Ryadh, British military personnel are reported to be training the Saudis in selecting targets.

In Labour’s current manifesto, Jeremy Corbyn and his party colleagues promised that “Labour will demand a comprehensive, independent, UN-led investigation into alleged violations … in Yemen, including air strikes on civilians by the Saudi-led coalition. We will immediately suspend any further arms sales for use in the conflict until that investigation is concluded.”

But the evidence of Saudi Arabia’s crimes in Yemen is already documented by Amnesty and others, notably by the courageous reporting of the British journalist Iona Craig. The dossier is voluminous.

Labour does not promise to stop arms exports to Saudi Arabia. It does not say Britain will withdraw its support for governments responsible for the export of Islamist jihadism. There is no commitment to dismantle the arms trade.

The manifesto describes a “special relationship [with the US] based on shared values … When the current Trump administration chooses to ignore them … we will not be afraid to disagree”.

As Jeremy Corbyn knows, dealing with the US is not about merely “disagreeing”. The US is a rapacious, rogue power that ought not to be regarded as a natural ally of any state championing human rights, irrespective of whether Trump or anyone else is President.

When Emily Thornberry , in her conference speech, linked Venezuela with the Philippines as “increasingly autocratic regimes” – slogans bereft of facts and ignoring the subversive US role in Venezuela – she was consciously playing to the enemy: a tactic with which Jeremy Corbyn will be familiar.

A Corbyn government will allow the Chagos islanders the right of return. But Labour says nothing about renegotiating the 50-year renewal agreement that Britain has just signed with the US allowing it to use the base on Diego Garcia from which it has bombed Afghanistan and Iraq.

A Corbyn government will “immediately recognize the state of Palestine”. There is silence on whether Britain will continue to arm Israel, continue to acquiesce in the illegal trade in Israel’s illegal “settlements” and treat Israel merely as a warring party, rather than as an historic oppressor given immunity by Washington and London.

On Britain’s support for Nato’s current war preparations, Labour boasts that the “last Labour government spent above the benchmark of 2 per cent of GDP” on Nato. It says, “Conservative spending cuts have put Britain’s security at risk” and promises to boost Britain’s military “obligations”.

In fact, most of the £40 billion Britain currently spends on the military is not for territorial defence of the UK but for offensive purposes to enhance British “interests” as defined by those who have tried to smear Jeremy Corbyn as unpatriotic.

If the polls are reliable, most Britons are well ahead of their politicians, Tory and Labour. They would accept higher taxes to pay for public services; they want the National Health Service restored to full health. They want decent jobs and wages and housing and schools; they do not hate foreigners but resent exploitative labour. They have no fond memory of an empire on which the sun never set.

They oppose the invasion of other countries and regard Blair as a liar.  The rise of Donald Trump has reminded them what a menace the United States can be, especially with their own country in tow.

The Labour Party is the beneficiary of this mood, but many of its pledges – certainly in foreign policy – are qualified and compromised, suggesting, for many Britons, more of the same.

Jeremy Corbyn is widely and properly recognized for his integrity; he opposes the renewal of Trident nuclear weapons; the Labour Party supports it. But he has given shadow cabinet positions to pro-war MPs who support Blairism, tried to get rid of him and abused him as “unelectable”.

“We are the political mainstream now,” says Corbyn.

Yes, but at what price?



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