The Pandora Papers: controlled dissent?

7 Oct

Image from The Guardian, October 3

Here’s how the Guardian opened its coverage of the Pandora PapersWhose face is the most instantly recognisable? Whose, and by a hefty margin, the largest?

You wouldn’t know it from this pictorial smear but the Papers do not name Vladimir Putin. (They do name Tony Blair, whose face does not grace the image.) Guilt by association – if you have a better explanation I’m all ears – is ample justification, in the Guardian editor mindset, for giving such prominence to the Russian leader in its opener to a tale of sleaze in high places. 1

Says Al Jazeera on October 4:

Putin is not directly named, but is linked via associates to secret assets in Monaco, notably a waterfront home acquired by a Russian woman reported to have had [his] child  …

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Monday slammed the leaks as “just a set of largely unsubstantiated claims”.

“We didn’t see anything on hidden wealth within Putin’s inner circle,” Peskov said, adding it was not clear “how this information can be trusted”.

The leaks reveal that the $4m Monaco property was purchased through an offshore company [in] 2003 for the woman – a native of Putin’s hometown Saint Petersburg.

“If there are serious publications, that are based on something concrete and refer to something specific, then we will read them with interest,” said Peskov.

The Guardian has been one of the most effective propagandists – including by publishing lies it will neither defend nor retract – for the dangerous cold war on Russia, and now China too. Meanwhile the crude but effective tactics of Joe McCarthy – guilt by association and inversion of the presumption of innocence – have in recent years resurfaced in the name not of patently right-wing causes but of seemingly liberal values.

I’ve written on this subject in the contexts of ‘anti-semite’ witch-hunts within the British Labour Party. And in ‘transphobe’ parallels within the same organisation. All – with #MeToo a third example 2 – have been conducted in the name of progressive ideals. And all threaten hard won principles of justice in ways that serve the interests of power. This is most obvious with the ‘anti-semite’ charge, which serves to intimidate Israel’s critics and, by fuelling civil war in the Labour Party, did so much to face down the Corbyn challenge to a rotten status quo. It is also obvious in the heavily linked trials of Alex Salmond and Craig Murray. In more diffuse ways it applies too to the weaponising of ‘transphobia’.

I could go on. I could cite use of rape smears to rob Julian of ‘woke’ support, and the addition of homophobia to the charge sheet against Mr Putin. (As if such an allegation, true or false, had a scintilla of relevance to global realpolitik as distinct from liberal opinion manufacture.) But let me stick with a few basic points in respect of the Pandora Papers.

First, as veteran speaker of truth to power John Pilger tweeted on October 5:

The ICIJ [International Consortium of Investigative Journalists] which leaked the Pandora Papers reportedly identified 336 corrupt politicians but failed to find a single corrupt American politician. The ICIJ is supported by the Ford Foundation, Georges Soros and has links to USAID and the State Dept. 3

This is not me applying a spot of guilt by association of my own. In this world of compromised information, to show how power-serving platforms are funded – media beholden to market forces … hired experts who question the reality of global heating … think tanks which warn of a foreign threat against which ‘our’ governments must up their arms-spend – is an elementary duty for would be speakers of truth to power.

Second, I have no ties to WSWS, and on some issues disagree sharply with its positions. Even more fundamentally I do not share its optimism in the potential for revolutionary change within the West. But as it rightly noted of the Pandora Papers, also on October 5:

… like the previous exposures by the ICIJ, there is a startling gap between the financial details revealed [about] official enemies of US imperialism, compared to Americans. Of the 336 politicians identified in the leaks, none are from the USA, while 19 Russian and 38 Ukrainian politicians were identified [despite the ICIJ having] found over $1 billion held in US-based trusts, integral tools for tax avoidance and money laundering.

Meanwhile on Facebook …

Third, as Chomsky famously said:

The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum – even encourage the more critical and dissident views. That gives people the sense there’s free thinking going on, while all the time the presuppositions of the system are being reinforced by the limits put on the range of the debate.

The context for Chomsky’s remarks was media corrupted by market forces. Their ‘quality’ and ‘liberal’ segments are frequently critical of the establishment, sometimes on important matters. Indeed, they must be, on pain of losing market share to rivals. But in matters not just important but vital to ruling class interests, they back the status quo. Without exception. This is seen most clearly in the vilifying of any threat, be it from an individual or nation state, to those interests. Carps and quibbles aside, and these as much from right-wing as liberal media, 4 no corporate outlet has ever exempted itself from the tasks of trashing Julian and Jezza. Nor from those of pouring daily damnation, so obviously economically motivated – if we only drop the habits of a lifetime and prioritise evidence and reason over power-serving narrative  – of China and Russia.

But though Chomsky was speaking of corporate media, his signal ability to express things simply (even if he doesn’t always follow through on his own insights) is applicable here too.

Me, I’m done. For now at least, I’ve said as much as I feel inclined to say about the ‘bombshell’ Pandora Papers.

* * *

  1. Well worth viewing if you have half an hour to spare is vlogger Alexander Mercurios on The Unending Quest for Putin’s Non-Existent Billions … The first seven minutes are on those ‘controlled dissent’ aspects of the Pandora Papers which have been given too uncritical a welcome, the following twenty-three on “Putin’s billions”. Once you get past his disconcertingly unanimated manner, and attune to his droll style, Mr Mercurios’s  command of the facts is impressive: as when dissecting another smear on Putin apropos Pandora; this one by Luke Harding, Guardian Russophobe in Chief and author of the lies referred to in the main post.
  2. I speak of #MeToo in my post on the trial, jury-free conviction (by a judge for whom ‘conflict of interests’ might have been specifically coined) and sentencing of Craig Murray for ‘jigsaw identification’ of protected witnesses in the politically motivated Alex Salmond trial. Responding to Daily Record columnist Annie Brown’s slur that Craig Murray is one of those “middle-aged or elderly men – the type who think that pesky Metoo nonsense ‘went too far’”, I say: So a tabloid writer has a penchant for the cheap and nasty … ageism thinly coated in self righteousness … [I do not] find MeToo ‘pesky’; that’s too small a word … MeToo has the effect, through its ‘court of public opinion’ contempt for due process, of subverting … the presumption of innocence. In this it exemplifies a wider phenomenon: ‘woke’ politics serving, with dismaying ease in the case of an intelligentsia supposedly trained in critical thinking, the agendas of power. Those who challenge a criminal world order, at home or abroad, have a way of turning out to be sex offenders (Julian Assange, Scot Ritter), homophobes (Robert Mugabe, Vladimir Putin) or anti-semites (Jeremy Corbyn, Ken Livingstone). How convenient.
  3. Its backing by Ford Foundation and (via his Open Society Foundations) George Soros is acknowledged in the final FAQ of this ICIJ page. Soros should be seen less as the philanthropist and more – since he made billions betting on currency shifts, uses his wealth  to shape the fate of nations through his ‘colour revolutions’, and now calls for the US to step up its economic war on China – as a textbook case, like Bill Gates, of how soaring wealth inequality under forty years of neoliberalism is not only obscene, and not only economically dysfunctional, but makes a nonsense of democracy. As for John Pilger’s tweeted allegation of “links to USAID and the State Dept” I repeat them on the basis of the man’s reputation for truth telling. It would be foolish of Mr Pilger to state things he cannot prove, and the man is not known for folly. Hence my recycling the claim in my Facebook response to Kristen Schuble. I’d welcome more on this, and have tried in vain to find it through searches using Google in Chrome, and Duck Duck Go in Tor. Any sourced input would be welcome.
  4. The most trenchant exposures of official lies on Syria have come not from liberals but rebel conservatives like Peter Oborne, Peter Hitchens and even Tucker Carlson.

9 Replies to “The Pandora Papers: controlled dissent?

  1. Here’s the most recent example of the phenomena identified here:

    An approach which puts Stalinism in the shade in its self righteous urlta authoritarian insistence on denying to anyone else the reciprocal rights which it monopolises as exclusive to its own subjectively narcissistic domain with its ‘no debate’ stance.

    The perfect example of Randian and Thatcherite dogmatic philosophy in its rejection of society in favour of a hierarchy of oppression with itself at the top of that hierarchy regardless of others. The antithesis of class unity in its reductionist purity.

    • Thanks Dave. I had read the RT story on Kathleen Stock. As well as exemplifying the trend I speak of (illiberal and power-serving methods used in the name of liberal values and social inclusion) it follows Bristol University’s sacking of David Miller last week.

      Miller, a defender of Palestinian rights, stood accused of promoting ‘antisemitism’ to his students. Two things. One, the definition of antisemitism has widened frighteningly in recent years – a reality codified in mainstream (including but not confined to the British Labour Party) adoption of the IHRA definition of antisemitism. This widening – and its attendant vagueness – made it an effective weapon not only against critics of Israel but, in Labour’s case, the remnants of support for socialism.

      Second and more specifically academic, the introduction of student fees in the UK has accelerated the corporatising of higher education. Students are now customers and as any lecturer – especially one old enough to have known a time when academia was a safe place for free thinkers who could back up their views with facts and reason – can tell you, offending the sensibilities of students incurs real risks. One student made a formal complaint against me in the early noughties because, when she asked what I wanted her to do, I said “I want you to think!” I was lucky in having a line manager who backed me, but – this too is a consequence of academia marketised – academics can now be less confident of management support in such cases. And Professor Stock has offended not one student but an organised group, high on its own self righteousness.

      I’m insufficiently familiar with her situation (FWIW she’s also an OBE) to assess in specific terms the likelihood of her attackers prevailing and having her sacked. Unless she does something silly, I’d guess from a generalist perspective she won’t be. The parallels between the weaponising of the ‘anti-semite’ and ‘TERF’ charges are striking but to my mind – and I may be wrong – a big difference is that the former has much more concerted backing in the shape of one of the world’s most powerful lobbies.

      (Good job I’m not a Labour Party member, huh? That last sentence alone could get me expelled.)

      Still, four decades of academia corporatised – in a global context of privatisation at last under challenge not from resistance in the West but from the rise of China – has made academics brave enough to stick their heads above the parapet more vulnerable than they once were. Piers Robinson and Tim Anderson come to mind – though Tim has been exonerated by an Australian employment tribunal.

      • Stocks ‘crime’ – for which she has been found guilty on the basis of what is, to call a spade a spade rather than a shovel, mob rule rather than any kind of recognisable due process protocols, standards and principles – can largely be found in her book ‘Material Girls’.

        A tome which is presently out on loan to a comrade and which, as well as challenging the subjective based orthodoxy being forcibly imposed on others with its exclusive post modernist language, terminology and reductionist purity, provides a level of nuance with its analysis of definitions that a market based ‘education’ just cannot cope with. As well as doing an interesting inversion of intersectionality.

        Whether the Forstater judgement will prevail in Stocks case remains to be seen? The concept of legal precedent suggests that judgement should have been sufficient to prevent what happened to Miller. That it did not, along with the fact that the parallel marketisation of politics and the demos has created a situation in which both official monopoly political left and right across all political parties are on board with an approach which has no time for due process – as articulated most recently by Johnson and Starmer (who even targets non conforming Jewish Members) – would suggest Stocks chances of remaining in employment may not be that good.

        The impact, even in narrow market terms, on the demos and the body politic of alienating such a large proportion of registered voters – on both issues, will be an interesting exercise in who has the most market power in this regard. Right now the basic criteria for voting – a meaningful choice – no longer exists across a range of criteria and policies. It was either the 2001 or 2005 election which saw the number of non voters rise above 18 million. On this present trajectory it would perhaps be best to get down to the bookies early to place a bet on that figure rising above 20 million, or even the 50% mark, at the next election before the odds are reduced beyond a reasonable return.

        Welcome to Numptyland. The world’s premier thinking free zone.

        • Dave are you sure? See this Daily Mail story of today, October 8, and last updated at 14:49, i.e. less than an hour ago. It appears to be saying Sussex Uni is standing by Stock and investigating claims of students harassing her.

          • It would be definite progress for this stance to be maintained and not reversed under pressure?

            That this is highlighted by the Daily Mail reminds me that it was only around two months or so ago that I wrote something along the lines of:

            – The political right cannot believe their luck at adoption of this Randian and Thatcherite approach by sections of the political left as it enables the political right to present itself as the sane ones and the last bastion against the mob.

            As a previous contributor (Feargus) implied in a comment back in June/July time: one wonders who is financing these groups and to what end?

            • Addendum:

              Just seen this JVL article on the Miller sacking which contains the following interesting and salient observation:


              “And yet the Bristol University statement on the sacking, so vague in almost every respect, is crystal clear on this issue: “The investigation included an independent report from a leading Queen’s Counsel who considered the important issue of academic freedom of expression and found that Professor Miller’s comments did not constitute unlawful speech.” The University’s statement in fact does not attribute Miller’s sacking to anything that he has said either in lectures or public pronouncements (nor indeed to the content of his research).

              So, despite the impression given by the Times and Times Higher Education, the Bristol decision is not based on a finding of antisemitism, or of any other form of hate speech, against David Miller. The grounds that we are offered by Bristol are just these: that the hearing “found Professor Miller did not meet the standards of behaviour we expect from our staff”. This is the sum total of explanation. Even respecting the confidentiality necessary to disciplinary hearings this is surely a totally inadequate explanation for so grave a step as terminating a senior academic’s contract. It is hard to imagine a form of ‘behaviour’ (other than that of the use of racist language, which has been ruled out) that could justify sacking.”

              The endemic cynicism arising from nearly seven decades of existence is tugging at the sleeve as I write this suggesting the way in which Miller has been sacked (as described above) could well provide sufficient wriggle room in other cases should sufficient pressure be applied.

              Lets hope Sussex University hold their nerve.

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