(TMU) — Instagram and its parent company Facebook are removing posts that appear to be in support of the late Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani in order to comply with U.S. sanctions, a company spokesperson recently told CNN.
“We operate under U.S. sanctions laws, including those related to the U.S. government’s designation of the IRGC and its leadership,” the spokesperson said in a statement.
The Iranian government has responded by calling for legal action against Instagram, going so far as to create a portal for the users to submit posts that have been removed by the social media giant. Iran’s government spokesperson, Ali Rabiei called the move “undemocratic.”
Unlike Facebook and Twitter, Instagram is not blocked in Iran. Despite this, Twitter’s position on the matter is that as long as users abide by its rules the social media platform will not seek to remove posts. That being said, independent news outlet the Grayzone reported that Twitter suspended dozens of accounts run by people in Venezuela, Syria, and Iran—including Iran’s supreme leader—during the first two weeks of January.
Instagram removed Soleimani’s own account last April shortly after the U.S. government designated the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) a foreign terrorist organization. Less publicized is the recent decision by Iran’s parliament to designate all U.S. forces as “terrorists” following the assassination of Soleimani.
The pressure on social media companies to give effect to U.S. sanctions has also led to the removal of posts by Instagram which were posted by outspoken critics of the IRGC, including human rights advocate Emadeddin Baghi. Unsurprisingly, the International Federation of Journalists released a statement declaring Instagram’s actions as going “against global standard principles including freedom of speech and media.”
However, Instagram and Facebook are not the only companies cracking down on speech that could be construed as supporting Soleimani. According to the Grayzone’s Ben Norton, a French reader attempted to donate $10 to the independent media outlet, writing “I am making this donation to The Grayzone for the sake of free speech and balanced reporting, particularly in regard to recent events in Iraq and Iran.”
PayPal then froze the payment as it did with many others.
A French reader tried giving $10 yesterday to help our independent journalism, writing "I am making this donation to The Grayzone for the sake of free speech and balanced reporting, particularly in regard to recent events in Iraq and Iran"
— Ben Norton (@BenjaminNorton) January 13, 2020
Around the same time, Facebook also censored a Grayzone video which sought to report on Hezbollah, Iran, and U.S. president Donald Trump.
According to CNN Business, Google did not comment on its policy on this issue when contacted. However, YouTube—owned by Google—has also allegedly removed all PressTV videos with the exception of PressTV Francais. PressTV is funded by the Iranian government and has been targeted by both Google and YouTube in the past. A brief search by the Mind Unleashed at the time of writing was unable to locate an official PressTV YouTube channel, confirming the assertion that it has been removed.
As the Grayzone notes in its reports, Silicon Valley Tech companies have for some time been partnering up with shadowy think-tanks, helping to assist the U.S. government in its apparent bid to control the boundaries of free speech and political dissent. In 2018, Facebook and Twitter jointly shut down a range of antiwar and anti-corruption pages under the guise of fighting spam accounts.
Donald Trump’s recent warning to Iran not to shut down its Internet makes little sense in the context of what has been described above. According to the U.S. government, Iranians should not be restricted in their usage of the internet—but only if that usage advances the agenda of the U.S. foreign policy establishment.
Attorney General Barr Blocks Release of 9/11 Documents Despite Promises to Victims’ Families
(TMU) — On Monday, U.S. Attorney General William Barr, acting director of national intelligence Richard Grenell, and other senior officials called on a federal judge to prevent the disclosure of files related to the role of the government of Saudi Arabia in the September 11 attacks. The officials told the judge in the civil case that the release of the files would endanger national security.
The files are being sought by families of the 9/11 victims who have spent the last two decades attempting to uncover the truth about the attacks. The families filed a lawsuit in federal district court in New York in 2017 as part of their effort to uncover the role of the Saudi government. What is publicly known is that the alleged 9/11 hijackers had a relationship with Saudi government officials. As Pro Public reported, at the 2019 White House September 11 memorial, U.S. President Donald Trump promised the families he would help them uncover the truth about 9/11. He made similar promises while he was campaigning for president.
“He looked us in the eye on 9/11, he shook our hands in the White House and said, ‘I’m going to help you—it’s done’,” Brett Eagleson, a banker whose father was killed in the World Trade Center, told Pro Publica. “I think the 9/11 families have lost all hope that the president is going to step up and do the right thing. He’s too beholden to the Saudis.”
The Trump Administration stated that the national security threat was so great that even sharing the reasoning behind the request for secrecy could cause harm. According to Pro Publica, AG Barr told the court that public discussion of the issue “would reveal information that could cause the very harms my assertion of the state secrets privilege is intended to prevent.”
Pro Publica notes that four statements from FBI and Justice Department officials were also under seal and can not be seen by the public. Another five statements from FBI, Justice Department, and CIA officials were only seen by the judge and could not even be shared with the families’ lawyers. Steven Pounian, a lawyer for the families also suggested that “there must be some deep, dark secret that they’re still trying very hard to hide after almost 20 year,” and that it “might be a Saudi government secret.”
“But how can these be secrets that still need to be kept from the American people after all this time?” — Steven Pounian, attorney for the 9/11 victims families
The call for secrecy was questioned by three Senators who asked the Justice Department’s inspector general to investigate why the FBI has refused to release information about Saudi connections. The information is being sought as part of a subpoena filed by the 9/11 families in 2018. Senators Charles Grassley of Iowa, Charles Schumer of New York, and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut questioned the FBI’s decision to keep the files classified.
“The September 11 attacks represent a singular and defining tragedy in the history of our Nation. Nearly 20 years later, the 9/11 families and the American public still have not received the full and transparent accounting of the potential sources of support for those attacks to which they are entitled,” the senators wrote to Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz.
Barr stated that Justice Department guidelines set down by the Obama administration in 2009 prevented the government from asserting a state secrets claim as a method of concealing illegal behavior or embarrassing actions. Barr told the judge that he believed these guidelines had been met. Unfortunately, in the absence of any further information the American public is resigned to trusting Barr, Trump, and anonymous FBI and CIA agents.
Unfortunately, William Barr does not have a record of trustworthy actions. As far back as 1989 Barr discussed his belief that the FBI could legally abduct people in foreign countries without the consent of the foreign government. The opinion was revealed in a leaked legal memo authored by Barr while he was serving as the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC). Barr chose to withhold the full memo and asked the public to trust his conclusion.
In the weeks after 9/11, when the U.S. government began to seize powers to roundup foreign citizens, spy on Americans, and torture anyone accused of terrorism, Newsweek noted that Barr had played a role in paving the way for such actions:
“Now the Bush administration and Congress seemed primed to do just about anything to foil future attacks. Justice Department lawyers have been told to take a fresh look at “everything,” one official said. Perhaps the most startling idea under examination would be a new presidential order authorizing secret military tribunals to try accused terrorists. The idea first occurred to former attorney general William Barr after the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988. Barr, at the time chief of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, got the idea after learning that his office was used during World War II to try—in secret—German saboteurs who were later hanged. The idea was rejected, but it’s being revived on the theory that terrorists are de facto military “combatants” who don’t deserve the full run of constitutional rights.”
More recently, Barr has been involved in perpetuating the myth that encryption is a tool that only terrorists and dangerous criminals use and launching an “orwellian pre-crime program.” In October 2019, MintPress News reported that Barr had recently laid the groundwork for this new program:
“Indeed, since becoming Attorney General under President Trump, Barr has spearheaded numerous efforts to this end, including pushing for a government backdoor into consumer apps or devices that utilize encryption and for a dramatic increase of long-standing yet controversial warrantless electronic surveillance programs.
On July 23rd, Barr gave the keynote address at the 2019 International Conference on Cyber Security (ICCS) and mainly focused on the need for consumer electronic products and applications that use encryption to offer a “backdoor” for the government, specifically law enforcement, in order to obtain access to encrypted communications as a matter of public safety.”
Barr would go on to issue a memorandum to all U.S. attorneys, law enforcement agencies, and high level Justice Department officials calling for the implementation of a new “national disruption and early engagement program” aimed at detecting potential mass shooters before they commit any crime. This memo called for the DOJ and FBI to “refine our ability to identify, assess and engage potential mass shooters before they strike.” Barr called for the pre-crime program to be implemented in early 2020.
The blocking of state secrets related to the September 11 attacks is just the latest in a long line of cover ups and corrupt practices by Attorney General William Barr.
Citizen Journalist Goes Missing After Reporting About Coronavirus From Wuhan
(TMU) — The recent death of Wuhan doctor turned whistleblower Li Wenliang sparked outrage across China and the rest of the world. Activists and independent journalists trapped in the quarantine zones say that Li could have prevented the current outbreak if the government had listened to him instead of attempting to cover it up.
In the days after his death, Chinese social media platforms were filled will demands for freedom of speech as well as suggestions that the government cover-up allowed the illness to spread. Evidence of crackdowns have also spread online, with footage of Chinese police in medical gear forcibly removing people from their homes appearing on social media.
In the chaos of the past week, lawyer and citizen journalist Chen Qiushi, who was doing very dangerous reporting from the quarantine zone in Wuhan, has gone missing, and many of his loved ones say that he was captured by the Chinese government. Chen was active on social media and was keeping in regular contact with his friends until Thursday when he went silent and could no longer be reached.
After he disappeared a close friend posted a video to Twitter of Chen’s mother pleading for help to find her son.
— 陈秋实（陳秋實） (@chenqiushi404) February 6, 2020
Xu Xiaodong, a well-known martial artist and friend of Chen, later posted a video saying that police admitted to detaining Chen in a quarantine, according to CNN.
“In the last few hours the Qingdao public security officers and state security officers … notified Qiushi’s parents that Qiushi has already been detained in the name of quarantine. Qiushi’s mother immediately asked them where and when he was taken away, they declined to say,” said Xu.
Xu also said that Chen was in good health the last time that anyone had heard from him.
However, when CNN contacted the Wuhan and Qingdao city police, both insisted that they had no information about Chen.
Chen has a long history of activism and has had previous penalties from Chinese authorities for his efforts in independent journalism. During last year’s protests in Hong Kong, Chen was reporting to 740,000 followers on Weibo about the demonstrations, often contradicting the Chinese government’s version of events.
Following the protests, Chen’s social media accounts were deleted by authorities and all of his footage was wiped from the internet. Chen was also regularly called in for questioning and harassed by police, but continued to persist in his activism and journalism on Twitter and YouTube, both of which are blocked in China unless accessed using a VPN/
During the Chinese Lunar New Year, when many people were fleeing the city as the quarantine was being imposed, Chen rushed into the city of Wuhan to report on the situation.
In his first video from Wuhan, Chen explained:
“I’ve said before that I’m a citizen journalist. What kind of journalist am I if I don’t rush to the front line when there is a disaster? I will use my camera to witness and document what is really happening under Wuhan’s efforts to contain the outbreak. And I’m willing to help spread the voice of Wuhan people to the outside world. While I’m here, I promise I won’t start or spread rumors. I won’t create fear or panic, nor would I cover up the truth.”
Chen was among numerous citizen journalists contradicting the official narrative that was coming from Bejing while reporting independently from Wuhan. Chen’s reporting showed that the virus appeared to be much worse than was being suggested by official sources. Chen showed the world the overcrowded hospitals and heavy-handed tactics being used by police.
“I’m scared, I have the virus in front of me and behind me China’s law enforcement,” Chen said in one of his last videos that was recorded in a hotel room on January 30. In the same video he revealed that his parents back home in Qingdao were already being harassed by authorities.
Another citizen journalist, Fang Bin, was also detained over his reporting from Wuhan. According to the LA Times, Fang was visited by police in hazmat suits in the middle of the night and taken into custody after he showed videos of full body bags strewn about a hospital and piled up in an ambulance outside.
The police reportedly asked him, “You went to such a dangerous place, couldn’t you have been infected? What if your sickness spreads to others?”
Fang Bin asked that the police come back with a warrant, but instead they stormed into his house, seized all of his electronics, and took him to a police station where he was accused of rumormongering and accepting bribes from foreign entities to spread misinformation.
Fang was later released and published another impassioned video online where he called for a full-blown revolution.
Fang, Chen, and Li are among 300 Chinese citizens who have been detained, fined, or otherwise punished by authorities for “spreading rumors” about the outbreak, according to Chinese Human Rights Defenders.
Google is Burying Alternative Health Sites to Protect People From “Dangerous” Medical Advice
The totalitarians claim noble goals for book burning. They want to spare citizens unhappiness caused by having to sort through conflicting theories.
Censorship is Control
The real aim of censorship, in Bradbury’s dystopia, is to control the population. Captain Beatty explains to the protagonist fireman Montag, “You can’t build a house without nails and wood. If you don’t want a house built, hide the nails and wood.” The “house” Beatty is referring to is opinions in conflict with the “official” one.
If you don’t want a man unhappy politically, don’t give him two sides to a question to worry him; give him one. Better yet, give him none. Let him forget there is such a thing as war. If the government is inefficient, top-heavy, and tax-mad, better it be all those than that people worry over it.
A Nobel Laureate Copes With Conflicting Opinions
When making decisions, we often face conflicting theories. Daily, we face choices about what to eat. Although the government issues ever-changing dietary guidelines, thankfully, the marketplace supports personal dietary decisions ranging from carnivore to vegan. We are free to choose our diet based on our evaluation of the available evidence and the needs of our bodies.
When we face health issues, decisions become tougher. There is an orthodox opinion, and there are always dissenting opinions. For example, the orthodoxy recommends statins to reduce high cholesterol. Others believe high cholesterol is not a health risk and that statins are harmful.
Nobel laureate in economics Vernon Smith was taking a prescribed statin and recently observed the impact it was having on him:
In the last week I had a very clear (now) experience of temporary memory loss. I did a little searching and found this article summarizing and documenting the evidence over many years.
Such incidents have been widely reported, but the problem did not arise in any of the clinical trials, but neither were they designed to detect it.
Smith had to weigh the purported benefits against the side effects:
Statin effectiveness in reducing heart/stroke events needs to be weighed against this important negative. Since I am actively writing, this is a primal concern for me, and I have stopped taking it.
A free person understands that there is no one “best” pathway. Although experts have knowledge, a free person takes responsibility, makes a choice, and bears the consequences. We never know what the consequences would have been had we made a different choice.
Health Care 451
Some people don’t like to take responsibility for health choices. They prefer to do what they’re told by the doctor.
“Do you understand now why books are hated and feared?” asks Ray Bradbury’s character Professor Faber in Fahrenheit 451. Faber responds to his own rhetorical question:
Because they reveal the pores on the face of life. The comfortable people want only wax moon faces, poreless, hairless, expressionless.
Bradbury is reminding us that life is messy. Often there is no comfortable one-size-fits-all solution to the challenges we face.
Despite the evidence against statins, the medical orthodoxy would like you to believe that those who question statins are being hoodwinked by fake news. The orthodoxy wants you to believe there is one size for all.
Duke University’s Dr. Ann Marie Navar is the Associate Editor of JAMA Cardiology. In her article, “Fear-Based Medical Misinformation,” she rails against the “fake medical news and fearmongering [that] plague the cardiovascular world through relentless attacks on statins.”
She writes many patients remain concerned about statin safety. In one study, concerns about statin safety were the leading reason patients reported declining a statin, with more than one in three patients (37 percent) citing fears about adverse effects as their reason for not starting a statin after their physician recommended.
Dr. Navar takes the position that concerns about safety are “fake medical news,” spread in part by ignorant patients via social media. Don’t worry, she counsels, reports are incorrect when they claim “that statins cause memory loss, cataracts, pancreatic dysfunction, Lou Gehrig disease, and cancer.”
Fake news? Dr. David Brownstein (no relation) disagrees:
The Physicians Desk Reference states that adverse reactions associated with Lipitor include cognitive impairment (memory loss, forgetfulness, amnesia, memory impairment, and confusion associated with statin use). Furthermore post-marketing studies have found Lipitor use associated with pancreatitis. Other researchers have reported a relationship between statin use and Lou Gehrig’s disease. Finally, peer-reviewed research has reported a relationship between statin use and cataracts. Statins being associated with serious adverse effects has nothing to do with fake news. These are facts.
To be sure, more physicians would agree with Dr. Navar than Dr. Brownstein, but should treatments be dictated by those on one side of the argument? After all, due to human variability, statins may both save some lives and impair or kill other people.
With some doctors questioning whether to prescribe statins for everyone, there is a large financial incentive to stifle debate.
Can you imagine a future government-controlled health care system, completely captured by the pharmaceutical industry, mandating statins for everyone? I can.
There are good reasons to be concerned that we are losing access to information with which to evaluate opposing sides of health issues, like the statin debate. Already Google is “burning” sites that question the medical orthodoxy about statins.
Google Tips the Scales
Mercola.com, operated by Dr. Joseph Mercola, is one of the most trafficked websites providing alternative views to medical orthodoxy. If I were researching statins, I would certainly read several of the numerous essaysquestioning statin use and the cholesterol theory of heart disease. Essays at Mercola.com usually provide references to medical studies. Personally, since Dr. Mercola sells supplements and I am a supplement skeptic, I read his essays—like I read all medical essays—with a grain of salt.
Dr. Kelly Brogan is a psychiatrist who has helped thousands of women find alternatives to psychotropic drugs prescribed to treat depression and anxiety. In her book, A Mind of Your Own: The Truth About Depression and How Women Can Heal Their Bodies to Reclaim Their Lives, Brogan reports that one of every seven women and 25 percent of women in their 40s and 50s are on such drugs. She explains,
Although I was trained to think that antidepressants are to the depressed (and to the anxious, panicked, OCD, IBS, PTSD, bulimic, anorexic, and so on) what eyeglasses are to the poor-sighted, I no longer buy into this bill of goods.
For their unorthodox views, Dr. Brogan, Dr. Mercola, and others like them are treated as medical heretics. Dr. Brogan and Dr. Mercola have documented (here and here) how a change in Google’s search engine algorithm has essentially ended traffic to their websites.
From time to time, Google updates algorithms determining how search results are displayed; there is nothing inherently nefarious in such actions. Google has achieved its market position by doing a better job than other search engines.
According to Dr. Mercola, before Google’s most recent June 19 algorithm update,
Google search results were based on crowdsource relevance. An article would ascend in rank based on the number of people who clicked on it.
After their June 19 algorithm update, Google is relying more on human “quality” raters. Google instructs raters that the lowest ratings should go to a “YMYL page with inaccurate potentially dangerous medical advice.” YMYL stands for “Your Money or Your Life.” Google says,
We have very high Page Quality rating standards for YMYL pages because low-quality YMYL pages could potentially negatively impact users’ happiness, health, financial stability, or safety.
Does that sound reasonable? If a site argues for treatments other than the medical orthodoxy then, by definition, the site can arouse readers’ cause for concern and, for some people, unhappiness. Do we really want Google to assume the role of Bradbury’s firemen?
Google wants to protect you from conflicting opinions. And if you don’t think that’s a problem, imagine sometime in the future when searching for information on monetary policy you only find results for Modern Monetary Theory.
Google thinks its intention to “do the right thing” is enough to prevent abuses; some Google employees would disagree.
Google Plays the Happiness Doctor
Google is not eliminating access to alternative health pages; it is making it harder to find them. Typical health searches will still generate plenty of “facts,” just not conflicting facts. In Fahrenheit 451 Captain Beatty explains the government’s strategy: “Give the people contests they win by remembering the words to more popular songs or the names of state capitals or how much corn Iowa grew last year.”
Instead of “conflicting theory,” Captain Beatty explains the strategy is to “cram” the people “full of noncombustible data, chock them so damned full of ‘facts’ they feel stuffed, but absolutely ‘brilliant’ with information.”
Filled with “facts,” Captain Beatty explains, people will “feel they’re thinking, they’ll get a sense of motion without moving.” Beatty assures Montag that his fireman role is noble. Firemen are helping to keep the world happy.
The important thing for you to remember, Montag, is we’re the Happiness Boys, the Dixie Duo, you and I and the others. We stand against the small tide of those who want to make everyone unhappy with conflicting theory and thought. We have our fingers in the dike. Hold steady. Don’t let the torrent of melancholy and drear philosophy drown our world. We depend on you. I don’t think you realize how important you are, to our happy world as it stands now.
The only way Google will maintain its dominance is to continue to meet the needs of consumers. Whether Google continues to “burn” websites is up to us. Google will continue to sort out unorthodox views as long as “we” the consumer continue to rely on Google’s search engine.
The views in this article may not reflect editorial policy of The Mind Unleashed.