Trump vs. Obama/Clinton: the True Horror of Identity Politics

When it comes to apathetic politics, there appears to be two camps of people. On the one hand, we have die-hard Trump supporters who will support the golf-addicted billionaire even in cases when he has clearly contradicted his election promises. And on the other hand, we have those who love Barack Obama so much that they continually refuse to admit many of the crimes, horrors and scandals that plagued the Obama presidency. Instead, the latter wish Obama were still president, and still dream of the day the Hawaiian born messiah will return to save the planet.

Meanwhile, Obama is making $400,000 per speech from Wall Street giants that owe their lifeline to the American taxpayer. His presidency did nothing to alleviate the suffering of the African American community; in fact the economic situation for blacks went steadily from bad to worse under Obama’s presidency. When Obama was elected, black unemployment rates stood at 11.1 percent. In 2010, it rose sharply to 16.1 percent, around roughly twice the rate of white unemployment. The economic disparity between blacks and whites continued to rise until the end of his presidency, yet no one seems concerned with this.

Obama was well-spoken, eloquent at times; and appeared to care on the surface about issues other people also pretended to care about.

Yet how can society transition from identifying with Obama to identifying with his supposed polar opposite in Trump? Are people aware that firstly, Obama’s policies paved the way for a Trump presidency and secondly, that Trump is only exacerbating these dangerous policies even further?

Conservatives are right to blame Obama and then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for the refugee crisis, something Trump staunchly opposed Clinton on in his campaign in a number of ways.

As well as vowing to ban all Muslims and create a register (a ludicrous notion), Trump did state that the world would have been better off if Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi and Iraq’s Saddam Hussein had not been overthrown (a sane suggestion). Not many people are aware, but Gaddafi was integral in keeping a lid on migrants wanting to travel from North Africa to Europe, particularly through Italy.

It is for this reason that Italy, as a NATO member, was so heavily involved in the bombing campaign against Gaddafi in 2011. Not because they wanted to overthrow Gaddafi, but because they had a vested interested in the outcome of the conflict. Since the fall of Gaddafi, over 2 million Libyan children are out of school, firearms and heavy weaponry have been spread like wildfire across the region (including to the terror group Boko Haram in Nigeria, and al-Qaeda affiliates in Syria) and refugees and migrants have been flowing out of Libya like a commodity. I say “commodity” not to elicit offence or to denigrate migrants – but because Libya is now the marketplace of a lucrative slave trade operation.

Hillary Clinton was instrumental in convincing Obama to topple Gaddafi in 2011. They both rightfully share the blame for this disaster. Libya previously had the highest standard of living in Africa, according to the U.N. Human Development Index (2010). In 2015 alone, it fell 27 places down the list.

And now we have Donald J. Trump.

If you are reading this article and you are a Trump supporter, now comes the hard part of facing up to reality. You need to ask yourself what it is you liked about Trump so much and disliked about Obama.

Is it because he said he would have left Gaddafi in power and would focus more on making America great again? Is it because he tweeted at least 18 times that Obama should not bomb Syria, and that if he did he would need congressional approval to do so?

Why then is it okay for Trump to bomb Syria without congressional approval in April 2017?

I’m not sure if you are aware of this, but the Syrian government is famous for protecting the rights of minorities, especially Christians. Attacking the Assad regime only empowers Islamic extremists; it certainly doesn’t defeat them or their ideology.

According to a recent report by the London-based IHS Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Center, a leading security analysis agency, a whopping 43 percent of ISIS’ battles between April 1, 2016, and March 31, 2017, were fought against the Syrian military and its allies (including Iran, Russia, and pro-government militias). Conversely, the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) accounted for a mere 17 percent of the action against ISIS.

According to this report, Syria’s military has been the most engaged entity fighting against ISIS over the past year. In this context, attacking the Syrian government makes no sense if the aim of the U.S. war on terror is to combat extremism and terrorism.

For those of you who find yourself experiencing a cognitive dissonance experience, you should take note that many of Trump’s biggest supporters criticized him heavily for attacking the Syrian government last month. You see, it turns out they were actually sticking to their principles in their reasons for supporting Trump in the first place, and have realised that actually, Trump’s administration has been infiltrated by neoconservative warmongers who don’t serve the interests of the American people.

Seriously, attacking the Syrian government is a Hillary Clinton policy. Clinton came out of hiding prior to the attack to state that Trump should attack Assad’s air bases. Lo and behold – that is exactly what Trump did.

To me, this is the true horror of identity politics. If Clinton had succeeded in winning the election, and started attempting war with Syria, North Korea, Iran, Russia and China, you would all be losing your minds. Now that it is Trump doing so, he is a brave, strong leader who you will support until the last nuclear bomb detonates and we are all completely annihilated.

During the election campaign I saw many memes on social media from people who would say things like “Trump doesn’t receive money from countries like Saudi Arabia who execute gays like me.” Yet Trump is cozying up to Saudi Arabia even as we speak, enabling the radical Kingdom to commit a mass slaughter in neighbouring Yemen by continuing billion dollar arms sales to the radical Kingdom.

How do you feel about Saudi Arabia now?

Seriously, you don’t need to support anyone. If you do, there are plenty of other decent people in the world who do share your worldview who you can support that aren’t contradicting the promises they made to you.

It’s time to put to rest the notion that choosing one or the other will make a difference when it comes to serious issues of war. If Donald Trump cared so much about refugees, or “beautiful Syrian babies”, he wouldn’t be bombing Iraq, Yemen and Afghanistan back into the Stone Age right now.

But he is. And that is what you are supporting. If it is wrong for Clinton or Obama to do it, it is equally wrong for Trump to do it.

So what can you do?

Spread this message with everyone who still hasn’t realised the full nature of their enslavement. It is time to wake up the masses. Trump, Obama, Bush and Clinton, are all part and parcel of the same problem.

Trump is not going to save us, just as Clinton was never going to save us. The sooner we realize this, the sooner we can do something about it, without their help.

100 Days of Trump

Zahra Shahtahmasebi

1 May, 2017

(THE TV’s LEAKING)

Saturday 29th of April marked President Trump’s 100th day of holding office in the White House. For many, this has been a period of immense terror, fear and essentially pure horror as to what will be unleashed by him and his administration. This feeling has been reflected in the presidential popularity ratings which are by all accounts, historically low compared to his most recent predecessors, sitting around (and frequently below) 40 percent.

Trump blames the United States Constitution for this unpopularity, claiming that the Constitution is a ‘rough’ and ‘archaic’ system that is a ‘bad thing for the country’. Since being in office he has failed to get any of his priorities into legislations, and has attempted to rule by executive order, which so far has either been meaningless (tax reform), or his travel ban on seven mostly Muslim countries and refugees, blocked by the courts. However he still maintains a core of supporters that remain faithful to him and believe that the first 100 days have been ‘so far, so good’ and that the president is bringing ‘God back’.

How about instead, we forget about the apparent interference of the Constitution and Trump’s apparent ‘promises made, promises kept’, and look at what the first 100 days has really been like.

He began with a battle with media over the crowd size at his inauguration, labelling the media as perpetrators of alternative facts. Then there was the aforementioned travel ban, and [?] the executive order that reinstated the global gag rule which prevents international health groups from receiving federal funding for informing on or performing abortions. All of this occurred within the first few days of his presidency, and since then things seem to be ever on a continual downward spiral. Most of all, his actions seem to be pushing the world down the road to World War Three. And you’d think that by now, more than 72 years since the ending of World War Two, we might’ve learnt a thing or two.

In early April, the Trump administration launched missiles on an airbase belonging to the Syrian government, following a deadly chemical weapons attack. This directly contradicted a tweet published by him in 2013 that said ‘we should stay the hell out of Syria’. In fact, it contradicts 18 tweets made by him from 2013-2014 which condemned Obama’s handling of the Syrian conflict and that we should not be involved. The strike was directed to harm Assad’s government for the heinous act of using chemical weapons – before there was confirmation of who had issued the attack, and this fact is still being investigated.

Recent information has revealed that the strike didn’t damage anything valuable to the Syrian government and that Russia (Syria’s staunchest backer) was warned prior to the attack. In fact not just Russia, but peaceful nations such as New Zealand were also warned in advance. Interesting development, considering  Trump has claimed he doesn’t want people to know what he is thinking and that if he did go into Syria “it would be by surprise, not blurted all over the media”.

So it seems that there is an intention to increase the world’s fears of a global conflict, as Trump’s decision to strike Syria was that of a ‘weakened politician needing to flex his muscles’ according to the Chinese News state agency, Xin Hua. However it seemed to have a desired effect, with Trump receiving a surge in popularity by mainstream media outlets that so frequently denounced him.

The focus is now turned to North Korea. Trump has claimed that the North is  looking for trouble, with calls that the US naval force was being sent to the Korean peninsula. Just two days ago, Trump warned that the US could end up having a ‘major, major conflict with North Korea’, with North Korea providing the biggest global challenge. There has been calls to implement sanctions, and suspend or downgrade diplomatic relations to ‘denuclearise the nation’. Yet it is the opinion of China that this grave tension can only be diffused by diplomacy, something Trump appears to be refuting. Earlier today, amid these escalating tensions with the North Korean nuclear programme, he said he had no idea if North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was sane, but later referred to him as being a ‘pretty smart cookie’.

Not only is there the threat of North Korea on the horizon, but the seriousness of Trump’s attack of Syria, a foreign government, which is an unconstitutional act of aggression that has led to the Syrian’s government allies announcing that they will respond with force the next time such an act occurs, a fact which is frankly terrifying, and keeps driving home the imminent threat of a global war.

It seems we are treading on eggshells, with everyone just waiting in trepidation for Trump to make his next mistake.

Only 1360 days to go.

This article (100 Days of Trump) was written exclusively for The TV’s Leaking and may not be reproduced in any way, shape or form without permission from the author.

Is Mike Pence the Deep State’s Insurance Policy?

(Photo credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

This article originally appeared on the Anti-Media.

March 9, 2017 at 12:12 pm

(ANTIMEDIA Op-Ed) Last month, Anti-Media reported on leaked intelligence that forcibly ousted national security adviser Michael Flynn from the Trump administration. Flynn’s successor,  General H.R. McMaster, is far more hawkish, and in comparison to Flynn, takes a much more anti-Russian stance. It isn’t too much of a stretch to assume McMaster’s job will be secure if he continues to perpetuate the anti-Russian narrative we have become so familiar with in recent decades.

Despite this, the media still perpetuates anti-Russian hysteria and repeated claims regarding the Trump administration’s ties to Russia — despite the fact that Flynn, Trump’s supposed go-between with Russia, has already relinquished his power.

Why would this be?

As most people are aware, Trump was able to secure his seat in the White House by offering a markedly different vision for America than Hillary Clinton, who largely mirrored Obama’s presidency. Both Clinton and Obama had very hawkish approaches to Russia and Russia’s strategic allies in the Middle East. In contrast, Trump was clear that he respected Russia’s president and wanted to forge closer relations.

The first thing to note is that Trump has been keeping most of his campaign promises to date — even the most outlandish ones. The second is that Flynn was actually in the process of offering a deal on economic sanctions against Russia and a ceasefire in Ukraine, suggesting there was substance behind Trump’s pro-Russia rhetoric. The issue with this, of course, is that ultimately, there are people within the intelligence community who view a warming of relations with Russia to be a deal breaker with the Trump administration.

Evidently, there are those behind the scenes within the deep state and the intelligence community who still fear that Trump could take away their long-held anti-Russian narrative, which has arguably been fueling the need for such a large and oversized military budget since World War II.

So where is this headed?

If Trump doesn’t adopt the Cold War 2.0 approach of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and is forced out of his own administration in the same manner as Flynn, it will become clear why once we learn who would replace him: Mike Pence.

As the Washington Post’s Josh Rogin observed:

“Pence is seen by many in Washington as a figure who might stand up for the traditionally hawkish views he espoused while in Congress, a proxy of sorts for the GOP national security establishment.”

According to White House officials, lawmakers and experts, Pence, a “traditional hawk influenced heavily by his Christian faith” is reportedly advancing a Rasputin-esque agenda in which he can appease Trump in the meantime by working within Trump’s proposed foreign policy framework, as well as respect the prerogatives of other senior White House aides who want to play large foreign policy roles.

According to Rogin, behind the scenes, Pence will ultimately help shape Trump’s foreign policy into the traditional style witnessed under Obama:

“Inside the White House, Pence is in the room during most of the president’s interactions with world leaders. He receives the presidential daily brief. As head of the transition, he was instrumental in bringing several traditionally hawkish Republicans into the top levels of the administration’s national security team, including Director of National Intelligence-designate Dan Coats, CIA Director Mike Pompeo and U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley.”

It was because of Pence that the U.S. decided to confront Russia and Syria at the U.N. over Syria’s alleged use of chemical weapons, despite everything Trump has previously said regarding resetting U.S. policy with regard to Syria and Russia. However, the true extent of Pence’s hold over Trump — and the true nature of the agenda he serves — can be seen in his role in ousting Flynn in the first place.

Rogin continues:

“The chief example was when Pence personally spoke to Trump about removing national security adviser Michael Flynn, who had lied to him about conversations with Russian officials during the transition.” [emphasis added]

Since this occurrence, Pence has reportedly taken up more of the role previously occupied by Flynn.

No matter what one makes of Trump — or his administration and the policies that have been initiated thus far — the fact remains that Trump won the U.S. election. The people working behind the scenes to oust him are not subject to democratic controls, nor are they working in the best interests of the American public. We are left to ask ourselves exactly how renewing relations with Russia –  a nuclear power –  could possibly endanger American lives.

Either way, we are more or less left with two paths ahead of us. The first path involves Trump giving in and adopting an anti-Russian agenda, as is already apparent in his decision to send more ground troops to Syria alongside Saudi troops, who will intentionally oppose the Syrian regime (a close ally of Russia). The second involves the possibility of another direct coup within the Trump administration, this time one that may ultimately force Trump out of the White House so he can be replaced by Mike Pence, a war hawk who will be more than happy to do the job Hillary Clinton wanted to do.

Opinion / Creative Commons / Anti-Media / Report a typo

English: “I don’t believe it’s a racist policy”

Zahra Shahtahmasebi

31 January, 2017

(THE TV’s LEAKING) Yesterday prime minister Bill English finally publicly stated his disagreement against the controversial travel ban put in place by US president-elect Donald Trump on Friday but only after repeated urging from other political figures; Dame Susan Devoy, and Green party co-leader Metiria Turei. Despite his expressed concerns, it seems he will not make these known to Trump, as he believes ‘it is not our job to tell others how to run their country’. [Emphasis added].

English was interviewed on Radio NZ this morning. When asked by Guyon Espiner about his thoughts on the policy, English seemed again reserved and somewhat defensive. He once again reiterated his opposition to the ban but it was clear that he had taken no steps to find out how New Zealand citizens may be affected despite the ban already being operational for four days. The ban prevents citizens of seven Muslim-majority nations from traveling to the US, as well as affecting people who have dual nationality. Since the order has been signed, chaos has erupted in the States, with travellers and refugees who were looking to make a new life in the supposed ‘land of the free’ being detained in US airports. It is tearing apart many lives and families, with the order extending to cover permanent residents, as well as those who have valid visas. People who have worked and contributed to American society for a number of years, but say, have travelled to their homeland to visit family are being prevented from returning; they are being pulled off flights and prevented from boarding, whilst being questioned about their business in America and then even deported. Yet it’s clear these people mean no harm – these people are not terrorists, they are just people who have made or plan to make America their home.

England and Canada, (other members of the Five Eyes Alliance, the secretive surveillance group) have already been granted exemptions for their citizens following governmental inquiries, with Australia seeking the same. Australia’s foreign minister Julie Bishop has expressed Australia’s support for Trump’s strong immigration and border policies, saying he is merely fulfilling a campaign promise. Australia’s Treasurer Scott Morrison declined to criticise Trump’s latest move, instead deciding to empathise, stating that Australia’s harsh border deterrence policies are the envy of the world and that finally ‘the rest of the world is catching up’ to them. The prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull is yet to speak to address the subject of the travel ban.

 

In light of all this English’s attitude appears very relaxed. While he says New Zealand too is seeking exemptions, he has as of yet received no assurance from the US. He is asserted that New Zealand would never implement such a policy. But that is not the issue here – while it’s good to hear that a ban will never exist here, the fact is, such a ban already exists elsewhere, and is having a severe global impact.

And to cap it all off, when asked if he thought the policy was racist, English replied that no, he didn’t believe so, instead that it is a policy that discriminates among refugees, based on the country they come from. Well, as Guyon Espiner then pointed out, is that not the definition of racism? And his perspective seems a little mis-informed, as it is well known that this ban does not just apply to refugees, but to all citizens of those seven listed countries. Green card holders were initially banned too, however the Trump administration later revoked this, stating they could return to the US only after passing additional security checks. This travel ban is a bigoted and fascist policy that is not only acting as a source of widespread terror and anxiety but is actually unconstitutional. Yet English suggests that it’s up to Muslim New Zealanders to make their minds up on the policy, basically saying in not so many words that he wasn’t going to do anything to contend Trump’s executive order.

I don’t know about you, or what we come to expect in a leader nowadays, but I would expect some strong moral leadership in light of a policy that clearly violates human rights and judges people based on both race and religion. Meanwhile, those countries that export the most terrorism in the world (such as Saudi Arabia) get a free pass into Donald Trump’s America.

This article (English: “I don’t believe it’s a racist policy”) was written exclusively for The TV’s Leaking and may not be reproduced in any way, shape or form without permission from the author.

Trump Strikes Again

Zahra Shahtahmasebi

27 January, 2017

(THE TV’s LEAKINGSix days since the worldwide women’s march, a backlash against Trump’s inauguration, made history. Despite the 5 million people that publicly protested and voiced their anger and disagreement worldwide, three days later, Trump signed an anti-abortion executive order with far reaching effects for all women, surrounded by a room full of white men. And now he’s angering millions yet again with his latest executive orders and confusing policies.

On Tuesday, he signed executive orders that cleared the way for two major oil pipelines, Dakota Access and Keystone XL. The Dakota pipeline after significant protests, was eventually blocked by the Obama administration who called for construction on the project to halt late last year. Both pipelines are a subject of controversy, but the Dakota Access became the focus of protests by climate change activists and Native American tribes alike. The construction would take place less than a mile away from the Standing Rock Sioux tribe reservation and will contaminate water and threaten Native American land, not to mention the threat of oil spills. This order looks set to derail all of the victories previously won by protesters who rallied for several months to block the project. Apparently though, the impact on the climate and environment is irrelevant and climate change is a hoax invented by the Chinese. Trump expects that by allowing these pipelines to go ahead, it would help the economy by providing more jobs. However, studies have shown that they will not, in fact, have a massive impact on employment rates; while they will provide 42,000 jobs for two years, these are only temporary, with a mere 35 jobs being permanent positions. Protests still look set to continue fighting this decision, activists claiming that “you can’t drink oil” and that all “lives matter”, with respect to the Native American lives that will be affected by the pipeline.

On Wednesday, Trump began fulfilling some of his most controversial campaign policies. In order to reshape immigration enforcement he has ordered for an “impassable physical barrier” to be constructed at the border between the United States and Mexico. Not only is this wall estimated to cost billions of US taxpayer money – as signing away these executive orders does not actually cover the cost of the wall, strangely enough – Trump is confident that Mexico will reimburse the U.S. 100% for the construction costs. That’s interestingly considerate of Mexico, paying for a wall that they never commissioned, and that restricts their entry into the U.S.

And now he’s expected to issue an order that will temporarily ban people from seven different nations in the Middle East and North Africa from entering the US. In fact you can read the draft here. The order looks set to ban people from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Somalia, Sudan, Libya and Yemen from entering the country, including blocking all refugees from war-torn Syria indefinitely. This is reflecting the increasing “anti-refugee” attitude that is evident across the globe, and undermining the Obama administration’s plan to increase refugee admissions into the country by 30% in 2017.

One of Trump’s campaign promises was to ban all Muslims from the US. While this isn’t outrightly stated in the executive order, it is evident the focus is still Islamic based. Despite blocking all Syrian refugees, the order states that it will give priority to refugees of a minor religion that are facing religious persecution. Thus, Christians in most Middle East countries will be favoured over Muslims, despite the fact that Shi’a Muslims are persecuted in several Middle Eastern nations by the Sunni Muslims who consider them ‘apostates’. Thus it seems that Muslims are under fire, simply for the fact that they are Muslim.

There is no way that this can be construed as a mere country ban, when religions are being separated and prioritised over each other within the same country. It also doesn’t seem likely that this immigration ban is going to make the U.S. any safer from terrorism. And if this was Trump’s aim it seems he has picked the wrong countries – as none of the ones on the list have been responsible for any terrorist attacks on the U.S. in the last 15 years – in fact most of the terrorists have been American-born Middle Easterns, suggesting that the biggest threat to the US is themselves. The only commonality between the countries is that they are the countries that the US is actively bombing.

Trump’s chaotic lurching from policy to policy is confusing and frankly terrifying. It seems to me like a game: how many things can he ruin in one go?

Well, I can scarcely wait to see.

This article (Trump Strikes Again) was written exclusively for The TV’s Leaking and may not be reproduced in any way, shape or form without permission from the author.

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The End of the World as We Know It

Zahra Shahtahmasebi

26 January, 2017

(THE TV’s LEAKING) 2016 was frequently bemoaned as an all round terrible year, kick starting with the loss of a number of great and beloved stars. David Bowie and Alan Rickman were lost within the first few weeks of 2016, seeking to provide a sense of foreboding that promised only more and more devastating things. We lost Prince, Mohammed Ali, Carrier Fisher, 49 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando in a hate crime attack, Harambe the gorilla from a Cincinnati zoo and Britain from the European Union. So understandably, people turned to 2017 to be their saviour; the year of redemption, to make up for all the horrors that we longed to leave behind in the murky depths of 2016.

 

So far, the prospects of that aren’t looking too great and in fact, in my opinion, 2017 is shaping up to be on par with 2016, as highlighted by the inauguration of the 45th president of the United States, Donald Trump on the 20th of this month. This is something that still terrifies me – the fact that this arrogant, misogynistic, racist and I-could-keep-going-ist billionaire is running one of the world’s superpowers. I still find it a little bit bewildering that there are people out there saying that because he’s the president now we should give him the benefit of the doubt. This is still the same man that campaigned in the US election, the same man that plans to make America great again by building a wall along the US-Mexico border and to ban Muslims from entering the United States until we figure out ‘what is happening’.

 

The day after he was sworn in, his press secretary’s briefing accused the media of deliberate false reporting, insisting that photos of the inauguration were framed in a way to purposely minimise the size of the crowd that had turned out to support the new president. Apparently this also applied to any attempt to try and count the amount that attended the historic women’s march on Washington, reported as being three times the size of Trump’s crowd.

 

He has been in office a mere 3 days and he is already being sued for violating the constitution. On his second day in office he signed an anti-abortion executive order whilst surrounded by a room full of white men. The order is also known as the ‘global gag rule’, that has not been in place since Reagan’s government in 1984. Not only did he sign an order that will have far-reaching global consequences for women, he did it without a woman in sight. Interesting, to say the least, as you’d think that signing a policy which prohibits US funding to any international non-governmental organisations responsible for giving sexual health advice and family planning would require some input from women, as they are usually the ones who are pregnant.

 

The effects that this order will have is massive on women all over the world. It won’t stop abortion happening, but it will make it less safe. Thousands more women will die, and it will prevent those international organisations from promoting or even discussing abortion as a family planning option. Because if they do, they’ll lose the large amount of US funding they receive for all of their other health care services.

 

Not to mention his bipolar disorder approach to his policies. One minute he is planning to shake up the American intelligence agency, with a major reform in store. The next he’s visiting them, telling them he supports them 1000%, reportedly saying he loves them. Then there’s the rising tensions with China, over the ‘One-China policy’ and Taiwan, and the accusations over Twitter that China is not doing enough to contain its ally, North Korea, over their threat of an extremely powerful nuclear ballistic capabilities. Then there was the continuation of the suspected drone strike programme that killed three alleged Al-Qaeda operatives in Yemen, a program that doesn’t seem to be coming to an end with the entry of the new president, despite

the controversies and the fact that it could lead to war crime investigations.

 

I could go on. The truth is, if you think think that not being an American means that this will not affect you, you are seriously misguided. On his second day in power Trump signed a single executive that has the power to affect women on all 7 continents. As Meryl Streep said in her Golden Globes speech, “when the powerful use their position to bully others, we all lose.”

Who only knows what else he can do.

 

This article (The End of the World as We Know It) was written exclusively for The TV’s Leaking and may not be reproduced in any way, shape or form without permission from the author.

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I’m Done With Online Hate Speech

Zahra Shahtahmasebi

(THE TV’s LEAKINGIn one of those idle moments I took to perusing Instagram, scrolling through endless photos in my home feed. I took a pause at the latest image posted by Jamie Oliver – a rest in peace post for one of his icons, Carrie Fisher. Eyes quickly fell to the comments to see evidence of a disjointed argument interspersed between similar comments of respect and sadness at Fisher’s passing. Being an idle moment as it were, I made the decision to load the rest of the comments and immediately wished I hadn’t.

One commenter had taken the trouble to attack Oliver over a spelling mistake in the photo’s caption. Oliver, known to have severe dyslexia, had used ‘too’ incorrectly (writing ‘to’ instead). This mistake was something I had noticed when I read the caption, but barely thought it worth paying attention to. The commenter claimed that someone as rich as Oliver should hire a ‘personal spelling advisor’ so as to avoid future incidents such as this, before they went on to further insult Oliver and other commenters who jumped to the celebrity chef’s defence.

Doesn’t this just border on the edge of incredulity? I could scarce believe what I was reading; that this is something capable of triggering an online argument, hateful words and insults. In a world where electronic devices and autocorrect mean typos are a highly frequent occurrence – well speaking for myself in particular – at this rate we’d all be needing personal spelling advisors. Pity that most of us, unlike Oliver, do not have the cash to fork out for this much needed assistance.

On another scale, how is it that this – a missing ‘o’ from a word that did not detract from the meaning of the caption – was actually worth starting a feud over? How can it be, especially with the state of everything else that is going on the world at the moment that someone actually took the time to type out a complaint over a spelling error? Compared to other things that I would believe worth taking a stand over, this pales into teeny tiny insignificance – a minor issue that truly warrants no attention whatsoever.

The truth of it is, this era of electronic devices that we are now in lends a sort of bizarre courage to people, allowing them to say all sorts of things they never would say in reality, all because of the safety and anonymity that comes from sitting behind a screen. The thing is – what is gained by all of this hate? I’m all for free speech and being allowed to speak your mind but what use is it to personally attack and insult people, even people you do not know? It is not tolerated in real life, so why should it be so online? Why should we have to suffer through this war of hate as people feel they have the right to rip others to shreds to mock, and berate, to taunt, to threaten? A number one rule that we learn as children is that if we have nothing nice to say that we should say nothing at all. Telling people that they are f****** stupid, that they should kill themselves, leaving cryptic and hurtful comments, purely because you disagree with their point of view, simply makes no sense and all of this leaves emotional wounds that cut deep. We all seem to forget that the people out there in the spotlight are humans too, just like us and we all know words are powerful weapons that can prove detrimental or even fatal.

The strangest thing seems to be how people take particular delight in tearing down people who are trying to help others, and even themselves. Maybe they’ve made mistakes before but now they are trying to improve themselves and raise awareness, assist others – so why pull them down? Is this some form  of the Tall Poppy syndrome?

Whatever it is needs to end. If you have something to say why not try say something constructive. There is and never will be a need for hate as it does not achieve anything. Remember, if you don’t have anything nice – or at the very least useful to say – don’t say anything at all.

This article (I’m Done With Online Hate Speech) was written exclusively for The TV’s Leaking and may not be reproduced in any way, shape or form without permission from the author.

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Is This Why Researchers Can’t Solve Rising Suicide Rates?

(This article first appeared on the ANTIMEDIA)

(ANTIMEDIA) Suicide rates continue to rise in the developed world and beyond. Despite the fact billions of dollars are spent on health systems for suicide alone, the trend has failed to reverse itself.

Suicide is misunderstood because a medical model is being applied, meaning doctors are incorrectly treating it as an illness of the mind, argues Professor Said Shahtahmasebi, Director of the Good Life Research Trust Centre and editor of Dynamics of Human Health. Shahtahmasebi has conducted years of research to try to better understand suicide trends and find an effective prevention model. Utilizing his grassroots, community-empowering model, one region in New Zealand went from having one youth suicide a month on average to having two suicides in an 18-month period.

In light of the fact suicide rates are unacceptably high (New Zealand has the highest rate of teen suicide in the developed world), Anti-Media asked Professor Shahtahmasebi why suicide rates have increased despite a redirection of massive resources to mental health services.

AM: In your opinion, what are some of the underlying problems with the way suicide is being treated?

Over the last 20 years, I have repeatedly challenged the conventional wisdom about suicide, emphasizing that suicide rates follow a cyclical pattern (the sequence of downward and upward movements of suicide rates). Instead of concentrating efforts on breaking the cycle, decision makers, mental health services, and researchers claim credit for lowering suicide rates when the cycle is on the downturn, then demand more funding to continue with the same services. But when the cycle is on the upturn, they claim suicide is a very complex issue with many socio-economic and environmental risk factors and that they, again, require more funding to extend the same service to more people.

This may be fine the first time. However, after many decades of research and psychiatric intervention, the reality is that suicide prevention is really more of the same, with an approach centered around looking for signs of mental illness and then referring individuals to mental health services. But each year, the strategy of ‘more of the same’ is costing more in terms of both lives lost and monetary burden.

Suicide is not a mental health problem. Not many people with mental illness or depression commit suicide, but some suicidal people undergoing psychiatric intervention do. Current estimates suggest about one-third of all individuals who have killed themselves had previous contact with mental health services but still went ahead and completed suicide.

On the other hand, between two-thirds and three-quarters of all people who end their lives have no contact with mental health services, which means we don’t know anything about their state of mind. Further, psychological autopsy studies linking mental disorder to suicide have been challenged and discredited.

AM: So how can psychiatrists and politicians still claim suicide is the result of mental illness?

A study [pdf] I conducted in 2003 using patient records from a psychiatric/mental health hospital showed that out of those who sought psychiatric help and completed suicide, only 16 percent had depression recorded as a diagnosis or had it mentioned somewhere in their medical notes. Thirty-three percent had a different classification, including schizophrenia, alcohol or drug abuse, paranoia, or personality disorder, and 17 percent had “other.” Astonishingly, 33 percent did not have a diagnosis at all.

Therefore, about 50 percent of the patients had no mental illness diagnosed at the time of suicide.

The research suggests that psychiatrists and politicians can no longer claim that suicide is the result of mental illness.

AM: So what is actually known about those cases who had no contact with health services?

The whole notion of ‘look for signs of mental illness and refer’ to prevent suicide defies logic and is counter-intuitive.

First, it assumes that only people with a mental disorder commit suicide. This is not true. Second, this method ignores the majority of people who may be suicidal and in need of help. Third, by associating suicide with mental illness, people who experience suicidal thoughts or behavior potentially avoid seeking help. Fourth, if signs are detectable, then prevention has failed, and it is time for effective interventions. Fifth, psychiatric intervention has failed to prevent a large proportion of all suicide cases who were referred to mental health services.

For example, official government documents show that in New Zealand, prescriptions for antidepressants have more than quadrupled since 1997, yet the suicide rate has continued in a cyclic upward pattern, now reaching an all-time high of 579 this year.

If mental illness is the cause of suicide, shouldn’t we be observing a continual reduction in the number of suicides given the amount of resources being put towards mental-health-based treatments and the increase in antidepressant use?

So it is not only ‘more of the same’ in suicide prevention action plan but also ‘more of the same’ in rhetoric: at every cyclic upturn, ministers and their ‘experts’ claim suicide is ‘unacceptably’ high and that mental health services must be strengthened.

‘More of the same’ is symptomatic of a lack of accountability.

AM: How does your proposed model differ from the current status quo?

The philosophy of preventing suicide through mental health intervention is no longer tenable. Psychiatric research declaring mental illness the cause of suicide has been challenged and discredited. In a recent publication, the World Health Organization (WHO) lists mental illness causing suicide as one of the many myths, and as a result, they have modified their guidelines.

There is no doubt that mental health services must be supported effectively to deliver efficient services and to improve health outcomes. However, mental health services cannot prevent suicide.

The problem is exacerbated by an uncritical media that pushes the medical model and refers to proponents of the medical model as the “experts.” The truth is that we do not understand suicide because all of our efforts have been focused on treating mental illnesses that may or may not exist.

In other words, if an individual is referred to mental health services (whether they are self-referred because of a suicide attempt or by a health professional), the intervention looks to establish a mental disorder, such as depression, for which medication can be prescribed. So, in the process of treatment, ‘suicide’ per se is effectively taken out of the equation and ignored, and a completely different issue is treated as a result of the misdiagnosis. Treating a condition that does not exist explains the reason why a significant proportion of all suicide cases who received psychiatric treatment went through with suicide (about one third).

Through the process of raising research funds, I realized several points. Firstly, it is futile to wait for the government to take the initiative and act in the interest of the public. Secondly, suicide prevention does not require major funding and can be operationalized with few resources. Third, uncritical and flawed suicide information is contributing to misinformation in the public domain. Fourth, so long as suicide prevention remains highly politicized, ‘more of the same’ is the only suicide prevention action plan available to the public.

In order to achieve a change in direction, suicide prevention must be de-politicized. A sure way of achieving this is to engage the public. This can be achieved by providing the public with quality and appropriate information about suicide and human behavior.In 2010, our grassroots approach to suicide prevention was rolled out in the Waikato and Kawerau in New Zealand through a series of training workshops. The philosophy behind the grassroots approach is that we, the public, cannot wait for signs of mental disorder to manifest and then seek psychiatric intervention. The aim is to prevent people getting to the stage where they feel that suicide is a viable option.

A couple of very important outcomes from the workshops were: first, we received many personal comments from suicide survivors (parents who had lost a loved one to suicide). By teaching them about adolescent development and adolescent behavior, we were providing them with alternatives to dealing with their teenaged children. For example, it’s no use telling a teenager to pull themselves together or that there are plenty more fish in the sea when they are going through a break-up because, at that point in time, the break-up means everything to them. Showing sympathy and empathy have been proven to be far more effective. Because of this, many personal comments came our way along the lines of: “Had they known this information then their loved one would probably be alive today.

Second, participating communities formed suicide prevention groups enforcing prevention rather than intervention. The groups developed locally-based suicide awareness activities designed to inform and to prevent.

As I previously explained in a 2013 article:

For the approach to be successful it had to address the needs of the participating communities as perceived by them. The frontline health workers that we contacted indicated their greatest need was for information, training, and for upskilling in order to be able to deal with youth and adolescent issues. The resulting outcome was a pilot project offering training workshops.

The frontline health workers organized the community workshops including locating venues, facilitating publicity, and inviting local dignitaries and other community members (e.g., police, teachers, social workers, counselors, young people, and the general public). The project intended to empower communities to plan and make decisions at the family and community level by increasing their awareness of adolescent issues. In this context, the role of the researchers was to facilitate training workshops and basically play a support and mentoring role. All the community projects and activities that followed were designed and developed at the grassroots level by the communities themselves.”

The frontline health and social workers in the participating communities reported that suicide — youth suicide, in particular — had substantially declined. This is a trend that continues to the present date.

The communities also have reported that they are much more confident in engaging in problem situations and preventing them from becoming suicide crises.

The workshops were also funded through local institutions and charitable trusts, a Fulbright grant, frontline workers, and volunteers. Attendees included social workers, mental health frontline workers, police, coroners, psychiatrists, GPs, teachers, church representatives, youth, the general public, and suicide survivors. Unlike the medical model, the grassroots approach is an inclusive strategy.

I guess the concluding message is that if the public is sick of ‘more of the same’ suicide intervention strategy, then the grassroots must mobilize and take action… after all, it is the grassroots who know their communities better than the ‘experts’ or government decision makers.

It’s Cheaper to Buy an Island Than A House in Auckland Right Now

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(Pictured above: Wild Cane Key Island, retrieved from: Stuff.co.nz)

Zahra Shahtahmasebi

21 December, 2016

(THE TV’s LEAKING) Forget about that house you’ve been scrimping and saving for; there are 12 islands for sale that are under US$1 million (NZ$1.43 million).

Frigate Caye is a 1.4 acre island listed for US$225,000, which is incredibly cheaper than a house in Auckland where house prices are now averaging at $1,013,632. For a three bedroom house with a new bathroom and kitchen close to the city, it’ll cost you $1,049,000 – or $995,000 for a two bedroom, one bathroom home out on Waiheke island.

Or…you could have the Cayo Iguana island, listed at $750,000, which quite conveniently already has a three bedroom, two bathroom house. 

I know which one I’d rather have.

This article (It’s Cheaper to Buy an Island Than A House in Auckland Right Now) was written exclusively for The TV’s Leaking and may not be reproduced in any way, shape or form without permission from the author.

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The Media’s Main Source on Syrian Conflict is a T-Shirt Shop – No, Seriously

(This article first appeared on the ANTIMEDIA)

(ANTIMEDIA) Western media regularly quotes the so-called Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) on statistics regarding the current Syrian conflict. Take, for example, this recent article from the Guardian, which reported the “UK-based monitor says dozens have died after [an] attack near [the] border with Turkey.” Referring to the SOHR as a “monitor” or “monitoring group” is a common practice corporate media employs to lend the organization legitimacy.

So who—or what—is the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights?

The truth is stranger than fiction.

At the time of this article’s publication, the official SOHR website has been down for several days. However, an archived version last captured on July 5, 2016, reveals details about the organization. Founded in May 2006, the SOHR is a group of people—not associated with or linked to any political body—that documents the Human Rights situation in Syria. They assert their goals and aspirations are democracy, freedom, justice and equality. The founder and director of SOHR is Rami Abdulrahman, a Sunni Muslim who fled to the United Kingdom after being arrested numerous times in Syria. He never returned.

In December 2011, Reuters provided some insight into how this so-called Observatory, “arguably Syria’s most high-profile human rights group,” operates:

“‘Are there clashes? How did he die? Ah, he was shot,’ said Rami Abdulrahman into a phone, the talk of gunfire and death incongruous with his two bedroom terraced home in Coventry, from where he runs the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.”

Reuters further stated:

“[W]hen he isn’t fielding calls from international media, Abdulrahman is a few minutes down the road at his clothes shop, which he runs with his wife.

According to the New York Times, Abdulrahman relies on four men from inside Syria to help collate and report data from more than 230 activists on the ground. The Times admitted the SOHR is, essentially, “a one-man band” operating out of a “semi-detached red brick house on an ordinary residential street” using the “simplest, cheapest Internet technology available.”

He relies on money from his clothes business, as well as small subsidies from the European Union and one European country he refuses to identify.

According to an interview with RT published last year—in which the SOHR director proved to be very elusive before he was eventually tracked down by the reporter—Abdulrahman acknowledged he personally has not been back to Syria in over 15 years, adding:

“But I know some of the Observatory activists through common friends. This organization only takes new members following a six-month trial period and the candidate has to be familiar to someone from the organization or to a reliable outside contact.”

To date, his informants remain anonymous, and he is the only individual listed as working for SOHR. Abdulrahman has no journalistic or legal qualifications, is not based in Syria, and relies on phone calls–yet the corporate media quotes his reports without question. This is particularly damning for Russia, as prominent outlets like the International Business Times have released articles treating the SOHR as an authority:

“SOHR, which collects information from several ground sources in Syria, in a statement on its website, accused the regime and Russian air forces of bombing areas without distinguishing between the civilian and militant targets.”

The ridiculousness of this reporting has been, in turn, chastised by Russia. As stated by the Russian Foreign Ministry through its spokesperson, Maria Zakharova:

“This information appears with reference to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights based in London. As we all understand, it is very ‘convenient’ to cover and observe what is happening in Syria without leaving London and without the ability to collect information in the field.”

Sounds reliable.

However, it could be the case that Abdulrahman scrutinizes every piece of information from his sources to the best of his ability. It could be the case that his sources are the most reliable sources inside Syria and are not trying to push a particular agenda. However, statements like, “I came to Britain the day Hafez al-Assad died, and I’ll return when Bashar al-Assad goes” seem to suggest the “Observatory” may not always be a neutral source.

But how would we know, anyway? How does the corporate media know to trust these reports?

They don’t, yet they quote this so-called Observatory on a regular basis, peddling a pro-war agenda in the process. The media treats its coverage of Syria like war is a game—as if innocent lives won’t be lost and the repercussions of a war with Syria are not massive.

When did the corporate media become so lazy? The fact that Western media resorts to quoting a t-shirt shop stationed thousands of miles from the Syrian conflict reveals something about the availability of actual evidence, especially when such reports purport to document the atrocities the Syrian and Russian regimes are committing inside Syria. This is not to say Russian and Syrian forces have not caused widespread damage and inflicted suffering on many Syrians. But surely, if the credible evidence existed to support those peddling anti-Assad propaganda, news outlets would likely not use a t-shirt shop in England as a regular source.

That being said, my girlfriend’s family has a barbecue business at the front of their house; perhaps I can start documenting human rights abuses in the Middle East for the establishment media, as well.