Thursday, 26 December 2019

Ground Zero: the origin of the 'millions of detained Uyghurs' claim...

Claims that China has detained millions of Uyghur Muslims are based largely on two studies. A closer look at these papers reveals US government backing, absurdly shoddy methodologies, and a rapture-ready evangelical researcher named Adrian Zenz.

The US House of Representatives passed the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act on December 3, legislation which calls for the Donald Trump administration to impose sanctions against China over allegations that Beijing has detained millions of Muslim-majority Uyghurs in the western region of Xinjiang.

To drum up support for the sanctions bill, Western governments and media outlets have portrayed the People’s Republic as a human rights violator on par with Nazi Germany. Republican Rep. Chris Smith, for instance, denounced the Chinese government for what he called the “mass internment of millions on a scale not seen since the Holocaust,” in “modern-day concentration camps.”

The claim that China has detained millions of ethnic Uyghurs in its Xinjiang region is repeated with increasing frequency, but little scrutiny is ever applied. Yet a closer look at the figure and how it was obtained reveals a serious deficiency in data.

While this extraordinary claim is treated as unassailable in the West, it is, in fact, based on two highly dubious “studies.”

The first, by the US government-backed Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders, formed its estimate by interviewing a grand total of eight people.

The second study relied on flimsy media reports and speculation. It was authored by Adrian Zenz, a far-right fundamentalist Christian who opposes homosexuality and gender equality, supports “scriptural spanking” of children, and believes he is “led by God” on a “mission” against China.

As Washington ratchets up pressure on China, Zenz has been lifted out of obscurity and transformed almost overnight into a go-to pundit on Xinjiang. He has testified before Congress, providing commentary in outlets from the Wall Street Journal to Democracy Now!, and delivering expert quotes in the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists’ recent “China Cables” report. His Twitter bio notes that he is “moving across the Atlantic” from his native Germany.

Before Grayzone editor Max Blumenthal questioned Zenz about his religious “mission,” at a recent event about Xinjiang inside the US Capitol, he had received almost entirely uncritical promotion from Western media.

The Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders, which first popularized the “millions detained” figure, has also been able to operate without a hint of media scrutiny.

Washington-backed NGO claims millions detained after interviewing eight people

The “millions detained” figure was first popularized by a Washington, DC-based NGO that is backed by the US government, the Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD).

In a 2018 report submitted to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination – often misrepresented in Western media as a UN-authored report – CHRD “estimate[d] that roughly one million members of ethnic Uyghurs have been sent to ‘re-education’ detention camps and roughly two million have been forced to attend ‘re-education’ programs in Xinjiang.” According to CHRD, this figure was “[b]ased on interviews and limited data.”

While CHRD states that it interviewed dozens of ethnic Uyghurs in the course of its study, their enormous estimate was ultimately based on interviews with exactly eight Uyghur individuals.

Moar words!

Tuesday, 24 December 2019

War on Xmas, Moral Panix and the Gay Jesus!

Gay Jesus Netflix Special Infuriates Christians in Brazil

On December 3, Netflix premiered a Christmas special from the Brazilian comedy troupe Porta dos Fundos (translation: "backdoor") titled The First Temptation of Christ. The 46-minute-long special features a gay Jesus Christ (Gregório Duvivier) introducing his boyfriend, Orlando, (Fábio Porchat) to his family and God (Antônio Tabet) after spending 40 days in the desert.

In the special, Mary and Joseph organized a surprise party for Jesus’ 30th birthday, with the presence of God, who tries to convince Mary to run away with him and abandon Joseph, a carpenter incapable of building even a table. The three wise men arrive at the party with a prostitute as a guest, and offer snacks made of ham—which they try to sell as if it were made of soy.

Orlando, who tries in every way possible to make it clear to Jesus’s family that they are in a relationship, is interrupted each time by Jesus, who is ashamed and seems in doubt about his sexuality—and also has to decide whether or not to take on the role of savior of humanity.

The satirical special has now become a target for religious conservatives, who have organized an online petition with more than 2 million signatures demanding the censorship of the episode, that the comedians be "held responsible for the crime of vilification of the faith," and that Netflix issue a "public retraction, for they have seriously offended Christians.”

Federal Congressman Eduardo Bolsonaro—son of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro—tweeted that "we are in favor of freedom of expression, but is it worth attacking the faith of 86% of the population?”

Fundamentalist religious political leaders and opponents of pro-LGBT agendas in the São Paulo Legislative Assembly (Alesp) started gathering signatures to call for the opening of a CPI (Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry) to investigate the comedy group's alleged crime against religious sentiment; they argue in a video that the comedians "take away the spiritual value of the sacred conception and disdain the trajectory of Jesus" and "attack and vilify religions.”

On Tuesday, at the Federal Chamber of Representatives in Brasília, the Science and Technology Commission approved a request to invite a representative of Netflix to provide clarification about the episode. Meanwhile, evangelical leaders are calling for a boycott of Netflix.

In Rio de Janeiro, an obscure Catholic fundamentalist organization filed a lawsuit with the Public Prosecutor's Office demanding censorship of the special episode—a position adopted by the prosecutor, who demanded not only censorship, but also payment of a fine of 2 million reais—corresponding to two cents from each Brazilian who professes Catholicism in the country. (The lawsuit was dismissed today.)

The Bolsonaros and many parliamentarians who have shown dissatisfaction with the special have been criticized for defending lax laws around weapons and preaching hatred against minorities, in particular homosexuals. President Bolsonaro, for instance, recently criticized the Supreme Court for ruling on the criminalization of homophobia, and has declared himself a “proud homophobe” and said he would prefer a “dead son to a gay son.”

Since he took office, Bolsonaro has distributed political positions to evangelical and fundamentalist politicians, such as the Minister of Human Rights, Damares Alves, who has been accused of child abduction by indigenous tribes and once said she saw Jesus in a guava tree. Religious agendas contrary to human rights have been gaining ground all over the country. Several government members have declared themselves to be in a Christian Crusade and fighting "cultural Marxism" in order to defend family values.

On Twitter, actor and Porta dos Fundos member Fábio Porchat responded to criticism by saying, “Guys, you can let me work it out with God, that's fine, you don't have to worry about it. Now you can get angry again with the inequality that destroys our country. But you have to be outraged with equal passion, okay?”

Ironically, the controversy only seems to have helped publicize the special episode,which has now become the most viewed Brazilian production in the history of Netflix—and a new special has already been ordered for 2020.


Sunday, 22 December 2019

Warren Buffett on Class Warfare

“There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.”
— Warren Buffett

Saturday, 21 December 2019

Did an Iowa Man Get 16 Years in Prison for Burning an LGBT Rainbow Flag?

In December 2019, several news reports failed to properly explain to readers the impact of "habitual offender" laws on prison sentences.


In December 2019, an Ames, Iowa, man was given a 16-year prison sentence for burning an LGBT rainbow flag.

What's True

The act of setting fire to an LGBT rainbow flag in Ames, Iowa, in June 2019 did ultimately result in Adolfo Martinez receiving a total sentence of 16 years in prison.

What's False

Several news articles failed to mention that Martinez' sentence would not have been nearly so long if he had not already been convicted of two previous felonies and treated as an "habitual offender," in keeping with Iowa state law. In that circumstance, his criminal history tripled the maximum available sentence for arson from five years to 15 years.

In December 2019, we received multiple inquiries from readers about news reports that claimed an Iowa man, 30-year-old Adolfo Martinez, had been given a 16-year prison sentence for burning an LGBT rainbow flag.

For example, the right-leaning Western Journal website reported that:

“As leftists are free to torch U.S. flags across the nation, an Iowa man is paying a heavy price for burning a rainbow LGBT pride flag. Adolfo Martinez of Ames was sentenced Wednesday to a whopping 15 years in prison for the hate crime of arson, according to The Associated Press. In addition to spending a decade and a half in prison for burning the LGBT flag, the 30-year-old Martinez also will be serving an additional year for his use of fire and 30 days for harassment.”

For its part, the UK tabloid newspaper the Sun compared Martinez’ punishment to what it claimed was the average sentence in rape convictions in the United States:

“A homophobe who wanted to ‘punish’ gays has been jailed for 16 years for burning a LGBT pride flag — a tougher sentence than for rape. Adolfo Martinez, 30, stole the flag from United Church of Christ in Ames, Iowa, because he hated gay people before burning it outside Dangerous Curves lap dancing club … Martinez was found guilty last month of third-degree arson in violation of individual rights, third-degree harassment, and reckless use of fire. Story County Attorney Jessica Reynolds said Martinez was the first person in the county’s history to be convicted of a hate crime. For this he received a hefty 16 year prison sentence which far exceeds the average sentence for rape in the United States, which is about 10 years.”

The website Disrn wrote that: “Martinez’s lengthy sentence stemmed from the state’s successful prosecution of a ‘hate crime.’ The prosecution believed that Martinez had burned the flag due to its LGBT connotations.”

Further reports were published by Metro UK, the LGBT interest website The Advocate, and the pro-life, right-leaning website LifeSiteNews.

The aforementioned news articles told only part of the story of Martinez’ unusually long prison sentence, and none of them mentioned the key factor that resulted in his facing 15 years in prison for third-degree arson: that Martinez had two previous felony convictions, meaning that under Iowa law, he was sentenced as an “habitual offender.” It was this legal provision, triggered by the hate crime charge, that multiplied his prison sentence to 15 years.

If Martinez’ act of arson had not constituted a hate crime, he would have faced a maximum sentence of two years in prison. With the hate crime enhancement, he would ordinarily have faced a maximum sentence of five years in prison. It was only because of his status as a habitual offender, triggered by the hate crime enhancement, that he faced a maximum sentence of 15 years, which the judge imposed.

Crime and Charges

Ames, Iowa, police arrested Martinez in the early hours of June 11, after police said he had caused a disturbance at a local bar and threatened to burn down the establishment, before returning with an LGBT rainbow flag he stole from the Ames United Church of Christ, and setting fire to it outside the bar. Martinez admitted to his crimes in an interview with KCCI, saying he was motivated by an antipathy towards homosexuality and that he had “burned down their pride, plain and simple.”

Despite his on-screen confession, Martinez pleaded not guilty to three charges, the Story County Attorney’s Office told Snopes: Third-degree arson, an aggravated misdemeanor which typically carries a maximum sentence of two years in prison; third-degree harassment, a simple misdemeanor; and reckless use of fire or explosives, a serious misdemeanor that typically carries a maximum prison sentence of one year.

On Nov. 6, a jury in Story County convicted Martinez on all three charges. The County Attorney’s Office confirmed to Snopes that Martinez was given a 30-day prison sentence for the charge of third-degree harassment, and a one-year sentence for reckless use of fire or explosives.

In the normal course of events, a conviction for third-degree arson would yield a maximum sentence of two years in prison. However, because the flag burned by Martinez was an LGBT symbol, and because Martinez himself said this was his motivation for setting fire to it, prosecutors added a hate crime enhancement to the arson charge.

Iowa law requires that certain offenses, if prosecuted as a hate crime, must be “classified and punished as an offense one degree higher than the underlying offense.” Thus, Martinez’s conviction for third-degree arson was elevated from an aggravated misdemeanor to a Class D felony.

In Iowa, a Class D felony is typically subject to a maximum prison sentence of five years. However, Martinez had two previous felonies, details of which were not immediately available. Iowa law designates as an “habitual offender” anyone “convicted of a class ‘C’ or a class ‘D’ felony, who has twice before been convicted of any felony in a court of this or any other state, or of the United States.” Therefore, Martinez was sentenced as an habitual offender.

Iowa law states that the maximum sentence for an habitual offender is 15 years in prison. In this case, prosecutors recommended that maximum sentence, on the basis that they believed Martinez to be “very dangerous” and because of his lack of remorse. Story County Attorney Jessica Reynolds told KCCI that Martinez “stated that there was nothing the judge could do to stop him from continuing this behavior, and that he would continue to do this, no matter what.”

On Dec. 18, the judge imposed that maximum sentence, to be served consecutively with the one-year sentence for reckless use of fire and 30-day sentence for third-degree harassment, yielding a total prison sentence of 16 years. Due to his status as an habitual offender, Martinez will not be eligible for parole until he has served a minimum of three years.


It’s true that the action that garnered Martinez a total prison sentence of 16 years was setting fire to an LGBT flag outside a bar in Ames, Iowa, in June 2019. However, this does not account for the length of his prison sentence.

If the object Martinez burned had been a neutral one (for example, a banner or flag bearing the logo of a brand of beer) then his third-degree arson conviction would not have been enhanced as a hate crime, and he would have received a sentence of no more than two years in prison, likely yielding a total sentence of three years, taking into account the one-year sentence he received for reckless use of fire. So it’s true that the fact it was an LGBT rainbow flag, specifically, did cause Martinez’ punishment to be increased. Because the hate crime enhancement converted the arson offense from an aggravated misdemeanor to a Class D felony, it also triggered the habitual offender mechanism.

However, that habitual offender mechanism would not have been triggered if Martinez did not already have two felony convictions. Without that criminal history, Martinez would simply have been given a sentence commensurate with a Class D felony, after the addition of the hate crime enhancement. Instead, because of his own previous convictions, his sentence for third-degree arson was tripled, from five years to 15 years.

The websites mentioned at the beginning of this article served their readers poorly by failing to provide this crucial contextual information and created the false impression that anyone, in any circumstances, was liable to be imprisoned for 16 years for burning an LGBT rainbow flag in the state of Iowa.

Monday, 2 December 2019

The Prince and the Pauper

Justice blind or blinded by titles? A tale of Prince Andrew and Julian Assange

The grand old Duke of York sleeps tonight on a feather pillow in a royal palace. Julian Assange, the publisher of the century sleeps in the hell of Belmarsh Prison, Britain’s own Guantanamo Bay.

The Duke of York lied about the length duration and nature of his relationship with the presumed deceased child-sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein. Julian Assange told the truth about the high crimes and misdemeanours of the rich and powerful during times of war and peace.

The FBI need to speak to the Queen’s favorite son, but no power on earth will be deployed to make him testify about what he might have seen, or even have participated in, at the townhouse in Manhattan, a Sodom and Gomorrah of our times.

The same US Justice system has caused the cruel incarceration of Assange and his Kafkaesque entrapment in an extradition saga which may last for years - if he doesn’t die before it is over as no less than 60 doctors have recently warned he may well do.

The US-UK extradition arrangements may be the most unequal treaty ever concluded by Her Majesty’s ministers. In this case the former Blair government Home Secretary David Blunkett, a blind man who could, nonetheless, see exactly what he was doing.

In essence extradition from Britain to the US became virtually on request without the slightest need to show just cause. But not vice versa. It would be easier to pull a camel through the eye of a needle than for Britain to extradite a US citizen to face justice in the UK.

I was a member of the British Parliament at the time this treaty was signed. Not that this mattered a jot or tittle. The Treaty was signed during the Summer Recess when no Parliament was sitting and through the exercise of the Royal Prerogative.

Only when it was already in operation was I even able to oppose the extradition of its first victims - alleged City of London financial fraudsters, as well as a fitted-up “terrorist” London man Babar Ahmad.

Under the old extradition rules neither case could have satisfied the previous requirement to produce prima facia evidence sufficient to persuade a British judge. Under the new Treaty it was easy peasy lemon squeezy. And off they went.

Prince Andrew will face no such ordeal albeit now banished from Royal Circles and effectively reduced to the ranks, his epaulettes ripped off his glittering array of obscure medals turned to scrap metal on his tunic.

Although accused of sexual abuse of a teenager and with an admitted close relationship to the alleged procurer of underage female victims, Ghislaine Maxwell, in whose London home it is alleged one of the sexual encounters took place - the US will never require the Prince to give evidence and the UK will never offer him up.

Assange, who was falsely accused of rape, has spent virtually the last decade locked up in one form or other of incarceration. And faces up to 175 years of prison time, if successfully extradited.

It is a tale of two cities - Buckingham Palace and Belmarsh Maximum Security Prison.

A tale of two individuals - one now a proven liar and one a well attested truth-teller.

A tale of two fates. The Prince who became a moral pauper, the other an impecunious journalist who became a moral giant.

It is a tale of our times.

George Galloway @ RT.