John Pilger on Hugo Chávez and the liberal war on democracy

"Hugo Chávez expresses the kind of genuine exuberant democracy long ago abandoned in Britain".

In Andrew Cockburn's new book, Rumsfeld, the gap between rampant power and its faraway victims is closed. Donald Rumsfeld, US secretary of defence until last year and a designer of the Iraq bloodbath, is revealed as personally directing from his office in the Pentagon the torture of fellow human beings, exploiting "individual phobias, such as fear of dogs, to induce stress" and use of "a wet towel and dripping water to induce the misperception of suffocation". Cockburn's documented evidence shows that other Bush mafiosi, such as Paul Wolfowitz, now president of the World Bank, "had already agreed that Rumsfeld should approve all but the most severe options, such as the wet towel, without restriction".

In Washington, I asked Ray McGovern, formerly a senior CIA officer, what he made of Norman Mailer's remark that America had entered a pre-fascist state. "I hope he's right," he replied, "because there are others saying we are already in a fascist mode. When you see who is controlling the means of production here, when you see who is controlling the newspapers and periodicals, and the TV stations, from which most Americans take their news, and when you see how the so-called war on terror is being conducted, you begin to understand where we are headed. It's quite something that the nuclear threat today should be seen first and foremost as coming from the United States of America and Great Britain."

McGovern was the author of the president's daily CIA intelligence brief. I interviewed him more than three years ago, and his prescient words are as striking today as Cockburn's revelation of Rumsfeld's secret life is illumin ating. His description of fascism within a nominally free society recalls George Orwell's warning that totalitarianism does not require a totalitarian state.

The lies that have caused this extremely dangerous time are understood and rejected by the majority of humanity. This was illustrated vividly on 15-16 February 2003 when some 30 million people took to the streets of cities around the world, including the greatest demonstration in British history. It was illustrated again the other day in Latin America, which George W Bush on tour sought to reclaim for America's lost "backyard". "The distinguished visitor," noted one commentator in Caracas, "was received with fear and loathing."

There are many connections in Latin America to the suffering in the Middle East. The crushing of popular, reformist governments by the US and the setting up of torture regimes, from Guatemala to Chile, have echoes from Iran to Afghanistan. The current attacks on the Chávez government in Venezuela by the media, which Ray McGovern describes as being "domesticated by their wish to serve", are essential in disclaiming the right of the poor to find another way.

Elected last December with a record landslide of votes cast by three-quarters of the eligible population - his 11th major election victory - Hugo Chávez expresses the kind of genuine exuberant democracy long ago abandoned in Britain. In this country, the political class offers instead the arthritic pirouetting of Tony Blair, a criminal, and Gordon Brown, the paymaster of imperial adventures fought by 18-year-old soldiers who, on their return home, are so ill treated that there is no one to change their colostomy bag.

Chávez, having all but got rid of the deadly IMF from Latin America, dares to use the wealth from Venezuela's oil to unite the Latin peoples and to expel a foreign economic system that calls itself liberal and is the source of historic suffering. He is supported by governments and by millions across South America from whom he derives his mandate.

You would not know this on either side of the Atlantic unless you studied carefully. The propaganda that converts a lively, open democracy to an "authoritarian" dictatorship is written on the rusted crosses of Salvador Allende's comrades, of whom the same was said. It is disseminated by the embittered effete whose liberal hero was Blair, until he made an embarrassing mess, and who now claim the respectability of "the left" in order to disguise their mentoring by the likes of Wolfowitz, their promotion of Dick Cheney's ludicrous "world Islamic empire" and, above all, their passion for wars whose spilt blood is never theirs.

"Rumsfeld: his rise, fall and catastrophic legacy" by Andrew Cockburn is published in the United States by Scribner ($25)

John Pilger, renowned investigative journalist and documentary film-maker, is one of only two to have twice won British journalism's top award; his documentaries have won academy awards in both the UK and the US. In a New Statesman survey of the 50 heroes of our time, Pilger came fourth behind Aung San Suu Kyi and Nelson Mandela. "John Pilger," wrote Harold Pinter, "unearths, with steely attention facts, the filthy truth. I salute him."

This article first appeared in the 19 March 2007 issue of the New Statesman, Trident: Why Brown went to war with Labour

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This Ada Lovelace Day, let’s celebrate women in tech while confronting its sexist culture

In an industry where men hold most of the jobs and write most of the code, celebrating women's contributions on one day a year isn't enough. 

Ada Lovelace wrote the world’s first computer program. In the 1840s Charles Babbage, now known as the “father of the computer”, designed (though never built) the “Analytical Engine”, a machine which could accurately and reproducibly calculate the answers to maths problems. While translating an article by an Italian mathematician about the machine, Lovelace included a written algorithm for which would allow the engine to calculate a sequence of Bernoulli numbers.

Around 170 years later, Whitney Wolfe, one of the founders of dating app Tinder, was allegedly forced to resign from the company. According to a lawsuit she later filed against the app and its parent company, she had her co-founder title removed because, the male founders argued, it would look “slutty”, and because “Facebook and Snapchat don’t have girl founders. It just makes it look like Tinder was some accident". (They settled out of court.)

Today, 13 October, is Ada Lovelace day – an international celebration of inspirational women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). It’s lucky we have this day of remembrance, because, as Wolfe’s story demonstrates, we also spend a lot of time forgetting and sidelining women in tech. In the wash of pale male founders of the tech giants that rule the industry,we don't often think about the women that shaped its foundations: Judith Estrin, one of the designers of TCP/IP, for example, or Radia Perlman, inventor of the spanning-tree protocol. Both inventions sound complicated, and they are – they’re some of the vital building blocks that allow the internet to function. 

And yet David Streitfield, a Pulitzer-prize winning journalist, someow felt it accurate to write in 2012: “Men invented the internet. And not just any men. Men with pocket protectors. Men who idolised Mr Spock and cried when Steve Jobs died.”

Perhaps we forget about tech's founding women because the needle has swung so far into the other direction. A huge proportion – perhaps even 90 per cent - of the world’s code is written by men. At Google, women fill 17 per cent of technical roles. At Facebook, 15 per cent. Over 90 per cent of the code respositories on Github, an online service used throughout the industry, are owned by men. Yet it's also hard to believe that this erasure of women's role in tech is completely accidental. As Elissa Shevinsky writes in the introduction to a collection of essays on gender in tech, Lean Out: “This myth of the nerdy male founder has been perpetuated by men who found this story favourable."

Does it matter? It’s hard to believe that it doesn’t. Our society is increasingly defined and delineated by code and the things it builds. Small slip-ups, like the lack of a period tracker on the original Apple Watch, or fitness trackers too big for some women’s wrists, gesture to the fact that these technologies are built by male-dominated teams, for a male audience.

In Lean Out, one essay written by a Twitter-based “start-up dinosaur” (don’t ask) explains how dangerous it is to allow one small segment of society to built the future for the rest of us:

If you let someone else build tomorrow, tomorrow will belong to someone else. They will build a better tomorrow for everyone like them… For tomorrow to be for everyone, everyone needs to be the one [sic] that build it.

So where did all the women go? How did we get from a rash of female inventors to a situation where the major female presence at an Apple iPhone launch is a model’s face projected onto a screen and photoshopped into a smile by a male demonstrator? 

Photo: Apple.

The toxic culture of many tech workplaces could be a cause or an effect of the lack of women in the industry, but it certainly can’t make make it easy to stay. Behaviours range from the ignorant - Martha Lane-Fox, founder of, often asked “what happens if you get pregnant?” at investors' meetings - to the much more sinister. An essay in Lean Out by Katy Levinson details her experiences of sexual harassment while working in tech: 

I have had interviewers attempt to solicit sexual favors from me mid-interview and discuss in significant detail precisely what they would like to do. All of these things have happened either in Silicon Valley working in tech, in an educational institution to get me there, or in a technical internship.

Others featured in the book joined in with the low-level sexism and racism  of their male colleagues in order to "fit in" and deflect negative attention. Erica Joy writes that while working in IT at the University of Alaska as the only woman (and only black person) on her team, she laughed at colleagues' "terribly racist and sexist jokes" and "co-opted their negative attitudes”. 

The casual culture and allegedly meritocratic hierarchies of tech companies may actually be encouraging this discriminatory atmosphere. HR and the strict reporting procedures of large corporates at least give those suffering from discrimination a place to go. A casual office environment can discourage reporting or calling out prejudiced humour or remarks. Brook Shelley, a woman who transitioned while working in tech, notes: "No one wants to be the office mother". So instead, you join in and hope for the best. 

And, of course, there's no reason why people working in tech would have fewer issues with discrimination than those in other industries. A childhood spent as a "nerd" can also spawn its own brand of misogyny - Katherine Cross writes in Lean Out that “to many of these men [working in these fields] is all too easy to subconciously confound women who say ‘this is sexist’ with the young girls who said… ‘You’re gross and a creep and I’ll never date you'". During GamerGate, Anita Sarkeesian was often called a "prom queen" by trolls. 

When I spoke to Alexa Clay, entrepreneur and co-author of the Misfit Economy, she confirmed that there's a strange, low-lurking sexism in the start-up economy: “They have all very open and free, but underneath it there's still something really patriarchal.” Start-ups, after all, are a culture which celebrates risk-taking, something which women are societally discouraged from doing. As Clay says, 

“Men are allowed to fail in tech. You have these young guys who these old guys adopt and mentor. If his app doesn’t work, the mentor just shrugs it off. I would not be able ot get away with that, and I think women and minorities aren't allowed to take the same amount of risks, particularly in these communities. If you fail, no one's saying that's fine.

The conclusion of Lean Out, and of women in tech I have spoken to, isn’t that more women, over time, will enter these industries and seamlessly integrate – it’s that tech culture needs to change, or its lack of diversity will become even more severe. Shevinsky writes:

The reason why we don't have more women in tech is not because of a lack of STEM education. It's because too many high profile and influential individuals and subcultures within the tech industry have ignored or outright mistreated women applicants and employees. To be succinct—the problem isn't women, it's tech culture.

Software engineer Kate Heddleston has a wonderful and chilling metaphor about the way we treat women in STEM. Women are, she writes, the “canary in the coal mine”. If one dies, surely you should take that as a sign that the mine is uninhabitable – that there’s something toxic in the air. “Instead, the industry is looking at the canary, wondering why it can’t breathe, saying ‘Lean in, canary, lean in!’. When one canary dies they get a new one because getting more canaries is how you fix the lack of canaries, right? Except the problem is that there isn't enough oxygen in the coal mine, not that there are too few canaries.” We need more women in STEM, and, I’d argue, in tech in particular, but we need to make sure the air is breatheable first. 

Barbara Speed is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman and a staff writer at CityMetric.