Category Archives: politics

The shaky Syrian ceasefire agreement staggers on – or does it?

Video Source: On the Ground News TV

The current Syrian cessation of hostilities agreement, and its problems, are making it harder to pretend that Syria’s’ problems are caused by the “regime.”

We are getting the usual story that the Syrian “regime” is preventing humanitarian aid convoys getting to besieged cities but the facts are becoming harder to hide. “Rebel”/”terrorist” groups like the Free Syrian Army are refusing to leave their positions controlling part of the Castillo highway which the ceasefire agreements designate as “demilitarised.” This is preventing aid convoys from Turkey getting into eastern Aleppo. That part of Aleppo our media concentrates on because it is held by “rebels”/”terrorists” and has been besieged by the Syrian army and its allies. Syrian forces cooperated with the agreement by pulling back from the Costello road but have had to return when “rebel”/”terrorist” militia fired on Red Crescent and Russian marine checkpoints.

Meanwhile the “rebels”/”terrorists” in east Aleppo organised demonstrations against the transport of humanitarian aid along the Castillo road (see video above). The video shows protesters  carrying flags used by the Al Nusra Front (Jabhat Al Nusra or Jabhat Fatah Al Sham) terrorist group.

So we can see the propaganda round humanitarian aid runs along the lines:

  1. Call for humanitarian aid while the Syrian army is advancing
  2. Reject humanitarian aid while there is a ceasefire
  3. Blame the Syrian government for forcing people to starve in Aleppo

And our main stream media often goes along with that narrative.

Russian – US tensions

Meanwhile, tensions between the Russians and the US – the powers which brokered this cessation of hostilities agreement – led the Russian side to demand the text of the agreements be made public so that it can be discussed and supported by the UN. The US has so far resisted this (which led to abandonment of a Security Council discussions on the agreement) and one begins to wonder at their reasons for this lack of transparency

One possibility is internal conflicts about the agreements in the US, primarily between the White House, the State Department and the Pentagon. The US undertaking to coordinate with the Russian Federation in attacking Daesh and Al Nusra has its opponents. Many in the military oppose the exchange with the Russians of intelligence information about locations of “rebel”/”terrorist” forces this requires.

The US undertaking to enforce separation of their proxy “moderate rebels” from their terrorist fighting partners, like Al Nusra, appears to be dead in the water. Either because the US military is unwilling to do this. Or because they are unable – the “moderate rebels” seem happy to continue fighting alongside Al Nusra and are effectively giving the US “the fingers.”

There is also the feeling that neocons are inhibiting fulfilment of the agreements so as to prevent any progress on resolving Syrian problems until after the presidential election when they believe they will have more influence with a Clinton administration.

US bombing threatens to kill the ceasefire

So, the ceasefire agreements seem very shaky at the moment. Despite the fact that most observers do not see any alternative realistic opportunity to  defeat Al Nusra and Daesh and to move towards a political settlement. Even if those aims seem a long way off the immediate problem of getting humanitarian aid to besieged areas relies very much on the agreements working.

And then, as if there were not problems enough, war planes from the US military and their allies (including Australia) have attacked a Syrian Army group fighting to lift the Daesh siege of the city of Deir Ezzor. The attack with phosphorus bombs caused over 200 casualties with reports of 60 to 80 deaths. It was followed by a Daesh ground attack leading to the terrorists gaining ground. This was a critical battle as the position held by the Syrian military were vital to the airdrops supplying the besieged city

Whether intentional (many observers claim is was – given the US policy of regime change and the defeat of the Syrian army) or accidental (the US command called off their attack when the Russian military warned them of what was happening) this is a huge set-back to the co-operation required to make the cessation fo hostilities agreement work. An urgent US Security Council meeting called to discuss this attack lead to angry recriminations between Russian and US diplomats and increased calls for the text of the agreements to be released.

Te Syrian military command has now announced the ceasefire is over. They are engaged in intensified fighting around Aleppo as “rebel”terrorist” militia have launched a new attack on the south-west part of the city.

Actions threatening ceasefire illustrate the need for the ceasefire

On the one hand, all these factors damage any possibility for the ceasefire to hold and for the next stage of cooperation to defeat terrorism to start. But, on the other hand, these events surely underline the urgent necessity of the cooperative and coordinated actions called for in the agreements.

  • Exchange of intelligence and cooperation between the US and Russia in military attacks on the terrorist groups of Daesh and Al Nusra is sorely needed and, if allowed to go ahead, will be very effective.
  • Separation of “moderate rebels” (who should welcome a ceasefire and the opportunity to participate in the future political process) from the officially declared terrorist groups of Al Nusra and Daesh is essential. Until now, cooperation between “terrorist” and “moderate” rebels has been an obstacle to defeating terrorism and has led to a constant complaint from the US that the Russian aerospace forces are actually bombing the US proxy groups.
  • The agreement to include so-called “moderate” rebels which refuse to disengage from their cooperation with Al Nusra and Daesh in the common targeting by the US and Russia is necessary. And, after all, if a “moderate” rebel group fights alongside a terrorist group, refuses to participate in a ceasefire and continues to prevent humanitarian aid from reaching civilians there is surely no reason to treat them differently to terrorist groups.

As the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, said last year in  response to a question about identifying which groups are terrorist:

“If it talks like a terrorist, walks like a terrorist and acts like a terrorist – then it is a terrorist.”

Let’s treat them like terrorists, then.

Similar articles

 

When will they ever learn?

libya-report

So, now we have a new Parliamentary Report from the UK which is sharply critical of the 2011 intervention in Libya. This follows on from the Chilcot report which was sharply critical of the 2003 intervention in Iraq.

I wonder if a few years down the track we will see a similar report sharply critical of the UK, French and US intervention in Syria?

The summary of the Libyan report reads in part:

“In March 2011, the United Kingdom and France, with the support of the United States, led the international community to support an intervention in Libya to protect civilians from attacks by forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi. This policy was not informed by accurate intelligence. In particular, the Government failed to identify that the threat to civilians was overstated and that the rebels included a significant Islamist element. By the summer of 2011, the limited intervention to protect civilians had drifted into an opportunist policy of regime change. That policy was not underpinned by a strategy to support and shape post-Gaddafi Libya. The result was political and economic collapse, inter-militia and inter-tribal warfare, humanitarian and migrant crises, widespread human rights violations, the spread of Gaddafi regime weapons across the region and the growth of ISIL in North Africa. Through his decision making in the National Security Council, former Prime Minister David Cameron was ultimately responsible for the failure to develop a coherent Libya strategy.”

In Syria, we have seen the same interventionist approach. Hell bent on regime change, politicians in the UK, USA, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and NATO countries have blindly repeated the mantra “Assad must go.” They have exaggerated the suffering resulting from actions of the Syrian government (or more correctly, attributed all the suffering solely to the government). Recognise the clause above for Libya:

“This policy was not informed by accurate intelligence. In particular, the Government failed to identify that the threat to civilians was overstated and that the rebels included a significant Islamist element.”

By backing armed anti-government militia those advocates of “regime change” have ignored the inevitable anarchy and spread of terror that would result if their campaign is successful.

Again, recognise the clause above for Libya:

“That policy was not underpinned by a strategy to support and shape post-Gaddafi Libya. The result was political and economic collapse, inter-militia and inter-tribal warfare, humanitarian and migrant crises, widespread human rights violations, the spread of Gaddafi regime weapons across the region and the growth of ISIL in North Africa.”

When will these politicians learn these lessons from history?

Similar articles

Ceasefire in Syria is exposing real nature of “moderate” rebels

This video illustrates the international nature of the terrorist opposition in Syria.

The new cessation of hostilities agreement for Syria, brokered by the US and the Russian Federation, may have only a small chance of success – although let’s hope it does work. But one thing it has done is clarify the nature of the “opposition” in Syria and the problem the US has with its chosen proxies in that country.

The US and its NATO allies have long claimed they are supporting the “moderate opposition.” And that support has included finance and arms. The have also condemned the actions of the aerospace forces of the Russian federation – claiming the Russians are targeting the “moderate” rebels, the US allies, instead of the terrorist groups – Daesh and Jabhat Fateh Al-Sham, the formerly named Al Nusra (The UN describes both of these groups as terrorist).

The US has now been forced to admit that their “moderate” rebels are intricately entwined with the terrorist groups. That these groups fight together, often share the same command and territory. In fact, the recent attacks in the large battles raging around the major Syrian city of Aleppo have involved the  “Army of Conquest” where the “moderate” rebels and terrorist groups have united under the command of Jabhat Fateh Al-Sham (the terrorist Al Nusra group).

The US is acknowledging that their pleas for the “moderate” rebels to distance themselves from the terrorists have fallen on deaf ears. US Secretary of State John Kerry has even suggested that those “moderate” rebels who do not distance themselves will now be subject to US bombing if the cessation of hostilities can last for 7 days.

Some “moderate” rebels have accepted the cessation of hostilities agreement – but many haven’t. Over 20 groups recently announced their rejection in a document presented by the Free Syrian Army (supported and financed by the US).

fsa-rejection

Over 20 militant groups in Syria have rejected the US-Russian brokered ceasefire. Credit:Over 20 militant groups reject the Syrian ceasefire agreement.”

This announcement was made by the Free Syrian Army but many of the groups rejecting the ceasefire are not a part of that group’s umbrella. These groups claim:

“the major reasons for the rejection of the ceasefire is that it benefits the Syrian Army more so than their own militant factions. They also state that because it excludes Jabhat Fateh Al-Sham, formerly known as al-Nusra, from the ceasefire, they cannot agree to those terms.”

Perhaps if these agreements do fail (as many if not most commentators expect) they will still have left one success. The clear identification of most of the so-called “moderate” rebels with their terrorist allies – Daesh and Jabhat Fateh Al-Sham. Hopefully, this will make claims that Russian attacks on terrorist groups are actually attacks on “our” “moderate” rebels a thing of the past.

Surely that would be progress.

Similar articles

 

What do Syrians think of the new cessation of hostilities agreement?

Cautious optimism seems to be a common international response to the cessation of hostilities deal announced for Syria by John Kerry and Sergei Lavrov yesterday. But what do Syrians think?

RT’s correspondent Lizzie Phelan did some live recording of the views of residents in a South Aleppo suburb. It seems they will make the most of the cessation of hostilities but think there won’t be any resolution until the  foreign terrorists leave their land.

Our media usually restricts itself to covering the small part of Aleppo held by “rebels”/”terrorists” so it is refreshing to hear from the rest of this city.

Thanks to  ‘No moderate rebels here’: RT talks with Aleppo civilians on new ceasefire deal.

Similar articles

Dissecting pseudoscientific and political propaganda

Tactics used in anti-science and pseudoscience propaganda are essentially the same as used in political propaganda.

Everyone has their own ideological and political starting points – and none of us are really rational, even when we think we are. So we shouldn’t be surprised to find we are fully  in agreement with some people on one issue but on the opposite sides of the fence with the same people on other issues.

I often find this  in my on-line discussions . Some of my “allies” in the fight against pseudoscience (for example, in debunking anti-fluoride propagandists) will become my “opponents” when I discuss issues like the war in Syria. (I use quote marks because I do not feel any enmity towards discussion partners when the discussion is civil).

Nevertheless, I do not consciously separate my approaches to science and politics (and I guess my discussion partners would make the same claim). People can often be more resistant to anti-science propaganda because claims can be tested against reality. This is sometimes harder to do with political issues but if we don’t try we can be fooled by political propaganda. So, a recent article –  Dissecting the Propaganda on Syria – appealed to me as I immediately recognised that the tactics used by propagandists against the Syrian government are essentially the same as those tactics used by anti-fluoridation propagandists.

The article identifies three propaganda tactics:

1: Demonise the enemy

Those pushing pseudoscience do this continually. Scientists are claimed to be only in it for the money. How often do we hear the chant “follow the money” (and how hypocritical is this considering many of these propagandists are making money out of the “natural”/alternative health industry.

paul-connett

Anti-fluoride campaigner Paul Connett regularly charges NZ scientists with fraud – but he fraudulently distorts the evidence to do so.

Honest scientists are accused of fraud and researchers whose work contradicts the propaganda are personally attacked.

On Syria, we continually hear about the Syrian “regime” and its “brutal dictator” – despite the fact that the Syrian government and president have been elected. Words like “regime” instead of “government” are a way of demonising.

Responsibility for all the deaths in this war is often attributed solely to President Bashar al-Assad. This is absurd as these deaths also include those fighting on the government’s side. As the article says:

This propaganda “deems Assad responsible for everything, including the killing of Syrian soldiers by the armed opposition. This opposition, which is financed and armed by Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and the U.S., includes extreme jihadist groups, including Al Qaeda’s longtime affiliate and the Islamic State. Yet, none of the leaders supplying these rebels – in defiance of international law – bears any blame for the death and devastation of Syria, according to” the propaganda.”

This demonisation of Assad is part of the interventionist strategy of “regime change.” We saw it before in Iraq and Libya. Liberal intervention to correct a wayward government appeals to many, and fools even more. After all, it is easy to find fault with the governments and leaders in these countries. But those who want regime change in Syria do everything to protect the regimes and leaders of other countries, like Saudi Arabia, with far greater violations of human rights. And the “regime change” doctrine violates the fundamental rights of people to decide their own government and leaders.

nazi-fluoride-myth

What better way to demonise advocates of community water fluoridation than to compare them to Hitler?

In a parallel way those anti-fluoride propagandists who demonise honest scientists can easily be found to be guilty of the very charges they lay against others. Aren’t these propagandists often paid shills for big business – the “natural”/alternative health industry? And don’t they frequently misrepresent and distort the science? Are they not the ones who should be charged with fraud?

2: Romanticise the opposition

Anti-fluoride propagandists continually describe themselves as fighters for truth who have “done their research.” They are fighting for natural, pure, food and water and against the wicked big business “fluoride industry” which is disposing their contaminated waste by dumping it in our water supply. And how often do we get the David vs Goliath analogy – even when it is the anti-fluoride activists who have dominated submissions to local bodies?

On Syria, our mainstream media

“portrays the conflict as a “civil war” which began with peaceful democracy-loving Syrian revolutionaries who were ruthlessly repressed by a brutal regime.

In reality, there was a violent faction from the start. In the first protests in Deraa, seven police were killed. Two weeks later there was a massacre of 60 security forces in Deraa.

In Homs, an eyewitness recounted the situation: “From the start, the protest movements were not purely peaceful. From the start I saw armed demonstrators marching along in the protests, who began to shoot at the police first. Very often the violence of the security forces has been a reaction to the brutal violence of the armed rebels.”

In the first two months, hundreds of police and security forces were killed. Yet, . . . the West’s mainstream media, ignores this reality because it clashes with the desired image of white-hatted protesters being victimized by a black-hatted government.”

baath-party

Violence against the Syrian government occurred even during the early demonstrations.

This romanticisation is hardly suprising when we realise that most of our information on the Syrian war is coming from rebel or terrorist sources – or sources sympathetic to antigovernment fighters. Al Jazeera has reporters embedded in  “rebel”/”terrorist” militia forces. And so often our news reports cite “activists” or sources like the Aleppo Media Center, White Helmets, or the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights which are sympathetic to the rebels.

Similarly, anti-fluoride propagandists very often cite sources from their own anti-science side. Their hope is that their reliance on sources such as “NaturalNews”, The Health Ranger, the Fluoride Action Network and Mercola, and continuous promotion of articles from those sources, can be translated into a similar acceptance by our mainstream media.

3: Attack anyone who questions the dogma

Many health professionals who recognise community water fluoridation as a safe and effective social health measure refuse to speak up in its defence because this can lead to personal attacks. A dentist who recently took issue with the misinformation being promoted by an anti-fluoride group was told in an anonymous personal letter:

“How dare you try to shut the truth down, people like you are a total insult to the art of Dentistry.”

And that is a mild example. How often are people who attempt to inject some logic and fact into this argument accused of being “shills?” Or attacked in a memes on social media – almost always from behind a wall where they are banned from participating in the discussion or answering their critics.

Similarly, those who attempt to debate the “party line” on Syria are often accused of being “Asad supporters” or worse. I was recently described as being a “fanatical follower of the Soviet camp” when I attempted to argue that there are child casualties in the government-held west Aleppo as well as in the “rebel”terrorist” held east Aleppo. (Some readers may object to my use of the word “terrorist” in this context – but the fact is the anti-government “Army of Conquest” which unites all the “rebels forces” in the current battle for Aleppo is led by Al Nusra – officially recognised as a terrorist organisation by the Russian Federation, USA and the United Nations).

Such attacks are simply a way of shutting down honest discussion of this conflict. A way of preventing information undesired by our political leaders from getting through the propaganda we are exposed to. Such attacks are really just a neo-McCarthyist tool in the information war.

Anti-fluoride propagandists and their allies in the “natural”/alternative health industry use exactly the same tactic. By attacking and labelling honest scientists and others who attempt to debunk the pseudoscience propaganda they hope to intimidate people and raise doubts about the science. We have seen this before from climate change deniers and creationists. They also use such attacks to raise doubts about the science of evolution and the findings of climate scientists.

Conclusions

This article quotes a leader of the US Veterans of Peace:

The U.S. peace movement has been demobilized by disinformation on Syria.”

I think he is correct. The tactics of demonising the Syrian government and president, of romanticising the “rebels” by selective reporting of history and current events, and of attacking anyone who speaks out against such propaganda, has been very effective in muting opposition to this war and encouraging “regime change.”

While the same tactics being used by the anti-fluoride and similar pseudoscientific or anti-science movements has been less effective for the population at large it still resonates with many.

Such propaganda tactics need to be resisted.

Similar articles

 

Ethics and the doping scandal – a response to Guest Work

Rodchenkov

Grigory Rodchenkov, Russia’s sacked anti-doping lab director. Considered a criminal in Russia and a “whistle blower” in USA. Credit: Emily Berl for The New York Times

International Olympic Committee (IOC) decisions about participation of athletes from the Russian Federation in the Rio Olympics have brought both criticism and support – from the political as well as the sporting communities.

The issues of sports doping, the responsibilities and actions of sporting bodies and the political context and factors all need discussing. So I am pleased to see a Guest Work blog post at SciBlogs from Ian Culpan discussing the ethical questions involved (see Ethics, Doping the Olympics and Russia).

But I think the article missed important ethical considerations and I do not think the issue can properly be discussed without these. To me the following ethical and legal principles, which Ian did not discuss, are central:

  1. Proper testing of claims and evidence;
  2. Presumption of innocence until proven guilty;
  3. Inadmissibility of collective punishment
  4. Avoiding direct or implied political direction in decision-making.

A brief background

The Russian Federation does have a problem with sports doping. It should be in everyone’s interests for this to be dealt with. Interestingly, the Russian national officials and politicians do appear to be cooperating with international sports bodies. They have transferred testing of athletes to non-Russian laboratories. Officials (including the deputy Minister of Sport) implicated by Richard McLaren’s World Anti-Doping Authority (WADA) commissioned report have been suspended pending investigation. The President himself has urged officials not to react defensively but to deal with the problem.

Grigory Rodchenkov, the former head of Moscow’s anti-doping laboratory, was a key figure in the current scandal. He was taking bribes to supply illegal drugs to athletes and (apparently) to enable falsification of test results. When he was sacked and criminal proceeding taken against him he fled to the US. Now treated as a “whistle blower” instead of a criminal he made charges implicating higher officials in the doping scandal. His claims made in a May New York Times article (see Russian Doctor Explains How He Helped Beat Doping Tests at the Sochi Olympics) sparked the decision of the WADA to commission the McLaren report.

Richard McLaren’s report effectively supports Rodchenkov’s claims and found Rodchenkov to be trustworthy. But this appears to be McLaren’s opinion, rather than a conclusion based on testing of claims and evidence. There was no attempt to interview officials in the Russian Federation which is surely required for a proper evaluation. And results of the “forensic testing” commissioned by McLaren (DNA data and testing the methods for removing and replacing seals on sample vials and scratches on the vials) are not even included in the report. We are asked simply to accept his judgment on these.

I agree, the time limit of 57 days may well be to blame but in the absence of presentation of the forensic evidence, relying on the claims of an obvious criminal and lack of any consideration of evidence from Russian officials I think Culpan’s judgment the report “seems to contain irrefutable evidence” is just not valid. To interpret a situation where there had been no opportunity given to refute as meaning the evidence was “irrefutable” is hardly fair. Or ethical.

The reliability of the McLaren report and the information he gathered appears to be unravelling – according to articles in The Australian (unfortunately behind a pay wall but see WADA ‘sexed up’ anti-Russia case, implicated clean athletes – Australian media, citing officials). These claim the president of the Australian Olympic Committee, John Coates, who is also an IOC vice president, wrote to Australia’s Health Minister Susan Ley, saying that the IOC had a “lack of confidence in WADA.” There are also problems with the list of “implicated” Russian athletes not named in McLaren’s report but provided to the sporting federations by McLaren. The Australian cites a senior sports official as saying “We were asked to make a judgment about Russian competitors based on McLaren’s report but without having any of the detail to understand the significance of them being named.”

For Richard McLaren’s description and defence of his work see ‘No time to ask Russia’s opinion, I had enough evidence anyway’ – WADA doping report author to RT

Unwarranted judgments are easily made in the context of the current geopolitical struggle and the resulting information war. They can have consequences which are hardly ethical and I think Richard McLaren himself is concerned about this. He said recently:

“The focus has been completely lost and the discussion is not about the Russian labs and Sochi Olympic Games, which was under the direction of the IOC.”

“But what is going on is a hunt for people supposed to be doping but that was never part of my work, although it is starting to (become) so.’’

“My reporting on the state-based system has turned into a pursuit of individual athletes.’’

This treatment of individual Russian athletes, which was described as being like a “Stalinist witch hunt” by one commentator, is what concerns me. I think this raises ethical issues.

Presumption of innocence

This seems so fundamental to our legal (and ethical) system I just cannot see why critics of the IOC have been so prepared to ignore it – or worse, knowingly violate the principle.

Many Russian athletes who have never had a positive drug test have been denied the opportunity to participate in the Rio Olympics. The criteria applied to other Russian athletes has been much harsher than for other nations with sometimes impossible demands being made to prove a long history of clean test results. While athletes from other nations who have been found guilty in the past of doping and “served their time” in suspension are able to compete this is not the case for Russian athletes.

These clean athletes justifiably ask “Why me?” Russian sports fans may well be thoroughly disappointed by this scandal and particularly with athletes and officials who have found to be guilty of doping. But you can understand they are also angry at the unfairness of such discriminatory and unethical judgments made against their clean athletes.

Collective punishment

Punishing clean athletes for the crimes of those who used doping is simply collective punishment. It brings to mind the actions of Nazi occupiers in Eastern Europe who killed innocent villagers (or in some cases killed entire villages) as collective punishment for the actions of partisans. For the life of me, I cannot see how those critics who believe that the entire Russian Olympic Team should have been punished for the (as yet unproven) crimes of some officials consider they occupy the “moral high ground” as Culpan appears to argue.

Not that collective punishment is anything new when it comes the history of staging important international events by the Russian Federation (and the previous USSR). In the 1980s we saw boycotts of the Moscow and San Francisco Olympics. Attempts at collective punishment of entire nations because of disagreements in the international political arena.

There were attempts to inject political issues into the Sochi Olympics, and even promoting the idea of boycotts,  and who seriously doubts that there will be political attempts to harm, or even prevent, the 2018 World Football Cup in the Russian Federation.

Yet, international sporting and cultural events offer great opportunities to encourage goodwill and understanding between nations. They should not be used as weapons in the geopolitical struggle – because that, in turn, only enhances that struggle and harms peace.

Political motivations can prevent a solution

Fortunately, the IOC avoided a blanket ban on athletes from the Russian Federation, despite coming under political pressure to do so. The consequences of such an unprecedented and radical step may have been unpredictable but include a possible break-up of the Olympic movement. This would not have solved the sports doping problem.

As things stand there is now room for progress in a proper investigation of the charges made by Rodchenkov – particularly those suggesting the involvement of state officials. Such serious charges, made by someone facing criminal action, should not be left as they are without a proper balanced investigation. And this investigation must involve officials and legal bodies from the Russian Federation. It is hardly surprising that McLaren’s report is now being described as unfinished. The Australian articles reported IOC spokesman Mark Adams as saying:

“To have someone who didn’t (commit) a competition doping offence but was counted as such is a very dangerous thing. We encourage a full report by Professor McLaren before we make any full and frank ­decisions.’’”

Surely such a proper investigation will have more chance of eliminating Russian sports doping and corruption than external allegations primarily based on claims made by someone fleeing criminal proceedings.

Finally, we should not allow the current concentration on Russian sports doping to fool us into thinking it is only, or even primarily, a Russian problem. The fact is that sports doping is world-wide and there is plenty of evidence that international sporting bodies themselves are not free from corruption.

I presented the most recent official data from WADA n my article Quantifying the problem of international sports doping. This showed that the proportion of positive doping tests for Russian athletes was just less than average for the whole world. More importantly, there are a number of nations with a higher proportion of positive doping tests than the Russian Federation – including India, France, Belgium, Mexico and Turkey.

proportion

Yes, the data was for 2014. It did not (could not) cover the current Russian doping scandal or the McLaren report. But let’s not rely on an unethical presumption of guilt to discredit the data.

Let’s not allow geopolitical differences and prejudices get in the way of battling the sports doping problem.

And let’s not allow such differences to lead us to ignore important ethical principles.

Similar articles

Being better informed – unexpected advice from The Guardian

guardianKillingTruthLogo

How often does The Guardian attack truth instead of presenting it? Credit: “The Guardian” Blaming Trump for Racism in America

This opinion piece by Piers Robinson in The Guardian surprised me – and then it pleased me – Russian news may be biased – but so is much western media.

Surprised me because, of late, The Guardian has been shockingly one-sided. Particularly in its treatment of Russian politics, nationally and internationally. Unfortunately doesn’t include any self criticisms – that would have been nice but let’s be thankful for small steps. The fact the article appeared may mean some people at The Guardian recognised the their paper’s toeing of the “party line” on these issues may have been counterproductive.  Alexander Mercouris goes so far as to pose the question:

“Could it possibly be that the new editor – Katherine Viner – does not share the obsessive anti-Russian mania that took hold at the Guardian under the preceding Rusbridger regime?”

Wouldn’t it be  nice if this opinion piece was providing notice of a new policy, and is not just a one-off – an aberration?

Pleased me because the article makes recommendations I fully agree with and have often advocated:

“The first step towards becoming more informed is to avoid seeing our governments and media as free from manipulation while demonising “foreign” governments and media as full of propagandistic lies.

The second step is to recognise that one can gain useful insights and information from a variety of news sources – including those that are derided as “propaganda” outlets: Russia Today, al-Jazeera and Press TV should certainly not be off-limits.”

Some commenters have attacked me here for daring to use “unapproved” sources or questioning the prevailing “official” attitudes. I have also often warned about the demonising of governments and politicians  which, unfortunately appears to drive the political thinking of many people.

The article is directed mainly at common media reaction in the UK to the Russian news outlet RT. This has always seemed to me a rather childish reaction to the success of a competitor. However, it has led to serious calls for clipping RTs wings, even somehow banning it. There have been similar, perhaps more serious, calls from US politicians.
The author says of these complaints:
“Whatever the accuracy, or lack thereof, of RT and whatever its actual impact on western audiences, one of the problems with these kinds of arguments is that they fall straight into the trap of presenting media that are aligned with official adversaries as inherently propagandistic and deceitful, while the output of “our” media is presumed to be objective and truthful. Moreover, the impression given is that our governments engage in truthful “public relations”, “strategic communication” and “public diplomacy” while the Russians lie through “propaganda”.”
And yet:
“Neither of these claims has significant academic support. A substantial body of research conducted over many decades highlights the proximity between western news media and their respective governments, especially in the realm of foreign affairs. For reasons that include overreliance on government officials as news sources, economic constraints, the imperatives of big business and good old-fashioned patriotism, mainstream western media frequently fail to meet democratic expectations regarding independence.”
It refers to a Manchester University study showing that “UK media coverage of the 2003 Iraq invasion . . . . found that most UK mainstream media performed to reinforce official views rather than to challenge them.” And the recent Chilcot report  describing how “Tony Blair had discussed how phases 1 and 2 of the “war on terror” would require a “dedicated tightly knit propaganda unit”.”
The article is certainly true in its assertion:
“These are confusing times for consumers of the news, and the issue of which media outlets should be trusted is as demanding and critical as ever. Given the level of conflict and potential conflict in the world today, plus pressing global issues regarding environmental crisis, poverty and resources, it is essential that people learn to navigate the media and defend themselves against manipulation.”
All the more reason to avoid bias – to avoid:
“seeing our governments and media as free from manipulation while demonising “foreign” governments and media as full of propagandistic lies.”
And especially to be open minded. To obtain:
“information from a variety of news sources – including those that are derided as “propaganda” outlets.”
Now, wouldn’t be nice if The Guardian followed this advice in future.

Quantifying the problem of international sports doping

rio-olympics-logo

With the 2016 Olympics about to start the problem of sports doping is topical. Most attention  is concentrated on sports men and women from the Russian Federation.

The specifics of the current Russian doping scandal have yet to be sorted out. There has yet to be a proper investigation. But I thought it worth attempting to quantify the problem – and, in particular, illustrate that sports doping is not just a problem in the Russian Federation.

I have taken the latest official figures available. Released in February 2016 these are the international doping figures for 2014 and are published in the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) report “2014 Anti-doping Rule Violations (ADRVs) Report.” 

What do these data show?

Numbers of positive doping tests

Perhaps not surprising to the average reader the Russian Federation scores the largest number of positive tests. But perhaps, given the current news coverage, the surprise is that the numbers are not that great and not much greater than for other countries

Number of violations

But let’s put that into some sort of context

Number of doping tests

When we look at the number of doping test actually taken we find a very important factor. The total number of doping tests taken was much larger for the Russian Federation than for most other countries. So the higher number of positive tests is not so surprising. Do more tests and you will catch more violations.

Total numbers

Proportion of positive doping tests

This is a better way to compare the figures by nation. When we make that comparison the data for the Russian Federation is not that out of step with the rest of the world.

proportion

In fact, if we are going to point fingers we should be pointing them at other nations before we point them at the Russian Federation.

I decided to look at the data because of a Facebook post from Nina Kouprianova (see WADA sports doping stats sorted (not by me)) which showed that the Russian Federation was well down the list of nations guilty of sports doping – in fact, 19th.

Here is her table.

dopingThe Russian Federation scores lower than the average for the whole world – 1.05% of positive tests.

Some qualifications which should be obvious.

Before I get attacked for being “pro-Moscow” (yet again) I must mention a couple of factors.

1: Some positive tests for many countries were put aside by WADA after cases were further considered. However, I do not think this changes the main message of the table above. (The numbers are in the report if anyone wants to check this out).

2: The current attention to the doping problem in the Russian Federation concentrates on more recent cases where these is, as yet, no reliable data. In particular there is the revelation of criminal activity by the head of the Moscow testing laboratory. He has since fled the country and surfaced in the USA.

While the officials implicated by these revelations have been suspended or sacked and criminal investigations are underway it is not yet possible to get official numbers.

Finally, I don’t think anyone can justify sports doping – whatever the nationality of the person concerned.  It  must be fought against and guilty athletes and officials should be punished.

However, we should be careful of violating basic elements of justice. Collective punishment is the sort of thing the Nazis went in for – killing a whole village because one of their soldiers had been shot by a partisan.  It is shocking to hear politicians and sportspeople advocating such forms of punishment here.

We should not make clean athletes suffer for the acts of others who indulged in doping.

It seems to me these actions will not solve the problem of sports doing – only make it worse and introduce other worse problems.

Similar articles

The Putin diversion

Putin and Obama in serious discussion at the G20 summit. The political leaders need to be judged intelligently.

“The Putin diversion” could be the title for a n episode of the popular show “The Big Bang Theory.” Or, more appropriately, the name of a chess strategy. But I have found this diversion a real problem in discussing important issues.

How can we discuss , for example, the current Russian/Olympic doping scandal if a serious commentor simply responds “Russian authorities ran the doping! Putin is rotten, through and through.”

When I pointed out “Unfortunately, statements like “Putin is rotten” are hardly intelligent and they are certainly not a sensible response to this whole scandal,” and attempted to return to the doping discussion I get a response:

“Putin is a monster in one of the most oppressive countries. he has his critics assassinated in the best traditions of Russia. Your support for him is bizarre.”

So we make no progress discussing the issue of doping.

Similarly, I feel that diverting a discussion about the MH17 tragedy in eastern Ukraine with raves about Putin being a “petty tyrant” or that he has “been accused of assassinating or imprisoning his political rivals” is insulting to the memory of the innocent passengers who died in the  crash and to their loved ones.

So, my purpose with this post is to provide a forum for commentors to vent their feelings about Putin and the Russian Federation. Rave on about Crimea, Ukraine or Syria. Let’s discuss here some of the issues being inappropriately raised on comments on other posts.

It would be nice, though, if commentors present a bit more than feelings and prejudices – perhaps back up their claims with some citations or evidence.

To kick off, I do not know a terrific lot about Putin or have particularly strong feelings about the man. But he is certainly an important international figure today and any cultured person should make an effort to learn a bit about him. Two books that have perhaps influenced my thinking are:

First Person: An Astonishingly Frank Self-Portrait by Russia’s President

Based on interviews of Putin soon after he became president in 2000. I have attempted to read other books about Putin but find so many of them are extremely biased (he is a controversial figure) and so many authors approach him with their own political agendas – often very extreme ones.
Godfather of the Kremlin: The Decline of Russia in the Age of Gangster Capitalism

Not about Putin but describes Russia in the 1990s when it had become, as the author put it, a criminal anarchy.

It does go up to the period when Putin moved to Moscow and was given Yeltisn’s blessing as acting president. But it provides a very useful background to what preceded Putin – and provides some idea of what he has been combating during his presidency. Incidentally, it perhaps gives some insight into the current situation in Ukraine where conditions similar to Russia in the 1990s still continues.

Another book I have found useful is The Litvinenko File. Putin is only a peripheral figure in Litvenenko’s story but it provides a similar picture the the Godfather of the Kremlin about the role of the criminal oligarch Berezokovsky in promoting Putin, why he and Litvinenko felt betrayed when he refused to deliver and turned against him.

Seeing I have been accused of being “pro-Moscow” for this level of interest in this particular political figure I should note that while having read one book by President Putin (or at least his interviews) I have also read one book by the US president Obama – Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance.  So, perhaps I should also be labelled “pro-Washington.” Or, perhaps, we should just keep away from such silly McCarthyist labeling and instead get on with a good-faith discussion.

I look forward to the discussion.

Similar articles

The insult of low expectations

Th above Today’s Jesus and Mo strip underlines a problem we have the “politically correct” charges of “Islamophobia.” it’s just a way to prevent rational discussion and it is insulting to Muslims because it demands lower expectations than for the rest of the community. Shouldn’t we be labeling those demanding lower expectations prejudiced or racist?

Ali A. Rizvi describes the problem well in the above video. Here is some of what he says:

“As a brown-skinned person with a Muslim name, I can get away with a lot more than you’d think. I can publicly parade my wife or daughters around in head-to-toe burqas and be excused out of “respect” for my culture and/or religion, thanks to the racism of lowered expectations. I can re-define “racism” as something non-whites can never harbor against whites, and cite colonialism and imperialism as justification for my prejudice.

And in an increasingly effective move that’s fast become something of an epidemic, I can shame you into silence for criticizing my ideas simply by calling you bigoted or Islamophobic.

For decades, Muslims around the world have rightly complained about the Israeli government labeling even legitimate criticism of its policies “anti-Semitic,” effectively shielding itself from accountability. Today, Muslim organizations like CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations) have borrowed a page from their playbook with the “Islamophobia” label — and taken it even further.

In addition to calling out prejudice against Muslims (a people), the term “Islamophobia” seeks to shield Islam itself (an ideology) from criticism. It’s as if every time you said smoking was a filthy habit, you were perceived to be calling all smokers filthy people. Human beings have rights and are entitled to respect. But when did we start extending those rights to ideas, books, and beliefs? You’d think the difference would be clear, but it isn’t. The ploy has worked over and over again, and now everyone seems petrified of being tagged with this label.

The phobia of being called “Islamophobic” is on the rise — and it’s becoming much more rampant, powerful, and dangerous than Islamophobia itself.”

Similar articles