Category Archives: politics

Trump didn’t invent the problems – and his opponents didn’t invent protest

Anti-Trump rally. Union Square, Manhattan, New York. November 2016. Image credit: Kelly Kline

At last, I find myself agreeing with something written by PZ Myers – well, sort of. I agree with the main message in his article about the current US political mess  – It is disturbing that the news is all Russia all the time – but it really does not go far enough. It doesn’t identify what actions should be pursued – nor does it identify the problems that have resulted in his main complaint.

Let’s get the fallacy in his first sentence out of the way. A fallacy which undermines the rest of his argument. Talking about the current political turmoil in the US he says: “I agree that the administration’s Russian connection ought to be pursued.” But he doesn’t say why.

The Russophobic diversion

The fact is Russia is a normal and natural country in the modern world. Its economy has strong international links and it is only natural that business and political personalities in the US will have, or will have had, links to Russian business, diplomats, and political personalities. Just as they have, and will have had, links to such entities from other countries, the UK, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Ukraine, Poland – and even little old New Zealand.

And that goes for US business and political personalities of all different political persuasions. Are US officials really going to get distracted by pursuing all these links, or even all the links with Russian entities? What about the international business links, including with Russia, of Democrat politicians – including the Clintons? What about the contact between Democrat politicians and Russian diplomats? Hell, should officials really investigate, and cast aspersions, on the many meetings ex-President Obama’s White House administration had with the Russian ambassador?

These links and contacts are perfectly natural in our modern global society – and they are only a current issue in the US because of the wave of neo-McCarthyism stalking that country. Neo-McCarthyism, we should remember, launched by Hillary Clinton to divert attention away from the political corruption in the Democratic Party revealed by Wikileaks. Neo-McCarthyism now maintained by Democrat politicians and anti-Trump elements of the intelligence community and mainstream media as a tool to control or limit the powers of the new administration.

Neo-McCarthyism is terribly dishonest and pernicious. It relies on Russophobia (which I often see as a form of racism – the last respectable form see Western racism and the stereotyping of Russians) and, in the end, the fear of being outed as a traitor, to bring people’s thinking “into line.”

And PZ Myers has fallen completely into that trap with this acceptance of neo-McCarthyism in his first sentence.

The real problems – and they aren’t new

But Myers goes on:

“but I am not happy that that is being treated as the primary reason to delegitimize Donald Trump. The man is a destructive incompetent with a fist full of bad policies, and the most effective way to bring him down is to expose the fact that his campaign staff talked to the Russian ambassador? What? Have you looked at what he is doing to the country right now? Because there is a whole lot of crap going down while we’re busy looking for Russians under the bed.”

Myers should be unhappy that such neo-McCarthyist reasons are used at all – from the point of view of democratic and human rights. But, yes, he makes a valid point – the neo-McCarthysim is a diversion. People should be paying attention to the real problems the US election result has left them with – a President and, probably more importantly, a Congress where anti-science and anti-human rights elements have been strengthened.

PZ illustrates this by listing some of the proposed cuts to the EPA budget. Others will find similar regressive proposed action in other areas. But PZ Myers is all at sea when it comes to fighting these problems:

“There is no single reason to rise up and throw these assholes out — they’ve provided an embarrassment of causes that make them terrible leaders, which is part of the problem, that the reasons for taking action have been diffused so widely. It seems to me that our targeting is off when conversations with Russian diplomats become the strongest reason for investigating the president, rather than his habit of appointing incompetents and looters like DeVos and Pruitt to run major government agencies.”

It is politically immature to see the solution as “to rise up and throw these assholes out.” Come off it. The president was legally elected. It is childish for the defeated parties to see “rising up and throwing out” elected leaders as a solution. Such advice, while it may appeal to the more emotional and immature, is a recipe for continued defeat, not a solution.

The fight-back is not new either

These problems upsetting people did not suddenly appear with the election of a new president. They have been there for a long time – as has the struggle against them. The election results did not create the problems – it simply made them worse.

Democratic and humanitarian-minded people (and science-minded people) have been fighting these problems for years. The fight against racism, environmental pollution, climate change denial and limitations on the reproductive and other rights of women is not new.

The fight-back uses many methods – lobbying and representation to Congressional committees, publicity in the mass media and alternative media,. petitions, citizen’s meetings. participation in political parties, rallies, and demonstrations.

No, the current rallies and demonstrations are not new. But, I am amazed that some people who have joined these, donned knitted pink hats and vented their feelings at anti-Trump rallies think they have invented something new. Perhaps the only new thing in their political activity has been the lack of clearly defined purpose. (And perhaps it is this focus on Trump himself which has made them susceptible to the ne0-McCarthist argument – to the extent they will often use it in their slogans).

Where have these people been? And that is a valid question as there is a school of thought that some of the current protesters had, in the past,  been lulled into inactivity, a false sense of contentment because they believed “their” democratic president was handling the situation. Solving all the problems. Stopping US interventions and war mongering overseas.

While it is true that Trump’s election may have encouraged some people to become active and to join the fight back, let’s not pretend the fight-back is at all new or that these newcomers have invented it. If anything, their lack of specific targets and resort to personal expression of their own anger is a bad sign, not a good one.

Because the fight back on all these important issues is not new and has developed its own maturity it will not disappear when the current highly motivated and emotional responses subside. Hopefully, many of the people who have joined the fight back because of their response to the presidential election result will stay and participate in the long-term struggles.

It would be nice to think that PZ Myers would get past his current emotional concept of the fight-back – “rising up and throwing out the assholes.” That he might actually participate in the day to day struggle of people fighting against the anti-democratic, anti-women, racist and anti-science policies.

Unfortunately, if his current habit of attacking people involved in these struggles because they do not measure up to his standards continue, this will not be the case.

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See also: The Democratic Party seems to have no earthly idea why it is so damn unpopular.

 

 

 

Be careful what you wish for

I find the current anti-Russian hysteria rather childish – illustrating how shallow many people’s approach to politics is. Hillary Clinton relied on Russophobia in her attempt to divert the attention of  US voters away from the  Democratic Party manipulations to prevent Bernie Sanders’s nomination. She blamed the Russians, and in particular blamed Russian president Putin, for exposure of the corruption – and that saga continues today.

The fact this seems to have fooled some people, at least the more politically partisan, is worrying. I have often seen Russophobia as essentially a form of racism. It is, at least, a very unsophisticated approach to politics and it is sad to see people manipulated by its use.

The demonisation of president Putin is particularly laughable. Not only does it show a willingness to believe the most outlandish stories about the man, it also shows a complete ignorance about his place in the Russian political system. In particular, our media often resorts to quoting who they call the Russian “opposition” – people who can not even get sufficient electoral support to win Duma seats,  or even organise a credible political party. These people do not represent a real threat to the current president – nor should we see them as credible alternatives to Putin.

In fact, if the Russophobes actually considered things a bit more objectively and recognised who the credible alternatives to Putin are they just might change their tune.

In Russian politics be careful what you wish for – particularly if your wishes are coming from a position of ignorance.

Vladimir Zhirinovsky – Russia’s Trump!

The video above shows a speech by a real Russian opposition leader. He does have a Duma seat. Vladimir Zhirinovsky is the leader of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia. In the 2016 Duma elections that party came third, with just slightly less support than the Duma opposition party – the  Communist Party of the Russian Federation.

But current polling indicates the Liberal Democrats are now in second place. More importantly, Zhirinovsky has already been nominated as a candidate for next year’s presidential elections. So far the only announced candidate!

As the Russian Communist Party is rumoured to not be standing their current leader, Zhirinovsky is surely the real and only credible presidential alternative to Valadimir Putin. That is if Putin actually stands!

Putin’s party, United Russia, has yet to announce a candidate and Putin himself has been a bit cagey – hinting that he actually sees a life beyond politics and has several non-political projects he is keen to get involved in.

I don’t think there is any doubt about Putin’s popularity in Russia. He would be sure to win the presidential elections if he stands – but what if he doesn’t? It is possible that even another  United Russia candidate, may not be certian to win against Zhirinovsky.

Perhaps those people in the west currently succumbing to Russophobia, and Putinphobia, should have a think. What would a Zhirinovsky presidential administration look like?

Have a look at the video and see what you think.

Perhaps Vladimir Putin really is a responsible and careful leader after all. Someone protecting the interests of his own country – internally and internationally – but at the same time recognising that other countries also have legitimate international interests. Someone who appears always ready to unwilling to get into the childish abusive political labelling we are so familiar with in the west. I think Putin is – but I do not think Zhirinovsky is.

Be realistic – which leader would you prefer had their finger on the nuclear button in Russia?

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An Oscar for Al Qaeda?

al-qaeda

It was bound to happen. The White Helmets were seriously promoted for a Nobel Peace prize. This failed, so I guess the Oscar counts as a sort of consolation prize.

The Oscar was awarded in the short documentary category but anyone who follows the White Helmets may appreciate the irony – they are well-known for their acting ability. There are strong suggestions that many of their ‘rescues’ are staged. And, at least, they always seem to make sure that they have expert cinematographers in attendance when they go into action.

I have written about the White Helmets before – see Manufacturing news, and opinion, about SyriaAnti-Syrian propaganda and the White HelmetsWhite Helmets dupes New Zealand government? and White Helmets confirm authenticity of acted “rescue” video.

In short, although presenting themselves as an independent, non-aligned NGO with only humanitarian interests they are known to have strong links with “rebel”/”terrorist” groups, some of their members seem to “moonlight” as active armed fighters, and they are heavily involved in propaganda – propaganda against the Syrian government and in favour of the “rebels”/”terrorists” they are embedded with.

The White Helmets is one of the groups our mainstream media seems to rely on for news reports from Syria -especially from areas held by “rebels”/”terrorists.” They were very active in east Aleppo during that battle – but left with the fighters and their families when the surrender was arranged. Now they are most active in Idlib province.

An Official Information Act request

After the White Helmets managed to dupe $100,000 out of New Zealand Ministry’s of Foreign Affairs and Internal Affairs (see White Helmets dupes New Zealand government?) I made an official information request. I specifically asked for information on:

  1. Any contact with the International Civil Defence Association or the Syrian Civil Defence Forces during the Ministry’s vetting of the White Helmets?
  2. Any checking of White Helmet’s operations and the messages promoted in their propaganda material?
  3. Correspondence with US authorities regarding the denial of entry to the US White Helmets leader Raed Saleh to the US.
  4. The contact the ministry had with independent reporters who have been investigating the activity of the White Helmets?

The Ministry could not give any information for queries 1, 3 or 4 – which is interesting. I interpret this to mean the Ministry has not checked with the International Civil Defence Association or the recognised Syrian Civil Defence body. If nothing else, this illustrates a bias – a willingness to ally with a “civil defence” group embedded with the “rebels”/”terrorists” and not provide unbiased and balanced help. After all, civilians in government-held area also need rescuing and perhaps we should provide support to the legitimate Syrian Defence body that does this.

Due diligence

But I did get copies of emails involved in internal (within the NZ Ministries and diplomats) checking out of the White Helmets. In fact, back in January 2016 a formal message about possible engagement of NZ with the White Helmets identified as a “key question” the “further due diligence on the Syrian Civil Defence and on Mayday rescue to ensure New Zealand comfort with supporting these organisations.”

[Point of clarification – the White Helmets have unilaterally co-opted the name (and much of the equipment) of the real Syrian Civil Defence force which is recognised by the International Civil Defence Association. Mayday Rescue is an organisation set up by a former mercenary which organised and helps fund the White Helmets].

And in January 2016 reports from the embassy in Ankara suggested:  “given the security and political activities around Syria, it will be vital that we can demonstrate due diligence in this regard.”

But I cannot find any evidence of due diligence in the material I was given. There were personal declarations in the diplomatic community of admiration for the White Helmets work – based entirely on claims made by the White Helmets. There was an acknowledgment that the White helmets operated only in “rebel”/”terrorist” – held areas. That they did not work in government or Daesh-held areas. And complete silence about the fact that it operated in areas where Al Qaeda groups like Al Nusra (recognised by the UN as a terrorist group) are active. In fact, testimony from citizens of east Aleppo after that area was liberated indicated that many saw the White Helmets as embedded with, and operating as a civil defence force for, the Al Qaeda-led groups.

Now I do not call that “due diligence.”

Last minute “due diligence”

The final recommendations to the Ministers on the issue of support for the White Helmets summarised the description of the organisation as a ” volunteer organisation working in opposition-controlled Syria to save lives through urban search and rescue (USAR), firefighting, medical evacuation, and other civil defence activities.” This was after last-minute checking with the Ankara embassy because of damaging critical reports about the organisation.

Those reports had surfaced in Al Jazeera – and the Ankara embassy dismissed them simply by referring to the Al Jazeera report – which simply noted the White Helmets’ rejection of critical reports by the investigate journalist Max Blumenthal. Al Jazeera made no effort to investigate or report on the criticisms – no did the Ankara embassy.

[You can read Max Blumenthal’s reports at Inside the Shadowy PR Firm That’s Lobbying for Regime Change in Syria and How the White Helmets Became International Heroes While Pushing U.S. Military Intervention and Regime Change in Syria]

Below is the request from NZ for comments on those reports and response from the Embassy in Ankara on October 6, 2016

october-exchange

This exchange indicates an unwillingness to check out reports (beyond Al Jazzera’s rejection of them). I also find the redacted sections interesting

It refers to “the pro-Assad ??” What is the redacted part? Is this a derogatory phrase? Is it describing the Max Blumenthal in a derogatory way?

Who are these funders in “the West” that have been redacted? The CIA, British intelligence, etc.?

The White Helmets were certainly “shining a light” on alleged atrocities (and their claims were very questionable) but what were the specific “atrocities resulting from airstrikes in recent weeks ???” Were they the embarrassing attacks on the “last hospitals in Aleppo” which were reported by our media more than 27 times during 2016?

I really cannot see why these sections were redacted using the excuse “to protect the free and frank expression of opinions by departments.” Surely the issue is more important than that.

White Helmets is a propaganda group

The Ankara embassy was certainly sensitive to any possibility of the credibility of the White Helmets being questioned because it would “undermine the accounts they produce of war crimes being committed in Aleppo and elsewhere ??” What was redacted? Did someone raise a question about the credibility of those accounts? Or about the war crimes committed by the head choppers in east Aleppo? And if we are concerned about the credibility of the White Helmets as  an anti-government propaganda source then we should not be pretending that we are considering them as just a civil defence group.

And the final sentences:

“Not to say, of course, that every member of the SCD is beyond all scrutiny. Some may have pasts (they are after all drafted from all areas of Syrian society). But as far as we are aware it is a non-political and neutral organisation directed at civil defence and USAR activities. So our comfort levels are in line with yours.”

This email underlines that White Helmets is much more than a civil defence organisation. It is also involved in dissemination of news and information – propaganda. the embassy acknowledged that and declared its appreciation of it.

 

So we have New Zealand diplomats unwilling to give proper due diligence, to check out the detailed reports of Max Blumenthal (or similar critical reporting about the White Helmets) and to be satisfied with an Al Jazeera report rejecting that research out of hand.

These diplomats also reveal an interest in the anti-government, pro-rebel propaganda of the White Helmets – despite continuing with the fiction that it is solely an independent rescue group.

The whole attitude towards the stinging criticism of the White Helmets is to protect the group’s credibility and value as a propaganda organisation,

So much for due diligence and the fiction that the White Helmets is a rescue organisation

And so much for Hollywood which is participating in a propaganda war by glorifying this propaganda group.

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Islamophobia or mental illness?

islamophobia

OR

mental-illness-4

Mental illness is far more widespread than we often wish to admit. In fact, it is probably worth considering it a normal part of life – like the occasional cold or other ailments we all get.

But occasionally mental illness can be more debilitating – even embarrassing. Does any family not have a member who sometimes embarrasses them by behaving inappropriately?

I will be upfront and say this has been the case in my family. I can certainly understand why sometimes the law needs to take into account metal illness, or even turn a blind eye to behaviour which may be insulting or technically illegal.

That was my first response to the reported abuse of a Muslim woman in Huntly. Now that this has come to court I hope the person who was abusive gets some understanding from the court, and the help she may need, if mental illness is an issue.

Having reacted this way I now find myself in strange company – seeing a possibly similar reaction from people who I do not normally align with.

The NZ Herald reports that former Whanganui mayor and broadcaster Michael Laws has come out on Facebook expressing his sympathy for the woman charged over the attack in Huntly. Of course, he is now being attacked for this. But I find many of the comments inhumane – exhibiting a really backward attitude to the idea mental illness may be involved. Seeing it as an excuse! Just imagine treating someone with a physical disability as if they were using that as an excuse.

Something I hadn’t considered was the motivation of the complainant – although I did think it strange this woman thought to video the event and make it public. If it had been me I would have treated it as an unfortunate event, best forgotten and certainly not something to make political capital out of.

According to the Whale Oil blog the complainant is actually something of a political activist – advocating for Muslim causes (see Activist or ordinary Kiwi Muslim? What does her twitter feed reveal?)OK, I certainly don’t hold that against her but it seems to explain why the whole thing has become so public.

The way I see it this whole event seems to have been created by a mixture of mental illness and political activism (and, as alway, media exaggeration). On the one hand, this may have been unfortunate and embarrassing for the family of the women who was abusive. On the other hand, if this is a case of mental illness then perhaps the involvement of the court may bring her some help.

One thing I am sure of. Whatever the reason for the videod abusive behaviour – ethnic or religious hatred, drunkenness or mental health – this is not normal behaviour for New Zealanders and we shouldn’t let others think that it is.

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Madonna teaches us a lesson in critical thinking

Maybe just a small lesson – but an important one. We should always look at context and not cherry-pick that which confirms our bias. In particuilar, we shouldn’t simply repeat social media claims without doing a bit of fact-checking for ourselves.

It’s an important lesson at the moment because there is a lot of this going on in the social media hysteria surrounding the US presidential elections.

I was called out recently because I shared a Facebook meme questioning the moral authority of people like Madonna (who regularly makes lewd public performances) making moral judgments on the lewd language used by President Trump in a private conversation many years ago. The commenter suggested her lewd performances were irrelevant and that I should instead criticise her for making stupid and distasteful comments about blowing up the White House.

So, I decided to check out what she did say – and the video above is the section of her speech at one of the Women’s Marches where she referred to bombing the White House.

Putting Madonna’s famous comment in context

Now, I realise that the secret service is required to check out people who make comments like this – but it would be a perversion of justice for them to take any action against her. The context of the bombing comment makes clear she used the expression of personal thoughts as a rhetorical device to bring home her main message – which supported the direct opposite of such a terrorist act. In fact, she specifically said such an act would be pointless as it would change nothing (she is clearly wrong there as there would surely be huge changes  – but you get my point. She was not advocating anything like bombing).

Madonna has reacted to the news the secret service will investigate her with this comment:

“I am not a violent person, I do not promote violence and it’s important people hear and understand my speech in it’s entirety rather than one phrase taken wildly out of context.

My speech began with ‘I want to start a revolution of love,” Madonna wrote. “I spoke in metaphor and I shared two ways of looking at things — one was to be hopeful, and one was to feel anger and outrage, which I have personally felt. However, I know that acting out of anger doesn’t solve anything. And the only way to change things for the better is to do it with love.”

I think that sums up what she did say in that section of her speech and her critics should take that lesson on board.

But, not only her critics – also her supporters and allies. It is telling that one of those commenting on her explanation wrote:

“You want people to listen to your speech in its entirety and not a phrase taken wildly out of context….hmmmmm isn’t that what you and your followers have been doing to President Trump all along.”

To my mind, the extreme partisanship of social media commenters, and the #fakenews promoted by mainstream media, has often relied on such cherry picking and removal of context. It started early on in the US election campaign and is still proceeding. The recent rather undignified spat over the numbers attending the inauguration in the Mall, and the numbers observing it internationally on TV is just one example. It reflects how childish – on both sides – this spat between President Trump and the mainstream media has become.

Nor does it impress me that some otherwise rational social media commenters have taken the unfortunate “alternative facts” statement completely out of context to use as a political whip. Although, I suppose it does not surprise me. Even the most self-declared rational of us can be very irrational at times. It is part of being human.

Partisanship and a biased media is counterproductive

I wish we would all calm down and attempt to be more rational and critical in approaching news media reports of the current election hysteria. On the one hand, things do run a lot better when we avoid confirmation bias, partisanship and cherry-picking. (And we wouldn’t have to run the gauntlet of being ‘unfriended” on facebook for questioning things).

On the other hand, I think this opinion piece today from Frank Bruni in the New York Time makes a point that opponents of President Trump have seemingly been oblivious to (see The Wrong Way to Take On Trump). This lack of critical thinking, the cherry-picking, partisanship , confirmation bias and #fakenews from a biased media, actually helped Trump win the election – and is currently probably helping to cement support from those who voted for him. He writes:

“There’s so much substantive ground on which to confront Trump. There are acres upon acres. Why swerve into the gutter? Why help him dismiss his detractors as people in thrall to the theater of their outrage and no better than he is?”

And why risk that disaffected Americans, tuning in only occasionally, hear one big mash of insults and insulters, and tune out, when there’s a contest — over what this country stands for, over where it will go — that couldn’t be more serious.”

I am sure that last point happened with people who may have supported or considered supporting Trump during the campaign. Once you have heard or seen a few reports full of what you know is #fakenews, personal attacks, partisan commentary, insults and swearing you do tend to turn off. You do tend not to trust future news reports, especially those ridiculing your possible electoral choice. And in the more committed cases, this experience of news you know to be fake means that from then on you will whole-heartedly accept the #fakenews from your own side. “The other side lied so what your side says must be true!”

In my own case, I know the experience of the partisanship and media bias during the US election campaign has made me very untrustful of the mainstream media – in fact, all the media. I now refuse to accept claims made in the news as factual until I can check them out for myself. I have sort of done this with Madonna’s speech here.

That means more work and a resignation that there are many things I will not form an opinion on (because I don’t have time to fact-check). But I feel better about myself – even if some of my associates may be upset that I don’t go along with their current thinking.

Note: The video above is also out of context – being just the part of Madonna’s speech relevant to her bombing comment. If you are really interested you can find her full speech here. I watched it and found myself becoming less and less sympathetic to her so won’t post the video here as it would sort of distract from my point.

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Sources our mainstream media uses to promote their narrative about Syria

No, I haven’t gone to the dark side.

But I do find this video interesting. The interviewer is Bilal Abdul Kareem who claims to be from On the Ground News. He is one of the sources used extensively by the western Mainstream media in their reporting of the battle for Aleppo, and of Syrian war in general. He allies himself with the “terrorists”/”rebels” and obviously has strong ideological commitments to them.

The guy he is interviewing is the “rebel”/”terrorist” leader of the jihadists in east Aleppo before it was liberated – Abu Abd.

Of course, one must take with many grains of salt talk about “liberation”, “freedom” and sympathy for “human rights” from such people. But they certainly make no secret of the funding and other support they were getting from external patron countries – and their bitterness they didn’t get more – or more foreign mercenary fighters. The interview also makes clear what a shambles these groups were in, which gives credence to frequent reports of “rebel”/terrorist” groups in Syria regularly getting into internal armed conflicts.

Incidentally,  the western mainstream media did often use Bilal Abdul Kareem as a source in their reporting of the Aleppo battle (recall how they are always attributing their information to “activists”) and they still use him.  That media used his “last” video message from east Aleppo as the jihadists there surrendered. But they did not use all his material.

This is one video the mainstream media refused – showing how the jihadists in east Aleppo refused humanitarian and prevented it getting into their area. Just didn’t  fit with their narrative of blaming Syria and the Russian Federation for the inability of aid organisations to get humanitarian aid into the area.

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Critical thinking, not censorship, is the solution to fake news

All this talk about fake news brings to my mind a picture of people in glass houses frantically throwing stones. The fact is that many of those complaining about fake news, especially those dominating our mainstream media, are guilty of promoting fake news – and have done it for years.

I can’t help thinking what really upsets them, is that their readership may be becoming a bit more critical and looking for other sources of news. They are trying to poison the water.

Edward Snowden’s interview from last December 13 is very relevant here. The above video is just a clip from the full video where he talks about fake news – why it’s happening and what to do about it. I really like his conclusions:

“The problem of fake news isn’t solved by hoping for a referee but rather because we as participants, we as citizens, we as users of these services help each other. The answer to bad speech is not censorship. The answer to bad speech is more speech. We have to exercise and spread the idea that critical thinking matters now more than ever, given the fact that lies seem to be getting very popular.”

This really is a time when we have to oppose attempts to limit our access to information. We must not allow the political and media elite to tell us what we can and cannot read and view. We must not allow them to tell us that some news sources ar “out of bounds.” We must not allow them to put blinkers on us.

Alternative media only part of the answer

Sure, accessing alternative new sources is not the full answer – it is only part of the answer. All news sources have a bias, an agenda. For the unthinking person, the solution might be to choose the news source which confirms their own bias or agenda. But that is really unthinking – and it certainly is not a defense against fake news. Quite the opposite. The unthinking acceptance of fake news only encourages it.

No, the answer is to resort to critical thinking. By recognising that all sources may be guilty of fake news – and all news sources have a bias and agenda – we can start thinking for ourselves. We develop the skills of listening and viewing these sources critically. Balancing the information from one source against another. Thinking about the credibility of news stories and the sources they rely on. Recognising bias and false news when we come across it.

Moving towards censorship?

Unfortunately, the political and media elite are working hard to discredit alternative news sources. And their attempts are determined, serious and occurring at a high level. It is hard to envisage truly democratic countries accepting the sort of censorship this seems to be promoting. But have a read of Putin’s Useful Idiots: Britain’s Left, Right and Russia.” Produced by the right-wing Henry Jackson Society this report actually advocates a range of extreme measures, including legislation, controlling the media appearances of politicians and the deliberate intensive undermining of the credibility of “non-approve” news media.

I have seen local journalists actually advocating measures as if they are lifted unchanged from this document – so much for a professional approach to their occupation. And this approach is inherent in the recently adopted resolution of the European parliament on the media and “anti EU-propaganda.”

It is hard to see how such censorship could even be effective in the age of the internet. But the incessant propaganda about false news and attempts to discredit alternative news sources – not for the news they carry but just because they are alternative – is encouraging forms of self-censoring for many individuals. People are being encouraged to reject information because it is from an alternative new source, and not because of the information itself. They are being encouraged into wearing blinkers.

Avoiding self-censorship

A simple exercise. How many time do you see a comment or piece of information on social media rejected out of hand because it was reported on RT, or another alternative news source? Then compare that with the number of times you have seen similar rejections because the report was carried by CNN, Al Jazeera, BBC, etc. Yet all those news media are just as capable of carrying false news as each other. One has only to have followed the US Presidential elections or the Syrian war to recognise that.

Full video

The full interview of Edwards Snowden by Twitter’s  Jack Dorsey and Snowden’s answers to Twitter questions is well worth watching. He is a very intelligent man and should not be ignored.

Here is the full video.

Conclusion

Again it is very much a matter of “reader beware.” We have to stop trusting news sources just because they are “mainstream”.”official,” or “approved.” We have to resist the pressure for self-censorship and the wearing of blinkers that the current political and media elite are promoting.

We should be unafraid and should take advantage of all the sources available to us in this age of the internet.

And, above all, we have to develop and protect our critical thinking skills so that we can use this media – mainstream and alternative – wisely.

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Fake news and the new fact-free reporting paradigm

Is it just me, or were the standards of evidence demanded of politicians better in the “old days?”

Yes, I am showing my age – but we have all heard of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, haven’t we? The world almost went to war. I was a student a the time and we did seriously discuss if there was any point in continuing our exam preparation. I do no recall anyone asking to be excused exams because of the real stress – how things have changed.

Whatever one thought of the USSR or the USA, or of the stationing of missiles in Cuba (a parallel to the stationing of US missiles near Soviet borders) we all knew that missile sites were being established. We knew that because the politicians produced the evidence – photographs from spy planes.

hith-cuban-missile-crisis

Cuban missile crisis – 1962. President Kennedy produced evidence from spy planes of the building of missile facilities in Cuba. He didn’t ask us to take out word for it – to rely simply on assurances. Yet that is what politicians do today.

We weren’t asked to take anyone’s word for that. We weren’t denied the evidence on security grounds and simply ordered to take political assurances.

Yes, how things have changed. We are no longer presented with evidence. We are simply asked to accept the words of politicians, to accept assurances from politicians. People are now even claiming that these assurances are in themselves evidence!Welcome to the worst of the “post-truth” world.

Welcome to the worst of the “post-truth” world.

MH17

Think about it. The US secretary of State assured us that US intelligence agencies had satellite evidence “proving” that the Malaysian Flight MH17 was shot down over east Ukraine by rebel militia (or was it by Russians?). But at no time was this evidence presented – all we got were assurances that it existed. This has got as far as the Joint Investigation Team handling possible criminal prosecutions resulting from this tragedy making similar assurances, based on behind the scenes assurances from the US. And still excusing themselves from presenting the actual evidence on “security grounds.”

This seems to political acceptable in the midst of today geopolitical information war – but I certainly hope no one thinks it would stand up in court (see But will it stand up in court?).

Syria

Recently we had the edifying spectacle of the Press spokesman for the US State Department claiming that Russia and Syria deliberately targets and bombs hospitals in east Aleppo – but refusing to provide the names or locations of the hospitals – on security grounds! The media was simply asked to accept political assurances, and to accept the assurances as somehow comprising “evidence.”

The main stream media did accept that – reporters who didn’t are considered a nuisance.

Now our media is telling us that there have been (or is that there will be) massacres of civilians in Aleppo because the “rebels”/”terrorists” have finally been defeated. Women and girls will be raped, men will “disappear,” civilians (women and children) are being shot by soldiers of the Syrian Arab Army. Yes, politicians at the UN may repeat these claims as “unverified reports” (to right they are unverified – they have come from the defeated jihadis themselves). So now our media headlines these reports as real claims being made by the UN.

For example, this headline “Syrian regime killed at least 82 Aleppo civilians in recent days: UN.” It’s from a Saudi news source but we get the same messages here. The only substance (or evidence) in this report is:

“The United Nations human rights office said it had received reports of “pro-regime forces killing at least 82 civilians including 11 women and 13 children in four different neighborhoods in eastern Aleppo.” The spokespeople usually described these reports as unverified

And yet these unverified “reports” get converted into facts for us so that we read

” Syrian pro-regime forces have carried out at least 82 execution-style killings of civilians in recent days, including women and children, the UN said Tuesday, citing credible reports from the ground.”

Or, even worse, ThinkProgress reports this in the words:

“Pro-Syrian government forces moved into east Aleppo and started wiping out the remains of the besieged city’s opposition Monday. The United Nations reported that the Syrian army and allied Iraqi militiamen entered homes and summarily executed 82 civilians, including women and children, in what it labelled a “complete meltdown of humanity.”

All this at a time Syrian and other news media in the region are presenting video evidence of the 100,000 civilians who have been evacuated. And these refugees are reporting how they were badly treated by the jihadis, shot if they attempted to escape, preventing access to food and medicines hoarded by the “rebels”/”terrorists and members of their families often beaten, imprisoned or killed.

Yet our media avoids such evidence, such videos, and gives us, instead, their own assurances that atrocities are occurring  or may be in the future based on “unverified reports” (from the defeated jihadis).

Or you get an incredible situation like this report showing an interview with a well-known jihadist supporter in east Aleppo while videos of citizens fleeing the jihadist-controlled areas, and being helped by Syrian Arab Army soldiers, runs in the background!

Moon of Alabama made these same points, in more detail, yesterday in the article MSM Create #Fakenews Storm as rebel Aleppo Vanishes. It is worth a read.

The US elections

Which brings me to the current fiasco which is the US presidential elections. Apparently, some people are unhappy about the result so they are promoting stories that the election was stolen. And what do you know – the country/person responsible is Russia/Putin.

We (or more correctly the US people) are being assured that there is “convincing” intelligence that the Russians are responsible for the leak of emails which put the democrats in a bad light. Apparently, some people actually believe this (especially if their electoral noses are still out of joint) and the Germans are now deciding to use the same excuse (see Russian hackers ‘threaten Germany 2017 election’, MPs warn).

But all this is just assurances. No physical evidence anywhere near comparable with president Kennedy’s photography of missile bases being prepared in Cuba. No. Just assurances – assurances that intelligence bodies have “convincing” information. (Although, some intelligence bodies find the information far from convincing.)

OK, that seems to be the new paradigm for our news media – accept assurances and don’t worry about the facts – don’t even bother asking for them. Worse, we seem to have a paradigm that treats such assurances as facts!

But it doesn’t stop there – it gets worse. At least as long as the long-suffering US voters are concerned. Those with their electoral noses out of joint are now pinning their hopes on the electoral college – which is the actual body which decides who is to be president. They are arguing that members of the electoral college should throw away their traditional reliance on the actual votes of the people and decide for themselves who should be president. Bugger the voters!

But, wait there is more. Those with the crooked electoral noses are now arguing that the electoral college should be given a special intelligence briefing before making up their minds. The Independent reports (see Electoral college members demand information on Russian relations before voting to make Donald Trump president):”

“Ten members of the electoral college have requested more information from intelligence officials on the relationship between President-elect Donald Trump and Russia. The electoral college addressed an open letter to Director of National Intelligence James Clapper prior to their 19 December vote that would finalise the election results.”

Apparently, that number has now swelled to more than 50 – see Over 50 Dem electors now demanding intelligence briefing.

I suppose the fact they are asking for a special secret briefing is a huge acknowledgment that the unverified reports from the media about Russian hacking are in themselves of no value. They really aren’t “convincing.”

But just think about it. The US people went to the polls and elected a president. (Yes, I know their electoral system stinks – but that is not the issue in the middle of an election. You use the existing rules). The voters had all the worthless assurances and political stories before they voted. The electoral college also had, has, the same stories, rumours and lies.

Just imagine the stink if the electoral outcome is overturned, that the electors choice is not chosen. All because of a “behind the scenes,” non-public “intelligence briefing.”

Just imagine if the electorate is going to be told that their vote actually counts for nothing – because “we have credible evidence” they were led astray. And the electorate is going to be asked to accept this story without any evidence – just assurances!

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Fluoridation: members of parliament call from submissions from scientific and health experts

The new community water fluoridation legislation is now on the way in the New Zealand parliament. The Health (Fluoridation of Drinking Water) Amendment Bill was introduced on Tuesday and the parliamentary health committee has invited submissions.

It’s worth watching the videos of the twelve speakers in the first reading. These give an idea of how the legislation will be received by the different political parties. They also give an impression that members of our parliament are well aware of the tactics of the anti-fluoride pressure groups – they fully expect to be inundated with irrelevant and pseudoscientific submissions. But they are also aware that the science currently finds community water fluoridation to be both effective and safe.

After watching the debate these are my initial conclusions:

  1. The bill has almost unanimous support. Only New Zealand First voted against it.
  2. Many of the speakers see the legislation as only a little better than the current situation. The describe it as a half-way house – kicking the can down the road. District Health Boards (DHBs) will be subjected to the same uninformed or misleading pressure that the councils are at present. The government should have gone the whole hog and handed over responsibility for fluoridation decision to the Ministry of Health.
  3. All the speakers declared their support for the science that shows community water fluoridation effective and safe. Most showed they are aware of, and accept, the New Zealand Fluoridation review commissioned by the Royal Society of New Zealand and the Office of the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor.
  4. None of the speakers showed any support for the arguments or activities of anti-fluoridation campaigners. In fact, there were many derogatory comments made about tin foil hats, etc.
  5. New Zealand First is opposed because they prefer that communities make fluoridation decisions by referenda and are calling for these referenda to be binding. They criticised those councils like Whakatane and Hamilton that had ignored the wishes of the community.

Health Committee calling for submissions

The Parliamentary health select committee has called for submissions on the bill. Written submission will be accepted until February 2, 2017.

Information on making a submission is available on the Health (Fluoridation of Drinking Water) Amendment Bill website. And you can make your submissions online.

You can also give notice that you wish to make an oral submission to the Health Committee.

Possible issues of contention

From what speakers in the debate had to say I do not think the anti-fluoride lobby will get much sympathy. MPs are expecting the usual deluge of submissions from them but know from experience how worthless they will be.

However, several MPs stressed they did welcome submissions and particularly encouraged submissions from scientific and health experts. The Royal Society of NZ and the Prime Minster’s Chief Scientific advisor may be specifically invited to make submissions.

The bill is not really about the science, however, and MPs expect that the real content – the processes for making fluoridation decisions and the body responsible for these, should be thoroughly discussed.

I expect there will be a strong push to strengthen the bill by moving responsibility to central government, the Ministry of Health, as MPs still see problems with DHB responsibility.

The issue of community consultation should also come up – particularly as New Zealand First is promoting the idea of binding referenda in communities. As it stands the bill does not define how consultation should occur so this may well be made more specific.

The Green Party seems keen to introduce mechanisms for better informing of the public about the science behind fluoridation. They are conscious that the anti-fluoride groups are fear-mongering on this issue and feel that this can be countered by better information. If this is discussed in depth in the hearings there may well be some interest in defining more specifically how government updates its understanding of the research on fluoridation and how they disseminate new research results to the public.

A role for you, the reader

Well, the process is underway. If you have views or concerns on the bill or on the decision processes involved with fluoridation now is the time to put pen to paper, punch away on your computer keyboard, or prepare for making an oral submission to the health committee. If you want advice on how to do this have a read of Making a Submission to a Parliamentary Select Committee and the linked documents.

Remember, written submissions are accepted until February 2, 2017, and we would expect the Health committee hearings to start soon after that.

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Fake news, human suffering and the fight against terrorism

defeat

Some news sources are reporting the final defeat of ‘rebels”/Terrorists” in east Aleppo. Source: Qassioun News (see  Beleaguered opposition factions in Aleppo decided to get out of the city).

Our news media convinces me more and more each day that we really do live in a “post-truth” world, or at least in parallel universes where “truths” differ widely.

OK, perhaps the problem is this “new” phenomenon of “Fake News.” But that “fake news” is coming from the sources I am told I must trust. And what turns out to be the “unfake” news, or more realistic news, is coming from sources I am told I should not trust – that I should wear blinkers to avoid exposure to!

The liberation of east Aleppo

On the one hand, we have the (apparently) acknowledged fact that the “rebels”/”terrorists” in the major Syrian city of Aleppo are on the run. Neighbourhood after neighbourhood have been liberated in the last week. At the time I am writing this I am seeing reports on social media of the complete liberation of the eastern part of Aleppo which has been held by “rebels”/”terrorists” since 2012.

If we follow the “unapproved,” “non-official” news sources we see videos showing tens of thousands escaping from their hostage situation where they were used as human shields by terrorists. Welcoming and kissing the Syrian soldiers who liberated them – and receiving humanitarian aid – food, medicines, shelter, blankets, from the international Red Cross and Red Crescent, Syrian aid agencies (including Christian ones), the Russian Army and the Russian Emergencies Ministry. Already some liberated neighbourhoods have been demined and former residents are starting to return home.

So – in practice we are seeing a cessation of hostilities, a ceasefire, delivery of humanitarian aid, provision of medicines and medical services, and the beginning of the restoration of homes. All achieved by forces “on the ground,” and by negotiation between the various military and political groups. Negotiations between the Russians and the Turks, and between the Syrians and the “rebel”/”terrorist” groups. The UN and its agencies seem to be nowhere in sight around Aleppo. To me that is shocking.

The alternative universe

But the “approved” “official” news sources are still reporting the battle for Aleppo as a great tragedy instead of a great victory. Whose side are they on?  They continue to talk about the suffering of the citizens, the need for a ceasefire and for the delivery of humanitarian aid. They keep finding a “last hospital,” or “last school” claimed to have been bombed by Russian or Syrian forces. They condemn those unsupported events while ignoring or hardly commenting on the missile attacks on schools and hospitals in west Aleppo. They concentrate on  now meaningless UN Security Council resolutions calling for a ceasefire and delivery of humanitarian aid.

All crocodile tears and political posturing. What use are such resolutions when the forces on the ground are actually achieving cessation of hostilities over and ever larger proportion of the city and that the liberated civilians are (finally) getting humanitarian aid which the “rebels”/”terrorists” in charge had prevented (or hoarded for themselves) in the past?

If those vocal politicians and aid agencies were genuine now is the time for them to get stuck in – on the ground. Aid convoys can get through to the liberated areas and the camps or buildings housing escapees. The people are no longer being held as  human shields. In most areas there are no longer “rebels”/”terrorists” preventing access to humanitarian and medical aid personal and equipment.

Now is not the time for political posturing, childish walkouts and vindictive resolutions of the sort that seem to be common in the UN Security Council. Surely these just expose these countries, or their leaders, as inhumane political hypocrites. Their interests are the ongoing geopolitical struggle and its resulting information war – not suffering innocents.

blinkers

We are encouraged to wear blinkers – refuse to use alternative news sources, restrict our reading to only “approved” or “official” news media which are blatantly disseminating fake news. Image credit: Wearable Wedding Invitations.

And it is these hypocrites who have been pontificating about “false news,” attempting to close down access to alternative news sources or imposing blinkers on the public.

Surely, and hopefully,  the liberation of Aleppo is just another nail in the coffins of these hypocrites.?

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