Category Archives: politics

Does international chemical watchdog cherry-pick evidence to confirm a bias?

Organisation for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons headquarters in The Hague. Image credit: Prensa Latina Ready Syria to Cooperate with Organization Against Chemical Weapons

Multinational bodies, like the Organisation for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) usually have authority and appearance of objectivity because of their international and representative nature. But I have been disappointed with some of the OPCW reports because they relied on hearsay and appeared to suffer bias. They also usually lack transparency and suffer from lack of data. I have discussed some of this in my articles Another shonky OPCW chemical incident report on Syria and OPCW on Salisbury poisoning – one step forward, two back?

It is probably inevitable that a theoretically objective  or non-partisan organisation will, in practice, be influenced by political and geopolitical interests. Even so, I am shocked to discover that The OPCW may have resorted to cherry-picking evidence for their Final Report of the OPCW Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) on the alleged chemical attack in Douma on 7 April 2018, released on 1 March 2019.

Paul McKeigue, David Miller and Piers Robinson who are members of Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media, revealed the cherry picking in their report Assessment by the engineering sub-team of the OPCW Fact-Finding Mission investigating the alleged chemical attack in Douma in April 2018.

OPCW sidelines its own fact-finding engineers

Specifically the Final OPCW report ignored the findings of their own Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) Engineering Subteam that was part of the original investigation on the ground. Instead, the OPCW later contracted unidentified experts who provided the engineering analyses included in the final report.

These unidentified experts produced a different conclusion to that reached by the FFM engineering subteam as described in a leaked dcouyment from the subgroup (Engineering-assessment-of-two-cylinders-observed-at-the-Douma-incident-27-February-2019-1). That, in itself, is not surprising – consider how in criminal cases prosecutors and defence can produce their own experts to make completely opposite arguments.  But the OPCW should have at the very least acknowledged the two different conclusions from the two different groups. They should also have given more weight to the conclusions of the own subteam who were involved in the initial investigations rather than the contracted experts who relied only on second-hand data (and were possibly given a more limited mandate).

I wrote about the interim report on this alleged chemical attack and its misrepresentation by corporate media in my article Blatant misreporting of latest OPCW report on chemical weapons in Syria. The interim report considered the allegation that a chemical weapon had been used and concluded:

“No organophosphorus nerve agents or their degradation products were detected, either in the environmental samples or in plasma samples from the alleged casualties.”

The notorious chlorine gas cylinders

However, it left open the possibility that chlorine gas had been used and this was considered in the final report which considered the two chlorine gas cylinders found at the site of the alleged chemical attack.

The two engineering reports relate to these chlorine gas cylinders. Whereas the original Fact-Finding Mission engineering subteam concluded that the chlorine gas cylinders had most probably been manually placed at the scene the anonymous experts later contracted by the OPCW appear to favour an explanation involving delivery by an aircraft.

From the report of the engineering subteam of the fact-finding mission – (Engineering-assessment-of-two-cylinders-observed-at-the-Douma-incident-27-February-2019-1)

The arguments and conclusions of the anonyous contracted enegineering experts are contained in the final report – Report of the Fact-Finding Mission Regarding the Incident of Alleged use of Toxic Chemicals as a Weapon in Douma, Syrian Arab Republic, on 7 April 2018.

LOCATION 2

The above propaganda video from the White Helmets (allied with the jihadists in Douma) illustrates the position of this gas cylinder on a roof adjacent to a crater.

The anonymous contracted experts concluded the cylinder had been dropped onto the roof with sufficent kinetic energy to create the crater but not penetrate the roof. However the OPCW FFM subteam concluded from their modelling:

“that the alleged impact event or events leading to observed vessel deformation and concrete damage were not compatible.

A criss-cross pattern on the paintwork of the cylinder body, that had been attributed by some observers to the cylinder falling through the wire mesh, was inconsistent with the near-vertical angle of incidence that would have been required to create the crater.

Experts consulted to assess the appearance of the crater took the view that it was more consistent with a blast (from a mortar round or rocket artillery) than with an impact from the falling object. Similar craters were present in concrete slabs on top of nearby buildings.”

They concluded that the cylinder had more probably been manually placed in the location rather than dropped from an aircraft.

LOCATION 4

This cylinder has always appeared strange, lying on a bed in a room that was relatively undamaged.

The anonymous contracted experts concluded (or maybe assumed) the cylinder had been dropped from the air and come through the ceiling to land on the floor where it subsequently bounced onto the bed (see image below from the OPCW final report).

However the FFM engineering subteam concluded from their analyses and modelling:

“that the cylinder with intact valve and fins attached could not have fitted through the hole in the roof:

it was not possible to establish a set of circumstances where the post-deformation cylinder could fit through the crater with the valve still intact (whether or not an end-cap was assumed to have been fitted at the front end of the cylinder), and the fins deformed in the manner observed.”

Conclusions

I can understand how different assessment teams can come to different conclusions and it could well be that the anonymous contracted experts were asked to assume that the cylinders had been dropped and to model possible trajectories and dmagge. In contrast the intial FFM engineering team considered alternative hypotheses as well as air-dropped cylinders and specifically proposed the alternatives in their report.

Such modelling and conlcusions can’t help but involve a degree of speculation so it does not concern me that different conclusions were drawn. But I am very concerned that the OPCW final report ignored the findings of their own FFM engineering subteam. This indicates a degree of bias which should be unacceptable for such an international body.

The authors from the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media go as far as describing the issue as the hijacking of OPCW concluding:

“The new information we have removes all doubt that the organization has been hijacked at the top by France, UK and the US. We have no doubt that most OPCW staff continue to do their jobs professionally, and that some who are uneasy about the direction that the organization has taken nevertheless wish to protect its reputation. However what is at stake here is more than the reputation of the organization: the staged incident in Douma provoked a missile attack by the US, UK and France on 14 April 2018 that could have led to all-out war.

The cover-up of evidence that the Douma incident was staged is not merely misconduct. As the staging of the Douma incident entailed mass murder of civilians, those in OPCW who have suppressed the evidence of staging are, unwittingly or otherwise, colluding with mass murder.”

Other commentary on the OPCW FFM Engineering subteam report:

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Psychology of Russiagate – an adult discussion for a change

This is a fascinating interview – and not only because it is a highly respected independent journalist, Aaron Maté, interviewing his highly respected mental health expert father, Dr. Gabor Maté. It is fascinating because it is objective and adult – unlike so much of the Russiagate reporting. It is an adult discussion.

I have been shocked at how people I thought should know better got caught up in the Russiagate hysteria. This interview helps me understand the psychology behind such unthinking acceptance of what I saw from the beginning was a diversion away from the real issues and an unthinking excuse for an election result which did not conform to predictions. This whole approach has prevented liberal and democratic forces from addressing the real problems they have. It has disarmed them at a time when a more intelligent approach is needed if Trump is to be defeated in 2020.

Well, I have often said that humans are not a rational species, more a rationalising one. I should have not been surprised at the way apparently rational people ended up being emotionally driven. Dr. Gabor Maté explains how we all succumb to such approaches when facing trauma like the election of a Donal trump.

I advise readers who do not have time to watch this very important interview to read Caitlin Johnstone’s article about it – This Talk Between Aaron & Gabor Maté Is The Best Political Video I’ve Ever Seen.

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Russiagate – Some insights into its origins and results

Chris Hedges interviews Aaron Mate, one of the few independent reporters who was never taken in by the Russiagate hysteria and doggedly followed the evidence. Now vindicated by the Mueller investigation, which found no evidence of collusion, Aaron Mate analyses the origins of the Russiagate conspiracy theory and the way corporate media, and much of the alternative media, handled it. He argues that Russiagate turned out, in the end, to be a great gift to Trump and will help him with the 2020 presidential elections.

I believe this is an important interview which should help clarify many for the problems people have had with US politics over the last few years.

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Russiagate: Lessons for the media. But will they listen?

How is this anything but a form of racism? Racism is never acceptable – and this coming from within the US intelligence community.

Frankly, I don’t think the corporate media will listen. Or draw conclusions from the main finding of the Mueller report. At the moment they seem too busy shifting goalposts and denying they ever promoted a collusion narrative.

This week we have the extraordinary spectacle of Paul Thomas, A NZ Listener journalist, cherry-picking his own articles to deny he ever promoted the collusion myth (See “The Cult of Trump,” NZ Listener, April 13-19, 2019). This “journalist” – and the Listener – pushed weekly articles promoting the myth to the extent of regularly including photographs of Russian President Putin in his articles about Trump. He let his naive partisan anti-Trump rhetoric get away so badly he even wrote an article linking the Christchurch Mosque shootings to Trump (seeFollow the leader, NZ Listener).  At a time when the rest of the nation was grieving.

It seems to me a whole raft of “journalists” abandoned the ethical basis of their profession and simply promoted an “official” narrative handed to them from above. I cannot respect such people.

In contrast, there were evidence-based independent and alternative journalists who got it right. These journalists were ignored, and worse – vilified, by corporate media. We should draw some lessons from their experience.

Fortunately an article in Fair – Tips for a Post-Mueller Media from Nine Russiagate Skeptics – gives a much-needed start to the needed examination. Generally described as “Russiagate skeptics” (not all independent journalist or alternative media followed the evidence) nine of these journalist offer advice to the media.

I will summarise their advice in a single sentence for each journalist but urge readers to read their full comments in the linked article. Their explanations are valuable

1. Encourage debate and dissent, not conspiracy theories and clicks.

—Aaron Maté, journalist, The Nation


2. Stop playing into Trump’s hands and stop smearing reporters.

Matt Taibbi, journalist, Rolling Stone


3. Stop spreading Russophobic paranoia.

Yasha Levine, journalist, S.H.A.M.E. Project


4. Talk to people with an actual understanding of history and Russia, not fake experts and uninformed  pundits.

Carl Beijer, writer


5. Don’t manipulate the truth to justify war.

Rania Khalek, journalist, host of In the Now


6. Be skeptical toward government officials and other authorities.

Branko Marcetic, journalist, Jacobin


7. Focus on the many actual crimes.


Esha Krishnaswamy, lawyer, host of historic.lypodcast


8. Pay attention to whom Trump is actually colluding with.

Kyle Kulinski, host of the Kyle Kulinski Show


9. Stop fear-mongering and engaging in “acceptable” bigotry.

Jimmy Dore, comedian, host of the Jimmy Dore Show


These people need to be listened to.

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Aftermath of the Mueller report – the media starts looking at itself

Once again I am seeing vindication, a bit unexpected I must say because it involves the media analysing its own faults.

The Al Jazeera media programme, The Listening Post, today covered a few home truths about the media behaviour over the Russiagate conspiracy theory. What heartens me is that for the first time I get to see some of the independent journalists I have followed over the last two and a half years. Journalists like Aaron Maté who followed the evidence (in this case the lack of evidence), resisted the pressure to stick with the official narrative – and got attacked for it. Treatment of independent journalists by corporate media over this issue has been disgusting.

For the first time, I get to see a balanced (“balanced” in the sense the views of three Russiagate sceptics and two promoters are covered).

I don’t for one minute think this is anything more than an isolated case of responsible media coverage of the corporate media behaviour and, frankly, hysteria. It is nothing more than a start. A lot more must be done.

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Mueller report to be released mid April – but it will be redacted

I am being urged by some commenters not to feel vindicated yet about the results of the US Special counsel investigation into charges of collusion between the Trump team and the Russian Federation (see Getting out alive – why we should always demand evidence). Perhaps not surprising as there is a small chant going around – “wait till you see the full report.” Although I notice no one was chanting that when the corporate media was going wild with their own conspiracy theories at multiple times over the last two and half years (see Collapse of the “Russiagate ” myth exposes how corporate media has failed).

It looks like the report will be released in mid-April. The US Attorney General makes clear there will be redactions – probably no surprise to the sensible person. But I can see the conspiracy theorists beam in on these to keep their collusion narrative alive. However, I can’t see that particular conspiracy theory will get a lot of traction as it is simply turning the outlandish into a complete farce.

Here is the letter which describes what sort of redactions we can expect:

Interestingly the President will not exercise veto power and the report will not be submitted to him for “privilege review.”

I guess it was too much to hope for though. There will be redaction of sections which “the intelligence community identifies as potentially compromising sensitive sources and methods.” Given the role of at least part of the intelligence community in fostering the Russiagate hysteria, I would have thought it was essential to investigate its behaviour.

As I said, too much to hope for.

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Collapse of the “Russiagate ” myth exposes how corporate media has failed

We have had to put up with this emotional rubbish from corporate media for two and a half years. Evidence-less conclusions presented as fact and huge pressure to adopt the narrative they posh. The video may have selected from US TV sources – but it has been wider than that – stretching to all media forms and to other countries.

And some people have criticised me for feeling vindicated because when I pointed out the Emporer had no clothes I was right (see Getting out alive – why we should always demand evidence)!

As for the plea that I wait for the publication of the full Mueller report – isn’t that disingenuous when those making the plea did not wait? They simply succumbed to pressure to adopt the narrative offered and gave in to group thinking? I can’t help raising the question to those making these pleas –  “what will be the deflective argument used when the full report is published?”

No, we have had to put up with this BS for two and half years and corporate media did not wait for evidence during all that time – worse they distorted and misrepresented any evidence to fit it to their own partisan narrative. They used vague references to “anonymous sources” to justify their bias – that must be one of the oldest trick in the propaganda manual.

The few independent journalists who resisted this pressure to conform were vilified. Accused of being supporters of Trump, “Putin’s useful idiots,” etc. They were smeared. Described as conspiracy theorists – by the very media and their stenographers pushing the most ridiculous conspiracy theory of all, the installation of a Manchurian candidate in the White House.

Those independent journalist are feeling vindicated – and they are rubbing it in. I cannot blame them.

Sure, I am always open to new evidence and I am sure the Mueller report will contain a lot of that. But the main message pushed by corporate media over the last two and half years has been destroyed. The report itself says:

“[T]he investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”

The corporate media and the stenographers it employees should take a long hard look at itself. Some (anly a few) of them have – even acknowledging the practice of justifying claims by reference to anonymous sources should stop. But I am not holding my breath.

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Getting out alive – why we should always demand evidence

It will never happen. The corporate media will never apologise for the false narrative they have promoted.

Today I am feeling vindicated. And that vindication comes from a very strange source – the US attorney general, William P. Barr. Or, more specifically, his letter to the US Senate released to the public today.

His letter reports the principal conclusions of Special Counsel, Robert S. Mueller on what has been dubbed “Russiagate.” That conclusion shows that the narrative we have been fed by the corporate or mainstream media over the last two years has been false. It has been fake news.

Barr points out that the primary consideration of the Mueller investigation was “whether any Americans – including individuals associated with the Trump campaign joined the Russian conspiracies to influence the elections, which would be a federal crime.”  He couldn’t be clearer in his conclusions:

“The Special Counsel’s investigation did not find that the Trump campaign or anyone associated with it conspired or coordinated with Russia in its efforts to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

He quote’s Mueller’s report:

“[T]he investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”

Barr repeats this conclusion several times in his letter – it is not a slip of the tongue.

Smearing “Russiagate” sceptics as Trump supporters part of the big lie

My feeling of vindication has nothing to do with Trump – I do not support that buffoon and have made that clear many times. I feel vindicated because I saw absolutely no evidence for the narrative promoted by the corporate media and an alliance of US politicians and elements of the intelligence community. (If I had seen real evidence I would have supported the claims). No evidence at all.

But I felt like the small child pointing out the Emperor had no clothes. Simply standing up for the obvious need for evidence led to accusations of being a Trump supporter (even a “neo-Nazi” or a “White Supremacist)” and one of Putin’s “useful idiots.”

But now we know who the “useful idiots” were.

A dangerous narrative

Some commenters might say “so what. No one was harmed and truth will out in the end.” But I always saw this as an extremely serious matter. As Caitlin Johnstone says in her excellent article Russiagate Skeptics Rightly Boast About Being Proven 100% Correct:”

“Russiagate was a pernicious lie advanced by secretive government agencies who’ve been plotting to shove Russia off the world stage since the fall of the Soviet Union, by the Democrats who’ve had a vested interest in avoiding accountability for their failures and malfeasance in the 2016 election, and by the mass media who’ve been reaping extreme profits by peddling the clickbait sensationalist conspiracy theory that the Kremlin has infiltrated the highest levels of the US government.”

That lie was extremely dangerous because it increased international tension, brought relations between the two major nuclear countries to the worst state since the cold war, prevented any  progress on nuclear arms control (in fact promoted retreat from arms control), inhibited the fight against terrorism and the solution of regional problems, and enhanced the possibility that regional conflicts could erupt into a full scale nuclear world war.

But the damage was also to our own society. Again, Caitlin Johnstone says it so well:

“These lies have created a highly toxic environment by leeching poison into the natural discourse and halting the progression of our species. Most people who got swept up in the Russiagate fervor were manipulated by their disgust for Trump and their desire to get him out, no matter if it was true or not.”

Demand evidence and question more

Since the US presidential election, I have been amazed at the people who should know better, people I had respected, who have brought this Russiagate narrative – simply and only because of their hatred for Trump. These people turned on anyone questioning the narrative simply because of their own confirmation bias, ignoring the evidence or lack of it.

This experience has taught me something. I should not translate respect for a source based on their evidence-based conclusions in one area to the conclusions in other areas. Every individual or source has feet of clay – we should hold the credibility of evidence well above the status and promoted credibility of sources – especially those of the corporate media.

Caitlin Johnstone again:

“I think the great lesson here is that you can’t out-manipulate the grand manipulators. You have to stick to the truth even when it appears to go against your own self interests because your ego has levers and it can be used to puppet you. If you always value the highest interest over your self interest then you can’t be played. Demand evidence and keep demanding it until you get it. If you do, change your mind, if you don’t, stick to your guns. That’s the only way we’ll get out of here alive.”

There will be no apology

Some elements in the media did sort of apologise when the US presidential election did not go the way they told us it would. They sort of indicated they had learned their lesson and would do better next time.

What a load of rubbish. They immediately fell back into the same old bad habits. The corporate media had got it wrong again and it is the sensible consumer of media output who learned the lesson. The sensible person now uses multiple sources and treats them all critically and intelligently, refusing to accept evidence-free narratives. In this case, it has been elements of the alternative media who got it right – and understandably they are now crowing about it. Caitlin Johnstone supports this crowing:

” It is good that these alternative media figures are puffing their chests and shouting their I-told-you-sos, because you can be absolutely certain that the people who’ve been advancing the Russiagate narrative will never go out of their way to acknowledge the undeniable fact that they have been proven wrong while there were voices standing to their left getting it right. The mainstream narrative will do its very best to pace mainstream attention away from the inconvenient fact that there was abundant evidence contradicting a narrative which monopolized public energy for more than two years while manufacturing support for dangerous cold war escalations and sucking all oxygen out of the room for discussion of progressive reforms, so it is absolutely necessary for those voices who have been vindicated to make noise about it themselves.”

That screeching sound you hear comes from corporate media and the stenographers they employ reacting to the Mueller report by shifting the goal posts in a desperate attempt to avoid public recognition of their culpability in promoting the fake narrative, and to keep that narrative alive in different forms.

I will leave the last word to comedian Jimmy Dore – experience shows he is worth listening to:

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Terrorism in Christchurch – some thoughts

A peaceful, tranquil place to sit and contemplate in the Hagley Park/Botanical Gardens area of Christchurch. It is obscene that this terrorist act occurred only a short distance away from here.

Like most New Zealanders I am badly shocked by the brutal act of terror and mass shootings in Christchurch today (March 15). As our Prime Minster Jacinda Adern said, this is not us.

I feel particularly emotional as only a few days ago I spent a very pleasurable morning walking in Hagley Park and the Botanical Gardens just a short distance from the Mosque where most of the deaths occurred. The tranquillity and peacefulness of the area impressed me. A place for rest and quiet contemplation – and then this happens.

Remembering that tranquillity with my photo above underlines to me the obscenity of this act of terror. This should not have happened in New Zealand, let alone in such a lovely city and peaceful area.

Problems with censorship

The censorship around this incident concerns me a little. I support any attempt to suppress the terrorist’s live video of the shooting. It, apparently, is just too much like a video game and could appeal to people who might be influenced into copycat acts.

But the terrorist’s Manifesto has now also been removed from social media – and that worries me. I had a brief read before it was removed and got the impression the writer was influenced by the British Fascist Oswald Mosley and the Norwegian terrorist Anders Behring Breivik who murdered 77 people in a 2011 car bomb explosion in Oslo and a shooting spree at a Workers’ Youth League summer camp on the nearby  Utøya Island.

Pages from the Manifesto of the Christchurch terrorist

My impression is that Christchurch mass shootings were not acts of home-grown terrorism – just that the terrorists chose New Zealand because it was an unlikely place for this. They wanted to show that this could happen even here. No one is safe.

Unfortunately, by censoring the manifesto the field is left wide open for erroneous speculation and politically motivated pointing of fingers. Already I have seen one overseas report describing New Zealand First as a local neo-fascist group presumably with members like this terrorist. A Twitter account well-known for promoting Russophobia retweeted descriptions of the Cyrillic writing on the shooter’s ammunition clips – presumably to raise the Russia bogeyman. And several posts on social media have been quick to blame this act of terror on Donald Trump and the supposed increased confidence of white supremacists by Trump’s election.

Such speculation and opportunist partisan use of the horrible event is not helpful. It diverts attention away from the specific causes and makes it harder to find solutions. Those censoring this manifesto may be driven by the desire not to allow this terrorist to communicate his beliefs. But, in denying us the ability to identify those beliefs, censorship is only encouraging erroneous conclusions which lead to other groups and people receiving unwarranted blame. Perhaps I am biased, but if this act of terrorism was not home-grown then let’s ensure that people understand that.

I believe that knowledge of the beliefs of the Norwegian terrorist Breivik was essential to his prosecution and imprisonment. The manifesto of the terrorist responsible for what happened in Christchurch today will be essential to his prosecution and I believe that the manifesto should be exposed for what it is. Censorship does not help that.

 

“Disinformation” and the mainstream media

In the political realm, all sides are guilty of promoting disinformation. It really is a “reader beware” situation in that the intelligent consumer of news should assess information critically and sensibly. Not trusting in news reports simply because they come from “their side.”
So, while I have been critical of “our” mainstream media, in this respect, I must acknowledge there are rare examples where it will allow the truth to break through. Ironically, I see the video above from the New York Times as the exception proving the rule.
The video shows burning of “aid” trucks on the Venezuelan-Columbian border – widely reported by “our” media and politicians as an act of infamy by the Venezuelan side. Readers of alternative media know better having already seen videos showing use of Molotov cocktails by anti-Venezuelan protesters. But now, the New York Times, shows “our” mainstream media and politicians were wrong. And this disinformation, together with its multiplication by prominent USA politicians, had serious consequences. Not only in spreading more anti-Venezuelan propaganda, but in the US imposing even more sanctions on that suffering country.