Category Archives: politics

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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Sometimes I think the world has gone mad

fake-newsWell, at least that part of the world I live in. Or more specifically, the news media my part of the world is exposed to.

There have been big events in Syria in the last few days – specifically the liberation of parts of the city of Aleppo that has been held by “rebels”/”terrorists” for 4 years. In that time the civilians have been held captive and used as human shields by the militia. Those attempting to leave via the humanitarian corridors set up during the ceasefires this year have been shot at. Ambulances and buses waiting at the humanitarian corridors have remained largely empty with only a few families able to escape. People demonstrating about this, and the way the militia forces have hoarded food and medical supplies, have been shot at and the demonstration organisers killed. The “rebel”/”terrorist” groups have denied entry to humanitarian aid convoys.

Now, at last, video reports from Syrian reporters on the ground are showing thousands of civilians finally leaving. They are being helped by Syrian soldiers and they are clearly happy to be liberated. People are chanting, kissing the soldiers and reporters. and describing their suffering during the occupation.

The video below is an example.

Unfortunately, this good news does not seem to be getting into our mainstream media which is hardly covering the liberated citizens and their relief.

Al Jazeera still interviews its tame “activists” (polite term for the spokesperson of a militia group) to describe how bad things are and that the world must do something to save the people of Aleppo. It twists the obvious movement of civilians away from the arms of the “rebels”/”terrorists” with headlines like Fleeing Aleppo civilians forced back by gunfire and claim

“Dozens of civilians tried to flee rebel-held east Aleppo but were forced to retreat by gunfire, as the Syrian army and its allied militias on Wednesday pressed on with an offensive to recapture the whole city.”

What they don’t say is that the gunfire is coming from the “rebel”/”terrorists’ who are attempting to prevent the exodus.

France 24 attempts to create a picture of Syrians fleeing the Syrian army instead of the “rebels”/”terrorists.” It presents the headline  – Nearly 10,000 civilians flee east Aleppo amid regime offensive and claims

“Government forces retook six rebel-held districts of eastern Aleppo over the weekend, forcing nearly 10,000 civilians to flee as they pressed their offensive Sunday to retake Syria’s second city.”

And The Independent  produces similar coverage with their headline Russia claims Aleppo is being ‘liberated’ as more than 16,000 people flee city’s ‘slow descent into hell’, claiming:

“After four months of siege and a bombing campaign which has brought rebel-held east Aleppo to its knees, civilians are fleeing across the frontline in their thousands to escape President Bashar al-Assad’s attempts to crush the city’s rebels for good.”

Yet, strangely, these Syrian citizens are escaping from the “rebels”/”terrorists” – not the Syrian Army. In fact they are welcoming the army, blessing and kissing the soldiers.

The liberation of this part of Aleppo should be something to be happy about, not sad. The people now have access to the buses and ambulances denied them by the militia controlling the occupied areas. They now have access to humanitarian aid which has been waiting for them – and denied to them by the “rebel”/”terrorist” militia.

The “concern” and crocodile tears of the politicians

Contrast the relief and happiness on the faces of the Syrians who have been liberated in Aleppo with the “concern,” crocodile tears and indignation of politicians in France, the UK and the USA. Apparently, this liberation was the last thing they wanted. They are now calling for UN Security Council resolutions and sanctions to retaliate against the Syrian and Russian forces responsible for the liberation.

After months of hand-wringing over the problems of getting humanitarian aid to suffering civilians, they are condemning the very people bringing that aid to them. And after all the concern about the “last hospital in Aleppo” that the Russians or Syrians have bombed over twenty times this year they are confronted with the fact that it is the Russians, not the French, the UK or the USA which will provide mobile hospitals to the Syrians in the Aleppo region (see Putin orders mobile hospitals to be sent to residents of Aleppo, Syria).

Fake news

Even the mainstream media is talking about fake news these days – which is ironic considering they seem to be the main purveyors of fake news. This current example from Syria just reinforces the need for people to be more critical with the media. And to be prepared to look for themselves, find other news sources and check out what is being claimed.

As for Syria, and the liberation of the parts of that city held by terrorists, the news is out there – you just have to look for it yourself – our mainstream media probably won’t help you.

Here is another example showing how Syrians are fleeing from the terrorists, escaping with the help of Syrian soldiers – while being shot at by the very people our media seems to trust as news sources.

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White Helmets confirm authenticity of acted “rescue” video

wh-video

The acted White Helmets “rescue” video, the crew involved and the professional actor who was the “victim”

It really is a case of “reader beware” these days.  There is so much misinformation about – in the mainstream media as well as in alternative and social media – that the reader really has to avoid accepting things at face value.

I am strongly aware of this when I attempt to follow-up a lead from social media that looks interesting. The video I posted yesterday is an example (see Manufacturing news, and opinion, about Syria). I believe things like this get faked all the time. Searching through social media I even found suggestions the video was a “false flag” – prepared by supporters of Syria to discredit the White Helmets.

What convinced me the video was genuine was that my original source for the video was the web site of RFS – the antigovernment Revolutionary Forces of Syria Media Office – website. I was also convinced by the fact that on visiting that site several hours later the video had been removed, suggesting that it had been uploaded by mistake

I think I was right to conclude this was an enacted video that had been uploaded by mistake and had been removed to remove the evidence once the internet uproar about it had spread. Trouble was, though, the video had by then been saved to other servers.

Further confirmation

Today the RFS Media Office issued a statement that confirming this was a genuine – enacted – video produced by the White Helmets (see RFS Statement of Clarification and the image below).

They attempt to explain it, and its enactment, away by saying it had been prepared more or less as a publicity video for entry on the International Mannequin Challenge!

OK, any person or group is welcome to join in the latest social media craze. But a respectable “first responders” group? Where would such a group find time for this playing around in the midst of a brutal war?

How many similar first responder groups have entered this competition? I am sure the genuine Syrian Civil Defence Force  didn’t – they were too busy dealing with real emergencies and saving people endangered by the war. (The Syrian Civil Defence Force is the legitimate “first responder” force in Syria and is recognised by  the International Civil Defence Association. The White Helmets, who have usurped this name, are not).

At the very least this fiasco indicates the White Helmets has more to do with propaganda and publicity – with producing high-quality videos – than saving people. It helps explain why none of their videos show credible paramedic equipment or genuine recovery procedures – usually only kids who are miraculously saved injury-free (except for being covered in dust) from bombed buildings. Sometimes these children seem to be recovered multiple times as they occur in different videos, carried by different White Helmets men, being recovered from different buildings.

The other thing that rings alarm bells is that their Mannequin Challenge video (they have titled it “On the Edge of Death”) looks exactly the same (except for the stationary introduction) as all their other videos. Well lit, well produced, frantic rescuers – but no credible recovery or treatment equipment in sight. And I can’t help asking – what genuine first responders group only goes into action attended by a professional camera crew and lighting? Surely they are too busy doing their job – saving people.

The White Helmets and their “rebel”/”terrorist” friends in the Revolutionary Forces of Syria Media Office have obviously screwed up big time. Uploading this video only reinforced all the suspicions that this group is a propaganda arm for the “rebels”/”terrorists” and not  a genuine recovery group. It was too late to deny what had happened so they try to make the best of it in their statement (see below) and blame their fiasco on the Syrian Government:

“the regime used the video to distort facts and twist perceptions. As usual, the Syrian regime’s media workers took the video, abstracted of its background, and started spinning false stories about it to serve their own purposes and the purposes of Assad regime, that has been killing Syrians for nearly six years, accusing RFS media office of creating fabricated videos of rescue operations by civil defense teams.”

Wider concerns

It is one thing for groups to be involved in publicity and propaganda for participants in a brutal war and to pretend to be something they aren’t. But it is another thing, and this is what really concerns me, when people in authority and power take such groups and their propaganda seriously.

For example, Al Jazeera relies heavily on the White Helmets as a source for their news coverage of Syria – particularly Aleppo. White Helmets videos or often used and members of the group quoted for information. Beyond that I think Al Jazeera’s other most common source for new sin Syria are simply “activists.’ To me, that means participants in the war – “rebels”/”terrorists.”

My second example is closer to home – the New Zealand government (see White Helmets dupes New Zealand government?) The New Zealand Ministry’s of Foreign Affairs and Internal Affairs are coughing up about $100,000 to provide training for White Helmet’s members. Not much money – but it gives respectability to a publicity and propaganda organisation while ignoring the real Syrian Civil Defense Forces.

Let’s hope this fiasco, which can longer be blamed as a “false flag” operation or misinformation promoted by the Syrian government and their allies, is another relatively large step towards the final discrediting of the White Helmets.
rfs-satement
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Manufacturing news, and opinion, about Syria

I originally posted this video from the RFS (Revolutionary Forces of Syria Media Office) Channel – but after realising that they were a “rebel”/”terrorist” group and had probably posted it by mistake I instead used a version saved by Moon of Alabama. Sure enough, when I checked a few hours later RFS had removed the video. (* See Footnote below).

For a while now I have felt our mainstream media has presented a very biased picture of the war in Syria.

I have been particularly concerned about the way the  media relies on “activists” from areas held by “rebels”/”terrorists” – surely that is just an admission that the media is using propaganda provided by these very “rebels”/”terrorists” who are fighting this war.

Then there are non-governmental groups often cited as sources – as if the fact they are NGOs is somehow an indication they are reliable. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the Aleppo Medical Centre,   the Aleppo Media Centre and the White Helmets are some examples.

A phoney White Helmets rescue?

All these NGOs are suspect – and especially the White Helmets which produced the above video. I have written about this group in White Helmets dupes New Zealand government?, Anti-Syrian propaganda and the White HelmetsVoluntary media censorship is ethically wrong and Dissecting pseudoscientific and political propaganda.

In the video above they appear to be doing what is called a Mannequin Challenge where people remain frozen in action like mannequins while a video is recorded. It’s the sort of thing one could do while recording a fictional enactment – but certainly not while recording an emergency rescue situation.

In the past, I have found the White Helmet rescues presented on our mainstream media very unconvincing. Almost always a child was being rescued, often from very deep in a pile of rubble, and the White Helmet rescuer would run with the child toward or way from the camera. The videos played on our sympathy for children – but the lack of real injuries (a little bit of blood – or tomato sauce – and dust) were not consistent with a real situation. The lack of proper rescue equipment and provision of aid to the “victims” was also suspicious.

So what we have here is apparently an enactment. The two White Helmets rescuers and the “victim” were set in place and remained still and silent while the mannequin challenge was filmed. Then “action!” The victim screams, the White Helmets leap up and what appears to be recorded background noise starts.

The White Helmets propaganda videos have been very effective. Full of action, playing on natural sympathy for children. But the organisation operates only in the “rebel”/”terrorist” areas. And our media very rarely shows any coverage of the children and other civilians killed, injured or rescued in the government areas. There are plenty of these incidents and they are being filmed. (The little girl below is a survivor of terrorist shelling of two primary schools in west Aleppo where at least 8 children were killed). It’s just that our media very rarely shows them.

Footnote

This photo from the filming session for the White Helmets video above has also appeared online. Furtherer evidence the video is fake?
wh

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Warriors, scouts, Trump’s election and your news media

The media, establishment figures, and seemingly many of Clinton’s supporters,  were surprised at Trump’s victory in the US presidential elections because they think like warriors instead of scouts.

Julia Galef described these different thinking processes in the video above – which I posted 6 months ago (see Are you really right?). Last week’s US presidential election result, the public uproar it resulted in – and my own feelings that the media coverage of the election had been biased for months – make this video even more applicable today.

Julia describes the two different mindsets required in fighting a war:

The  “Warrior mindset” – emotively based and fixated on success. Not interested in stopping to think about the real facts or rationally analyse the situation.

The “Scout mindset” – objective and rational, ready to consider the facts (in fact, searching them out) and logically consider possibilities.

Obviously both mindsets have their place in a war – one could not win if there were not highly motivated and emotionally determined warriors. Nor could one win if there were no scouts who could collect the facts, rationally analyse them and determine the best strategy or tactics.

The pollster’s “warrior mindset”

I think Clinton’s loss, and the subsequent surprise and uproar from her supporters comes from the dominance of a “Warrior mindset” in her campaign. Motivated reasoning, belief of one’s own propaganda – and belief that voters accepted that propaganda – especially the demonisation of the opponent. There seems to have been little place for the “Scout mindset.” Polling seemed driven by wishful thinking and not identification of weak areas where effort could be applied.

In contrast, Trump’s campaign polling seemed to have had more of the “Scout mindset.” Areas requiring attention were identified and resources applied to them. Looking back, I think Trump’s confident assertions about his victory were based on that good polling. And the laughter and disbelieving response from the Clinton camp (and media) was based only on wishful thinking – not good polling.

OK, that partisanship and wishful thinking, and the election result itself, are of little concern to me at this distance. I had no dog in that race. But the partisanship and “Warrior mindset” of the main stream media does concern me.

The media’s “warrior mindset.”

The US media, and the media of many other countries, seemed to have accepted the unfounded confidence and wishful thinking of the Clinton camp. It seemed to indulge in the demonisation and misrepresentation of Donald Trump – willing to laugh at anything he said that was at all buffoonish (while ignoring the often equally extreme comments from Clinton). The media, like the Clinton camp, was out of touch with the thinking of the person in the street and the problems they faced.

Hence the media surprise – and even some critical self-analysis (although how long will the lesson they claim to have learned last?).

But I see the same partisanship, motivated reasoning and outright ignoring or distortion of facts by the media in its treatment of many other world events. Just take the reporting of the war in Syria. So often our media relies on “rebel”/”terrorist” sources for their “facts.” Media sympathy with those “rebels”/”terrorists,” and media hostility to the legitimate Syrian government and its allies is all I have come to expect from most of the main stream media.

I am sometimes attacked for choosing to use a range of media sources for my information. For not restricting myself to the “approved” or “legitimate” media. But surely those critics should learn from their surprise at the US election result.

Today there is no such thing as an objective – let alone an “approved,” or “legitimate” – media. Just media that confirms one’s biases if you let it.

The sensible person must  use a range of news sources, recognising that each of them have their own biases and agendas, and do a bit of thinking for themselves.

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US elections – who should you be angry with?

us-election-data

I know – it is easy to blame others for an accident or a tragedy than it is to accept responsibility oneself. But  am amazed at the blame going around at the moment over the US presidential election result.

Trump’s election is being blamed on racist Americans, red-necks, the uneducated “deplorables,” Republican voters, third party voters, etc. People are out in the streets demonstrating, venting their anger on social media and generally working off their anger at a result that should not have been so surprising.

Not all, of course. Some people are looking at the results more critically – refusing to make such outrageous claims about their fellow citizens. I just wish more would do so.

In fact, the voting figures just do not support the outrageous claims being made. It is a bit simplistic to take just the bare party votes – but even these should give food for thought.

Fewer voters supported Trump than supported the Republican nominee in 2012 – almost 700,000 less. But the telling figures is that far fewer voters supported Clinton than supported the democratic nominee in 2012 – about 5 million less!

The difference with 2008 is even more striking – 8.7 million less.

The fact is that Democratic voters turned away from the democratic nominee in their droves. They did not go to Trump – they just didn’t vote.

It seems that both Clinton and Trump turned at least some of the voters off in this election. But the vote went to Trump because many more potentially Democratic voters just couldn’t bring themselves to vote for her.

Those anti-Trump demonstraters out on the streets at the moment are attacking the wrong target. They should get stuck into Clinton for being a lousy or unsuitable candidate. And the Democratic establishment for manipulating the system to allow her to become their candidate.

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Trump’s victory – why the surprise, why the anger?

This morning my social media threads seem full of emotional outbursts, even hatred, and the ripping of garments. All over the results of the US presidential elections.

But I have to ask – why this emotion? Why the surprise? And why blame the voters.

Why the surprise? Surely a Trump victory was on the cards – even a strong possibility? At least that is how it appeared to me. But then again I did not have a dog in this race. I wasn’t going to vote. I didn’t support either of the main candidates – and weren’t we all saying it was a matter of choosing between two evils? Then why get so partisan, so emotional?

Perhaps it is because of that irrational indulgence – wishful thinking. By the media – to me the election coverage of the main stream media was partisan and biased. And certainly many people in my social media streams were partisan – refusing to face up to the way the US establishment manipulated the election process (successfully in the case of the Democrats) and willfully allowing themselves to be diverted and manipulated by cynical neo-McCarthyism.

But why blame the voters – especially if it was a choice between two evils? Why not blame the system that delivered such a limited choice to voters?

I could go on – but Thomas Frank’s article in the Guardian today certainly says it more eloquently than I can – Donald Trump is moving to the White House, and liberals put him there.

Is Trump all bad?

Frank starts by ripping into Trump and his campaign. Many will agree with his criticisms – although the fact Trump succeeded suggests the possibility he may have known something his critics didn’t, or understood the mood of the electorate better than his critics did.

Frank considers the election result “is a disaster, both for liberalism and for the world.” Again, Frank may be exaggerating. I think he is a buffoon but if Trump’s policies of real international cooperation in the fight against terrorism and getting along with other countries become realities I consider that a positive.

But instead of expanding on what is wrong with Trump, Frank asks the questions others have been afraid to ask.

Why Clinton?

The electorate was in a mood to punish the establishment – so why put up an establishment candidate? Frank puts it this way:

“What we need to focus on now is the obvious question: what the hell went wrong? What species of cluelessness guided our Democratic leaders as they went about losing what they told us was the most important election of our lifetimes?

“Start at the top. Why, oh why, did it have to be Hillary Clinton? Yes, she has an impressive resume; yes, she worked hard on the campaign trail. But she was exactly the wrong candidate for this angry, populist moment. An insider when the country was screaming for an outsider. A technocrat who offered fine-tuning when the country wanted to take a sledgehammer to the machine.

“She was the Democratic candidate because it was her turn and because a Clinton victory would have moved every Democrat in Washington up a notch. Whether or not she would win was always a secondary matter, something that was taken for granted. Had winning been the party’s number one concern, several more suitable candidates were ready to go. There was Joe Biden, with his powerful plainspoken style, and there was Bernie Sanders, an inspiring and largely scandal-free figure. Each of them would probably have beaten Trump, but neither of them would really have served the interests of the party insiders.

“And so Democratic leaders made Hillary their candidate even though they knew about her closeness to the banks, her fondness for war, and her unique vulnerability on the trade issue – each of which Trump exploited to the fullest. They chose Hillary even though they knew about her private email server. They chose her even though some of those who studied the Clinton Foundation suspected it was a sketchy proposition.

“To try to put over such a nominee while screaming that the Republican is a rightwing monster is to court disbelief. If Trump is a fascist, as liberals often said, Democrats should have put in their strongest player to stop him, not a party hack they’d chosen because it was her turn. Choosing her indicated either that Democrats didn’t mean what they said about Trump’s riskiness, that their opportunism took precedence over the country’s well-being, or maybe both.”

A biased and manipulating media

Frank also blames the media – and in my view rightly so. Even with my limited appreciation of politics the media bias and manipulation stood out like a sore thumb:

“Clinton’s supporters among the media didn’t help much, either. It always struck me as strange that such an unpopular candidate enjoyed such robust and unanimous endorsements from the editorial and opinion pages of the nation’s papers, but it was the quality of the media’s enthusiasm that really harmed her. With the same arguments repeated over and over, two or three times a day, with nuance and contrary views all deleted, the act of opening the newspaper started to feel like tuning in to a Cold War propaganda station.”

After listing some of the medias biased pro-Clinton propaganda Frank says:

“How did the journalists’ crusade fail? The fourth estate came together in an unprecedented professional consensus. They chose insulting the other side over trying to understand what motivated them. They transformed opinion writing into a vehicle for high moral boasting. What could possibly have gone wrong with such an approach?”

I think this post-election media comment is very relevant – The media didn’t want to believe Donald Trump could win… So they looked the other way.

Where my social media friends went wrong

What has amazed me, and taught me a lesson (I guess), is how irrational some of my Facebook friends were about this election. And these were people I had friended because on many issues (particularly scientific ones) I considered them rational and unbiased. In the end we are not a rational species and wishful thinking, confirmation bias and avoidance of self-criticism are only human traits. But Frank describes this self-delusion as “the single great mystery of 2016:”

“The American white-collar class just spent the year rallying around a super-competent professional (who really wasn’t all that competent) and either insulting or silencing everyone who didn’t accept their assessment.”

That insulting and silencing were very real. I experienced the shouting down when I criticised Clinton’s dishonest use of neo-McCarthyist tactics to divert attention aways from her faults. Critics, and even the ordinary people, were insulted and, yes, silenced by this intimidation. Frank points out – “And then they lost.” We are now forced to face up to facts – the emperor really has no clothes.

But I  hope at least some of those social media friends who were caught up in the wishful thinking and group thinking – the partisanship of the US elections – can take on board this bit of advice from Frank:

Maybe it’s time to consider whether there’s something about shrill self-righteousness, shouted from a position of high social status, that turns people away.”

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Anti-fluoride claims often not relevant to New Zealand

xiang-Endemic fluorosis

Much of the anti-fluoridation propaganda used by activists relies on studies done in areas of endemic fluorosis. Slide from a presentation by Q. Xiang to an anti-fluoride meeting organised by Paul Connett’s Fluoride Action Network in 2014.

As we head towards the parliamentary consideration of new legislation on fluoridation in New Zealand the anti-fluoride groups are building a campaign to oppose the transfer of responsibilities from local councils to District Health Boards. So, their Facebook pages are promoting myths that fluoridation is dangerous to health – and we expect this to intensify as parliament moves into its Health Committee hearings on the bill.

Also expect that the local anti-fluoridation groups, and their backers, will bring out tame “experts” to make presentations to the parliamentary Health Committee and to public meetings.

Has Connett lost his effectiveness in New Zealand campaigns?

Maybe (once again) Paul Connett or Bill Hirzy who are paid propagandists from the US Fluoride Action Network. An activist group financed by the US “natural”/alternative health industry. But perhaps these two are “old hat.” Connett has been making regular visits to Australia and New Zealand during the Southern Hemisphere summers for some time now and the locals have got a bit tired of him. Bill Hirzy accompanied him on last years summer vacation and really didn’t contribute much to the campaign. Thames overwhelmingly supported fluoridation in their referendum last year (see Thames voters decisively support fluoridation) – despite the highly publicised opposition by Connett and Hirzy).

A possible new anti-fluoridation “expert?”

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Poster for an anti-fluoride meeting in Region of Peel, Canada. Image credit: Reiki with Christine

Perhaps local activists recognise this because they are floating ideas of bringing out a new “expert” – Dr A. K. Susheela. She might also have more credibility than either Hirzy or Connett – because, unlike them, she has actually published scientific papers on fluoride. In fact, she is the executive director of India’s Fluorosis Research and Rural Development Foundation – a small non-government organisation based in Delhi. The purpose of the foundation is to encourage awareness of fluorosis in both medical and local Indian communities to curb the spread of this crippling skeletal disease in India.

Susheela has also been doing  the circuit of anti-fluoride campaign meetings in North America (see, for example, ‘Fluoride is a deadly poison’ Peel’s water fluoridation committee has heard). As the poster above indicates, she is being promoted as an expert on fluoride toxicity and fluorosis.  But please note – this does not make her an expert on community water fluoridation.  All her work has concentrated on areas of endemic fluorosis – where dietary intake of fluoride is much higher than in fluoridated areas of New Zealand.

In a 1999 article for UNICEF (Susheela, A. K., Mudgal, A. (1999). Fluoride in water : An overview. UNICEF WATERfront, (13), 11–13.) she admitted:

“According to 1984 guidelines published by the World Health Organization (WHO), fluoride is an effective agent for preventing dental caries if taken in ‘optimal’ amounts.”

She went on to described the WHO recommendations for fluoride in drinking water:

“Water is a major source of fluoride intake. The 1984 WHO guidelines suggested that in areas with a warm climate, the optimal fluoride concentration in drinking water should remain below 1 mg/litre (1ppm or part per million), while in cooler climates it could go up to 1.2 mg/litre. The differentiation derives from the fact that we perspire more in hot weather and consequently drink more water. The guideline value (permissible upper limit) for fluoride in drinking water was set at 1.5 mg/litre, considered a threshold where the benefit of resistance to tooth decay did not yet shade into a significant risk of dental fluorosis.”

For comparison, the target fluoride concentration for community fluoridation in New Zealand is about 0.7 – 1.0 mg/litre. The natural levels of fluoride in New Zealand’s drinking water are even lower. There is no significant risk of skeletal or dental fluorosis of concern due to CWF, or natural levels of fluoride,  in New Zealand.

Dr Susheela has no expertise in the area of community water fluoridation – or areas of the world where drinking water fluoride levels are similarly very low. Perhaps this is why she made the mistake of including Australia and New Zealand among countries where fluorosis is endemic in the above article which included the map below.

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Dr Susheela is mistaken about fluoride in New Zealand and Australia. Map from her article 

Fluoride Freee NZ disingenuously used this mistake to claim that New Zealand suffered from endemic fluorosis – and cited UNICEF in support.  I would hope that Dr Susheeela, if she does come to New Zealand to campaign against the upcoming fluoridation bill, publicly admits and apologises for this  mistake.

Conclusion

We are used to anti-fluoride campaigners misrepresenting the scientific research on the efficacy and possible health effects of community water fluoridation. But we should also be wary of their claims derived from research in areas of endemic fluorosis where dietary intake of fluoride is much higher than in New Zealand. This includes studies on possible IQ effects and skeletal fluorosis.

The research may be respectable – but the findings are just not relevant to countries like New Zealand where the drinking water fluoride concentrations (in fluoridated and unfluoridated areas) is much lower.

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White Helmets dupes New Zealand government?

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The real Syrian Civil Defence – and not a White Helmet in sight. (Photo: Vanessa Beeley August 15, 2016)

Apparently, the White Helmets have duped the New Zealand Ministry’s of Foreign Affairs and Internal Affairs into coughing up about $100,000 – and tarnishing the country’s reputation in the process.

Foreign Affairs Minister, Murray McCully, and Internal Affairs Minister, Peter Dunne, announced the funding last Wednesday (see NZ training support for White Helmets in Syria). It is to be used to provide four-month training support by the NZ Fire Service to the White Helmets.

On the surface, this looks like a poorly considered knee-jerk response to a White Helmets request for funds. But the Ministers cannot have properly vetted the White Helmet organisation or its claims. Peter Dunne naively describes it as a “volunteer organisation which is doing remarkable work in badly damaged cities like Aleppo.” The ministers also seemed to have uncritically accepted claims made by the White Helmets that they have helped thousands of Syrians. They ignored completely information showing this is a partisan organisation, operating only in areas held by “terrorists”/”rebels,” often seen to be involved in “terrorist”/”rebel” celebrations (sometimes carrying Al Nusra flags) and with members who carry arms and have been identified as also belonging to militant armed groups.

[Note: Al Nusra is the Syrian franchise for Al Qaeda and is classified as a terrorist organisation by the UN. I am using the term “rebel”/”terrorist” to avoid the problems of differentiating between so-called “moderate rebels” and terrorists – hell, even the USA has been able to differentiate them. Currently, groups that have been called “moderate rebels” are fighting in the Army of Conquest – a coalition led by Al Nusra.]

The Ministers seem to have been taken in by the slick propaganda claims of this organisation. They have ignored the fact that White Helmet propaganda is always directed against the legitimate government of Syria and its allies, and it often used by mainstream media to give a distorted picture of this conflict.

Who are the White Helmets?

Well, first, they are not the legitimate Syrian Civil Defence organisation – as Mr Dunne seems to believe in his claim this funding is not a sign New Zealand was taking a side in the conflict. He said.

“We don’t have a view about whether they are politically aligned or not – they are the Syrian Civil Defence Association.”

Is he not aware that the White Helmets have simply dishonestly usurped that name?

The White helmets are not affiliated to, or recognised by, the International Civil Defence Association (ICDA),  nor is it connected to the Syrian Civil Defence Forces (the legitimate Syrian Civil Defence organisation) which have been a member of the ICDA since 1972.

As independent report Vanessa Beeley points out in her article The REAL Syria Civil Defence Exposes Fake ‘White Helmets’ as Terrorist-Linked Imposters:”

For the REAL Syria Civil Defence you call 113 inside Syria.  There is no public number for the White Helmets.  Why not? Why does this multi-million dollar US & NATO state-funded first responder ‘NGO,’ with state of the art equipment supplied by the US and the EU via Turkey, have no central number for civilians to call when the “bombs fall”?”

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West Aleppo REAL Syria Civil Defence unit (Photo: Vanessa Beeley August 15, 2016)

It’s worth reading Vanessa Beely’s reports and watching her interviews. She has visited Syria and talked with people from the real Syrian Civil Defence. And she explains why the White Helmets are usurpers and not a legitimate Syrian first responder organisation.

I have written about the White Helmets before – see Anti-Syrian propaganda and the White Helmets and provided a general overview. This video also provides an overview:

In summary, the White Helmets is not a Syrian organisation, it is an overseas NGO funded by governments like the UK and the USA. It operates only in areas held by the “rebels”/”terrorists”  and issues anti-government propaganda – often calling for the US to attack Syrian government forces. Uniformed White Helmets members have been seen in “rebel”/”terrorist” demonstrations, holding Al Nusra flags and participating in Jihadist chants. They run a slick propaganda department – rescues seem only to involve young children and camera teams are always there to record the “rescues.” Professional rescue people have commented that they seem to never use real rescue equipment such as spine splints. Some commentators have even suggested that some of the White Helmet propaganda videos are staged. Rescues are certainly managed with an eye to the camera.

What vetting did the NZ government carry out?

OK, its only about $100,000 dollars – small bickies. But in terms of New Zealand’s reputation and providing support for anti-government forces this is a huge problem. We will now be publicly aligned with the “rebel”/”terrorist’ side in the Syrian conflict. And this despite giving support to UN Security Council resolutions on Syria which always start with the clause:

“Reaffirming its strong commitment to the sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity of the Syrian Arab Republic, . . . “

Yet the White Helmets in their propaganda, calls for attacks on Syrian government forces and restriction of its work to “rebel”/”terrorist’ areas is obviously working against “the sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity of the Syrian Arab Republic.”

Has the NZ government decided to align itself more publicly with the “rebel”/”terrorist” forces in Syria, or at least align itself more publicly against “the sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity of the Syrian Arab Republic?”

Or is it just a matter of the government being duped by a slick propaganda campaign and possibly pressure from governments which are financing this anti-Syria organisation?

I sincerely hope that it is the later. But then that raises questions about the vetting procedure use by these ministries. Surely government ministries should carry out some sort of investigation before committing money and national reputation in such a controversial area.

What exactly was done to check out the White Helmets before this decision was made?

Perhaps it’s time for an Official information request?

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