Tag Archives: USA

Julian Assange’s mother appeals for her son’s freedom

Despite many appeals for the freedom of incarcerated journalists throughout the world, our media remains largely silent about Julian Assange who has effectively been imprisoned in the London  Embassy of Ecuador for over 6 years and faces the possibility of draconian legal action if he is ever extradited to the US.

His current plight is extreme and this appears to have resulted from US pressure on Ecuador to break down Assange’s mental and physical health to the state where he will surrender to extradition.

I just wish our media could be more open-minded and direct some of their concern Assange’s way. And I wish all this rubbish about Latin America’s Troika of Terror and Axis of Evil would stop. Or perhaps our media should be more honest, recognise the evil done to those countries by the USA and apply some of this derogatory terminology to the USA itself.

After all, with the recent resounding UN General Assembly condemnation of the long-standing US sanctions against Cuba perhaps there is more justification to reverse this labeling and define the US (and it only allies in the UN vote – Ukraine and Israel) as “Rogue States.”

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Nuclear dangers if INF treaty abandoned could be worse than in the 1980s

Gorbachev and Reagan sign the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) in 1987. Source: Wikipedia.

The 1980s were an eventful time in New Zealand. Older readers may remember the Springbok tour, the behaviour of Mr Muldoon, the National Party Prime minister in the early 80s, the snap election (over a proposed nuclear-free bill), the election of Labour in 1984, the French terrorist bombing of a ship in Auckland harbour, the local terrorist bombing of the Wellington trade union centre and murder of its caretaker Ernie Abbott, and New Zealand’s proud international stance opposing nuclear weapons.

An exciting time, but a very worrying time. Even in New Zealand, we were concerned about the nuclear arms race, and particularly the buildup of intermediate-range nuclear missiles in Europe. These were extremely dangerous as they significantly shortened any warning time of a nuclear attack to mere minutes and produced a trigger-happy situation. “Use them or lose them” became a real military strategy – and this raised the potential of a worldwide nuclear conflagration.

So the signing of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF Treaty) in 1987 was very welcome. This treaty banned the deployment of such destabilising weapons in Europe and European politicians have rightly described it as a foundation of European security ever since.

Now the US is threatening to pull out of this treaty. It clearly wants to develop and deploy these class of weapons again. The Russian Federation has replied with a pledge to respond with their own weapons development. Europeans are concerned, but seemingly not US politicians.

Perhaps because the immediate threat from this class of weapons is local (even though their use would most probably trigger a worldwide nuclear conflict). The US is not immediately threatened by such missiles close to their borders like European countries are.

But isn’t this very short-sighted? After all, abandonment of this treaty could encourage the Russian Federation to set up bases for these weapons closer to the US and to buildup deployment of nuclear-armed submarines close to the US coast. This would be the only way for Russians to achieve real parity with the USA with these weapons.

Remember the Cuban missile crisis? The US responded with appropriate fear to the threat of a Soviet missile base in Cub in 1992. They were so concerned that the world watched in horror during October 1962 as their response threatened world war. One would think with that history they should understand how Europeans, including Russians, view the current US stance.

But the current situation is more dangerous

The INF treaty has prevented any reoccurrence of situations like the Cuban missile crisis. But, I think the abandonment of the INF treaty could lead to a situation more dangerous than we saw in the 1980s. For two reasons:

1: These missiles will be stationed even closer to dangerous international borders. Previously the Soviet Union had the buffer territory of the Warsaw Pact countries, eastern Europe. Now the Russian Federation has no buffer. (As a telling Twitter comment said: “It’s really a bit much for Russia to set up a country for themselves on NATO’s very doorstep!”). These missiles could be based right on their border. And correspondingly, Russian missiles could be based on the borders of neighbouring NATO countries.

Reaction times will be even shorter than in the 1980s and nuclear strategy would become even more trigger happy.

2: The international climate is more tense than in the 1980s, and specifically the USA-Russian Federation relationship more problematic.

In the 1980s there were clear ideological and political differences but the situation was recognised by both sides and there seemed to be respect for each other. A recognition that the other side had their own legitimate interests which should be taken into account.  Negotiations were possible – and indeed fruitful when it came to controlling nuclear arms.

Today there seems to be no respect. Negotiations seem impossible. Indeed, the US president gets accused of treachery if he so much as talks with the Russian president. Despite the lack of obvious ideological and political divisions, the anti-Russian hysteria in the US is much greater than the anti-Soviet fears during the 1980s.

That in itself creates an extra danger. It inhibits the necessary contacts and negotiations at a time when such contact and negotiation have become extremely important.

Negotiations and contact the key

Of course, the very success and importance of the INF treaty do not mean it has no problems or that it should not be reviewed or renegotiated. After all, it is over 30 years old. Other countries now have such nuclear weapons and are deploying them. Israel, India, Pakistan and China for example.

Pakistani Intermediate-range ballistic missile. Image sourceMissile deterrence: Pakistan tests nuclear-capable ballistic missile.

The US itself may have intentions of deploying these sort of weapons in Asia (not covered by the INF treaty) as well as along the Russian border in Europe. Deployments in Asia and the Middle East bring a new set of problems and this is an argument for renegotiation of the existing treaty or new negotiations on new treaties involving Asia and Middle Eastern countries.

Difficult I know, but a hell of a lot safer than another intermediate-range nuclear arms race and deployment.

The US claims that the Russian Federation has violated the INF treaty with the development of new weapons. The Russian Federation has made similar claims about the US. While President Trump appeared to use this claim to justify their abandonment of the treaty this is disingenuous.

Like all such treaties, the INF contains provisions for inspection and investigation of complaints. Charges of treaty violations are simply political garbage if not accompanied by formally invoking the complaint and investigation procedures. In fact, I think when complaints like this are made and the formal procedures not followed we can be sure the claims are false.

However, the answer to all these problems is surely maintaining contact, using the existing treaty negotiation processes and embarking on any new negotiations where required. All this is infinitely preferable to the alternative of launching the world into a new dangerous and very destabilizing nuclear arms race.

Is Trump the problem?

Well, the guy is a buffoon, even if a legitimately elected buffoon, and makes unexpected and stupid decisions. But I think in this case he is simply following the record and policies of ultra-conservatives in the US and UK who really seem to be pulling his strings on such matters.

The USA has a record of withdrawing from important treaties predating Trump. The USA pulled out of the anti-ballistic missile treaty in 1992. There have been ongoing problems with US cooperation in the Open Skies Inspection Treaty which helps monitor adherence to treaties like the INF.

Trump is guilty of a lot of things – but I believe it wrong to blame him for the current US political hysteria which inhibits contact between the US and the Russian Federation and the negotiation or renegotiation of important agreements.

US anti-Russian hysteria is dangerous – for the world as well as the USA

It is easy to pass off the anti-Russian hysteria in the US as simply an US foible. Nothing for us to worry about it. Just a way fo a defeated presidential candidate to explain her failures.

The anti-Russia hysteria is out of control and dangerous. Image Source: AMID ‘RUSSIAGATE’ HYSTERIA, WHAT ARE THE FACTS?

But the hysteria is real. No matter there is no evidence to support the charges made against Russia this hysteria has developed its own legs. It has penetrated into the organs of state and severely limits the ability of top state officials to carry out their responsibilities at the international level. Specifically to carry out their responsibilities in their relations with the Russian Federation.

And that affects us all. Yes, there has been a political overflow so that this anti-Russian hysteria has even infected many of our politicians and media people in New Zealand. Relatively easily as it has built on a long-standing anti-communist and anti-soviet base. (In fact, I sometimes find current critics of the Russian Federation referring to that country as the Soviet Union, or describing it as a communist country).

More concerning for me is that this hysteria is making the world a more dangerous place. It inhibits the ability of major powers to cooperate in solving outstanding international problems like the war in Syria. And such US-Russian cooperation is vital to solving these problems.

The hysteria is also making the collapse of treaties like the INF treaty much more likely. It is making it harder to renegotiate these treaties or to negotiate new ones. That is destabilising.

It seems to me that the production and deployment of new intermediate nuclear missiles are very dangerous because it is destabilising. it will lead to a new “use them or lose them” military strategy and encourage trigger happiness. I can only hope that wiser heads will manage the situation until the US political hysteria disappears and sanity can be returned to international relations.

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Blatant misreporting of latest OPCW report on chemical weapons in Syria

BBC caught out promoting fake news about OPCW report

The Organisation for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) reports no evidence of banned chemical weapons use by the Syrian government in Douma last April. This conflicts with the strong claims of NATO states and most of the mainstream media at the time. It also shows that the illegal missile attacks by France, UK and USA (FUKUS) on Syria at the time (see The “heart of the Syrian chemical weapons programme” destroyed?) were completely unjustified.

While the NATO governments involved have yet to respond to the OPCW report (let alone make apologies for their actions) many mainstream media outlets seem determined to continue promoting fake news when it comes to Syria. Some major news outlets have completely misrepresented the OPCW findings.

OPCW has problems but got this one right

I have commented on some earlier OPCW reports on Syria and have found them unconvincing, biased or relying only on terrorist sources (see Another shonky OPCW chemical incident report on Syria and Chemical weapons use in Syria UN report flawed by political bias).

However, this one is a bit different. It is an interim report on the alleged chemical weapons attack in Douma, Syria, last April. This incident got a lot of publicity with France, UK and USA declaring they had evidence which proved there had been an attack using sarin. This alliance (FUKUS) was sufficiently confident with their “intelligence” to order an illegal missile attack on several sites in Syria. (see The “heart of the Syrian chemical weapons programme” destroyed?)

This interim report is also different because the area of alleged attack was soon liberated by Syria and Syria, together with Russian Military Police and the UN Office for Project Services, was able to stabilise the area and enable inspectors from the OPCW to take samples and interview people in the buildings which had allegedly been attacked. A big difference to earlier reports which had relied only on “open sources,” and the testimony and samples provided by the White Helmets – a group affiliated with the jihadists and which actively campaigns against the Syrian states and has a history of false reporting.

While this is only an interim report some conclusions are clear (paragraph 2.5 in Summary):

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

Media coverage

I have yet to see any response from NATO governments, particularly those comprising the FUKUS attack group. A sharp contrast to their vociferous accusations at the time of the alleged incident.

However, it appears that much of the mainstream media, and some of the sources it relies on, will draw unwarranted conclusions from this interim report to support their narrative.  For example, Al Jazeera claims Interim OPCW report finds proof of chlorine used in Syria’s Douma.

That is an outright lie. It did not give any such proof or even make that claim.

There is also this from the BBC:

Again an outright lie – the report found nothing of the sort.

Reuters are going with Chemical weapons agency finds ‘chlorinated’ chemicals in Syria’s Douma. Mind you this headline is a “correction” – “(Corrects to “various chlorinated organic chemicals” instead of chlorine).” Technically correct but misleading.

Sky news is claiming Chemical attack confirmed in deadly Douma strikes, but OPCW finds no evidence of sarin. Again wrong. No evidence of sarin but also no evidence presented of any chemical attack at all.

ABC also misrepresented the OPCW report claiming Chlorine used in Syria’s Douma, no trace of nerve agent, Interim OPCW report finds.

The NZ Herald was more neutral in their report Watchdog reports on alleged Syria attack behind airstrikes.

On the other hand the Xinhua Chinese news agency correctly reported Various chlorinated organic chemicals found in samples from Douma attack sites: OPCW, and RT correctly reported Nerve agents not found in samples from Syria’s Douma – interim OPCW report saying (in its second sentence ““Various chlorinated organic chemicals were found in samples” from two locations in the Damascus suburb of Douma.”

And I get the impression most of the “alternative” media sources I see on social media are reporting the OPCW findings correctly. So what was that about “Fake News” and the strong recommendations we get to wear blinkers so that we do not see alternative news sources?

Bellingcat also misrepresents findings

Eliot Higgins, who runs the Bellingcat organisation which provides “open source” information often used by western governments and media, also misrepresents the OPCW report. His organisation is responsible for initiating the story that the MH17 flight was shot down in eastern Ukraine by a Russian BUK unit especially imported for the occasion (and exported immediately afterwards).  Bellingcat is also responsible for many of the claims of chemical weapons used by the Syrian government.

Higgins tweeted:

What is the basis for misleading reports of chlorine use

The OPCW report mentions chlorine only twice – in this paragraph describing the original open source and media reporting of the alleged incident (paragraph 3.1 in Background):

So, no evidence of chlorine use found by the OPCW team. Those making this claim will point, in justification, to the fact that “chlorinated organic chemicals” were found at a few of the examined sites (paragraph 2.5 in Summary):

“Various chlorinated organic chemicals were found in samples from Locations 2 and 4, along with residues of explosive.”

Many of the commenters I have seen on social media who resort to this to prove their claims of chlorine use seem not to understand the chemical differences involved or to argue that traces of any chlorinated organic chemicals must mean chlorine had been present.

Surprisingly, the OPCW did not draw any conclusions from the presence of these chemicals and are still attempting to establish their significance. I would have thought their job was to show if the trace levels found were at all unusual for environmental samples.

As a chemist I do not find the OPCW detection of traces of these chemicals at all surprising. For example, the report mentions the presence of “dichloroacetic acid, trichloroacetic acid” in samples of concrete debris, wood fragments, a water tank wood support, and some clothing.  But these chemicals are common in drinking water and even groundwater (see the Background document for development of WHO Guidelines for Drinking-water Quality, Dichloroacetic Acid in Drinking-water ). Some of the chemicals found are common chlorinated compounds in treated wood (e.g. bornyl chloride and 2,4,6-trichlorophenol as mentioned in a footnote to Annex 3 of the OPCW interim report).

So, in fact, the identified chlorinated organic chemicals are what one may expect from such samples or especially samples taken from areas where explosives have been used.

This OPCW report is still of dubious scientific quality

I find a lot wrong with this OPCW report – but first the positive.

It followed (mostly) the OPCW guidelines for on-site inspection and sampling. This is a sharp contrast with the earlier OPCW reports on Syria where investigators relied on samples and testimony from jihadi affiliated groups like the White Helmets and their associates. This was possible because Douma had just been liberated and the Syrian Government and Russian Armed Forces made an immediate request for the OPCW to send their own observers to check media claims. (Although, given their willingness to trust jihadi-linked groups based in a terrorist-controlled area it does seem strange that the OPCW was unwilling to send their investigators to those areas and rely on terrorist guarantees for security in past investigations. Although, I am being sarcastic. Even in the case of Douma the OPCW team, was concerned about attacks from suicide bombers which seem to operate freely in the terrorist-held areas).

But have they learned?

In paragraph 5.1 describing their activities and timeline the OPCW say:

“Following reports in the media of the alleged incident on 7 April 2018, the Information Cell of the Secretariat immediately informed the FFM team and initiated a search of open-source information to assess the credibility of the allegation. The major sources comprised news media, blogs, and the websites of various non-governmental organisations. The assessment by the Information Cell was that the credibility of the allegation was high. Based on this information, the Director-General initiated an on-site investigation.”

Will the OPCW learn from this specific incident. In  previous reports they stopped at “The assessment by the Information Cell was that the credibility of the allegation was high” – and they would have this time of the Syrian, Russian and UN military had not provided them the security they required for onsite inspections.

The OPCW assessment was that the credibility of the jihadi-connected groups was “high.” Their own inspections showed they were mistaken. Will they be more careful with such claims in the future?

This question is important as NATO countries at the UN Security Council earlier this year effectively prevented adoption of mandatory on site inspections for UN-related chemical weapons investigations. At the OPCW the NATO countries have also pushed through a policy enabling the OPCW to go beyond its investigatory role and carry out a political role of apportioning blame.

The science is shonky

I find it incredible that the report should simply list identification of traces of chlorinated organic chemicals without either providing some sort of indication of the concentrations involved or comparing levels with measurements from  control samples – taken from areas outside the alleged attack area. This is a basic scientific mistake.

Those who wish to claim that the presence of chlorinated organics “proves” chlorine was used in this area could well be right. But only if the concentrations of these chemicals was much higher than normal for environmental samples.

I really can’t help thinking that this shoddy reporting of the science is a political trick enabling the report to be misrepresented. The OPCW is, after all, an international body and subject to the same sort of political manoeuvring we have come to expect from all such international bodies.

Interviews in country X!

The report states (paragraph 8.17:

“The FFM team interviewed a total of 34 individuals; 13 of these interviews were
conducted in Damascus and the remainder in Country X. Analysis of the testimonies is ongoing.”

Two issues for me here:

1: 13 interviews in Damascus – where most witness could have been found and 21 interviews in “Country x?” What this means is that more people from the defeated jihadi groups and their families were interviewed than those remaining in Douma who may have been less motivated to lie.

2: Country X! really? This is meant to be an intelligent report – not a spy thriller. There is absolutely no reason to be so coy about the location of the people interviewed. This is just childish.

I should note that the defeated “rebels”/terrorists and their families were given the opportunity to be transported to Idlib (still in terrorist hands). This has been a common feature of settlement agreements as areas are liberated. Of course, many choose to stay – even those who had been actively fighting with the militants. There is usually a provision for fighters to formalise their citizenship and even join the Syrian Army.

Many of the “rebel” fighters and members of affiliated organisations travel from Idlib into neighbouring Turkey – and further on. Why is the OPCW afraid to reveal the location of their interviewees in Turkey or other countries? Are they concerned this might reflect on the reliability of their testimony?

The warehouse and chemical production facility.

The Syrian government also asked the OPCW to investigate a chemical production facility and warehouse they had found deign liberation of East Ghouta and Douma. They believe these had been sued by terrorists to manufacture chemical contain weapons. (Similar facilities had been found in East Aleppo where terorists appeared to be adding chemicals to projectiles used in their “hell cannons.”

Only one paragraph was devoted to this inspection – paragraph 8.16: Warehouse and facility suspected of producing chemical weapons:

“At the warehouse and the facility suspected by the authorities of the Syrian Arab Republic of producing chemical weapons in Douma, information was gathered to assess whether these facilities were associated with the production of chemical weapons or toxic chemicals that could be used as weapons. From the information gathered during the two on-site visits to these locations, there was no indication of either facility being involved in the production of chemical warfare agents or toxic chemicals for use as weapons.”

That is all – no details. No inventory of chemicals held at the sites. No sign of what the warehouse and production facility was actually used for.

Now, I can accost the Syrians may have been completely wrong in their suspicions about these sites – after all that assessment was made by military officers on the ground in the heat of battle, not chemical weapons experts. But I find the lack of information frustrating, even suspicious.

Were any cylinders of chlorine present at these sites. After all, if politically motivated commenters and media wish to misinterpret the presence of normal traces of chlorinated organic chemicals in collected samples why should they not also be forced to consider stocks of chlorine held in terrorist controlled areas -even if their declared use was innocent.

Conclusions

At last, and OPCW report on Syria actually based on factual evidence, the samples and interviews collected by the OPCW on site. A great advance over earlier reports based on “evidence” from terrorist-connected sources and social media or “open sources.”

But I wish the OPCW was more serious in reporting their scientific findings. Reporting traces of chlorinated organic chemicals without any indication of concentrations and comparison with normal environmental samples is shoddy work laying their information wide open for misrepresentation and distortion. Given the current geopolitical struggles and the way international organisations can be manipulated, I can’t help feeling this shoddy reporting was possibly intentional.

Despite these weaknesses, I think this report shows what is possible. It does show that the military action taken by FUKUS last April was not only illegal it was either based on poor intelligence and, more likely, based on claims these governments knew to be false. It is always good to see such blatant political and military hypocrisy exposed.

However, the weaknesses in the report show that more must be done to improve the scientific quality of OPCW work and reduce political influence on that work. This aspect is important because the recent changes giving OPCW a role in apportioning blame for alleged attacks open up that organisation to being so politicised it will lose all credibility.

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The “heart of the Syrian chemical weapons programme” destroyed?

There were no chemical weapons in Damascus. The French, UK and US (FUKUS) surely knew that. So, their missile attack in the weekend had nothing to chemical weapons.

We all know the first casualty of war is the truth. However, it seems that the time truth really gets a flogging is after a highly publicised military operation. All the levels of patriotism, nationalism and bravado are used. No faults can be admitted. And the “enemy” always suffers a horrible defeat.

Then, of course, dissident voices get suppressed or vilified. That is until everyone calms down and the truth starts to sink in.

It has happened before, (remember Iraq). It will happen again. And, although it may be too early to completely burst the bubble of self-declared victory, it happened again in the weekend with the missile attack on Syria by the French, UK and US (the FUKUS team).

The Barzah Scientific Research Centre, Damascus, before the weekend attack

But the truth is already coming out. The whole attack was based on a lie. The constant reference to proof from classified evidence is complete nonsense. We can see this clearly in the case of the main target – the Barzah Scientific Research Centre.

This centre was completely destroyed. Most of the missiles launched (76 out of about 105) targeted this centre. But why?

Pentagon Spokesperson U.S. Lieutenant General Kenneth McKenzie declared “We believe that by hitting Barzah, in particular, we’ve attacked the heart of the Syrian chemicals weapon program.”

A Syrian soldier films the damage at the site of the Barzah Scientific Research Center in Damascus on Saturday morning after it was annihilated by 76 missiles. Image source: Daily Mail: Pentagon celebrates airstrikes which ‘crippled’ Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal 

So there you have it. This is maybe the key “fact” that the FUKUS military action centred on. The claim that the  Barzah Scientific Research Centre was the “heart of the Syrian chemicals weapon program.” That’s where most of the destruction occurred, where most of the missiles were targeted. And US spokespersons claim they have successfully destroyed the Syrian chemical weapons programme.

What does the OPCW say about this centre?

While the FUKUS team has not supplied a single verifiable fact to support their action the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has supplied plenty of evidence to show the attack was based on a lie. And that evidence was surely known by the intelligence communities in France, UK and USA.

That OPCW evidence is in official reports from their investigators who regularly monitor possible chemical weapons sites in Syria (and other countries). The OPCW regularly monitor the  Barzah Scientific Research Centre. Here is an extract from one of the latest OPCW reports (23 March 2018) which refers specifically to the Barezeh Scientific Research Centre (see OPCW Document EC-88/DG.1 “PROGRESS IN THE ELIMINATION OF THE SYRIAN CHEMICAL WEAPONS PROGRAMME”).

France, the UK and the USA are, together with Syria, signatories to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). They have access to all these documents. In fact, they have members on the OPCW Executive Council who actively peruse these documents. The permanent representatives are Mr Philippe Lalliot for France, Mr Peter Wilson for the UK and Mr Kenneth D. Ward for the USA. FUKUS must have known that regular inspections did not show the presence of any chemical weapons or relevant chemicals at the Barezh Scientific Research Centre.

OK – they may well argue that these weapons had arrived since the last inspection (last November) or are hidden from the inspectors. If they honestly believed that then they should have used the “‘challenge inspection’ provisions” of the Convention:

“A unique feature of the CWC is its incorporation of the ‘challenge inspection’, whereby any State Party in doubt about another State Party’s compliance can request the Director-General to send an inspection team. Under the CWC’s ‘challenge inspection’ procedure, States Parties have committed themselves to the principle of ‘any time, anywhere’ inspections with no right of refusal.”

Comments from a worker at the centre

The morning after the attack, France 24 interviewed Said Said, an engineer who is head of the centre’s paint and plastics department (see At destroyed Syria lab, workers deny producing toxic weapons):

“The building had three storeys: a basement, ground floor, and second floor. It had labs and departments that were unfortunately completely destroyed, with all their equipment and furniture. Thank God, no one was here. As we work in civilian pharmaceutical and chemical research, we did not expect that we would be hit.”

According to Said Said only non-lethal research and development occurred at the centre. It had been producing antidotes to scorpion and snake venom while running tests on chemical products used in making food, medicine and children’s toys.

“If there were chemical weapons, we would not be able to stand here. I’ve been here since 5:30 am in full health — I’m not coughing.”

The OPCW had visited the site in Barzah in recent years and had declared it free of any toxic weapons.

“The OPCW used to stay in the two upper rooms, and use the labs, and we would cooperate with them completely. The OPCW has proven in two reports that this building and the centre as a whole are empty and do not produce any chemical weapons.”

Update

Here is a video of the interview referred to by France24:

To summarise

The FUKUS group clearly knew there were no chemical weapons at the Barzah Scientific Research Centre.  They had access to all the OPCW information on that centre. They claim to have relied on classified intelligence to make a different assessment. But that is clearly a lie – not only because “classified’ is the oldest trick in the book to hide the fact there is no evidence. But because any such evidence should have triggered a request by them for a “challenge inspection” – a request which could not have been refused by Syria.

Of course, we are still in the in the propaganda phase of this operation. Patriotism and jingoism are still driving the narrative of officials and politicians. The mainstream media suffers from this too and most real informaiton is coming from alternative media.

But these warmongers have an answer for that. According to Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White:

“The Russian disinformation campaign has already begun. There has been a 2,000% increase in Russian trolls in the last 24 hours therefore we will keep you all abreast of the facts moving forward.”

I expect to be labelled one of “Putin’s useful idiots” (again) or – and this is a new one – one of “Assad’s useful idiots,” any day now for daring to look at the real facts behind this missile attack.

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Whose who in the Russiagate affair – an infographic

The Epoch Times Managing Editor, Jasper Fakkert, takes viewers through the infographic prepared by his paper on the “Russiagate affair.” Unfortunately, I cannot embed the video but viewers can see it at this Facebook link

The Epoch Times recently published a very useful infographic for anyone interested in following the “Russian interference/collusion” story which US politicians are currently obsessed with. It is in the article Fusion GPS and the ‘Insurance Policy’ to Prevent Trump From Becoming President.

I have reproduced it below – but click on it to enlarge so you can read the individual entries. I actually printed off an enlarged form to keep as a reference.

Click on image to enlarge

While the infographic provides a good overview and some useful references worth following up there is also a Politico article which you will find useful if you want more detail.  The 270 people connected to the Russia probes provides brief detail and useful links.

The numbers are somewhat inflated – lawyers and contacts help build up the total number. The links are mostly to media articles (which are of course either extremely biased or the gospel truth depending on what biases you wish to confirm).  But some of the links are to documents, in particular, testimonies, which are of far more value.

Natalia Veselnitskaya – met with Trump Jr on June 9, 2016. Image Credit: CNN Poltics.

One testimony that is worth reading is that given by the Russian Lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya to the Senate Judiciary Committee. She was the lawyer described by the media as having a central role in the infamous Trump Towers meeting with Donald Trump Jr on June 9, 2016.

Despite its length and her preoccupation with the legal case she was working on, her testimony is very informative and worth downloading.  I always think it best to consult documents like this and not rely on news media reports. In this case, do not expect the media reports to confirm the evidence the lawyer presented to the Senate committee.

Sadly, this example of the wide deviation between evidence and media reports is probably typical of most aspects of this current US political preoccupation.

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Non-violence in the defence of free speech

I have always been a fan of nonviolent tactics in social movements. Being old enough to have seen the apartheid arrangements that existed in the US during the 5os and 60s and follow the movement to break this I have often wondered why the nonviolent methods used by Martin Luther King and his allies have not been adopted more widely.

In particular, it seems to me that the political situation in the US could do with some nonviolent political tactics at the moment.

So I was fascinated to see the video by Joey Gibson from the Patriot Prayer group. Fascinated to see the tactic being advocated now. But also fascinated to see the tactic being advocated by the founder of the Patriot Prayer group which is often described as “right-wing.” Even described by the US House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California, as attempting to hold a “white supremacist rally.” Incidentally, Gibson is not even white – nor are many of his colleagues in Patriot Prayer.

It may be hubris on Gibson’s part, but he is claiming success for these tactics used in the recent Berkeley confrontation. He and his colleagues were beaten by extremists and had to be retrieved by police, but did not retaliate. They adopted a passive stance. He now claims this was instrumental and the apparent shift by the media, and some politicians, to recognise the danger presented by extremist violent groups like Antifa and their misleading charges that advocates of free speech are white supremacists.

If these tactics are having the success Gibson claims then I hope the success continues. It’s about time some sense came into the current political situation in the US and we should not denigrate these tactics just because we may not like some of Gibson’s political or religious views.

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From Charlottesville to Boston – a lesson

Participants in Boston’s Free Speech rally. Speaker is Republican Senate candidate Dr Shiva Ayyadurai. Not a Nazi or white supremacist in sight. Was the media feeding me porkies?

Funny thing – I have become more worried about the lessons of the Boston “free speech” rally than the Charlottesville white supremacist demonstration. Here’s why.

There is nothing new about fighting Nazis, neo-Nazis and fascists in street demonstrations. Many on the left did this, and did it violently, in the lead up to the second world war. It’s happening in Europe again – and, more seriously, in Ukraine.

Participants in genuine anti-Nazi actions are usually proud of what they did. It is one thing to attempt to get one’s head around the concept that freedom of speech should allow expression of racist views but I guess once the violence starts the moral issues become clearer.

So while we can debate the role played by anarchists, Antifa, and outright thugs on both sides in Charlottesville there does seem to have been an excuse there for moral outrage and the inevitable conflict is understandable.

But what about Boston? I originally thought the “free speech” rally held this last weekend was really about white supremacism. The mainstream media told me this. The 15 – 45 thousand demonstrators against the rally convinced me of this. I had absolutely no sympathy for those in the rally and identified morally with the counter-demonstrators. But I was thankful that police organisation prevented conflict – at least conflict between the rally participants and the counter demonstrators (fighting did break out between some counter-demonstrators and the police).

But I was wrong

I was misinformed by the media. It wasn’t until I got involved in a social media discussion that I decided to check out what was really happening in Boston. I checked out who organised the free speech rally and what their aims were. I tried to find out who spoke at the free speech rally and looked for videos of speakers and the whole event online.

In fact, the “free speech” rally organisers were not white supremacists or Nazis. Conservatives or “right-wingers” perhaps. But they do seem to have genuine interests in free speech and the various speakers represented a range from conservatives to Green Party members – and a Dr Shiva Ayyadurai, a Democrat currently standing for the Senate (See the video of his speech above). the placards were anti-Monsata and pro-Black-Lives Matter.

Here is what the Boston Free Speech people say about their rally:

“This Free Speech Movement is dedicated to peaceful rallies and are in no way affiliated with the Charlottesville rally on 8/12/17

While we maintain that every individual is entitled to their freedom of speech and defend that basic human right, we will not be offering our platform to racism or bigotry. We denounce the politics of supremacy and violence. We denounce the actions, activities, and tactics of the so-called Antifa movement. We denounce the normalization of political violence.

We are witnessing an unprecedented move towards sweeping censorship that undermines our democratic system. We are witnessing increasingly regular incidents of political violence being used to silence political opponents. We are witnessing our social media and online communities purging both progressive and conservative content from their networks. We oppose all instances of censorship. We believe that the way to defeat and disarm toxic ideas and ideologies is through dialogue and reason, and that attempting to silence any voice by force of mob or force of law only empowers the radical elements of society and divides us.

There is a lot of misinformation in the media slandering our name by likening our organization to those that ran the Charlottesville rally. THIS COULD NOT BE FURTHER FROM THE TRUTH! “I can tell you the march we had in May…That group pulled a permit, they worked very well with us” as stated by Boston Police Commissioner William Evans in a press conference Monday (8/14/17)

We are a coalition of libertarians, progressives, conservatives, and independents and we welcome all individuals and organizations from any political affiliations that are willing to peaceably engage in open dialogue about the threats to, and importance of, free speech and civil liberties. Join us at the Parkman Bandstand where we will be holding our event. We look forward to this tide-changing peaceful event that has the potential to be a shining example of how we, in the city of Boston, can come together for the common goal of preserving freedom of speech for all and respectfully discussing our differences of opinion without engaging in violence.”

So, in Boston we had a very small gathering (probably well under 100) exercising their free speech at a permitted rally in the Band Rotunda. (Yes, there were apparently more, including some of the programmed speakers, who couldn’t get through the crowd of counter demonstrators which had blocked of entrances).

They were surrounded by 15 – 45 thousand counter demonstrators yelling a stream of abuse at the rally participants – accusing them of being Nazis, etc. Fortunately, the police had manned a cordon to keep the two groups well separated. I say fortunately because it did remind me of those brave anti-apartheid demonstrators who had invaded Hamilton’s Rugby Park in 1981 to prevent the Waikato – South Africa Rugby game. On that day the police helped to prevent some of the violence.

An aerial view shows how counter-protesters vastly outnumbered a few dozen participants at a ‘free speech’ rally (rotunda) in Boston. Image credit: Daily Mail.
This brought back memories of how the police protected anti-apartheid demonstrators on Hamilton’s Rugby Park in 1981. Photo Credit: Daily Mail.
 My lesson

The presence of a small number of white supremacists in society is probably inevitable and shouldn’t concern us too much. Similarly, the presence of a relatively small number of anarchists and thugs who attend such demonstrations with the aim of creating violence is also probably inevitable. The police in Boston showed how this could be handled in a relatively painless way.

So these minor groups really don’t concern me too much. Nor do honest anti-fascists who attempt to close down white supremacy manifestations.

But that was not the case here. What we had was a huge crowd of counter-protesters who thought they were opposing racists and Nazis – but they weren’t. They were opposing free speech.

These people were misinformed and misled. Misinformed and misled by the mainstream media and politicians who insist on labeling proponents of free speech white supremacists.

Nazis and anarchists do worry more. But not as much as a misinformed mass movement.

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The main stream media is out of touch

I find the US mainstream media particularly boring and uninformative these days. It has become embedded in a partisan political campaign and seems to go into a frenzy over every bit of “evidence” or fake news it can garner, invent, or exaggerate in an apparent attempt to reverse the results of last year’s presidential elections.

I think many people must be heartily sick of this campaign. I would not be surprised if this is encouraging many to turn to alternative news sources and I suspect this media obsession is encouraging an increasing mistrust of the mainstream media.

But it is not just a matter of all the fake news and media lies. This political campaign is diverting media attention away from the things that really concern people. After all, they had their election last year and sensible presidential challenges should be off the burner until 2000. Meanwhile, there are all sorts of problems the ordinary person expects their government, and the media, to come to grips with.

So I am not surprised to see recent polling identifying a huge mismatch between the concerns of the media and the concerns of the public. Jon Gabriel’s Ricochet article What Americans Care About vs. What the Media Cares About illustrates this in the following graphic.

Constraining the President

Frankly, I think this US political hysteria is being produced by an alliance of the media, elements of the intelligence community and the “establishment” in general. For one reason or another, they just can not accept the result of the 2016 election and would like to see that result reversed. At the very least, they are using this artificial campaign to constrain the president in areas like foreign policy where they have big differences.

Perhaps pressure from the neocons and deep state to constrain and control a new president is not new. Certainly, we saw this with President Obama. But the campaigners have resorted to a more public and hysterical pressure in President Trump’s case because he is basically a political outsider. He came out of “left field,” was not part of the “acceptable” political establishment and is a maverick. His personality makes him difficult to control in the normal, behind the scenes, way.

Media does itself no favours

There are a number of objective factors creating turmoil for the mainstream media these days. transfer of advertising to social media, changes in technology and the loss of skilled reporters. But the old, established media is not doing itself any favours by diverting into a blatantly partisan political campaign and resorting to such bias in its reporting. And it harms society by encouraging the growth of neo-McCarthyism and supporting those who are working to reduce international cooperation and the relaxation of tension. That is dangerous for the American people – and in fact for the whole world.

But I guess the upside is that this self-exposure of bias is an education to the public. They may now search for alternatives – and that is a good thing. They will also be a lot more critical of what is delivered to them by the news media – and that is also a good thing.

The reader does need to beware – and to question more.

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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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