So, not plausible after all

As predicted by QuadRanting among many others, the wheels are inexorably coming off the Novichok/Skripal story despite a full-house effort by the UK’s permanent government, including the state media (BBC) and ‘non’-state media (ex-Fleet Street).

Well, mostly.

The day of Mrs May’s ‘triumph’ at the March EU summit, where she got backing for the line against Russia from trusting and/or credulous leaders, the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg delivered a splendidly-nuanced summary of the UK’s position on the Brexitcast podcast, ending with the words ‘plausible … plausible, plausible, plausible’.

She was referring to the UK government’s tenuous argument that Russia is the only plausible source of the ‘military grade’ nerve agent allegedly deployed in Salisbury, even though there was not then – and is not now – any scientific evidence to support the claim. My reading of ‘plausible … plausible, plausible, plausible’ aligns with Spike Milligan’s contention that any word will raise a laugh if it’s repeated often enough. In the Brexitcast context, ‘plausible’ was funny ha ha, and thus funny unbelievable.

As we know, some nations told Britain they’d support us only if we produced conclusive evidence, rather than hearsay and circumstance. Others reluctantly fell in in line and weakened their position with Russia by expelling Russian diplomats. The usual suspects lined up alongside Britain in the belief that the UK government would somehow avoid the pitfalls and pratfalls that were plainly-visible potential in the official narrative.

But it didn’t. God knows what pressure the scientists at Porton Down endured to lie about the provenance of the Novichok. If they’d given in, it would have destroyed their professional credibility because if you ask any competent organic chemist (not that the UK government or its tame media did), they’d tell you that the formulae for these agents are widely-known and they can be produced anywhere with little difficulty by someone with the necessary knowledge. In other words, there’s no such thing as a ‘weapons grade’ Novichok.

Of course, the Russians might have simply been fiendishly clever: deploying an effectively untraceable substance and thereby adding another layer of doubt to any attempt to pin the blame on them (that is, if it was them and, if it was Russian, whether it was an official operation). Or they may have been super-supremely fiendish and laid a trap tailor-made for the UK’s propaganda machine to blunder into.

Either way, when Porton Down publicly stated what it had told the Foreign Office nearly three weeks before, that there is nothing to suggest that the nerve agent is Russian, May and Johnson were out on a limb. Doubtless the phone was ringing off the hook at the FCO with calls from foreign governments that might justly be paraphrased as “You stupid twats, we trusted you and look where you’ve got us”.

The day the ‘not Russian’ statement appeared, the Skripal story disappeared from top ¾ of the BBC news page, while the rest of the news media launched into a moral panic/outrage over a pensioner charged with murdering a burglar. I think we know enough about the police and criminal justice system to know that in normal times the burglar situation would have been handled very carefully and very slooooowly. But when a public distraction is called for …

QuadRanting still believes that the Skripal case will never be publicly resolved. We’ll never conclusively know who did whatever it was – an FSB handbook for applying poison to doorknobs? Do us a favour — because the UK will do everything it can to prevent the Russians or anyone else investigating it properly.

In Propaganda Britain 2018, it’s enough that 90% of the public now believe that Russia Did It, that Russia Wants to Harm Us Because We’re Wonderful and They’re Ghastly, and Thank God for a Strong Leader. Germany 1932 all over again.

What would the men who believed they were fighting for freedom on the Western Front a hundred years ago make of it?

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Russiagate, Truthism and the Big Lie

A lie silly story, repeated often enough, becomes a kind of truth. Hence the inescapable ‘truth’ that Vladimir Putin hacked the 2016 US election on behalf of Donald Trump.

You hear it every day in the right wing media. Never mind the unhealthily-close relationship between these outlets’ proprietors and the military wing of global corporate capital, which really, really needs to portray Russia as a scary bogeyman so it can justify its metastasising demands for bigger arms budgets.

You hear it in the left wing media. They can’t believe the voters rejected HC – as bought-and-paid-for a corporate tool as Obama but sadly lacking his eye- and ear-appeal – all by themselves. And that voters rejected, by extension, the cosmopolitan liberal elites’ peculiar brand of snowflakey, virtue-signalling identity politics.

What’s the word for a silly story that takes on a casual resemblance to a fact with the help of repetition? A ‘truthism’ perhaps. You know it’s happened when you hear, say, John Humphrys on the today programme say something like, “Well we now know that Russian interference in the US election apparently influenced the outcome.”

That’s how Truthism is done. The ‘now’ in “We now know that …” implies that solid evidence of Russian interference has been laid bare since the election – although nothing of any kind has actually been turned up barring a few Facebook ads from Russia-based accounts, which addressed issues not candidates and which almost nobody in the US even saw.

Similarly, while the word ‘apparently’ confers a tone of impartiality, it serves to reinforce the preceding Truthism (i.e. that Russian interference was substantial, not merely a silly story) by immediately shifting attention to whether it affected the election result.

”Like any orthodoxy worth its salt, the religion of the Russian hack depends not on evidence but on ex cathedra pronouncements on the part of authoritative institutions and their overlords.”
(LRB 4 January 2018)

What America really needs is a genuine Emperor’s New Clothes moment where some wholesome, freckled, toothy kid in a baseball cap pipes up: “Hey everyone, there ain’t no Russkis! We just ended up being given a choice between two utterly grotesque presidential candidates and we elected the simple-bad one when we were supposed to pick the smart-bad one!”

The next best thing would be for some publications on both sides of the political spectrum to start laying Russiagate to rest. In the UK, at least, the London Review of Books’ first issue of 2018 has deftly unpicked Russiagate in a piece entitled What We Don’t Talk about When We Talk about Russian Hacking.

Russiagate Truthism is likely to prove counter-productive, not because it is propaganda but because it is bad propaganda. Even not-very-switched-on people don’t feel they’ve seen any proof of the interference. Despite being assiduously pushed by the mainstream media, Russiagate risks making the governments of the UK and US (do any other countries care about it?) look ridiculous.

Brexodus

All across our green and pleasant land, we hear, people are upping sticks and heading east. East to the lands of the rising sun. East where opportunity still knocks and trade flows freely. East to Paris. East to Bonn. East to Europe.

It’s Brexodus. People and companies leaving the UK because they believe that Bexit will make them uncompetitive or unwelcome here, or both. Or – to go by the examples given in Naked Capitalism’s latest report on the dire progress of Britain’s deluded Brexiteer negotiating team – it’s ‘Techsodus’.

Tech companies can’t find enough home-grown talent to grow themselves in places like London’s silicone roundabout – which I used to peel across on a motorcycle 30 years ago when it was still just dirty tarmac and fag butts. Smart IT euro-dudes have jumped at the chance to live in London and take the offered jobs. But Brexit will nix the UK as a worthwhile career option in a self-perpetuating spiral of work restrictions and departing employers. The euro-dudes can simply remain chez eux while ‘our’ jobs transfer across the channel to them.

Leavers argue that this is precisely the opportunity plucky Britannia needs. To forge a dynamic, sovereign, digital training sector to supply our own dynamic, sovereign, silicone industry. Well we could. But it will take three to five years to turn around. Why do pro-leavers think that employers – who can base their businesses anywhere in the world with electricity and broadband – are going to stay put and stagnate while they wait?

At least digital businesses have the advantage of mobility. What the clowns in charge of Brexit are threatening to let happen to UK motor manufacturing is truly frightening.