Chemistry set-up

The war hawks’ lack of imagination is depressing. When they want a war, they hit the public with a hyped-up, evidence-lite or evidence-free, chemical atrocity and take it from there.

There’s no hard evidence whatsoever that Monday’s alleged incident in Douma, Syria, was actually a chemical attack. If it was, there’s no hard evidence who did it.

Even the normally-docile BBC is having to lead its stories with the word ‘suspected’ in front of ‘chemical attack’ although the body of its stories quickly moves on in language that implies the footage is genuine and Assad’s regime did indeed carry it out. Similarly, when giving talking heads a platform to demand ‘strong action’, none of the BBC’s interviewers I’ve heard bother to correct statements implying the allegations are proven.

Likewise, the official stories (they keep changing) on the Salisbury attack simply don’t stand up to scrutiny. In particular, if it was a nerve agent of the degree of lethality claimed by the government, how come all three alleged victims survived contact? The government’s own scientists say the stuff can’t be traced to Russia – or anyone else. In the end, the government’s endlessly-repeated assertion that Russia was the ‘only plausible’ perpetrator turned out to be based on waffle, insinuation and weasel wordings so finely-tuned that Boris Johnson repeatedly fell off the tightrope into flat-out lying.

At first it seemed that Salisbury was merely being used as a pretext to rescue Theresa May from her own party and give the government a hedgehog ramp out of the mess it had got into with Europe over Brexit.

Now Salisbury also looks like a precursor to escalating Britain’s involvement in Syria. Step one: wind up the UK public about Russia and chemical warfare over the Skripals. Step two: another mysteriously-timed ‘chemical attack’ falls neatly into the lap of the White Helmets in Douma. This ‘demands’ immediate military action by the US and its allies to prevent more chemical atrocities by the side allied to Russia. Except there’s no conclusive proof of chemical atrocities. Not this week. Not in January. And not last April.

And no mention of the ongoing tragedy of war deaths, refugee flight and civil collapse across Syraquilbyastan thanks to the West’s trillions of dollars-worth of involvement ranging from military advisors, to bombing missions, to arming ‘moderate rebels’ to full-scale coalition invasions.

No-one with one functioning brain cell and an internet connection seriously believes the official line on these these ‘chemical attacks’ on civilians, which are so mysteriously-timed to suit the Western war-hawks’ agenda. Yet the Western mainstream media, with a very few honourable exceptions parrots the government line as per the BBC, referenced above. An honourable exception:

After the Iraqi WMDs ‘dodgy dossier’, the faked-up warnings of impending genocide in Libya and the repeat doses of unsubstantiated chemical attack horror in Syria, there’s a significant slice of the public whose tolerance for escalation is weak to non-existent. Not just the radical left peacenik side of the balance but right across the spectrum to loyal conservatives who’re deeply suspicious of Russia or indeed all ‘foreigners’ but who equally despise the establishment and its tame media because of its constant lies.

Here’s a quote from a 2016 post by Ugo Bardi at Cassandra’s Legacy, which he republished today, for obvious reasons.

By the time of Augustine, the Roman Empire had become an Empire of lies. It still pretended to uphold the rule of law, to protect the people from the Barbarian invaders, to maintain the social order. But all that had become a bad joke for the citizens of an empire by then reduced to nothing more than a giant military machine dedicated to oppressing the poor in order to maintain the privileges of the rich.

I believe that the UK government does not think it needs the public’s express consent for another Middle Eastern military adventure. It doesn’t need to oppress us with a giant military machine (yet). It considers that, with a cognitively-captured mass media with which to cow MPs, it can get away with almost anything it wants.

But selling us misadventures on the basis of lies, for which the price will be counted in body bags and retaliatory attacks, corrodes democracy and freedom.

Whichever air bases they decide to bring home the Syrian war dead through, tacking ‘Royal’ on to the nearest town’s name won’t make up for the massive hole the UK government seems determined to blow in its legitimacy at home and abroad by going along with the hawks’ latest chemistry set-up.

(Edited 19 April 2018 to add link to Seymour Hersch’s piece in Die Welt on the US administration’s response to what its intelligence services knew were false claims about a chemical weapon attack in Khan Sheikhoun, Syria, on 4 April 2017)

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13 Minutes and the modern propaganda state

Watching the movie 13 Minutes on TV last night was a reminder, if ever one was needed, that one should never lightly make comparisons with Nazi Germany.

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Burghart Klaußner as Arthur Neber and Christian Friedel as George Esner in 13 Minutes.

One of the film’s many strengths is its naturalistic depiction of authoritarianism creeping up on small-town Germany. Briton’s are still raised on an historical diet of jerky clips of Hitler gesticulating from podiums, motorcades hurtling through streets and massed ranks of storm troopers rallying at Nuremberg and we think “how did they fall for that?”

In 13 Minutes, the moment we realise the Nazis have fully taken over is when the town’s Party puts on a cross between a film show and a fête. There’s free beer and children skipping. The film they show isn’t of a political rally but a country sports day – except that there’s already something recognisably totalitarian about the shots of happy, healthy sons and daughters of the motherland racing towards the camera. The mayor-turned-local-Party-chief makes sure everyone knows who they should thank for Germany’s blessings.

Georg Esner, the carpenter whose bomb missed possibly killing Hitler by 13 minutes in November 1939, possesses both the prescience to understand the devastation Adolf will ultimately wreak on Germany and the courage to try to stop him. Alone, the film suggests. And certainly despite horrific torture, Esner maintained to the end that he was working with no-one else.

All around him in the two years leading up to the attempt on Hitler, the Nazis are ruthlessly preparing for all-out war, beating up and imprisoning anyone who openly opposes them and ostracising Germans who don’t join the Party.

The timing of 13 Minutes’ showing on UK TV was fortuitous given some uncomfortable parallels between the German government reaction to Esner’s bomb attack and what happened in Salisbury.

Neither the Germans, in 1939, nor the British government, in mid-March this year, had any idea to begin with who carried out the attack. That didn’t stop both of them instantly launching media blitzes blaming their respective bêtes-de-jour. For the Nazi leaders it was Churchill. For Theresa May’s government it’s Vladimir Putin.

The difference as of today is that a German border patrol stopped a man as he was trying to slip into Switzerland and found he was carrying materials linking him to the bombing. So they had a perp whereas the British authorities today, when you parse what they’re actually saying, have no incontrovertible evidence of what the Salisbury nerve agent was or the identity of the individual(s) who deployed it.

For five years after the Munich bombing, the dwindling number of Germans inclined to believe what they read and heard in the media understood that the incident was a dastardly British attack on German sovereignty carried out via the treacherous Esner. Their leaders new different – or at least that they couldn’t prove anything of the sort, though they kept Esner alive until the bitter end of the war in the hope of somehow being able to mount a show trial.

History.com’s account concludes: ‘Hitler dared not risk a public trial, as there were just too many holes in the “official” story’.

Of course, no-one disputes that the Germans had the actual bomber in custody; a man who’d killed seven people and injured nearly 70. One could debate for a very long time the many contradictions in keeping alive a traitor, who very nearly succeeded in derailing the Nazi leadership, for five long years during which the same leadership shot, hung and gassed millions of Germans and and carelessly slaughtered tens of millions of foreigners on the Eastern and Western fronts.

No-one should equate the record of the British state since WWII with anything that happened in Germany between 1936 and 1945, although we do have bad form when it comes to scapegoating innocent people following bomb attacks. The bottom line, though, is that our State didn’t execute the wongfully convicted individuals and it – eventually – owned up to subjecting them to ordeal and injustice.

Nevertheless, the Britsh state in the twenty-teens is becoming more authoritarian and more propagandising than at any previous time in my 60 years. But if I’m tempted to make a comparison with Germany in the late 1930s, I remind myself that I live in a society that’s still a thousand times freer, more tolerant and more open than Nazi Germany was.

What a pity that the UK’s national embarrassment and disgrace of a foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, lacks a similar perspective.

What May Deems (W.M.D.)

I see the neocons and likuds as very damaged and traumatized individuals. They carry a set of internal wounds that express on the outside as a very belligerent and hostile set of postures and actions.”

Chris Martenson, Peak Prosperity Blog, 2016

QuadRanting would like to believe that the Prime Minister privately feels profoundly ashamed about her role as the UK’s propagandist-in-chief. After all, that’s an appellation with the most sordid history imaginable.

Mrs May’s assertions that the only possible candidate for orchestrating the Skripal poisoning in Salisbury is the Kremlin have been widely discredited. The Government has resorted to bullying its own chemical warfare experts to try to get them to lie about the level of certainty surrounding the provenance of the Salisbury nerve agent.

Although the Skripal-Russia story still has a lot of unravelling to do before it’s as dead in the water as Trump-Russia, or the infamously cooked-up Iraq WMDs story, it will carry on echoing down the years in the minds of those who don’t or won’t bother with critical thinking. Which of course is the point of propaganda.

The truly sad thing about Mrs May is that she could choose to pin her flag to the mast of addressing the very real predicament facing our (and every other advanced) nation. She could tell some truth for a change. She could say that there’s a lot of toil, tears and disappointment ahead. Because the reality of declining global net energy per capita will trump all dreams of carrying on as we have for the last couple of centuries, and bits will keep dropping off the economy for many, many decades.

Try uniting us to tackle the problems in our own backyard, Mrs May, rather than merely baring your teeth and dancing to the neocons’ war drums. That would be being tough, Mrs May. That would show strength and stability.

I mean why? What, or who, close to you, is so scary and powerful that you prefer to play to the stalls with tired old, Cold War era, chest-beating than to look like a grown-up who works with international experts and proceeds only as fast as hard facts become available?

How sad must it feel to sit at Chequers at the weekend, watching your corner in the propaganda campaign being fought by a politician whose CV serially lists ‘caught out by my lies’ as the reason for leaving jobs?

What could you be doing for your country and the world, Mrs May, if you didn’t allow yourself to be railroaded by those many damaged and traumatised people whom you think you can trust in the UK’s permanent government?

 

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.

Good Lord, how cheap is America these days?

How deep do your pockets need to be to get a 100-plus million Americans to buy-into your product?

Here’s a little table of US adverting budgets from 2015 to help you answer that:

  • Procter & Gamble Co – $4.3 billion
  • AT&T – $3.9 billion
  • General Motors Co. – $3.5 billion
  • Comcast Corp. – $3.4 billion
  • Verizon Communications $2.7 billion
  • Ford Motor Co. $2.7 billion

Or, from 2017:

  • “Russia” (apparently) – $100,000

The cheek of those danged Rooskies! Seems they stole the 2016 US election from Saint Hillary by splurging forty thousand times less on advertising than P&G needs to dispense to maintain soap powder sales.

If we’re to believe the narrative the US deep state is furiously peddling, then Trump owes his elevation to the White House solely to a minuscule amount of fiendishly-clever Facebook advertising taken out by shadowy actors linked to the Russian state.

Presumably, the skies between Madison Avenue and Red Square are already filled with planeloads of US corporate marketeers, all scrambling to get the Russians to tell them how to buy their fellow countrymen’s brand loyalty for peanuts.

As a narrative, this week’s developments take the Russiagate meme way down below farce and ridicule to whatever the name is for the roiling stew of propagandising lunacy the mainstream media exists to feed us.

It’s unbelievable that apparently intelligent people would give any credence to this mendacious bullshit. But they do. Yesterday’s edition of The Daily Zeitgeist podcast dropped its usual tone of cynical absurdism to report straight-faced the central claim that “the Kremlin got to 126 million Americans via Facebook” last year, and – yes, the host actually said these words – “changed the course of American history.”

All this would be as funny as the idea that Michael Fallon resigned as UK Defence Minister solely because of ‘kneegate’ if it wasn’t for the likely deadly consequences of the Imperial Elite tearing into itself like a pack of wolverines in a sack.

The fury of those who thought they’d bought and paid-for Clinton’s coronation over the last 20 years, only to have it snatched away from them by the voters, is palpable from thousands of miles away. Like the little Austrian corporal calling down total destruction on the population for not delivering his megalomaniac vision, 70 years ago, the last people the elites will blame is themselves.

We’re merely voters. Our rulers can and will try to throw our rights and freedoms under the bus if they become sufficiently scared-of or angry at the citizenry. While the media focuses on using Russiagate to crowbar the elected president from the White House (however you feel about Trump), the crunching and sawing noises you hear from backstage are the sound of free expression being undermined to save us from ‘fake news’ and the chance to think critically for ourselves.

On the other hand, if I cashed in my modest pension balances, I reckon they’d total the equivalent of a hundred thousand bucks.

What’d be more fun to buy with that? An annuity? Or a superpower that’s badly lost its way?

Memo to ‘The Economist’

Almost every day I get needy emails from the neo-liberal establishment’s fantasy worldview generator, The Economist, begging me to re-subscribe. Sometimes I’m tempted. But then they go and blow it, as usual.

Today they’re telling folk straight-facedly:

“special counsel [Robert Mueller]’s true target is not Mr Trump or Mrs Clinton, it is Russia, the hostile power that attacked American democracy.”

You have to be pretty far gone to be able to trot out an oxymoron like ‘American democracy’ without turning into a turnip. But the The Economist is still further removed from reality and decency.

It’s now reduced to parroting “Putin did it, Putin did it, Putin did it…” on the age-old grounds that you can make anything feel like the truth provided you repeat it often enough. Perhaps the paper really does want to alienate everyone capable of critical thinking. And thus keep pure the hermetically-sealed echo-chamber it offers Washington’s corporate kleptocracy.

Gold divers and diazepam pens

What’s up with the world today?

Bread and circuses news: ‘Britain’ ‘won’ three gold medals in Rio yesterday. Actually, it was three people representing Britain … in a sense … who won three medals. In that they are young, fit and committed, they aren’t exactly representative of me or most people I know, none of whom took the time to watch them. Nevertheless, this news is wall-to-wall on every news website and dead tree outlet. You’d think we were insecure or something.

Running out of tunes news: Ed Sheeran, whoever he is, is being sued for plagiarising a Marvin Gaye track. Maybe we’re just running out of good tunes. Wasn’t there someone in the 18th century who went mad worrying about that?

Hillary health news: Some people are worried about Mrs Clinton’s brain function. On top of more-than-slightly odd behaviours on camera, the potential next leader of the free world appears to be accompanied by a minder with a diazepam pen. That’s used to treat fitting and mini seizures. Hope she’s all right. It’s a bit more of an important question than who’s best at falling gracefully from a 3m diving board. But for whatever reason the mainstream media won’t ask it.

Purple-faced news: Surveyors are saying that UK house prices paused for breath in July. It was Brexit, not the fact that the pool of buyers able to stomach stratospherically high prices is drying up. Yeah, right. Prices will soon be rising again, surveyors assure us. Could that be people whose fees are a percentage of their valuations talking their own book? Yes or yes?

Pushing on a string news: While athletes born and trained in Britain were winning athletic events at an athletic tournament in Brazil, the Bank of England was missing its bond-buying target in the latest round of QE. Seems the pension funds, at whose desperate plight this money printing bonanza is directed, inconsiderately failed anticipate the event and allowed their top people to go on holiday. In August. Can you imagine that? Your money. Safe in their hands.

Dreadful news: Tens of thousands of Nepalis are still living in squalid conditions a year after the earthquake. On top of muddle and corruption among officials, victims have been hit by an economic blockade imposed by India.

Helicopter hyperbole news: One paper is calling yesterday’s helicopter incident in Wales “The miracle touchdown”. No it wasn’t. There was a mechanical problem. The pilot set down safely on an open moor. Everyone got out before fire took hold and destroyed the aircraft. The story doesn’t even attempt to justify the headline. Which is par for the course these days.

Safe in their hands news: Hospitals in Middlesex, Devon, Lancashire and Shropshire are considering shutting A&E departments for lack of funds. They haven’t got enough staff. Their costs are rising faster than their incomes. But staff are the biggest cost and staff numbers are falling. So where’s the money going? Ah, that would be all those back-end-loaded PFI deals. Hospitals are getting what Tony Blair got paid for.

Habit of a lifetime news: Hard to believe it but the BBC is actually going to try to stop presenting misleading statistics. I know, I know. Some people think that is the BBC’s job. It says here that presenters will be urged to tell us when there’s no evidence to back up a claim, instead of giving us a “he said/she said” debate between two competing spokesmen. Three-quarters of stats from politicians quoted in BBC news stories come from the governing party, too. Will this be the end of meaningless tit-for-tat interviews instead of proper news analysis? Unlike the housing market I’m not holding my breath.

Green news: It was algae what done it. Turned the Olympic diving pool green. “Harmless” claim the organisers after the filtration system broke. “Not so sure about that,” says a tight-lipped spokesman for the UK Pool Water Treatment Advisory Group.

Vetus causa bellandi news: They’ve found a British steamship sunk in an arctic river in Russia. It sank 140 years ago and regional media say its the discovery of the year. Elements in Washington are hoping to find an excuse to start a war with Mr Putin over the loss of the vessel.

Clutching at straws news: Utterly aghast at having to live with a Republican presidential candidate they neither own nor control, America’s elite are going all out to diss Donald. His badly-phrased comment on the power of the gun lobby was immediately seized on as a thinly-veiled incitement for #2A-ers to assassinate his rival. Now that a day has gone by, the papers feel able to drop the scare quotes around “assassinate” and proceed as if that’s what he specifically said. While they studiously ignore the issue of Clinton’s physiological brain functions.