King’s new clothes. The naked lie at the heart of the Novichok story

We went to war with Iraq on the basis of UK government lies about WMDs.

Now we’re being lined up for a hotter confrontation with Russia on the basis of UK government lies about Soviet-era chemical weapons being used on British soil.

Virtually nothing about the known effects on their victims of the Salisbury and Amesbury poisoning cases supports the government’s contention that the agent involved was the massively-lethal nerve agent Novichok.

Everything about the Sturgess/Rowley case points to it simply being one of the growing number of opioid overdoses among UK heroin users.

With the Skripals, the symptoms they exhibited – described by witnesses as hallucinations, rolled-up eyes and shortness of breath – led medics to treat them for fentanyl/Carfentanil/3MF poisoning.

They were thus treated. They did not die. Indeed, Yulia Skripal told her cousin there were no lasting effects. She appeared to be quite well in the brief media appearance she was afforded before she was ‘disappeared’ into some kind of protective custody.

Novichok on the other hand is an organophosphate-based poison that acts rapidly on the central nervous system (2-30 second onset after exposure). It typically produces seizures on the way to causing heart failure.

Survival of Novichok is extremely unlikely and is expected to be accompanied by permanent nerve damage – as was the case with Andrei Zheleznyakov, the only known human to live after exposure to actual Novichok. He was left with “chronic weakness in his arms, a toxic hepatitis that gave rise to cirrhosis of the liver, epilepsy, spells of severe depression, and an inability to read or concentrate that left him totally disabled and unable to work” until he died at his breakfast table a few years later.

There is a massive discrepancy between what we know happened in Salisbury and Amesbury and the government’s line that the chemistry involved was Novichok. But of course, there is a laughably simple explanation:

It. Was. Not. Novichok.

I’m going for fentanyl. Definitely in the Rowley/Sturgess case, and probably in the Skripal case.

With the Skripals, while the government’s Novichok story is clearly bollocks (which I bet a lot of senior politicians are now really regretting getting into), the person or persons who apparently deliberately attacked the ex-spy and his daughter might have used an incapacitating agent such as BZ (3-Quinuclidinyl Benzilate), which produces similar symptoms to a fentanyl overdose.

It was so incredibly stupid of the government to agree to go along with the Novichok angle it was sold by its spooks and military equipment suppliers after the Salisbury incident. And absolutely moronic to double down on the idiocy by dragging the Amesbury opioid overdose into an already-tottering narrative.

If the Russians had been behind the Salisbury incident, the UK government would have had legitimate grounds to condemn them whatever substance was sprayed on the Skripals, be it BZ, fentanyl or joke shop itching powder. Playing the Novichok card was as big an example of jumping the shark as Blair’s WMDs dossier.

The government has been able to sustain its ludicrous fairy tale about this miraculous instant/delayed-action, rain-proof/not persistent, deadly/not deadly ‘nerve agent’ and its elusive peekaboo container by browbeating civil servants (Of A Type Developed By Liars – Craig Murray), doubtlessly putting pressure on the police and medical services, and by relying on the media not to ask any hard questions – gagging them if necessary to close off key lines of enquiry.

The parallels to the tale of The King’s New Clothes are unmistakable. Sooner or later something will come out of left field to puncture the illusion. The government will doubtless shrug and say to itself ‘some you win, some you lose’. We don’t live in an age where lying to the public and screwing-over the population of a world-renowned historic city is reason for a government to fall.

How the mainstream media will justify its sorry connivance in the affair is another matter entirely.

Novichok. Novicheck. The UK government can’t even get the name of the alleged Salisbury nerve agent right

We can be pretty sure, thanks to the BBC’s extremely well-briefed security correspondent Frank Gardner, that police currently believe they are searching for a cosmetic spray bottle that was used to deliberately poison the Skripals and accidentally (it seems) fatally poison Dawn Sturgess and seriously injure Charlie Rowley with some kind of nerve agent.

We can also be absolutely sure that the police still haven’t found any evidence of who did it. It’s also abundantly clear that the substance in the missing perfume bottle, if said bottle exists, is highly unlikely to be the A234 ‘Novichok’ nerve agent, despite what the UK government claims.

From its symptoms and survivability, the apparently-not-Novichok agent used in Salisbury was quite likely something like trimethyl fentanyl (3MF) or Carfentanil; extremely powerful synthetic opioids which have been around since the 1970s and whose toxicity has been compared to that of nerve gas.

Carfentanil and 3MF produce initial symptoms similar to those reported by witnesses who saw the Skripals on the bench in March. Medical personnel in Salisbury initially diagnosed the Skripals as having taken fentanyl and they apparently treated them accordingly.

It is worth noting that the extreme toxicity of 3MF, Carfentanil and similar compounds available on the illegal drugs market requires medics, law enforcement personnel and clean up teams teams to to take maximum precautions. The familiar-looking photo below isn’t from Salisbury or Amesbury but from the US Drug Enforcement Administration’s briefing guide (PDF) for first responders specifically when dealing with fentanyl and its more-powerful derivatives.

dea-fentanyl-reponders
Not Novichok: this image is from the US DEA protection guidelines for responders dealing with suspected fentanyl

The Russian authorities used Carfentanil in aerosol form as an incapacitating agent in the botched operation to subdue Chechen terrorists during the Moscow theater hostage crisis in 2002. The 125 people who died in the theatre from respiratory failure were found to have died because the rescue teams underestimated the amount of Carfentanil antidote they needed to have on hand.

Although the Moscow theatre debacle does fit the UK government’s narrative about Russia having ‘form’ around using powerful narcotics in public places, it doesn’t in any way correspond to them allegedly using a massively-deadly, organophosphate-based military nerve agent on a supposed FSB target in an English shopping centre. But, as we’ve seen, the effects of whatever was used on the Skripals bear little resemblance to those of Novichok poisoning (i.e. rapid death or, in the unlikely event of survival, permanent damage to the central nervous system).

On the other hand, if the substance used on the Skripals was fentanyl or a super-strength fentanyl derivative, that would explain why the treatment for fentanyl poisoning that they initially received in Salisbury helped to prevent them dying.

Also bear in mind that the government identification of the Skripal substance was made from blood tests on the victims. We were told these tests revealed a very pure form of A234 Novichok. Which was odd, since A234 is so deadly that you’d expect a ‘very pure’ form of it to have killed them on the spot.

Indeed, it is this curious, delayed-action, deadly/not deadly behaviour of the alleged Novichok that has led the UK authorities such a merry dance around doorknobs and car ventilators, as well as around diametrically-opposed versions of the poison’s weather resistance, to explain its refusal to act like A234.

Even the docile BBC appears to have lost some of its willingness to stick to the ‘always blame Novichok but never give the same version of events’ narrative over the weekend.

On the BBC Radio 4 Today programme last Thursday (5 July), John Humphrys interviewed the UK security minister, Ben Wallace, MP, about the poisoning of two people in Amesbury. Humphrys began by lobbing the minister the softest of balls so that he could bat the blame squarely in the direction of the Kremlin:

Humphrys: Ben Wallace, good morning to you. Let’s deal with that Russian responsibility first. Obviously, if it’s Novichok, and we now know it was Novichok… It’s a fact, isn’t it? They have confirmed that? Just a ‘yes’ to that will do because Scotland Yard confirmed that last night. … presumably the government authorised it?

Ben Wallace: Yes it’s been confirmed that these two victims are suffering the consequences of exposure to Novicheck [sic] nerve agent.

Novicheck? Wallace has been in post since 2016.

John Humphrys: Right. And therefore it must be Russian because they’re the people who do it?

Ben Wallace: Based on the evidence we had at the time of the Skripal attack; the knowledge that they had developed Novichok; that they had explored assassination programmes in the past; that they had motive, form and stated policy, and that the targets were linked, we would still assert to a very high assurance that Russia was behind … that the Russian state was behind … the original attack.

Ah, now it’s Novichok, although it’ll go back to ‘Novicheck’ again later in the interview. Also note that Humphrys is assiduously framing the discussion around the ‘fact’ that, in his inelegant phrasing, “it must be Russian because they’re the people who do it.” Even then, the minister still equivocates: “…we would still assert to a very high assurance that … the Russian state was behind” the attack on the Skripals. Or as they say, “plausible, plausible, plausible”.

Craig Murray described back in April how senior civil servants were still deeply sceptical of Russian responsibility for the alleged ‘Novichok’ attack on the Skripals, despite intense Government pressure to point the finger at the Kremlin.

Earlier in last Thursday’s programme, Humphrys was assured by another regular player in the official Novichok narrative, Hamish ‘wanna buy a gas mask?’ de Bretton-Gordon, that both pairs of victims would have had to ingested the substance to be poisoned by it. Mere skin contact wouldn’t be enough, he said. This angle seems to be an attempt to reassure the long-suffering residents of Salisbury that they will be safe enough as long as they avoid licking their fingers after touching discarded perfume bottles.

However, the ingestion claim is absolutely not true of either Novichok or 3MF/Carfentanil, which can both be absorbed in lethal doses through the skin.

Ben Wallace, despite being unsure of the right pronunciation of the alleged Russian nerve agent, correctly answered this point. “Novicheck [sic] in the smallest form can kill thousands of people,” he told Humphrys.

“Your skin would fight it off,” persisted Humphrys.

“No, it would kill you,” countered Wallace, winning the argument with Humphrys but trashing much of the government’s wider Novichok narrative, since the Skripals are still very much alive in spite of allegedly encountering the agent in a very pure form (and likely inhaling it if it was administered as an aerosol spray from a luxury perfume bottle).

One might get the impression from Ben Wallace’s interview that he’s not as well briefed on the affair as some other people are. The BBC’s Frank Gardner sometimes seems so well-briefed that he could be part of the security services themselves – though now even he seems to be having trouble reconciling the proliferating contradictions in the official narrative.

During an interview with Gardner on this morning’s Today programme (9 July), John Humphrys did a reverse ferret;  now being as keen to point out that there’s no actual evidence the Russian state did it as he was keen last week to suggest the Kremlin were the most likely offenders:

John Humphrys: Part of the problem is, I suppose, though, we don’t have evidence – I stress evidence … the sort of evidence that would stand up in a court – that it was the Russians who did it?

Frank Gardner: That’s exactly the problem. It gives the Kremlin enough wriggle room to say: “It wasn’t us. There are lots of different theories.” You are absolutely right; I have still yet to see – obviously I talk to lots of people about this – I have yet to see any kind of real smoking gun as it were. There is nothing that… and they may never find it. I mean, some people I have spoken to are confident that even if it takes three years, they will find the culprits. I’m not so sure.

‘No evidence’ is a bit more than simply wriggle room, Mr Gardner, surely? And you assert that the people who say they’re sure they need to look for a perfume bottle or ‘luxury item’ actually haven’t the foggiest idea who carried out the Skripal attack and probably still won’t have in three years’ time. All we think we know is that someone tossed away a potentially deadly cosmetic item in an unknown location, where it was eventually found by Sturgess and/or Rowley.

Even that angle could be a red herring. Fentanyl-related deaths increased sharply among UK heroin addicts last year. Although the problem has been mainly associated with the north east of England, there are reports of heroin being mixed with Carfentanil in Wiltshire.

So here’s one hypothesis. Dawn Sturgess, tragically, is the latest in a growing roll call of British heroin addicts killed by the highly risky trend for mixing heroin with Carfentanil. The fatal agent in her case was the same as the one that poisoned the Skripals: just not a Novichok as was too-rapidly alleged by the spooks who sent the Government down this rocky road back in March.

That road is becoming a morass of contradictions, which the government can barely manage and which the media seems to be finding increasingly embarrassing to overlook, despite the two D-Notices slapped on it.

If the person or persons who poisoned the Skripals did indeed do it with an aerosol spray charged with a fentanyl derivative, then the perfume bottle/luxury item delivery system angle might be a surmise by the police, since that is the kind of object a homeless addict might pick up in the hope of selling it or just enjoying a touch of opulence.

Or the police could be searching for a bottle because the Skripals saw it and described it.

In the case of the couple from Amesbury, it looks even more like fentanyl was involved since they were, or had recently been, part of a section of the population where deaths from fentanyl/heroin are occurring more frequently. Ms Sturgess’s death may not be linked to the Skripal case in any way except that she happened to live in Salisbury.

Applying Occam’s razor to their situation; when someone with a history of heroin use falls ill with many symptoms of Carfentanil (or similar) poisoning, what is more likely? That they somehow stumbled across, then sniffed or licked, then lost, a luxury perfume bottle filled with possibly enough Novichok to murder a city, that had been heinously left lying around a park for four months by bumbling or utterly reckless FSB hit men?

Or that there was some China White mixed into their last hit? Or that they’d used straight fentanyl because it’s cheaper than smack?

Either way, the only thing we seem to be fairly sure of was that the Skripals were deliberately poisoned by someone. It doesn’t look like a Novichok was used. It does look very like a fentanyl derivative. Who did it and why are still questions that, per the extremely well-connected Frank Gardner, nobody but the perpetrator(s) knows the answer to.

The UK government can’t stop itself and its over eager media from handling the matter in a way that’s damaging to Britain’s credibility around the world and disastrous for Salisbury’s economy.

Perhaps the only hope is that, with her Brexit strategy falling apart at the seams and Boris Johnson finally gone from the Foreign Office, Theresa May will decide the Novichok malarkey is one mess too many on her plate, and allow the police to investigate the affair free from the constraints imposed by old style global paranoias.

I’m not holding my breath. Except when using an aerosol.

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)

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?

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.

13-minutes-601
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.