Featured

Relocation of site

The New Observer is in the process of moving from a hosted WordPress site to a site on WordPress.com.

Please bear with us during this transition period – some links may not work. We are working to fix everything, but it may take some time, as the editor only has a limited amount of time available for this work. Thank you for your patience.

Advertisements

Useful read on privatisation

Criticism of privatisation agenda

Short and to the point. And in the Guardian!

Could this kind of thinking become mainstream in British politics? If (New) Labour got into power would it all be watered down into a few gestures – a few token workers on the board, token regulation of still privatised natural monopolies? Or could something real happen? (We would bet the former).

Why does the Guardian lie so much on Russia?

Quite possibly a Russian intelligence agency was behind the alleged attempted poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter. If this was the case then maybe the Kremlin knew about it in advance; or maybe they didn’t. There is quite a lot of material in the public domain which makes the former quite a strong possibility.

All this makes it all the more surprising that the Guardian incessantly lies when they write about Russia. If they want to criticise Russia there is  surely plenty to write about without lying?

This is Guardian ‘journalist’ Andrew Roth writing from Moscow on Putin’s comments that Skripal is/was a traitor and scumbag.

These are the lies in Mr Roth’s piece:

i. The piece is headlined “Vladimir Putin calls Sergei Skripal a scumbag and a traitor”. However; in his actual remarks Putin called Skripal a traitor and then went on to say that surely seeing a traitor as  a ‘scumbag’ is the natural reaction. (The Russian word he used is подонок for which Wiktionary offers the following translations “rogue, bastard, rat, scum, scoundrel”). That is – for Putin Skripal is a traitor and it follows from this that he is a rogue/rat/scum/scoundrel. To report this as “scumbag and traitor” i.e. to change the word order obfuscates Putin’s principled position – he doesn’t like traitors, and for Putin it follows from this that Skripal is a подонок. Furthermore; the word “scumbag” appears to be the worst possible translation of the Russian word Putin used. These errors are likely not unintentional. Mr Roth wants to tell a story about how terrible Putin is and he will distort the facts to prop up his story.

ii. “The novichok used was one of a number of nerve agents developed in the Soviet Union”. This is tendentious. Indeed this lie has already been called out. The substance allegedly used has been identified as being of a type which was developed by the Soviet Union. However, the specific material that was used in Salisbury could have come from a wide number of countries (including Britain) with the knowledge and capacity to produce this kind of agent.

iii. “Investigative journalists claim they have identified one of the two men as Col Anatoliy Chepiga, a military intelligence officer who strongly resembles one of the two suspects.” This refers to claims by a blogger called “Bellingcat”. Bellingcat specialises in scouring social media to find material to bolster NATO narratives on various matters. His analytical abilities do not reach the standard required of an investigative journalist – as this website has shown. Citing the weak ‘analyses’ by this propagandist as the work of an “investigative journalist” is one way that Western propagandists/journalists produce their narratives.

iv. “The Kremlin has said it will not help secure an interview with the suspects or discuss speculation as to their identities, despite the fact that Putin had originally called on them to come forward and protest their innocence on television”

In fact the two suspects were produced and gave an interview to RT.

v. “Russian television presented the two suspects, naming them as Boshirov and Petrov, as tourists who travelled twice to Salisbury because they were determined to see the city’s cathedral”

If Mr Roth is referring to the RT interview this is incorrect. RT simply interviewed the two men. It didn’t “present” them as anything. The interviewer (the editor of the channel) declined to state her personal opinion as to whether the men were telling the truth or not.

Embellishing a story or outright lying – a matter of semantics perhaps. But in either case – not journalism.

Update

It really is incessant. Here is today’s article which links Skripal and alleged Russian cyberattacks. It is by ‘Diplomatic Editor’ Patrick Wintour. He writes:

Official Russian explanations for the two men’s visit to Salisbury have been widely ridiculed, prompting tensions inside the Russian government over the inept handling of the episode.

However; there haven’t been any official explanations. See point iv. above: “The Kremlin has said it will not help secure an interview with the suspects or discuss speculation as to their identities”. You can check they are lying because they can’t even get their story straight.

Then we have:

The cyber-attack on the DNC headquarters, critical to the outcome of the 2016 elections, has often been attributed to the Russians, but it is the first time the UK intelligence services have made the claim.

Maybe ‘critical’. But that is a judgement not an objective fact as Mr Wintour presents here. (And a simplistic hack as this was reported to be is not a ‘cyber-attack’. A cyber-attack is when you set out to actively damage or cripple infrastructure – such as the US/Israel cyber-attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. In this case it was a hack to obtain data. Calling this event a cyberattack is just another lie).

Actually this story about alleged Russian hacking (perhaps provided to the Guardian by the Security Services?) should be understood completely in the context a) of Britain having recently set up its own dedicated cyber warfare unit and b) Britain trying to create a post-Brexit security role for itself in Europe.

We “bolster” – they meddle

You have to do a double-take to check that the author of this Guardian article on the recent referendum in Macedonia is not having a laugh. But no – this is how they think. The referendum asked people if they wanted to change the name of the country so as to be able to resolve a dispute with Greece and move towards EU and NATO membership. The vote was high – about 90% in favour – but the low turnout (36%) meant that the result was not binding.

There are the usual unsubstantiated claims about “Russian meddling”. There is the usual reliance on claims by US officials. As usual “allegations” are treated as facts. And a smattering of Facebook posts (which could, as far as the article evidences, be by anyone at all) are cited as evidence of Russian interference.

But what is really surprising is how they manage to keep a straight face when after all these (vague and unsubstantiated claims) of Russian “interference” they calmly discuss how the US spent USD 8 million trying to “bolster” the yes vote.

The vote – to move towards NATO and EU membership – was not binding on the government because the turnout was only 36%. But in a nice show of Western progressives true attitude towards democracy – they report that “The paradox is that, whatever their country is called, a large majority of Macedonians support EU and Nato membership, according to a recent survey”. The source of the survey is not mentioned. So; the referendum abjectly failed to achieve the desired result despite a massive US/EU attempt to “bolster” the result . This was blamed on Russia – simply based on a series of allegations and claims by Western officials. But – not to worry – a survey said that Macedonians want NATO and EU membership so, hey ho, lets press on anyway.

Russian meddling does seem to have a purpose. The story (true or not – in this world of media narratives it makes no difference) of Russian meddling allows progressives to blame Russia for any failure of their “democratic” political projects – it isn’t that some of their domestic audiences are beginning to tire of the Western political project.

The intolerance of the new ‘progressives’

This article by Guardian columnist Owen Jones is a statement of the new credo.

Owen is up in arms because Sky News has interviewed Tommy Robinson (founder of the English Defence League). Owen says that “The far right is not a legitimate political perspective”. Its spokespeople should not be heard. Giving them a “platform” i.e. interviewing them,  legitimises their bigotry and hatred. Owen argues that if we allow the principle that people with irrational beliefs and “any old idea” can legitimately be interviewed by the media then “why aren’t we holding prime-time debates about how the earth is flat”? It appears that Owen Jones would also like to ban interviews about whether the earth is flat.

The problem with this is simple and obvious. Who decides what is “irrational” and “any old idea”? The whole idea of a rational democracy is that the people, who are assumed to be capable of making their own rational assessments, make these decisions. And they can only make these decisions if they can hear the views. Despite his (strategic and transparent) attempts to distance himself from the ‘liberal media’ Owen Jones is simply re-iterating one of its core beliefs; a self-appointed elite should decide what goes and what does not go in terms of what is considered acceptable debate. By defining what can and cannot be debated they hope to short-circuit debate and simply force their views through. (Another example of this was how in the run-up to a parliamentary vote on gay marriage the then Equalities Minister announced that there would be a period of public debate and then, a few days later, said that anyone who disagreed with the proposal was a bigot and their views could not even be countenanced).

The only solid argument that Owen Jones offers to support his banning call is that the Finsbury Park mosque bomber had seen online videos by Tommy Robinson.  However; the problem with this argument is that publishing material which incites racial or religious-based hatred are already arrestable offences in the UK. If the Finsbury Park bomber really was ‘radicalised’ by Tommy Robinson’s videos (as Jones quotes a senior police officer as saying) then the question is – why had the police not arrested Robinson (and required ISPs to remove the videos?). The law already provides precisely the protection which Owen is now seeking to obtain through a banning of media interviews. Not only does it provide this protection but – just because it is the law – and not the arbitrary legislation of self-appointed guardians of the airwaves – it provides a rational mechanism for determining what is hate-speech and what is legitimate debate. There may well be a serious set of questions to ask concerning why the police had not arrested Robinson for publishing material “stirring-up” hatred of religious groups (if that is what he is doing) – but the call for a media ban is something else. A media ban is a blanket ban on a person or organisation – once enforced the banned people cannot say anything at all. It is characteristic of the new progressives (or modern liberals – despite Jones’s attempt to distance himself from the tag ‘liberal’ he is indeed a representative of modern liberalism) that they like, where possible, to bypass the due process and considered judgements of the courts in favour of blanket bans which they control. While no doubt Jone’s cause is in many ways a worthwhile one (tolerance is a better value than intolerance) he is closer to Nazi book-burnings than he might think.

The other problem with the idea of a media ban is that it will probably not, as Jones appears to believe, somehow make intolerance and racism go away. The bigotry which Jones is concerned about is rooted in the real experience of hundreds of thousands of people, maybe millions, in the UK. Guardian journalists probably do not feel the heat of economic competition from immigrants. But many do. Owen Jones himself might not mind his children being forced to eat cruelly slaughtered halal meat at school because the local authority has a policy that all meat is halal – but does this mean that those who object are bigots? The only valid crucible in which what is a reasonable (but different) point of view and what is simply a hate-crime can be tested is the crucible of public debate – and, when a conclusion is reached, though the process of legislation and judgement in a court.

Owen’s piece, linked to above, is a clear example of the credo of modern progressives (liberals) that seeks to bypass the ‘old’ approach of rational debate and legislation and replace it with a new approach where a very narrow metropolitan elite of political and media figures decide for everyone else what is right and wrong.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fake news on the Salisbury suspects?

This is the Guardian’s report on a ‘report’ from ‘Bellingcat’ about the two British named suspects in the alleged Skripal poisoning.

‘Bellingcat’ is a web site which publishes ‘investigations’ based on ‘social media research’ which usually find Russia guilty of something.

This website realised that ‘Bellingcat’ was a fraud after reviewing their report into the downing of the MH17 flight over Ukraine. In this report ‘Bellingcat’ shows a total lack of understanding of forensic science – for example making inferences based on different colours in the ground – when the images being compared come from two different cameras. The word ‘calibration’ appears to be unknown to ‘Bellingcat’. In the same report they demonstrate a critical failure to understand how the software they are using to analyse apparent changes in jpeg files actually works.

It is a sign therefore not only of the frantic desire to accept anything which says Russia is bad but also of the very poor state of intellectual honesty and ability amongst those who pass for journalists in Britain today that the press has largely lapped it all up without noticing the glaring deficiencies.

This is in today’s Guardian report on the latest ‘Bellingcat’ ‘investigation’:

Bellingcat has frequently sparred with Russian military and diplomatic officials, who have claimed without evidence that Bellingcat fabricates evidence and is a front for foreign intelligence services.

However – the evidence that (at least in some cases) ‘fabricate’ is exactly what ‘Bellingcat’ does is there for all to see.

(We can add that this claim appears in an article in which Bellingcat is reported as declining to reveal the sources which provided them with a secret database of Russian passports…. Not MI6 by any chance???)

Update.

Craig Murray occasionally makes mistakes – but this looks like quite a strong post on the ‘Bellingcat’ ‘evidence’. Note, especially, the BBC report on the matter only using the two photos which are agreed to be Boshirov.

 

 

The Guardian talking sense on Skripal?

Finally – a link to a Guardian story – that I can wholeheartedly recommend. (Almost wholeheartedly – there is an anti-Putin aside based on a social media story about Putin confusing a video of US fighting the Taliban with Russian forces fighting ISIS – the writer probably doesn’t understand how documentaries are filmed and that using footage that can be talked about but which may not be the actual footage referred to would be a normal part of making a documentary film – there is no doubt that Russian forces have engaged with ISIS so the comment is off the point).

With that small caveat aside Alexey Kovalev makes the key point. It seems now that either the Kremlin authorised the Skripal attack – or it was an attack by some branch of Russian intelligence and this organ is not on the same page at all as the Kremlin in terms of political and diplomatic strategy for Russia. Neither is a good situation – the latter probably much worse than the former for the West.

Alexey Kovalev is a Russian journalist. He works in Russia. (Once again  confirming that it is quite possible to be a critical journalist and work in Russia).

Update

The UK government has said:

We have repeatedly asked Russia to account for what happened in Salisbury in March. Today – just as we have seen throughout – they have responded with obfuscation and lies. [1]

This is a crude lie. British propaganda. The British government has “asked” nothing. From the very start they pointed a loaded gun at the Russian government and said “confess or… confess”. This point-blank approach would have removed any room for manoeuvre that the Kremlin had at all. One effect of this pressure could (we are still in the realms of speculation) have been to make the Kremlin feel that they should back up whoever did this since they had nothing left to lose. Though this theory can never be tested.

Notes

1. https://www.rt.com/uk/438362-skripal-salisbury-foreign-office/

 

 

 

Guardian propaganda watch – fake news on Russia

The Guardian seems to be obsessed with criticising Russia. This is strange in itself. The Guardian is a UK newspaper. Its readership have no democratic say over what happens in Russia. They do (in theory) have a democratic say over what happens in the UK. There is plenty wrong in this country that one would have thought that a liberal democratic newspaper would want to concentrate on. But for some reason the Guardian wants to cover a lot of screen space criticising Russia instead.

There probably is plenty to criticise in Russia – if you want to. This is why it is all the more surprising that the Guardian ‘journalists’ who write on Russia have to consistently make up stories. Why do this? That they do this (and this website has demonstrated that they do this  time and time again) gives away what is going on. They aren’t even criticising Russia from some kind of real, genuine, indignation. They just want a straw-dog to shoot down.

This is typical example; a story about the head of Russia’s National Guard who has released a video in response to claims by the nationalist “anti-corruption” blogger Alexei Navalny of corruption in tendering by the National Guard. In the video the head of Russia’s National Guard, Victor Zolotov, refers to the age-old tradition of fighting a duel with someone who insults you, and, in this context, offers to fight Navalny on the mat or in a boxing ring.

The article is standard Guardian fare. It stops short of outright lies (mostly they avoid outright lies) but is spun in such a way to support the fixed narrative on Russia. Zolotov is described as a “close ally of Putin”. He obviously is a connection but the point of mentioning this, which isn’t really relevant to the story, is to tarnish Putin. The report by one of the Guardian’s propagandists in Moscow (that these people can live there and write this propaganda quite freely undermines half the narrative on the ‘harsh media climate’ of course) omits the context in which Zolotov made his comments – the tradition of the duel. Without this context it does appear as a “bizarre rant”. Since “bizarre rant” is the preferred story they omit the details which give the video a more coherent meaning.  The “investigation” by Navalany, referred to by the Guardian, appears, in his own words, to depend solely on looking at the website of the National Guard (where tenders are openly published, as government tenders are in the UK).  [1] Finally, the Guardian mentions that protesters have been detained in recent political demonstrations against recent pension reforms. (Not really relevant to their non-story about Zolotov but it is all part of the anti-Russia narrative so it finds a home here). This is true; people have been detained. But, as is standard in how the Guardian reports on protests in Russia, they omit the fact that people have been arrested on a proper legal basis. In Russia there is a law, (passed by an elected government), that it is an offence to hold a rally if the authorities have not given permission for it to go ahead. This may be a somewhat more authoritarian law than we are used to in the UK, (though police here also take a robust attitude to policing demonstrations where the organisers have not cleared it with the police), but that is the law in Russia. The protesters have been arrested for breaking Russian law. All this will be known to Andrew Roth in Moscow, but he chooses, for whatever reason, to omit it and instead promote a false narrative on Russia. As for the police “using batons on people who are in their teens and early twenties”. Gosh, Andrew, have you never attended a political demonstration in the UK? Hey ho; the police here use batons as well – and against people in their “teens and early twenties”.

There is plenty to write about in the UK – massive social inequality, laundering of public money to private corporations on an absolutely massive scale, use of solitary confinement as a routine punishment on teenagers in schools etc. etc. Are we being distracted from all this with these endless fake tales of how bad things are in Russia?

Notes

1. https://www.rt.com/politics/438154-national-guard-navalny-duel/