Friday, 2 November 2018

European Court of Human Rights: rights for some only

The European Court of Human Rights has demonstrated that the right to freedom of expression is not universal and is only for some people. The Court made this blatantly clear in its differential treatment of two freedom of expression cases.

In the case of Frau S, the court found that Austria had not violated her right to freedom of expression. In the case of Pussy Riot, the court found that Russia had violated their right to freedom of expression. To any dispassionate, impartial observer, these two judgements are more than contradictory. In the first case, Frau S had simply stated the the prophet Mohammed was a paedophile. This was an accurate factual claim. Mohammed, as is well attested by the hadiths, had married a six year old girl and had consummated the marriage when she was nine. For making this accurate statement, the Austrian courts had found Frau S guilty of inciting racial hatred. (The fact that Islam is not a race only makes the ruling absurd as well as unjust.) The European Court of Human Rights ruled that Austria had not violated Frau S's right to freedom of expression.

The case of Pussy Riot is strikingly different, and the court treated it very differently too. In this case Pussy Riot engaged in a "punk prayer" in Moscow's Christ the Saviour cathedral. This was clearly intended to cause offence to Christians and the Russian courts found Pussy Riot guilty of inciting religious hatred. The European Court of Human Rights found that Russia had violated the band members' right to freedom of expression. When this case is contrasted with the case of Frau S, there can be no doubt that the court was acting improperly. There is simply no way to reconcile the two judgements on the basis of the facts of the cases and the application of a universal human right to freedom of expression.

The court's upholding of the Austria position is clearly wrong. And that fact is underlined by the court's judgement that Russia was in the wrong, as the case against Frau S is remarkably weak; whereas the case against Pussy Riot is much stronger because it was precisely their intention to offend and to incite hatred of a religion. Indeed, the fact that the court ruled against Russia is overwhelming evidence that it should have ruled against Austria.

These two cases illustrate a major problem with the European Court of Human Rights: the court is more a political organisation than a court. Whilst the judges may well all have law degrees, they are not experienced, practising judges; they are political appointees. The judges are not people who are listening to the facts of the cases before them and applying the law dispassionately and impartially. In fact their judgements are politically motivated. In the case of Frau S, they upheld Austria in order to appease Muslims. The ruling makes this clear, as the court justifies its decision on the ground of protecting religious peace - in other words, the judges were persuaded that if Austrians could point out that Mohammed was a paedophile, Muslims might be enraged and resort to violence. That is not a dispassionate, impartial application of the law. At best, it is a pragmatic attempt to ensure peaceful co-existence in the same society between Muslims and non-Muslims by using the courts to protect Islamic sensibilities. As for the Pussy Riot case, there is an argument that the court impartially applied the law to the facts of the case, in the sense of the universal right to freedom of expression. However, if that is so, the judgement merely throws into even sharper relief the perversity the judgement against Frau S.

The European Court of Human Rights is simply not fit for purpose. It is not a court in any realistic sense of the word. It is staffed by political appointees, who lack judicial experience, and who ignore the court's own prior judgements. The court is in fact a mockery of a real court.

Tuesday, 23 October 2018

Khashoggi case: Erdogan implies possible resolution

President Erdogan delivered a much trailed speech today to the Turkish parliament. He provided a detailed timeline of the events that led up to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. The president alluded to the much leaked evidence that the Turkish authorities claim to have, but did not explicitly refer to the alleged recording. His remarks were particularly interesting in respect to King Salman.

According to Erdogan, the Turkish authorities were allowed access to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul only as a result of a conversation between himself and the king. Erdogan also stressed that he was convinced that the king was sincere and wanted a thorough and complete investigation of the crime and all those responsible, no matter how high, to be held to account. Erdogan went on the say that the trial should be held in Istanbul.

Reading between the lines, Erdogan appeared to be offering the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia a possible resolution to the crisis. The president was implying that eighteen people the Saudis have already identified as suspects should be put on trial for the murder of Khashoggi. Erdogan did not mention Mohammed bin Salman by name, but the implication was clear that Mohammed bin Salman should (in some way) be held responsible. The vagueness here was doubtless deliberate. He was probably suggesting that the Crown Prince by seen as incompetent, rather than as having actively ordered the killing.

Erdogan obviously left unstated the possible publication of the alleged recording of the crime. This possibility is what has driven the Saudis to change their story; it is what forced the Saudis to allow the Turkish authorities access to the consulate; it is what forced the Saudis to agree to cooperate with the Turkish investigation; it is what forced the Saudis to name the eighteen suspects. Erdogan clearly thinks he can use the same possibility to force King Salman to remove Mohammed bin Salman from the position of Crown Prince, and de facto leader, and replace him with someone else; someone who would pursue policies favourable to Turkey (and doubtless Qatar).

In the world of international relations, it is clear that blackmail can be carried on in plain sight.

Sunday, 21 October 2018

The Saudi story changes

Jamal Khashoggi entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on the second of October. He has not been seen since. Initially, the government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia stated that Mr Khashoggi had left the consulate after an hour or so. However, whilst there was closed circuit television evidence of his entry, there was none of his exit. For eighteen days, the Saudi authorities stuck to their claim, in the face of constant leaks from the Turkish authorities claiming that Khashoggi had been tortured and murdered. Then the Saudi authorities issued a new story. They claimed that Mr Khashoggi had died in the consulate during a fight. The new story did not explain why Mr Kahashoggi had decided to engage in a fist fight with a number of younger and fitter men. It did not explain why the Saudis had not informed the Turkish authorities of the death at the time. It did not explain, why they had falsely insisted for eighteen days that Khashoggi had left the consulate, alive and well. Nor, did it explain what had happened to Mr Khashoggi's body. The Saudi story is nothing but an obvious fiction. Yet President Trump asserts that he finds it credible.

The case of Jamal Khashoggi can be reasonably compared with that of Sergei Skripal. The two cases involve allegations of state agents killing or attempting to kill persons on foreign soil. In the case of Khashoggi there is clear and overwhelming evidence of the involvement of the Saudi state. In the case of Skripal there is no evidence of the involvement of Russian state. A disinterested and impartial observer would find the allegation against Russia to be unsupported. The same observer would, however, find that senior Saudi state officials had, at least, killed Khashoggi and that this was almost certainly premeditated and planned in detail. Given the differences between the two cases, one would expect reasonable people to respond very differently. And the responses have been very different. Yet the responses of western governments have been precisely the opposite of what a reasonable person would have expected.

In the unproven case of Sergei and Yulia Skripal, western governments have pronounced Russia guilty and imposed punishments, including the expulsion of a record number of Russian diplomats and the imposition of sanctions. Whereas in the proven case of the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, western governments have repeatedly stated that there needs to be a thorough and complete investigation to establish all the facts. They, especially the United States and the United Kingdom, have stressed the importance of their relationship with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. This relationship has been emphasised for its substantial economic ties, and a role that Saudi Arabia plays in combatting jihadi terrorism, which is not only completely bogus, but is the exact opposite of the truth.

A dispassionate comparison of the responses of western governments to the two cases clearly reveals the complete hypocrisy of the ruling elites in the western liberal democracies. The application of double standards could not be more blatant. The much vaunted values of the liberal democracies are shown to be nothing but mere propaganda. The Russian Federation, in comparison to the barbarous Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, is a model of human rights, democracy and the rule of law. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has none of these. It routinely kills people for non-crimes, such as the expression of opinions. It has no democratic institutions and it is ruled by an absolute monarch, a dictatorial tyrant. Its pretence to a rule of law is just that: a complete fiction. Yet, the governments of the western liberal democracies ignore the systemic human rights violations, the war crimes and crimes against humanity of the Saudi regime; whilst condemning and punishing Russia on the basis of nothing more than unsupported allegations and false facts.

As can be seen from a comparison of the two cases, the elites of the west are sociopaths, for whom words such as human rights, democracy and the rule of law are nothing more than rhetorical tools to be exploited as propaganda.

Tuesday, 16 October 2018

Khashoggi and media disinformation

Two weeks ago Jamal Khashoggi entered the Saudi consulate in Turkey. He has not been seen since. The Turkish authorities claimed they had proof that he had been tortured, murdered and dismembered by the Saudi regime. The western corporate media, led by the Washington Post, a newspaper for which Khashoggi worked, made a scandal out of the disappearance and possible murder.

The Washington Post represented Mr Khashoggi as a journalist, who was a critic of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. They represented him as being an advocate of human rights and democracy. They suggested that the regime had sought to silence his dissent. Everything about this representation was completely false.

Mr Khashoggi was not a journalist. There is no journalism in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. He was a propagandist. He was not a critic of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. On the contrary, he was a well connected member of the Saudi establishment. His so called journalism consisted solely of the promotion of Saudi propaganda and, as an editor, the censorship of opinions and facts that did not suit the interests of the regime. This propaganda promoted both the absolute rule of the monarchy and its Wahabist version of Islam, neither of which recognise human rights nor democracy. Indeed, Khashoggi had helped to support Osma bin Laden. He did this right up until there was a parting of the ways between bin Laden and the House of Saud, as would be expected from a state propagandist.

About a year ago, Mr Khashoggi went to America, an act of self imposed exile. This was not because of some mythical conversion to the values of human rights and democracy. It was because the princes he had aligned himself with had fallen out of favour with the Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. The rift between Khashoggi and the Saudi regime was not a conflict between a freedom loving dissident and an autocratic regime, but an internal power conflict within the ruling elite of Saudi Arabia. Mr Khashoggi had picked the wrong princes.

However, the simple facts of the case do not suit the Washington Post. Hence the fairy tale about him being a critic of the regime. Mr Khashoggi was not a critic of the regime any more than the Washington Post was a critic of the regime. He, just like the Washington Post and the rest of the US elite, was a supporter of the barbarous regime in Saudi Arabia. The purpose of the Washington Post narrative, which has been amplified by the rest of the corporate media, is to hide the inconvenient fact that the US elite fully supports the murderous regime in Saudi Arabia.

Indeed, it should be obvious to all that the expressed outrage is completely confected, given the fact that the regime routinely and systematically violates human rights; that it tortures and kills people for non-crimes, such as the expression of opinion; that it is committing war crimes and crimes against humanity in its war on Yemen, a war the US and its allies fully support; that it promotes jihad and terrorism across the globe. None of this is news. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has always been a barbarous state. Yet, the Washington Post has not seen fit to demand action be taken when the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has persecuted genuine critics of the regime. On the contrary, it has acted as a PR arm of the regime.

The case of the disappearance of Mr Khashoggi is a textbook illustration of the propaganda role of the corporate media. A few actual facts, embedded in a mendacious narrative that inverts reality and turns the world upside down, claiming black is white, tyranny is freedom, and sociopathy is altruism. If this sounds like Orwell's 1984, it is simply because ever since the common people gained the right to vote, the ruling elites have felt compelled to lie in public.

Friday, 5 October 2018

Jeff Bezos: richest man in the world

Jeff Bezos is reportedly worth one hundred and fifty billion dollars. The figure is staggering.

Mr Bezos has come under some criticism of late. This has focused on his ruthless, exploitative approach to his workers, many of whom are paid minimum wages and forced to endure bullying management. So, Mr Bezos listened to his critics and decided to announce that he intends to raise the wages of his lowest paid workers to fifteen dollars an hour. He didn't say anything about the bullying management practices, which Amazon have always defended.

Prior to announcing his decision, Mr Bezos had asked the world what they thought he should do to improve things. Pay your workers decent wages proved to be a popular response. So I guess he was listening, sort of.

However, given his obscene wealth, there are a number of other things Mr Bezos might consider. For example, according to the United Nations, it would cost a mere ten billion dollars to ensure everyone has access to clean water. When you have a hundred and fifty billion, surely ten is not too much to save millions of lives. However, I am not expecting Mr Bezos to turn up at the UN and hand over ten billion any time soon.

You see, when you look at Mr Bezos' promise of increased wages, it turns out to be far less generous and enlightened and altruistic than it looks at first sight. For what Mr Bezos giveth with one hand, he taketh away with the other. All those workers expecting pay rises, will also find that their rights to other benefits have been stripped away. Moreover, Mr Bezos is facing a job market that is tilting in the interests of employees and other employers have already been forced by these changes in the labour market to increase the wages they pay. And Mr Bezos has to compete with those employers.

Of course, none of this should come as a surprise. No one gets to be a billionaire by being kind and compassionate, by being just and fair. They get to be billionaires by being sociopathic, self-interested, exploitative monsters. That's how capitalism works: the rich use their economic (and political) power to steal (legally, for the most part) from everyone else, especially the poor.

Tuesday, 18 September 2018

On dog whistles and witch-finders

Back when President Trump was mere candidate Trump, an American professor published an article, arguing that Trump is anti-Semitic. The professor claimed to have overwhelming evidence; all from Trump's public statements; all in Trump's own words. I read the article, as I had completely failed to notice any trace of anti-Semitism from Trump. However, what I found was not evidence of anti-Semitism, but rather the argument that every time Trump referred to banks and finance capitalism, he really meant Jews and that his supporters knew this and he was appealing to their anti-Semitism. According to the professor, Trump was speaking in a secret code that was only accessible to other anti-Semities.

Unfortunately, this form of argument is depressingly common. There is even a noun-phrase for it. It is called dog whistle racism. It is from Australian English and has infected the whole of the English speaking world. And the political media elite love it. I suspect Joseph Heller would have loved it too, for it has all the Alice in Wonderland logic of his famous Catch 22.

Anyone can be accused of dog whistle racism on the basis of anything they have ever said or written because the words do not mean what they denote; they mean whatever the accuser claims they mean. And no one is allowed to dissent. Because dissent would mean supporting a racist and only a racist would support racism.

Once someone is accused of dog whistle racism there is no defence. How could there be? The accusation is evidence-free. The "proof" is words that do not mean what they say, but what the accuser says they mean. Any protest is immediately interpreted as further "evidence" of the racism of the accused. This is the kind of charge that witch-finders developed in the late middle ages. The accusation is made and the accused is guilty: it is just a matter of how deep that guilt goes.

If all this strikes you as completely senseless, I am afraid I can only say, Wait, it gets worse. It gets worse because the very definition of dog whistle racism is that it is a secret code that only the racists are capable of recognising. Thus, strictly speaking when someone accuses another of dog whistle racism, they are, in effect, accusing themselves of being racist. Yet, no one ever points out this simple, obvious logical and linguistic point. The accusers get a free pass. No one says, How come you are able to read this secret racist code that is only known to racists?

And it gets even worse. Anyone who is unable to read this secret, racist code is not presumed to be not racist. On the contrary, claiming to not know the secret, racist code is immediately construed as support for the racist and thus not being able to decipher the secret code is paradoxically considered to prove racism.

The notion of dog whistle racism shows just how radical is the political media elite's rejection of the values of the Enlightenment. Not only have they completely rejected evidence, due process, and the presumption of innocence; they have invented a noun (phrase) that is an accusation that is itself supposed to be the evidence that proves the guilt of the accused and cannot be challenged: indeed any attempted defence is construed as proof of even greater guilt. Moreover, should anyone come to the defence of the accused, they too will be subjected to precisely the same treatment.

In a world where the notion of dog whistle racism exists one is either with the witch-finders or one is a witch; or at least in imminent danger of becoming a witch. 

Wednesday, 12 September 2018

Skripal case: the suspects

Last week, Theresa May told parliament that the two people, Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, suspected of poisoning Sergei and Yulia Skripal are GRU officers. However, Neil Basu, the police assistant commissioner in charge of the investigation, told the press that there is no evidence that the suspects are linked to the Russian state. Today, President Putin has stated that the Russian government knows who the suspects are and that they are civilians. Putin also said that he expected the men to come forward and speak to the media. These statements are obviously not compatible.

The notion that Neil Basu was lying when he told the press that the investigation had no evidence of a link between the suspects and the Russian state is simply not credible. Basu's statement does not in itself rule out the possibility that the suspects are GRU officers, but if they are, it means Theresa May has access to evidence that is being withheld from the investigation. The only actors who could conceivably be in a position to have such evidence, be able to withhold it from the investigation and be able to present to the prime minister, would be the intelligence services. And the suggestion that the intelligence services are Theresa May's source of information, rather than the investigation, seems more than plausible. It would explain why the official narrative is so full of lacuna, inconsistencies, contradictions and absurdities; so lacking in evidence.

These absurdities only increased when the investigation named its two suspects. A major problem with the official narrative revealed by the publication of the suspects names and the timings of their movements was the issue of when were Sergei and Yulia poisoned. According to the official narrative, they were poisoned by touching the outer door handle of Mr Skripal's house, which had been doused with a military grade nerve agent that is eight times more lethal than VX. The official narrative also holds that Skripal and his daughter left the house at before 9:15 in the morning. However, the official narrative has the two suspects in London and they do not arrive in Salisbury until just before noon. So if the official narrative is correct, neither of the suspects could be the perpetrators, as the poison had to have been applied to the door handle prior to 9:15.

Frankly, I suspect the intelligence services do not care about all the logical inconsistencies and this is why they just keep mounting up. For example, the hotel the suspects stayed at in London was, according to the official narrative, found to be contaminated with the nerve agent. This discovery was allegedly made at the beginning of May, but it was not announced to the public until September. During all that time, the authorities made no attempt to safeguard the welfare of all the people who had had contact with the room, nor to stop anyone else from having contact with the room, nor did they inform the owner of the hotel. This is similar to the duck feeding incident, which never even made it into the official narrative, where the authorities knew that Sergei had had contact with three boys after he must have been poisoned, but the authorities made no attempt to contact the boys. Similarly, after it was determined that the Skripals had been poisoned by a military grade nerve agent and people in hazmat suits were engaged in decontamination action, it took the authorities two weeks to issue a public health warning, which merely suggested washing one's clothes and wiping objects with a baby wipe. On one hand the authorities appear to think that the nerve agent poses no threat, whilst on the other it presents an extremely serious danger, so much so that anything, including vehicles and buildings, that might have come into contact with it must be destroyed and buried.

The release of the suspect information also highlighted inconsistencies in the case of Charlie Rowley and Dawn Strugess. According to the official narrative, Charlie found a perfume bottle in a charity shop bin months after the poisoning of the Skripals. It was in the centre of Salisbury. It was in a box that was sealed with cellophane. Charlie opened it, using a knife and that is how he and Dawn were poisoned with the military grade agent, the same agent that had poisoned the Skripals. Yet, if it was the same agent that the suspects had used to spray the nerve agent on Skripal's door handle, how could it be still sealed? Given that it was sealed, why would the suspects have put it in a charity bin? Moreover, it seems to stretch credulity that the perfume box had lain undisturbed in a bin for months.

Whenever one looks closely at any aspect of this case, it does not add up. A lethal weapon that does not kill. Russian intelligence officers that apparently were completely incompetent. A chemical weapon that requires the most rigorous decontamination processes and requires little or even no decontamination. A hero detective sergeant who mysteriously disappears, and no one seems to notice. And so it goes on. The only part of the case that does make sense is the D notice the government issued to suppress the link between Sergei Skripal and Pablo Miller, the MI6 officer who recruited Skripal to spy on Russia for the United Kingdom. Miller was, of course, a part of Orbis with Christopher Steele, who produced the infamous Trump Dossier and sold it to Clinton and the FBI. This connection is precisely what the government has sought to cover up. The official narrative is nothing more than a distraction. Look over here. Smoke and mirrors. With the additional benefit of allowing the political media elite to jump up and down with moral indignation, shouting: Russia, Russia, Russia.