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.

Wednesday, 5 September 2018

NEC adopts IHRA examples

Yesterday the Labour Party's National Executive Committee adopted all the examples of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance's working definition of anti-Semitism. This constitutes a major victory for the opposition to Jeremy Corbyn's leadership of the Labour Party. The effect of the examples is to brand much criticism of the state of Israel as anti-Semitic, which paves the way for charging and proving, by Labour's own rules, that Jeremy Corbyn is guilty of anti-Semitism and potentially his expulsion from the party.

Ever since Jeremy Corbyn was elected to the position of leader of the party, he has been under constant attack. He has been attacked by most of the parliamentary Labour Party, who have staged attempted coups; they forced a second election contest, from which they even tried to deny him the right to appear on the ballot paper and they excluded tens of thousands of members from voting whom they suspected of supporting him. They have colluded with the corporate media in smear campaigns, designed to portray him as unelectable, a supporter of terrorism, an agent of foreign powers. However, the campaign that they have found to be most successful is the smearing him and his supporters as anti-Semites. The adoption by the NEC of the IHRA examples is the culmination of that campaign.

The reason why the neoliberal parliamentarians felt constrained to adopt the drastic measure of making freedom of speech incompatible with membership of the Labour Party was precisely because of their inability to make any progress in their attempts to undermine and overthrow his leadership of the party. All their previous attempts had proven to be ineffective. Indeed, his popularity has only increased. It is this latter point that makes their next move so fraught with danger - to themselves.

Jeremy Corbyn has the support of hundreds of thousands of Labour Party members. This is not something that can be said for the Labour Party parliamentarians who oppose his leadership. Should Corbyn be ousted from the leadership (withdrawal of the whip, suspension or even expulsion from the party - any of which could be done under the new rule), it is quite likely that many constituency parties will seek to hold their complicit members of parliament to account and deny them the opportunity to stand as Labour candidates at the next election. Fear of this outcome might well make some MPs think twice. The decisive factor here will be control of the NEC.

If those opposed to Corbyn can be sure of their ability to control the NEC, they will be emboldened to remove him, as they will be able to use their control of the NEC to shut down any constituency party that moved to remove a sitting member of parliament and engage in a purge of Corbyn supporters. This was a strategy employed by Kinnock and his supporters back in the eighties, ostensibly to remove members of Militant, but in fact to remove committed socialist, whether members of Militant or not, who were attempting to shape party policy in ways designed to promote economic equality and promote disarmament.

In a grossly unequal contest, Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters have made substantial gains. However, yesterday's rule change by the NEC, in the name of identity politics and anti-racism, has significantly shifted the balance of forces - for it is now no longer a matter of democracy, but a matter of bureaucratic procedures: this was precisely how Stalin took control of the Bolshevik party. Who controls the NEC will determine the future of British politics as we approach leaving the European Union and the next general election.