Theresa May, Russia, and Fake News

Yesterday Theresa May addressed one of main issues concerning everyday British citizens. Immigration? Brexit? House prices? Terrorism?

Alas no, she instead spoke about fake news being spread by Russians:

Theresa May has accused Russia of meddling in elections and planting fake stories in the media in an extraordinary attack on its attempts to “weaponise information” in order to sow discord in the west.

The prime minister spoke out against “the scale and nature” of Russia’s actions during an address at the lord mayor’s banquet, saying it was “threatening the international order on which we all depend”.

If the international order can be upset by fake news being planted in the media, it doesn’t say much about the international order, does it? But the reason fake news gains so much traction in the west is twofold: firstly, major news organisations are flatly refusing to cover serious issues affecting millions of ordinary people, thus giving the (correct) impression that the news is carefully managed by the political establishment. This then leaves the floor clear for nefarious parties to come in and talk about these issues unopposed. Secondly, trust in the mainstream media has fallen to rock-bottom because people have finally realised they are also in the business of peddling fake news, and now consider the difference between them and the likes of RT to be one of degree not form. The mainstream media and the politicians they pander to have only themselves to blame, but they are so lacking in self-awareness they can’t see how much they’re projecting. Consider this statement for example:

“It is seeking to weaponise information. Deploying its state-run media organisations to plant fake stories and photo-shopped images in an attempt to sow discord in the west and undermine our institutions.”

How many fake news stories regarding Donald Trump does the BBC peddle, then? Just last week it was complicit in the fake story about Trump dumping the fish-food into the pond all at once, and relies mainly on unsubstantiated Twitter posts in its initial reporting of a story. And how much airtime did the BBC give to the non-story that was the Paradise Papers? Consider too this post from Rob Fisher at Samizdata:

Leaving aside the question of whether the state has a role in telling broadcasters what news they can broadcast (it does not), let me take a quick look at the front page of the BBC News website right now.

Here is my translation of the pertinent headlines (stories that are political I have marked in italics, and neutral stories I have omitted):

– Big companies like Apple should pay more tax.

– Tax avoidance is wrong.

– Lewis Hamilton should pay more tax.

– Bono should pay more tax.

– Rich people should pay more tax.

– The state should control who has guns.

– Mugabe wants his wife to take over from him.

– Plastic is bad and greedy people are destroying the planet with it because they are greedy.

– Global warming is still really real and only states working with the UN can save us.

– Trump is being mean to Turkish people.

– Trump wants Japan to help defend against North Korea.

– People were kidnapped in Nigeria.

– A writer used politically incorrect language.

– A woman who was rude to Trump got fired.

– People who voted for Trump probably regret it.

The idea that the BBC is an impartial reporter of the news contrasting with RT’s politically-motivated propaganda is laughable. So is this:

Listing Russia’s attempts to undermine western institutions in recent years, she said: “I have a very simple message for Russia. We know what you are doing. And you will not succeed. Because you underestimate the resilience of our democracies, the enduring attraction of free and open societies, and the commitment of western nations to the alliances that bind us.

Whatever damage Russia has done to western institutions is eclipsed by that carried out by the political establishment of which Theresa May is very much part. True, the Russians might not succeed in destroying western society but they won’t have to: the likes of Theresa May will manage that all on their own, cheered on by the mainstream media while ordinary people are ignored, belittled, insulted, threatened, and imprisoned.

If the western democracies were as resilient as May is making out, RT’s output wouldn’t matter. Russia presented far more of a threat during the Cold War, and there were more than enough people in the west working in Moscow’s interests, and yet we survived intact. May knows this, and so does the entire political and media establishment. Politicians want someone to blame for the divisions in society that they have caused, and the media want to silence a rival outlet that doesn’t play by the same rules as they do, i.e. by refusing to cover stories that are politically inconvenient. The sooner May is booted out and the mainstream media goes bankrupt, the better. RT might peddle crap, but they are not the biggest problem Britain faces, not by a long shot.

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A Change in Government

I expect there are a few examples like this:

In 2008, eight years into his addiction, doctors told him he had one year left to live and Georgy realized he needed help. He began a drug substitution therapy called OAT to safely wean himself off drugs.

At that point, Crimea, where Georgy lived, was still part of Ukraine and substitution therapy (OAT) was legal. But when Russia annexed Crimea in March 2014, the peninsula’s new leadership announced the therapy would be banned.

By May that year, more than 800 drug users who had been receiving OAT, including Georgy, found themselves cut off from treatment. Now local and international rights groups say the ban is fueling a resurgent HIV epidemic with fatal consequences.

Amid the many legal and ethical problems with Russia annexing Crimea in the manner it did, it’s hard to claim it was actively opposed by the majority population. However, I suspected they thought there would be only upsides – understandable, given the shambolic state of Ukraine – but over time various drawbacks would present themselves. Some were obvious: being cut-off from the rest of Russia and dependent on Ukraine for electricity and water were two, as well as the collapse in foreign tourism. This ban on OAT treatment is another, and I suspect it’s only a matter of time before a Crimean mother is weeping over the death of son drafted into the Russian army. Whatever the situation becomes in Crimea, I suspect decent reporting on the subject will be scarce and we’ll be squeezed between propaganda on both sides supplemented with the occasional rumour.

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Why Trump is fond of Putin

This is hardly surprising:

President Vladimir Putin feels insulted by allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 US election, Donald Trump has said after meeting him briefly at an Asia-Pacific summit in Vietnam.

“You can only ask so many times… he said he absolutely did not meddle in our election,” the US president said.

Mr Putin later dismissed the allegations as “political infighting”.

The US intelligence community has already concluded that Russia tried to sway the poll in favour of Mr Trump.

President Trump has refused to acknowledge a reported assessment by the CIA and other intelligence agencies that Russia was behind the hacking of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) in the run-up to last year’s presidential election.

You don’t actually need to trust Putin an inch to believe he is telling the truth that he didn’t try to swing the outcome of the US election. None of this passed the smell test from the beginning, and the whole think reeked of an effort to explain Hillary’s catastrophic loss and an attempt to undermine the legitimacy of Trump’s presidency. I always suspected Putin found all of these accusations highly amusing; other than the usual shit-stirring that Russia’s spy agencies have been involved in since the Soviet times, exploiting divisions in US society to sow chaos as part of their zero-sum rivalry with America, I very much doubt Russia had any involvement in the US election. For one thing, it’s never been explained why Putin would have preferred Trump to Clinton.

Of course, those who don’t want very much to change in US politics are aghast at this:

This says less about how much Trump trusts Putin than how little he trusts branches of his own government. And who can blame him? Both the FBI and Department of Justice disgraced themselves during the election with regards to Hillary Clinton, and Obama spent eight years politicising other branches such as the IRS. Moreover, Trump’s efforts to “drain the swamp” have been met with ferocious opposition from what people call the Deep State, or (a term I prefer) the Permanent Government, i.e. those who have done extremely well from the status quo and for whom Trump represents an existential threat. Is the CIA part of this? Of course it is. I’m not exaggerating when I say that Trump could probably get a warmer reception walking into a branch of the Russian government in Moscow than an American one in DC. I’d even go so far as to say parts of the American government represent a far greater political and even mortal danger to Trump than Putin does. If you were Trump, who would you believe? Putin – who at least doesn’t pretend to have America’s interests at heart – or known liars in the American government who have sworn to remove Trump from office using fair means or foul? That’s a tough one.

Then there’s this from Andrew Neil:

Let me take a guess. Perhaps Trump has realised that the entire American political establishment wants him gone and is doing everything they can to undermine and remove him; half the American electorate has gone into meltdown and, a year on from his election, are calling him a white supremacist Nazi when they’re not screaming at the sky; and supposedly intelligent and educated foreigners, particularly Europeans, are acting in a spectacularly immature manner over Trump while their own countries descend into chaos. Standing out from all this is Putin who, for all his faults, is remaining reasonably calm, acting like an adult, and not throwing around childish insults. Little wonder Trump is taking him more seriously than anyone else.

The lessons that ought to be drawn from this are that if you demonise your own president and try to bring him down, he will take his friends where he finds them; and if you insist on acting like a child, the adults in the room will ignore you and talk among themselves. Thus far, the reaction seems to indicate the exact opposite.

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Bridges to Sakhalin Island

This story has popped up every year or two since I can remember:

An epic 8,400 mile railway route will link London to Tokyo in an ambitious project proposed by the Russian government.

Vladimir Putin’s officials are currently in serious talks with Japan about constructing a 28-mile bridge to enable trains to cross the sea.

Serious talks? I’d love to get hold of the Russian version this is based on.

The blueprint for the project, once mooted by Stalin

Projects which have been mooted for seventy years rarely come to fruition. The glaring exception was the Channel Tunnel, on which early efforts were made in the 19th century.

You can guess why I’m interested in this, can’t you?

Russian’s vice premier Igor Shuvalov said: ‘We are seriously offering our Japanese partners to consider the construction of a mixed road and railway passage from Hokkaido to southern part of Sakhalin.’

Sakhalin is Russia’s largest island – and it would take a 28-mile bridge or tunnel to link to Hokkaido in northern Japan, which is connected to the country’s super-efficient rail network.

Shivalov said: ‘We are close to starting our part of the job.’

Hmmm. Technically it’s probably feasible, although that straight line from Sakhalin to the mainland looks as though it was done by an intern at the Daily Mail. Why you’d build a bridge at an angle like that I don’t know, starting from some random spot along the coast of south-west Sakhalin. There is absolutely nothing whatsoever in that area other than a few decrepit and largely abandoned towns that were once fishing collectives. I know this because I’ve been there and took some photos, so you can see for yourselves. It would be far more sensible to take the line up to the midpoint where the mainland is closer and put the bridge there; I suspect the word “proposed” in that part of the drawing is somewhat misleading.

But even if this is technically possible, as an economic prospect it’s laughable. If the Japanese want to get to Europe they can fly and, with their being short, leg-room isn’t a concern even on long-haul flights. Why on earth would they choose to go by train which would take anywhere between one and two weeks? Okay, there is a certain romanticism still attached to the Trans-Siberian railway and die-hard travellers still take it and enjoy it. I never did it, but I have spent 3 days and 2 nights on a train between Moscow and some snowfield near Nizhnekamsk in Tatarstan and let me tell you, the novelty is gone an hour or so into the second day. The biggest problem by far is that Russia, when viewed from the train, is mind-numbingly boring for 90% of any given journey. I’ve done a fair few trips on Russian and Ukrainian trains and mostly I remember vast snowfields the size of France and as flat as a billiard-table stretching out of sight in all directions. And for some confounded reason they line the damned tracks with birch trees so you couldn’t see anything anyway. On Sakhalin we had mountains to look at (through gaps in the brown sludge that adheres to the windows) and it was nice enough for a few minutes, but hardly something you’d pay very much to do. As the Daily Mail says with a certain tongue in cheek:

Passengers would be able to marvel at the snow-capped mountains in Siberia before discovering the stark and deserted countryside of Russia for bulk of the trip.

Uh-huh. Of all the people I knew in Russia, just one did the Trans-Siberian from Khabarovsk to Moscow: a Dutch girl who was mad as a hatter and would later go on to build schools in Zimbabwe using her hands. She loved this sort of stuff, but I doubt many others would.

As a freight route it would be equally useless. The population of Sakhalin is around 200-250k people; the biggest population centre is Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk with 174,203 people according to Wikipedia. This hardly represents an enormous, untapped consumer market just waiting to be opened up. Some Russians might appreciated being able to nip to Japan for the weekend by train, but it’s hard to see why any Japanese would go the other way except for a few who like to shoot bears and the fewer still who like to get yelled at by staff in restaurants. What about the connection to the mainland? Well, back in the construction boom I was sending men and materials from Sakhalin to De Kastri and they’d take the overnight ferry from Kholmsk to some absolute shithole of a port on the mainland whose name I forget. The ferry was some stinking thing from the Soviet era and most people opted to sleep in their vehicles. Anyone not lugging scaffolding around took the plane. In short, nobody is very much interested in going between Sakhalin and the eastern mainland unless by plane, and even then it’s not many. With sea freight costs being what they are, the idea of taking goods halfway around the world by train, or sending them from one wasteland to another, doesn’t make much economic sense.

A bridge between the Russian mainland and Sakhalin has been costed at around £4 billion, while a link to Japan is likely to be more expensive.

The scheme was unveiled at Russia’s Eastern Economic Forum hosted in Vladivostok by Putin.

I bet Putin wasn’t around when this scheme was unveiled. This is a PR stunt for some company or technical college, nothing more. Well done to the Daily Mail for covering it, though.

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The Media Bubble

The news around Europe is that the Dutch have formed a government after a record 208 days of negotiations; Austria has elected an anti-immigration leader in a notable lurch rightward; and the Czechs have chosen a Eurosceptic as a prime minister (h/t Adam for the roundup). You’d have thought this would be a major point of discussion in the British media especially with the ongoing Brexit negotiations, but what was the BBC’s main headline yesterday afternoon? This one:

Never mind European populations swinging to the right and voting Eurosceptic politicians into office, what is important is who is saying what about Trump on Twitter.

Amusingly, Times columnist Oliver Kamm has an article at Capx urging the government to severely curtail Russia Today. Presumably it wasn’t considered good sport for the Times to call for censorship of a rival outlet on its own pages, so Kamm makes the call somewhere else. But here’s what he says when bragging about his own prescience:

I pointed out on the programme that RT was not a normal news station like the BBC, CNN or even Al Jazeera, but a state propaganda channel venting preposterous and pernicious conspiracy theories.

Most sensible people I know, including Russians, acknowledge that RT takes an unashamedly pro-Kremlin line. What is far more worrying is that many people believe the likes of BBC and CNN are unbiased, credible news organisations working on a higher moral plane. The bullshit emanating from the BBC might not be quite as blatant as RT, but nobody is forced to pay for the latter and nor is it wheeled out as some kind of national treasure. Between the two I don’t think there’s an awful lot to choose from, particularly on subjects such as Brexit and immigration which the Establishment are incapable of covering impartially. Anyone who writes for the Times and criticises RT while praising the BBC and CNN is seriously lacking self-awareness. Consider this remark from Kamm:

At the margin, Russian state propaganda has had an effect. David Coburn, an MEP for the UK Independence Party, unabashedly states: “RT gave UKIP publicity when nobody else would.”

In the wake of Brexit, how much of a bubble must one inhabit to think this is an argument for censoring RT rather than an example of the colossal failings of the established media?

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Russia Throws US Election for Republicans by Backing Democrat Causes

This whole Trump-Russia collusion thing continues to fascinate. At this stage I’m approaching the conclusion that those pushing the line are spectacularly thick, rather than merely conniving. I can’t remember the details because this story has had so many twists and turns, but a couple of months ago the MSM was going full steam ahead on the meetings between Trump’s people and Putin’s mob, when all of a sudden the fingers started pointing towards individuals who were well-placed within the Democratic party. The media dropped the story like a hot stone, but it raised the question of who was driving this narrative. Surely the Democrats would have known that any investigation would implicate them, but they went ahead with it anyway.

Then last week we got news that “Russians” had placed adverts on Facebook during the presidential election, paying in the region of $50k-$100k for them. As Streetwise Professor points out, Hillary spent $400 million on adverts. And she still lost. Whatever the causes of her loss, a hundred grand on Facebook adverts wasn’t it.

But common sense is in short supply in the MSM, and they continued to peddle the story anyway. Only no-one stopped to ask “What were the adverts?” before leaping to the conclusion that they must have been pro-Trump, coming from Russia an’ all. But now we discover this:

A social media campaign calling itself “Blacktivist” and linked to the Russian government used both Facebook and Twitter in an apparent attempt to amplify racial tensions during the U.S. presidential election, two sources with knowledge of the matter told CNN.

Both Blacktivist accounts, each of which used the handle Blacktivists, regularly shared content intended to stoke outrage. “Black people should wake up as soon as possible,” one post on the Twitter account read. “Black families are divided and destroyed by mass incarceration and death of black men,” another read. The accounts also posted videos of police violence against African Americans.

The page also publicized at least seven rallies and demonstrations around the country in 2016. The events ranged from the 50th anniversary of the Black Panther Party to a march in Baltimore commemorating the death of Freddie Gray. In several cases, it appears that the events were real, and were organized by other groups, but that the Blacktivist account was working to increase turnout.

“We are fed up with police violence, racism, intolerance and injustice that passed down from generation to generation. We are fed up with government ignorance and the system failing black people,” the page’s description of the march for Freddie Gray read.

In short, these paid Russian trolls simply repeated the same stuff Black Lives Matter spreads around, amplifying one of the main causes of the Democrat base. Lest we forget, Barack Obama met with Black Lives Matter representatives at the White House.

Of course, Russians seeking to publicise and exaggerate the issue of racial tensions in the US is as old as the hills, and was a key staple of Soviet propaganda whenever the US questioned their own human rights abuses. But the point the media and their lackeys are missing is that these divisions which Russia is supposedly seeking to exploit were not created by them: they existed already, and if anything were made an order of magnitude larger by the White House’s previous occupant and his wife. The idea that Russia has unduly influenced American politics by spending a hundred grand on Twitter trolls and Facebook adverts and peddling the central message of Obama’s supporters is laughable.

The irony is that the Russian propaganda may have had some effect, but not in the way the Democrats and media think, and acknowledging its real effects would destroy their own narrative. They want us to believe that Russia paid for trolls to back Trump and criticise Hillary, and the electorate fell for it. What actually happened is Russia tried to exploit the existing chaos caused by Obama’s policies and his open support of outfits like Black Lives Matter, and did so by amplifying the divisions those policies encouraged if not created. When ordinary Americans saw what had happened to their country, they turned away from the candidate who sought to govern in the same manner.

As I said, a hundred grand and fake Twitter accounts wouldn’t have had any impact on the US election, but there is a delightful irony in the fact that if they did, it would have been by supporting and amplifying the causes that core Democrat voters hold dear. So did those pushing the narrative not think somebody would eventually find out what the adverts were for, or did they just trip over themselves to publish a story about Russian trolls throwing the election without bothering to find out? Whatever the case, I think we’re simply dealing with people who aren’t very bright. Perhaps that’s been Trump’s game all along, simply feed them enough rope to hang themselves. Where the MSM goes with the Russia collusion story now is anyone’s guess, but I’m wise enough by now to be certain they’ll not drop it. At this stage, what else do they have left?

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Germany’s Suppression of Free Speech Online

I don’t know how accurate this article on Angela Merkel’s clamping down on digital free speech is – perhaps Bloke in Germany could comment? – but it’s an interesting follow-up to my earlier post:

Absent of an easy route to get at the netizens themselves, what the government really needed was a quick way to force social media firms to make their platforms inhospitable environments for critical, dissident expression; But taking action against social media networks did not turn out to be all that easy.

But coercively targetting social media companies remained an attractive option for the German government. Outsourcing censorship to privately-owned social media firms presents a neat way to circumvene the high bar of constitutional scrutiny that would apply to the state if it tried to enact such censorship directly.

As Germany has economically boomed under Merkel‘s leadership, social compassion and honesty in the public sphere has reached a record low. Corrupt property developers, ruthless drug dealers, and organised crime are being allowed to take over economically deprived parts of Berlin, Frankfurt, Bremen and Colonoge with impunity, while police simply watch. As Berlin‘s political-corporate elite shops in an ever-growing number of luxury all-organic supermarkets, they cheer on the financial rape of Greece and other Southern European countries by the German-led EU‘s austerity programs; Brutal regimes of cuts and privatisations have left some ordinary, hard-working people in those countries unable to afford even basic essentials such as food and medical care. The supposedly anti-racist, pro-equality mainstream media in Germany outdoes itself day-on-day in finding new, politically-useful ways to implicitly suggest to their readers that ‘lazy‘, ‘heat-dazed‘ Greeks deserve all the degrading austerity they get.

Unsurpringly, Vladimir Putin‘s authoritarian United Russia party has already moved to replicate the Network Enforcement Act. In July, it presented an extremely similar draft social media bill in the Russian parliament, the Duma, that even goes as far as explicitly referring to the German law as its inspiration. Proving that imitation is the sincerest flattery, Russian legislators even copied the exact, expedited content deletion timeframe of 24 hours directly from the German government‘s law.

They’re all at it, aren’t they?

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People are different. Who knew?

There are a few snippets I’ve read over the last few days which can be tied together with a common thread. Firstly, Mikhail Khodorkovsky in the NYT:

The challenge facing democratically minded Russians therefore isn’t simply to remove Mr. Putin from power; it’s to replace the authoritarian system he personifies.

The whole piece is an American liberal’s wet dream of a country which has never seen proper democracy simply seeing the light and embracing the sort of society readers of the New York Times claim they want to see. This was the same idiotic thinking which got people believing if only we bombed the shit out of Iraq and got rid of Saddam Hussein, democracy would flourish. I don’t know if democracy and a free, tolerant society can take hold in Russia but if it does it must come from Russians themselves, preferably ones who aren’t former robber-barons who spent a decade in prison before fleeing abroad. I don’t agree with the conviction of Khodorkovsky, but I doubt he had much interest in turning Russia into a liberal, open society until he fell foul of the regime and the New York Times and their ilk started paying him to promote one. Simply stating Russia needs to move away from a centralised, authoritarian system is a bit like saying if only Israel dropped Judaism things would improve. You’d need a new population first.

The second is a comment from Bloke in North Dorset under yesterday’s post:

Going back to Tim’s point about the media, especially the BBC. Part of their problem is they have spent years carrying out the Buddhist equivalent of beatifying Aung San Suu Kyi and now she’s turned out be just like any other leader in the region who is more interested in power than human rights, especially those of minority Muslims.

There are a lot of people expressing their disappointment in Ms Suu Kyi , presumably for failing to leap to the aid of the Rohingyas. I expect those who are disappointed don’t know much about the Burmese or Asians in general, and those who do aren’t surprised in the least. I confess I don’t know much about Asians and nothing about Burmese, but in that part of the world one’s race or tribe counts for quite a lot. From what I can tell, Ms Suu Kyi’s original beef was with the ruling militia which was oppressing ordinary Burmese, and she wanted things to change – for the benefit of Burmese. Did she care about other minority groups out of adherence to some universal standards of human rights? In hindsight, obviously not. Alas, the wet lefties in the west who wrung their hands for years as Ms Suu Kyi languished under house arrest simply assumed she was just like them. Funnily enough, being Burmese and not American or European, she isn’t.

Thirdly, this news report from the BBC:

The EU’s top court has rejected a challenge by Hungary and Slovakia to a migrant relocation deal drawn up at the height of the crisis in 2015.

In asking the court to annul the deal, Hungary and Slovakia argued at the Court of Justice that there were procedural mistakes, and that quotas were not a suitable response to the crisis.

Officials say the problem is not of their making, that the policy exposes them to a risk of Islamist terrorism and that it represents a threat to their homogenous societies.

Their case was supported by Poland, where a right-wing government has come to power since the 2015 deal.

Hungary’s Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto was furious, calling it “appalling and irresponsible”. He vowed to use all legal means against the judgement, which he said was “the result of a political decision not the result of a legal or expert decision”.

“Politics has raped European law and European values. This decision practically and openly legitimates the power of the EU above the member states,” he said.

“The real fight starts now.”

In a milder statement, Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico said his country’s position on quotas also “does not change”.

The people and governments of Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia have made it abundantly clear that they do not want refugees from the Middle East and Africa being settled on their territory. The powers that be in Brussels deem this unacceptable, and wish to force these countries to take them.

The thread linking these three stories is the one whereby the ruling classes in the west seem to loftily assume that everyone else in the world is just like them, and if they aren’t then they should be. That western liberals are western liberals because they are products of the west’s liberal culture doesn’t seem to occur to them; they think people who are from wholly different cultures bound by very different histories and geography are the same, simply because they wish them to be.

As an attitude, it’s all rather 18th century colonial, isn’t it? Christian missionaries telling the natives to take the bone out of their nose and stop eating people would fit in well with today’s establishment classes.

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Dodgy Traffic Police

Today’s re-posted blog entry is from November 2011 and concerns corrupt traffic police in Nigeria and Russia.

Today I got pulled over by a dodgy traffic policeman for the first time since I came to Lagos over a year ago. I wasn’t driving (I never do: a pale face behind a wheel may just as well be replaced with a sign saying “Free Money Here” as far as the Lagos traffic police go), and was sat in the back reading.

A scrawny, unshaved, shit of a man with a uniform he’d been potholing in banged on the bonnet of my car at a place where the traffic police have been doing a lot of document checks of late. With Christmas coming up, they are looking to maximise revenue. Here’s how the conversation went.

Policeman: Give me your documents.

(My driver handed the policeman the documents. He looked at some of them, wishing he had learned to read before joining the police.)

Policeman: Hey! You have not signed this one and this one!

Driver: And?

Policeman: Who is the owner of this vehicle?

Me (winding down rear window): Me.

Policeman: You haven’t signed these documents.

Me: Oh.

Policeman: You haven’t signed these documents!

Me: I know. You said.

Policeman: You did not go to the vehicle administration centre.

Me: (silence)

Policeman: I said you did not go to the vehicle adminstration centre.

Me: I know. You said.

Policeman: Then you should answer me.

Me: If you want me to answer you, first you must ask a question.

Policeman: I axed you a question.

Me: No, you made a statement.

Policeman: Did you go to the vehicle adminstration centre?

Me: No.

Policeman: Then who registered your vehicle?

Me: The garage from which I bought it.

Policeman: Do you know it is a criminal offence not to sign a paper?

Me: Okay.

Policeman: You need to drive around the corner and wait for me there.

Me: Fine, but I need my documents back.

Policeman: No, you don’t need them. Drive over there.

Me: Not without my documents.

Policeman: You need to follow me to Ikeja (some place miles and miles away).

Me: Fine. But first I’m calling my company security team.

Policeman: Okay, call who you want.

(I call my company security, who dispatch an intervention team consisting of a high-ranking policeman and a bit of muscle)

Me: Okay, I’ve called my security department. We’re gonna have to wait here until the intervention team arrives.

Policeman: No, you need to come with us now.

Me: Sorry pal, this is the procedure I’m told to follow. Now I can move the car off the road a bit, but I cannot and will not leave the scene until the intervention team arrives.

Policeman: Are you giving me instructions?

Me: No, I’m just telling you what I am doing.

Policeman: Are you resisting arrest?

Me: Nope. Just sitting here in my car, waiting for the intervention team.

Policeman: But you cannot wait here, you will cause an accident.

Me: Okay, we’ll pull off the road just over there. But I’m not going anywhere else until the interven…

Policeman (throwing my documents through the window): Get out of here!

I was as calm as a mill pond in June. My driver (a local) was as calm as St. George’s channel in January with gale warnings in Lundy, Fastnet, and Irish Sea. He kept arguing with the policeman, demanding he be spoken to properly, asking him what our offence was, and generally acting exactly as this illiterate halfwit in a beret which had once cleaned up an oil spill wanted him to. The key to these situations is to show firstly that you couldn’t give a fuck, and secondly that you have all the time in the world.

I learned this in Russia. When I used to get hauled over for speeding, I’d apologise and get the topic onto football ASAP, trying to be as friendly as possible. I once managed to get let off a fine and a confiscated car by doing this when I’d been pulled over for speeding and they found my insurance had expired. But if I’d done nothing wrong and they were finding spelling mistakes in my documents, then they were in for a long wait.

Firstly I’d speak to them in Russian. If they didn’t let me off, I’d wait until they filled out the whole form and handed it to me to sign, at which point I’d ask for a translator. “But you speak Russian!” they’d say. “Yup, but I don’t read it. Sorry. Translator, please.” At this point they’d usually say “Okay, but our translators come from the FSB. You know FSB? Bad guys. If they come out, you are in trouble. Okay, I will call them.” So I’d pull out a book and start reading. I’m not half as thick as I look. I know full well that if an FSB translator is hauled away from his Sunday lunch to attend a call from a road policeman, there had better be a bomb, a body, or Boris Berezovsky waiting for him when he gets there. If he finds a dishevelled, vodka-soaked traffic cop needs a hand shaking down a Brit who has done nothing wrong, I know who’s going to be directing reindeer outside Yakutsk for the rest of his career. I knew this, and so did they. They never made the call for a translator, and after a few minutes of watching me read, they told me to clear off.

There’s a reason for this. Corrupt police, like school bullies and muggers, want an easy fix. The last thing they want is to put in effort, or else they’d have proper jobs doing something productive. The reaction they are hoping to induce is panic followed by a desperate attempt to get out of the situation by paying them off. I don’t know what the rate is, but I’ve heard of people paying $100 and more to escape the clutches of the Lagos traffic police. If they see somebody is not panicked, they will try to bait you into a confrontation. Once you’re in an argument, which with a Nigerian policeman would be described as heated after the first sentence, you’re playing into their hands. Having failed to find an original offence, you’re likely offering them another on a plate. It’s a lot harder to manufacture an incident with somebody who is largely ignoring you and meekly saying “okay, sure” when you accuse them of committing a criminal offence by not signing a paper. That puts the ball back in his court, because he now needs to do something about it. But what he really wants is for you to offer to do something about it by handing over a fistful of cash. By not doing so, you’re making him work for his money and that isn’t what he joined up for at all, oh no.

Also, as one of my colleagues pointed out today when I told him the story, by occupying himself with me – and getting nowhere – he is missing out on lots of other “customers” who are driving by unmolested. I’m taking up the lucrative spot in the road which he uses to shake people down. If he’s not making money out of me, he’s losing out. Not being completely dim, he realises this and lets me go. It was the exact same in Russia. So long as I was sat in the front seat of the patrol car reading a book and waiting for a translator, they couldn’t process anyone else. They have probably been at this game long enough to know how much they can expect per hour and how long they have to extort cash out of somebody before they start cutting into their revenue stream. If you can front it out this long, you’re probably home free.

Of course, this all depends on whether or not you have done something wrong. If you have, you’d better cough up – some now or more later. Hours and hours later, on the other side of town. What’s bad about Lagos, and I never saw this in Russia, is the traffic police and other authorities will simply pull you over and declare you have jumped a red light or made an illegal turn. Complete lies of course, but it’s your word against theirs and – their superiors being in on the racket – you’re never going to win.

So was I in the wrong today? Initially, I thought I was. When I got back to the office, I looked at the documents. One was a receipt from the registration centre, the other was some form I filled in at the garage. Neither am I obliged to carry in my car, much less sign them. I could have thrown them in the bin at any point and been no more an outlaw than before. I don’t know whether this policeman was genuinely ignorant – I’ve seen cleverer looking farmhands in West Wales – or if he was trying it on regardless. I suspect the latter, given he made sure he got rid of me long before the intervention team arrived. Either way, all pretty unpleasant, but compared to some of the stories I hear from my colleagues involving the traffic police (or impersonators), I got off lightly.

*Nigerian police motto. Seriously.

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Aspiring journalists should ignore Oliver Kamm’s career advice

Staying on the topic of Macron, Putin, and Russia Today, Times columnist Oliver Kamm had this to say:

I believe that Oliver Kamm is an excellent writer and fully deserves his slot at the Times, but let’s not pretend he got there wholly on merit: he is the son of a famous publisher and equally famous publisher/translator, his maternal grandfather founded the Times crossword, and he is the nephew of BBC correspondent Martin Bell. Kamm giving young journalists career advice is a bit like Chelsea Clinton telling aspiring writers how to get a piece in Variety magazine.

Oliver Kamm personifies the metropolitan, pro-European elite which flourished under New Labour and, if their comments around Brexit are anything to go by, are wholly out of touch with the rest of the population. His remark about Russia Today is more reflective of the snobbery that is rife in such circles than a condemnation of Russia’s media outlets.

Let me be frank: RT peddles pro-Kremlin propaganda and they have all sorts of cranks and idiots invited on to speak. They routinely engage in misinformation campaigns, and the one they embarked on following the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was particularly despicable. I am not here to defend RT’s content or editorial policies.

But are the likes of the BBC any better? Or CNN? Actually, yes they are. But the problem is the likes of Kamm believe the BBC, CNN, and the others are paragons of virtue, whereas I would say that there are serious shortcomings with all of them, particularly their obvious bias when it comes to any given issue. Is the BBC’s relentless anti-Trump coverage any better than RT’s pro-Kremlin output? Probably yes, but there’s not a whole lot in it. And RT never pretends to be impartial, unlike the BBC. And that’s what gets me: the metropolitan media elite lack the self awareness to realise that they are guilty of the same charges they level at their competitors.

What is also telling is that Kamm appears to think the editorial credibility of a particular outlet is all that matters when building a career in media. Of course, one would hardly expect somebody who was parachuted straight into a national broadsheet to understand this, but some clue would have been nice. Working for an outfit like RT would be valuable experience for anyone wanting a career in media: regardless of their editorial policies, their production qualities are top-notch and I suspect they cover the non-controversial stories with as much professionalism as any other station. You might as well tell young engineers not to work for BAe because they supply cluster bombs to Saudi Arabia.

Of course, what Kamm means is that by working for RT a young journalist would find themselves shunned from those who occupy the London media bubble, not shut out of the entire global industry. What if the young journalist was Russian, for example? A Russian friend of a friend works for RT in London, and was sent to Paris to cover the anti-capitalist protests last year. Was her career suffering? Didn’t look like it. Should a young Portuguese journalist avoid RT because they might find themselves shut out of the London-based media as a result? For a bunch who are forever wailing about Brexit and sucking up to the Europeans, these metropolitan elites are really quite parochial and can’t see past the M25, let alone beyond Europe’s major cities.

And while we’re on the subject of credibility, Oliver Kamm was and still is an ardent supporter of Tony Blair and New Labour, hopes that Macron will govern in the same vein, and believes that the “liberal interventionism” characterised by Blair, i.e. bombing third-world nations in order to bring peace, is something to be advocated.

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