Thursday, August 31, 2006

Love is blind

Yes, having a go at the Beeb is like shooting fish in a barrel, but à propos my earlier post about media bias this is too good an example to ignore.

The subject in question is scrap cars and, we learn from the Beeb that, "Scrap cars [are] creating toxic waste", a report earnestly broadcast last night on The World Tonight and repeated on the BBC website .

The main claim of the report was that: "As many as 1.5 million cars are being scrapped illegally in Britain every year, presenting a major environmental hazard," pompously announced in that self-regarding way the media does, as "the BBC has learned".

Thus does it continue that: "Thousands of tonnes of toxic waste are being created by drivers who fail to dispose of their vehicles in the way demanded by the European Union."

This is the notorious End of Life Vehicle Directive, on which we have written occasionally, as indeed did the The Daily Telegraph last year, both of us pointing out how the legislation was an unmitigated disaster.

But such faint-heartedness is not for the Beeb. If it is EU law, then it can only be spoken of in terms of approval. So do we get a brief description of the Directive, with the Beeb telling us that, "In 2003 the European Union introduced legislation requiring all cars coming off the roads to be taken to an approved site, cleaned of pollutants, and the owner issued with a certificate of destruction."

From this, you immediately see where the Beeb is coming from: the munificent, caring EU has delivered unto us with wonderful law which protects us – and the sacred environment – from the depredations of irresponsible and polluting car owners. How lucky we all are.

But, instead of being grateful, according to the Department for Trade and Industry, two million cars were scrapped every year, but by the end of June this year only 250,000 had received a certificate of destruction. And, according to "industry experts" (unnamed - could be the caretaker at a scrapyard, for all we know) this "meant 18,000 tonnes of vehicle fluids and the same amount of batteries could be being dumped or poured down the drain every year."

Then we get Lib-Dim MEP Chris Davis, supporting the Beeb line. The situation was starting to get out of control, he said. "We have some really useful European environment legislation, designed to ensure that we deal with this huge mountain of scrap cars in a responsible manner. It's been British law now for the best part of three years, but the arrangements simply aren't working." He thus burbles on:

Either the government has got to join departments together and get these changes made, or we've going to have to ask the European Commission to take Britain to court and make sure that we're protecting our environment properly.
Then we get an interesting little tailpiece, which the Beeb retails, but doesn't understand. It cites "legitimate operators such as Jeff Bridges" who are struggling to compete with the illegal car-breakers: "You've only got to pick up the local paper, turn to the back page and there will be dozens of adverts with mobile numbers to remove your vehicles. And we can't compete with that", says Bridges. He adds:

We obviously have overheads, we have legal obligations to fulfil, whereas they are just one man with a lorry who will go along and take the vehicle away - untraceable, unprosecutable.
And there, in all its glory is the reality of a totally unworkable law. You create a morass of paperwork, regulation and controls which make it so expensive and onerous to dispose of a car that the business simply goes underground, and 1.5 million cars disappear from the system. Quelle surprise!

It is here that the Americans have really got it right. Instead of devising an onerous bureaucratic scheme – in which the EU excels - their government has created a tax-break for the disposal of cars, where anyone donating a wreck to a charity can deduct the notional value of the car from their taxable earnings statement.

This has spawned a massive charitable endeavour, with a whole range of websites, such as here, here, here and here. As a result, car disposal is much less of a problem in the USA than it is in the UK, with the Americans having harnessed the power of tax incentives to the might of the charities, utilising market mechanisms.

As we have remarked before, such thinking is totally beyond the capability of the EU and, as we see today, it is totally beyond the capability of the Beeb to see anything wrong with this crass system of government, with which it is so infatuated.

But, as they say, love is blind.

COMMENT THREAD

She doth protest too much, too late…

Julia Langdon is waxing indignant in an op-ed in The Daily Telegraph today about a story the paper broached yesterday.

This "revealed" that spending on government spin had trebled under Labour and taxpayers are now supporting an army of more than 3,200 press officers. When Labour came to power in 1997, just over 300 fully-fledged press officers were working in Whitehall (although that figure excluded a small number of other public relations staff).

Furthermore, the amount being spent on government advertising, marketing and public relations had risen three-fold since Mr Blair entered No 10. The Central Office of Information's PR, advertising and marketing budget had soared from £111 million in 1997 to £322 million last year.

Julia Langdon, of course, is a former political correspondent of The Guardian, and political editor of the Daily Mirror and The Sunday Telegraph. She is now free-lance and is often to be seen (or heard) on the Beeb, hosting a variety of political programmes.

Her piece in the DT, however – headed "3,259 PR men with nothing to say" - is the usual vacuous mouthings that one would expect from a former political correspondent of The Guardian. Central to her thesis, she complains that:

It is a difficult job, trying to control the media. Any study of competent bureaucracies will show it is always going to require a very large number of drones labouring in the ministry basements in order to try to achieve that particular end. It is therefore no surprise to learn that the "enormous team of experts" now employed in the Government's PR business has swollen from a few hundred in 1997 to the ludicrous figure of 3,259 today. But while not surprising, it is, actually, scandalous…
Then, referring to her own little tribe of hacks, she refers to "we political journalists" who are meant to do business with these people. The reality, she writes, and the real scandal:

…is that all these press officers are not doing the job, or any job much except paper-pushing. They tell you as little as possible and their words are meaningless. They use words with a literal accuracy that obfuscates the truth and does not allow for any suggestion of original thought or imagination.

They do not seek to enlighten and they very infrequently attempt to help. When - or if - they return a call, my experience is that they will offer to furnish the required information some time after the newspaper in question is already in the nation's recycle boxes. Most political journalists don't bother with them, except for seeking the occasional statistic, because the press officers have been raised in a culture that does not seek to enlighten public opinion about the processes of government.
As I wrote in our forum, though, that latter comment is hardly surprising. I have always worked on the basis that, if you want to know something, the last thing you do is ask a government spokesman - and anything they do tell you is suspect.

But Langdon is wrong about these press officers doing nothing. They churn out press releases by the thousands - so say nothing of posts on their hundreds of websites - and other hacks do use them. There are thousands of trade journals – many of them staffed by little more than a man and a dog – and the torrent of press releases emanating from the various ministries find their way into these, often with only the bare minimum of editing.

Then, the news agencies also pick them up and, with often minimal re-writing, send them out on the wires where they are used, second-hand, by national and local newspapers – the circulation of the latter, cumulatively far exceeding that of the nationals. And, by and large, the specialist correspondents on the nationals rely on their diet of press releases – often sent in advance of the general release, as a "reward" for good behaviour.

For these and others, government statements and press releases are "safe" - you don't have to do any fact-checking before you quote them. So our little darlings in the media have got fat and lazy churning out government spin for all these years, recycling press releases instead of going out and getting their own stories.

But now that the government is getting more reticent about certain aspects of its policies, the milk in the teat is drying and the likes of Julia Langdon are throwing a hissy. They are spitting their dummies (pacifiers, for our American friends) out of the pram.

The thing is that, despite this, nothing will change. The government employs thousands of press officers because it is in its interest to do so and the media does not complain too loudly or too long because it suits it as well. Both print and broadcast media have been shedding journalists in droves and as long as they have a cheap, reliable source of copy, they may rock the boat occasionally, but they are not going to capsize it.

By tomorrow this story will be yesterday's news. The Daily Telegraph will have moved on to pastures new and the whole thing will be quietly forgotten. It will have filled a bit of space in its column, sold a few more dead trees and paid the salaries of its hacks, and everybody will be happy.

Nothing will have changed.

COMMENT THREAD

So it goes on…

If the mistakes governments make are not publicised and analysed, there is no accountability. Nor then will there be any popular pressure to put matters right. The result, in this case, is that people are dying.

That is the measure of the failure of the media as it records, yet again, the surge in illegal immigration from West Africa to the Canaries in small boats across the perilous Atlantic, the Guardian, amongst others, reporting, "15 Bodies Found on Mauritanian Beach", believed to be would-be immigrants washed ashore after a failed attempt to reach the Canaries.

As we detailed in May, here and again here, the forced migration is almost entirely due to the collapse of the artisan fishing industries in Mauritania and Senegal.

This is in very large part due to the predatory EU third country fishing agreements exacerbated by the EU's failure to assist in developing effective conservation systems and enforcement measures to deal with non-EU fishing vessels which are also raiding the fishing stocks.

To be fair, on 27 May, The Daily Telegraph did point this out but that was just one article of hundreds – yesterday's fish and chip wrapping, long gone.

Dealing with the current crisis, with numbers having exceeded 19,000, an article from UPI today records the disaster in terms: "EU steps in to stem flow of migrants", the BBC headlines: "EU promises help with migrants" and Reuters (of Adnan Hajj fame) proclaims: "EU states urged to help Spain stop African migrants".

Now, you might say, the coverage cited – and much more – is perfectly neutral, recording simple fact. But that is precisely the point. Imagine, for instance, that the Canaries crisis was due to the action of Israel, or some other non-favoured entity. Do you think that the headlines would be so studiedly neutral? But, because the EU is involved, we get strictly factual reporting.

It would be just as accurate, for instance, to write a headline declaring, "EU fails to stem migrants". Equally, the copy could just as easily make reference to the "crisis caused by the EU's fishing policies in Africa", and it would be entirely factual to state that Spain – which is so voluble in appealing for help, and on whose behalf the EU is calling for help - is the main beneficiary of the fishing policy.

But, while pejorative references are prevalent in virtually every report about Israel's actions, you will not find a hint of censure directed at the EU in any of the copy produced on the Canaries issue. It is in that way, mainly, that bias operates. In the case of the EU, it is not what the media say – it is what they leave out that makes the difference.

So, the betting is that, after reading the story in whatever media outlet they prefer, the bulk of ordinary, intelligent people will conclude that the EU is a beneficial organisation, struggling to assist a member state deal with a sudden and unavoidable humanitarian crisis. And if they do, they will be wrong.

But the reason will be the misinformation – and the lack of information – that dogs this issue. Thus do we aver that the single most important obstacle we confront in trying to deal with the EU – and so many other issues – is the media.

COMMENT THREAD

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Shifting populations - 2

Populations come and populations go, each time influenced by economic reality. Bloomberg.com reported yesterday a development that is giving the German authorities furiously to think, as Hercule Poirot used to say.

Last year 145,000 Germans, mostly skilled and educated workers, left the country “amid record postwar unemployment, pushing emigration to its highest level since 1954, Federal Statistics Office figures show. Last year was also the first since the late 1960s that emigrants outnumbered Germans returning home from living abroad, the statistics office said”.

Though unemployment has decreased a little since Angela Merkel’s government has taken power it still remains at over 8 per cent, rising to over 20 per cent in the eastern part of the country. It seems that ever fewer people think that the government will solve the problem.

The problems of high taxation and over-regulation are so bad that many are leaving to go to Austria and Switzerland, neither precisely a laissez-faire country. But the bulk of the emigrants are heading to the Anglosphere: Canada, Australia, New Zealand.

COMMENT THREAD

Shifting populations - 1

Much of Europe’s history has consisted of shifting populations, usually though not always westwards, sometimes peacefully, sometimes considerably less so. People in varying numbers arriving into Europe and, also in varying numbers, leaving Europe. Nothing new there but the political implications are important.

My colleague has pointed out yet again that the imminent collapse of many parts of East European economy and the consequent move of many of those who cannot find jobs to the western part of the EU is an almost inevitable result of the latter’s policies. Speaking as someone who has been warning East Europeans since 1998 or thereabouts that joining the EU will not be the solution to any of their problems, I can only add the obvious comment: the astonishing thing is the number of people on all sides who refused to see that this would happen.

In the same way we have written over and over again that the influx of Africans into various parts of the European Union is the inevitable result of the latter’s refusal to have genuinely free trade agreements with them and, above all, the third country agreements that are part of the Common Fisheries Policy.

Nor has the inordinate amount of aid handed over to corrupt and bloodthirsty dictators either directly or through NGOs been particularly helpful for the development of African countries.

The Italians, as before, have found an interesting way of dealing with the problem. As the Wall Street Journal Europe reported over the week-end [subscription only] the city of Padua has revived the literal meaning of the Italian word ghetto. It was originally used for the walled area of Venice where the Jews were confined.

Ghettoes existed in various European cities but were slowly dismantled and even abandoned in the post-Enlightenment era to be revived by the Nazis as they took over one East and Central European city after another. Jews were walled in and many were eventually transported to the death camps.

Now the ghetto is back though not for the Jews. Padua Mayor Flavio Zanonato of the Democrats of the Left party has ordered the construction of a three-meter steel wall around the problem-ridden Serenissima housing project.

The wall is anchored well under ground to prevent tunnelling, is equipped with just one entrance that is firmly controlled by the police and surveillance cameras. The project is home to about 1,500 immigrants, many illegal, most from sub-Saharan Africa.

Apparently, soon after the wall had gone up one Serenissima resident put up a hand-written poster, which said, “today’s illegal immigrants are tomorrow’s voters”. Well, maybe. Or maybe not and the “militarization” praised by one of the nearby residents will remain in place and possibly spread through the city. As long as there is a socialist mayor, he will be able to get away with it. Whether it will provide anything like a long-term solution to the multiplicity of problems involved is questionable.

COMMENT THREAD

Can't resist this

This is only marginally relevant to the various themes of this blog but I thought our readers would like to know exactly what happens in the Great Glass Egg a.k.a. City Hall, the home of London’s government. Actually, London’s government has not been happening in the sense that there have been no committee meetings or Assembly plenaries or Mayor’s Question Time and Hizonner, the Mayor of LondON has been away though not, one regrets to say, silent.

Amazingly enough, London has carried on as it had done for the couple of millennia of its existence in one form or another before Our Ken became Our Mayor. However, not everything is quiet on the Tower Bridge Front.

The staff of the Great Glass Egg received the following delightful round robin this morning:
“Dear All,

From 29 August 2006, the Environmental Champions at the request of the Mayor and the Director of Corporate Services, will be monitoring the waste that is thrown away at City Hall. Individual bins will be viewed by an Environmental Champion and the types of waste in the bin will be recorded to try and find out how much of our waste could be recycled. The results will be recorded on a floor by floor basis and given to Directors and the Mayors office. Progress reports will also be give to staff periodically so you can see how well your floor is doing!

We hope the results will show that the recycling facilities are being used and value your support in carrying out this initiative.”
What a delightful picture that conjures up. We couldn’t possibly comment.

COMMENT THREAD

An industry in denial

A number of people thought I was a little hard on the media yesterday, in my post headed, "The scum that they really are". To an extent, they are right. Not all journalists are scum. There are some fine people in the trade who do their best – within the limits they have to work – to do a diligent and professional job.

However, in an industry that is so tainted, their individual output must be measured by its overall effect. Thus, all the practitioners must bear the burden of that taint.

But quite how bad the situation is, I scarcely imagined. This is brought home by an article in Ynet News yesterday, headed, "Journalists blame Israel for war coverage".

The opening sentence has it that, "A number of journalists claimed during a convention in Jerusalem Monday evening that Israel and the IDF were mostly to blame for the way the foreign media covered the Lebanon war."

But what particularly stands out are the comments by Associated Press' Chief Jerusalem Correspondent, Ravi Nessman. He downplayed the Reuters doctored photo scandal, saying: "It was probably one guy… everyone's working very hard. Everybody is tired. Everybody is overworked. It's very unlikely that the photo editors sat there and said, these are doctored photos, get them on the wires… I'm sure it slipped through. They're trying to do as credible a job as possible."

Nessman also claimed that "there was one real photo scandal in this war, and there were dozens of non-scandals that cropped up." This can only be a reference to the "Qanagate" staging, which stands at odds with a claim from Stephen Farrell of The Times who remarked that, "Pictures have been faked as long as there have been pictures." He cited "commercial imperative" as a factor in the doctored images.

Thus do we read Melanie Phillips today in her article headed, "The media war against Israel". Her long and well-argued piece is worth reading in full but especially chilling are her conclusions. "To date," she writes:

…as far as I can determine, not one mainstream editor or proprietor has acknowledged this corruption of the western media. The scale of this corruption now threatens to have a lethal impact on the course of human history. Hatred now drives not just the jihadists but their western dupes, too. Truth and freedom are indivisible. The deconstruction of the former inevitably presages the destruction of the latter. This is the way a civilisation dies.
To now turn to a piece on the BBC website concerning EU action over Polish shipyards might seem a complete digression, but – as I will show – the inadequacies of this report are all part of the same phenomenon, the corruption of the media.

Written by Jan Repa, styled as a "BBC Europe analyst", this records how the EU Commission has presented Poland with a deadline of the end of the week to "present credible plans for the future of its Baltic shipyards." If it fails to do so, the shipyards could be forced to hand back large amounts of state aid, which the EU Commission says contravene EU rules. This will almost certainly result in the closure of a number of the yards, including the former Lenin Shipyard in Gdansk - birthplace of the Solidarity movement.

The article itself is a fairly factual piece of reporting – but the situation has been developing for some considerable time. The shipyards have been under investigation by the Commission for more than two years.

Where the "corruption" comes in, therefore, is that this issue is treated in isolation and has not informed the coverage of other issues which are directly related.

Not a week ago, I wrote a piece called "The enemy between", where I pointed out how superficial has been the coverage of the Polish mass migration in the media.

Not only was it inevitable and predictable, I wrote, one of the reasons I gave was that:

In the accession countries, however, far from expanding, the industrial base is contracting. Under the dual assault of EU environmental protection laws and the prohibition on state aid – with the added problem of global competition - many of the former state-owned enterprises have shut down or have reduced their labour forces. Thus, we have a situation where, just as the rural economy is shedding labour, so is the industrial sector.
Here, in this BBC report, we have graphic evidence of that dynamic – but no one joins up the dots. Where you have an economy that has failed to develop – through the dead hand of Communism and Russian occupation – to expect it to then immediately to conform with all the norms and regulations of the far more advanced and mature western economies is asking for trouble. The net effect, as we have observed, is mass migration.

The point her is that in all the huge amount written recently in the media about the "Polish problem", nothing of this has been aired. The trivial, superficial and wholly inadequate discourse betrays a massive failure on the part of the media, a total lack of professionalism.

In discussing media issues with my colleagues, in and out of the trade, we see this as all part of the same quantum. It is difficult to distinguish, sometimes, between bias, incompetence, laziness and sheer lack of professionalism. But, in the round it does not really matter. It is corruption in the sense that we apply to word to computers – a "corrupt disc" or a "corrupt file" – something which has broken down or deteriorated to such an extent that it no longer functions as it should.

What the Ynet report indicates, though, is that the problem is far worse than we imagined. Not only is the western media corrupt, it is nowhere near acknowledging that it has a problem, or that there is anything seriously wrong.

For our part, we need to appreciate that, while the Middle East reporting showed up the fault lines in a spectacular fashion, the more pedestrian inadequacies evident in reporting elsewhere, on a wide variety of issues, are all part of the same disease. Basically, the media can no longer be relied upon as a purveyor of information or reliable analysis and, as long as it fails to recognise that it even has a problem, there is no immediate prospect of improvement.

Inasmuch as there are people in that industry who wilfully refuse to accept just how corrupt their industry has become, I stand by my original epithet, although I will add that the issue is the corruption of the industry as a whole. But that merely highlights the more immediate problem - we have an industry in denial.

COMMENT THREAD

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

A little known fact about Sir Alfred Sherman

The death of Sir Alfred Sherman, self-styled (accurately in part) progenitor of Thatcherism has brought out all sorts of reminiscences. Sir Alfred was such a difficult person in many ways that we must all wait for a properly researched and argued biography to form any kind of conclusions about him.

Here I should like to offer a small vignette that is, perhaps, not very well known. Sir Alfred had ambitions to become the leader of the eurosceptic movement by taking over, if possible, the Anti-Federalist League, which subsequently transmogrified itself into the UK Independence Party, a name and a concept he disliked, as I shall explain.

The AFL was formed in 1992, a few months before the election. In the confusing period after the election and through a by-election, with Alan Sked still leader, Sherman came to at least one of the public meetings we held at the LSE. This must have been immediately after his Karadjic interlude, though it was not till later that he told me he had been dismissed by that great humanitarian for being too much of a hard-liner. Back in London, Sherman still had close connections with the Bosnian Serb organizations here and went to many places accompanied by at least two unpleasant looking toughs who had, undoubtedly, worked for the Yugoslav secret police in a previous political existence.

Still, Yugoslavia was a bit of a backwater, particularly as it was unlikely to last much longer as a state, and Sherman wanted to make his way back into British politics. He told me that he had tried to take other Conservative politicians in hand and groom them for leadership as he had done with Thatcher but none of his plans seem to have worked out. It obviously did not occur to him that there was something special about the material he had been using in the past. (He would not have liked anyone to ask this question but one cannot help wondering exactly who was using whom.)

So, clearly, he had to find another niche and the burgeoning eurosceptic movement seemed to be just the ticket. He had always been a fervent supporter of various nationalists, getting into trouble when he invited Jean-Marie Le Pen to a Conservative Party Conference fringe meeting and generally making comments about the need to send second and third generation immigrants “back” to their parents’ homeland. Being somewhat humourless, he never really appreciated the irony of the situation as he, too, was the son of Russian Jewish immigrants.

He certainly opposed the European Union by the nineties though the probability is that he had not really seen the dangers back in the seventies. Few people did. Why he should oppose one artificially created supranational state and yet have no particular objection to others, remained a mystery.

The idea he toyed with was the taking over and grooming of Alan Sked. If that did not work out, he reasoned, then he could take over himself and put the eurosceptic movement on the right tracks.

The first thing to do, he explained to me over coffee, was to define what we wanted to fight for as well as against. Not unreasonable but he then proceeded to make life a little complicated. It is English nationalism that we need to define and strengthen, he insisted. It is not strong enough. All this stuff about the United Kingdom was a political cul-de-sac.

Given that Sir Alfred made numerous comments about being Jewish and being vehemently against this, that and the other because of that, this idea of strengthened nationalism, a sort of sturm und drang seemed rather odd and, given that we were trying to build up a country-wide organization, inappropriate.

Besides, Alan Sked was not going to relinquish his position or put himself in the hands of the man whose behaviour had entailed the changing of the locks on the Centre for Policy Studies building to prevent his entry.

All the same, every now and then I think about what would have happened if...

COMMENT THREAD

The scum that they really are

We see that Daniel Hannan, the eurosceptic's eurosceptic, is in full flood in The Daily Telegraph today, holding forth in an op-ed about the terrors of the European Union.

"The European Union is a solution in search of a problem," he writes. "Whatever the question, the answer is invariably 'more Europe'. War in Lebanon? We need to be able to deploy an EU army. A breakdown in the World Trade Organisation talks? Let's have a more integrated European economy. People voted against the constitution? They obviously thought it didn't go far enough."

I suppose we should not be ungracious. Never mind that this is the man that staked his political reputation on the Boy King Cameron taking the Conservative MEPs out of the federalist EEP group in the EU parliament – only to have his new leader renege on the promise, leaving Hannan high and dry – and still a member of the federalist EPP.

We should quietly forget this little embarrassment and be grateful that thus highly paid MEP is not too busy to earn a little more money telling us what we already know – that the EU in reality only has one policy and that is political integration. And, in seeking to achieve this, it has become past master at exploiting situations of concern, in this particular case concern about terrorism.

This is a phenomenon we have called the "beneficial crisis", about which we have written many times on this blog, like here, here, here, here and here … and er… here and here. Not, of course, that Hannan could ever bring himself to use that phrase. It was coined by the Booker/North team and associating himself with anything we did would soooo damage his credibility.

But, as I have just said, I should not be too ungracious. The fact is that what Hannan has written cannot be said too often – especially for our American friends, some of whom still labour under the impression that the EU has some purpose other than integration for the sake of it.

But what one should really query is why The Daily Telegraph actually bothers to print this sort of stuff – unless, of course, it was a slow news day and it needed something to fill its pages.

The point is that the newspaper itself – as reflected by its editorial line – obviously does not believe it, otherwise it would be pointing it out more often, instead of trying to excise any reference to the EU as often as it can get away with it.

What occurs is that the Telegraph is vaguely aware that some of its readers are vaguely eurosceptic so that, every now and again, it throws a token piece into the pot to keep them happy, and the advertisers coming back to but more space. It is probably as simple as that – for all its high pretensions, this newspaper is a business like any other, there to make money for its owners.

What sticks in the craw though is the pretension. For instance, yesterday, the paper ran a robust editorial demanding that the MoD should "Equip soldiers properly". "We've said it before, and we'll no doubt say it again," the paper intoned. "British troops are as brave, willing and deadly as any in the world. But they are let down by poor procurement and an inefficient MoD."

It then preens itself on reporting that "our forces" in Afghanistan are short of ammunition and are to be supplied with drones bought off the shelf from America (pictured above), because of the inadequacy of our own kit. British weaponry, it seems, is not suited to the rough conditions of Helmand province.

It then goes on to declare that:

The reason for this is that, deep down, our generals are still gearing up to fight the Cold War. Our defence procurement is Euro-centric, designed to protect the Continent from a modern conventional attack. As such, it is ill-suited to the theatres in which our soldiers are commonly deployed.

What use is the Eurofighter, the most expensive item in the history of the MoD, in the Afghan campaign? What about our new nuclear submarines? Are they, perhaps, to be dismantled and carried across the Hindu Kush by mule train, and then reassembled in mountain lakes to take on the Taliban?

The purchase of drones is a welcome, if belated, development. Far more needs to be done if the British Army is to be properly suited to out-of-area deployment. We need modern military computers, guided satellites, air- and sea-lift capacity. And the best way to secure these things is to buy them from the Americans, so as not to have to duplicate the research and development costs that have already been sunk into them.

Sadly, our political leaders, for ideological reasons, prefer to participate in costly and inefficient European consortia than simply to purchase what we need from across the Atlantic. And our top brass, partly because they can see which way the wind is blowing and partly out of sheer inertia, are too ready to go along with them. It is the young British soldier, "wounded and left on Afghanistan's plains", as Kipling put it, who is left to pay the price.
Er… excuse me! This we have been saying for some considerable time, not least in my CPS publication last year called the "Wrong Side of the Hill" (and more recently here), when I pointed out that the British government was expending billions on European equipment which was more expensive and less effective than US counterparts.

And where was the Telegraph then? Did it even publish a story on the paper, or refer to it at all? And, when one of the biggest wastes on money we have seen in recent times – the Type 45 Destroyers – celebrated the launch of the first of its class, what did we get other than a gushing eulogy that could have come straight out of the MoD's publicity pack.

Similarly, when it comes to the purchase of "drones" – funny how the paper cannot bring itself to call them UAVs – I recall writing many pieces about the urgent need for this equipment, in both Iraq and Afghanistan, most recently here. But I cannot recall at any time the Telegraph calling for such equipment. The best it has been able to manage of late, is another gushing piece which could have – and almost certainly did – come straight out of the MoD press pack for gullible journalists.

And, as for the desperate (and ultimately successful) campaign we ran to get improved armour for our troops, to supplement "Snatch" Land Rovers, where was the Daily Telegraph?

And has it ever bothered to report the story of the Panther, that useless and extremely expensive pile of Italian junk, on which the MoD is spending nearly £500 million, when it could have spent less money on decent (and effective) vehicles for our troops? It had an opportunity last year but, of course, blew it.

What all this goes to show it how low grade the media really has become. Over a year ago, I was talking seriously to senior journalists in the MSM about the deficiencies of British Army equipment, stressing that there was a crying need for publicity before troops were unnecessarily killed. My efforts were in vain and now, with the latest tally of 14 troops killed in Afghanistan, we have the Telegraph preening itself over its concern for "our" forces.

As a final note, in the paper today there is a story – curiously not on-line – where it notes with glee that "the American billionaire seeking to open a super casino at the Millennium dome" is facing a "fresh controversy" after one of his companies put misleading information on its website. This it picked up from a political blog and rushed into print with it.

But isn't it odd how this same newspaper, so purient about others’ transgressions, is quite happy to post faked photographs on its website while it, and the rest of the media, is unwilling to debate its own transgressions.

Even until relatively recently, I used to believe the media had some authority and credibility. Now, increasingly, I see them for the scum that they really are.

COMMENT THREAD

Well, that just goes to show

I note with some admiration that my colleague has apologized for what he calls light blogging over the week-end as he was busy wrapping up the Green Helmet saga. I don’t have the same excuse for light blogging though I did manage to see two excellent World War II films by Sir Carol Reed “Night Train to Munich” and “The Young Mr Pitt” about which I shall be blogging somewhere. Then again, a large number of our readers or, at least, members of the forum, tell us quite frankly that they do not read what I write, have not noticed that there are two writers on this blog and do not care to find that out. All I can say to them: skip this posting.

What caught my eye this morning was a rather curious piece in the Daily Telegraph about who might have been the greatest twentieth century British Prime Minister. As Margaret Thatcher, whom I admire enormously, won I was going to nod and pass on. Then I noticed that Clement Attlee, author of the modern British welfare state, which is still causing endless problems to this country, came second and Edward Heath, possibly the most unsuccessful (well, give or take Anthony Eden) of our most recent Prime Ministers, third with Winston Churchill fourth and the unfortunate Neville Chamberlain last.

At that point I started paying attention. It is, of course, impossible to set up a real league table of premiers, as circumstances are so different for each. Influenced by Robert Donat and by William Hague’s excellent biography of Pitt the Younger, I would probably place him at the top of my complete list, as one who was successful in peace and war (though, clearly, not all the time in the latter). But back to the twentieth century that does not boast personalities like either of the Pitts.

The list was put together by Francis Beckett, a veteran left-wing journalist and a long-time contributor to The Tribune. In the circumstances I am not as surprised as Graeme Wilson, the Telegraph’s Political Correspondent, about him putting Tony Blair so low. I am surprised that he put him so high.

Mr Beckett is also an historian and biographer, mostly on left-wing themes, though there is a biography of Harold Macmillan due out soon (I suppose that, too, could be counted as left-wing) and, mysteriously, of Laurence Olivier. Mr Beckett has written short stories and plays of what looks like agit-prop persuasion, so, I suppose, he might be interested in one of our greatest modern actors.

There is a book due out, edited by Francis Beckett on 20 British twentieth century prime ministers and, presumably, this table is a precursor or, perhaps, a bit of free advertising. All in all, it gives an interesting insight into the thinking of a left-wing historian and journalist.

Margaret Thatcher was awarded full marks (five out of five) for “taking one kind of society” and turning it into another. Attlee, it seems, was awarded full marks for much the same thing. The fact that Thatcher’s great achievement was to dismantle a good deal of Attlee’s edifice and the tragedy of this country being that she did not have time to complete the Herculean task, does not seem to alter Mr Beckett’s view. He is, after all, a left-wing historian and for the likes of him criticizing Attlee’s government would come close to blasphemy.

His argument for not placing Churchill above fourth is not irrational. A great war leader, which makes him one of the greatest men in this country’s history, he was largely an unsuccessful peace-time politician and Prime Minister. Mr Beckett also points out that Churchill lost the 1945 election, which takes away some of the achievement.

Well, Attlee lost the 1951 election and Heath lost three of the four he fought. What makes Heath the third greatest twentieth century Prime Minister in this country? Was it the climb-down to the unions or the winter of discontent? Was it the three-day week or the destruction of local democracy? Was it the creation of the large police forces, the beginning of the process which has brought us to the sorry state of policing that we suffer from now?

It might be any or all of the above but what really endears Heath to Francis Beckett and the BBC History Magazine is the taking of Britain into the European Union as Mr Wilson puts it in the Telegraph. Possibly, Mr Wilson does not know that Heath took this country into the Common Market, having assured all and sundry that a political union was not and never had been on the cards. Possibly, Mr Beckett also holds that view. One does rather wonder why he should have such a low opinion of Tony Blair and his economical attitude to the truth and yet think so highly of Edward Heath.

Then again, why put Neville Chamberlain, who was really quite successful in domestic politics with many good ideas that came to fruition and many more better ones that would have created a much more successful welfare system than the one that came out of Attlee’s government, at the bottom? The Munich Agreement, of course, with Mr Beckett (or possibly Mr Wilson of the Telegraph) unaware of the many historical debates that have raged around that event, and the fact that he did not manage to avoid war.

True enough but then the purpose of the Munich Agreement was to do just that. Would not signing it have avoided war? And why is Edward Heath desperately going along with everything presented to him by the EEC negotiators, regardless of the benefits or disbenefits to this country, to be praised for his supposed achievements?

COMMENT THREAD

Remembering Katrina


Couldn’t resist this, courtesy of Six Meat Buffet. A proper post to follow shortly.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Drawing a line

For those of you who might have thought that the unusual lack of posts in the blog has meant I've been taking time off – you were mistaken. I decided I must absolutely focus on finishing the definitive version of "The Corruption of the Media", otherwise it would never get done.

Barring any typos that are brought to my attention, the work is now finished and I will not be making any further corrections or additions to it. Now standing at 104 pages when printed out (up from 85) with 204 illustrations – plus links to others – this is the best I can do. I must now draw a line and move on.

That does not mean to say the issue is finished with – far from it. One reason for getting the report done (and for the substantial element of re-writing) was to be able to submit it with a complaint to the Press Complaints Commission. I formally lodged a complaint today, via the online system, citing The Daily Telegraph and enjoining the Guardian, The Independent and the Daily Mail.

Any developments on this, or on the "Qanagate" saga, I will post separately as and when, rather than add to the report.

One reason for focusing on The Daily Telegraph is the discovery that its web entry for the Qana story of 31 July now sports a picture of the "dead baby", taken by none other than Reuters' own Adnan Hajj, he of photoshopping fame (see top illustration - double-click to enlarge).

This comes after web editor Shane Richmond wrote a self-regarding post on 2 August, explaining how he had personally decided not to use that particular picture because it would be "exploitative and gratuitous" (see extract, right).

Richmond originally posted a picture of "White Tee-shirt", so his replacing it with this one, after he was soundly trashed on his own blog – seems to his rather sick way of getting in the last word. Interestingly, the picture he has chosen is the only one which Deborah Howell of The Washington Post - in an article of 13 August - was prepared to admit was staged.

Well, we shall see what the Press Complaints Commission thinks of Richmond's sick little game. However, this is a notoriously weak watchdog and it has complete discretion as to whether it entertains a complaint, but it is worth a try.

In the meantime, I will be closing down the existing thread on the forum headed "Green Helmet/AP", and opening up a new one linked specifically to this post and the report.

Normal service will be resumed in the morning, and this time I mean it.

COMMENT THREAD

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Wishful thinking

The 'lollipop' debateThe Sunday Times today carries a leader headed, "Life in the old dog yet", extolling the virtues of the "dead tree sellers", as we call the print newspapers.

"The death of newspapers has long been predicted," the piece opens, but, says The Sunday Times, "newspapers are investing heavily in websites where they can continue to deliver reliable news and comment." After a discussion on how its product can be delivered, the paper continues:

Some titles may close, as they have in the past, but the ones that will survive in print and online will be those that invest in journalism and innovation. In such a rapidly changing world, the demands for good reporting and analysis will be at an even higher premium, whether it is delivered through the letter box or down a phone line.
This is from a newspaper which, today, devotes a significant amount of space in its magazine – and its whole front cover (illustrated) – to a faux story about photographer Jill Greenberg, who made children cry by confiscating their sweets, then photographed their reactions. "Did she go too far in the name of art?", asks Christopher Goodwin. See pages 28, 29, 30, 31... with full-page, lurid pictures of crying babies.

This is the same newspaper which, two weeks ago, quite gratuitously chose to use this picture from Qana (right), showing "Green Helmet" parading dead baby Hashem to illustrate a comment article on the war in Lebanon.

Yet, despite the issues raised by this treatment of death as a commodity, with four weeks having elapsed since the Qana incident, mainstream British newspapers have been silent on its implications. Furthermore, they have no intention of confronting this issue. They can happily prattle on about someone taking sweets from babies, but they simply cannot handle a debate about the use of images of dead babies as a propaganda tool, in which they themselves had a part to play.

Significantly, though, during the week following our first post on the issue, the weekly circulation of this blog exceeded that of The Sunday Telegraph, formerly the second-largest quality Sunday in the UK.

A similar phenomenon was seen during the Danish cartoons affair, about which the British media were cravenly silent. That time, it was the online Brussels Journal that made the running and, at the height of the crisis, its daily hit rate was running at over 200,000.

Its circulation has declined since – as indeed will ours – but the point is that, in recent times, when contentious issues have arisen, the traditional media has shown extreme reluctance to take them on. The "blogosphere" has made the running. And, if the media continue to show their same cowardice, that is how it is going to be in the future. Ours and others' experience has shown that there is a real thirst for information on key issues and the MSM is simply not delivering the goods – whether physically or electronically.

Furthermore, it is not just on these highly contentious issues, but in the coverage generally that the MSM is lacking. This week, The Sunday Times offers a leaden piece headed , "Humbling of the supertroops shatters Israeli army morale", its analysis of the Israeli Army in the wake of the Lebanon War.

This subject, though, has been running on the "blogosphere" for weeks, and even we did it last week. And frankly, The Sunday Times did not tell me anything I didn't already know and I have seen far better analyses on any number of blogs and websites.

For the paper, though, this is a nice "safe" (and cheap) issue – it's open season on knocking the IDF and, as we know, the MSM prefers to hunt in a pack. But, while the Lebanon war was and is important, at least it was a drawn match - at the very worst.

What could be far more important, in the longer term, is the effective surrender of British forces in Iraq's Al Amarah last week to Islamic extremists – on which we reported yesterday. This represents a humiliating surrender, without even giving battle.

The name Al Amarah seems to be unlucky for the British Army. On 29 April 1916 – 90 years ago - it suffered what was described then as "the greatest humiliation to have befallen the British army in its history". This was at the siege of Kut al-Amarah. For the Turks - and for Germany - it proved a significant morale booster, and undoubtedly weakened British influence in the Middle East.

Now, history doth repeat itself, in part. In 1917, the British Army was allowed to redeem itself, with its capture of Baghdad. This time the Army is being forced to slink back into its barracks, pending a complete withdrawal, while our government is pretending it has won a victory.

How useful and interesting it would have been for The Sunday Times – or any quality newspaper – to have discussed this issue. But you will not find any of them taking it on.

Interestingly, it is not only the MSM which is deserting the field. Our regular readers will have noticed – "Qanagate" apart – how little we are writing on the affairs of our domestic politicians. This is not accidental. They have become so irrelevant to our concerns – especially the not-the-Conservative Party – that they have simply written themselves out of the script. As so often, The Business puts it admirably:

The collapse of trust in political parties is now all but complete. The information revolution – from 24-hour news to the internet – has allowed the electorate a clearer view than ever of politicians who purport to represent them; the reaction is one of informed, rational and heartfelt contempt.
This is not altogether irrelevant to the plight of the MSM – which in all sectors apart from magazines is suffering continued decline in circulation. For most of its history, it has relied on its close relationship with politicians to provide its content but, as politicians become increasingly irrelevant, so too does the MSM.

However, implicit in The Sunday Times editorial is the expectation that it will survive. That may be the case, but I wouldn't bank on it. Judging from its lacklustre content and its craven attitude to contentious issues – in common with the rest – that expectation may be more wishful thinking than a reasoned prediction.

Perversely, what may save them is - as my colleague often remarks – that while we may get our news and comment from the internet, the cats still need something to shit on. Which makes a change from them shitting on us – the MSM, that is.

COMMENT THREAD

That's where our money goes

There is an interesting story in The Sunday Telegraph on EU fraud.

I was going to do an analysis of this but it is largely self-explanatory and there is little I can add to the discussion going on in the forum. It does underline, however, that the whole system is pervaded with corruption, from the very top to the low-grade defrauding of expenses by by MEPs which, with the total lack of accountablilty, makes the system unreformable.

This is an issue which the Europhiles continue to skate around - when they are not throwing up huge smokescreens - but the fact remains that the EU is more like the Maffia than a government (if there is a difference) and will always remain so for as long as we tolerate its existence.

COMMENT THREAD

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Was it the EU's fault?

Brigadier General Ulf Henricsson, the Swedish head of the outgoing Sri Lankan Monitoring Mission (SLMM) thinks so. It is, according to him, the decision to put the Tamil Tigers on the list of terrorists in May that undermined the cease-fire that had been negotiated in 2002 and had held since then more or less.

It is not quite clear why the decision was finally taken this May after decades of fighting and several years of a more or less effective cease-fire. But then, neither is it entirely clear that the Swedish general is doing anything else but venting his frustration because his own memo had been ignored.

As a consequence of the May 29 decision, for which Britain had campaigned for some time, the Tamil Tigers have announced that there would be no more EU members of the Monitoring Mission, so the Nordic Group after September 1 will consist of Icelanders and Norwegians. Clearly the Tamil Tigers have a very good idea who is and who is not in the EU.

The cease-fire had been brokered by Norway. They do have quite a track record in brokering cease-fires, accords and agreements. None of them last for very long but it is the thought that counts.

The renewed violence of the last two months has resulted in around 650 dead and many refugees.

General Henricsson’s argument is quite interesting. The Sri Lankan government and the Tamil Tigers had signed the agreement as equal partners (though, as he did not say, neither kept to it one hundred per cent or anywhere near that). Announcing that one side is a group of terrorists, as the United States, Canada and India have also done, gave the Sri Lankan government a carte blanche to open up hostilities against the Tamil Tigers though it is the latter who have been responsible for most of the recent violence.

At least, I think that is how the argument runs. He may well be right. Then again, it is possible that the cease-fire was not going to hold much longer even in name and the presence or not of the Nordic peace-keepers is not all that significant.

Sheer sentimentality

As we look around the political scene today we cannot help sighing for one or two outstanding figures somewhere, anywhere. There are those who point to John Howard in Australia and I do not disagree. I merely know less about him than I should, perhaps, but he is a stalwart Anglospherist and under him the country became a proud and strong member of the Western alliance.

Stephen Harper? We don't know yet. President Bush? Well, anyone who cheerfully announces that "if I were Hezbollah I'd claim victory, too" is a lot smarter than a lot of clever-dick journalists give him credit. No-one in Britain, alas.

So we turn to the past. I came across this posting by Sister Toldjah, one of the most interesting American bloggers on the right, in which she demonstrates why she misses President Reagan. I couldn't help agreeing with her. The world is a sadder and poorer place without him.

There are certain people whose opinions are so utterly skew-whiff that I do not bother to talk to them or argue with them. I have no problems with those who are anti-Reagan but I shall never have any truck with those self-important and supercilious nobodies who sniff and tell me that he was just a B-movie actor who went into politics and got lucky. Yeah, right, lucky. How come nobody else got to be that lucky?

The British are running

It was as recently as late June – two months ago – that we were writing on this blog that Al Amarah in the southern, British sector of Iraq had become the "badlands".

So far had the security situation deteriorated that routine patrols in the hopelessly inadequate "Snatch" Land Rovers had been abandoned and patrolling was limited to daily sallies in Challenger MBTs and Warriors. We recalled how, in order to carry out border patrols from their base in Al Amarah, the King's Royal Hussars were having to rely on their Land Rovers being airlifted by helicopters past the town, to avoid their being attacked en route.

Now, two month after our report, we are being told that the security situation has improved so radically that the British Army can afford to leave their base and hand over security to local Iraqi forces.

It is in that context that one must read the report in today’s Daily Telegraph which records that "jubilant Iraqi looters" stripped the military base after the British forces pulled out. Thousands of jubilant Iraqis, we are told, looted the base: everything from doors and window frames to corrugated roofing and metal pipes was pillaged.

No sooner had the British departed than a crowd gathered outside Camp Abu Naji. Three companies of Iraqi troops stationed in the base initially dispersed them with shots into the air but, the following morning, a mob of between 2,000 and 5,000 returned, hundreds of them armed with machineguns and rocket-propelled grenades. After sporadic fighting the Iraqi troops retreated to a corner of the camp as the base was stripped.

Hundreds gathered around the local offices of Moqtada al-Sadr, the radical Shia cleric whose followers had fired 281 mortar rounds and rockets at the camp, to offer their congratulations. A loudspeaker repeatedly broadcast the triumphant message: "This is the first Iraqi city that has kicked out the occupiers." By nightfall, said Lt Rifaat Taha Yaseen, of the Iraqi army's 10th Division, "everything" had been taken.

Says the Telegraph, "The capacity of Iraqi security forces to secure the country is the central plank of the British exit strategy. That they seem unable to secure even their own bases does not augur well."

In fact, the British strategy is a sham. It is plain as a pikestaff that the Iraqi forces are unable to maintain order – and neither can the British with their current force structure, equipment and numbers. But, rather than admit this and do the honourable thing, declaring that it is pulling out, our government is doing it on the sly. It is pretending things are under control and that it is achieving its objectives.

Once again, all we get is spin and lies, this time to dress up the fact that, when it comes to our policy in Iraq, we have made an ignominious retreat.

COMMENT THREAD

The game they are playing

The most dangerous form of propaganda is that which does not appear to be propaganda. And it is that form at which the BBC excels.

Typical of the genre is the outrageous “puff” currently on its website extolling the virtues of the EU’s Galileo satellite navigation system. Under the headline, "Boost to Galileo sat-nav system", the Beeb reports that, "The UK government is to invest another £21m in a space mission to build a civil satellite navigation system".

As far as it goes, that is factual, but the report then goes downhill, retailing pure propaganda on behalf of the government. This "boost", is according to Trade and Industry Secretary Alistair Darling, "good news for British jobs, British technology and science. Furthermore, the £2.4bn scheme, adds the Beeb helpfully, "promises to transform transport and communication industries", which then allows Darling to add,
"The Galileo project has real potential to develop groundbreaking technology leading to more accurate in-car navigation and new systems for the emergency services to locate missing or injured people."

Nowhere does the Beeb say, however, that the government has already paid £93 million to the scheme which, with the contributions to the EU research fund and European Space Agency payments, now amounts to well over £200 million.

Nowhere does it say that the US GPS "Navstar" system is already up and running, that it is totally free of charge and that any performance benefits that Galileo will be able to offer are largely illusory and will in any case be matched by the new generation of Navstar.

Never mind that, as we have reported , that there are grave doubts as to whether Galileo will ever be able to recoup its investment, that there are significant civil liberties issues with the proposed applications of the system, or that the political and military implications could destabilise Nato and weaken the Anglo-American special relationship.

But then, you might say, why should the Beeb bring all this into a routine announcement by the minister of extra funding for the system?

There's the cleverness of it all. There is no reason at all – so there are no grounds for complaint. But this is "good" news about Galileo, so the Beeb publishes it. Yet, in all the time this blog has been covering Galileo, we cannot recall the Beeb every having published anything critical about the system.

Interestingly, Zombietime has done a superb article about media fraud, which covers many of the categories. But, as we remarked some time ago, and more recently, perhaps the biggest sin of all is that of omission.

It is in routine issues like this – the fate of the Galileo system, which has enormous implications for us all – where the Beeb does most of its damage. By simply not informing us of key issues, they go by default, unchallenged until it is too late to do anything about them.

And it's all so innocent and above board – until you realise the game they are playing.

COMMENT THREAD

Friday, August 25, 2006

Bloggers win and lose .... but mostly win

For anyone interested in what is going on in Iraq even mildly, Iraq The Model is a must to read as regularly as possible. It is run by two young men in Baghdad who have lived there all their lives and are involved in the developments now. Not long ago they mourned the death of a cousin in a terrorist attack.

A couple of interesting postings: Omar has added up how many blogs there were in Iraq now and has come to a very interesting and heartening conclusion. According to the Technocrati data there are (ore were last week) 212 Iraqi blogs and some frustration was expressed with that low number.

However, Omar points out that this is just the tip of the iceberg. Most blogs are written in Arabic and are, therefore, not necessarily noticed outside the country. On the other hand they do have a greater influence inside.

Adding them all up, he says:

“Total Number of Users: 1558
Total Number of Posts: 13458
Total Number of visits to all community members: 9 920 393

And knowing that this community was created on 15 Jan 2005, i.e. only 18 months old makes these statistics impressive in my opinion.

It's true that not all those 1 558 blogs are active ones but that also applies to the other 212 as it does to the 50 million blogs worldwide.”

There are also bloggers in Egypt and other Arab countries, though, according to Mohammed, who has just returned from a bloggers’ conference in Cairo, their lives are considerably more difficult than those led by the Iraqi contingent.

Not so long ago a number of bloggers were arrested by the Egyptian police and maltreated in a way that probably made them wish they could be imprisoned in Guant√°namo. Most were eventually released in response to demonstrations in Cairo and a world-wide protest on the blogosphere (well, some parts of it). I must admit that I am in awe of these people’s courage.

Things are not so good in Iran, still one of the countries with the largest number of blogs in the world. Farsi is joint second language on the blogosphere and may well overtake French soon. If the Mullahs and President Ahmadinejad with his thuggish Revolutionary Guards will allow it, that is.

The recent news from Iran is that not only the police have been smashing satellite dishes to prevent people from listening to decadent stuff from outside but they have also been working quite hard to block websites and blogs. If that means arresting and beating up bloggers, so much the worse for them.

Yet new ones start up all the time. It is worth remembering the courage and tenacity of these people when we pat ourselves on the back for achieving as much as we have achieved one way or another.

Why am I writing all this? Well, really, just to give notice that in future this site will join (as we have done in the past to some extent) in the world-wide protests when we hear of bloggers being arrested, of writers being maltreated for their writing and of blogs and websites being blocked. We owe it to our brave colleagues in countries where there is real oppression.

As the old Russian slogan about Poland had it: Za vashu i nashu svobodu – For your freedom and ours. And, anyway, now that Amnesty has given up fighting for prisoners of conscience but has become merely an ordinary, anti-Western, pro-terrorist NGO with political ambitions on the transnational scene, somebody has to do their work.

Can't let the Italians lead

The EU foreign ministers are meeting with SecGen Kofi Annan (father of Kojo) to decide on the European contribution to the required 15,000 international peacekeeping troops, required by Resolution 1701. Until yesterday the tentative offers from various member states added up to 4,200 with France contributing the magnificent number of 200.

With the cease-fire more or less holding but grumblings being expressed by various Lebanese politicians who think, on no clear evidence, that if the strengthened UNIFIL is not deployed soon, there might be clashes between the Lebanese and the Israeli forces, the “international community” is losing face.

Yesterday President Chirac went on TV to announce that France would send 2,000 troops (still short of the 5,000 that had been expected and had persuaded the United States to go along with French watering down of the Security Council Resolution. Still, the higher promised number will mean that the French will lead the force, with Alain Pellegrini, the French general presently in charge of the UNIFIL force continuing in that position.

This seems rather hard on the Italians who offered 3,000 soldiers, presumably once their contingent had been withdrawn from Iraq, and to lead the international troops immediately.

Al-Jazeera reports that 170 French troops have arrived in southern Lebanon to join the 400 that had been there before the latest bout of fighting in Lebanon. It is still unclear where the promised 2,000 will come from and when they will take up their position. Nor is it clear how many will other EU member states contribute.

There is a move to convene another meeting of the UN Security Council on Monday.

In the meantime, Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora told the Italian newspaper La Reppublica several interesting things. In the first place, he made it clear that it was the job of the Lebanese army to disarm Hezbollah, not that of UNIFIL. Whether the Lebanese forces will be up to the task he did not specify. But Hezbollah, he explained, had agreed to the deployment of Lebanese troops in southern Lebanon, not a phrase that fills one with confidence for the future.

More interestingly, if one can trust Prime Minister Siniora’s judgement, he asserted that Hezbollah was no longer the powerful force it had been before the recent fighting.
“The Lebanese PM also told the newspaper he does not expect Hizbullah to drag Lebanon into a war again.

"I don't believe it can happen again," he said. "I don't think Hizbullah is in the same position where it was before the war, and won't be able to repeat what it did. It learned the lesson from what happened."”
This is a somewhat different assessment from the one most analysts have been rushing to make. Fouad Siniora seems to believe it, though, because he spent some time in the interview discussing the likelihood of a peace agreement between Israel and Lebanon.

Michael Totten, a widely published analyst and blogger who had lived in Lebanon for some time makes this comment:
“No Lebanese politician would have dared to say such a thing two months ago with a Syrian gun pointed at the right side of his head, a Hezbollah gun pointed at the left side, and the reactionary mentality that prevails in certain Lebanese quarters.”
Of course, there is still a long way to go and Hezbollah and/or UNIFIL may well manage to derail any possible negotiations.

It would be funny if...

...it wasn't so sick.

What you are meant to see is the first sequence, where the television camera lingers on the abandoned body of a man, a vignette pregnant with pathos, so laden with symbolism that even the hardest of heats could not fail to be moved.

But the Arab TV station which showed this scene was perhaps too enthusiastic for its own good. In a long clip, of over seven minutes, it then went on to show this separate sequence, starting at 6:45 minutes.

The sequence opens with "Green Helmet" leading a stretcher party towards "Stretcher Alley", comprising himself and two others. As he does so, he spots the camera and stops the party in its tracks. Facing the camera, he appears to give the operator a signal while he and his colleagues lower the stretcher to the ground. There can be no mistaking the deliberation in the act - "Green Helmet" is quite clearly looking directly towards the camera.

Thus we see the party lay the stretcher on the gound, "Green Helmet" all the time keeping his gaze on the camera. There is no verbal sound track to this film (it is overlaid with Arabic music) so we cannot tell if "Green Helmet" gives an order - not that we would have understood it anyway. But what happens next cannot be spontaneous.

With extraorinary rapidity, the three stretcher bearers disperse. The "man in black", or so it seems, heads off at the run in the direction whence he came. The young man breaks left at high speed and "Green Helmet" heads at similar speed in the direction of the camera. The indications are - and the effect certainly is - that they are trying to get out of camera-shot.

No more than a few seconds into the sequence and their high-speecd dashes are paying off. All the figures are now nearly out of camera-shot. The "man in black" looks as if he is about to run all the way back to the wrecked building - that is the direction he is going. The others, we cannot see as they run past the camera out of view.

Now we are but a fraction of a second from the pathos - another iconic shot, showing the abandoned body. "Green Helmet" is just out of view, the young man has disappeared and the "man in black" is now so far up the road that he will not appear in any close-up shot. And a few seconds of a close-up shot is all it will take to make a powerful point.

Context, of course, is everything. An innocent explanation would be that the stretcher party had arrived at its destination. The "man in black" was rushing off to pick up another body and the other two were rushing forward to take on other vital tasks.

However, we know exactly where this is, from the footage of "White Tee-shirt's" camera run. This is the middle of nowhere. It is some distance from the wrecked building and even the staging area, and well short of "Stretcher Alley" and the ambulances. There is no activity here. If for some reason "Green Helmet" and his team had suddenly tired and decided to take a rest, they would surely have remained with their burden. There can be no explanation for their behaviour, other than they are determined to get out of camera-shot to give a clear view of the body.

Once again, the showman scores.

We've added this to our report in Part 7.

COMMENT THREAD

You thought it was over?

I certainly thought it was, or hoped it was, with what I thought was the completion of the "Qanagate report" - all bar tidying up a few odds and ends. But, like it or not, it won't go away - at least, not as long as pictures like this (left) keep turning up.

This I picked up off an obscure website after a reader posted the link on our forum. I do not know the origin of the photograph, but it looks very much to me as if it shows the "dead baby" being uncovered.

I have enlarged it as much as I dare and marked the object of interest. We are looking at a very poor definition photograph, though, so there are all sorts of health warnings to apply. Add to that, the original looks to have been taken with a wide-angle lens, giving rise to all sorts of distortions - look how huge the figure on the right is, compared to the others.

That said, it does look like baby Abbas Ahmad Hashem or, at the least, this representation is not incompatible with the images we have seen elsewhere.

In particular, look at the size of the head compared with that of the Red Cross worker holding the body. Comparative distortions are least here - and the head of the body is tiny. The hair colouration and cut look right. The singlet has the right neck profile and it is sleeveless. The leg we can see is bare, presenting the same profile that we see elsewhere (left) and for once the distortion might be working for us. Look at the foot - it has the same enlargement that we see on the photograph to the left. This has been remarked upon by many readers.

The reason for "banging on" of course, is this photograph, taken for Reuters by the infamous Adnan Hajj. Call it instinct, "gut feeling", intuition or anything you like. The photograph does not look right - and that is a feeling shared by hundreds of our readers. The suspicion, niggling away, is that the body was discovered earlier, and then re-discovered for this photo-shoot. There is another photograph of this supposed discovery, taken by Ali Haider for epa/Cordis. It looks equally improbable - if not more so. The fine consistency of the debris and the fact that it is so obviously posed - as indeed does the other - all raise the greatest doubts as to the authenticity of the scene.

For some time now, I have been labouring under the impression that the scene shown here (left) could be the missing link, and persevered even when dozens of readers and forum members wrote that it was not - that's obsession for you. I continued looking, and have since viewed dozens of video frames in search of the illusive confirmation.

However, I have also come up with a still photograph that I have had on my computer for a while, but had never looked at properly. That (right) proves beyond all doubt that the image is not the "dead baby". Mea culpa - and for my penance, I'm going to have to re-write a whole tranche of the final report.

When I found the new image, showing what could really be the "dead baby", I thus approached it with some caution. At first sight, it looks to be in roughly the same position as the other image, and could have been just another picture of it. Then I found I also had this image (below left), downloaded during some general trawl so long ago that I cannot even recall where I found it.

This actually shows the the same scene as our topmost picture, but less detail of the subject. There is, though, more location detail there. The key datum is marked by the arrow - the concrete rendering of the closed-up opening - which we can see in another picture. From this, and cross-referring with other photographs, I am in absolutely no doubt that the body is a few feet away from the right-hand wall of the basement, and lying parallel to it. The other figure is lying at right angles to the wall and is further out - closer to the leg of the half-buried woman. As far as I can be sure, these are different figures.

Now for the $64,000 question - how does this location compare with the positioning of the "Green Helmet" discovery? Well, by reference to the blocked off doorway (arrowed) they are roughly in the same position. They are not quite the same but, as far as I can make out, the two positions actually overlap. The big difference is that, in the topmost picture, the body is aligned with its head away from the main basement entrance while the other is aligned towards it.

Now for the crucial bit: by examining the markings on the wall blocks, and their pattern, the height of the debris seems to be much the same in both key pictures. In other words, there has been no substantial excavation in this area between the two pictures. Then, in the very first picture, you can see a shallow trench extending beyond the body up to the foot projecting in the top left quadrant of the picture (that belongs to a photographer - so another picture of this event might exist). A similar trench can be seen in the "Green Helmet" picture.

Having regard to the relative positions of the bodies in the two frames, I think a case can be made that they are so close that, had they been different bodies, it would have been impossible to have found the first without also stumbling on the second. With enormous caution, therefore, noting all the "health warnings", I am warming to the idea that these are in fact the same bodies.

Of course, there is one way the mystery could be solved. Someone - or many persons - have somewhere a high definition reproduction of this image. When I tried earlier to do some analysis of a low definition image, the Daily Telegraph's Shane Richmond was quick to slap me down by producing a high definition version of the same picture, to prove my suspicions wrong. So, how about it Shane? Fancy putting your money where your mouth is, and publishing a high definition version of the picture at the top of this post? Or are you afraid I might be right - and it would prove that the body had indeed been re-buried and then "discovered" again by Green Helmet.

Over to you, Shane! And I don't mind if you ask your friends to help you out.

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