Saturday, June 12, 2004

Not a Great Conspiracy Theorist, me. That's to say that I generally don't believe in them.

I am convinced though that there was something sufficiently malign going on with the OIl-for-Food scheme that it casts the whole period between Gulf war I and Gulf War II in a different light, and would tranform our understanding of the run up to war were we appreciate things holistically.

This feature about a former UN Oil-for-Food official, Michael Soussan, is revealing in lots of little ways, and some big ones:

'The UN recently claimed it "learned of the 10 per cent kickback scheme only after the end of major combat operations" in 2003.

A lie, said Mr Soussan, recalling the hapless Swedish company that called in 2000, seeking UN help after being asked to pay kickbacks. The Swedes' plea was quickly lost in red tape and inter-office turf wars. After a "Kafka-esque" flurry of internal memos, the Swedes were told to complain to their own government.'

Widening The Lens.

One of the great motivations behind the expansion of the Internet and expecially the blogosphere has been to compensate for the 'sins of omission' of the big media. Obviously there's 'fisking' too, but undeniably with its international scope and its individual base, the blogosphere can reach the parts other newsgatherers can't.

Nevertheless, as Glenn Reynolds recently put it, he doesn't regard blogs as his primary news source- it's just that with the benefit of compare/contrast, immediate and time-specific access to (sometimes) informed speculation and (sometimes) eyewitness communication, the blogosphere has its advantages.

The big media is becoming aware of blogs though, and is aware too that, as with other news sources, their ability to pick up and use blogs and the internet will affect how well they are perceived as news organisations.

Anyway, Kerry at BBBC was right to commend the Beeb's Sarah Brown for covering the story of Iraqi blogs like Iraq the Model. I.T.M. has been growing on me the whole period of about six months I've been reading it. The three guys who write on it are intelligent, funny, mature, thoughtful, and above all, positive.

I couldn't help wondering though at this sudden flurry of interest from the Beeb in Iraq the Model. Could it be that they were spooked into action by Paul Wolfowitz, who quoted the I.T.M. writers approvingly in a a recent article (very much a follow up to GWB's Iraq policy speech ten days previously), published by WSJ 24 hours before Sarah Brown's article came online?

With the Internet, timing is everything. Which reminds me to say that timings on my blog offerings are very irregular as I often make a note of an article and only later write about it, and then forget to change the timings. Mea minor culpa.

Friday, June 11, 2004

Here's a Classic Example:

Politician bruised in polls faces anti-war journalist and knows what said journalist wants: an admission that the journalist's bee-in-the-bonnet issue was responsible for his party's bad election result. Also, conveniently, it makes defeat more manageable if it can be blamed on one transient factor.

So, the journalist takes the 'admission' and broadcasts it at the face value he was pretty keen on from the start (he's a Labour supporter, after all).

But, the reality is that the Tories did best in the local government elections, far outstripping the anti-war Liberals in seats gained from Labour, as well as councils (the Lib-Dems lost control of more councils than they won). And, as you probably know, the Tories supported the war in Iraq. Nice work, impartial BBC.

[Update: England's Sword has similar thoughts. Also, when I said 'seats gained from Labour' I was talking statistically, not geographically. All I mean is that the net gainers in terms of seats were Tories, who happened to be fairly solidly pro-war, whereas the net losers of seats were Labour, and the peacenik Libs were somewhere in-between. To look at BBC reporting though you'd think that Iraq was the issue above all. Ian Murray has some thoughts about where Iraq fits in to a broader picture that make sense to me.]

Thursday, June 10, 2004

To turn now to another theme the BBC do biasedly, this article from Stephen Sackur looks like it's trying to soften the blow when it becomes clear that the Euro-elections are not only farcical in the UK- they're farcical in lots of countries.

Take the Czech Republic- a very nice country the BBC visit a great deal. Not sure if this is due to cheap flights or the loveliness that is Prague, or the world's finest cheap beer.

First of all I take issue with the notion that the Czechs were drinking 'cheap champagne' on May 1st. I'm pretty sure they'd be drinking (if not their gorgeous beer) the Czech alternative to champagne, which is delicious, tart and fruity, luminous and bubbly, but not entitled to call itself champagne, due to EU rules.

Also readers of the article will probably not notice the absence of mention of Vaclav Klaus, Czech president and euro-sceptic (or, as he put it recently, 'Euro-realist'). We hear plenty though from a representative of Vaclav Havel's POV- Havel is the most pro-EU Czech grandee around.

This source gives us some excuses in advance for a pitiful turnout or some odd elected representatives:

'"It took us so long to be accepted into the club, you made it so hard for us, and now we're wondering what all the fuss was about," he says. '
- which is one way of looking at it, rather like the old Heathite argument that our problem was not being in the EU [EC, EEC] from the beginning.

The source, Jiri Pehe, also gives us the optimistic note that 'we'll see our MEPS taking important decisions, and we'll benefit from the experience." '

Meanwhile Sackur is at pains to blame the usual suspects behind EU failure: lack of information and education.

He's also keen to explain away a possible eclipse of the ruling SDP, who are 'suffering a familiar case of the mid-term blues.' -except that in a country where democracy is not fifteen years old (since re-birth), I don't suppose 'mid-term blues' will be all that familiar.

Finally, Sackur tries to prepare us for the shock that 'unreconstructed communists' may be elected- to which my response was, they'll fit right in amongst the pinkos and the greens that will already be there.

After all,

'Nowadays the communists don't demonise the EU as a capitalist plot, they simply want to "remodel" it for the good of the workers.' - which is surely quite respectable Europolitical sentiment.

Add to this Sackur's vignette about aspiring Euro MP and expired porn star 'Dolly Buster', and we're ready to hear that

'in the absence of an informed debate on European issues the best way to rouse interest in this lacklustre campaign season is to provide novelty, human interest.
Some would call it opportunism.

At which point my antenna are twitching and I half expect to hear tell of Rob K.S. or Joan Collins.

But we end on a sober, if positive note. Sackur is clearly more impressed with the Euro Parliathingy than me when he says

'Being a player in the EU club can be challenging and rewarding, but rarely do MEPs or their constituents describe it as "fun". '

I suppose it's challenging for us and rewarding for the Euro MP's.

(Meanwhile more Reynolds- on the EuroParliathingy here)

Sick and Tired actually, of seeing Human Rights Watch get an automatic pass to creating a BBC headline when they haven't done anything to deserve it.

All they have done is pass comment on Abu Ghraib, and offered their opinion that it came about as a result of US policy post 9/11- a vast conspiracy theory encompassing Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay and tactics for other suspected Al Qaeda detainees, if you will.

They have no new evidence; they have no revelations. They just produced a pastiche of press reports, briefings, off the record comments of intelligence staff, and frankly, tittle-tattle, to 'prove' that Abu Ghraib came about as a culmination of Bush policies. Then, in a lull in the US election run-up caused by John Kerry's calculated pause in campaigning, they 'challenged the government to prove' its innocence 'by releasing all relevant government documents'- and that won them a top place in the headlines.

Well, a lot of sensitive documents (like the Taguba report) have already reached the public sphere, and trials of miscreants have begun, and the whole Abu Ghraib thing brought shame on the media for their utter irresponsibility in magnifying every image, every document- yet despite all that the cases of abuse appear localised and limited.

When will the Beeb get the message: HRW may have many good hearted people. They may have many an Oxbridge, Yale or Harvard graduate working for them, and many others with colourful and rich life experience (in fact, as they put it, 'lawyers, journalists, academics, and country experts of many nationalities and diverse backgrounds') - but they are just an impressive kind of pressure group, nothing more.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Straight from the UN Special Commissioner, I had to mention this fascinating and entertaining post which tracks through the BBC's reporting of the conviction of Palestinian terrorist Marwan Barghouti. It takes them an entire article of explaining the views and social significance of Barghouti before they even half-mention the crimes he's been convicted of. I knew little about this until Max went to work on a long but worthwhile post.

Time to give Paul Reynolds another bash, I think.

Not that this article is wildly wrong about anything, but the smug superiority Reynolds affects in his writing always makes for errors and slantedness.

Like most BBC journalists Reynolds seems to share the opinion of Jeremy Paxman, quoting H.L. Mencken, that the proper relationship between journalist and politician is the same as between dog and lamp post. In that spirit Reynolds takes one phrase of Jack Straw's, notes the omission in it of the word 'interim' from the mention of the new Iraqi government, and infers that the 'policians' are trying to, in modern parlance, 'big up' the Iraqi interim government.

Another thing he does is give the anti-war perspective all the best lines and most of the airtime, the first bite at the cherry and the best. Quel surprise!

Aptly named Toby Dodge, admittedly labelled 'a critic of American and British policy in Iraq', gets to set his terms unchallenged. He's the one to define what 'multilateral' means- and it isn't a UN resolution, apparently; that was just a 'nod' from France and Russia.

When Dodge describes the new Iraqi (interim) government as a 'green zone phenomenon' it is helpfully explained for us by Reynolds as 'the sealed area in Baghdad from which the Coalition Authority and the Governing Council operate'- but not challenged. The fact that the first act of the 'green zone' government was to disband militias up and down Iraq seems to be beyond the BBC's own 'green zone'.

Come to that, it's another precious pot swaps with kettle moment as the BBC, famously bound to their Baghdad hotel bars and friendly former Baathist translators, accuse the Iraq government of insularity (accuse them by their silence).

The disbanding of militias would also appear to give the lie to this:

'Although technically sovereign, the interim government cannot in practice do a great deal, partly because the majority Shia did not want it to be able to take decisions in advance of an elected government. '

Reynolds concludes by saying that

'It can be seen that the interim government is a staging post, not the destination.'

and I'll conclude by saying that it ought to be obvious that no-one's pretending it was anything else- unless you're determined to piss on them whatever, that is.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

More on the Gardner/Cumbers shootings.

The Belmont Club sums up why this blog is finding it so difficult to integrate poetry with its other concerns. Further link to 'six book' poet Judyth Hill here (with picture).

This as an American is shot dead in Riyadh- a further victim of strife in the Kingdom.

Just to make a note-

Fatalities in Iraq are a topic likely to be raised again in the news at some point soon.

To avoid fatalities in a place like Iraq where weapons are widespread, tribalism rife, and brutality lodged in the memories of all, is obviously difficult. That's not to mention all the military paraphernalia like mines and explosives that are literally lying around the country. Recently there were six deaths of Slovakian, Polish and Latvian troops in one explosion whilst attempting to defuse mines in Southern Iraq.

But anyway- one of the things that's received next to no attention in the media is the prevalence of US fatalities in one particular province of Iraq- Al-Anbar.

I keep seeing casualty reports from Centcom like this, and this, and this. All carry the same formulaic announcement of a death from hostile forces 'while conducting security and stability operations' in Al-Anbar.

This province is the one where the 'Wedding Party' was bombed- the one that borders Syria and in which the main arterial route from Syria to Baghdad passes through Fallujah (I don't discount casualties in Fallujah- which received plenty of attention- but US troops are not presently fighting there). The Belmont Club has identified Al-Anbar's borderland with Syria a crucial area of combat for US troops.

We will continue to hear about the security situation in Iraq being awful- but we won't get a breakdown of the violence taking account of its provinicial nature and the strategic reasons why violence is occurring in specific areas in particular forms. It's noticeable, for instance, that the Al-Anbar casualties are not usually roadside bombs (when they are we hear about it): evidently the terrorist insurgents there don't need the same clandestine tactics they use elsewhere in Iraq to have their intended effect. The reason for this has to relate to the Syrian border- and that's my guess why we are not hearing about it from the BBC.

Of course there could be other factors: in an interesting development reported today by Reuters, BBC journalists working in dangerous places may be getting bodyguards.

Hating Reagan with the BBC

According to
investigative journalist Greg Palast, he'd be nowhere without the BBC:

'My most important investigations, all but banned from U.S. airwaves, were developed and broadcast by BBC Newsnight'

A self-styled 'friend' of Michael Moore, Palast shares Moore's affinity for publicity and sensationalism. Notice the typical 'all but' formulation (also a Moore favourite) in his claim of being banned in the US, which translates as something like 'no one in the States considered him stable enough to trust his reporting'. One supportive critic describes how

'he backs his investigative work with a colorful private dick/Sherlock Holmes persona, complete with breathless descriptions of the crimes of the powerful. His status as one of the new People's Pundits has been magnified by articles like this one in the alternative media, as well as through the support of cultural icons as disparate as Jello Biafra and Hustler magazine.' (Ed.- Hustler magazine?)

But, as Palast admits, his credibility derives from his BBC work, the latest of which was his 'Bush Family Fortunes' documentary, shown on BBC3 in June 03.

According to the above article,

'Palast says "Bush Family Fortunes" is the first in a series of BBC exposes, "culminating with a feature-length film, on the cowboy empire. We've now taken this weird mixing, of Bush family finances and our nation's foreign and domestic policies, to a new level, that is armed and dangerous." As he continues to broadcast truth to power on BBC-TV, we can only wonder when he will be allowed to do so back home, in the land of the free.'

But what's happened to the rest of the sequence of Palast's 'truth to power' documentaries? I haven't noticed them appearing on the main BBC channels, and that BBC3 documentary 'The Bush Family fortunes' I had taken to be a one-off.

However, I can tell what kind of a journalist Palast is, and the BBC have fostered, from his valediction for Ronald Reagan:

'I remember Nancy, a skull and crossbones prancing around in designer dresses...all the while, Grandpa grinned, the grandfather who bleated on about "family values" but didn't bother to see his own grandchildren.' ...

'Well, my friends, you can rest easier tonight: the Rat is dead.

Killer, coward, conman. Ronald Reagan, good-bye and good riddance.'

Monday, June 07, 2004

More Horrific Detail about what befell BBC journalist Frank Gardner and his cameraman Simon Cumbers at the hands of terrorists. According to Reuters and eye-witness accounts the Westerners were separated from their Saudi escorts before being shot, and Gardner was shot, apparently, in the feet and pelvis, and then left lying in the street to remonstrate with passers by that he was 'a muslim', and that they should help him.

Let's hope Gardner comes through it. The whole episode gives another unwanted, unasked-for glimpse of how deep the hatred runs- with targets and methods that symbolise the spiritual contempt that they have for the unbelievers. (almost forgot- via LGF)

A current BBC article made me laugh, for reasons I will explain:

One was that I'm willing to bet that if Israelis were looking for the BBC to cover different aspects of what goes on in Israel other than an Intifada, they would not have put 'organised crime' first on the list. Maybe they would have said 'medical technology', or 'genetic engineering', or even 'Jaffa oranges', or 'polished diamonds', where Israel is prominent- but not 'organised crime'. It's true that the BBC will be able to add this to their statistics for 'non-Intifada/Palestinian Israel issues reported'- useful for informing the next academic study of their 'balance'- but it's a joke, and an unhealthy one at that, as far as reporting 'the other side' of Israeli life is concerned.

But, the Beeb being the Beeb, when they're not arguing that Israel is the oppressor of reasonable Palestinian aspirations they are saying that Israel is the not the smoothly functioning democratic state that 'right wing apologists' asininely say it is.

The second reason I laughed was the irony that when the Beeb describe how 'Israel struggles to keep a lid on crime' they are wilfully ignoring the reality that crime in Israel is not even at an historic high, and is certainly significantly lower than it is in dear old Blighty.

It's lower than it was in 1997, 1998 and 1999 (before the Intifada), and at less than five hundred thousand reported offences per year (including those from which no prosecution follows) amidst a population of 6.7 million, is significantly lower than the rate for England and Wales, which according to latest figures was nearly 5.9 million amidst a population of just over 52 million.

If 'organised' crime is on the rise in Israel, it isn't making a lot of impact on the crime statistics.

The question of whether crime in Israel is 'organised' is also arguable. As the Israeli National Police spokesman Gil Kleiman says, " we do not have organised crime in Israel. We have criminals who are organised." . What he means to do is to rebut the idea that crime in Israel is part of the system- a claim the BBC implicitly makes when it says that

'Organised crime has become a booming industry in Israel in the last decade.'

But, I'm thinking, in the light of the allegations (likely to be dropped for insufficient evidence) against Ariel Sharon, a fair few readers will see a sinister Jewish cabal shining through the prism of the term 'organised crime', with its implications of corruption of authority and international connections. I am reminded that Orla Guerin in a BBC broadcast recently referred to Ariel Sharon as the 'Godfather' of the settler progamme, and Israel's 'strongman'. Coincidence?

I would say in conclusion that there is a story lurking here- equally interesting to Israel's government, Israelis and outsiders. It would be interesting, for instance, to look at how the influx of Jews from Russia (part of a dramatic increase in population) has perhaps included those who have not severed links with the Russian mafia that burgeoned in the 90's, and how the Russian mafia has international connections (such as with Premiership football, for instance- that Arsenal, you just can't trust them!), but the implication that Israel is somehow becoming a sponsor of crime, or that crime there is 'organised' in senses that relate to the governance of Israel, or that it is out of control, are quite simply missing the unambiguous story in search of the anti-Israel slant.


Curiously, I've noticed that in the links from this item there is a BBC investigation into Russian-Jewish mafia connections which provides some of the background for this report. However, it dates from 1998. That investigative report contained the assertion that 'Former police chief Asaf Hefetz says £2.5bn ($4bn) of organised crime money from the former Soviet Union has been invested in Israeli real estate, businesses and banks in the past seven years.'

Bizarrely, the latest article says 'One former Israeli police chief, Asaf Heretz, claimed recently $2.5bn in "dirty money" had been invested in Israel in recent years.'

So 1998 is recent? Or has the claim just been adjusted for inflation and business growth, and reasserted? Or what does the retired police chief know now that he didn't know in '98? What did he know and when did he know it?!

Odd- and just another sidelight on an unsatisfactory article that to my mind needlessly casts doubt on the respectability of Israeli society.

Sunday, June 06, 2004

Also, this dramatic news breaks: two BBC journalists shot- one killed- near Saudi capital Riyadh. No word on who did it, but it's no surprise to hear that 'Security sources said the gunmen had escaped'.

I Knew He Would Do It

Much as I would like to leave my little meditation on Reagan and Bush to be my Sunday blogging offering, I was delighted by the news that Ariel Sharon has got his way over the Gaza withdrawal plan.

My delight was only dulled a little by the BBC report, which says that the plan 'implicitly recognised that Israel would retain large parts of the West Bank - and some Palestinian refugees and their descendants who lost their homes when Israel was created would lose the right to return.'

Well, sort-of-yes to the first point, though to point to a failure to get out when the point of the (hard won) plan is to get out is a bit perverse. The second point is beyond the BBC's remit. The 'right to return' depends upon which resolution, treaty or manifesto you are reading from. That the BBC accepts it as a de facto 'right to return' just illustrates which camp they are in. I hope they don't start applying the same logic to the Sudetenland part of the Czech Republic.

BTW: This article on Palestinian tunnels for arms smuggling is, I'm happy to say, the best thing the BBC has done in ages. They must have wanted to mend a fence or two (excuse pun) now that they're under new direction.

Ronald Reagan's death confirms the odd sense that this has been an historic weekend. There was a strange calm I noticed on Friday, and the warm mild air of June in England has made for a soporific, contemplative atmosphere this weekend. What the D-Day commemorations have been doing via the rationalised TV schedules in bringing to mind victory in the struggle against the Nazis, Reagan's death does in recalling victory in the Cold War.

The BBC's 'Have Your Say' page has produced a mix of the good, the average, and, unfortunately, the ugly:

'Yet another republican warmonger. I hope he saw the error of his ways before he died.'

Tom Amos, England'

What caught my eye though was the Beeb preamble, which said that

'He entered the White House with a reputation for having only a vague understanding of foreign affairs, and was deeply suspicious of the Soviet Union - referring to it as "the Evil Empire".'

This is a typical Beeb spin. You might suppose from this that Reagan was deeply suspicious of the Soviet Union because he had only a vague understanding of foreign affairs. You might also suppose that he made the comment about the 'evil empire' as he 'entered the Whitehouse', according with his reputation as a foreign policy novice.

In fact the speech in which Reagan branded the Soviet project 'evil' was made after more than a year in the Whitehouse, on June 8th 1982 to the British House of Commons, and thereafter followed up in other speeches where he used the term 'Evil Empire' that will always be associated with him. It contained a great deal of reflection on foreign policy, and an analysis of the trends behind history. The trouble that the BBC- with its queasy statist mentality- finds, is that Reagan's diagnosis of the troubles of modern history was, and is, unpalatable to it. The speech begins:

'We're approaching the end of a bloody century plagued by a terrible political invention -- totalitarianism.'

Recently GWB also made a dramatic speech, part of a series of speeches, one which was misrepresented by the BBC as a simple comparison between the WoT and WWII. It was in fact a similar sort of speech to the one given by Ronald Reagan- a philosophical scan of history and how the WoT fits into a continuum from the previous century with its plague of totalitarianism. As W. remarks:

'Like other totalitarian movements, the terrorists seek to impose a grim vision in which dissent is crushed, and every man and woman must think and live in colorless conformity. So to the oppressed peoples everywhere, we are offering the great alternative of human liberty.'

and as he also says (my favourite part):

'For decades, free nations tolerated oppression in the Middle East for the sake of stability. In practice, this approach brought little stability, and much oppression. So I have changed this policy.'

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