Tuesday, October 31, 2006

No, this was not a revolution, not even an uprising

I had two communications from Budapest just after the riots were over. One, from a man whose political opinions I know well, said that the troubles were over and Orbán lost (as usual) and this was utterly predictable. The other, from someone who has strong anti-socialist feelings but is, perhaps, less involved in Hungarian life, said that this was just the beginning. Thousands of people demonstrated in Budapest and tens of thousands in the rest of the country. As it happens I have doubts about both communications but neither do I believe the government line that it is immensely popular with only a few fascist extremists opposing it.

If I have doubts about the government line, the Western media apparently does not, though finds it hard to understand what or where Hungary is. (I was amused to see Kate Connolly of the Daily Telegraph reporting about the riots from Bucharest. Wrong country, dear, though the two places do sound the same.)

Yesterday’s International Herald Tribune had an article that tried to sum up what has gone wrong with the various East European countries that so many hopes were attached to. Alas, the article did not seem to think that inappropriate tax and regulatory structures imposed on relatively weak economies and even weaker political systems could just result in problems. I have been saying this since 1998 and take no pleasure in seeing most of the predictions we made with Bill Jamieson at the time coming true.



Serial incompetence

In defence questions in the House of Commons yesterday, David Laws, the MP for Yeovil, asked what action was being taken to deal with the shortage of helicopter lift capability.

Surprisingly, the defence minister Adam Ingram responded that, "there is not the problem that the hon. Gentleman describes." He then continued: "We have looked into this. Commanders are not asking for more helicopters."

Clearly, that was not the answer expected, as Ingram noted: "The hon. Gentleman looks quizzical…", adding, "but we have to listen to what is required on the ground."



The ultimate oxymoron

There was a time when "military intelligence" took the prize.

Now, in the wake of the Stern Report, the Labour Party Supporters' Network has sent me an e-mail telling me that Gordon Brown had set a new ambition for Britain in future years: to lead the world in creating a stable and sustainable economy founded on low carbon - a Britain that is both pro-growth and pro-green.

Pro-growth and pro-green? That'll do.


Monday, October 30, 2006

Taurus excretus

Sometimes you have a piece of information which is highly relevant to a particular subject but it doesn't "click" and you don’t put two and two together.

But ever since this morning, reading about the evacuation of civilian workers from the British consulate in Basra, the mind has been working overtime – and it has come up with this.



For the times they are a-changin' - 2

It has been the contention of this blog from the very beginning that the entry of the East European countries into the EU will have precious little effect on the economy of the Union and its member states. We have noted that certain optimists, such as Marian Tupy of Cato Institute are now coming round to the view that the supposedly radical agenda of the post-Communist states will collapse in the face of EU intransigence, not least because there are a great many former Communist apparatchiks in these countries who find negotiating in Brussels a delightful and heartrending experience. (More of Dr Tupy’s latest paper in another posting.)

On the other hand, it was clear that the march of the common foreign and security policy will slow down with the East Europeans inside the tent as their attitudes to the United States against whom the policy is being formulated and to Russia, France’s and Germany’s great friend, are likely to be different from those of the West Europeans.

One of the struggles we have watched with interest is the East Europeans' dogged insistence that the EU institutions, particularly the European Parliament, state categorically that Communism was on the par with Nazism as being one of the twin evil (I use the word advisedly) ideologies that murdered millions of people, tortured many millions more and destroyed whole countries and societies. It has not been easy, given the left-wing bias within most of these institutions and the rather narrow-minded and ignorant assumption by most people that nothing can be as bad as Nazism and, at least, Communism meant well.

The fiftieth anniversary of the Hungarian uprising was a good excuse and I was fully expecting a great deal of waffle about the evils of all political oppression, particularly nationalism.

Astonishingly, the European Parliament has come up with a reasonable press statement, actually mentioning Communism as one of the totalitarian systems. There is no reference to the nationalist side of the Hungarian uprising – its aim was national independence as well as personal liberty – but let that pass.
1956 Hungarian Uprising - European Parliament salutes bravery

In adopting a resolution on the 50th anniversary of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution and its historical meaning for Europe, MEPs recognise the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 as one of the emblematic manifestations in the 20th century of the pursuit of liberty and democracy that defied Communism in the Soviet bloc.

The European Parliament salutes the brave men and women of Hungary who, by their self-sacrifice, gave a beacon of hope to other nations under the stranglehold of Communist rule. MEPs underline that the democratic community must unequivocally reject the repressive and undemocratic Communist ideology and uphold the principles of liberty, democracy, human rights and the rule of law, and take a clear stand whenever they are violated. The House calls on all democratic countries to clearly condemn the crimes committed by all totalitarian regimes.

Finally, MEPs call for the establishment of a European programme to strengthen cooperation between research and documentation centres in Member States studying the crimes of totalitarian regimes.
Of course, they will now have to find some reason for passing a resolution against nationalism, as we know, the root of all evil in the gospel of European integration.


Courageous film-makers

No, I do not mean the Dixie Chicks and their moronic “Shut up and sing” (if only!). Their “blacklisting” and claims of victim status are even more preposterous than those of the famous Hollywood Ten (every one of whom was a Communist and lied about it and every one of whom went on being employed in the film industry in the States or Europe) and their acolytes. The Dixie Chicks and their supporters appear to think that if people do not buy their records for whatever reason, their constitutional rights are under attack. Otherwise, I cannot quite see how they were “blacklisted”, given the amount of publicity the wretched group received on both sides of the Pond.

Libertas, a conservative film website (oh for something like that in Britain) has a posting about a truly courageous film-maker, Pierre Rehov, whose films will be shown at the Liberty Film Festival (oh for something like that in Britain).

Rehov is a French-Algerian film-maker who risked his life to make “Suicide-Killers”. He went into the terrorist training camps, interviewed the would-be killers, talked to their families and to those who had failed and were in Israeli prisons.
This astounding documentary shows first-hand that terrorists are created not by Israeli or American foreign policy, but by the repression, lack of democratic freedom, and poverty of Arab societies.
Not, perhaps, surprising to many of us but worth saying and worth documenting. The courage of this man is quite astonishing.

He has made another film, called “From the River to the Sea” in which he looks at the Palestinian claim to Israel but, more than that, documents the treatment of Palestinian by other Arab states and by their own leadership; talks about the huge amount of money stolen from the Palestinians (nobody even mentions Arafat’s widow and other friends and relations of the late unlamented Chairman):
From the River to the Sea is an eye-opening documentary about how the UN and Arab nations surrounding Israel have conspired to keep Palestinians in refugee camps without jobs, citizenship, or opportunity, thereby encouraging them to turn to terrorism against Israel. The film features shocking footage of Palestinian terrorists escaping in UN vans, and explores the controversial issue of “right of return.” It also documents the shocking corruption of UNRWA and the PLO in robbing hundreds of millions from Palestinian refugees, and reveals the anti-Israeli, anti-Jewish propaganda that is taught to schoolchildren in UN-funded schools in Palestinian camps.
I have only one question. How soon will a courageous British cinema or film festival run either film if only in order to open a discussion?


Run away... run away!

So cried King Arthur's knights on meeting the deadly killer rabbit, immortalised by the Monty Python team in the eponymous 1975 film Monty Python and the Holy Grail. But, with the news this morning that civilian employees are to be evacuated from the British consulate in Basra, this now seems to be official British foreign policy.



So what do we do?

In developing our series of posts under the general heading of "Give war a chance", we need to offer some specifics in terms of how our government should prosecute the war against terror.



Sunday, October 29, 2006


Not only the Telegraph but also the Mail on Sunday, The Independent and The Sunday Times all pick up on the story of idle troops at Camp Bastion in Afghanistan.

The Sunday Times has "British troops hide from bombers" and the Independent runs "Troops 'locked down' by suicide bombers", while the Mail on Sunday has a particularly strident headline: "Camp Do-Nothing". Its photographs tell the tale, some of which we have reproduced below, demonstrating how tough it is out at the front - something us "armchair soldiers" could never really appreciate before.

What is interesting about these pieces is that they all tell the same story - with at least four newspapers carrying it. Yet four newspaper editors did not suddenly and independently come up with the idea of looking at the conditions at Camp Bastion, and their journalists did not all come up entirely independently with exactly the same story. At the very least, there is some collusion and there may well be a "guiding mind". In that case, who is doing the spinning, and why?

Whatever the reasoning behind the spin, it clearly has MoD approval as all of the papers seem to quote Lieutenant-Colonel Andy Price and they all mention the recent death from a suicide bomb of Marine Gary Wright (pictured right), although none specifically point out the vulnerability of the "Snatch" Land Rover in which he was riding.

And neither do any of the newspapers mention an ealier incident - this one in Kabul in early September. This was also another suicide bomber, in this instance driving a Toyota Hilux truck, but it was also another instance of a highly vulnerable "Snatch" Land Rover being targeted.

Now, purely on journalistic grounds, you would have thought that there was a story here, especially if a contrast was then made with the fate of a Canadian RG-31 which had recently been attacked by a suicide bomber, the crew having escaped without injury, the vehicle itself having limped home under its own power, needing only relatively minor repairs.

Add to this the recent experience of the crew of another Canadian RG-31 escaping injury after a mine explosion, and the similar fate of a German crew riding a Dingo mine protected vehicle and you have a superb story of British government incompetence.

Neither Canadian nor German (nor any other) troops have been confined to base because of a bomb threat yet here we are with all those tough Marines having to act like big girls' blouses and stay at home with mummy all because their patrol vehicles are crap.

But rather than engaging their brains, we get the MSM hunting as a pack, all following each other down the same line, holding each others' hands for comfort. Thus does the Mail on Sunday, like the Sunday Telegraph give the Marines' "Vikings" a puff, not stopping for one moment to look beyond the MoD spin and do their own background research.

Nor even do they get their facts right, the MoS citing the top speed as 60 mph, when it is in fact 60 kph (approximately 40 mph, and then only for relatively short periods), and the price as £80,000 when it is in fact $1,000,000 (as opposed to the £1m cited by the Telegraph).

Most significantly, the Viking is an amphibious vehicle, designed in Sweden primarily for amphibious operations and for their ability to move through swampy terrain, as well as snow. At twice the price of either a Bushmaster or RG-31, to use (and wear out) these highly specialised vehicles in a landlocked desert is little short of stupidity.

Luckily for our government and military, however, while this commodity is available in copious quantities, the MSM seems to be totally blind to it.


Saturday, October 28, 2006

My little Pinzy

Weighing into the debate about British Army equipment today comes Booker again, in his column, with a piece headed: "Our troops will patrol in 'coffins on wheels’".

This is about the continuing scandal of the Pinzgauer, named after an Austrian pony and, by one of our forum members, "my little Pinzy". For all the use it is to our troops, it could just as well be a little girl's toy.

Anyhow, at the heart of the disaster gathering round Britain's military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan, writes Booker, is the fact that our Government has in each case sent in an inadequate number of troops, hopelessly ill-equipped to do the job which faced them, Nothing has more cruelly brought this home than the still rising number of soldiers who died because the Ministry of Defence failed to provide them with patrol vehicles properly protected against mines and roadside bombs.

Last week, he tells us, Dutch troops in Afghanistan were supplied with the first of 25 mine-protected Australian Bushmasters, costing £271,000 each. This means that every other NATO contingent, American, Canadian, German, French and Dutch, now has mine-protected vehicles, but not the British, who are still expected to patrol in wholly unsuitable "Snatch" Land Rovers, such as the one destroyed by a suicide bomber in Helmand ten days ago in which a British Marine died, with a second seriously injured.

The MoD says it will soon be equipping our troops with Pinzgauer Vectors. These are known as "coffins on wheels" because they are in some respects even more vulnerable than the Land Rovers; not least because the driver is sitting right over the wheels when a mine strikes, and because the nature of their armour is such as to confine the effects of a blast inside the vehicle, probably killing all inside. Yet each Vector costs £487,000, nearly twice as much as the much-better protected Bushmasters. In other words, we are spending a great deal more money to give our men even less protection.

When our Armed Forces minister Adam Ingram was asked on 18 October by Lib Dem MP Mike Hancock what "risk assessments" had been carried out on the Vector, he refused to answer, merely giving the condescending reply "we do not comment on the details of our vehicles' protection levels". The Tory spokesman Gerald Howarth, on the other hand, is so reluctant to recognise the failings of the Pinzgauer that he is even pictured in an advertisement for them on the makers' website.

With a sense of frustration that we can only share, Booker concludes with the question, "why is this national scandal not on the front pages of every newspaper in the land?" Certainly, it isn't on the front page of his own paper, but that does report separately a story of how hundreds of marines are "penned into base by suicide bomb threat".

This is an entirely preditable response to a development which, it is claimed, marks a shift in Taliban tactics but, as we recently pointed out, was itself entirely predictable.

Nevertheless, we are told that military commanders ordered the "lock down" after receiving intelligence that many bombers plan to attack British troops in two towns in northern Helmand. One senior officer said that some of its fighters were now prepared to turn themselves into "human claymore mines" in a renewed attempt to drive the British from the province.

The two British bases being targeted are in Lashkar Gah, where 300 members of the Royal Marines are based, and the strategic town of Gereshk, on one of the main routes through Helmand, which is being guarded by 60 marines from 42 Commando. Limited patrols around Lashka Gar resumed yesterday only on the specific orders of the base commander, but high risk areas were avoided as was the centre of town.

So desperate are the Marines to strengthen their defences against suicide bombs, they are also deploying their BvS10 "Viking" all terrain vehicles, which were only delivered this year.

At a cost of cost £1 million each - nearly four times the price of the RG-31 or Bushmasters - they are being sold to the Telegraph's gullible Sean Rayment as giving "far greater protection than the infamous 'Snatch' Land Rover," even though the ballistic protection offered is about the same and the vehicle is rated to protect against pathetically meagre 0.5kg charge anti-personnel mines, compared with the 14kg protection offered by both the RG-31 and the Bushmasters.

Once again, therefore, Rayment - a specialist defence correspondent - misses the story and lets the MoD off the hook, while "my little Pinzy" toys pour off the production lines, unremarked by our skilled and diligent hacks.


Give war a chance...

"And even if Iraq, by some miracle, is able to sort itself out, the ability of the Western alliance, or what remains of it, to confront global security threats has been seriously, if not irretrievably, damaged."

That is the opinion of Con Coughlin, bien pensant defence correspondent for The Daily Telegraph and self-acclaimed author of the book, American Ally: Tony Blair and the War on Terror. And he is wrong.



Trampled by the bunny-huggers?

Iain Murray at the Corner deplores the Boy King's pusillanimity on REACH.

He has we are told, pressurised his party's representatives in the European Parliament to vote in favour of the directive, despite the MEPs' concerns about the impact on British business and jobs. Heavily influenced by aggressive lobbying by the World Wildlife Fund, his staff feared that his carefully crafted green credentials might have been undermined by a vote against.

This stance on such a serious economic issue is "exceptionally disappointing", writes Murray: it looks like both HM Treasury and the Department of Trade and Industry will become mere branches of the Environment Ministry in any Cameron government.

But while the Boy is surging ahead in the polls, to suggest that he will benefit electorally from Labour disarray is perhaps premature.

In addition to the Conservative Party, minority parties are also benefitting and disaffected voters appear increasingly ready to look at alternatives such as the UK Independence Party, BNP and the Greens. Support for the minor parties totals 13 percent, higher than at any time in recent history.

It is the march of the minnows that will be the electoral phenomenon of the next election, with many voters entirely immune to the vote blue – go green mantra of the not-the-Conservative Party.

And, perversely, the Boy's enthusiasm for REACH could backfire. While the WWF might be happy with him, the more powerful and numerous animal welfare lobby is not. They are exercised by the requirement to subject chemicals to animal testing and, according to the Sunday Times, tens of millions of rabbits, mice and guinea pigs are facing a painful death as a result of the directive.

In fact, current estimates of the number of animals to be affected range from the 16m predicted by the chemicals industry to 45m over 15 years calculated by Germany’s Federal Institute for Risk Assessment – a huge burden of testing which now, effectively, has the Boy’s support.

Pusillanimity may have brought him into line with the Greens but, in addition to disappointing the business community and upsetting the Eurosceptics, he now risks being trampled underfoot by the bunny-huggers. That could be his undoing.


Friday, October 27, 2006

When France lost the propaganda war

French historical memory tends to be even more selective than that of other European countries with the exception, possibly, of Russia and Serbia. (I am stretching the adjective European as far as it will go.) In other countries different memory lapses occur on different political sides and, somehow, one can put evidence together.

In France there tends to be an agreement as to the national memory lapse, inspired all too often by the state-controlled media (though the newspapers, not controlled by the state, gleefully join in).

Those old enough will recall the appearance of Marcel Ophüls’s “Le Chagrin et la pitié” in 1969, the first attempt to look at the truth of the Nazi occupation of France, the reality behind the carefully constructed myths. There was an explosion of officially orchestrated wrath. The film was banned from the state-controlled TV and various cinemas that displayed an inclination to screen it received unambiguous warnings.

Eventually the film was shown to great acclaim, in France and elsewhere, and a shocked discussion followed, especially among the younger generation, who felt, rightly, that they had been brought up on lies.

For all of that, the national amnesia over France in World War II has not yet been overcome to any great extent. (Come to think of it, Eric Rohmer’s recent film that attempted to show the truth about the French Revolution, “L’Anglaise et le duc”, was attacked ferociously by les biens pensants. Do not criticize our revolution.

The biggest memory hole is French decolonization, in particular the two ferocious and catastrophic colonial wars: Vietnam and Algeria whose after-effects are still with us.



For the times they are a-changin'

Thanks to a posting on The American Thinker, we find out that there are some changes of opinion at the highest level in France. Well, if you can consider Philippe Douste-Blazy, the Foreign Minister to be on the highest level.

According to the European Jewish Press, M Douste-Blazy has said that he has changed his opinion about the barrier Israel has built to prevent suicide/homicide bombers from entering the country. France, let us recall, has always criticized the “wall” and welcomed the 2004 UN Resolution that demanded its dismantlement. Now, the Foreign Minister thinks differently and for a very good reason:
“I have significantly evolved on the matter of the separation fence” said Douste-Blazy on French Jewish television TFJ on Thursday. “Although the wall was a moral and ethical problem for me, when I realised terror attacks were reduced by 80 percent in the areas where the wall was erected, I understood I didn’t have the right to think that way.”
This statement meant that others in the government have had to clarify their positions:
“The question, for us, concerns the route of the fence rather than its mere existence,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Jean-Baptiste Mattei on Friday. “We recognise, of course, Israel’s right to defend itself from terror, but the route of the separation fence must not overlap Palestinian territory and prejudge the final solution.”
One can’t help feeling that the last phrase there is a little unfortunate but M Mattei is trying hard.

The suggestion by The American Thinker poster that the French government might be thinking of erecting their own fences around some of the banlieux may well be accurate but the action would be unnecessary. The people who live in those horrible developments are already isolated effectively from the rest of the country. A much better solution would be a few changes in the economic structure that would allow those people to get jobs.


Totally out of their depth

Having spent so much time and effort condemning the MSM for its lack of attention to defence issues, a casual reader might have thought that the new-found interest displayed by some newspapers would be welcome. But not a bit of it.

Detailed, factual coverage of defence issues is always welcome and more so would intelligent commentary. But, when the coverage is highly selective and the commentary fatuous and misguided, one really does wonder what is being achieved.

In the category of "factual coverage" comes a piece in The Daily Telegraph today, recording the launch of an investigation into claims that dozens of civilians were killed in Nato bombing raids on suspected Taliban positions this week in southern Afghanistan.



What is important?

In the 30 months that this blog has existed, the world has changed more than we believed it ever could in such a short period. Many of the changes have been triggered directly by the cataclysmic events leading to and following 9/11 but, of more relevance to this blog, by the failure last year of the EU constitution.

Strangely though, while the damage caused by that failure was obvious and public, less so has been the more serious damage done to the whole of the European ideal by its main actors, France and Germany, ruling themselves out of key parts in what has been called the "war on terror", and specifically the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. Thus, while individual European countries have been represented, "Europe" as a political entity has been a mere spectator and, as a result, almost entirely lacking in influence and importance.



Thursday, October 26, 2006

Denmark fights on and wins

Time to salute gallant little Denmark again. Reuters brings the news that a court in Aarhuis has ruled that Jyllands-Posten did not libel Muslims in its publication of the 12 cartoons last year.

How one can libel a whole religious group that numbers around 1 billion people around the world is rather mysterious. But that is what the plaintiffs tried to argue:
Seven Danish Muslim organisations brought the case, saying the paper had libelled them with the images, which included one depicting the Prophet with a bomb in his turban, by implying Muslims were terrorists.
Shocking really. Fancy suggesting that there are Muslim terrorists in the world.

The plaintiffs have been ordered to pay the newspaper's legal costs but, it seems, that they intend to appeal to a higher court.


Rum story from Spain

Looking around the blogosphere one finds some very interesting and, often, perplexing items of news and information. Bloggers being arrested in China and Iran - to be expected, really, though we do promise to post soon a round-up of the stories from those countries.

However, here is a story from Spain. It seems that a Cuban blogger who lives in Galicia, in Spain, has fallen foul of the the Major of Oleiros who is supposed to be a Galician nationalist, which he seems to display by attacking the United States and, especially, Israel whenever he can.

The blogger, Alejandro de Llano has criticized the Major's anti-zionist (for which read anti-semitic in this case) campaign as well as his tendency to attack Cuban dissidents.
On October 13th, 2006, he has received a summons from a Criminal Judge announcing him that he is held responsible of the crime of supporting Israel and also of acting against Palestinian people. They did not give him a copy of the summons and they did not let him make any copies.
The last of these is contrary to the Spanish constitution.

We shall be watching this curious legal case.

"The poor of the rich countries subsidizing the rich of the poor countries"

For various reasons I missed Gerard Baker’s very funny and very angry piece about the self-righteous campaign Gap (the store that will sell somewhat inferior goods for superior prices).

The company has joined forces with Bono and the Product Red campaign that has signed up some of the most blue chip of names such as American Express and Motorola. It is pledging to give half of the profits from its iconic red T-shirts and leather jackets to Aids/HIV relief. The campaign was launched here last week, with the always crucial imprimatur of Hollywood. It features stars such as Steven Spielberg and Penelope Cruz in red T-shirts with one-word messages that say, with a modesty that doesn’t fit quite as well as the clothes, INSPI(RED) and ADMI(RED).
That’s Bono of U2, incidentally, the group that has relocated its music publishing company to the Netherlands as the Irish government decided to stop tax allowances for “artists”. Far it be from me to decry good business practice that means you can halve your tax bill but it ill behoves the same people to scream abuse at Western governments for not handing over more tax money (that’s your money and mine, by the way) to a bunch of unaccountable, kleptocratic tyrants.

Gerard Baker goes through all the various arguments, mentioning inter alia that fifty years of aid have resulted in an Africa whose countries are considerably poorer than they had been when they became independent. This has now been accepted by such luminaries as Richard Downden of the Royal Africa Society.

The aid that has gone to Africa for over 40 years has long ago outstripped the Marshall aid that the West European countries received for 4 years (which was then repaid) with nothing but negative results. And, Mr Baker adds, the only thing that will help poor countries is free trade, that is people in the rich west buying the goods that is produced by the poor in the poor countries.
I am sick and TI(RED) of companies trying to demonstrate to me how seriously they take their supposed duty to bring joy to and remove pain from the world. They can take their charge card (S, CREW-necks and mobile phones and ask THEMSELVES) whether this is really the sort of thing they should be doing with their shareholders' money.

Now I don’t here intend to demean the charitable spirit or the work of good people such as Bono or Sir Bob Geldof, nor the perfectly decent motivation of millions in the wealthy world who genuinely want to help to improve the wretched lives of those less fortunate than themselves.

Don’t get me wrong; charity remains one of the finest of virtues and should, in almost all instances, be encouraged.

Nor am I going to point out the nauseating conspicuousness of the consumption represented by the RED campaign (“Look,” it says, “I not only look good. I AM good!”) Nor am I even going to dwell on the fact, though I could, that for all the aid Africa has received over the past 50 years, the continent remains poorer than ever, and certainly poorer than parts of the world that have received little in the way of charity in that time.

My problem here is with what this does for the very idea of capitalism, for companies pursuing their real and entirely wholesome responsibility of making money. Free market capitalism, untrammelled by marketing people in alliance with special interest groups on a mission to save the world, has done more to alleviate poverty than any well-intentioned anti-poverty campaign in the history of the globe.

By concentrating on selling quality, low-priced goods, some of them made with labour that would otherwise lie idle (and dying) in the developing world, Gap saves lives.

Well, it would do if the goods were low-priced but let that pass. I suspect they are lower priced in the States than here.

Gerard Baker is a little worried about the fact that companies like Gap actually uses its clout to campaign against capitalism, which cannot be a good thing either for the developed or the developing world.

However, Tim Worstall, takes a different view. In his opinion, the Gap campaign is nothing but capitalism, red in tooth and claw, at work.
That there are people out there so deluded as to refuse to purchase goods manufactured by the poor of the world, thus making said poor richer, is obviously true. So, create a new brand, which mollifies these people's (entirely misguided) concerns. Take the money off them and use it to purchase goods from the poor of the world and thus make said poor richer. …

In the standard business textbooks this would be a form of branding, of product differentiation, no different from the same companies making both cheap and expensive soap powders that are exactly the same except for their packaging. Consumers get an increase in their utility by buying something that more accords with their self-image of themselves, companies get greater profits because they are able to price discriminate between those with those different self-images.
There is much to be said for Mr Worstall’s point of view. Gap is not going to be the loser by that campaign. Whether the people of sub-Saharan Africa gain anything by it is, at least, open to discussion.


Do we really look that stupid?

We may not be there, on the spot. We may not have the first-hand knowledge and we may not have a direct line into the halls of power. But pl-eeeze...

Everything we have been reading and discussing for the past many months, such as here, here and here (and much more) points to the inescapable conclusion that the British have effectively lost control of southern Iraq and that, with the current resources, the situation is irrecoverable.

Crucially, the Army had evacuated Al Amarah, leaving it to the Militias, its only presence in the Maysan province being out in the desert, where the nasties are quite happy to let it play with its toys unhindered.

Then we heard, out of the blue, that the British Army was mounting an operation in Basra and, despite the recent setback in Al Amarah, we now hear that things are going so swimmingly well that British troop numbers in Iraq could be halved by next year.

In fact, Army commanders are claiming that the operation in Basra have proved to be such a great success that the Army is close to reaching the "tipping point" in defeating the "insurgents".

This is "Operation Sinbad", which is aimed at purging Iraqi police of militia men, and is seen as key to "further weakening" the position of Shia militants – with success being claimed in terms of the number of murders in Basra, which has dropped from around 30 a month to 11 in the past four weeks.

And, of course, that the situation is so miraculously coming right has nothing at all to do with the desperate need for additional troops in Afghanistan. That the Army has so singularly failed to get to grips with the Militias after three years, is neither here nor there; that British officials have told their US counterparts that the military was "near to breaking point" due to long deployments in Iraq and weak retention of military personnel, is also irrelevant.

By some happy coincidence, the nasties have rolled over just at the right time and Mr Blair can now pull thousands of troops out, just when they are needed to bail him out elsewhere.

One worrying thing about this is that the people who govern us might actually be convinced that we are stupid enough to believe this guff. But the really worrying thing is that we are in great danger of agreeing with something of what Simon Jenkins writes. "For retreat to be tolerable it must be called victory," he asserts

But do we really look that stupid?


Suffer ye children

If there was ever an image which was calculated to turn people off politics, it is this, culled from a national newspaper today – illustrating the merriment of the Tory front bench at the prime minister’s discomfort over the "cash for honours" issue.

It was precisely this sort of "Punch and Judy" politics which the Boy King pledged to leave behind. Yet here are three senior members of his shadow cabinet, Alan Duncan, George Osborne and Oliver Letwin, behaving for all the world like schoolchildren.

The chaps may have come away from yesterday's Prime Ministers' Questions feeling terribly pleased with themselves but they should be aware that the rest of the nation looks upon their puerile antics with a mixture of loathing and contempt.

And this, incidentally, is the same day that we hear that a Tory MP and close political ally of the Boy King has left his wife and three children for a man.

When a nation is at war and its troops are in harm's way, masculine values usually come to the fore. But, it seems, we are wasting our time expecting these from our current parliamentary opposition. We must look elsewhere.


Lightning II strikes

You can follow the ins and outs of the EU-Turkish accession negotiations for all you are worth but, as we have remarked several times on this blog, the real bellwether is the military. If you want to know where sentiment lies, watch what the military does.

And the military have just spoken. Against the heady days last year when the "colleagues" were looking to a quick sale for the Eurofighter, Turkey's Air Force has just selected the US-led F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF), now called the Lightning II. They are expected to commit around $10 billion to buy about 100 new-generation fighter aircraft.

The Air Force, as the user, is not the sole authority for a final decision, but its position is dominant and backed by the powerful General Staff. "Although this decision is not official yet, we can say that Turkey's JSF move is almost final, after the Air Force has clarified its position," said one defence analyst in Ankara.

As a sop to the Europeans, there was a possibility of going for a mixed buy of the JSF and the Eurofighter, but the Air Force, whose fighter fleet is exclusively of US design and which follows a strong American tradition, has opted for the all-JSF solution.

So the Europeans can put their aeroplanes where the sun doesn't shine.


Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Time to press the panic button?

When Michael Yon writes, it is always worth reading. But his latest piece in the Weekly Standard is more than a little worrying. Mark this on your calendar, he writes:

Spring of 2007 will be a bloodbath in Afghanistan for NATO forces. Our British, Canadian, Australian, Dutch, and other allies will be slaughtered in Afghanistan if they dare step off base in the southern provinces, and nobody is screaming at the tops of their media-lungs about the impending disaster. I would not be surprised to see a Nato base overrun in Afghanistan in 2007 with all the soldiers killed or captured. And when it happens, how many will claim they had no idea it was so bad and blame the media for failing to raise the alarm? Here it is: WARNING! Troops in Afghanistan are facing slaughter in 2007!
If that was a piece in isolation or from a different person, it could be ignored. But it is from Michael Yon, and it meshes with the piece over the weekend that had Field Marshal Sir Peter Inge warning that British forces risk defeat in Afghanistan.




Following on from our investigation into the Qanagate affair, readers will recall that we had made a formal complaint concerning the use of staged photographs to the Press Complaints Commission.

At the time, however, we did note that this was a notoriously weak watchdog and it had complete discretion as to whether it entertained a complaint. But, we felt, it was worth a try.

Page 1 - double-click to enlargeWell, try we did but, largely as expected, the Commission has ducked the issue. It has decided not to carry out an investigation of our complaint. In its own words, "No finding as to the substance of any of the claims made by the complainant could therefore be made". The letter is reproduced (right) – double-click on each sheet to enlarge.

If we had expected any different, we might just be angry. But so typical is this of the establishment, when confronted with a serious problem, that we can only shrug and turn away. What do you expect?

Page 2 - double-click to enlargeBut it is a problem that is not going to go away. The MSM is haemorrhaging authority, credibility and followers. Yet it is its inability even to understand what it is doing wrong that lies at the heart of its malaise. And the more it hides under the covers, pretending that it is doing nothing wrong, the worse it is going to get.

All we have to do is wait, watch and keep our own material coming. Time will do the rest.


Those murderous French

There has been a French parliamentary inquiry, which – predictably – cleared its own government. But now a former senior Rwandan diplomat has told a tribunal in his own country that France played an active role in Rwanda's 1994 genocide.

The Rwandan tribunal is hearing from 25 survivors of the genocide, who claim to have witnessed French involvement and will rule on whether to file a suit at the International Court of Justice. The panel is headed by former Justice Minister Jean de Dieu Mucyo and its proceedings, which began in the Rwandan capital, Kigali, on Tuesday, are being broadcast live on local radio.



Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Claudia Rosett says it as it is

The admirable Claudia Rosett, who ought to have had the Pulitzer Prize for investigative journalism last year but for some reason didn’t (something to do with her subject, the oil-for-food scam and other horrors at the UN) has her own blog. And it is full of goodies, as you would expect.

Her top two stories cover the United Nations. In the very latest one, she raises a point many of us have made before:
If Jeffrey Skilling had worked for the UN instead of Enron …. He’d be looking forward to years of dining out with his pals and collecting his pension in comfort. Instead, found guilty of fraud and conspiracy, he’s facing a 24 year sentence.
When it comes to the oil-for-food, “the biggest scam in the history of humanitarian relief”, on the other hand, not a single official involved has been fired, much less prosecuted. SecGen Kofi Annan (father of Kojo) goes from one high-faluting statement to another, while his “hand-picked” head of the programme, Benon Sevan (he of the useful aunt) has retired to Cyprus on a full pension.

Moving right along, we come to Ruud Lubbers, former UN High Commissioner for Refugees, who did, actually resign after it had been proven that he had indulged in a spot of sexual harassment in the Geneva office. Tsk, tsk.

Mr Lubbers is about to reappear in Brussels as one of the list of speakers at a European Parliament conference.
The subject? Why, ethics, of course! To be precise, (who comes up with this stuff?): “Corporate Culture and Spirituality: Business and Ethics — Complementary or Contradictory.”

What position Lubbers will take — whether he is in the complementary or contradictory camp — is not yet clear. The press release, in language that might just as well have been lifted straight out of your average UN office wastebasket, says: “This conference primarily addresses the role of an ethics based approach to sustainable corporate success and leadership performance.”
It seems that Lubbers is being billed as former Prime Minister of Netherlands, his UN stint being quietly buried. But, as Ms Rosett says, it would be a pity if the conference did not discuss the UN and its vagaries within the framework of “Corporate Culture and Spirituality – Business and Ethics”.


EU accounts qualified

…for the 12th year running. But the BBC tells us that the EU commission and MEPs are arguing that the media have given a slanted picture of the problem.

From our point of view though, who cares? If the EU miraculously produced perfect accounts, with every cent traced, every "t" dotted and "i" crossed, would we suddenly be in favour of the EU?

I think not.


An odd sense of values

News of the moment is that the Ministry of Defence is banning ITN – Britain's biggest commercial news broadcaster – from frontline access to the nation's forces.

This is picked up by The Times and others, retailing an account of how the government "has withdrawn co-operation from ITV News in warzones after accusing it of inaccurate and intrusive reports about the fate of wounded soldiers."

The MoD's director of news, James Clark, has accused ITN of a "hatchet-job", with reporting that relies on "cheap shots all over the place, no context, no reasonable explanation. Like the Daily Star in moving pictures."

The tenor of the reporting is by no means unsympathetic to the MoD and the news of the action has even travelled over the pond to Michelle Malkin, who has her own (very good) reasons for distrusting media coverage of defence issues.

Any indignation, or sympathy for the MoD however, should be tempered with the knowledge that, when it comes to accountability, this ministry is the pits. It is not only one of the most secretive of government departments but is also quick to rely on the "security card" when it wishes to avoid scrutiny of its actions.

What is intensely frustrating though is that, while this story is quick to attract media attention, attempts by MPs to drag vital information out of the ministry are almost completely ignored.

The latest in this line is Mike Hancock, Lib-Dem MP for Portsmouth South, who has been trying to get to the bottom of the Pinzgauer issue with a Parliamentary Question to the minister asking:

…what risk assessment has been made of the ability of Pinzgauer Vector armoured vehicles to give adequate protection to the driver in the event of running over (a) a mine and (b) an improvised explosive device, with particular reference to the cone of destruction; and if he will make a statement.
In response, an MoD which, apparently in support of its troops, is so quick to squawk about the misbehaviour of the media, suddenly becomes rather reticent. The minister, Adam Ingram, replies:

To safeguard our own and allied troops, we do not comment on the detail of our vehicles' protection levels. However, the need to provide enhanced protection against the threats currently faced in Iraq and Afghanistan, including mines and improvised explosive devices, was a factor in the decision to procure rapidly a suite of protected patrol vehicles, including an additional 106 Pinzgauer Vector vehicles, which would give commanders a range of options dependent on the operational circumstances.
If ever there was a non-answer, that is it. And, if we had a halfway effective media, this would now be a serious issue, not least as we now learn that the Dutch have become the latest of the forces in Afghanistan to acquire mine protected vehicles. Only this week, the first of their $31.7 million purchase of 25 Australian Bushmaster armoured patrol vehicles became operational (pictured). Until recently, they had been borrowing five RG-31 Nyala patrol vehicles from the Canadians.

We now have a situation where German forces in Afghanistan are equipped with Dingo II mine protected vehicles, the French are being equipped with up-armoured VBLs, the Canadians and the US forces have RG-31s and the Dutch have Bushmasters.

Soon, uniquely, the British will have the only major contingent in Afghanistan which is not equipped with mine protected vehicles. Instead, troops are about to be supplied with Pinzgauer Vectors which, in some important respects, actually give less protection than "Snatch" Land Rovers – the vulnerability of which is only too evident.

Of course, this is far too complicated for the British media, which would rather see troops die than get its hands soiled with a little bit of technical detail. Instead, the hacks will wait until after the event, for a quick, cheap story when the bodies are being shipped back to the UK.

For once, though, we actually see an ordinary back-bench MP doing his job, and doing it well, which puts the self-serving preening of the media rather in perspective. This is an industry which gets excited about the fate of soldiers once they are wounded but is careless of whether they live or die in the first place - a rather odd sense of values.


Wake up and smell the coffee

"We are not dealing with Nato matters, we are dealing with European defence." Thus spoke former Bundeswehr Brigadegeneral Reimar Scherz, chairing the two-day Congress of European Defence which opened in Berlin yesterday.

Conveyed only (so far) by Deutsche Welle Scherz goes on to say, "For us it is very important to have a status report on where we are and where we're going". He continues:

The decisions are taken in Brussels as far as European defence and security policies are concerned… and we have installed a European armament agency. The western alliance Nato is the number one security force in Europe, but the European Union is building its own defence force to strengthen its own defence capabilities and deal in crisis situations where Nato is not engaged.
And it is that EU "defence capability" that was on the agenda at the Congress, to which over 2000 delegates attended, including Germany's Defence Minister Franz Josef Jung and his French counterpart Michele Alliot-Marie, plus the ubiquitous EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana.

Says Deutsche Welle, the EU's ultimate aim, according to the 1999 Helsinki agreement and the 2004 Headline Goal is to create by 2010 a European military force of 50 to 60 thousand soldiers who can be deployed within 60 days and sustained in the field for at least one year.

One of the EU priorities in defence matters is to make sure that its planned mobile battle groups are properly equipped and ready to report for duty early next year. "We have made decisions as far EU battle groups are concerned," Scherz said. "There will be 13 battle groups early next year... 1,500 soldiers each, and Germany is participating in four battle groups. Those decisions have been taken, but the question is how these decisions will be implemented."

And, as we know from Claude-France Arnould, Director of Politico-Military Affairs at the European Council, who so helpfully informed us last July, the EU Battle Groups are more a tool for political integration than to attain military objectives. Furthermore, we also know from Karl Von Wogau MEP that, through these battle groups, "We are on our way to a European Army".

Von Wogau, chairman of the European Union parliament Subcommittee on Security and Defence, has declared that these groups, assembled under the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP), will equip the European Union in its own name to act as an autonomous military power, all in the context of threats defined by the European Security Strategy.

This is the same European Union which, incidentally, is quite happy to have US and Canadian troops in Afghanistan under a Nato banner protecting European interests, but which could not find a mere 2,000 troops for the Nato force in the region. Somebody in Nato needs to wake up and smell the coffee.


Monday, October 23, 2006

"Never glad confident morning again"

It seems that I have used that quotation before, though not in the title, when writing about Nikita Khrushchev’s secret speech to the Twentieth Congress of the CPSU. Still, it can be repeated, for it was that speech that started the chain of events, which culminated in the Hungarian Revolution that began 50 years ago today.

The celebrations in the country have been marked by ferocious disputes and worse; angry accusations of bad faith then and now. Some survivors, like General Béla Király is filled with some gloom; others like the former student leader, quoted by the BBC, appear to think that the fight against globalization is the same as the fight against Bolshevism. At best, that shows certain lacunae of knowledge.

David Rennie spoils his good deed of bringing General Király to the attention of the readers of the Spectator by his almost inevitable arrogant silliness. The suppression of the Hungarian Revolution could have triggered off World War III. Oh really? Between whom and whom? Exactly who was going to move in there to help the Hungarians? Apart from anything else, there was the little matter of the Suez crisis going on and it absorbed most of the energy and attention of the Western powers.

David Pryce-Jones, who has written a book about the Hungarian Revolution says this on his blog today:
Help Hungary. Help!” was the final appeal on the radio, put out by Gyula Hay, the playwright and in his day a veteran Communist too. In sad fact, the United States did nothing, making it plain that the Soviets could do their worst. On hearing that a revolution had broken out, President Eisenhower limited himself to saying, “The heart of America goes out to the people of Hungary.” Heart is all very well, but what about muscle? Robert Murphy, then undersecretary of state and an experienced trouble-shooter, summed up Washington’s failure: “Perhaps history will demonstrate that the free world could have intervened to give Hungarians the liberty they sought, but none of us in the State Department had the skill or the imagination to devise a way.
Could the West have helped? Who can judge that fairly now? But we do know (well, most of us do but David Rennie has special information): it was not going to. As Professor Jeremy Black writes in his latest book, “The Dotted Red Line”:
Indeed, appeasement was as much inevidence over Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968, as over Austria and Czechoslovakia in 1938.
With the difference that Hungary in 1956 showed herself willing to fight unlike either of the victims of Nazi aggression in 1938.



Bevan summed it up

This autumn sees a number of important anniversaries and we shall be covering them as they arise (starting today with the beginning of the Hungarian Revolution) including the Melbourne Olympics and that famous water polo match.

This posting is relatively mild, especially after my colleague's trenchant comments about El-Alamein. Tomorrow is the anniversary (not a round one so it matters little) of the beginning of that glorious institution, the United Nations.
In 1945, representatives of 50 countries met in San Francisco at the United Nations Conference on International Organization to draw up the United Nations Charter. Those delegates deliberated on the basis of proposals worked out by the representatives of China, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom and the United States at Dumbarton Oaks, United States in August-October 1944. The Charter was signed on 26 June 1945 by the representatives of the 50 countries. Poland, which was not represented at the Conference, signed it later and became one of the original 51 Member States.

The United Nations officially came into existence on 24 October 1945, when the Charter had been ratified by China, France, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, the United States and by a majority of other signatories. United Nations Day is celebrated on 24 October each year.
By the time Poland became a founding member it had become clear that the country was not going to have an independent existence. In the Soviet Union they were busy imprisoning all those who were returning or were being returned from POW camps and those who had been displaced persons.

Many of the all-conquering Red Army found its way to the camps, because they belonged to the wrong national group (Chechens, Ingushi and Tatars, for example) or because they talked too much about conditions in Europe even after a totally destructive war as opposed to conditions in the motherland.

France was becoming embroiled in two ferocious and inglorious colonial wars: in Vietnam and Algeria.

And so on, and so on. But the Charter was signed and the UN became a body to be spoken off with awe and respect despite its ever-growing shortcomings.

Of course, it was even worse in the fifties and sixties when only very few people pointed out the chaos that ensued whenever the UN became involved (with the solitary exception of the Korean war, which could go ahead because the Soviets were huffing and puffing and wouldn’t occupy their chair or veto the resolution) and even fewer spoke of the lack of consistency between the Charter and the behaviour of the founding members.

In preparation for the other 50th anniversary – of the Suez crisis – I have been reading the newly published pamphlet by Sir Philip Goodhart, who was actually there, reporting for the Sunday Times. “A Stab in the Front” is distributed by the Conservative History Group and is well worth a read.

There are depressingly familiar aspects to the crisis as described by Sir Philip from the day of Nasser’s nationalization of the canal to the outbreak of hostilities and their ignominious end (though the Israelis might not think so after the successful Sinai campaign).

The most depressing part of it is the alacrity with which the Labour Party abandoned all intention to think clearly about the issues involved and started repeating the mantra of the United Nations. We must refer the matter to the UN. We must do as the UN says after an undoubtedly prolonged and agonizing discussion, sabotaged at all levels by the Soviet Union, by that time President Nasser’s main patron.

Curiously enough, it was Nye Bevan who opposed all this nonsense, asserting that Nasser was a thug and that
the only slogan sillier than “My country right or wrong” is the “United Nations right or wrong.
That first slogan has a respectable history:
The Story behind It: The speaker was naval hero Stephen Decatur, who had accepted an invitation to a banquet being held in his honor at Norfolk, Va. Many patriotic toasts were made, but Decatur's stood out: "Our country! In her intercourse with foreign nations may she always be in the right; but our country, right or wrong." In 1872, Sen. Carl Schurz of Missouri paraphrased Decatur: "Our country, right or wrong. When right, to be kept right; when wrong, to be put right." English author G.K. Chesterton had this to say: "My country, right or wrong is like saying, my mother, drunk or sober."
Can one really say any of it about the United Nations? Contrariwise (as Tweedledee would say) can we ever discern any doubts or qualifications among the UN worshippers?

For once, Nye Bevan got it just right.