Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A Bronx cheer

"The improver of natural knowledge refuses to recognise authority as such. To him, scepticism is the highest duty, blind faith the one unpardonable sin."

Thomas Henry Huxley, M.D., Essays on Controversial Questions (1889).

"Today, international action on climate change is urgent and essential. Indeed, there can no longer be any debate about the need to act, because the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), of which I am chairman, has established climate change as an unequivocal reality beyond scientific doubt."

Rajendra Pachauri, today in The Guardian.


Galileo "ill-conceived"

To absolutely no surprise – to readers of this blog, at any rate - the European Court of Auditors have condemned the EU's Galileo vanity project as "ill-prepared and badly managed".

"The programme," it says, "lacked a strong strategic sponsor and supervisor: the commission did not proactively direct the programme, leaving it without a helmsman."

The 27 member states also take some stick - for promoting their own industries first and foremost. "Owing to their different programme expectations, member states intervened in the interest of their national industries and held up decisions," complains the court of auditors. "The compromises made led to implementation problems, delays and, in the end, to cost overruns."

The audit examined the factors in the failure of the concession process and for delays and cost overruns of technological development, concluding that the original public-private partnership plan was "inadequately prepared and conceived" not to mention "unrealistic".

The Galileo Joint Undertaking - set up in 2003 and scrapped in 2006, when the commission took over direct management - was given the task of supervising Galileo's technological development activities but "was seriously constrained by governance issues, an incomplete budget, delays and the industrial organisation of the development and validation phase."

If the project is to succeed, says the court, the commission "must considerably strengthen its management of the programmes." And "should the EU resolve to engage in other large infrastructure programmes, the commission must ensure it has access to the appropriate management tools," it added.

A chastened (not) commission spokesman acknowledged that there had been delays and cost overruns – he could hardly do otherwise – and then, in classic bureaucratic style, declared: "In hindsight things could always be done better... but we are happy to accept the recommendations of the court in order to be able to get on with the project."

Needless to say, the commission at this stage cannot even quantify the cost or time overruns, but the spokesman is confident that the first operational satellites should be launched next year. That, according to the court of auditors, makes it something like five years late already.

Interestingly, remarkably few media outlets have carried this story, continuing the silence on the downside of the Galileo project. This contrasts with the huge publicity afforded by the media when the first test satellite was launched. No doubt, when the first satellite staggers into the air, the media will be right there again, and the betting is that you will not hear the word "ill-conceived".


The truth ...

... the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

We all know that famous phrase if not from personal experience then from countless TV shows. There is, however, one group of people who seems unaware of it and that is Her Majesty’s Ministers and their advisers.

On Thursday there was a reply to a Written Question put down by Lord Stoddart of Swindon. The question was interesting in that it implied (oh heck, said quite clearly) that a previous reply had been economical with the truth, a phrase that Ministers and their advisers know very well, indeed.
To ask Her Majesty's Government further to the Written Answer by Lord Malloch-Brown on 4 June (WA 107), why he did not mention that European Union regulations have direct effect in the United Kingdom; and whether, in the light of the United Kingdom's results in the European Parliamentary elections, they will reconsider their decision not to undertake research into the proportion of United Kingdom legislation originating in the European Union.
Right, let's go back to that original question and the answer to it by Lord Malloch-Brown, formerly best friend of George Soros as well as bag-carrier to ex-SecGen Kofi Annan.

First the question:
To ask Her Majesty's Government further to the Written Answer by Lord Malloch-Brown on 18 May (WA 253), (a) what would be the likely cost of research into the proportion of United Kingdom legislation originating in the European Union; and (b) what assessment they have made of the figure of 75 per cent as the proportion quoted by some political parties and organisations and by The Independent on 19 May (page 27).
And the answer?
The Government have not assessed the likely cost of research into this issue. The Government believe that any expenditure would be disproportionate given the limited purpose such figures would serve.

The Government do not believe that the figure of 75 percent is accurate. A House of Commons Library analysis of the effects of EU legislation on British law between 1998 and 2005 gave a figure of just 9.1 per cent.
Interesting. So finding out and letting the electorate know what proportion of the legislation comes from the EU and cannot be thrown out (if, indeed, it is read) by the elected members of the House of Commons would serve a limited purpose, according to HMG. Is that because who legislates and whether that is controlled by the electorate are topics that are of no importance in a democracy?

Now we can understand why Lord Stoddart has decided to ask the most recent question. It is clear that the House of Common Library analysis dealt only with Directives that do require parliamentary legislation though this could be secondary, put through by Statutory Instruments. What of those Regulations that are directly applicable. Well, here is Lord Brett's reply on behalf of HMG:
The Answer given by my noble friend the Minister for Africa, Asia and the UN, Lord Malloch-Brown, did not mention EC regulations as the Question did not ask about the legal effect of specific Community instruments. It has always been clear that EC regulations are directly applicable in the UK. The Government reaffirm the Answer to the previous Question.
The question asked about the proportion of legislation that comes from the EU. That must include, surely, legislation that is directly applicable and of which Parliament knows nothing. To whom exactly has it "always been clear that EC regulations are directly applicable in the UK"? HMG, its Ministers, their advisers and members of Parliament with very few exceptions in the House of Lords tend not to mention this fact. Perhaps, they do not always know themselves?


Another one down?

The long-awaited ruling from the German constitutional court at Karlsruhe has been delivered, offering a curate's egg verdict – good[ish] in parts.

According to the BBC, the court has decided that the constitutional Lisbon Treaty is compatible with German law - but has suspended ratification of it pending extra national legislation needed to ensure that the German parliament participated fully in adopting EU laws.

Quite what this latter provision means is not explained and we are not much the wiser from the report in Deutsche Welle. It, however, summarises the court ruling, telling us that, "the constitution says 'yes' to the Lisbon Treaty but demands that parliament's right to participation be strengthened at the national level."

Der Spiegel tells us that the [German] parliament will now be under pressure to rapidly bring in new legislation so that the ratification process can continue.

The treaty is supposed to be implemented by the beginning of 2010 at the latest and the parliament is to gather for a special sitting on August 26 for a first reading of a new law which will pave the way for ratification. The vote would then take place on 8 September, weeks before Germany's national election.

Nothing, it seems, will stop the Gadarene rush of national legislatures to divest themselves of powers, handing them over to an alien construct in Brussels.

With Irish commissioner Charlie McCreevy recently conceding that voters in most EU countries would have rejected the treaty, given the opportunity, one wonders what it is that impels our rulers to defy their own people in such an egregious manner.

Possibly, there is now a chance for German MPs to stall the new law before the national elections, although this seems a forlorn hope, which means that, even before the Irish re-run of the referendum, another ratification will be safely in the bag. The vice-like grip of Brussels gets ever tighter.


"No plans for a European Rapid Reaction Force"

That is the latest statement from the MoD, which follows on from our story about the demise of the European Rapid Reaction Force, picked up by Christopher Booker in his column on Sunday, bringing the news to a wider audience.

The clue on which Booker relied was last week's conference on land warfare where Gen Dannatt slipped out in coded form that the Army's £16 billion Future Rapid Effects System (FRES), planned as the centrepiece of Britain's contribution to the European Army (aka the European Rapid Reaction Force), was a dead duck. Without that capacity, the UK is unable to make a meaningful contribution to the ERRF.

Booker's piece provoked an almost immediate response from the MoD, lodging its disagreement on its blog yesterday. In typical style, though, it is unable to resist a sneer, declaring, "Christopher Booker's article displays a lack of understanding of some basic facts." And, according to the MoD, a crucial area where there is a "lack of understanding" is that "there are no plans for a European Rapid Reaction Force."

More on Defence of the Realm.

Monday, June 29, 2009

The gathering madness

It is not only the politicians who are on another planet. Today, according to The Guardian, the Royal Society publishes a report telling us that we will have to pay more for energy if the UK is to have any chance of developing the technologies needed to tackle climate change.

This comes only a week after The Daily Express and others were reporting that energy bills were already set to soar to more than £5,000 a year within the next decade – and now these buffoons want them to go even higher.

But such is their detachment from the real world that John Shepherd, a climate scientist at Southampton University and co-author of the Royal Society report, is able to say: "We have adapted to an energy price which is unrealistically low if we're going to try and preserve the environment."

He adds: "We have to allow the economy to adapt to higher energy prices through carbon prices and that will then make things like renewables and nuclear more economic, as carbon-based alternatives become more expensive."

The man has enough grip of reality though to realise that higher energy costs would be a "hard sell" to the public, but he reckons it is "not unthinkable". But then he delves into the realms of fantasy, suggesting that part of the revenue needed for research could be generated by a carbon tax that took the place of VAT. And the EU is going to roll over and abandon VAT when?

Mind you, still to come is Ed Miliband's white paper setting out how Britain will source its energy for the coming decades. This is due out next month and one suspects that the Royal Society will look positively sane by comparison.

And, when you realise quite how fragile are the data underpinning the growing madness, one can only marvel at the tolerance and forbearance of British society – that these people are still alive.



In the News of the World yesterday, Fraser Nelson writes a piece under the heading "Condemned by silence".

He notes that, three weeks since BNP's election triumph, no party has started to discuss immigration. Westminster parties have kept their baffled silence and are giving the BNP a monopoly over the most explosive issue in politics.

You'd think, writes Nelson. Gordon Brown and David Cameron would have been shocked into action after seeing Griffin win a seat in Brussels, his party taking almost a million votes.

Immigration was always a "big subject" and it is bigger now because layoffs in the recessions are hitting British-born people hardest. Directly from the Office for National Statistics – but not openly published – Nelson has found that there are fewer UK-born workers in the private sector than 12 years ago.

In the last year there are 119,000 more migrant workers in UK jobs, but 615,000 fewer UK-born workers. In recent months, both are falling. But UK-born workers are being laid off at five times the rate. Workers, he says, can see it with their own eyes, and ask: why? And because no mainstream party has an answer, the BNP prospers.

Other statistics gleaned include the nugget that 1,000 Britons are emigrating every day, although they are not working in Europe. Although Alan Johnson, now Home Secretary, claimed a figure of 1.5 million British working in Europe, that is actually seven times the real number. Of immigrants in the British workforce, the official figure is two percent but the real total is fourteen percent.

But, while Thatcher killed off the National Front in the late 70s by taking the issue immigration head-on, Cameron is silent. The subject scares away voters in the marginal seats he needs to take power. Westminster only cares about swing voters in swing seats - so millions are forgotten. Thus writes Nelson, the silence from Westminster suggests that the BNP's "shocking success story" is far from over.

Taking a broader perspective, it is not just immigration on which the political classes are silent. We have all been impressed with the US treatment of the climate change bill over there. It may have been rammed through the House of Representatives but at least it is as political issue. Here, the silence of the politicos is deafening.

Similarly, defence in the United States is an issue – discussed widely in the media and on the Hill. Here, although a debate has started, it has been led by the military and the media. Over the pond, it was kick-started by defence secretary Gates.

One by one, you can tick off the "big issues" – the European Union also comes to mind – and our politicians are silent. They have their own agendas, but these increasingly are not ours. The gulf between the politicians and the people may have been greater, but in recent times it is hard to imagine when. Thus, to use a word beloved by politicians, whether new or not, the current gap is "unsustainable".


Someone takes it seriously

It has not gained much traction, even on this blog, but it is still a very serious issue – and so says William Ress-Mogg.

"We should be deeply concerned that panicking MPs are on the verge of throwing away their hard-won freedoms," he writes, warning that the House of Commons is in danger of cutting its own constitutional throat.

Fortunately, the Clerk of the House is trying to stop them. The clerk is Malcolm Jack, a man of scholarship and courage who is the ultimate referee on all constitutional questions which affect the Commons. His core duty is to advise the House, its Speaker, the committees and MPs on the practice and procedure of the House, and its rights.

Rees-Mogg continues with the tale, echoing our own views that, "Rushed legislation is usually a disaster, and this would be legislation in a panic."

Unfortunately, in the present depressing climate of opinion, where MPs have eroded any sympathy they might otherwise have expected, the public is not at all concerned about the rights of Parliament.

But, Rees-Mogg sternly tells us, "They should worry a lot. The privileges of Parliament are needed to protect the public against the raw power of the executive. That was the justification for the Bill of Rights in the 17th century, and is still the justification today."

He is dead right, of course. And that is why we are concerned and remain concerned. And if MPs do make a stand, we should support them – loathsome though many of them are. Parliament is bigger and more important than its members. And Britain needs a strong and independent and new House of Commons, adds Rees-Mogg.

He believes that would mean an early election, which we are not going to get. If instead, we get a parliamentary standards quango, we are in trouble. As the man observes, "no one needs an ipsy-dipsy quango."


Sunday, June 28, 2009

Where Catalonia leads ...

An interesting piece and somewhat alarming piece in The Sunday Telegraph pulls together the rarely discussed issue of the EU regional policy, noting that various European separatist movements are set to welcome the expected ratification of the constitutional Lisbon treaty.

They believe that increased power for Brussels means weaker nation states and a stronger case for the regions to be given independence.

The paper offers two case studies, one dealing with Catalonia and the other Flanders, in both of which the separatist movements see in the EU an opportunity to break away from their own national governments and re-create themselves as "independent" member states under the aegis of Brussels.

This process gets a distinct boost with the constitutional Lisbon treaty. For the first time, for instance, Regions will have direct access to the ECJ, being able to bring their own cases, having hitherto to rely on their central governments to act for them.

What we are seeing, therefore, is a continuation of a scheme that actually pre-dated the European Union and even the European Coal and Steel Community in 1952, stemming from town twinning which was conceived, in its present day form, immediately after the Second World War. The ethos then is the same as it is now – that by strengthening ties between cross-border entities, the grip of the nation states was weakened, thus reducing the prospects of war between nations.

The EU (and the EEC before it) was late into the game, with its first faltering move in 1975, creating the European Regional Development Fund, and the formation of a distinct regional policy in 198, managing a funding stream that by-passes central governments with direct payments to regional bodies.

Making up for lost time, it now encourages direct relations between the regions and Brussels, with some 300 different regions staffing offices in Brussels, dealing directly with the commission and other EU institutions. And with many of the regions boasting populations and GDPs larger than some of the EU's newer members - including Malta, Slovakia and Slovenia – the logic of "independence under Brussels" is gaining ground.

Such a movement could directly affect the United Kingdom for, if regions like Catalonia and Flanders do break away, there would be a strong precedent for Scotland, Wales and even Ulster to follow. And where they lead, could Yorkshire – or perhaps Cornwall – be far behind?

And that is the hidden threat posed by the EU. An English rump, weakened by successive EU policies and the depredations of Gordon Brown's financial management, would not have the strength to block such moves. A puppet parliament in Westminster, eager to conform as long its members expenses and pensions were paid, would raise few objections to the break-up, engineering our final subjugation to an alien power.

Nightmare scenario this may be, but that does not mean it is impossible – or even unlikely. The threat is real and Catalonia is showing the way.


Rigging the debate

One of the explanations for the unseemly rush to get the Waxman-Markey Bill through Congress is that the warmists are on the back foot. The global warming tide is shifting against them and, before too long, their creed will be consigned to the dustbin of history as yet another of those mad obsessions that periodically grip the masses.

This is certainly the view of the Wall Street Journal which notes with approval how the Australian Senate is giving Kevin Rudd's version of a climate change law a very hard time. Furthermore, it observes, Australian polls have shown a sharp uptick in public scepticism; the press is back to questioning scientific dogma; blogs are having a field day.

The response of the warmists, however, is nothing if not predictable. Having controlled the agenda for so long, their reaction to the changing tide is to rig the debate, closing down on dissenting voices and suppressing alternative views.

One element of this strategy is recorded by Booker in today's column, where he describes the concerted efforts of the Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG) to prevent one of the world's leading experts on polar bears attending a meeting because his views on global warming do not accord with those of the rest of the group.

The group is meeting in Copenhagen under the aegis of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature/Species Survival Commission, set up – as Booker puts it- "to produce a suitably scary report on how polar bears are being threatened with extinction by man-made global warming," one of a steady drizzle of events planned to stoke up alarm in the run-up to the UN's major conference on climate change in Copenhagen next December.

The excluded expert is Dr Mitchell Taylor who has been researching the status and management of polar bears in Canada and around the Arctic Circle for 30 years, as both an academic and a government employee. His problem is that, more than once since 2006 he has made headlines by insisting that polar bear numbers, far from decreasing, are much higher than they were 30 years ago. Of the 19 different bear populations, almost all are increasing or at optimum levels, only two have for local reasons modestly declined.

To add to his litany of sins, while Dr Taylor agrees that the Arctic has been warming over the last 30 years, he ascribes this not to rising levels of CO2 but to currents bringing warm water into the Arctic from the Pacific and the effect of winds blowing in from the Bering Sea.

Thus Dr Taylor has been told that his views running "counter to human-induced climate change are extremely unhelpful". His signing of the Manhattan Declaration – a statement by 500 scientists that the causes of climate change are not CO2 but natural, such as changes in the radiation of the sun and ocean currents – are "inconsistent with the position taken by the PBSG".

This is but one example of how the warmists control the agenda, another being offered by Watts up with that, which catalogues measures taken by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to suppress dissident voices within its own organisation.

None of this could happen, of course, without the active participation of the media and, in his second piece, Booker refers to Lord Hunt, who last week "made one of the most absurd claims that can ever have been uttered by a British minister."

Solemnly reported by the media, Booker writes, he said that by 2020 he hopes to see thousands more wind turbines round Britain's coasts, capable of producing "25 gigawatts (GW)" of electricity, enough to meet "more than a quarter of the UK's electricity needs".

Hunt's ideas are so patently absurd that, had a minister announced that the UK was about to launch a series of manned space shots to the moon to mine green cheese in order to solve the global protein shortage, there would be little to compare between the two.

Booker notes though that perhaps the most disturbing point is that the media dutifully reported Lord Hunt's absurd claims without asking any of the elementary questions that could have revealed that he was talking utter nonsense. One cannot of course expect Opposition MPs to take an intelligent interest in such matters, he writes, but if journalists allow ministers to get away with talking such tosh, the slide into unreality can only continue.

This is a broader point that deserves more attention, touching on an effect we see in defence and elsewhere. The media – as a collective – has its own narratives and as long as an utterance fits with those narratives, it is given an airing. That which goes against the grain is buried.

Currently, the media narrative on climate change is that global warming is real and represents a major threat to the planet and humankind. Similarly, all the woes in the military stem from "under-resourcing" and all problems in Afghanistan will be solved by more "boots on the ground". Thus is the debate rigged, through which means our decline into obscurity, poverty and impotence is managed.


Developing a spine

Perhaps there is hope for us yet. The Sunday Times is reporting that Gordon Brown's plans to create a legally enforceable "code of conduct" for MPs are in turmoil.

It appears that four senior MPs are to table amendments to water down or remove the proposals from the Parliamentary Standards Bill, which is going through the Commons this week. They include Sir Stuart Bell, the Labour MP on the Commons Commission; Sir George Young, who chairs the committee on standards and privileges; and Alan Duncan, the shadow leader of the Commons. The House of Lords has also threatened to throw out the scheme.

Reinforcing our fears about rushed law, it has also emerged that neither Jack Straw, the justice secretary, who is charged with pushing through the legislation, nor Harriet Harman, the leader of the Commons, who unveiled the bill last week, actually knew about the plans for a code of conduct until they were announced by No 10.

Whitehall officials drew up new clauses to "fit the press release", a classic example of law "on the hoof" which should never see the light of day. It will be a good day if the Commons has the spine to throw out the Bill in its entirety.


Saturday, June 27, 2009

Maybe the Tories should start paying attention

Over on Your Freedom and Ours I suggest that maybe, just maybe the Tories should get over their dislike of John Bercow, now Speaker of the House of Commons and start paying attention to what he is saying.


It is Max Hasting's turn in The Daily Mail to pick up on General Richards' speech – and much else – using the topical hook of Armed Forces Day which is being celebrated today for the first time.

More on Defence of the Realm.

The best comment ...

... I've seen so far, on Michael Jackson - here. Mind you, James Delingpole also has a view.

Another review

Over on Defence of the Realm.

Insanity rules

Americans should know that those Members who vote for this climate bill are voting for what is likely to be the biggest tax in American history.

This is the Waxman-Markey Bill, going through Congress (House of Representatives) on the last day of business before the 4 July recess. Minority leader Boehmer mounted a robust counter but a Republican amendment was defeated. The final vote was 219 to 212. The Bill passes to the Senate.

The response from Marc Morano says it all.

This passage of this bill does not signify any great "green revolution" or "growing" climate "awareness" on the part of Congress. Instead, the methods and manner that the Pelosi-led House achieved final passage, represents nothing more than unrestrained exercise of raw political power, arm-twisting, intimidation and special interest handouts.

The House of Representatives passed a bill it did not read, did not understand. A bill that is based on crumbling scientific claims and a bill that will have no detectable climate impact (assuming climate fear promoters are correct on the science and the bill is fully implemented – both implausible assumptions).

Proponents of the bill made spectacular claims in their efforts to impress the urgency of the bill on their colleagues. Democratic Congressman G.K. Butterfield reported claim that the bill "will literally save the planet" reveals just how out of touch scientifically, politically and economically many of the bill's supporters have become.

To illustrate just how delusional some of the supporters of the climate bill have become, imagine if in 1909 the US Congress passed a bill attempting to predict climate, temperature and the energy mix powering our national economy in the year 2000. Any such attempt would have been ridiculed, but somehow in 2009, attempting to control the economy and climate of the year 2100 is seen as reasonable by many.

Insanity rules.

UPDATE: Have a look at Watts up with that and especially the comments. Particularly noteworthy is the observation that the popular US media was focused entirely on the Michael Jackson death, while the progress of this Bill went almost unreported.


Friday, June 26, 2009

Not benefits - but costs

Its has been said before, many times, but now we have a US think-tank, the Beacon Hill Institute, saying it: "green jobs are a cost not a benefit."

The researchers have looked at a number of influential studies, including the UNEP report on "Green Jobs: Towards Sustainable Work in a Low-Carbon World," and find that they are "critically flawed".

Says Paul Bachman, director of research at the Beacon Hill Institute, "Contrary to the claims made in these studies, we found that the green job initiatives reviewed in each actually causes greater harm than good to the American economy and will cause growth to slow."

The BHI study itself remarks that, if the green job is a net benefit it has to be because the value the job produces for consumers is greater than the cost of performing the job.

This argument is never made in any of the studies examined. Thus co-author of the BHI study, David G. Tuerck, notes that "these studies are based on arbitrary assumptions and use faulty methodologies to create an unreliable forecast for the future of green jobs."

He adds, "It appears these numbers are based more on wishful thinking than the appropriate economic models, and that must be taken into consideration when the government is trying to turn the economy around based on political studies and the wrong numbers."

Closer to home, Poland's Solidarnosc trade union is warning that some 800,000 jobs across Europe will be wiped out following the adoption of EU climate change legislation last year.

This is from Jaroslaw Grzesik, deputy head of energy at Solidarnosc, who is in fact referring mainly to Poland, Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia and the Czech Republic - although he says Germany, the UK and Scandinavia will also suffer.

The problem here is their reliance on coal for electricity production.
where the requirement to reduce CO2 emissions or buy pollution credits on the European carbon market, will push coal industries to relocate to countries where they are not regulated.

"In Poland, production will move away to Ukraine, a few kilometres away from our borders," Grzesik predicts, deploring the fact that the Polish government and the European had provided "no analysis" of the impact of the EU's climate legislation on industry delocalisation.

He also pours cold water on the notion that job cuts would be offset by the creation of new "green jobs". His estimate is that there will be 800,000 job losses for the whole of the EU, whereas the best estimate for new jobs is 200,000.

"In Europe, without a doubt, it is a problem," said Philippe Herzog, a French economist and founder of Confrontations Europe. "We have not found a balance yet between the definition of European objectives [on climate change] and the implications for jobs."

But then the objective never was balance, or indeed new jobs. The economic illiteracy expressed in the UNEP report surely cannot be real – no one can be that stupid as to believe that wiping out hundreds of thousands of jobs and replacing them with a smaller number is a good thing. Or can they?


Let battle commence

Recalling the recent defence debate in the Commons, when, at one time there were only twelve MPs in the chamber of which only one was a Labour backbencher, it is encouraging to note that the much-needed debate on our defence capabilities is nevertheless under way.

In this respect, The Daily Telegraph is to be applauded for leading the way, with a long feature by Thomas Harding, responding to the speech by General Sir David Richards at RUSI.

More on Defence of the Realm.

We are mugs ...

Reuters piece, published in The Guardian - frustratingly short on detail – tells us that the EU commission has referred Italy to the ECJ "for failing to respect a ruling that the country must recover illegal state aid."

It turns out that Italy has failed to implement a 2004 ruling by the ECJ which confirmed an earlier decision by the commission, instructing it to recover €281 million. Five years later, only a very small part has been recovered.

"The Commission will take all necessary legal steps to ensure that member states comply with their obligations to recover illegal and incompatible state aid," says EU competition commissioner Neelie Kroes.

And then what? It may take two years to get a ruling. The Italian government will mess about – perhaps recover a tiny fraction more and then do nothing, leaving the commission to go to the ECJ again ... and again ... and again.

Yet in this country, you only have to whisper "EU rules" and our government rolls over and does what it is told, double-quick time. We are serious mugs in all this. We should either play the game the way the Continentals do it, or get out – preferably the latter.


Thursday, June 25, 2009

That road to starvation

Earlier this month we were reporting on the coming grain harvest, observing that while overall production was down, there was at least a bright spot with wheat.

That happy situation arose, in part, because of a bigger than expected yield from India which for the past two years has been prohibiting wheat exports to stave of shortages at home.

However, only a few later the prospects are no longer looking so rosy. The Indian Met Office is predicting that the 2009 monsoon may fail, delivering only 93 percent of the normal 19 inches of rain which falls during the season.

More worryingly, the grain bank of the country - north-west India, including Punjab and Haryana – is predicted to suffer the most, getting only 81 percent of the long-term average for the region. Add a possible error of eight percent and the rainfall for north-west India could be as low as 73 percent of normal, leading to drought conditions.

Most Indian farmers depend on the monsoon as only 40 percent of farmland is irrigated. They tend, therefore, to plant summer-sown crops such as wheat, rice, soybeans and sugarcane in the monsoon months of June and July.

Demonstrating how slender a thread on which we all rely, this current forecast is a significant "correction" from the mid-April statement when "near normal" rainfall was expected. At least this is an improvement on 2004 though, when drought conditions were last experienced. Then the Met Office missed the signals early enough to put out a warning.

Currently, up to yesterday, the country had received only 53 percent of normal rainfall, with central India getting only 25 percent. The government is shying away from declaring an emergency but the situation is undoubtedly of concern.

The Times of India notes that nearly 70 per cent of Indians depend on agriculture, which represents around 17 percent of India's GDP. It has averaged nearly 4 percent growth over five years. The sector was expected to buoy India's overall growth, hit by the global crisis so a fall in farm production could not happen at a worse time.

With food prices are already high, they could hit the roof if the rains do not come, while food security could become an even more pressing issue.

And then, just to add to the well of human happiness, scientists in Canada and around the world are racing to find a way to stop a destructive fungus that threatens to wipe out 80 percent of the world's wheat crop.

Officials say that the airborne fungus, known as Ug99, has so far proved unstoppable, making its way out of eastern Africa and into the Middle East and Central Asia. It is now threatening areas that account for more than one-third of the world's wheat production and scientists in North America say it's only a matter of time before the pest hits the breadbasket regions of North America, Russia and China.

Global warming, under the circumstances, is the least of our problems.



Charles Grant, writing in The Prospect magazine (restricted access), is worried about the EU "unravelling", citing in particular the failures of the common foreign and the defence policies.

Had he read Gen Dannatt's speech before he had written his piece, he would have been even more worried. Buried deep within the script was one short paragraph, one sentence of which effectively buried the idea of a European Rapid Reaction Force (ERRF).

Grant's worry would of course depend on his understanding what Dannatt was saying, which was not entirely transparent bearing in mind that the CGS – as is common with tribal groups – was speaking in a code impenetrable to normal people.

Referring to the structure and equipment of a future Army, Dannatt warned about being "seduced by elegant concepts that offer success from one particular medium," calling in aid the experience of WW2, Kosovo and the 2006 Lebanon war, which exposed the fallacy of Douhet's and Mitchell's overemphasis on air power.

Then came the "killer punch" when he observed that "those experiences also expose the sterile thinking of proponents of the Effects Based Approach and the Revolution in Military Affairs in the 90's."

One has to smile here because, until very recently, Dannatt was one of the staunchest proponents of the "Effects Based Approach" which was spawned by the Revolution in Military Affairs. To give its more familiar name, this is the Future Rapid Effects System or FRES.

It was this project that brought this blog into the military arena, when it became apparent that it was to be the core of the expeditionary concept, with light-weight airmobile platforms, and thus was to form the teeth of the ERRF.

That force, in accordance with the Helsinki Headline Goal, was supposed to be operational by 2010, which explains why Dannatt was so insistent on a 2010 in-service date for FRES. As it is, the grandiose Capability Improvement Chart of 2005 (shopping list) remains but a distant dream.

But, with FRES now dead in the water, and Dannatt contemptuously dismissing his love-child as "sterile thinking", the ERRF has nowhere to go. By next year, it may be European, but it will not be rapid, it will not be capable of reaction and it will not be a force.

Sadly for the "colleagues" though, the non-force was also reliant on the implementation by 2005 of the EU Strategic lift joint coordination, with a view to achieving by 2010 necessary capacity and full efficiency in strategic lift (air, land and sea) in support of anticipated operations.

With Airbus only able to produce computer graphics of the A-400M, however, the only thing that approaches "full efficiency" in euroland is the flag-waving and parade department. As long as you don't want the euroweenies to go anywhere and actually do any serious (or any) fighting, they are just the people you need.

Then, to put a final cap on their ambitions, incoming CGS General Sir David Richards is making it clear that any future British military adventures of any scale with be conducted under an allied umbrella and those allies will be the Americans.

We hope now that little Charles Grant is weeping in his cups. All the "colleagues" have left is not so much Eurocorps as a eurocorpse.


Must have forgotten

On Tuesday Lord Foulkes of Cumnock, another of the local council - House of Commons - House of Lords brigade, not to mention being a member of the Scottish Assembly as well, asked HMG the following question:
What is their forecast of the revenue lost to HM Treasury through the use of the Channel Islands for avoiding the payment of United Kingdom tax.
The debate that went on for about seven minutes was quite curious in that practically everything the question and immediate response to it implied, was incorrect.

All we managed to gather is that HMG, together with other states and governments that is anxious to destroy economic activity by extracting as much tax as they can manage, are trying to think of all sorts of schemes whereby "tax havens" will be shut down, even if that will mean the places in question going bankrupt and money being laundered some other way. For sure as eggs is eggs, the rich will find a method of keeping their spondulikins out of the various politicians' hands and who can blame them.

What was not mentioned was that there might actually be another solution to the problem and that is lower taxation. That, on the other hand, would undermine the assumption on which much of the debate was conducted: that, somehow, HMG (or any other government) has an undeniable right to people's earnings to do whatever they see fit to do with it.

Another unmentioned aspect was the curious fact that members of what is known as "Another Place", to wit the House of Commons, had, at various times, voted themselves substantial salary increases, which they called expenses in order not to pay taxes on them. Behaviour of that kind would be frowned upon if indulged in by the great unwashed.

There are, of course, no salaries except for Ministers, in the House of Lords, and the expenses are minimal. Lord Foulkes, one assumes, is paid as Member of the Scottish Parliament. For all of that, his was one of the few names in the Upper House that cropped up in the course of the recent unpleasantness, as Wikipedia unkindly mentions:
In 2008, Foulkes had been criticised for his expenses claims, which included around £45,000 over a period of two years for overnight subsistence to stay in a flat he had inherited. Between April 2007 and March 2008, Foulkes claimed £54,527 in expenses from the House of Lords.[13][1]
The words houses, glass and stones spring to mind.


A "horse and tank" moment

Following on from General Sir Richard Dannatt, the incoming CGS, General Sir David Richards has now taken the podium at the RUSI Land Warfare conference which ends today.

It says something of the media that the only newspaper so far to recognise the importance of his speech is The Daily Telegraph in a piece written by Thomas Harding. There, the message is summed us as "Army must change or risk failure, warns future chief."

More on Defence of the Realm.

Bumps in Basra

SIR – Your report "Why we failed in Iraq, by Army chief" (June 24) gives the misleading impression that I think we failed in our mission there. I do not, writes General Sir Richard Dannatt. He continues:

On the contrary, I was very clear in my speech at the Royal United Services Institute – as I have always been – that we can be exceptionally proud of what our Armed Forces achieved in Basra.

I did say that there were bumps along the way. I acknowledged that we did not deliver the required effect quickly enough to take advantage of the support we had from the local people after the invasion, and that we failed to maintain the force levels required.

But these points, made with the benefit of hindsight, do not in any way call into question the most important point: that our actions in Basra over the duration of the campaign were decisive and instrumental in making it a better place, and that without the sacrifice of 179 of our courageous men and women Basra would not be the place it is today – stable, secure and increasingly prosperous.

At the Royal United Services Institute this week, General George Casey, the chief of staff in the US Army, as well as General Jim Mattis from the United States had nothing but praise for the performance of British Armed Forces who served in Iraq.

We achieved what we were in Basra to do. The mission was a success. The British people have every right to be proud of that and of the men and women who made this possible. I think they are.
The mission was not a success. We have been kicked out of Iraq, the job half done. Dannatt is delusional.


Mad ... completely mad

Climate change minister Stewart Stevenson (pictured) said: "Scotland can be proud of this bill, the most ambitious and comprehensive piece of climate change legislation anywhere in the world."

"As a country, we are leading global action and expect others to follow our lead as we look to the international summit in Copenhagen this December."

It may only be Scotland but it is still completely mad. The trouble is, our own lot are not much better, if at all. And, in any case, we have Brussels to contend with as well.

To a very great extent, the obsession of diverse legislatures with global warming is a symptom of the greater malaise, illustrating the great divide between the people and our rulers. Time and again, across both sides of the Atlantic, opinion polls indicate that ordinary people do not rate climate change as an important issue.

The real science, as opposed to the tripe promulgated by the scientific rent seekers, does not support the thesis of human-induced warming, or even that CO2 is a driver. And, for the past seven years, the "global temperature" – if there is such a thing – has been declining.

Yet still, the politicians plough on regardless, oblivious to reality, totally locked in their own self-referential bubble, spewing out the mindless instruments of the sort we see in Scotland.

And the worst of those is that among the measures voted through parliament were powers to fine householders and companies if they do not take action to improve the energy efficiency of their houses and buildings. Next thing you know, they will be fining people for putting things in the wrong dustbins ... er ...

More and more, I am convinced that "we" are going to have to shoot them. Of course, "we" are not going to do that. We are going to moan, bitch ... and write blogs. But if politicians continue on this path, that is the inevitable outcome – perhaps not for decades or even generations. The rate it is going though, it will be sooner rather than later.

As we watch the tragedy of Iran play itself out, it looks such a long way away, but we are not that far from it - it only took a couple of generations to turn that country from a wealthy, advanced, western-orientated nation to the basket case it now is. Civilisation is never more than skin deep - mess with it and it will mess with you.


Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Clouded reason

One of the most dangerous phenomena of modern times is how the irrational greenies have hijacked the environmental agenda and suborned it in pursuit of their own political aims. No better example of this is offered than in a piece by Peter Schwerdtfeger, emeritus professor of meteorology at Flinders University in Adelaide, writing in The Australian.

Schwerdtfeger is reviewing the work of internationally acclaimed cloud physicist Daniel Rosenfeld of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, who asserts that the most awful consequence of the burning of carboniferous fuels is not the release of CO2 but the large-scale injection of minute particulate pollutants into the atmosphere.

Detailed studies carried out by his research group have revealed that the minute water vapour droplets that form around some carbon particles are so small as to be almost incapable of being subsequently coalesced into larger precipitable drops. In short, the particulates prevent rainfall. Thus, humans are changing the climate in a much more direct way than through the release of CO2.

What seems to be happening is that pollution is seriously inhibiting rain over mountains in semi-arid regions, a phenomenon with dire consequences for water resources in the Middle East and many other parts of the world, including China and Australia.

This and other work is now showing that the average precipitation on Mt Hua near Xi'an in central China has decreased by 20 percent, but rather than "climate change" this is attributable to man-made air pollution during the past 50 years.

The precipitation loss was doubled on days that had the poorest visibility because of pollution particles in the air. This explains the widely observed trends of decrease in mountain precipitation relative to the rainfall in nearby densely populated lowlands, which until now had not been directly ascribed to air pollution.

The work also shows the "frightening persistence and longevity of pollutant trails across vast areas", not least in the Australian Snowy Mountains catchments, where a phalanx of brown coal-burning power stations may have substantially wrecked the natural precipitation processes over the once hydrologically rich Australian Alps.

If Rosenfeld's scientific interpretations are correct, then southern Australia would greatly benefit from the application of his discoveries. At the very least, Rosenfeld's conclusions should be accorded appropriate evaluation and testing by an unprejudiced panel of peers.

The issue here is that targeted measures to limit specific pollution is a common good, and far from being objectionable, is economically as well as ecologically sound. And, by virtue of their very specificity, not only are such measures cheaper than the scatter-gun approach of trying to reduce CO2 measures, their effects are more immediately measurable and there is a true cost-benefit.

However, Schwerdtfeger remarks that the work has so far has been ignored in Australia (and elsewhere) because it does not fit in with the dominant paradigm that holds CO2 responsible for reduced rainfall in semi-arid regions. And thus do the greenies, far from improving the environment, hold back sensible measures and lock us into the tunnel vision of group obsession, perpetuating the very problems they purport to be solving.

Booker and I had a phrase for this ... "the sledgehammer to miss the nut". Perhaps we should take the sledgehammer to the nut(s).



Last week the prime minister returned from the European Council having denied the EU the right to determine which financial institutions he, or his successors, would have to bail out in the future.

Or so he says, and may even believe, notes Irwin Stelzer. But he hasn't. Stelzer continues:

In fact, France's Nicolas Sarkozy was closer to the truth when he proclaimed that "Anglo-Saxon" capitalism has been altered by the establishment of new pan-European regulatory bodies. Prepare yourself to learn new agency titles: the European Banking Authority; the European Insurance and Occupational Pensions Authority; the European Securities and Markets Authority; the European Systemic Risks Councils. You couldn't make it up, as our tabloid cousins say.

These new agencies will not only provide jobs for the boys: they have binding powers to investigate and oversee cross-border banking, insurance, pensions and securities, and can issue binding orders to resolve disputes between member states.

Sarkozy has only scorn for Gordon Brown's claim that these bodies have very limited power. "We have agreed a European system of supervision with binding powers. My conviction is that its scope will increase."

History is on the French president's side – efforts to hold EU institutions to their original remits have uniformly failed. Surely, Lord Mandelson, a Europhile whose next project is the replacement of sterling with the euro, knows this.

Whether he shared that insight with his ostensible boss we do not know, but it is a reasonable guess that his Lordship neglected to warn the PM of the pending loss of still more national sovereignty. When the Prime Minister said that "candour" is the new watchword of his government, he surely did not expect it to apply to his new best friend.
The implications of this are profound. In the few short months following the banking crisis, we have ceded huge tranches of control over our financial institutions to the EU, vested in hostile hands with agendas which are entirely inimical to our own.

This has been matched by an almost complete absence of outrage and front-page coverage – part of the "opportunity cost" arising from the obsession with MPs' expenses. While the political classes have been discussing little else but the penny-ante sums involved, the EU has made a power grab that will cost us billions, all without reference to our own Parliament which has not yet debated the issue and never will.

That there should have been so little attention to this issue is unsurprising. Bankers, whatever their contribution to the economy, tend to be the lowest form of scum that inhabits the earth, and they have not made many friends recently.

Further, the whole issue of banking regulation is fiendishly complex, as we know from our own forays into this field. Then, apart from a few high-profile banking executives, the field is populated by anonymous, grey figures conducting back-room, technical deals which do not lend themselves to the "biff-bam" style of modern media reporting.

Thus, in the couloirs of Brussels and beyond, one of our most important wealth generating activities has been stitched-up, kippered and delivered to the enemy. We won't poinpoint the cause of the effects immediately – or at all. As the EU exerts its malign grip, its depredations will not be reported and that which escapes into the public domain will not be understood.

The only thing certain is that we will pay, directly and indirectly, and keep on paying ... until such time as we are forced to leave the EU or go bankrupt.


Repent at leisure

There is not much more that can be added by way of comment on Brown's plans to regulate parliament, beyond that offered by Charles Moore on 16 May, which we explored on this blog.

The Daily Telegraph leader has a go, noting that the proposals for cleaning up Westminster are a "demeaning moment for Parliament." It is an admission that those who are elected to run the nation's affairs cannot run their own.

This paper's main concern, though, is with the detail, particularly the controls over MPs with second jobs. The fear is that these will drive out high-quality people, or inhibit them from standing in the first place. There seems no concern about the principles embodied in the proposals.

For that, you have to go to a blogger, Raedwald, who calls it a "pernicious and malign Bill". In fine style, he declares:

The last thing this nation needs is an Act that would pack the chamber with vile apparatchiks and 'professional' politicians, rob the Commons of its authority, turn our parliament into just a department of government and treat our MPs - returned by us to Parliament to exercise the thunderous powers and sovereignty of that body - as mere hirelings, irrelevant juniors.
Such is the sagging morale of our MPs, and their slender grasp of constitutional and democratic principles, that they look to approving this with minimal debate and scrutiny, intent only on "restoring public confidence" in Parliament. Not for them the lesson of the Dangerous Dogs Act, the classic illustration of the principle that rushed law is always bad law.

As to The Telegraph's concerns about inhibiting high-quality people from standing for Parliament, the main deterrent is the singular fact that, progressively, this institution has been robbed of its powers (with the willing assent of its incumbents). Yet this Bill seeks to neuter Parliament even further, continuing its march towards irrelevance.

What is lost here is the very rationale for having Parliament in the first place. It does not belong to the MPs, or government. It is – or should be - our Parliament, there as a bastion against an over-powerful and oppressive executive. Anything that diminishes Parliament diminishes us.

Having lost the plot so long ago, however, our MPs are now conspiring in destroying what little authority they have left. But while they act in haste, we will be the ones to repent at leisure.


One of those days …

Sometimes, days go by with nothing really significant to report on Defence of the Realm. Other times, the news floods in and it's a job keeping up. Yesterday was one of those days, and we've not finished yet. That European white elephant, the Airbus A400M, has reared its computer-generated head again.

Actually, although the A400M is a military aircraft, this is a political project and, once again, we have the real world impinging on the fantasy construct in which the "colleagues" have invested so much time, money and political capital.

As we left it in March with a contract break in the offing on 1 April – giving the opportunity to the prospective purchasers to cancel – the decision on whether to walk away was postponed until 1 July.

However, with the deadline now racing closer at the speed of an Airbus computer graphics designer, no agreement on the future of the project is forthcoming. But, like the "colleagues" confronted with a "no" vote in a referendum, this lot cannot take no for an answer either. Thus, they have simply extended the deadline for another month.

This zombie-like behaviour – the aircraft proving impossible to kill - was agreed on Monday by the defence ministers of the seven European customer nations.

Needless to say, this is a European month, so it isn't really a month after which the project comes to an end. Explained by French defence minister Herve Morin, the agreement to extend the deadline by one-month is actually a short discussion break to allow time to look into the issues, "in particular the financial questions with the company. "

The outcome of this break is then to decide whether to grant another six-month delay, this one being used to renegotiate the A400M contract with Airbus in an attempt to keep the project alive.

That development represents a partial victory for the French and Germans, who wanted to move straight to a renegotiation. This, however, was blocked by Britain which is getting increasingly concerned at both the costs and the delays. So the answer to a British objection to a six-month delay is to have a one month delay … followed by a six-month delay.

Whether Britain will stay the course still has not been decided. Quentin Davies, representing the MoD has admitted the talks were "difficult" and is warning that there will have to be "a very great deal of progress with (Airbus) in order to save this project."

However, just to add further interest to a messy situation, Airbus has confirmed that the lead customer, Germany, definitely will not see the first delivery before 2014, with the overall delivery timetable having been further delayed.

It then gets even more interesting with the news that the Chinese have completed building their first Airbus model under licence, and are now in a position to challenge the British wing-making monopoly.

Whether that is used as a threat to keep Britain on board is anyone's guess but, if there is a stitch-up in the making, the RAF had better reconcile itself to the prospect of flying computer graphics rather than real aeroplanes. At least, though, that will keep the carbon footprint down.


Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Playing politics

Edward Leigh – he of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) – is at it again, his committee this time reporting on the ill-starred Type 45 Destroyers.

This warship type, as readers will know, is to form the backbone of the Royal Navy's air defence capability, replacing the ageing Type 42s. To that effect, the ships are fitted with the French manufactured Aster missile, known by the acronym PAAMS (Principle Anti-Aircraft Missile System).

Leigh's main beef is that, although the first (of six) Type 45 will enter service in 2009, "it is a disgrace that it will do so without a PAAMS missile having been fired from the ship, and will not achieve full operational capability until 2011." He (or his committee) also complains that other equipments and capabilities which will enhance the ship's ability to conduct anti-air warfare operations will not be fitted until after the ship enters service in some cases.

As to the committee's diagnosis of the main problem, it notes that, although the Type 45 was based on 80 percent new technology, the MoD failed to take sufficient account of this in its assessment of technical risk or in the commercial construct that it agreed. Thus, it decides that the Ministry "needs to improve its understanding of technical risks at the start of its projects" and should "factor in more realistic allowance for risk on its more technically complex projects."

To say that this is a somewhat superficial finding is something of an understatement. What the committee does not identify is that PAAMS is another of those ghastly European co-operative ventures, with the French having the design lead on the Aster missile. The delays in the deployment of the weapons system, therefore, owe as much to our French partners as they do the MoD.

Further, as we rehearsed nearly four years ago, the genesis of the Type 45 goes back to 1985, with the ill-fated NFR-90 (NATO Frigate Replacement for 90s) programme, a multi-national attempt at designing a common frigate for several Nato nations, including France, Germany, Italy, the UK, the United States and Canada.

Inevitably, with such an ambitious project and with such disparate requirements, the project could not succeed and it was abandoned in the early 1990s, after US and the UK had withdrawn, the latter in 1989 after fears that the design would not meet the requirements for replacing the Type 42 air-defence destroyers.

It was then in 1992, on John Major's watch, when he was imbued with the desire to be "at the heart of Europe" that his Conservative government opted for a "European" solution, setting up the Horizon "Common New Generation Frigate" project with France and Italy.

The project comprised two separate but linked projects – the basic platform (ship), and the missile/radar complex. And while the platform was a common venture, and the British elected for their own radar, the missile system – known as the PAAMS (Principal Anti-Aircraft Missiles system) – was to be French-built by EUROPAAMS.

It was a Labour government then in 1999 that abandoned the Horizon project, the MoD then electing to go for a British-built platform, which had been the original intention back in 1985 before a Nato solution had been considered. A year later, a "fixed price" contract was awarded to BAE Systems for twelve ships, scheduled to enter service by the end of 2014.

Interestingly, the entire programme was budgeted at about £6 billion, including PAAMS, the development of which had been agreed in 1995 by a Conservative government, despite fears over escalating costs. The target cost per ship (excluding missiles) was about £270 million, with as much again for the missiles.

The PAC now observes that it is "disappointing" that the MoD has taken so long - over 20 years, it says - to deliver its replacement for the Type 42s. But it then refers to the Type 45 entering service over two years late and £1.5 billion over budget. In fact, it is 20 years late, and more than £6 billion over the originally planned budget.

The crucial issue though is that this is another of those "legacy" procurement projects started in the days when European co-operation was all the rage, and many of the problems currently experienced stem from that – making the Conservatives jointly responsible for the cost over-runs and delays.

It jars, therefore, to find Liam Fox - as always – scoring party political points on this project, claiming that: "This report highlights the extraordinary risk that this Government is taking with our nation's defences in an increasingly volatile world."

"Its appalling incompetence," he adds, "has left the Royal Navy having to "juggle and hope" with only half the new ships it was supposed to have, and a fleet of exhausted Type 42s that are more than three decades old."

But for the Euro-enthusiasm of the previous Conservative government, the Type 42 replacements would already have been in service for some years. And, instead of relying on the European fixation with developing highly sophisticated technical projects like missile systems from scratch, we would possibly have relied – as do the Americans – on evolutionary projects such as an enhanced Sea Dart, developing the technology already in service on the Type 42.

To reduce costs, we could also have shared Spain's philosophy. Put off by the French insistence on a new European combat system, it went for the "proven and ready to go" US sales pitch for its F100 frigate, which features the Aegis system and Standard missiles, the current US maritime anti-aircraft systems.

Spain's IZAR shipbuilders formed industrial bonds with Lockheed Martin, enabling it to build its own platforms while benefiting from state-of-the-art technology, delivering ships with greater capabilities than the Type 45 which included Tomahawk cruise missiles and Harpoon anti-submarine missiles – at around half the cost for each platform.

Arguably, had the previous Conservative government followed this route, the massive cost increases could have been avoided, in which case we would have twelve ships instead of the six now being purchased. Dr Fox, therefore, is playing politics.


They never learn

In this case "they" are not the politicians but the next group in the low-life stakes, journalists of the MSM. As it happens, we have not written much about the momentous events in Iran, partly because it is hard to fit them into the pattern of this blog and partly because they have been widely covered.

I suspect we shall have to change that attitude just as I have changed my entirely negative attitude to twitter - in some cases that rather ridiculous idea has enormous uses. Indeed, cyber-technology has shown its awesome powers and not the way the Iranian mullahs would have liked it. (Not to mention the State Department that has explained that their desire to be friendly with the Iranian regime has not been affected by recent developments.)

One story that has been covered widely is the shooting of Neda, a medical student who stood next to her father watching what was going on. Again, the story has been widely covered by various media outlets, including the Financial Times that has managed to live up to its reputation of being somewhat less than entirely reliable in its reporting of foreign news.

"Web video of woman dying in street becomes image of Iran protests", says the headline of Najmeh Bozorgmehr's story from Tehran. Nothing wrong with that, one might think until one reads the first paragraph:
The footage of a Palestinian man being shot dead next to his 12-year-old son, Muhammad Jamal al-Durrah, by Israeli forces in Gaza in 2000 has been etched in the minds of many Iranians, as state television has continually replayed the images to highlight the “Zionist regime’s brutality.”

Now, the Islamic regime itself has become the subject of similar allegations at home and abroad after gruesome footage of a dying young woman during the suppression of an opposition protest on Saturday was released on the internet.
Etched or otherwise, ladies and gentlemen of the Financial Times, the Al-Dura story and images are fakes. We have followed the story to some extent ourselves but the expert on the subject is Richard Landes who has an update on Augean Stables and on Pajamas Media (where one commenter enquires about those demonstrations against the Iranian regime's behaviour towards Iranian people).

One cannot help wondering who does the research on that venerable rag, the Financial Times.


Will the real General Dannatt stand up?

With remarkable candour, a General Sir Richard Dannatt is admitting to failures in the campaign in Iraq - but others have not always agreed.

Currently, this General is telling us that Britain missed the opportunity to stabilise Iraq after the 2003 invasion and was too quick to shift resources to the conflict in Afghanistan. But that is today's view delivered to the Royal United Services Institute.

In December 2008, however, a General who goes by the name of Sir Richard Dannatt – and may be some relation – was telling the BBC, "We have achieved what we set out to achieve" in Iraq. "We have been quite clear about what we had to do and we have done it ... The job is done and Basra and southern Iraq is a much better place now than it was under Saddam Hussein in 2002."

Now, we learn that the failure of coalition forces to take advantage of the "window of consent" in the immediate aftermath of the invasion had opened the door to the Shia militias and then they had not kept enough troops on the ground - particularly as the focus of operations switched to Afghanistan.

Thus does today's Gen Dannatt say that one of the key lessons from the conflict was the need to achieve a "decisive effect" early on. "Our failure to deliver this through proper investment and a comprehensive approach and our early switch to an economy of force operation in favour of Afghanistan sowed the seeds for the dissatisfaction that followed and the rise of the militias supported so cyncially by the Iranians in the south."

He goes on to say that the coalition had also failed to ensure it had enough troops on the ground, "surging" the numbers when the situation demanded. "In truth," he adds, "we failed to maintain the force levels required, either of coalition forces or Iraqi forces, and particularly towards the later end of the campaign, by which time we were already committed to a new operation in Afghanistan."

Just to confuse matters though, there seems to be another General Dannatt, the one who gave an interview to The Daily Mail in October 2006, after we were "already committed" to a new operation in Afghanistan.

That Gen Dannatt seems to have had rather different views. Iraq was an unpopular war and "our presence exacerbates the security problems". He goes on to say: "I think history will show that the planning for what happened after the initial successful war-fighting phase was poor, probably based more on optimism than sound planning".

Then this General ruminates, "History will show that a vacuum was created and into the vacuum malign elements moved," adding that, "The hope that we might have been able to get out of Iraq in 12, 18, 24 months after the initial start in 2003 has proved fallacious. Now hostile elements have got a hold it has made our life much more difficult in Baghdad and in Basra."

The October 2006 model continues with the view that: "The original intention was that we put in place a liberal democracy that was an exemplar for the region, was pro-West and might have a beneficial effect on the balance within the Middle East"

"That was the hope," he says. “Whether that was a sensible or na├»ve hope, history will judge. I don't think we are going to do that. I think we should aim for a lower ambition." And so did he conclude that we should "get ourselves out sometime soon because our presence exacerbates the security problems".

"We are in a Muslim country and Muslims' views of foreigners in their country are quite clear. "As a foreigner, you can be welcomed by being invited into a country, but we weren't invited, certainly by those in Iraq at the time. Let's face it, the military campaign we fought in 2003 effectively kicked the door in."

"That is a fact. I don't say that the difficulties we are experiencing around the world are caused by our presence in Iraq, but undoubtedly our presence in Iraq exacerbates them."

So, from the mouth of three Generals, all with the same name, we have various views.

In 2006, Dannatt number one was saying that British troops should get out of Iraq because their presence was exacerbating the security situation. Two years later, the second Dannatt was saying: "We have been quite clear about what we had to do and we have done it." Now the third Dannatt currently tells us that the coalition failed to ensure it had enough troops on the ground, "surging" the numbers when the situation demanded.

One of these Dannatts is Chief of the General Staff – the professional head of the British Army, which means the other two must be imposters. No one person could possibly hold such disparate views of the same campaign. The question is, which is the real one?