Africa’s woes

. West ‘risks new Ethiopia famine’ is the headline to this BBC story. Attracted, in a train-wreck sort of way, to the assumption that it’s the West risking a new Ethiopia famine rather than Ethiopia risking a new Ethiopia famine, I took a look. The article is a mouthpiece for the views of Dr Tewolde Egziabher, an Ethiopian government scientist, who says, no less than four times, that the private sector is the problem. Here’s a quote from the start of the article.

“Will Ethiopians starve again?

“Ethiopia’s efforts to feed itself and avoid another famine are being fatally undermined by Western policy, a senior scientist has told BBC News Online.”

“Will Ethiopians starve again?” That’s an interesting question. Here’s another interesting question, not mentioned in the article and certainly not put to Dr. Egziabher by his ever-respectful interviewer:


Sorry. Sorry. I don’t think I’ve ever descended to leaning on the caps lock button before, but the thought of the monstrous thing that killed one million Ethiopians going unnamed made me angry.

Give the BBC some credit. The answer to my question can be found on the BBC website, although you have to put the separate bits together yourself because the BBC won’t exactly lead you to this conclusion. Here is the country profile for Ethiopia. And here, in that profile, is the answer to my question:

In 1974 this helped topple Haile Selassie. His regime was replaced by a self-proclaimed Marxist junta under which thousands of opponents were purged or killed, property was confiscated and defence spending spiralled.

Angola, Ethiopia, Mozambique, now Zimbabwe… In Africa*, where Marxism has gone famine has followed. “Property was confiscated” may not sound so bad but those three words were the death knell for millions. If farmers, black or white, know that if the reward for high production will be having their produce or their very farms stolen from them, why then they won’t produce much. Not exactly rocket science is it?

Naturally, my assessment of the causes of famine is not shared by everybody, and I wouldn’t expect the BBC to talk as if it were. However the role of private property rights as a bulwark against famine is one of the major arguments kicking around the world poverty debate at the moment. Yet it came as no surprise that neither the interview with Dr Egziabher nor this analysis of why famine stalks Africa, nor this one of why Ethiopia faces another famine address the issue at all. The nearest we get is that the first story has a tiny, tiny mention of how under the “present terms of trade African agricultural exports command low prices and cannot compete on world markets.” Nice try but exactly wrong. Under the present ‘terms of trade’ i.e. the monstrous barriers to trade put up by the BBC’s beloved European Union, African exports are commanded to have artifically high prices, otherwise known as tariffs, in order to protect French farmers. That’s why Africans can’t compete on the world market.

Like my argument on insecure property rights being a cause of famine, the argument I have put forward on tariffs, while not universally accepted, is a major contender in the debate, put forward by people far more eminent than I with such force of evidence and logic that even deep-dyed anti-capitalists like Ken Livingstone have reconsidered their opinions. So don’t expect to hear much about it at the BBC.

The pretence of marginalisation.

In this post left wing pro-Iraq-war blogger Harry Hatchet writes about John Pilger’s recent comments on the BBC. Harry writes:

But the idea that the Radio Four’s Today programme was pro-war or even comparible to the flag-wrapped cheerleading of Fox News, is hard to take seriously. But then Pilger is capable of believing anything to convince himself of the rightness of his postures – he is, after all, the man who described the Bush administration as “The Third Reich of our times”.

Pilger’s complaints are part of a highly irritating tendency on the part of the anti-war movement to pretend that they have been marginalised from the debate over Iraq. It may suit their self-image to portray their movement as ignored by the powerful pro-war media but the facts rather dispute this.

A reader writes:

…BBC doesn’t let the facts of its own story get in the way of a headline

bemoaning American police racism

The headline: Cincinnati death blamed on police

The exerpt: [The coroner, whose report is the focus of the story] added that the ruling should not be interpreted as implying inappropriate behaviour or the use of excessive force by police”.

Note the photo of a crying relative at the bottom, next to this:

“Police talk about Skip like he was animal,” his grandmother said. “But he

wasn’t. Skipper was just a good, old, fat jolly fellow.”

It’s not mentioned anywhere in the story that Skip Jones was high on PCP, which _does_ cause people to behave like animals. It’s the same substance, mind you, that Rodney King was on during his high-profile arrest and several subsequent arrests. Of course this is an awful experience for the relatives,

but the guy wasn’t exactly trying to stay out of trouble.

This Google bomb cannot be displayed.

The BBC recently reported a “Google Bomb” which linked the words “miserable failure” to a biography of Bush. Fair enough, it’s a story. However the BBC refer back to the famous “These weapons of mass destruction cannot be displayed” web page as an example of something similar. In this post the author of that page, who also happens to write the “Black Triangle” blog, says that the BBC misrepresented him. He didn’t manipulate Google. The page became popular because it was funny and topical. Incidentally, he was not against the war.

Plain Rumsfeld Campaign Update

It’s nice to know one is not alone in one’s views. At about 5.50pm today Radio Four had on one of those “listeners’ feedback” programmes. It said that “few of those who wrote in supported the Plain English Campaign.” Then it replayed the Rumsfeld clip, followed by audio clips from three members of the public saying nice things about how Mr Rumsfeld was clear and concise.

I was left feeling quite benign towards the Beeb.

But as the Great Cham of the Blogosphere says, the BBC still hasn’t mentioned the other award Rummie won recently.

It is a wise man who knows how little he knows.

The Plain English Campaign gave a gobbledegook award to Donald Rumsfeld the other day. If you are interested, I gave my plain opinion of the Plain English Campaign on my blog here. In this post I’d just like to point out, that of course the BBC zoomed in on this story like flies to honey. As usual, the Beeb did not waste any valuable sneering energy on actually examining Rumsfeld’s remarks to see if there might, after all, be something in them. And, as usual, they got the story slightly wrong in a characteristic direction. On Radio 4 News yesterday the announcer, revelling in it, hastened to say that George Bush and John Prestcott were runners up. No they weren’t. According to The Scotsman “the awards always attracted nominations for Mr Rumsfeld’s boss US President George Bush as well as British Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott ” – i.e. the Great British Public, or the letter-to-the-editor-writing subdivision thereof neglect no opportunity to be smug. But even the Plain English Campaign, ignorant though it is of the complexities of either intelligence work or the philosophy of the limits of knowledge, can differentiate between a tendency to verbal slip-ups and the obfuscatory language that should be its main business. The BBC doesn’t seem to be able to. On occasion it might not care to – there is material for a dozen Golden Bull awards in this blog.

On the other hand…

I was surprised and pleased at some aspects of the phrasing in this feature about Israeli checkpoints.

“Since the beginning of the three-year Palestinian uprising, or intifada, Israel has significantly increased the number of roadlocks in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in response to rising Palestinian violence.

“In September 2003, a group of 20 aid agencies issued a statement calling for the removal of the travel restrictions, which they said were limiting Palestinians’ access to schools and medical care, increasing frustration and destroying hopes for peace.

“Israel sees the barriers as vital to stop suicide bombers flooding into its cities to terrorise the civilian population.”

Emphasis added by me. It’s fairly unusual to see Palestinian violence described as Palestinian violence, but that use of the verb to terrorise really made me blink. Time was when I was an admirer of the BBC. The first letter to an MP I ever wrote, when I was still at school, was to ask that funding to the World Service not be cut. If there is one single thing that turned me into a maddened termagant given to adding “Ceterum censeo BBC delenda est” to observations about the weather, it was the BBC decision not to use the word “terrorist.” It made me sick. The BBC (not to mention Reuters) does not pretend to be “above” moral judgements when discussing murder, or rape, or child porn, or racial harassment. It also inserts moral judgements into reporting of poverty, war and politics; sometimes with the platitudes appropriate to a tax-funded organisation, but often in a manner so partisan as to violate its Charter. It certainly pushes the line that continued state funding of the BBC is desirable for the “public good” i.e. on moral grounds. But after all that it still frequently pretends to be “above” morally judging people who, in defiance of the laws of war, hide among the civilian population to blow up families in pizza parlours. In refusing to judge them the BBC show themselves traitors to the civilisation they claim to represent.

But if this small instance is the start of a return to the common values, I will soften my line.

In the next paragraph the writer reverts to the “militant” usage, which is a vile insult to all the extreme but basically non-violent Trotskyists and Leninists in the British Left who were the previous people designated by the term “militant”. But hell’s bells, look at it again: “terrorise”. Implying that those doing it are terrorists. It’s a start.

UPDATE: Might’ve known it was too good to last. Regular commenter PJF has observed that the reference to rising Palestinian violence has disappeared, along with the whole first paragraph I quoted.


of the multi-lingual blog “any criticism of Jewish people is still a taboo in Germany.”

Nicht war! Like, if an Israeli programmer wrote some bad code for the program you are using, no German can say so, and if a Jewish hairdresser in Hamburg gives you a haircut with a wonky fringe you must tip heavily and not mention it, and if the 1998 winner of the Eurovision Song Contest appeared to you to be lacking in talent your lips must be sealed, and if Ariel Sharon’s policies seem to you mistaken then not one word must be said until you are safely across the Rhine and standing on French soil?

That surprises me very much. Or it would if it were not a load of cobblers. Germans of all ranks from Chancellor downwards can and do make all sorts of criticisms of Jewish people, both Israeli and non-Israeli, and it’s not taboo at all.

The thing that is a leetle bit sensitive given events from 1941-1945 is when some jerk says that the Jews orchestrated the killings by the Russian revolutionaries, and compares that to the Holocaust.

Facts unchecked.

This piece on the growing recognition of the need for Thatcherite reforms in Germany, prompted one of our correspondents, John Perry, to ask if the BBC or Labour MP Gisela Stuart knew their German history. The story says:

“Ms Stuart suggested that the liberal economic policies pursued in the 1960s by chancellor Ludwig Erhard might be one solution”

As our correspondent observes, Erhard’s reforms did indeed trigger the “German economic miracle”.

IN 1948.

This from The Freeman, journal of the Advocates for Self-Government:

Erhard plowed ahead. He knew his history: more than 2,000 years of price and wage controls have always resulted in economic chaos. Not only do price and wage controls destroy incentives, Erhard pointed out, but they almost always transfer wealth from hard-working, patriotic citizens into the hands of cynics, bureaucrats, and those favored by the government […] Taking the country by surprise, Erhard went on the air on a Sunday night in June 1948 […] most of Germany’s wage and price controls would be dropped. First, controls would end on a wide range of consumer goods. Within six months, controls on food would be dropped. […] Almost immediately, the German economy sprang to life. The unemployed went back to work, food reappeared on store shelves, and the legendary productivity of the German people was unleashed. Within two years, industrial

output trebled. By the early 1960s, Germany was the third greatest economic power in the world.

Since the 1960s, Germany has turned away from Erhard’s free market policies. Many German young people missed the significance of Erhard’s reforms […] After achieving wealth and leisure time by pursuing free market policies, a new generation of social engineers has devised schemes to divide the wealth, disregarding how that wealth was created. Intellectuals provided moral support for the move toward socialism, even though the very leisure they used to undermine capitalism was itself the result of capitalism. The process is still going on.

Mr Perry writes:

Is it beyond the ability of the BBC to get its facts right? The entire thrust of German policy since the 60s has been towards a corporate state. Far from introducing “liberal” policies, the German state has been destroying the engine of wealth creation, piece by piece, for over 40 years.

I must add something on my own account. I initially misunderstood this story because I thought the BBC were using “liberal” in the way they usually use it, i.e. socialist. I was wrong. They were, for once, using it to mean what it meant for generations before the word was stolen by those who wanted to co-opt its positive connotations for policies that were the very opposite of what classical liberals advocated. Let us hope that this is the start of a great BBC campaign to restore the word to its original meaning. – NS

UPDATE: Having checked that there was no objection I have now updated this post to include our correspondent’s name. Please note that our general policy is go by the way you sign yourself in the body of the email. We will err on the side of caution with unsigned emails – even if the “Details” field does indicate the name.

Joke candidates – joke reporting.

BBC correspondent Katty Kay has a good laugh at Arnie the Terminator, wacky Californian delis, joke candidates and so on. She probably thinks she’s being impartial because she freely admits the incumbent Democrat, Gray Davis, is likely to lose.

“Arnie appears to have been given something of a free pass precisely because he is a film star and not a politician.

“Which, in the end, may be precisely the reason that Californians elect him over their very experienced but rather wooden governor.

“Which takes me to Gray Davis.

“What is it about this slim, silver-haired politician that Californians hate so much? “

Let me see… could it be the financial, energy and sleaze crises that have marked his administration? Not according to Kay. It can only be because he is a wooden public speaker. No doubt there are many funny and foolish aspects to the California gubernatorial election – but I am surprised that Katty Kay cannot even manage one word about the substantial reasons that one million Californians might have had for petitioning to recall Gray Davis before Arnie’s candidature was ever heard of.

If this were a case of explaining the odd customs of an obscure tribe the BBC would make a creditable attempt to dig beneath the surface to make apparently strange behaviours comprehensible. However when it comes to the democratic process in the largest state of the world’s most powerful democracy the only motives Kay ascribes to those she reports on are frivolous ones.

Put your head in your hands and weep

. This “analysis” is by by Barbara Plett – BBC correspondent in Ramallah. The analysis of the analysis is by Robert Hinkley of The Sporadic Chronicle. (The title of this post is by him, too.) Alert readers may notice that that the present BBC text differs from the text Mr Hinkley quotes. For instance, this

“Syria is, of course, Israel’s enemy. The two countries are still in an official state of war, caused by Israel’s occupation and illegal annexation of the Syrian Golan Heights.”

Now reads

“Syria is, of course, Israel’s enemy. The two countries have been in a state of war since the creation of the state of Israel in 1948.”

I guess that in the several hours between the time Mr Hinkley wrote the piece and when I posted it that stealth editor has been busy again. The second version is an improvement on the first – but it is interesting to have the window into Barbara Plett’s thought that the first inaccurate and tendentious version provides.

From this point on Barbara Plett’s text is in ordinary type and Robert Hinkley’s in italics.


“Syria is, of course, Israel’s enemy. The two countries are still in

an official state of war, caused by Israel’s occupation and illegal

annexation of the Syrian Golan Heights.”

This state of war is caused by Israel’s illegal occupation of a

Syrian mountain range. Bad Israel. If only Israel gave Syria its

mountains back everything would be fine. Why, if only Israel had given

the mountains back in, say, 1972 then all those Syrian soldiers

wouldn’t have had to climb over the mountains on Yom Kippur in 1973

and that way Israel could have been pushed into the sea and we

wouldn’t have this ongoing conflict.

“And since the beginning of the Palestinian uprising, Israel has

increasingly focused on the Palestinian opposition groups hosted by

Syria. ”

First they’re not “terrorists”, they’re “militants”. Then they’re

not “militants”, they’re “opposition groups”. Opposition. A lot like,

say, the Conservative Party, or the Democratic Party. Conservative

Party, meet Islamic Jihad, your fellow Opposition. The next step will

be for Islamic Jihad to be described as “modernisers”, or perhaps

“progessives”. [Members of the Palestinian Authority _acknowledge_ Syrian support of

Islamic Jihad, al-Aqsa Walking Bomb Brigade etc…]

“In response to Syria’s anti- war, anti-occupation stance, the US has

demanded that it clean up its act to fit the new regional order – one

that increasingly defines all armed resistance, whether in Iraq or

other occupied Arab territories, as “terrorism.” ”

The US has demanded Syria clean up its act (ie: stop supporting

terror groups, which members of the Palestinian Authority acknowledge

Syria does). How unreasonable. How dare the Americans? Cos it’s not

“terrorism”, it’s “opposition”! The Americans have only done this

because of Syria’s anti-war, anti-occupation stance, and not because

the Americans in any way want to cut off funding and material to

groups which try very hard to kill civilians in large numbers.

“According to diplomatic sources, Damascus also urged the exiled Hamas

and Islamic Jihad leaderships to accept the unilateral Palestinian

ceasefire declared in June.

They did, but the truce has since broken down. ”

Just how much LSD does someone have to have taken to beleive that

Hamas and Islamic Jihad actually observed any cease-fire?

“It is in this climate that Israel has chosen to go on the offensive,

to send what Israel Radio called a clear signal that Damascus must

stop its support of Palestinian “terror groups”.”

Sneer quotes remind us that the so-called terror groups are actually

opposition groups.

Then Rob writes,

Let’s play Sneer Quote Shuffle – take the same article and reposition

sneer quotes:


There have been more than 100 suicide bombings during the three-year Palestinian intifada, many carried out by Islamic Jihad.

So why did Israel respond to Saturday’s attack – a devastating

explosion in Haifa – by targeting Jihad’s Syrian- based leadership,

deliberately “extending the conflict” beyond the borders of Israel and

the occupied territories?

Syria is, of course, Israel’s enemy. The two countries are still in an

official state of war, caused by Israel’s occupation and “illegal

annexation” of the Syrian Golan Heights.

The Israelis have long charged that Damascus uses the Lebanese

resistance movement Hezbollah as a proxy army to launch attacks along

Israel’s border with Lebanon.

And since the beginning of the Palestinian uprising, Israel has

increasingly focused on the Palestinian “opposition groups” hosted by Syria.

It accuses the exiled leaderships of planning attacks carried out by

their military wings in the occupied territories, and accuses Syria

(as well as Iran) of backing them.

The Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, had already indicated he was

ready for direct confrontation.

After assuming office in 2001, he attacked Syrian targets in Lebanon

in response to a Hezbollah raid.

In recent weeks, media reports have again raised the ante by

suggesting that Israel might assassinate the leaders of Palestinian

groups in Syria and Lebanon.

And in August, Israeli jets buzzed the holiday palace of Syria’s

President, Bashar al-Assad, in what was widely seen as a warning to

rein in Hezbollah fighters.

To some degree, Israeli claims are backed up by sources in the

Palestinian Authority.

They allege that in the northern West Bank, some cells of Islamic

Jihad and the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades -a militia loosely tied to Yasser Arafat’s Fatah movement – receive support from Iran and Syria via Hezbollah.

But at the same time, Damascus has never been more vulnerable.

It has come under heavy American pressure since the “conquest” of Iraq.

In response to Syria’s anti-war, anti-occupation stance, the US has

demanded that it clean up its act to fit the new regional order – one that increasingly defines all armed resistance, whether in Iraq or other “occupied Arab territories”, as terrorism.

With the spectre of Iraq hanging over its head, Syria has taken measures to close down the political offices of the Palestinian groups; it says “none of the military wings are operating in the


According to diplomatic sources, Damascus also urged the exiled Hamas

and Islamic Jihad leaderships to accept the unilateral Palestinian “ceasefire” declared in June.

They did, but the “truce” has since broken down.

Such steps have fallen short of US demands – a sweeping crackdown

difficult for a regime that officially defines these groups as national liberation movements.

It is in this climate that Israel has chosen to go on the offensive, to send what Israel Radio called a clear signal that Damascus must stop its support of Palestinian terror groups.

It is an approach in line with the thrust of America’s regional policy, and consistent with Israel’s insistent message to the Palestinian Authority – if you do not act against the Palestinian militias, we will.

UPDATE: I’ve just noticed that another commenter, Dan Skapol, has taken a critical look at the same Barbara Plett article in the comments to the post below.

The P-word, and an evolving story.

A reader* wrote this email on Saturday. He or she included the original version of the story. Since then the story has changed, and it does now include mention of who carried out the mass-murder – nonetheless I think our reader makes some valid points about the first version. And the headline is still as ambiguous as ever:

I spotted this story on the BBC website this afternoon (Saturday). It’s the first section of their report on the latest suicide bombing.

Israel suicide attack kills 18

A suicide bomber has killed at least 18 people and injured up to 50 in an attack at a restaurant in the northern port of Haifa, Israeli police say.

The explosion occurred in the Maxim restaurant near Haifa’s beach promenade on the southern edge of the city.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the bombing, which comes on the eve of the Jewish Yom Kippur holiday.

“There was a security guard outside but the attacker managed to enter and blow up,” Israeli police chief Shlomo Aharonishky said.

“There was a very big explosion, which blew out the windows. It was horrible,” a witness told Israeli TV.

Three children are reported to be among the dead.

It is the first such attack since 9 September, when 15 people were killed in twin suicide bombings in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

Is it just me, or do others also find that headline misleading? Notice too, that the “P” word is missing from this part of the report. I suppose the Beeb cannot bring itself to admit that its Hamas, Islamic Jihad and al-Aqsa Martyrs’ heroes could even contemplate harming Jews. Even in the final paragraph, which discusses the back-to-back suicide bombings in August, they omit to mention that they were carried out by Palestinians. With any other organization, I’d attribute this simply to bad journalism. In the case of the BBC, however…..

On a related subject, look at the comments to the previous post for a quick comment on how the BBC dealt with the retaliatory strike.

*Let us know if you want your name used.