Friday, August 15, 2008 

The status quo ante.

Earlier in the week, the clear winner of the short but brutal and terrifying conflict in South Ossetia and Georgia, if indeed even now the war can be described as truly over, was undoubtedly Russia. However the war came about, and even if the actions of its military could be described as illegal, few could disagree that on both a moral and realist level that Russia had to respond to the assault on Tskhinvali, started cynically by Georgia just three hours after it had called for a ceasefire. Also forgiveable and understandable was the initial push on into Georgian territory, to ensure that the Georgian military had indeed pulled back and was no longer posing any sort of threat either to the South Ossetian citizens Russia regards as its own or to the Russian army itself. While shrill voices were already starting their chorus of accusations and counter-claims, Russia could for the most part stand with its head held relatively high.

7 days on from the beginning of the conflict, the picture has changed dramatically. Partly thanks to the undoubtedly superior Georgian propaganda and the response from Western democracies, most notably America, and partly due to the chaos, revenge attacks and collective punishment being wrought on Georgian territory, most of the goodwill which was generated has evaporated. More dangerously, the overwhelming message emanating from the media, including from the liberal press, if not from the majority of commenters yet, is that this marks a return to the old Cold War mentality. It goes without saying that Russian actions, arrogance and intransigence have encouraged this. There is no reason whatsoever for the Russian military to still be occupying any Georgian territory outside South Ossetia, and while some will be sympathetic to the apparent destruction of Georgian military hardware, ostensibly to prevent any repeat of last week's surprise attack but also doubtless to set back its development by years, neither is justified and also both are in breach of the ceasefire agreement now signed by both sides. Also chilling are the Russian remarks today threatening Poland over their decision to agree to host American missile silos, making clear in the cruellest language that such actions make it a potential target for a nuclear attack. While the missile shield is undoubtedly targeted at Russia rather than Iran, nothing whatsoever can justify such frightening allusions to devastation we thought had ebbed away.

The response from American politicians and commentators however has been little short of nauseating. For both George Bush and John McCain to stand up and say with straight faces that in the 21st century nations don't invade other nations is close enough in relation to Henry Kissinger winning the Nobel Peace Prize for some to declare modern day satire to be dead. Both surely mean that in the 21st century nations don't invade democracies, but neither seems to have the subtlety to dilute their remarks that far. Even those who initially supported the Iraq war have admitted that it has been a foreign policy disaster without parallel since Suez - and yet we and our "allies" seem to imagine we have both the right and the record to lecture Russia on a conflict which has so far probably claimed the lives of a hundredth of those who have been killed as a result of our actions in Iraq. To today see Condoleezza Rice standing on the same platform as Saakashvili, both pretending that Russia is the aggressor, with Saakashvili once again bringing out the most pitiful hyperbole that apparently only a Harvard education can imbue an individual with (correction: the Guardian's corrections and clarifications column points out that Saakashvili's LLM is from Columbia law school), Rice delivering deadpan that "this is no longer 1968", an ahistorical remark which makes a mockery of her personal specialism whilst an academic on the Soviet Union, is little more than a joke, albeit one which is lapped up by a media which seems unquestioning of the idea that the Russian menace is firmly back.

For those looking for the democracy to support, or sympathise with, neither Russia nor Georgia adequately fits the bill. While it is inaccurate to refer to Russia as a dictatorship, as some have over the last few days, there is no doubt that after the liberalisation under Yeltsin the country has been turned by Putin into a autocratic state where very little dissent is tolerated. The media is almost entirely state controlled, the elections are rigged, although it also seems quite possible that even if they weren't, Medvedev or United Russia, Putin's party, would still be in power, and as we know only too well, the state itself appears to be involved in sanctioned assassinations of those who know too much or who refuse to remain quiet. Equally disingenuous though is the presentation of Georgia as a happily functioning Western-style democracy. The suspending of Imedi TV's licence (interestingly owned at one point by News Corporation), the brutal suppression of opposition demonstrations, and the report of fraud during last November's elections give the lie to the model democracy statements. If you wanted to get into a battle over whom smells the least, it would be Georgia, but that is surely counter-acted by the initials actions of the country in provoking the Russian military response.

If the Western world was slow to respond, surprised and distracted by the initial confusion and the Olympics, then that has quickly been forgotten. The most fair-handed have been without doubt both the French and the Germans; Nicolas Sarkozy, desperate to impress perhaps because of his domestic unpopularity and the French presidency of the EU quickly engaging in the diplomacy which brought about the agreement that has now been signed by both sides. Angela Merkel, with her comments that some of the Russian response has been disproportionate is also difficult to disagree with. Then again, that too is doubtless influenced by the German dependence on Russian oil and gas. The boorishness of the comments from the Americans about "bullying and intimidation", neither of which they have ever engaged in, and especially not during the futile search for a second UN resolution on Iraq, is again something to behold.

As for the long-term consequences, these too appear to have changed as the week has gone by. Georgia has probably lost South Ossetia and Abkhazia for good, however much it protests. Their loss will certainly not however alter Georgia's ability to function, and one has to wonder whether they could have stayed Georgian in the long term, war or no war. Additionally, at one point it looked as though the Russian victory had been so crushing that Saakashvili could be in immediate trouble. That has now dissipated, perhaps with the continuing Russian occupation further uniting the Georgian people around a leader they might otherwise have dismissed at the first opportunity for his recklessness. If this was meant to be Russia flexing its muscles and emerging from its weakness post the collapse of the Soviet Union, that too now looks doubtful. Instead the encirclement not just continues, but at an apparently renewed pace. I fear also that Paul Krugman is wrong in his belief that this marks the end of Pax Americana - while America was never going to rush its military forces to the defence of Georgia, especially when she acted so suicidally, the idea that this means an end to of the monopoly of military force on their behalf is naive. What we have instead witnessed is that no one else can dare to act like either America or Israel has and expect to get away with it as they have. While the attack on Iran that once looked ominously close has faded into the distance somewhat, it can be guaranteed that if it does come that those same people who have so exculpated Russia this week will be in the forefront in defending, justifying and apologising for it.

In short, nothing has changed. It's maybe that, rather than Russia itself that we should be most concerned about.

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Scum-watch: Heel, Gordon!

Where then has Gordon Brown been during the past week's upheaval in Eurasia?

Oh, here he is:

Prime Minister Gordon Brown has joined the US in calling for Russia to immediately withdraw from Georgia.

Mr Brown spoke in a phone call to Georgian president Mikhail Saakashvili, after his meeting in Tbilisi with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Russia's incursion was a "completely unjustified violation of Georgia's territorial integrity", the prime minister's spokesman said.

In addition, Britain is to give £2m to the Red Cross appeal for Georgia.

Undoubtedly completely unconnected, here's tomorrow's Sun editorial:

WHEN David Cameron arrives in Georgia today he will be the first major British politician to visit the small, democratic country being systematically trashed by the mighty Russian bear.

Some will accuse him of being an opportunist. After all, what can he do to help solve the conflict? How many battalions does he command?

But at least the Tory leader is taking a strong stand against increasing Russian belligerence.

And this was made all the more urgent by last night’s chilling warning from a senior Russian general that Poland — a member of Nato — has become a nuclear target since daring to allow America to build an anti-missile system on its land.

This escalation in tension only makes the question more urgent: Where on earth are Gordon Brown and his Foreign Secretary David Miliband?

It was only AFTER the Tory leader had been on the airwaves on Monday that Mr Brown issued a brief statement.

And again on Tuesday the Prime Minister recorded a brief TV clip AFTER David Cameron had already spoken out at a televised press conference. That was almost FIVE DAYS after the conflict had begun.

The Government has been made to look weak. Not because of anything David Cameron has done, but because of what Downing Street HASN’T done.


It is reasonable to ask where our Prime Minister is . . .

As French President Nicolas Sarkozy flits between Moscow and the Georgian capital Tbilisi, hammering out a peace deal.

As German Chancellor Angela Merkel visits the two warring countries.

As American Secretary of State Condaleezza Rice races between European capitals and the region trying to rein in the out-of-control Russians.

As President Bush orders humanitarian supplies into beleaguered Georgia and makes daily statements from the White House Rose Garden.

We cannot imagine Tony Blair taking such a low key role if the old Cold War had threatened to rise from the grave during his watch.

He would have been the FIRST to rally our allies, the FIRST to order in aid, the FIRST to speak out against Russian aggression.

Gordon Brown has a reputation for dithering. He has added to it this week. And by doing so he has made David Cameron look like a credible leader.

It is time Mr Brown shook his reputed “clunking fist” in Russia’s face as it threatens the world’s peaceful and prosperous future.

Complete crap, naturally, but it's interesting because this is the first time the Sun has been heavily critical of Gordon Brown that I can remember; earlier in the week it was in fact defending him, saying he was doing everything he could on the domestic front. That the first time the Sun has blasted him has been on something that he truly can do nothing whatsoever about or indeed should do anything about shows what it is that Rupert Murdoch's most concerned about at the moment, and it sure isn't this country.

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Thursday, August 14, 2008 

No sense of shame.

I predicted yesterday that the same newspapers that stalked and smeared Colin Stagg for 14 years would not be at all happy with his £706,000 compensation award. Even I though didn't expect that both the Scum and the Mail would splash on it, each doing their very best to whip up faux-outrage in the way they have become so accustomed to doing. Not only did we get the £98,000 that was awarded to Nickell's son rolled out for comparison, but anyone and everyone who's received less of late has been brought up, or their families contacted for comment. Hence we have the Scum contacting the family of a woman murdered in the 7/7 attacks, who received only £11,000 in compensation, who declare that this makes the system a joke. The Sun being the Sun, "Our Boys" have to be brought into the equation, with the injured in action often receiving less than the maximum £285,000, although they also get a £20,000 annual pension. According to Phil Cooper, whose son received £57,000 after he lost the use of a leg and received severe injuries to his stomach, it's "a kick in the teeth." Danny Biddle, another 7/7 victim who lost both his legs, an eye and his spleen calls the system "disgraceful". The Mail even got the Tory MP Patrick Mercer to open his trap, commenting on both the "total imbalance" between the payout to Stagg and to Nickell's son, and then also onto our servicemen who are receiving nowhere near the same amount.

There is one comparison which neither of the tabloids make that other bloggers have however. Ben Collett, a promising Manchester United player, only a few days ago received a payout totalling £4.5 million in lost earnings after a high tackle broke his leg in two places and brought an end to his career. The one abiding message coming out of all of this is that the various compensation systems aren't fair or equal - hardly a newsflash. None of this is Stagg's fault. Indeed, that is the very reason why Stagg's payout deserved to be so high, if not higher. While everyone can sympathise with the victims of 7/7 who similarly were in the wrong place at the wrong time, it's a little different to the case of soldiers, who know full well the risks when they join up. This by no means justifies either their lower payouts or their relatively low wages, but it's not comparing like with like. Stagg was picked out for his treatment by both the police and the media for no other reason than he was supposedly weird: meaning he was a loner, had a couple of books on the occult, some paper knives and an unusual decoration scheme. This was enough for the police to decide that he was a murderer. It was enough for the media to believe, or convince themselves enough to believe, that he was the murderer.

What directly lies behind today's phony apoplexy is that the newspapers themselves know that they're just as responsible for the payout as the Metropolitan police are. It's impossible to think that Lord Brennan wasn't in part influenced when deciding the amount by the media's continued obsession with either directly or indirectly accusing Stagg of being involved in Nickell's death. Their cover is to pretend that they themselves are wholly innocent of any wrong-doing, and so again claim to be on the people's side and for those others that have been compensated less well. Even now the Mail is continuing in just the same way as it has for the last 14 years: wilfully misquoting Stagg in the headline of its current article to give the impression that he is unfeeling towards fellow miscarriage of justice victim Barry George, when in he fact says he feels sorry for the time he spent in prison but less sympathy because of his past conviction for attempted rape and tendency to follow women. As Dave Osler also notes, it also gives the most perfunctory of explanations to what happened to Stagg: he was simply cleared of Nickell's murders, not wrongly accused or fitted up by the police, perish the thought.

The Sun kindly however provides a reminder of how it and the other tabloids covered Stagg's acquittal, putting up a scan of their front page the day after. NO GIRL IS SAFE, it shrieks, alongside a photograph of Stagg, with Rachel murderer will strike again underneath. The inference is all too clear: this man has got away with it, and he will kill again.

Perhaps realising that they can't go too over the top, the Scum's leader admits, probably for the first time in such language, how Stagg's life was ruined:

THERE is no doubt Colin Stagg’s life was ruined by Scotland Yard’s cynical fit-up.

He spent a year in jail on remand before the charges over Rachel Nickell’s murder were dropped.

He has since spent 15 years as a social pariah, unemployable, and with the stink of suspicion hanging over him despite his total innocence.

Could the stink of suspicion hanging over him in any way be attributable to the Sun? Obviously not, as even now neither it nor any of the other tabloids have offered apologies to Stagg for their low-level campaigns against him. Here comes the but that you were waiting for:

Even so, £706,000 is an enormous compensation payout.

Especially compared with the £90,000 given to Rachel’s son Alex, who saw his mum murdered and will spend a lifetime without her.

Or compared with the payouts to victims of terrorist atrocities.

How much does the Sun think an adequate award for spending 15 years as a social pariah is then? Considering the tidy sums which newspaper editors and their proprietors are paid and pay themselves, isn't £706,000 an about right sum for their own role in his misery?

Many will be asking today whether the enormous sums given out in miscarriage-of-justice cases should dwarf so spectacularly those for people left enduring a lifetime of physical and mental agony.

Does the Sun think that spending inordinate lengths of time in prison for a crime that they didn't commit doesn't often leave miscarriage of justice victims with a lifetime of mental, and in some cases physical agony, considering the treatment they receive inside? One judge notably described the process some have been subject to as "like a prolonged kidnapping". If anything, the majority of payments to the victims of miscarriages of justice are derisory and add to insult to injury when "room and board" payments are deducted from them, like in the case of the Hickeys.

The system is patently unfair.

As indeed is life, and the press in this country. The one bright spot is that so many in the comments on both the Mail and the Sun sites have defended the payout, often saying it isn't enough. The only thing that hasn't been stressed enough is the media's own role. To that, we should leave the last words to Emine Saner:

The compensation is only a part of making amends. Stagg deserves some very public apologies: from the police and others who were convinced Stagg was guilty. From defaming authors who have made money from him and from every person who has ever spat at him in the street or hurled abuse. And definitely from certain newspapers (it would be tempting to think the press had learned its lesson but the recent experience of Robert Murat shows that nothing has changed). Then, perhaps, at last Colin Stagg really can get on with his life.

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Wednesday, August 13, 2008 

The Stagg hunt draws to a close.

It's difficult to think of someone more of a victim of the gutter press in this country than Colin Stagg. One other name does come to mind, but she used them as much as they used her. Here's a prediction: tomorrow the very same newspapers that stalked and hunted him for over a decade will be at the least less than happy with the £706,000 that Stagg through his solicitors has revealed he will receive in compensation for his treatment courtesy of the Metropolitan police. They will raise the amount which Rachel Nickell's son received, a derisory sum which could never even begin to account for how he was found, gripping his mother, covered in blood and begging her to get up. They will point out for a very long time indeed he was the only suspect; because the police themselves wanted him to remain the only suspect. Keith Pedder for one, the detective inspector in charge on the case, has written two self-affirming and congratulatory books on how Stagg had managed to get away with murder. It was only after a further investigation by a separate cold case team that another man, Robert Napper, a paranoid schizophrenic being held at Broadmoor indefinitely for two murders with similarities to the killing of Nickell that the police finally admitted to themselves that their hunt for Stagg had been futile.

Not that they have admitted publicly to that, or said the simplest words to Stagg personally that they got it wrong. Then again, why should they? After all, those other companions in the decade long stalking, baiting and smearing of Stagg, this country's finest tabloid newspapers, have never admitted they were wrong or said sorry either. Although almost of them were involved in pursuing him and ran articles calling either for the abolition of the laws on double jeopardy (which New Labour happily obliged in removing) or that implicated him in the murder if not directly accusing him, undoubtedly the most bile was delivered in the limp Sunday rag The People, which republished the letters which "Lizzie James", the Met's honeytrap exchanged with Stagg during the attempt to link him to the kind of bizarre sexual practices which the psychologist Paul Britton was convinced the perpetrator had. The Mail meanwhile, in the best practices which the newspaper retains for those that are accused of crimes, performed hatchet job after hatchet job, serialising Pedder's impotent book, and also ran an interview with Nickell's former boyfriend, who made a personal appeal for the double jeopardy law to be repealed. Their attitude towards Stagg could not be more summed up than by the words of John Junor, whom in an article purporting to ask the question whether Stagg would always be targeted as the killer who got away, wrote:

It would be terrible, however, to think that he is going to be hounded for the rest of his life for having been found not guilty of murder when it is certainly not beyond the bounds of possibility that he was indeed innocent.

How magnanimous and kind of both Junor and the Mail to admit that it was possible that Stagg was indeed innocent, despite his acquittal. The irony and amazing chutzpah of the Mail asking whether Stagg would remain to be stalked when it was the one leading the stalking, while also attempting to soften its line but failing miserably is something to behold.

Nick Cohen, writing in the Observer a couple of years back, linked the credulity and continuing belief that Stagg was guilty among the tabloid hacks to the influence of the police on them, to the closeness which gives them their stories, their exclusives, and the photographs of the suspects themselves either being brought in or when arrested. This is undoubtedly part of the reason, but I am far more cynical than Cohen. These reporters knew full well that Stagg was innocent, as did their editors. The best that can be said is that they convinced themselves in order to appraise their consciences of any guilt. This had to be done because there was no evidence whatsoever linking Stagg to Nickell except the Met's attempts to entrapment, which he even then rebuffed. No, these stories were not out of any public interest to ensure that the killer was brought to justice, they were because they knew they were what the public wants to read, that they want someone to blame when such horrible crimes are committed, even if the case is apparently unsolvable, and that most of all, they sold. Nickell's former boyfriend, already mentioned, noted this. His bitterness at being chased out of the country, forced to live in France to escape was more than palpable in his description of the hacks:

"Callous, mercenary and unfeeling scum ... you've got people on your doorstep every day, people following you around in cars taking pictures of you, people peeping over fences and Rachel's face appearing in the paper every day with any tenuous link ... it's one of those stories that's become part of British culture."

Quite so. Much is the same with any attractive woman or child that is tragically killed, murdered or abducted. Whether it be Nickell, Princess Diana, Sally Anne Bowman or Madeleine McCann, they stare out from the front pages, forever locked in their youthful beauty, demanding that something be done about their disappearance or deaths. They pretend that it's because they care, when in reality it's because of their own business models, the phoniness of providing a service while sucking the individual they've latched onto dry until they too can be dispensed with, when the trail finally dries up and everyone, except those being exploited, have moved on.

The police's insistence in having found the right person is the justification, not the reason why. We saw it again just a couple of weeks back with Barry George, where again hardly any journalists or anyone outside of the police really believed he was anywhere near capable of killing Jill Dando, let alone in the way in which she was assassinated. Yet they printed the police's self-serving, laughably weak attempts to still pretend that George was the murderer, even while they must surely have known it was not true. In Nickell's case, at least the police have now found a man who might well be her real murderer, while with Dando it seems incredibly unlikely that her killer will ever be brought to justice. The victims in both cases have been treated abominably, whether they be the relatives or those fitted up. And yet our supposed justice seeking media, which never lets up on the law and order agenda, defends and carries the squeals of innocence spoon-fed to them by their sources.

Stagg's award, despite its size, will never get him his life back. It seems doubtful, even now, that he'll find work, after being made unemployable because of his notoriety. There is however most certainly a case for the £706,000 not completely being stumped up by the taxpayer. No, the real damage was done not by the trial and the fit-up, but by the compliant media which demonised and destroyed day by day, week by week, month by month and year by year. It should be Associated Newspapers, the Mirror Group and News International that should be writing the cheques and stumping up at least half if not more of the money. The suffering they have caused and continue to cause to countless people through their complete lack of integrity and not knowing when enough is enough is such that it's time they were hit in the only place where it hurts: the pocket. Their power however protects them, and there is absolutely nothing it seems that we can do about it.

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Improve your English with the super soaraway Sun!

Kudos must go to the schools minister Jim Knight for some top class satire at the Sun's expense:

TENS of thousands of teenage boys are falling behind in English skills – and should read The Sun to improve, a minister said yesterday.

He then ruins the joke by taking it too far:

He also urged parents to encourage boys to read books by Sun columnists Jeremy Clarkson, who stars on telly’s Top Gear, and ex-SAS soldier Andy McNab.

And if you really want to put them off reading for life, you could suggest Ayn Rand to complete the trifecta.

To be serious for a half a moment, if Knight wasn't trying to be the biggest sycophant to walk on a pair of legs, he could have suggested that there are plenty of things apart from one of the world's worst newspapers and two of its worst columnists to read that may actually help them improve their reading and which won't embarrass them - video game magazines, for example, are on the whole far better written and less poisonous than the Sun or any of the other tabloids. Most schools with a half decent library will have plenty that is designed to appeal to those at that exact age, and also probably, if they're lucky, a couple of broads or ex-broads or at least their sports sections which genuinely would help rather than talk down to the average teenage boy.

Still, it's nice to see that the Sun accepts that its reading level is about that of a 14-year-old - maybe Knight wasn't paying a compliment after all. It also let this comment through:

Well, they'll learn plenty of slang, jive talk and poor English if nothing else by reading the sun.

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Tuesday, August 12, 2008 

Yet more never ending Maddie-balls.

Could you possibly fucking merit it?

KATE and Gerry McCann have been dealt a fresh blow in their search for daughter Maddie.

The girl resembling Maddie shown in CCTV footage yesterday is not believed to be her.

A Belgian man has claimed that the girl in the footage was his daughter.

The woman pictured is believed to be the girl's nanny.

It's interesting to note that it's Kate and Gerry McCann that have been dealt a fresh blow, and not the Sun newspaper, which screamed yesterday on its front page "IS IT HER?" The answer to which is of course, no, and that no one with more than five braincells believed for a second it was. Let's face facts here: if Madeleine has been abducted, it's not very likely that she's going to be dragged through town by the abductor in broad daylight in front of all and sundry, especially not if the abductor(s) was/were part of a paedophile ring, as the tabloids were speculating breathlessly about last week.

Kate and Gerry McCann, from Rothley, Leics, thanked The Sun for its investigation.

Spokesman Clarence Mitchell added: “Kate and Gerry would also like to thank this girl’s parents for going to police.

“It is disappointing news but they have been in this position before and the hunt for Madeleine will continue. Every sighting raises awareness which is a good thing. When it is in people’s minds they are looking out for her which is what we need.”

Thanked them for what exactly? For enriching themselves further through publishing spurious sightings which even the McCanns must know have about 1% chance of actually being their daughter? For filling up the newspaper during the silly season, which the McCanns must also know is a really onerous task? For raising their hopes even slightly just to dash them again? The idea that somehow every sighting raises awareness is also counter-productive and counter-intutive. Sure, it raises awareness: it encourages every cross-eyed nitwit to imagine that the little blonde girl they've just seen is definitely Madeleine McCann, especially if she's just apparently been sighted in the local area. Last week it was rumoured that she might have been snatched by a Belgian paedophile ring, and what do you know, suddenly dozens of people in Belgium have seen plucky little Madeleine McCann, apparently not being sodomised every hour of the waking day by swarthy foreigners but instead walking about the streets looking "sad", even while being given her "favourite" chocolate ice cream.

Today's award for the best Maddie-balls though has to go to the Sun's deputy editor Fergus Shanahan, via Anorak:

“I tried to imagine the misery Kate and Gerry McCann must be going through with these Maddie sightings. It’s too awful.”

Considering you're the deputy editor, how about you stop splashing them on the front fucking page and save us all the collective misery?

“They must cling to any hope. But some of the latest rash of ‘sightings’ are based on thin detail.”

“Sadly, the Maddie tragedy is attracting its fair-share of attention seekers”

They're known collectively I believe as "journalists".

“It seems unlikely that Europe’s most instantly recognisable child would be walked through city streets by her abductors.”

In other words, it is all about the profit. Praise the money!

After this turgid crap comes a bolt from the blue:

“But if convincing reports of sightings continue, Scotland Yard should set up a Maddie squad capable of moving instantly anywhere in Europe.”

Ah yes, at the drop of a hat Scotland Yard should be ready to get in the Maddie copter to fly to where the latest attention seeker has seen Europe's most instantly recognisable child. Will Rupert Murdoch be good enough to put up the cash needed to get this venture off the ground, and save taxpayers from being at the whim of the morons in charge of our daily papers?

Update: Ben in the comments suggests the above might have been a parody, considering Shanahan was delivering his usual crap here. If anyone can confirm if the above was in the Sun today/yesterday, drop a comment in.

Away from Madeleine McCann, the Sun was beating its war chest over Brutal Putin, for which see my post on The Sun - Tabloid Lies blog.

Enemies of Reason - Madeleine hopes/fears

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Monday, August 11, 2008 

Another war in the silly season.

As always with the fog of war, it's next to impossible to know accurately at any stage what genuinely is happening in Georgia/South Ossetia/Abkhazia unless you're on the ground. To a degree, however, we're now fairly certain of what started it. Although there have been months of provocation on both sides, while Putin was away in Beijing attending the Olympics, the Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili seemingly gave the order for a large assault, if not for the whole of South Ossetia then most certainly for its capital, Tskhinvali. Survivors of the attack, streaming to the Russian border for safety, describe carnage and snipers shooting at them as they fled. The Russians have claimed that up to 2,000 people were killed, although they've also hyperbolically described it as a genocide. How much of Tskhinvali has been destroyed or damaged is unclear, as the Russians have yet to let any journalists into the capital.

If Saakashvili was hoping that the assault would go unnoticed, overshadowed by the opening ceremony, or alternatively with Putin away that the Russians would be slow to respond, neither occurred. Within hours the Russian counter-assault was launched, with such apparent planning that they have since been accused of planning the wholesale invasion and subjugation of Georgia. Yesterday the Georgians pulled back from South Ossetia entirely, and according to Saakashvili are now under a unilateral ceasefire. Not clear at the moment is just where the Russians are, what their intentions are, and whether returning to the status quo is possible, let alone desirable. Reports throughout the day have claimed that the Russians have cleaved the country in two, have taken Gori, 47 miles from Tbilisi and a town subjected to bombing raids, and have also taken Senaki, 25 miles from the Abkhazia boundary. All have been denied and counter-claimed or clarified, with no real confirmation to make the reality clearer.

Atrocities have undoubtedly been committed by both sides. Craig Murray calls Georgia's actions lawful, but by the survivor accounts we have heard they were certainly being completely indiscriminate in both shelling and sniping. Russia's response has also clearly gone beyond the realms of defending citizens that both they and it regard as subjectively their own; the raids on Gori, attacks on Tbilisi airport and the targeting of economic as well as military installations further confirms this. As Craig also states, what is desperately needed is an immediate ceasefire from both sides so that the dust can settle, for the true picture of what has happened to emerge, and so that those now travelling to the region to engage in urgent diplomacy do not have their trips completely wasted.

You can however hardly blame Russia's initial response to what was a naive, foolhardy and apparently murderous gambit by Saakashvili. As korova notes, back at the end of last year Saakashvili's approval ratings were hovering around the 16% mark. For all the talk of Georgia and its wonderful emerging liberal democracy, Saakashvili has presided over, like in Russia itself and China, a virulent rising of nationalism, promising in effect that both South Ossetia and Abkhazia would remain a part of Georgia, and even potentially be re-taken. If last Thursday/Friday's events were him putting his plans into effect, then it has backfired in a way that he must have surely at least contemplated it might. For all the overwhelming support that Saakashvili is now receiving from the West, they must privately be fuming that such an apparently suicidal mission was even contemplated, let alone attempted, although it would be hugely surprising if America or intelligence agencies didn't have even an inkling of what was shortly going to happen. It will almost certainly kill Georgia's chances of joining NATO for years, if not decades, and the West's desire to encircle Russia through the alliance, for that is undoubtedly what it is, cannot yet be realised.

There is of course a hypocrisy an inch thick running through the entire debacle. It's impossible not to be reminded of events two years previous when Hizbullah's attack and kidnapping of Israeli troops sparked the near month long war which resulted in the deaths of around 1,200 Lebanese civilians and nearly 200 Israelis. Then the boot was on the other foot: Israel's missile attacks on Beirut airport, on power stations and on the residential sections of Beirut where Hizbullah had its base were by no means disproportionate, words that no one in government in this country or in the Bush administration uttered, even when Qana was hit for a second time. Bush has just described Russia's actions as "unacceptable in the 21st century", even though Israel too invaded and attacked a sovereign, democratic state in just as vicious a fashion. Our own actions in Iraq leave us with next to no legs to stand on when lecturing other nations for invading sovereign states, yet we continue to act as though we are paragons of the international scene. We refer to Russia as though nothing has changed since the days of the cold war, as though we are the perennial abused and victimised, and yet still America insists on installing missile interception systems in Poland and the Czech Republic which it pretends are aimed at Iran but which are quite transparently really meant to protect against attack from Moscow, encircling it slowly but surely. We then wonder why the Russian bear, to go with the cliché, then dares to on occasion show its fangs.

There are, to repeat, no good guys here. Russia, as if it needed to be mentioned, is hardly acquiescent when it comes to regions which want to break away from it, such as Chechnya, subjected to horrific conflict throughout the 90s and into the 00s, with the destruction which Grozny suffered an reminder of what Georgia might yet be in store for. Georgia however, and its desire to be seen as the victim, are equally as false and facile. What must urgently be rejected is the tendency to see this either as a resurrection of the cold war or as a great opportunity for the old Russiaphobia to once again take hold, something which CiF seems to be trying to achieve. All of the historical precedents which have been sited, whether they be 1938, 1956 or 1968, are not yet applicable, nor does it seem they will become so. It also undoubtedly punctures another hole in the fatuous idea of Thomas Friedman's that countries that have McDonald's don't go to war with each other. The key now is ensuring that this war is ended before any McDonald's themselves are destroyed.

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Neverending Maddie-balls.

*No, of course it fucking isn't. Not even we're that stupid. The only reason we're printing this is that an otherwise completely ordinary little blonde girl, of which we all know there are only a handful out of 6 billion inhabitants of this planet, just happens to be walking along with a woman wearing a hijab, or a headscarf, meaning she must be a Muslim, meaning she can't possibly be white, meaning there just shouldn't be a little white blonde girl with her. It's the same reason why we printed those photographs of a little blonde girl in Morocco, because there just simply shouldn't be white blonde girls in Morocco, even though she didn't look anything like Madeleine when seen close up. We just never fucking learn, do we? Why are people still buying this crap? How did I end up working on the Scum when I wanted to follow in the footsteps of Bernstein and Woodward? Why don't I just shoot myself in the fucking head?

Away from the thoughts of the average Sun journalist, reaction to my rather poor satire on how tabloid coverage of Madeleine might look in 16 years' time has been predictably polarised:

You wrote the article because you fantasise about having sex with children, you need help quickly and lets hope it's not too late before you hurt some innocent little child

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