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The Mendacities of Ms Amy Adams – 2,000 more state houses?!

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Soon after criticising the Coalition for “hiding debt in SOEs” – a capital offense that National was guilty of in 2009, and which contributed to  bankrupting Solid Energy by 2015 – National Party’s finance spokesperson, Amy Adams, was at it again.

This time, Ms Adams was making claims on housing that official figures could not sustain. Her talking-up of National’s so-called “achievements” in social housing collapsed when exposed to scrutiny.

Appearing on TVNZ’s Q+A on 20 May, Ms Adams’ criticisms of the Coalition government were rigorously  challenged by a bemused Corin Dann. At every opportunity she took to attacking the Coalition, Corin Dann was able to turn the criticism back on National.

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National Party’s Finance Spokesperson, Amy Adams – A bad case of Foot-in-Mouth affliction.

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When Ms Adams asserted that;

“Even Treasury is saying that the GDP growth that they’re forecasting is only held up because of strong and, in fact, growing immigration numbers…”

– Corin Dann responded with undisguised disbelief;

“Are you seriously criticising this government for relying on immigration to grow its economy when your government relied on immigration and housing?”

Ms Adams became increasingly defensive. Instead of holding the current Coalition government to account, it rapidly became a cross-examination of National’s own track record whilst in government.

At one point, Ms Adams asserted;

” Just take state housing for example — we promised 2000 new houses a year, so 6000 over three years. This government is now committing to deliver less than they promised and only 1600 a year. “

If National had been re-elected last year; and if those six thousand new State houses had been built – it would have made little appreciable difference to homelessness in New Zealand.

In 2008, according to it’s 2008/09 Annual Report, Housing NZ stated that it’s housing stock stood at 69,173 (p25).

Housing NZ’s 2016/17 Annual Report revealed “we own or manage approximately 63,000 homes”. (p7)

After eight years in government, National had managed to “lose” six thousand state houses.

Meanwhile, waiting lists for state homes have rapidly ballooned as the scourge of homelessness worsened under National.

In March 2008, there were 206 applicants for a State house in the “A” Category: deemed “at risk”. There were 3,605 in “B” Category: deemed “in serious housing need”. Total: 4,017.

(NOTE: There were additional categories – “C” and “D” – considered less urgent by Housing NZ. These two categories were removed from Housing NZ’s books after July 2011.)

Since March 2016, the waiting list for a state house went from 4,017 in 2008, dropping to  3,352 in June 2015, and skyrocketing to 7,890 in March this year;

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Indeed, had National not disposed/sold/transferred 6,000 state houses and had they proceeded to build an additional 6,000 as Ms Adams asserted on Q+A, they could well have put a serious dent into homelessness, over-crowding, and living in sub-standard hovels in this country.

Instead, homelessness has worsened to an extent where National was forced – reluctantly – to even concede that there was a crisis. National went from this last year;

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– to this, this year;

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It took a long time.  Ocean-going behemoth oil tankers have made course corrections faster than National Party policy changes.

Unfortunately, National’s election policy on Housing offered scant information how they intended to resolve this crisis. Tellingly, their policy document referred to “social housing” once – and then only very briefly;

Freeing up Crown Land to see 34,000 more affordable, market and social houses built over the next ten years.

There is no reference to state housing.

Despite a NZ Herald report in July 2016;

In the past financial year, HNZ built or bought 871 state houses.

Its rate of construction will now be ramped up to around 1300 state houses this financial year, 1500 the following year, and around 2000 the year after.

– there appears to have been very little movement in increasing Housing NZ’s stock.

The same Herald story reported that;

Over the next two years, Housing New Zealand will also build another 800 affordable houses to be sold on the open market.

– effectively turning Housing NZ into a profit-driven property developer.

Ms Adams may have based her claim of  “2000 new houses a year, so 6000 over three years” on that Herald story. But Housing NZ’s own Annual Reports do not back up her numbers.

Once again, National’s spokespeople have been caught out embellishing the truth at best – or – telling deliberate fibs at worst. (A third option is that Ms Adams was simply making-up-policy-on-the-hoof.)

One thing is clear. Under a re-elected National government, this;

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– would have become this;

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References

Mediaworks/Newshub: Govt not honest about debt in new Budget – Amy Adams

Fairfax media: Solid Energy announces voluntary administration ahead of sale

Scoop media:  Q+A – Amy Adams interviewed by Corin Dann (transcript)

Housing NZ: Annual Report 2008/09

Housing NZ: Annual Report 2016/17

Housing NZ: Quarterly Housing Sector and Housing Assistance Report – March 2008

Housing NZ: Briefing for the Minister of Housing – December 2011

Ministry of Social Development: Housing Register

Mediaworks/Newshub: Flat house prices prove there’s no crisis – National housing spokesman Michael Woodhouse

Radio NZ: New National leader says there is a housing crisis in NZ

National Party: National’s comprehensive housing plan

NZ Herald: Housing New Zealand to spend $2 billion on new state houses

Other Blogs

The Standard:  There is no housing crisis in New Zealand

Previous related blogposts

Solid Energy – A solid drama of facts, fibs, and fall-guys

Solid Energy and LandCorp – debt and doom, courtesy of a “fiscally responsible” National Govt

National recycles Housing Policy and produces good manure!

Our growing housing problem

National Housing propaganda – McGehan Close Revisited

Housing; broken promises, families in cars, and ideological idiocy (Part Tahi)

Another ‘Claytons’ Solution to our Housing Problem? When will NZers ever learn?

Government Minister sees history repeat – responsible for death

Housing Minister Paula Bennett continues National’s spin on rundown State Houses

National’s blatant lies on Housing NZ dividends – The truth uncovered!

National continues to panic on housing crisis as election day looms

National’s housing spokesperson Michael Woodhouse – delusional or outright fibber?

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 23 May 2018.

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The Mendacities of Ms Amy Adams – “hidden borrowing”?!

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National is at it again;  indulging in rank hypocrisy by criticising the Labour-NZ First- Green Coalition Government of policies that they themselves carried out.

This time, the National Party’s finance spokesperson, Amy Adams, has accused the Coalition Government of “hiding away debt” in SOEs. Speaking to Mediawork’s Newshub, she protested;

“…If you actually look at where Grant Robertson has hidden another six billion dollars of borrowing in Crown entities, total borrowing has actually gone up almost $17 billion. And if you look at it in that way, it’s going to take up our debt-to-GDP ratio to above the 20% target in 2022. So I think he’s being very tricky in fudging the numbers and hiding $6 billion more debt in that Crown entity space.”

Ms Adams has apparently “forgotten” that the previous National government did precisely what she is now alleging that the Coalition is doing.

By  2009, the Global Financial Crisis began to heavily impact on the National Government’s tax revenue. Except for GST, company, individual, duties, and other revenue were down;

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Despite the fall in taxation and other revenue, National proceeded  with it’s first tranche of tax cuts in April 2009. According to then-Finance Minister, Bill English, the 2009 tax cut represented a $1 billion loss of revenue to the National government;

“About 1.5 million workers will receive a personal tax cut, injecting an extra $1 billion into the economy in the coming year.”

This presented a serious problem for National, as it was borrowing $450 million per week, by December 2009, according to BNZ Capital economist, Craig Ebert.

This left National in dire straits. Government revenue was collapsing; borrowing was ballooning – and worse was to come. National had tax cuts planned for the following year. They would be estimated to cost government at least $2 billion in lost revenue.

National’s Cabinet came up with a novel ‘solution’: State-owned enterprises would be treated as ‘cash cows’. Each SOE would be instructed to borrow to their maximum limit and “… release all surplus capital to the shareholder as special dividends“.

In May 2009, then-SOE Minister, Simon Power, issued this letter to all relevant state owned enterprises. Note the red-highlighted portions;

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(Please note that the above version differs slights from the text provided in the NZ Herald version. Some of the redactions above re-appear in the NZ Herald version.)

By November 2011, a Treasuring scoping-study revealed that Solid Energy was experiencing severe financial problems. National’s Ministers were officially advised of Solid Energy’s precarious financial state, but this would not become public knowledge until two years later, in February 2013.

By August 2015, Solid Energy was placed into voluntary administration. By March this year, the liquidation process was near to completion.

Interestingly, the Herald story announcing the final stages stages of liquidation stated only;

Solid Energy first started its downward spiral in 2013 when global coal costs plummeted, exposing its commercial error in carrying substantial debt on its balance sheet.

There was no mentioned of the tens of millions of dollars expropriated by the National government after it’s letter-of-demand from Simon Power in 2009.

Neither was there a mention of the debt levels forced upon Solid Energy;

Solid Energy’s gearing ratio [borrowings] was 13.8 per cent in 2009, but that rose to 34.4 per cent in 2010 and 41.7 per cent last year [2012].

In fact, Solid Energy was bankrupted not only because of it’s high debt levels (four times higher than in 2008/09), but because National demanded 65% of cash reserves to be paid to the government as “special dividends”, as the CCMAU document below shows;

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Solid Energy had meagre cash reserves remaining when the international price of coal fell, reducing it’s income.

Neither did it help when  National abruptly reneged on it’s subsidy to Solid Energy to  generate bio-fuels. National implemented it’s subsidy in 2008 – and scrapped it in 2012.

That decision left Solid Energy with a bio-fuels subsidiary (Biodiesel New Zealand) that was suddenly uneconomical to produce.

Adding insult to injury, and perhaps one of former Dear Leader  John Key’s worst case of misdirected blame-gaming, he lamented the collapse of Solid Energy;

“The causes of the financial crisis at Solid Energy are the usual suspects in failing businesses – too much debt, unsuccessful investments and no reserves to weather a slump in coal prices.

Prime Minister John Key’s comments yesterday indicated these problems and pointed the finger at an imprudent amount of debt and investments that have not returned any cash yet.

Key said the debt had climbed to $389 million when “typically coal companies do not have a lot of debt on their balance sheets”.

Through incompetence;  election year tax bribes that sent sovereign debt soaring and government deficits ballooning; SOE management that failed to assert independence from Ministerial interference; a willingness to strip SOEs of their cash; and demanding that they ramp up their “gearing” (borrowing/indebtedness) – like a fiscal vampire, National sucked Solid Energy dry.

So that combined with the removal of biofuels subsidies and a collapse in international coal prices, the final ‘leg’ of the three-legged stool – unsustainable debt and depleted cash reserves – was enough to send Solid Energy spiralling down into bankruptcy.

It is against this backdrop of “hidden borrowing” by National, that undermined and destroyed one SOE, that Ms Adams is now accusing the Coalition government of the same thing.

National has a distinctly predictable habit of blaming it’s political opponents for behaviour that it itself is guilty off.

Accordingly, Ms Adams wins this dubious “merit award”…

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Postscript: Amy Adams was elected into Parliament on 8 November 2008. She therefore shares collective responsibility for the  demise of Solid Energy, along with her colleagues, Bill English, John Key, Tony Ryall, and Simon Power.

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References

Mediaworks/Newshub: Govt not honest about debt in new Budget – Amy Adams

IRD: Revenue collected 2008 to 2017

Scoop media: Rankin -Tax Cuts 2009-2011

Scoop media: Government delivers April 1 tax cuts, SME changes

Otago Daily Times: Government now borrowing $450 million a week – claim

NBR: Key again defends tax cuts

Scoop media: Govt’s 2010 tax cuts costing $2 billion and counting

NZ Herald: Simon Power letter to SOEs, May 2009

Treasury NZ:  Treasury Report T2011/2373: Solid Energy New Zealand Scoping Study Report

Fairfax media: Solid Energy in debt crisis talks

Fairfax media: Solid Energy announces voluntary administration ahead of sale

NZ Herald: Solid Energy enters final stages of liquidation process

Fairfax media: Ministers pressured Solid Energy, Parliament told

Treasury: Solid Energy Information Release March 2013 (Document 1875419)

Fairfax media: Biodiesel loses subsidy, prices to rise

NZ Herald: Solid Energy half year profit down as coal export price falls

Fairfax media: State miner to return to coalface

Additional

Other Blogs

The Standard: The real reason Solid Energy is failing

The Standard: Has John Key jumped the shark?

Previous related blogposts

Solid Energy – A solid drama of facts, fibs, and fall-guys

Solid Energy and LandCorp – debt and doom, courtesy of a “fiscally responsible” National Govt

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 21 May 2018.

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Simon burns his Teal Coalition Bridges

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Act I – Post-election, Dealing the Cards

During the post-election coalition negotiations last year, there was much entrails-reading of which way NZ First would move to form a new government. Labour and NZ First? Or National and NZ First?

Then came the novel suggestion from several  media and mostly right-leaning political commentators – all with singularly hyper-active imaginations – of a potential  National-Green Coalition government. This was mentioned by Laura Walters and Katie Kenny, on 24 September (2017), both writing for Fairfax media; former National PM, Jim Bolger on 25 September, talking with John Campbell on Radio NZ’s Checkpoint; Bill English on 25 September; National’s deputy Paula Bennett on 29 September;  Jim Bolger again on 1 October; Fairfax’s Tracy Watkins on 2 October, et al…

The ‘cheerleaders’ were lining up to “encourage” (and in one instance, demand!) the installation of a ‘Teal’ Coalition.

Even former cricketer-turned-Mediaworks-AM Show presenter , Mark Richardson, offered his one cent worth of advice to Green Party leader James Shaw to  “be a risk taker and back yourself” by coalescing with the Nats. (Though Richardson admitted that a decision by Shaw to coalesce with National would “blow his Party to smithereens“. This did not seem to perturb Richardson, a self-confessed National Party supporter.)

Tracy Watkins had to concede that any coalition deal with the Nats was a lengthy, but guaranteed,  political suicide mission, “National has used up all its future coalition partners. United Future and the Maori Party are gone and ACT is on life support“.

Strangely, Shaw’s response was utterly predictable. He would take a phone call from then National-leader Bill English… but…

“It’s my responsibility to do so. And we’ll have to see what they’ve got to say. But one of the things I will be saying in return is ‘You know we campaigned on a change of government and you know what was in our manifesto … and how incongruous that is to what the National Party policy programme is’.”

Act II – Was a ‘Teal’ Deal the Real Deal?

So how viable would a coalition have been between two political parties that – on the face of things have as much in common as a chicken and a platypus?

Not much, it would seem.

On several occassions,  National’s current caretaker  Leader, Simon Bridges criticised the Green Party’s policies on social issues;

In terms of the Greens, if they were a true environmental party that wasn’t focused on other bits and bobs, they could be a party that we could work with and work with strongly,” Bridges said on Tuesday.

And;

You’ve seen me say that I think actually there is a role for us in the environment.

I do have problems with the fact that they’re more than simply an environmental party – a lot of other stuff I disagree with, but on the environment we know… New Zealanders care passionately about this.”

And;

It’s a deep red rather than Green. I’m interested in working with them on genuine conservation, environmental issues but not picketing on the streets.”

The sub-text of that narrative was for the Green Party to neuter itself. As James Shaw had to point out to Simon Bridges – much like an exasperated parent patiently explaining something to a young child;

“History has shown that people want to vote for parties on a range of issues. We’ve always said that sustainability is a function of society, of the environment, and of the economy, and you can’t disaggregate those things,”

It would not be dissimilar to the Green Party dictating to National to abandon it’s close links to corporate interests, the farming sector, and other pro-business lobby groups. A point made by recently-elected Green Party Party co-leader, and former Daily Blog contributor, Marama Davidson;

“They’ve got to change a lot. It’s not good enough that Simon’s trying to position himself as all of a sudden caring about our rivers and our water, when his very policies under his party led to the exact environmental degradation that we’re seeing. He wanted to open up drilling to our Maui dolphins’ home.

They don’t understand the connection of the flawed economic model that led to the environmental degradation in the first place. They would have to change a lot, and I don’t think that’s what they intend to do.”

So how ‘green’ is our true-blue National Party?

Act III – National plays the Green Card

On 28 April, at a so-called “Bluegreens” Forum – a greenwashed front for the National Party –  Simon Bridges made much of his party’s “green credentials“;

“Good environmental practice is crucial for securing the type of future we want for our children and grandchildren.

My view is that people aren’t used to hearing a National Party leader talk like this, but I’ve said right from the start that the environment is important to me and the National Party … The environment isn’t an optional extra.

Climate change is going to be one of the most challenging issues of our time. We’ve made some good progress in recent years, but we need to do much more.

We now need to wrestle emissions down, just staying stable doesn’t cut it … We need to incentivise households, businesses, scientists and entrepreneurs to be developing and implementing technological solutions.”

Note; the reported comment from Bridges – “Good environmental practice is crucial for securing the type of future we want for our children and grandchildren” – is almost a word-for-word repeat from last year’s National’s Environment policy on their website;

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Most crucially, note Bridges reference to needing “ to incentivise households, businesses, scientists and entrepreneurs to be developing and implementing technological solutions“.

Developing and implementing technological solutions” – not reducing reliance on fossil fuels. For National that was a No-Go Area.

Not so for this coalition government.

On 12 April, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced  that “There will be no further offshore oil and gas exploration permits granted“. She said;

“This is a responsible step which provides certainty for businesses and communities that rely on fossil fuels. We’re striking the right balance for New Zealand – we’re protecting existing industry, and protecting future generations from climate change.”

More than “a step”, it was a bold leap – perhaps one of the most radical since New Zealand declared itself a nuclear-free nation on 8 June 1987. Climate change officially became this generation’s “nuclear free moment” on 12 April 2018.

Without doubt, it would be an expensive proposition to forego possible, undiscovered, oil reserves that might be worthy millions – billions! – to our country.

But the cost of runaway climate change; increasing CO2; rising temperatures and sea levels; more energetic storms; growing threats of flooding and coastal storm surges; harsher droughts; heavier rains – would  cost us billions as well. With rising sea levels and more powerful storm surges, thousands of homes were now within coastal danger zones;

“Climate change will increasingly create severe risks for New Zealand’s coastal housing stock. Even a small amount of sea-level rise will substantially exacerbate the costs of flooding and storm surges. Under the most optimistic emissions scenario studied by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, global average sea levels will likely rise by between 44cm and 55cm by 2100, and around 1 m with continued high emissions. Across New Zealand, for regions with high-quality data, there are 43,683 homes within 1.5m of the present average spring high tide and 8,806 homes within 50cm.”

According to the Ministry for the Environment, the cost of not addressing climate change threats cannot even be accurately ascertained;

The costs of inaction are difficult to quantify as they depend on the actions that the whole world takes to reduce emissions, not just New Zealand. The costs of inaction will be large but are hard to predict accurately and hard to express in monetary terms. This is also the case for modelling co-benefits of action such as air quality and health benefits. Current research and model development is beginning to address these complexities.

As a rough indicator, the cost of the Christchurch earthquakes was estimated to be about $40 billion (in 2015 dollars), which includes $16 billion  for residential construction. Around 10,000 homes were demolished due to earthquake damage. Compare that figure with Motu’s; “43,683 homes within 1.5m of the present average spring high tide and 8,806 homes within 50cm“.

Regrettably, National’s green rhetoric and Simon Bridges’ pious claims were not matched with more recent stated intentions – intentions that pose a direct threat to the long-term environmental well-being of our country as well as the entire planet.

Despite Simon Bridges asserting that “climate change is going to be one of the most challenging issues of our time. We’ve made some good progress in recent years, but we need to do much more” – National was going to do everything in it’s power to oppose practical solutions to reduce climate gas emissions.

Bridges point-blank refused to “do much more“.

Act IV – Blue card trumps Green for Bridges?

Soon after Prime Minister Ardern issued her government’s 12 April Declaration, Bridges responded like a child with his favourite toy taken off him;

If we are the Government in two years we will change it back.”

Bridges’ double-speak on environmental matters was pointed out by Fairfax’s Laura Walters in no uncertain terms;

Bridges had made a point of talking about National’s future environmental direction, and saying he would be open to working with the Green Party in the future – something the Greens have said was unlikely to happen.

However, when he was asked about his plans for the environment on Thursday, he was not able to point to any policies, or general policy areas.

In case Bridges protests at being “unfairly misquoted” in the media, his follow MPs were also vociferous in their opposition to the coalition government’s decision to curtail further offshore oil and gas exploration. In a recent press release, National’s Energy and Resources Spokesperson, Jonathan Young, said;

“The Government’s decision to ban gas and petroleum exploration is economic vandalism that makes no environmental sense […]

This decision will ensure the demise of an industry that provides over 8000 high paying jobs and $2.5 billion for the economy.

Without exploration there will be no investment in oil and gas production or the downstream industries. That means significantly fewer jobs.

This decision is devoid of any rationale. It certainly has nothing to do with climate change. These changes will simply shift production elsewhere in the world, not reduce emissions.”

And in a bizarre twist, National’s own Climate Change spokesperson, Todd Muller, also condemned winding back New Zealand’s fossil fuel industry. In the same press release as Jonathan Young, he said;

“The decision makes no sense – environmentally or economically – because less gas production means more coal being burnt and higher carbon emissions.

Many overseas countries depend on coal for energy production. Those CO2 emissions would halve if they could switch to natural gas while they transition to renewable energy.

By stopping New Zealand’s gas exploration we are turning our backs on an opportunity to help reduce global emissions while providing a major economic return to improve our standard of living and the environment.

We need to reduce global CO2 emissions. But there is no need to put an entire industry and thousands of New Zealanders’ jobs at risk.

The Government’s decision today is another blow to regional New Zealand, and Taranaki in particular.

It comes hot on the heels of big decisions that reduce roading expenditure, cancel irrigation funding, and discourage international investment in the regions.”

Todd Mueller has the wrong job title. With his unwavering support  for the fossil fuel industry and increased roading expenditure, he should be National’s Increasing Greenhouse Gas Emissions spokesperson. Nothing that Mueller has said would lead to any reduction in dangerous emissions from burning fossil fuels.

The press release from Young and Mueller was also dated 12 April;

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– the same day Prime Minister Ardern released her statement to wind-back oil and gas exploration off our coast. This indicates how long and hard Young and Mueller must have thought deeply on this matter  before issuing their press release.

Not content with being advocates for the fossil fuel industry, Simon Bridges announced eighteen days later that a National government would over-turn the coalition government’s regional fuel tax in Auckland;

“A re-elected National Party will overturn the Government’s regional fuel tax to leave more money in the back pockets of hard-working New Zealand families.

Regional fuel taxes are unfair on New Zealanders. They are regressive, and hit poorer New Zealanders the hardest.

The fuel taxes the Government has announced will leave a typical Auckland family around $700 a year out of pocket.

The regional fuel tax is simply punishing Aucklanders for the Government and the Council’s lack of fiscal discipline.

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And to Councils I say don’t get used to this raid on the back pockets of hard working New Zealanders because a re-elected National Government will repeal this tax.”

Bridges attacked Auckland Mayor Phil Goff;

“Auckland Council is a clear case in point. We know it is a free spender of rate-payers money. It was true under Len Brown and it’s true under Phil Goff.”

Which contrasted with former National Party leader and PM, John Key, who all but endorsed Phil Goff’s bid for the mayoralty in 2015;

“Phil Goff has been a very long standing member of Parliament. It was quite a combative relationship when he was leader of the opposition, but there’s no question he had a big work rate and he was a very effective minster.”

Simon Bridges obviously didn’t get the memo from Key’s office that Goff “was a very effective minster“.

It is also worth remembering that when National was in power, they also raised the petrol excise duty by nine cents per litre over a three year period, with Road user charges increasing similarly. In March 2009, National’s Transport Minister, Steven Joyce announced;

”Our preference is for a simpler system which delivers benefits to road users across the board.” From 1 October this year motorists will pay an increase of 3 cents per litre in fuel excise duty and drivers of diesel vehicles will pay the equivalent in road user charges. A second 3 cents increase will occur at October 1 next year. Each 3 cent per litre increase includes an annual increase of 1.5 cents per litre scheduled by the previous government.

…these smaller adjustments to roading excise and road user charges across New Zealand will make more funding available for roading across the country.”

Evidently, increasing fuel excise taxes for more roads (and thereby more cars) is a good thing. But increasing  fuel excise taxes to fund public transport initiatives – thereby assisting in reducing greenhouse gas emissions – is a bad thing. How else could one interpret National’s contradictory statements and policies?

National took matters a step further when they announced on Twitter a petition to persuade the coalition government to reverse it’s decision to ban offshore exploration;

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This wasn’t just Opposition for the sake of opposition. National’s petition signalled a deep ideological opposition to any steps  that would reduce the production of fossil fuels  in this country. The prospect of losing revenue from this industry – despite being a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions – was simply too much for National to contemplate.

National was signalling to all and sundry that given a choice between maintaining the fossil fuel industry and keeping the revenue stream from it – or beginning a slow phase-out and reduced revenue, the winner would always be industry.

And the environment be damned.

So much for the pious sentiments from Bridges at the National’s Bluegreen Conference;

“Good environmental practice is crucial for securing the type of future we want for our children and grandchildren.”

So with National’s antipathy to taking the crucial, hard steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, what was National’s reasoning to entice the Green Party into a coalition deal (or at least a confidence and supply arrangement)?

The answer came from Bluegreens co-chairman, Geoff Thompson. Thompson was unequivocally clear in his stated intention to using his front-organisation as a way for National to return to power;

“We’re a well-liked party … but it’s not good enough. Forty-four per cent [in a recent poll] doesn’t get us there so we want to expand and we see the environmental side of the party, that’s us, as being an opportunity for that expansion.”

For National, “to expand … we see the environmental … as being an opportunity for that expansion” was the answer.

Appealing to the Green Party to work with National would have been made with generous offers.

But the reality is that the Nats would have demanded that the Greens abandon;

  • their “red green” “bits and bobs” social policies;
  • their policies to move away from oil and gas exploration;
  • and policies to improve public transport in Auckland through regional fuel taxes

In short, the Green Party would have found itself neutered on their environmental as well as social policies.

That would have left the Greens with no alternative but to dump their coalition deal, thereby probably triggering an early election. And we all know how voters treat small political parties that cause early elections.

Simon Bridges and his National Party have demonstrated through their opposition to abandoning offshore oil and gas exploration permits that they have very little interest in environmental issues. It is even doubtful they will ever fully  honour the Paris Climate Agreement.

As early as 2012, National had already broken it’s commitment to include agriculture in the emissions trading scheme;

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National’s behaviour in the last few months have proven that a coalition with the Green Party is not only impossible – but fraught with danger of broken promises and backsliding on environmental commitments.

National would always give pre-eminence to industry; fossil fuel production, and building roads.  Environmentalism, alternative fuels, and public transport would always taken second priority – if at all.

Epilogue – Whatever the game, Physics Wins. Always.

In June 2016, atmospheric carbon dioxide reached 400 parts per million (ppm) at NIWA’s Clean Air Monitoring Station at Baring Head, Wellington;

It came a year after it was crossed at the Mauna Loa station in Hawaii, which has recorded a 24 per cent rise in carbon dioxide levels since it began gathering data in 1958.

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Last month, the level was passed at the Australian monitoring station at Cape Grim, Tasmania.

Like something out of Neville Shute’s post-apocalyptic novel, “On The Beach“, but instead of a deadly radioactive cloud, heightened CO2 levels have reached Australia, and shortly thereafter, New Zealand.

In April last year, Hawaii’s Mauna Loa Observatory detected CO2 reaching 410 parts per million for the first time in our recorded history.

We should be recording that level about now, here at the bottom of the world.

It is a grim reminder that rising CO2, methane, and nitrous oxide wait for no man (or woman). Not even for Simon Bridges.

Meanwhile, NIWA reported that January 2018 was New Zealand’s hottest month on record;

NIWA figures show average temperatures for the month of January across the country was 20.3°C.

The temperature for January normally averages 17.1°.

NIWA climate scientist Gregor Macara said the month’s temperatures were unprecedented.

“It was unusual that the entire country seemed to observe temperatures that weren’t only above average, but really considerably above average.”

“The majority of observation stations we had observed temperatures more than 3° above normal and in fact there are quite a few sites that were 4° above normal which were essentially unprecedented – particularly for this time of year,” he said.

While we baked, Simon Bridges and his cronies in the National Party were planning to over-turn any practical steps taken by the current coalition government to do our bit to try to reduce CO2 emissions.

This is why any talk of a Greens coalition with National is ludicrous.  National’s policies, ideology, and base-support is not compatible with environmental protection.

National is part of the problem.

The Joker in the pack

From April 2014;

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“Out of touch” doesn’t even begin to cover Simon Bridges and the environment.

 

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Note: All National Party webspages have been downloaded and saved for future reference. (They have a ‘habit’ of disappearing after a while.)

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References

Radio NZ: NZ First to meet National and Labour today

Fairfax media:  The coalitions that could form NZ’s 52nd Government and how likely they are

Fairfax media:  The day after the election

Radio NZ: Former PM Jim Bolger on how to deal with Winston Peters

Newsroom: National single-minded about its only option

Fairfax media: National wants conversation with Greens, official talks yet to begin

Fairfax media: Greens have a responsibility to talk to National – Jim Bolger

NZ Herald: Grassroots petition calls for National-Green coalition

Fairfax media: Politically Correct – Green Party won’t pick up the phone

Fairfax media:  AM Show host Mark Richardson’s advice to Green Party leader – ‘Be a risk-taker’

Fairfax media: Mark Richardson declares himself as a National supporter, does that matter?

Fairfax media: Bridges offers olive branch out to Greens, only to be quickly shot down

Mediaworks: National open to working with Greens, NZ First – Simon Bridges

Mediaworks:  National needs to ‘change a lot’ to get Greens onside – Marama Davidson

Fairfax media:  National Party ‘resetting our approach to environmental issues’ – Bridges

National Party: 2017 Environment Policy

Beehive.govt.nz: Planning for the future – no new offshore oil and gas exploration permits

NZhistory.govt.nz: New Zealand goes nuclear-free

Fairfax media: How climate change could send your insurance costs soaring

Motu: Insurance, Housing and Climate Change Adapation:Current Knowledge and future research

Ministry for the Environment: Modelling the economic costs of New Zealand’s intended nationally determined contribution

RBNZ:  The Canterbury rebuild five years on from the Christchurch earthquake

NZ Herald: Christchurch Earthquake: 100,000 homes damaged, 10,000 unsavable

Fairfax media:  Nats would reverse Govt’s decision on oil and gas exploration

National Party: Gas and petroleum decision is economic vandalism

National Party: National to overturn Government’s regional fuel tax

NZ Herald: John Key willing to work with Phil Goff

Ministry of Transport:  Increases to petrol excise duty and road user charges

Beehive.govt.nz: Regional fuel taxes replaced

Twitter: National – Sign our Petition

Ministry for the Environment: The Paris Agreement

Radio NZ: Farmers’ ETS exemption progresses

NZ Herald: Scientists record symbolic milestone, and it’s not one to celebrate

NIWA: Baring Head greenhouse gases

Bulletin of the Atomic Scientist: The continuing relevance of “On the Beach”

Scientific American: We Just Breached the 410 PPM Threshold for CO2

Radio NZ: January 2018 NZ’s hottest month on record

Mediaworks: Minister didn’t know park was in drilling plan

Additional

Monkeywrench (Sandor.net):  The Politics of Green Coalitions – rethinking our strategy and positioning

Monkeywrench (Sandor.net):  Which way Winston, and what’s in it for the Greens?

Ministry for the Environment: Overview of likely climate change impacts in New Zealand

Other Blogs

The Standard: How a National/Green coalition could work

Previous related blogposts

As predicted: National abandons climate-change responsibilities

ETS – National continues to fart around

National’s moving goalposts on climate change targets

 

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 17 May 2018.

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Ali Jones rips right wing blogger a “new one” on Radio NZ’s “The Panel”

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Unexpected fireworks erupted on Jim Mora’s ‘The Panel’ on Radio NZ on Tuesday 15 May when PR consultant and  former Christchurch City Councillor, Ali Jones, took on National Party apparatchik, pollster, wannabe Bond-villain, and right-wing blogger, David Farrar.

Farrar began by parroting the current National party propaganda line – at 1.51 – that “despite being nine years in opposition, the government hasn’t actually come in with a lot of detailed policy“.

Ali Jones responded – at 3.15 – taking umbrage at Farrar’s pro-National spin. She replied with a scathing critique of National’s poor track record for the last nine years. It is worth listening to;

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National’s artificially manufactured reputation for “sound/prudent fiscal management” didn’t just take another hit from Ms Jones.  It got a swift, hard kick in the ‘goolies’ by a person unwilling to take any bullshit from one of National’s chief apologists.

Nicely aimed and delivered, Ms Jones.

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References

Radio NZ: Labour accused of doing nothing but setting up committees (alt.link)

P & R Communications

The Press: Ali Jones not seeking second term on Christchurch City Council

Kiwiblog

Previous related blogposts

The Mendacities of Mr English – No, I wasn’t told – Yes, I was told

National’s housing spokesperson Michael Woodhouse – delusional or outright fibber?

The many mendacities of Mr Bridges – a few volts short of an EV

Newsflash: apparently our public hospital system is in crisis?!

National spins new “fake news” narrative: there is no health crisis

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 16 May 2018.

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Media bullsh*t vs the Bovine variety

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A case in point where the media can misrepresent what an elected representative  has stated occurred immediately after Corin Dann interviewed Environment Minister, David Parker, on 6 May, on TVNZ’s Q+A;

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David Parker and Corin Dann on TVNZ’s Q+A, 6 May 2018

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The interview itself was professional, with Dann asking pertinent questions and drilling down into Minister Parker’s stated objective to reduce agricultural pollution of our waterways.

Corin Dann asked;

“So an admirable goal, but the question is — how will you do it? Now, you have a— you’ve talked about beefing up the current guidelines, the national policy statement on water. How far will you go? And I guess the key question is here — will you cap the number of cows that can be in a certain paddock, depending on nutrient levels? In other words, potentially force farmers to destock?”

To which Minister Parker replied;

“Well, cow numbers have already peaked and are going down, but yes, in some areas, the number of cows per hectare is higher than the environment can sustain. That won’t be done through a raw cap on cow numbers; it will be done on nutrient limits, the amount of nutrient that can be lost from a farm to a waterway, because it’s not just a dairy cow issue.”

Note the Minister’s carefully chosen words;

“…the number of cows per hectare is higher than the environment can sustain. That won’t be done through a raw cap on cow numbers; it will be done on nutrient limits, the amount of nutrient that can be lost from a farm to a waterway, because it’s not just a dairy cow issue.”

Minister Parker flatly rejected “ a raw cap on cow numbers” – explaining “it will be done on nutrient limits“.

For a politician, it was a remarkable moment, providing a clear-cut answer to a crucial question. (How many National Ministers have ever given such an unambiguous response?)

How did the rest of the mainstream media report Minister Parker’s comments?

Dishonestly.

TVNZ – Q+A’s broadcaster – presented Minister Parker’s position on the same day as the programme was aired, with this stunningly inaccurate headline and lead-paragraph;

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Despite Minister Parker’s categorical statement that reducing effluent-pollution “won’t be done through a raw cap on cow numbers; it will be done on nutrient limits” – TVNZ chose to misreport the Minister’s position. Anyone who had not watched/listened to Minister Parker’s original interview would inevitably have concluded that cow-reduction was on Minister Parker’s main agenda.

Later that same day – 6 May – Radio NZ also misrepresented Minister Parker in an online article headline and lead-paragraph;

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However, the author of the Radio NZ write-up could not have been ignorant of Minister Parker’s stated position, because the second paragraph read;

Environment Minister David Parker said there wouldn’t be a direct cap on the number of cattle, but instead work was being done on restricting the amount of nutrients being lost from farm to waterway.

Two day later, the Otago Daily Times followed suit;

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– though in a stunning exercise in double-think, the un-named Editorial-writer presented two conflicting statements of Minister Parker’s position;

At the weekend, Mr Parker indicated he wants fewer cows per hectare because the number now is higher than the environment can sustain.

This will not be done through a raw cap on cow numbers. Instead, it will be done on nutrient limits, the amount of nutrients that can be lost from a farm to a waterway.

It was clear from on-line stories that the mainstream media were finding difficulty in reporting Minister Parker’s statements. After all, how could effluent be reduced with reducing cow numbers?

Despite the Minister stating without ambiguity that he was targetting “the amount of nutrient that can be lost from a farm to a waterway, because it’s not just a dairy cow issue” – the msm couldn’t seem to get their heads around that concept.

How could effluent be reduced without cutting cow numbers?

Canterbury dairy farmer, Willy Leferink, offered one solution;

Mr Leferink said he had built a large hangar-like barn on his land to house his cows at certain times during winter which would collect and treat their waste instead of it dropping straight onto paddocks.

It’s bad enough when a politician misrepresents a situation. Former Dear Leader John Key built quite a reputation around misrepresentation; omission; bending the truth; and some outright lies.

But we expect more from our media.

If an elected representative expresses a clear direction, the correct response of the media is to report it fairly to the public. Question; probe; and doubt, by all means. Look behind the facade. Follow-up. Do the stuff we expect from the Fourth Estate.

But do not misreport.

Misquoting or misreporting adds nothing to the sum total of informed discourse.  It only reaffirms suspicion that the media cannot be trusted.

For when the media that has exhausted its trust with the public, the road to political corruption and the rise of demagoguery becomes easier to travel.

Aesop’s The Boy Who Cried Wolf is a fable about loss of credibility that is as valid now as it was 2,600 years ago.

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References

Scoop media: TVNZ Q+A – Minister David Parker interviewed by Corin Dann (transcript)

TVNZ: Environment Minister admits some dairy farmers may have to reduce cow numbers under tough new waterway pollution rules

Radio NZ: Farmers may be forced to reduce cattle numbers

Otago Daily Times: Fewer cows no easy task

Radio NZ: Moves made to reduce runoff already – farmers

Wikipedia: The Boy Who Cried Wolf

Previous related blogposts

The GCSB law – Oh FFS!!!

When the mainstream media go feral

Only four years too late – TVNZ-Colmar Brunton catch up with The Daily Blog

Worse than “fake news” – sloppy news!

Syria: the mendacities of the mainstream media (part tahi)

Syria: the mendacities of the mainstream media (part rua)

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 11 May 2018.

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Tracy Watkins – Getting it half right on the “Decade of Deficits”

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Writing in the new, tabloid compact-sized Dominon Post on 2 May, political columnist Tracy Watkins mentioned the oft-parroted cliche from the Right, the so-called “decade of deficits”;

“Labour spent years in the wilderness after the global financial crisis gave it a “decade of deficits” as its legacy.”

Watkins left out a crucial factor in National’s ongoing deficits – a fact to be pointed out;

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from: Frank Macskasy
to: Dominion Post <letters@dompost.co.nz>
date: 5 May 2018
subject: Letter to the editor
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The Editor
Dominion Post
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Tracy Watkins’s recent opinion piece referred to “decade of deficits” as Labour’s “legacy” in 2008 (1 May). She fleetingly mentioned the Global Financial Crisis as a contributing factor. English himself called the GFC “the deepest, most synchronised recession since the 1930s”.

Nowhere did Watkins mention that Labour’s finance minister paid down this country’s government; posted eight surpluses in a row; as well as funding long-term initiatives such as Working For Families (essentially a tax cut) and NZ Super fund.

Watkins resurrected the tired old fictional trope of Labour’s “first budget is all about playing to the wider masses to show it can be trusted with the chequebook”.

What was also missing was another crucial contributing factor to the so-called “decade of deficits” – a term first coined by former PM, John Key and National’s pollster, David Farrar, in October 2008.

The missing factor were the tax cuts of 2009 and 2010, which reduced government tax revenue by several billions of dollars. The 2010 cuts alone slashed tax revenue by an estimated $2 billion pa.

A Regulatory Impact Statement from Treasury, dated 9 December 2008, warned National;

“With a deteriorating global economic out look New Zealand is expecting weaker economic growth in the next few years, resulting in slower tax revenue growth and increased government expenditure.”

National borrowed billions to make up the shortfall – in essence funding taxcuts through offshore bankers.

So who is it that cannot be “trusted with the chequebook”?
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-Frank Macskasy

[citations, address, and phone number supplied]

 

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References

Fairfax:  Why Labour isn’t about to fall for the ‘spend more’ honey trap

Fairfax:  Tax cuts off as Govt fights recession

Kiwiblog:  PREFU – Ten years of deficits

Fairfax media:  Nats blame Labour for ‘decade of deficits’

Infonews: Government’s 2010 tax cuts costing $2 billion and counting

Treasury: Regulatory Impact Statement – Changes to Personal Tax, the Research & Development Tax Credit and KiwiSaver

Additional

The Atlantic: Tax Cuts Don’t Lead to Economic Growth, a New 65-Year Study Finds

Previous related blogposts

That was Then, This is Now #19 – A “Decade of Deficits”

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 10 May 2018.

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National’s new-found concern for the poor

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There are times when National’s opposition to the Coalition government’s new policies leaves one shaking their head in utter dismay.  Jami-Lee Ross – a notorious union-basher and unrepentant enemy of workers – shedding crocodile tears for the poor of this country, is not a pretty sight…

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A response was called for, pointing out the crass hypocrisy of National to invoke the welfare of the poor to score a cheap political point;

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from: Frank Macskasy
to: NZ Herald <letters@herald.co.nz>
date: 29 April 2018
subject: Letter to the editor

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Letters to the editor
NZ Herald

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National’s transport spokesperson, Jami-Lee Ross, recently criticised the new Coalition government’s plans to promote the use of electric vehicles. On 27 April, Ross said;

“It would effectively be a tax on the poor, you’d see the poorest New Zealanders who are purchasing second-hand Japanese imports having to pay the levy which would go towards subsidising electric vehicles for those who are more likely to be wealthier – and more likely to be able to purchase an electric vehicle.”

The sheer hypocrisy for Ross to cry a river of crocodile tears for the poor when, for nine years, National caused great harm to the poorest families and individuals of our once egalitarian nation.

Specifically, National;

  • raised ACC levies for workers by a staggering 21%
  • increased GST from 12.5% to 15% – raising food prices 4% that year
  • announced increases for petrol excise duty of 3 cents per litre for 2013, 2014, and 2015*, with Road user charges increasing similarly
  • raised Family Court fees to $900
  • increased prescription charges from $3 to $5
  • implemented the infamous “paperboy tax” in 2012 by cutting children’s tax refunds
  • and other increases to government charges, fees, surtaxes, et al

Ross would do well to examine National’s own abysmal record. They hardly helped the poorest families struggling to make ends meet.

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-Frank Macskasy

[address and phone number supplied]

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* 9 cents/litre, spread over three years.

Ross also demanded that the Coalition government do more to purchase electric vehicles;

“I’d encourage this government to continue with what National did by exempting road-user charges, I’d encourage them to continue to purchase more electric vehicles as a government, so the government fleet is full of more electric vehicles.”

The new Labour-Green-NZ First government certainly could not do worse than their National predecessors. In 2016, National’s then Minister for Energy, Simon Bridges, dumped proposals to assist in the purchase EVs for  State agencies;

Cabinet has pulled the handbrake on its Electric Vehicles plan, pulling proposals to help agencies cover the extra cost, documents show.

Bridges’ excuse was about as pathetic as a Crown minister could possibly get;

But Transport Minister Simon Bridges says he canned the two proposals, in order to be “more ambitious” later.

This is the National Party lecturing the rest of us how to curtail greenhouse gas emissions.

They have nothing to offer except more of the same failed policies from the 20th Century that have led humanity to the abyss of cataclysmic climate change.

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References

Scoop Media:  Union biting the hand that feeds

Youtube: Ports behind bill

Radio NZ:  National – petrol car levy will hurt the poor

Fairfax media: Workers to pay large increase in ACC levies

Radio NZ: PM defends proposed GST increase

NBR: GST increase pushes food prices up

Fairfax media: Plans for Family Court attacked

Fairfax media: Prescription price rise hits vulnerable

Ministry of Transport:  Increases to petrol excise duty and road user charges

NZ Herald: Budget 2012 -‘Paper boy tax’ on small earnings stuns Labour

Fairfax media:  Cabinet handbrake proves ‘government lack of leadership’ on electric vehicles – Greens

Radio NZ:  NZ’s summer the hottest on record – Niwa

Other Blogs

The Standard: National’s 18 new taxes

Previous related blogposts

National MP admits collusion with bosses to set up strike-breaking law!!

The many mendacities of Mr Bridges – a few volts short of an EV

2017: Parting shots from the Right: tantrums, bloated entitlements, and low, low expectations for our Youth – toru

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 3 May 2018.

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National spins new “fake news” narrative: there is no health crisis

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National is under attack. It’s reputation as a “prudent fiscal manager” is threatened by a growing realisation that it has achieved government surpluses at the expense of under-funded DHBs, decaying infrastructure, poorly resourced mental healthcare, budget cuts to DoC, frozen funding for Radio New Zealand, cuts to early childhood education and schools, etc.

After nine years of frozen budgets (a cut, once inflation, population growth, and other pressures are factored in), New Zealanders have been made to understand the painful realities of austerity-National-style;

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It is against a backdrop of  startling revelations that hospital buildings are rotting from within and threatened with sewage leaking through walls, that National’s credibility has been challenged.

The new narrative is that National’s so-called “successful fiscal stewardship” has been achieved by deferring vitally-needed spending on critical infrastructure and basic social services.

In essence, after nine years in government, National is being held to account.

But National is beginning to push-back on the new narrative.

This became apparent on 29 April, on TVNZ Q+A’s Twitter account when several ‘tweets’ by obvious-National tribalists (and one disaffected ex-Labour member) all featured a similar theme.  The recurring use of the terms “false story” appeared several times along with the short-hand cliche, “fake news”;

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All of which could be dismissed as the self-induced, delusional denials of individuals who identify a little too closely with the National Party – except it does not end with a handful of misguided National Party members.

On the same day Q+A was broadcast, and whilst National’s faithful Keyboard-warriors were engaging in “fake news” denials all over social media, NewstalkZB posted this on their Twitter account;

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NewstalkZB’s website carried this story that the above ‘tweet’ referred to;

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On  TV3/Newshub, Woodhouse was reported as saying;

[Michael Woodhouse] said the Government has racked up a “woeful litany” of broken promises in just six months, including “the manufactured Middlemore crisis, raising massive expectations for nurse pay increases he won’t now meet, the debacle of the air ambulance tender, inertia and an unnecessary inquiry in mental health”.

Woodhouses’ statements were taken from a National Party Press Release, dated 29 April, where he alleged;

“The Prime Minister recently stated the issues at Middlemore Hospital are emblematic. I agree – emblematic of a Government that has manufactured a crisis that doesn’t exist in order to mask its broken promises.

The Minister’s record now includes the manufactured Middlemore crisis, raising massive expectations for nurse pay increases he won’t now meet, the debacle of the air ambulance tender, inertia and an unnecessary inquiry in Mental Health and now a billion dollar broken promise. This is a woeful litany after just six months in office.”

Woodhouse has a singular gift for misrepresenting facts and ‘bending the truth’ when it suits him.

On 12 February 2018 on Radio NZ, National’s Housing spokesperson – Michael Woodhouse – responded to New Zealand’s housing crisis – by denying it!

He stated categorically;

“They acknowledge that social housing includes housing provided by NGOs [non governmental organisations] but then ignore that when they conclude that the number of state housing properties have gone down. Clearly that hasn’t happened, they’ve gone up.”

His assertion “that the number of state housing properties have … gone up” was a bare-faced lie.

After nine years in office, National had disposed of some six thousand state houses. As this blogger reported in February this year;

In the 2008/09 Annual Report, Housing NZ stated that it “manages a portfolio of more than 69,000 houses” (p4).

Nine years later, Housing NZ’s 2016/17 Annual Report revealed “we own or manage approximately 63,000 homes”. (p7)

Either Mr Woodhouse’s or my arithmetic is way out, because that is a 6,000 drop in State housing.

National’s track record after nine years in government is so bad that that cannot rely on the truth to validate themselves.   Instead, they must resort to lies.

National’s MPs and their tribalist supporters have nothing to be proud of.

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References

Fairfax media: Is National really better than Labour with the Government books? Well, not really

Radio NZ: Doctors blame under-funding for DHB blowouts

Mediaworks: Sickening state of Auckland hospital buildings revealed

Radio NZ: DoC funding cut by $40m – independent expert

Mediaworks: What’s behind New Zealand’s mental health funding crisis?

NZ Herald: Govt has cut millions off early childhood education – Study

Manawatu Standard: Struggling schools cut teacher aide hours to keep up with minimum wage increase

NZ Herald: John Drinnan – Radio NZ survives the big freeze

Fairfax media: Funding in Auckland health sector not keeping up with population growth, politicians told

Radio NZ: Sewage leaking into Middlemore building’s walls

Fairfax media: Over 5000 at risk of going blind waiting for treatment, Ministry of Health says

Twitter: TVNZ Q+A

Twitter: NewstalkZB – Michael Woodhouse – 29 April 2018

NewstalkZB:  Government manufacturing a health-sector crisis – Michael Woodhouse

Mediaworks: GP visits might not get cheaper soon after all

Scoop media: Clark confirms broken promise on GP fees

Radio NZ: Housing report paints ‘sobering picture’ of crisis

Housing NZ: Annual Report 2008/09

Housing NZ: Annual Report 2016/17

Related Other Blogs

The Standard: Micky Savage – National’s fiscal ineptitude over Auckland transport

The Daily Blog: Martyn Bradbury -New Zealand’s new Alt-Right Twitter Trolls – Dirty Politics 2018

Previous related blogposts

National’s housing spokesperson Michael Woodhouse – delusional or outright fibber?

“Fool me once”

The many mendacities of Mr Bridges – a few volts short of an EV

The Mendacities of Mr English – No, I wasn’t told – Yes, I was told

National’s housing spokesperson Michael Woodhouse – delusional or outright fibber?

Newsflash: apparently our public hospital system is in crisis?!

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 1 May 2015.

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Syria: the mendacities of the mainstream media (part rua)

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Propaganda does not deceive people; it merely helps them to deceive themselves.” – Eric Hoffer, 1902 – 1983

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Recent Timeline*

4 April: Trump announces he wants all remaining US forces out of Syria “very quickly”. Trump says; “Saudi Arabia is very interested in our decision. And I said, Well, you know, you want us to stay? Maybe you’re going to have to pay”.

8 April: First reports emerge of chemical gas attack in Douma, the last rebel-held town in Syria’s Eastern Ghouta province. Reports are unverified.

8 April: Russian government calls reports of alleged gas attack in Douma “fake news” and describes the story as a “false flag” operation. Russia’s Foreign Ministry states; “The goal of this… baseless speculation is to shield the terrorists and… the radical opposition that refuse to engage in a political settlement [process], as well as to justify potential military strikes from the outside”.

9 April: Trump promises major decision in next twentyfour hours  on alleged gas attack.

10 April: Syria  and  Russia invite Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to investigate allegations of chemical attack in Douma.

10 April:  Chairman of the State Duma’s Defense Committee,  Colonel General Vladimir Shamanov warned the West; “ The double standard policy has overstepped all possible boundaries. At this point, the [pro-Putin parliamentary majority] United Russia party must responsibly state that we are going to take all political and diplomatic measures, and also military measures if such need arises. Not a single unlawful action will be left without response.”

11 April: Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman says it will support any military strike on Syria in retaliation for the alleged gas attack in Douma; “If our alliance with our partners requires it, we will be present”.

11 April: Russia’s ambassador to Lebanon, Alexander Zasypkin, repeats Colonel General Shamanov’s warning to the US: “If there is a US missile attack, we – in line with both Putin and Russia’s chief of staff’s remarks – will shoot down US rockets and even the sources that launched the missiles.

12 April: French President Emmanuel Macron declared that France has evidence that Syria carried out the gas attack in Douma; “We have proof that last week, now 10 days ago, that chemical weapons were used, at least with chlorine, and that they were used by the regime of (President) Bashar al-Assad. Our teams have been working on this all week and we will need to take decisions in due course, when we judge it most useful and effective.”

Two days later, hours after the US-led attack on Syria, France releases statement on evidence of alleged gas attack: “After examining the videos and images of victims published online, (French intelligence services) were able to conclude with a high degree of confidence that the vast majority are recent and not fabricated.

12 April: OPCW (Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons) fact-finding team lands in Syria to investigate alleged gas attack in Douma. Syria’s ambassador to the United Nations, Bashar Jaafari, said; “We will facilitate the arrival of the team to anywhere they want, in Douma, to check whether or not there was use of chemical substances”.

14 April: Trump announces US-led attack on Syria, launching 105 missiles at targets in that country. Trump  states: “So today, the nations of Britain, France, and the United States of America have marshaled their righteous power against barbarism and brutality”.

14 April: President Putin of Russia states categorically: “Just as one year ago, when the Shayrat Airbase in Syria came under attack, the US used as a pretext a staged chemical attack against civilians, this time in Douma, a Damascus suburb. Having visited the site of the would-be chemical attack, Russian military experts did not find any traces of chlorine or any other toxic agent. Not a single local resident was able to confirm that a chemical attack had actually taken place.”

15 April: Trump declares: “Mission accomplished!”

15 April: Russia loses vote in UN Security Country to condemn US-led military strike. Russian UN ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia said: “Today is a very sad day for the world, the UN, its charter, which was blatantly, blatantly violated.”

15 April: US Ambassador to UN, Nikki Haley, tells Fox News Sunday that US troops will remain in Syria: “Yes, it is all of our goal to see American troops come home. But we’re not going to leave until we know we’ve accomplished those things. ”

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* International time-zones not taken into account: above dates are approximate.

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Local media reporting…

The response of our local media to report Saturday’s missile strike has been largely superficial and followed the Western narrative;

(a) the gas attack happened

(b) Syrian government forces were responsible

…From NZ Herald

Most, if not all stories published on the Herald’s website originate from Associated Press.

One of the first reports, dated 8 April, was headed “Syrian regime accused of killing civilians in chemical attack“. The first two paragraphs gave equal space to claim/counter-claim;

A Syrian rebel group has accused government forces of dropping a barrel bomb containing poisonous chemicals on civilians in Eastern Ghouta, and a medical relief organisation said 35 people had been killed in chemical attacks on the area.

Syrian state media denied government forces had launched any chemical attack as soon as the reports began circulating and said rebels in the Eastern Ghouta town of Douma were in a state of collapse and spreading false news.

The third paragraph referred to “an alleged chemical weapons attack in Douma“.

While an un-named “medical relief organisation said 35 people had been killed in chemical attacks on the area” – curiously the UK-based anti-Assad organisation, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, appeared more non-committal;

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 11 people had died in Douma as a result of suffocation caused by the smoke from conventional weapons being dropped by the government. It said a total of 70 people suffered breathing difficulties.

Interestingly, this early statement ties in with an investigation and interviewing of eye-witnesses,  by Middle East correspondent, Robert fisk, who reported nine days later;

War stories, however, have a habit of growing darker. For the same 58-year old senior Syrian doctor then adds something profoundly uncomfortable: the patients, he says, were overcome not by gas but by oxygen starvation in the rubbish-filled tunnels and basements in which they lived, on a night of wind and heavy shelling that stirred up a dust storm.

Could it be that the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights inadvertently told the truth before a new version was framed, blaming the incident on so-called “poison gas”, instead of a lack of air and heavy dust?

The Herald/AP story admits as such;

Rami Abdulrahman, the Observatory director, said he could not confirm if chemical weapons had been used.

In the same article, the so-called Medical relief organisation, Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS), put  the blame on an alleged “chlorine bomb”. They stated it  “hit Douma hospital, killing six people, and a second attack with “mixed agents” including nerve agents had hit a nearby building“.

The Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS)  is a US-based organisation and according to the Russian government-aligned website, RT News, is funded through a United States government department. RT News is scathing of SAMS;

SAMS is not merely a group of Syrian doctors tending to the wounded in war torn areas, nor can it be considered a objective source on chemical attacks and other atrocities. The organization is a USAID-funded lobbying powerhouse that functions with a single-minded determination to stimulate a US-led war of regime change that will place Syrian Islamists in power in Damascus.

It is unclear at this stage how SAMS knew within a day that Douma had been hit by an alleged “chlorine bomb”.

The 8 April Herald/AP  story continued with reporting of the battle for rebel-held Douma, and that Syrian government forces were advancing on the town. There was no further mentioned of a so-called chemical weapon being used.

The following day, the Herald ran another AP story. This time, there was no reference to the term ‘alleged’. Instead, ‘suspected’ entered the framing of the narrative, being used three times.

One statement referred to “a suspected poison gas attack” – whilst stating definitively that “at least 40 people were killed“;

The missile attack followed a suspected poison gas attack Saturday on the last remaining foothold for the Syrian opposition in the eastern suburbs of Damascus. At least 40 people were killed, including families found in their homes and shelters, opposition activists and local rescuers said.

The story  related allegations of a “chlorine attack” from both well-known anti-Assad organisations, SAMS and the White Helmets;

They did not identify the substance used, but the civil defense organization, also known as the White Helmets, and the Syrian American Medical Society, a medical relief organization, said survivors treated at clinics smelled strongly of chlorine.

To it’s credit, a disclaimer immediatly followed;

Those reports could not be independently verified because of a government blockade around the town.

The three authors of this AP  story appeared very keen to impress upon readers that allegations of a “gas  attack” had not been independently verified. This despite that Trump was already ‘tweeting’  of a “mindless chemical attack” before any evidence had been gathered or facts verified. (Who needs facts or evidence when you’re the President of the United States?)

Unfortunately, despite the not-independently-verified disclaimer, parts of the Herald/AP story neglected to insert the all-important term, ‘alleged’;

First responders entering apartments in Douma late Saturday said they found bodies collapsed on floors, some foaming at the mouth.

By omitting the term ‘alleged’, the above phrase takes on a factual status that is not deserved. There was simply no independent corroboration of any bodies “ collapsed on floors“, nor that “some [were]  foaming at the mouth“. What is the point of a not-independently-verified disclaimer if  unsubstantiated claims are presented as facts?

Again it is worthwhile noting that the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights refused to apportion blame on alleged chemical weapons;

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights issued a higher death toll, saying at least 80 people were killed in Douma, including around 40 who died from suffocation. But it said the suffocations were the result of shelters collapsing on people inside them.

With the heavy bombardment on Douma, the above statement makes far more sense as to a cause of fatalities. It also ties in with Robert Fisk’s findings.

By contrast, a Herald/AP story on 11 April yielded fourteen uses of ‘suspected’; five of ‘apparent’; four of ‘alleged’, and three of ‘allegations’;

The U.N. Security Council has rejected a Russian resolution that would have welcomed an investigation by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons into a suspected poison gas attack in the suburbs of Syria’s capital.

[…]

The international chemical weapons watchdog says it will send a fact finding mission to the Syrian town where an alleged chemical weapons attack occurred over the weekend.

The OPCW mission to Syria was referred to early-on in the story;

British Ambassador Karen Pierce said the U.K. opposed the resolution because an OPCW investigative team is already headed to Syria and the Russian text did not include a new body to determine accountability for chemical weapons attacks.

Occassionally, though, an assertion was presented as factual, omitting the use of ‘alleged’ to maintain the unverified aspects to these events;

Syrian opposition activists say 40 people [allegedly*] died in Saturday night’s poison gas attack in the town of Douma, the last remaining rebel bastion near Damascus.

[…]

Syrian opposition activists say 40 people [allegedly*] died in Saturday night’s [unverified*] poison gas attack in the town of Douma, the last remaining rebel bastion near Damascus.

[…]

Syrian opposition activists say 40 people [allegedly*] died in Saturday night’s chemical attack in the town of Douma, the last remaining rebel bastion near Damascus. The opposition blamed President Bashar Assad’s forces for the [alleged*] attack, accusations the government strongly denies.

[* – inserted by Author]

Another story on 11 April occasionally referred to an ‘alleged’ attack;

The Syrian air base was struck by missiles a little more than 24 hours after the alleged chemical attack. Israel does not typically comment on its operations in Syria, and it is unclear whether the missile attack was linked to the alleged use of chemical weapons

As was ‘suspected’ attack;

The international chemical weapons watchdog said Tuesday it was sending a fact-finding mission to the Syrian town where a suspected chemical gas attack took place over the weekend, following a request from the Syrian government and its Russian backers that appeared to be aimed at averting punitive Western military action.

Russia’s doubts that an alleged chemical attack even took place at all was canvassed, as was the OPCW mission to Syria.

However, statements by rebel groups were still reported as facts;

Syrian opposition activists and paramedics said more than 40 people were killed in last weekend’s suspected chemical attack and blamed the government.

Nowhere was it stated explicitly that reports of any deaths were unverified.

Such an omission might lead a reader to unconscious bias, accepting the alleged chemical attack as a proven event because of the claim – still unverified – that people had died.

A 13 April Herald/AP story reported that Syrian government forces had retaken Douma from rebels. The so-called “gas attack” was described as ‘alleged’ seven times.

With the defeat of the rebels in Douma,  no one had been reported as asking two basic questions;

1. What did the Syrian government hope to gain by allegedly using chemical weapons to retake Douma – when it was already close to victory anyway?

2. Why was the alleged  gas attack carried out against civilians, rather than rebel fighters? If the alleged gas attack was indeed orchestrated by the Syrian regime, it would have made more strategic sense to target armed enemy combatants rather than unarmed civilians.

A subsequent NZ Herald/AP story on 13 April carried the claim that the French government had “proof that the Syrian government launched chlorine gas attacks”. The story did not mention what that “proof” was, or how it had been obtained. The OPCW mission to Syria had not yet reached Douma to carry out their investigation.

The article did not use ‘alleged’, and ‘allegations’ was used only in conjunction with the Syrian government denying culpability for any so-called “attack”. In fact, the story abandoned any consideration that the alleged attack was still to be verified;

He [President Emmanuel Macron] previously said any French action would target Syria’s chemical weapons abilities.

Note: not, “Syria’s *alleged* chemical weapons abilities“.

The US-led strike on Syria was only a day away.  Media stories now seemed to lean further toward the alleged gas attack as factually proven, rather than still-to-be-verified.

Macron’s so-called “evidence” was revealed the following day, in a story run by Reuters;

The French services analyzed the testimonies, photos and videos that spontaneously appeared on specialized websites, in the press and on social media in the hours and days following the attack.

Testimonies obtained by the French services were also analyzed. After examining the videos and images of victims published online, they were able to conclude with a high degree of confidence that the vast majority are recent and not fabricated. The spontaneous circulation of these images across all social networks confirms that they were not video montages or recycled images. Lastly, some of the entities that published this information are generally considered reliable.

In other words, Macron – and later Prime Minister Ardern – based their “evidence” on unverified video footage and photographs supplied by rebel groups in Douma.

Macron’s “evidence” brings back memories of  strident insistence by the US in 2003 that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. Those claims were eventually proven false.

All, of which was pointed out in a subsequent Herald/AP story on 15 April;

The West’s assessments of what happened April 7 in Douma rely mainly on open source information. That includes witness testimony, as well as video and photos shot by aid workers, victims of the attacks and unspecified additional intelligence about barrel bombs and chlorine canisters found in the aftermath.

The same story pointed out to Herald readers;

The three countries launched their missiles even as the fact-finding team from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons was in the Syrian capital and had been expected to head on Saturday to Douma.

Though these valid points were utterly lost amidst unsubstantiated allegations by the US and it’s clients in Syria;

The White House said doctors and aid organizations on the ground in Douma reported “the strong smell of chlorine and described symptoms consistent with exposure to sarin.” A senior administration official told reporters Saturday that while there was more publicly available evidence pointing to the use of chlorine, the U.S. has “significant information that also points to sarin use.”

It would be a very astute, politically aware, member of the public to “read between the lines” and arrive at any other conclusion that – on the balance of probabilities”, and not “beyond reasonable doubt” – that the West had reliable evidence to point to Assad’s forces being the culprits in the alleged gas attack on Douma.

Indeed, this very fact was highlighted when an acquaintance of this blogger referred to “Assad being responsible for the [so-called] gassing of his own people”. Upon closer questioning, my acquaintance was unaware that;

A. There was no evidence who carried out the alleged attack,

B. That it may not even have occurred at all,

C. And that an OPCW team was presently in Syria awaiting an opportunity to enter Douma to conduct their investigation.

It is against a back-drop of media stories that fail to reinforce that the so-called “gas attack” has not been verified, nor has the OPCW not carried out their investigation – yet statements by Western governments and Syrian rebels are reported as “facts – that a subtle narrative has taken hold in the public’s collective consciousness.

The fact that Robert Fisk’s own investigation has cast serious doubt on supposed events in Douma on 7 April has barely been reported. Only two  references to Fisk’s reporting (according to a Google search) can be found in New Zealand’s mainstream media;

Mediaworks “Newshub” reported on 19 April;

Syrians living at the site of a suspected chemical weapons attack say it never happened, according to a new report.

British journalist Robert Fisk, writing in The Independent, says when he visited the site in Douma his questions about the attack were met with “genuine perplexity”.

The attack was used as a pretext for last weekend’s air strikes against the Russia-backed Assad regime.

“Oddly, after chatting to more than 20 people, I couldn’t find one who showed the slightest interest in Douma’s role in bringing about the Western air attacks,” Mr Fisk wrote.

“Two actually told me they didn’t know about the connection.”

The video of civilians suffering from the effects of chemical weapons – believed to be chlorine and sarin – is undoubtedly real, but a local doctor told Mr Fisk they were suffering from hypoxia – oxygen loss – and dust inhalation.

“On this night, there was wind and huge dust clouds began to come into the basements and cellars where people lived,” said Assim Rahaibani. “People began to arrive here suffering from hypoxia, oxygen loss.”

The confusion began when someone shouted “gas!” and panic broke out.

“People started throwing water over each other. Yes, the video was filmed here, it is genuine, but what you see are people suffering from hypoxia – not gas poisoning.”

And on 22 April, Mark Dawson, editor of the Whanganui Chronicle, wrote a suprisingly radical (for the msm) critique of US military involvement in other nations’ affairs;

[Prime Minister Ardern]… has taken some criticism for her less-than-enthuiastic take on bagging Russia, rallying behind the United States and cheering on Donald Trump’s missile strikes on Syria.

It has been pointed out, with underscores, that she “accepts” rather than “supports” the US bombing of Syria, and that puts her out of step with other leaders gathered in London this week. Oh dear, a national leader who doesn’t relish killing people … how terribly squeamish.

But hang on …

On Thursday, Robert Fisk of the Independent reported from Douma, the city where the Syrian chemical attacks that prompted the US retaliation are said to have occurred.

Fisk travelled the pummelled city freely — most of the fighters and government minders from Bashar al-Assad’s regime have got out. His report casts serious doubt on whether there actually was a chemical attack.

Fisk has lived in and reported from the Middle East for 40 years; he is fluent in the languages and has never been tainted by suggestions of political partiality or propaganda. In short, he is the genuine article — a journalist.

The United States has said al-Assad used chemical weapons in Douma, and maybe that is correct.

But it should be remembered that for more than 50 years US foreign affairs have featured two constants — putting its troops in other people’s countries and lying.

Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Grenada, Afghanistan, Iraq … all have been marked by a consistent policy of lying to the American people and the world.

So perhaps Ms Ardern has good reason to be cautious.

…From TV1 News

The first reference from TVNZ’s “One News” was on 8 April, with war reporting centered around the Syrian government’s ongoing battle to retake Douma, in Eastern Ghouta, from the rebel group known as “Jaysh al-Islam – The Army of Islam Syria“. Jaysh al-Islam is funded by the Saudi Arabian government and fought against ISIS.

A brief one-sentence referred passingly to the so-called gas-attack in Douma;

CNN and other outlets are reporting a possible chemical attack against civilians has taken place.

The word ‘alleged’ is not used anywhere in the story.

On 9 April, a news story on the TVNZ website is unambiguous in determining that the so-called ‘attack’ took place. The headline left no room for doubt;

.

.

The source of the story is Associated Press, but no other indication where it originated from.

The text of the story, though, is somewhat more circumspect than the guilty-judgement of the headlines;

The report comes after a suspected poison gas attack killed at least 40 in the eastern suburbs of Damascus, the last foothold for the Syrian opposition in the area.

President Donald Trump has promised a “big price to pay” for the suspected chemical attack.

And for some strange reason, TVNZ placed an image of a launching rocket at the bottom of the ‘story’.

.

.

Though what that image has to do with Douma is unclear, as rebels have claim that the alleged gas attack was dropped by Syrian Government helicopters – not by missile(s).

The terms ‘alleged’ and ‘unverified’ are not used in the above ‘story’.

Two days later, TVNZ  ran another story – and again the headline was unequivocal:

 

Trump promises ‘forceful’ action after chemical attack on civilians in Syria

 

There was no mention of ‘alleged’, ‘suspected’, or ‘unverified’: the headline stated the so-called gassing as fact.

But again, the text of the story made belated attempts to appear impartial;

“…apparent chemical weapons attack…”

The term ‘alleged’ finally made an appearance;

“…the weapon of choice in a US attack one year ago on an airfield in Syria following an alleged sarin gas attack on civilians….”

Curiously, the author of the story touched on one peculiarity in this so-called “attack” that – until Robert Fisk’s investigation – had not been noticed;

The White House sharply rejected any suggestion that Trump’s own words about pulling US troops out of Syria had opened the door for the attack, which killed more than 40 people, including children.

There was no follow-up on this point. The un-named author does not elaborate on the suggestion that “Trump’s own words about pulling US troops out of Syria had opened the door for the attack“.

In what way had “Trump’s own words about pulling US troops out of Syria had opened the door for the attack“?

There is no explanation. No follow-up. In one passing sentence, the writer may have missed a critical possible motive for the alleged gas attack. As the time-line above shows, eleven days after Trump announced that the US will withdraw its forces from Syria – the American ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, stated unequivocally, “… We’re not going to leave until we know we’ve accomplished those things.”

On 14 April, the term ‘alleged’ is used for the first time (?) in a TVNZ headline;

 

Russia says alleged chemical attack in Syria staged by UK

 

The story used terms;

“…victims of the purported attack were staged…”

“…the suspected chemical attack…”

“…threatened military action in response to the alleged attack…”

“…She said of the alleged chemical attack…”

“…the suspected gas attack in Douma…”

“…the suspected April 7 attack…”

“…previous alleged use of chemicals by the rebels…”

The nature of the impartiality of the terminology may have been prompted by the re-taking of Douma by Syrian government forces, and serious doubts being raised regarding the veracity of the so-called “gas attack”. Or, the author of this particular write-up may have been more conscious of the fact that the so-called “gas attacks” were, as yet, unverified.

However, sadly the non-judgemental terminology was undone with a claim that was yet to be supported by independent investigators;

“… and killed more than 40 people in Douma…”

The phrase should have read “… and *allegedly* killed more than 40 people in Douma…”, to keep it consistent with the unverified nature of this story.

The story reported that OPCW was sending a team to investigate the situation in Douma. It also featured strong counter-claims from Syria’s Russian ally.

The following day, another headline presented the so-called attack as a fact, omitting any reference to ‘suspected’ or ‘alleged’;

 

Russian Defence Ministry claims chemical attack in Syria was a ‘planned provocation’ by UK

 

– though the opening statement indicated otherwise;

The Russian Ministry of Defence on Friday (local time) said it has enough evidence showing that a planned provocation was carried out in the case of alleged chemical attack in Syrian town of Douma on April 7.

The headline and the body of the text are contradictory.

Another story on 15 April raised concerns about the actual claims of chemical weapon usage by the Syrian army. The story quoted a Syrian official who asked an obvious question after a so-called “chemical weapons manufacturing facility” was destroyed by American missiles;

 “If there were chemical weapons in the building, we would not be here. My colleagues and I came here at 05:00 this morning. If there were chemical weapons, we would need to wear masks and take other protective measures to be staying here.”

It would be interesting if there were a follow-up to this story to determine if – after the buildings were destroyed by missiles –  the surrounding area had been contaminated by toxic chemical fall-out.

The story headed;

 

Syrian research facility hit by US strikes didn’t have chemical weapons, says official

 

– did not pre-judge the veracity of the rebel’s gas attack claims.

A further story on 15 April again reverted to predetermined judgement, with the opening paragraph suggesting that the unverified was now verified;

President Donald Trump on Saturday declared “Mission Accomplished” for a US-led allied missile attack on Syria’s chemical weapons programme, but the Pentagon said the pummeling of three chemical-related facilities left enough others intact to enable the Assad government to use banned weapons against civilians if it chooses.

A paragraph near the end of the story also accepted “as fact” that chemical weapons facilities were targeted;

The strikes “successfully hit every target,” White told reporters at the Pentagon. The military said there were three targets: the Barzah chemical weapons research and development site in the Damascus area, a chemical weapons storage facility near Homs and a chemical weapons “bunker” a few miles from the second target.

With few exceptions, most other headlines also presented the so-called gas attack as factually proven, without the all-important caveats of ‘alleged’, ‘suspected’, etc;

.

.

Despite being a state-owned broadcaster, TVNZ – like its privately-owned cousins – has used language that pre-determined (a) the veracity of the alleged “gas attack and (b) those culpable. Attempts to use neutral, non-judgemental terms have been sporadic and mostly within the text of the stories.

The headlines cannot be viewed in any other way than casting blame on the Syrian government as being the ‘authors’ of the so-called gassing of Douma.

None of which has yet to be verified by the OPCW acting on behalf of the U.N.

…From TV3 News

On 8 April , TV3 News reported the so-called “gas attack” with headlines that left zero room for doubt;

.

 

.

The  alleged “gas attack” was reported without question;

Dozens have been killed in a chemical attack in Syria after a barrel bomb dropped poisonous chemicals on civilians in eastern Ghouta

A medical relief organisation has estimated 35 people have died as a result of the attack, while the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has confirmed 11 deaths.

A Syrian rebel group is accusing government forces of launching the attack. State media has denied this claim.

More than 70 people suffered breathing difficulties due to the attack, reported the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

According to the Syrian American Medical Society, a chlorine bomb targeted Douma hospital and a second bomb with “mixed agents”, including nerve agents, was dropped on a nearby building.

The most basic journalistic tenet was ignored: question everything. The story could have been written by hired propagandists writing for any government. It was not news – it was a copy-and-pasted press release.

The following day, a subsequent headline read;

 

Syrian gas attack death toll tops 70

 

Though the term “a suspected chemical attack” was used and Russian statements denouncing the claim as bogus were published, the headline carries the weight of pre-judged pseudo-authenticity. The headline conveyed the firm message: the “gas attack” happened; people died; an atrocity was committed. The subtext is that the culprit was the Syrian government (or its allies).

After all, why would the rebels gas their own? That would be like questioning whether the “gas attack” occurred at all.

A further headline on 9 April also repeated the certainty of Assad’s guilt;

 

Retaliation on Syrian military base after chemical attack

 

As the West launched its missile strike on Syrian targets, a 14 April Newshub headline read;

 

US, UK and France launch strikes on Syria following suspected chemical weapons attack

 

The opening statement referred to a “suspected chemical attack” – not ‘alleged’;

The United States, France and the UK have launched military strikes in Syria to punish dictator Bashar al-Assad for his suspected chemical attack against civilians and to deter him from doing it again, President Donald Trump has announced.

– and then declared that the Western attack was launched to “punish dictator Bashar al-Assad for his suspected chemical attack against civilians and to deter him from doing it again“.

Doing it again“? Is the world completely convinced Assad did it the first time on 7 April?

The same Mediaworks/Newshub story then made an even more astounding (and unsupported) claim;

The one-off missile strike in April 2017 targeted the airfield from which the Syrian aircraft had launched their gas attack. But the damage was limited, and a defiant Mr Assad returned to episodic use of chlorine and perhaps other chemicals.

There was no corroborating evidence to back up the assertion that “a defiant Mr Assad returned to episodic use of chlorine and perhaps other chemicals“. It was an assertion based purely on Western government’s press releases.

On 15 April, another story perpetuated the slanted, partisan nature of the “gas attack” claims;

 

First images emerge of latest bombing in Syria

 

The US military says the joint air strikes by the US, UK and France have set back Syria’s chemical weapons capability “for years”.

The story reported;

The target, a chemical research centre outside Damascus, was on the receiving end of 76 of 105 cruise missiles fired at Syria on Saturday.

– without a shred of evidence that the destroyed buildings housed “a chemical research centre“. For all we know those buildings may have been producing pharmaceuticals, as one Syrian official stated. Or buzzy-bees, for Syrian children. There is zero evidence either way.

Another story on the same day reported a statement made by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, parroting the non-fact that the destroyed buildings housed chemical weapons facilities;

Jacinda Ardern said on Saturday New Zealand “accepts why” the strikes, which targeted Syrian chemical weapons facilities, took place.

“The action was intended to prevent further such atrocities being committed against Syrian civilians.

“We stand firm in our condemnation of the use of chemical weapons in Eastern Ghouta. This is clearly in breach of international law.”

Not even the lesser term ‘suspected’ was used.

Unfortunately, the Green’s condemnation of the US-led bombing failed to mention anywhere that the alleged “gas attacks” had yet to be verified by the OPCW. Their statement in Spinoff on 14 April accepted the so-called “gas attack” in Douma as factual.

It was not until 17 April – ten days after the alleged “gas attack” – that Newshub revealed in depth that the OPCW had not even visited Douma to investigate the alleged attack;

 

International inspectors push to see Syria gas site

 

At no point does Mediaworks/Newshub recognise the contradiction of apportioning blame to Assad before the OPCW had had a chance to investigate.

Which does not prevent the same article from asserting;

The United States, France and Britain launched 105 missiles targeting what the Pentagon said were three chemical weapons facilities in Syria in retaliation for the suspected poison gas attack in Douma.

Note the phraseology: “Three chemical weapons facilities in Syria” – not “three *alleged* chemical weapons facilities in Syria“.

On 16 April, Mediaworks/Newshub’s Anna Bracewell-Worrell published a story that explicitly stated;

On April 7, civilians in Syria were attacked with chemical weapons.

The images that came out of the attack were horrifying – civilians convulsing and struggling for breath, children ash-faced and terrified. At least 42 people were killed.

[…]

It is the second time Mr Trump has ordered retaliation after the Syrian government used chemical weapons.

Claims by Russia and the Syrian government that the so-called “gas attack” was fake was casually dismissed;

Russian officials have even suggested the attack was staged.

Yet, further down in the same story, the author referred to;

Mr Trump said that attack was also a direct punishment for Assad’s alleged use of chemical weapons.

It was a rare moment for Mediaworks/Newshub to employ the term ‘alleged’. At some point, the author may have realised that allegations of a “gas bombing” had yet to be proven. Thus far the story appeared to be firmly in the realm of war propaganda.

Unfortunately, a subsequent comment by the author returned to the Official Western Narrative;

Following the missile attack on chemical weapons…

Then came the explosive (no pun intended) on-the-scene report by veteran Middle East Correspondent, Robert Fisk, that locals in Douma had no knowledge of a “gas attack” in their city;

“Oddly, after chatting to more than 20 people, I couldn’t find one who showed the slightest interest in Douma’s role in bringing about the Western air attacks.”

One would find it inconceivable that the smell of chlorine would go unnoticed by citizens in a sizeable city such as Douma.

Mediaworks/Newshub – to its credit – ran a story on Fisk’s investigation on 19 April;

 

Syria gas attack didn’t happen – local doctor

 

As far as this blogger can determine, Mediaworks/Newshub was only one of two media outlets that reported on Fisk’s findings in any meaningful way. The other was Mark Dawson, writing an editorial for the  Whanganui Chronicle.

All of which makes Tova O’Brien, Newshub’s Political Editor, “opinion” piece on 17 April another example of Western media “pundits” banging the war-drum of hysteria;

 

Tova O’Brien: PM’s position firmly on the fence isn’t good enough

 

No stranger to flawed “news” reporting, Ms O’Brien abandoned any pretext of journalistic impartiality and the search for truth when she tried and convicted the Syrian government as the culprit behind the alleged “gas attack” on Douma;

These are just a few of New Zealand’s close friends who got in behind the United States, United Kingdom and France when they launched airstrikes against the murderous Syrian regime and its chemical weapons sites…

Ms O’Brien didn’t doubt for a moment that the alleged “gas attack” occurred, and that there were (allegedly) victims;

The attacks came after yet another gas attack that killed 75 people, including children.

[…]

US airstrikes in Syria last year in response to a chemical weapons attack clearly didn’t deter further similar attacks by the Syrian regime.

[…]

But meanwhile the Syrian war wages on. Children keep dying, being gassed, poisoned by nerve agents – eyes weeping, noses and mouths streaming and frothing. They’re vomiting, and if the exposure is great enough they’re lucky if they die fast.

Ms O’brien blamed “an impotent UNSC that has diplomatically done sweet FA when it comes to the Syrian War” and demanded, “should innocent Syrians and their children suffer because the UN is inherently flawed?

Nowhere does she mention that not only is the alleged “gas attack” unverified – but that the OPCW has despatched an investigatory team to search for evidence.

Evidence.

The stuff we usually require before confirming a crime took place and assigning guilt to the culprit.

Even as Ms O’Brien towed the Pentagon-line that the dastardly Bashar al-Assad was guilty of a chemical weapon atrocity,  her employer went from this;

.

 

.

… to this;

.

.

Luckily for us there are real journalists operating who ask the hard questions and risk their well-being to bring us the truth. It is far harder than Ms O’Brien and her desk-bound colleagues who operate well away from “theatres of conflict” and instead rely on propaganda from governmental media “advisories” (ie; propaganda).

Unfortunately, when the truth is eventually teased out and presented to the world (as when the mythical “weapons of mass destruction” were shown to be a Western governmental fabrication), it is rarely presented with the same mass-coverage as the original “fake news”.

In this case, Robert Fisk went to Douma and discovered that the so-called “gas attack” lacked credibility with the locals. In other words, he revealed that it was fake news.

The question we – especially so-called professionals in the mainstream media – should be asking is: did the public notice?

…Conclusion

What makes governmental war pronouncements sound so credible is not from whence they emanate – but that they are given a veneer of factualness by constant, non-critical repetition by the mainstream media.

Our media is tasked with running a critical gaze over government-supplied information. Alleged “events” are supposed to be tested  and “facts”  fact-checked.

Instead, when it comes to war, in many instances they have become a compliant mouthpiece for State propaganda far more effective than anything Josef Goebbels could have envisioned in his widest dreams.

No wonder George Orwell’s “Ministry of Truth” was never built. Instead it was outsourced to private enterprise. They apparently do it so much better.

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.

.

References

NZ Herald:  Syrian regime accused of killing civilians in chemical attack

The Independent:  The search for truth in the rubble of Douma – and one doctor’s doubts over the chemical attack

RT News:  Al-Qaeda’s MASH unit – How SAMS is selling regime change & driving US to war

NZ Herald: Syrian news reports missile attack – US denies it fired them

Twitter: Trump – 9 April 2018

NZ Herald:  The Latest – UN nixes Russian text on Syria gas attack probe

NZ Herald:  Chemical weapons experts to inspect attack site in Syria

NZ Herald:  The Latest – UN Security Council schedules meeting on Syria

NZ Herald:  France mulls military action against Syria for gas attacks

Reuters:  French declassified intelligence report on Syria gas attacks

TVNZ News:  Prime Minister reaffirms that she ‘accepts the decision’ to bomb Syria – but would have preferred going through the UN

NZ Herald:  Certain of gas attack, allies struck Syria before UN report

Mediaworks:  Syria gas attack didn’t happen – local doctor

Whanganui Chronicle:  Please be careful what you ‘accept’, Jacinda

TV1 News:  Suspected Syrian gas attack reportedly kills 70 Douma

Wikipedia:  Jaysh al-Islam

Daily Mail:  The Army of Islam: Militant group battling ISIS and the Syrian regime show their might in ‘graduation ceremony’ featuring 1,700 soldiers and a fleet of armoured tanks

TV1 News: Strikes hit Syrian airfield one day after chemical attacks on civilians, – reports, US denies responsibility

The Independent:  Syrian government accused of using nerve agents as death toll from Douma ‘chemical weapons attack’ rises

TV1 News:  Trump promises ‘forceful’ action after chemical attack on civilians in Syria

TV1 News:  Russia says alleged chemical attack in Syria staged by UK

TV1 News:  Russian Defence Ministry claims chemical attack in Syria was a ‘planned provocation’ by UK

TV1 News:  Syrian research facility hit by US strikes didn’t have chemical weapons, says official

TV1 News:  ‘A perfectly executed strike’ – Trump declares ‘Mission accomplished!’ after US-led missile attack on Syria

TV1 News:  France says decision to launch strike on Syrian chemical weapons based on trusted information

TV1 News:  US vows to hit Russia with fresh sanctions in wake of Syrian chemical attack

TV1 News:  Syrian Minister meets with international chemical weapons watchdog over deadly chemical weapons attack

TV1 News:  Shots fired at UN security team visiting site of suspected chemical weapons attack in Syria

Mediaworks/Newshub: Dozens killed in Syria chemical attack

Mediaworks/Newshub: Syria gas attack didn’t happen – local doctor

Mediaworks/Newshub: Syrian gas attack death toll tops 70

Mediaworks/Newshub: Retaliation on Syrian military base after chemical attack

Mediaworks/Newshub: US, UK and France launch strikes on Syria following suspected chemical weapons attack

Mediaworks/Newshub:  First images emerge of latest bombing in Syria

Mediaworks/Newshub:  Greens condemn ‘Trump-led’ strike on Syria

Spinoff:  Bombing Syria will never bring peace. NZ must stand up against ad hoc violence

Mediaworks/Newshub:  International inspectors push to see Syria gas site

Mediaworks/Newshub:  Strikes on Syria – How we got to the edge of ‘World War III’

Mediaworks/Newshub:  Syria gas attack didn’t happen – local doctor

Mediaworks/Newshub:  Tova O’Brien – PM’s position firmly on the fence isn’t good enough

Additional

The Times: Critics leap on reporter Robert Fisk’s failure to find signs of gas attack

Previous related blogposts

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Trumpwatch: The Drum(pf)s of War

Trumpwatch: One minute closer to midnight on the Doomsday Clock

One minute to midnight?

It is ten seconds to midnight

Syria: the mendacities of the mainstream media (part tahi)

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 29 May 2018.

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Syria: the mendacities of the mainstream media (part tahi)

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“The first casualty when war comes is truth…” Hiram Johnson, 1866 – 1945

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Recent Timeline*

4 April: Trump announces he wants all remaining US forces out of Syria “very quickly”. Trump says; “Saudi Arabia is very interested in our decision. And I said, Well, you know, you want us to stay? Maybe you’re going to have to pay”.

8 April: First reports emerge of chemical gas attack in Douma, the last rebel-held town in Syria’s Eastern Ghouta province. Reports are unverified.

8 April: Russian government calls reports of alleged gas attack in Douma “fake news” and describes the story as a “false flag” operation. Russia’s Foreign Ministry states; “The goal of this… baseless speculation is to shield the terrorists and… the radical opposition that refuse to engage in a political settlement [process], as well as to justify potential military strikes from the outside”.

9 April: Trump promises major decision in next twentyfour hours  on alleged gas attack.

10 April: Syria  and  Russia invite Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to investigate allegations of chemical attack in Douma.

10 April:  Chairman of the State Duma’s Defense Committee,  Colonel General Vladimir Shamanov warned the West; “ The double standard policy has overstepped all possible boundaries. At this point, the [pro-Putin parliamentary majority] United Russia party must responsibly state that we are going to take all political and diplomatic measures, and also military measures if such need arises. Not a single unlawful action will be left without response.”

11 April: Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman says it will support any military strike on Syria in retaliation for the alleged gas attack in Douma; “If our alliance with our partners requires it, we will be present”.

11 April: Russia’s ambassador to Lebanon, Alexander Zasypkin, repeats Colonel General Shamanov’s warning to the US: “If there is a US missile attack, we – in line with both Putin and Russia’s chief of staff’s remarks – will shoot down US rockets and even the sources that launched the missiles.

12 April: French President Emmanuel Macron declared that France has evidence that Syria carried out the gas attack in Douma; “We have proof that last week, now 10 days ago, that chemical weapons were used, at least with chlorine, and that they were used by the regime of (President) Bashar al-Assad. Our teams have been working on this all week and we will need to take decisions in due course, when we judge it most useful and effective.”

Two days later, hours after the US-led attack on Syria, France releases statement on evidence of alleged gas attack: “After examining the videos and images of victims published online, (French intelligence services) were able to conclude with a high degree of confidence that the vast majority are recent and not fabricated.

12 April: OPCW (Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons) fact-finding team lands in Syria to investigate alleged gas attack in Douma. Syria’s ambassador to the United Nations, Bashar Jaafari, said; “We will facilitate the arrival of the team to anywhere they want, in Douma, to check whether or not there was use of chemical substances”.

14 April: Trump announces US-led attack on Syria, launching 105 missiles at targets in that country. Trump  states: “So today, the nations of Britain, France, and the United States of America have marshaled their righteous power against barbarism and brutality”.

14 April: President Putin of Russia states categorically: “Just as one year ago, when the Shayrat Airbase in Syria came under attack, the US used as a pretext a staged chemical attack against civilians, this time in Douma, a Damascus suburb. Having visited the site of the would-be chemical attack, Russian military experts did not find any traces of chlorine or any other toxic agent. Not a single local resident was able to confirm that a chemical attack had actually taken place.”

15 April: Trump declares: “Mission accomplished!”

15 April: Russia loses vote in UN Security Country to condemn US-led military strike. Russian UN ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia said: “Today is a very sad day for the world, the UN, its charter, which was blatantly, blatantly violated.”

15 April: US Ambassador to UN, Nikki Haley, tells Fox News Sunday that US troops will remain in Syria: “Yes, it is all of our goal to see American troops come home. But we’re not going to leave until we know we’ve accomplished those things. ”

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* International time-zones not taken into account: above dates are approximate.

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Saturday: a proven crime of aggression

On 14 April, the  United States launched 105 ‘Tomahawk‘ cruise missiles against Syria. The United Kingdom sent four RAF  ‘Tornado‘ jetfighters to attack and destroy targets at a former missile base near Homs. France also participated.

Despite assurances from Western governments that Bashar al-Assad’s forces were responsible for the alleged gas attack, no actual evidence has been presented regarding;

(a) who carried out the alleged attack

(b) if the so-called ‘attack’ happened at all.

Secretary of Defense, Jim Mattis, was not even certain what gas weapons were used. At a Press Briefing after the attack, he disclosed;

We are very much aware of one of the agents. There may have been more than one agent used. We are not clear on that yet. We know at least one chemical agent was used.

An OPCW (Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons) fact-finding team had barely reached Syria to determine what took place at Douma (if anything), when the US-led attack took place shortly afterwards. The OPCW team could not have found evidence or reached conclusions in the brief period of time (see timeline above) available to carry out their UN-mandated duties.

Local media reporting…

The response of our local media to report Saturday’s missile strike has been largely superficial and followed the Western narrative;

(a) the gas attack happened

(b) Syrian government forces were responsible

…From Radio NZ

Radio NZ has attempted to maintain a measure of cautious agnosticism, referring to “a suspected chemical attack“; “alleged chemical weapons sites“; and, “suspected poison gas attack“.

In most instances, the terms “suspected” and “alleged” are used. In one of it’s first stories, Radio NZ explicitly stated;

There has been no independent verification of the reports.

That caveat was not repeated on most (if any)  updates from Radio NZ.

On occasion, though, Radio NZ has reported US and other sources without questioning veracity or indicating that statements presented as facts may or may not be accurate;

At a Pentagon briefing shortly after Mr Trump’s announcement, Gen Joseph Dunford listed three targets that had been struck:

  • A scientific research facility in Damascus, allegedly connected to the production of chemical and biological weapons
  • A chemical weapons storage facility west of Homs
  • A chemical weapons equipment storage and an important command post, also near Homs

And;

UK strikes carried out by four Tornado jets hit one of the targets mentioned by the Pentagon – a military site near the city of Homs which is believed to have housed precursor materials for chemical weapons, according to the UK ministry of defence.

The term “allegedly” is noticeably missing in these paragraphs from a 13 April story;

The attack on the city on Saturday is said by activists and medics to have killed dozens of people when government aircraft dropped bombs filled with toxic chemicals.

The international Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) is due to send monitors to Douma, but it is [unclear] how much evidence of any chemical attack might remain.

And from this 12 April story;

May, also speaking earlier on Wednesday, said all the indications were that the Syrian authorities were responsible for the chemical attack in the town of Douma and that such shocking assaults could not go unchallenged.

Radio NZ had reported that a OPCW fact-finding team had landed in Damascus on Saturday, the day of the U.S.-led attack, and in subsequent stories;

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) says a fact-finding mission has been “gathering information from all available sources and analysing it”.

Inspectors from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) are currently in Damascus and are expected to visit Douma this weekend.

No reference to the fact that Syria and Russia had both invited the OPCW to send a fact-finding team.

…From Newstalk ZB

Commercial radio station , NewstalkZB,  was the complete polar opposite to Radio NZ.  They made no pretense to journalistic impartiality, and the term “alleged” was notably missing from their stories;

14 April:

President Donald Trump says the United States has “launched precision strikes” on targets associated with Syrian chemical weapons program.

This coordinated strike marked the second time in a year that Trump has used force against Assad, who U.S. officials believe has continued to test the West’s willingness to accept gruesome chemical attacks.

…since the reported chemical attack that killed civilians in the rebel-held town outside Damascus last weekend.

…an attack could pull the United States into Syria’s civil war and trigger a dangerous conflict with Assad ally Russia – without necessarily halting chemical attacks.

In the wake of last weekend’s gruesome attack, some U.S. officials advocated a larger, and therefore riskier, strike than the limited action Trump had ordered in April 2017, also in response to suspected chemical weapons use.

But the airfield targeted by the Pentagon resumed operations shortly after the attack and, according to Western intelligence assessments, chemical attacks resumed.

And  just in case anyone doubted who NewstalkZB held responsible for the alleged gas attack in Douma;

Planning for these strikes focused on ways to curb Assad’s ability to use such weapons again.

Since last year’s strike, multiple chemical attacks have been reported in opposition areas, most of them involving chlorine rather than the nerve agent sarin, as was used in 2017, suggesting the government may have adjusted its tactics.

An attribution at the bottom revealed; “Additional reporting by AP and The Washington Post“. Not surprising then that NewstalkZB’s story looked more like a rehash of a Pentagon press release than any notion of impartial reporting;

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A subsequent story on 16 April stated;

It’s unknown whether missile strikes in Syria will prevent or evoke the use of chemical weapons in future.

The only thing missing from NewstalkZB stories on Syria is a disclosure, “Approved by The White House Politburo”.

…From Fairfax

Fairfax media fared not much better than NewstalkZB, making only cursory attempts to qualify reports. As far as can be determined by this blogger, the phrase ‘unverified’ was used only once on the day the reports were first published in various Fairfax publications.

On 9 April, in a story headlined “Dozens killed in apparent chemical weapons attack on civilians in Syria, rescue workers say“, the term ‘apparent’ was as close as Fairfax dared in lieu of ‘alleged’;

Dozens of men, women and children have been killed in an apparent chemical attack on a besieged Syrian enclave near Damascus, doctors and rescue workers say.

Even when the term ‘alleged’ should have been used, it was omitted – giving reportage an air of conclusive factuality when it was not deserved;

Gregory D Koblentz, the director of George Mason University’s Biodefense Program, said the [alleged*] attack appeared to reflect how much the clout of US policy has faded in Syria.

[…]

US President Donald Trump responded to the [alleged*]   attack Sunday morning on Twitter.

[…]

The [alleged*]   attack came as Syrian government forces stepped up an eight-week long offensive against Douma, outside Damascus, the last stronghold controlled by hardline rebels from the Jaish al-Islam group.

[…]

Multiple reports, including from rescue workers and the US State Department, said an initial [alleged*]   attack had targeted a hospital. It was unclear, however, what type of [alleged*] chemicals may have been used.

[…]

Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert described the [alleged*] reports from Eastern Douma as “disturbing and “horrifying,” saying they required an “immediate response by the international community.”

[…]

Syrian doctors and rescue workers on Sunday shared with journalists [alleged*] graphic images of men, women and children they said had been [allegedly*] killed or wounded in the [alleged*] attack.

[* Author’s insert: ‘alleged’]

A statement  from UN Secretary General, António Guterres, was the only instance where the reader was reminded that reports of a so-called “gas attack” were unconfirmed and nothing more than unproven allegations;

A representative for the United Nations said that Secretary General António Guterres was “particularly alarmed by allegations that chemical weapons have been used against civilian populations in Douma” but that the United Nations was “not in a position to verify these reports.”

At no point does the 9 April Fairfax story mention that an OPCW fact-finding team had landed in Damascus after the alleged gas attack and had not yet had an opportunity to verify events. Once again, the U.S. had circumvented an ongoing investigation to judge and apportion guilt without any corroborating, independent evidence.

Another  Fairfax story on 9 April attempted to put a caveat on the alleged gas attack with the term “suspected” – but that does not convey the same meaning as ‘alleged’;

The reported strike comes after a suspected poison gas attack killed at least 40 in the eastern suburbs of Damascus, the last foothold for the Syrian opposition in the area.

US President Donald Trump has promised a “big price to pay” for the suspected chemical attack.

Curiously, the end of the story makes a brief reference to another state ‘actor’ in the Syrian civil war, citing;

Israel has also struck inside Syria in recent years.

Again, no mention  that the alleged incident was unproven and that the OPCW  had yet to determine the facts.

Also on 9 April, an emotive piece penned by Josie Ensor presented a seemingly chilling “eye witness account” of victims of the alleged attack. The story presented the so-called “attack” as factual, with supposed “eye witness” statements and descriptions of “victims”.

The sympathies of the author is evident when she writes;

Both Syria and its Russian backer denounced the allegations as “fabrications”, while Iran, another of Bashar al-Assad’s patrons, called it a “conspiracy”.

There is no questioning of the incident’s veracity – until near the end of the article;

Saturday’s alleged attack pushed the holdout rebels back to the negotiating table. Hours later, they agreed to a Russian evacuation deal, signalling the end of the rebellion in one of the opposition’s most important territories.

Despite belatedly describing the so-called ‘attack’  as “alleged”, the author then reverted to indicating that it was a factual, proven event;

Reports sparked international outrage. But as Syrians have learned over the years, those responsible are unlikely to ever be held to account.

How can anyone be “responsible” if the so-called “attack” was “alleged” and not yet proven? If the “attack” is shown to be false, then no one could be held “responsible” for an incident that never happened. QED?!

The following day, another Fairfax article abandoned any pretext of an ‘alleged’ gas attack;

The prime minister has expressed “the strongest condemnation” of the chemical attack in eastern Ghouta, Syria, while the foreign minister has labelled it a war crime.

Dozens of men, women and children have been killed in the chemical attack on a besieged Syrian enclave near Damascus.

The deadly attack came as Syrian Government forces escalated their offensive to recapture the last rebel strongholds near the capital.

At least 40 people were killed on Saturday evening (local time) in the attack in Douma, eastern Ghouta, about 20 kilometres from Damascus, according to the Syrian-American Medical Society (SAMS), a Washington-based nonprofit group that supports health facilities in the area.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Foreign Minister Winston Peters condemned the attack, and said those behind it needed to be held to account.

[…]

News of the attack comes after the Labour-led Government promised to double New Zealand’s refugee quota from 750 to 1500 each year.

Only Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters, to his credit, held out by keeping an open mind;

“When we know who to point the finger at, we’ll point the finger then… It’s abhorrent, and it’s against international laws and standards.”

Only on 14 April – six days after reports emerged of the alleged attack –  Fairfax deigned to refer to the supposed incident as ‘alleged’;

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The story even referred to an impending investigation by the OPCW and carried substantial statements from the Russians.

Was this a realisation by Fairfax management that the alleged incident in Douma had yet to be verified? That coverage by New Zealand’s mainstream media had been less than “fair and balanced”?

Unfortunately, no. The above story emanated from PBS News Hour and was carried via Associated Press, which Fairfax picked up. It did not originate from the hands of any New Zealand journalist. (Much to our shame.)

A day later, after the U.S. had launched 105 cruise missiles at various locations in Syria, Trump announced with glee; “Mission Accomplished”.  Fairfax reported the post-strike event, abandoning all notions of keeping an open mind on the alleged gas attack;

Allied missiles struck at the heart of Syrian chemical weapons arsenal in a show of force and resolve aimed at punishing the Assad government for a suspected poison gas attack against civilians and deterring the possible future use of such banned weapons.

Notice that the opening paragraph referred to “Syrian chemical weapons arsenal” – not “Syria’s [alleged] chemical weapons arsenal“. There is zero evidence that Syria possessed any chemical weapons after they were removed under international supervision in 2014;

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If such banned weapons still remained in Syria, Western powers were mysteriously silent on the issue.

The “Mission accomplished” story goes on to point out – albeit briefly,  almost as an afterthought – that the OPCW had sent a team to Syria;

A global chemical warfare watchdog group said its fact-finding mission would go as planned in Douma, where the apparent use of poison gas against civilians on April 7 that killed more than 40 people compelled the Western allies to launch their attack. Syria has denied the accusation.

None of the  story’s three writers could bring themselves to use the word ‘alleged’, substituting instead  the more bland “apparent use of poison gas”.

The next paragraph again abandons any notion of journalistic skepticism;

But France’s foreign minister said there was “no doubt” the Assad government was responsible, and he threatened further retaliatory strikes if chemical weapons were used again, as did Pentagon chief Jim Mattis, who said the assault was a “one-time shot,” as long as chemical weapons weren’t used again.

As far as Fairfax’s journalists were concerned, there was no doubt that the attack had occurred; gas was used against civilians; and Assad’s forces were the guilty party. No doubt at all; no question that Western governments were 100% truthful.

The OPCW had yet to find any evidence, but that seemed not to matter for most Western journalists.

What other areas of state-government activities draws such unquestioning fealty from our much-vaunted “free press”?

For example, when the story reported that;

Dunford said missiles first struck a scientific research centre in the Damascus area that he said was a centre of Syrian research, development, production and testing of chemical and biological warfare technology. The second target was a chemical weapons storage facility west of Homs. He said this was believed to be the main site of Syrian sarin and precursor chemical production equipment.

The third target was a chemical weapons equipment storage facility and an important command post, also west of Homs, Dunford said.

– did no one in the Fourth Estate bother to ask the most basic question: why were those “facilities” destroyed when they potentially held vital evidence that the OPCW team could have uncovered?

By 16 April, the murky smog of  chemical weapon hysteria began to part just a little so that questioning voices could be heard. Perhaps someone at Fairfax realised that Western allegations of a so-called “gas attack” were just that: unproven allegations.

A story entitled “Syrian government deploys forces in Douma after alleged chemical attack” used the term ‘alleged’ three times, once in the title;

Syrian state TV says another 5,000 security forces are deploying in a town near the capital that was brought under full government control a week after an alleged chemical attack.

[…]

In Assad’s view, the airstrikes that were launched in response to an alleged chemical weapons attack by Syrian forces on the town of Douma will unify the country.

Following paragraphs returned to the less neutral term ‘suspected’;

The town was also the scene of a suspected poison gas attack on April 7 that prompted the US, Britain and France to launch missiles on Syrian military targets early Saturday.

[…]

The pope spoke after airstrikes by the United States, France and Britain aimed at taking out Syria’s chemical weapons capacity, following a suspected poison gas attack on a Damascus suburb that killed dozens, including children.

The OPCW fact-finding mission to Syria was again only briefly alluded to;

An international fact-finding mission from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons is in Syria and expected to visit Douma.

Better than previous reporting, without doubt. But not by much.

[To be concluded in Syria: the mendacities of the mainstream media (part rua).]

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Acknowledgements

Thanks to ‘Francesca‘ for the OPCW link,  Progress in the elimination of the Syrian chemical weapons programme.

References

Wikiquotes: Hiram Johnson

Politico:  Trump – ‘I want to get out’ of Syria

BBC:  Syria war – At least 70 killed in suspected chemical attack in Douma

RT News:  Moscow calls ‘chemical attack’ in Douma ‘fake news,’ warns against Syrian intervention

BBC:  Trump promises ‘major decision’ on Syria chemical attack

Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons:  OPCW Will Deploy Fact-Finding Mission to Douma, Syria

RT News:  Duma defense chief says Russia may respond with military force to US strike on Syria

Reuters:  Saudi could take part in military response in Syria – Crown Prince

Al Jazeera:  Russia threatens to shoot down any US missiles fired at Syria

Reuters:  France has proof Syrian government conducted chemical weapons attack – Macron

USA Today: French report lays out the evidence – Assad forces conducted chemical attack on civilians

RT News:  ‘They can go anywhere they want in Douma’: OPCW team arrives in Syria to investigate alleged attack

Military Times:  President Trump’s statement on the U.S. military action in Syria

Kremlin.ru:  Statement by President of Russia Vladimir Putin

Bloomberg:  Trump Says ‘Mission Accomplished’ With Syria Strike Unanswered

The Guardian:  Russia loses vote condemning strikes

Fox News:  Amb. Nikki Haley on Trump administration’s Syria strategy

The Guardian: ‘No alternative’ – Theresa May sends British jets to join airstrikes on Syria

US Department of Defense:  Briefing by Secretary Mattis on U.S. Strikes in Syria

Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons:   Progress in the elimination of the Syrian chemiucal weapons programme

Radio NZ:  Syria – Toxic gas attack kills at least 70 in Douma

Radio NZ:  US and allies launch strikes on Syria chemical weapons sites

Radio NZ:  US ‘has no moral right to blame other countries’ – Russia

Radio NZ:  Macron has ‘proof’, to decide on Syria air strikes

Radio NZ:  UK’s May summons ministers for Syria meeting

Radio NZ:  The path to the attack on Syria

Radio NZ:  Syria warned US still ‘locked and loaded’

Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons:  OPCW Will Deploy Fact-Finding Mission to Douma, Syria

NewstalkZB: Russia vows to retaliate after missiles target Syria

NewstalkZB:  Effects of Syria strikes unknown

Fairfax: Dozens killed in apparent chemical weapons attack on civilians in Syria, rescue workers say

Fairfax: Syrian news agency reports missile attack

Fairfax:  Nowhere to hide from Syria ‘gas attack’

Fairfax:  NZ expresses ‘strongest condemnation’ of chemical attack on Syrians

Fairfax:  Russia claims alleged chemical attack in Syria staged by UK

PBS News Hour:  Russia says suspected chemical attack in Syria was staged by UK

Fairfax:  ‘Mission Accomplished’ in Syria, Trump declares on Twitter

BBC:  Last of Syria’s chemical weapons shipped out

NPR:  Syria Gives Up Chemical Weapons … But A War Rages On

Reuters:  Syria hands over remaining chemical weapons for destruction

Fairfax: Syrian government deploys forces in Douma after alleged chemical attack

Additional

The Independent:  The search for truth in the rubble of Douma – and one doctor’s doubts over the chemical attack

Reuters:  French declassified intelligence report on Syria gas attacks

Previous related blogposts

The Sweet’n’Sour Deliciousness of Irony: Russia accused of meddling in US Election

Trump escalates, Putin congratulates

Trumpwatch: The Drum(pf)s of War

Trumpwatch: One minute closer to midnight on the Doomsday Clock

One minute to midnight?

It is ten seconds to midnight

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 23 April 2018.

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