Live from Brussels

Musings from a bored analyst/project-manager.
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Friday, April 04, 2003
 
Arnett and The Plan

He still hasn't changed his opinion on the failure of 'The Plan' it seems, despite his apology: watch this VTM late night news from yesterday. If you can't wait, skip forward to the three minute mark. The anchor and Peter Arnett both speak (subtitled) English in the item concerned...

 
Arnett Has a New Job!

Just read in my morning paper that Peter Arnett has been hired by VTM, a Belgian commercial televison channel, to provide twice daily updates for their news reports... No, it is not a joke, and they know full well who they hired. In the article on their site it says: "Begin deze week kreeg hij ... z'n ontslag omdat hij volgens NBC anti-Amerikaanse verslaggeving had gedaan." Translation: "Earlier this week he got fired ... because according to NBC he did anti-American reporting." Well, that's one way to put it.
Here is another link, in English: From Baghdad, Arnett reports for TV in Belgium, Greece
UPDATE: VTM news can be watched on-line here (the Dutch article stated that Arnett would be subtitled).

Thursday, April 03, 2003
 
Watching the BBC

Seems like coalition troops are within 10 km of Baghdad and are preparing to take Saddam Hussein International Airport. Yeah!

 
Opportunity?

The BBC reports that "Al-Jazeera halts Iraq broadcasts" because the Iraqi government has kicked out some Al Jazeera reporters.
This is a great opportunity for the coalition: I think they should offer the now-jobless reporters the opportunity to be embedded in the U.S. forces now approaching Baghdad, so the Arab world gets a front-seat row to watch what American troops really are like.
And the reporters will be back in Baghdad in no time that way too...

 
Live from Nato

This morning as I drove past NATO HQ I noticed they were totally prepared: extra barbed wire obstacles all around the enormous compound, armoured cars from the police ready nearby, increased security guards... Also droves of press vans with satellite dishes mounted on top. The only ones not there yet were the 'peace'-protesters. But they only meet at 14.00 (link in Dutch).
Yup, Collin Powell is coming to town.

Wednesday, April 02, 2003
 
The Funniest Chat System I've Ever Seen

Browse over to Penguin Chat for a chatbox experience you'll never forget. Trust me.

Tuesday, April 01, 2003
 
Stupid Movie Studio

Check this image:

Then check this article: Warner Bros. eliminates peace image from 'What a Girl Wants' ads. Then ask yourself: what 'peace' image? All I see is a girl making the 'V-for-victory' sign, in front of two British soldiers.
(via: The Drudge Report, but he also misses the lack of any actual peace symbol in the image)

 
April Fool's... or Malice?

In yesterday's Gazet van Antwerpen newspaper, I found these pictures under the headline "World Keeps Protesting Against War in Iraq". Check out picture number three and tell me if that is really an anti-war demonstration...

(click the picture for a really big version)

 
The War: The Belgian Political Perspective

I got an interesting mail yesterday from a reader (not sure if he wants his name published, so I won't). He asked me if there were any parties in Belgium that were in favour of the current U.S.-led war on Iraq. So I did some research on the Flemish (Dutch speaking) parties and here are the results:

  • CD&V (Christian Democrats): they basically 'regret' the whole thing. Their entire point of view seems to be that they 'regret' this and 'regret' that: the war, Iraq's unwillingness to abide by U.N. resolutions, the international division, the innocent victims... They also think there were 'other means' to disarm Saddam, without specifying what those means are. I bet Bush and Saddam regret not having asked the CD&V about them...
  • VLD (Liberals, but in the Belgian sense: economically liberal, conservative otherwise): Despite being the Prime Minister's party, their web site only contains the word 'Iraq' (or 'Irak' in the Dutch spelling) once! And that is in a press release dated february 13th clarifying the party's position on military aid to Turkey in view of the Iraq crisis. It talks about more inspections, letting the U.N. solidarity handle it and about doing everything possible to avoid war. It doesn't talk at all about what to do if war should break out anyway, and if you depended on this site for your news you wouldn't even know it had in the mean time...
  • SP.a (socialists): They are against the war and make no secret of it. The material on their site is a bit dated (hello guys, a war has broken out...) but it also talks about more inspections and standing up to the United States. It also claims that they are not giving Saddam a free ride: if he starts his 'games' again, they say they will not 'hesitate' and the U.N. should come in with 'firm measures'... right!
  • Vlaams Blok (Flemish nationalist, xenophobic): No clear position found on their site. A search for 'Irak' turns up a press release bashing Foreign Minister Louis Michel for aligning the Belgian position with France and Germany. But the message also claims they are not taking sides in the conflict, they are just defending Flemish interests (and those lie with the U.S., economically speaking). As to the reason for not taking sides, I've heard it said the party is split internally between those who dislike Arabs more and those who dislike the U.S. more.
  • Agalev (Flemish Green party): As is to be expected, they are totally against war, for all the usual reasons.
  • Liberaal Appel (ex-VLD, more right-wing): No direct position seems to be taken on their site, but they do blast Louis Michel and the French speaking part of the country for 'hippocrisy', because the British forces are using Belgian machine guns made in the French speaking part f Belgium. They also complain about the goverment's plans to re-negotiate the international treaties now governing the U.S. military transports trough the port of Antwerp, saying it will do irreparable economic damage.


What to think of this? First of all: the federal government is comprised of VLD, SP.a and Agalev, and their French-speaking counterparts. SP.a and Agalev are clearly against, while the VLD is sitting on the fence. Clearly they won't come out and support the war directly, since they fear this will cost them many votes. On the other hand they fear the diplomatic and economic consequences, I think. On the French speaking side, the VLD's counterpart seems to be completely opposed, mainly because Louis Michel, the Foreign Minister, says so. Socialists and Greens are also against, but the socialists have to be careful: the Belgian arms industry is located in the French speaking part of the country, so they have to be careful not to hurt their own constituency of arms industry workers.

With the government in the anti-war camp, what about the opposition? CD&V's position seems to be intentionally vague, in order to leave their chances in the coming elections intact. The Vlaams Blok is internally divided. Liberaal Appel is a new party (and hence very small) but also seems to be unwilling to make this an election issue.

So if you are in favour of the liberation of Iraq in Belgium, that means you have nobody to vote for...
Bummer!

 
But the U.S. Armed Saddam!

Or so goes the old saw argument of the 'peace' movement. Apart from the fact that who armed him years ago has nothing to do with wheter it is right or not to overthrow him now, it is also not true. Check the graph at
The Command Post: The Facts Stand Alone

 
Damn, He's Good!

Bill over at "Eject! Eject! Eject!" has written another one of his thousands-of-words masterpiece essays:HISTORY. Required reading...

Sunday, March 30, 2003
 
Truth about Bowling...

I've been meaning to link to this for a few days now... Michael Moore has won an oscar for his 'documentary' Bowling for Columbine. They are even showing this movie in Belgian movie theatres now. I've got nothing against that, but as usual our inept Belgian media has completely missed the controversy around this movie.
As it happens, many 'facts' in it are completely distorted and the movie does its very best to mislead viewers and convey impressions that are not consistent with the truth. The most blatant examples are the animated sequence about the 'links' between the KKK and the NRA, and the heavily edited and completely falsified speech by Charlton Heston.
Before reading this article, I knew that Bowling for Columbine had bias problems, but I never suspected it would be this bad and that it would contain so many outright lies and falsifications. Read the Truth about Bowling for Columbine now!

 
Meanwhile in Antwerp...

Fun things continue to happen in my ex-hometown Antwerp. For those of you just tuning in, let me recap:

A while ago some accusations surfaced in a certain newspaper of improper use of VISA-credit cards by top-civil servants in the city administration. These accusations were vigourously denied by Leona Detiege (the mayor) and her 'schepenen' (kind of like ministers, but at city level - I don't know the exact English term). Anyhow, just before a hearing at city hall was to take place, the chief civil servant (Fred Nolf) and two high-ranking colleagues resigned. And were later arrested. For fraud.

This led to the opposition going over the books with a magnifying glass, and what they found out wasn't pretty: the 'schepenen' and the mayor themselves had made some very suspicious expenses with their city-VISA-cards: perfume, expensive clothing, greeting cards, a DVD player... Shorty after this got out, all the 'schepenen' resigned, still claiming this proved nothing about guilt at all. Only the mayor stayed at her post, but only 'until a new mayor could be found' (more on the reason for this further on...).

To make matters even worse, also the chief of police and a number of high ranking police officers were found out to have misspent city money with their credit cards. Some of them were even taken away for questioning by the judiciary... At the same time, some of the now ex-civil servants were arrested, one along with his wife, who was also his cabinet chief (why does a civil servant need a cabinet anyway?).

Now for the political fallout: in Antwerp there are basically two options at election time. Either the extreme-right Vlaams Blok (a xenophobic law and order party) or all the other parties, ranging from Trotskyists, Greens, Christian Democrats, Socialists, Liberals (in the Belgian sense, economically liberal but conservative otherwise)... Because the Vlaams Blok got about a third of the vote last time, the other parties are practically forced into an uneasy coalition to counter it.

In Belgium, you see, it is not done to cooperate even in the slightest way with the Vlaams Blok, for any reason. Politicians from most other parties wouldn't even give the time of day to someone of the Vlaams Blok. So in Antwerp, they really have no choice but to form a coalition. Some local people in the parties probably wouldn't mind a coalition with the Vlaams Blok if it meant getting rid of some other parties in the city government (i.e. VLD getting rid of socialists and Greens), but they know very well that would mean being kicked out of the national party by the party leadership.

Now here comes the fun part: why does the current mayor cling to her seat? Because if she resigns right now, there is no immediate replacement: the two biggest parties, SP (socialists) and VLD ('Liberals') can't agee on a candidate. The law says that if a city becomes ungovernable, the state government can send in someone to run things. But only if there is really no candidate in the city council who wants to be mayor and gets a decent amount of votes. And in this case, there is somebody like that... only he is from the Vlaams Blok (and he got about twice as much personal votes as the current mayor, more than anyone else in Antwerp in fact). There is a small but non negligable chance he could get some dissidents to vote for him along with his own party if push came to shove... So rather than face that risk the current mayor stays on. For now.

The rift beween VLD and SP in Antwerp is now so deep that even national politicians of these two parties have gotten involved, and in trying to break the stalemate they even worsened it. The national president of the SP even resigned so he could be a candidate for being mayor, but this also caused an SP minister to need to resign from the state government in order to take his place at the head of the party.

And so Antwerp hasn't had any real elected government for weeks now, while protests are being held in the streets against U.S. military transports through the port, the deficit continues to run up, the police is in disarray, the voters are grumbling...

And the Vlaams Blok? They are probably wondering if they even need to put up posters and signs in Antwerp when the national elections rolls around May 18th...