Friday, September 30, 2005 

More anti-social policy suggestions, straight from the heart of No10.

Just completely depressing and soul-crushing after a bad enough week:

Tony Blair's willingness to embrace the law and order agenda became clear last night as Whitehall prepares to draw up powers for the police to dispense summary justice to combat antisocial behaviour and binge drinking. The new police powers are expected to include:

· Instant Asbos: much greater use of injunction-style "interim Asbos" granted to the police without evidence or witnesses having to be heard or the defendant informed. Bans and restrictions remain in place until a full court hearing.

· New police powers to cancel late-night extensions for rowdy pubs and clubs without having to bother the courts.

· Fixed penalty fines of £80 for drunk and disorderly behaviour. Three tickets and persistent binge drinkers will face a "drinking banning order" barring them from pubs and clubs in a specified area for a specified time, possibly a month. Underage drinkers and those who serve them will face similar fines.

· Extending £80 and £40 fixed penalty fines handed out by police officers for rowdy behaviour to 10- to 15-year-olds. schemes are under way in seven police forces. Those who do not pay or go to court will face fines of £120 and £60.

· Extending existing powers implemented in January 2004 to close down crack dens by giving the police wider powers to evict drug dealers first and insist they can only challenge the police action in the courts later.

The prime minister confirmed yesterday that this "radical extension of summary police powers" will be hammered out in the next few weeks and published before the end of the year. It will put the rights of law-abiding people to live in safety before the need to protect the innocent from wrongful conviction if necessary.

"I don't think that the traditional law can give law-abiding people adequate protection. We are trying to fight 21st-century crime - antisocial behaviour, drug-dealing, binge drinking, organised crime - with 19th-century methods as if we still lived in the time of Dickens," Mr Blair said in his Labour conference speech.

He spelled out yesterday what is going to be involved: "I want to go further," he said in a round of end-of-conference interviews. "I will have meetings in the next few weeks on this issue. Whatever powers the police need to crack down on this, I will give them," he said.

Judges have already warned the Home Office that they are not happy with the idea of imposing restrictions on people's liberty without a proper hearing. One district judge told Home Office researchers last year: "It would come under the human rights situation, wouldn't it? Making orders without there being any evidence considered?"

Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, said the prime minister wanted the police to dispense summary justice: "They are no longer investigating crime but dishing out the punishments themselves. If he goes any further than he has already gone, he will be modifying policing in this country for all time."

Instant Asbos: It sounds like a new drink, but it leaves a bitter taste in the mouth. Asbos are bad and authoritarian enough: now the police will have the power to give summary "justice" by not even having to prevent any evidence or witnesses to a court. Such things could be based on pure hearsay. What if a person breaches an interim-Asbo? Will they be thrown to rot away in the cells until a court has time to hear them? Will they be applied to beggars and prostitutes in the same way that Asbos have been?

Fining underage kids is another great way to fill the tax coffers with the money of the poor, I guess. The kids get the fine, go home, get a thick ear or worse, a beating from their parents, who are the ones left out of pocket. What exactly is "rowdy behaviour?" Is it the kind of behaviour that intimidates people, just youths hanging about on street corners, but actually not doing anything wrong? Fines are another great way of putting a problem to the back of your head, especially as so many go unpaid. The sad fact is that if they were enforced completely, many would be left destitute.

The fines for those serving the underage will further limit the rights of those old enough to buy alcohol but who don't look it. This already expands to videos and DVDs. Why should I have to carry ID to prove my age when I'm old enough to legally purchase goods? Why should I have to carry ID full stop?

The other ideas/proposals are reasonably sane, thankfully, as long as they are not abused. In a week which has seen the Terrorism Act used to stop Walter Wolfgang re-entering the Labour conference, I can't say I'm convinced.

I've mentioned this before, but it bears repeating. If you feel as strongly about this as I do, you should join Liberty. I did at the beginning of last month. It costs £8 a year if you're unwaged, or £24 if you're employed. I think it's a small cost to support an organisation that is launching campaigns to safeguard our rights on all fronts, including ID cards. Here's what Shami Chakrabrati, the director of Liberty, said about Blair's conference speech:

“The Prime Ministers speech contained much rhetoric about progressive values and the responsibility of true leadership. But there is nothing progressive or responsible about rubbishing the presumption of innocence or dishing out yet more summary police powers; after eight years it is time he changed the record”.

I couldn't agree more.

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Thursday, September 29, 2005 

Moss dross week 2.

I really hoped it wouldn't go on this long, but it has. Both the Sun and Times had Moss on their front page today, apparently as she is now entering "rehab". Whether this involves laying in a hotel somewhere for a month or actually detoxing is up to you to guess. Oh and the link between the two? Yep, they are both owned by this blog's best friend, Rupert Murdoch.

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More scaremongering from London anti-terrorist police.

The police officer in overall charge of London's anti-terrorist operation has told the Guardian that Scotland Yard is tracking a number of potential terrorist suspects who may be planning further attacks.

In his first full interview since the July 7 atrocities, Assistant Commissioner Andy Hayman said none of the individuals was linked to the blasts on July 7, or the attempted bombings two weeks later.

No master plot had been discovered, but Mr Hayman said that the force, and Londoners, would have to accept that the city was now a prime target. He anticipated other terrorist cells, which may well be British, would launch attacks.

"I don't want to scaremonger but it has to be said, when you look around the world and at the prominence of London, that the threat is real," said Mr Hayman. He said detectives were actively pursuing "other lines of investigation".

"We always remain active in covert operations. We have a number of people who are of interest."

He added: "London is an iconic site as a location for another terrorist attack. We have to be vigilant but you can't predict where or how or when they will try."

Yes, London is obviously an iconic site to attack. But let's remember one thing: none of the countries hit by "al-Qaida" since 9/11 have been hit again. America hasn't (directly). Spain hasn't. Bali hasn't. Istanbul hasn't. Tunisia hasn't. Morroco hasn't. Iraq and Afghanistan don't count for obvious reasons. You can argue against Chechnya also, but I'd describe that as an internal conflict with Russia rather than a international terrorist beacon. The London attempted bombings of the 21st were most likely done by incompetents or copycats, and it's also doubtful whether the 7th bombers had any link with "al-Qaida".

So who is likely to be targeted next? My guess is countries in the coalition of the willing that have up to yet emerged unscathed. Australia has not been hit directly, despite the Bali and Indonesia bombings. Italy has not been touched. Japan is another possible target, as is Israel, which has not had an al-Qaida spectacular, maybe only because Hamas and Islamic Jihad are just as capable. Poland is also another target, being the main member of "new Europe." This is not to say that other countries have no threat level, I'm sure they have. France's ban on the hijab in public institutions could be used as an excuse. I would find attacks on the above much more likely than further attempts on countries already hit, although the United States is undoubtedly the main target for Islamic fundamentalists everywhere.

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New Labour, no dissent.

There are some things you don't expect to happen, even at a Labour conference where the motto seems to be "don't mention the war". The sight of 82-year-old Walter Wolfgang being forcibly ejected for daring to heckle Jack Straw during a small mention of the Iraq war was one thing I genuinely did not expect even Labour to sink to.

Then again, this is from a party that over the last few years has expelled numerous members and even an MP for going off message. George Galloway was expelled for allegedly telling British soldiers to disobey illegal orders. In Blaenau Gwent, where life-long party member Peter Law stood against Labour after an all-woman shortlist was imposed, and a Blairite was parachuted in as the party's candidate, many members were expelled for supporting him. More recently other members have been threatened for tactically supporting Liberal Democrats in constituencies where Labour could not win, despite numerous columnists and the Guardian supporting tactical voting.

There still is dissent in the Labour party. Not all MPs are there to become government ministers to further their careers. The Campaign group is still vocal, despite its old-lefty image. However, as more groomed Blairites appear to be dropped onto constituencies whether they want them or not, Labour cannot pretend that it does not have problems with internal dissent.

Let's face it. Labour is and always has been governed by control freaks. One of the things Blair's reign will be remembered for will be spin, especially the David Kelly affair. If Labour wants to make the public believe that they are actually listening, the least they could do is actually start some proper debates within the party about what the post-Blair party really should look like. At the moment, the party is just heading for more of the same. If Brown cannot excite the party, what chance has he of gaining the public's trust?

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Wednesday, September 28, 2005 


Last week's news story about Rupert Murdoch saying that Tony Blair had found the BBC's coverage of Hurricane Katrina full of hate for America was big. Despite this, 4 newspapers didn't make a mention of it, or if they did, they didn't cover it to the extent of every other newspaper in the land. Those newspapers? The Times, The Sunday Times, The Sun and the News of the World. Now here's the question: guess who owns all 4 of those newspapers.

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'Darling, it's a long way in the future'.

Tony Blair yesterday completed his takeover of the Labour party. In his conference speech, he outlined exactly how he intends to "modernise" the public services, mainly by introducing "choice". Never mind that over half the population is unconvinced that the private sector has any place whatsoever in the NHS or running our schools, this is going to be Tony Blair's legacy.

It's worth going through Blair's entire speech to the Labour conference, just to show exactly how out of touch he has become with the average Labour or union member. The sad thing is that he has succeeded so well in destroying the Tories as a political force in this country that he has changed his adopted party into one slightly to the left of Thatcher's.

So what now? The world is on the move again, the change in the early 21st century even greater than that of the late 20th century. So now in turn, we have to change again - not step back from New Labour but step up to a new mark, a changing world is setting for us. The danger of government is fatigue; the benefit, experience.

I tell you my conclusion after eight years of being prime minister: the challenge we face is not in our values; it is how we put them into practice in a world fast forwarding to the future at unprecedented speed.

Over these eight years we have won the battle of values. The age we live in is democratic not deferential. We believe in solidarity. We believe in social justice, in opportunity not for a privileged few but for all, whatever their start in life. We believe in tolerance and respect, in strong communities standing by and standing up for the weak, the sick, the helpless.

Yes, the world is changing. China and India are undoubtedly rising, but their threat at the moment is being vastly exaggerated. Neither country is stable. Both have huge rates of poverty, with only a few being enriched. Our own country is barely democratic. When a party which won just 36% of the popular vote in the general election can have a majority of 60 seats in parliament, something stinks. If we believe in solidarity, why did Labour ministers condemn the strikers at Heathrow who walked out in support of the sacked Gate Gourmet workers? Why is Labour not prepared to remove the anti-union laws of the Thatcher era? The only solidarity Blair has believed in has been riding pillion with the United States in their foreign policy aims. If we believe in opportunity for all, why has Labour not done more to alleviate poverty? Tax credits, the minimum wage and Sure Start are all helping, but it is not enough. The gap between rich and poor continues to grow.

In the era of rapid globalisation, there is no mystery about what works: an open, liberal economy, prepared constantly to change to remain competitive. The new world rewards those who are open to it. Foreign investment improves our economy. Or take immigration. We know we need strict controls. They are being put in place, along with identity cards, also necessary in a changing world. But one of the most satisfying things about the election was that the country saw through the Tories' nasty, unprincipled campaign on immigration. People who come to work and make their lives here make Britain not weaker but stronger.

Yes, we need to remain competitive. But this is not at the cost of throwing all our benefits we worked for throughout this century out of the window. The Scandinavian model of society has been shown to work: high tax, liberal penal and social policies, care from cradle to grave. And their economies are not falling into recession. As for immigration, the Tories campaign was despicable. But this is the same Labour party which has deported the Kachepas back to Malawi to an uncertain future. It's the same party that was going to send back failed asylum seekers to Zimbabwe until stopped by a court. It's the same Labour party sending back immigrants to Iraq, despite the UN saying it is too dangerous. The pandering to the tabloids continues unabated.

In the first two terms we corrected the weaknesses of the Tory years: boom-and-bust economics, chronic underinvestment in public services, mass unemployment. But our job was never simply to repair the Tory damage; it was to create an inheritance for future generations by taking the tough decisions needed to secure our future. That is the task in the years ahead. We know how hard it is for families to balance work and home life. Over the next few years, we will open up for the first time ever a new frontier of the welfare state: affordable, wraparound childcare between the hours of 8am-6pm for all who need it. We will get more people off benefit and into work.

Labour inherited an economy on the up, but this is mainly correct. The childcare of 8-6 is a great, laudable idea. But it must not come through ever greater use of the private sector whose only aim is to profit from the children they are looking after. Children also should not be expected to be there from 8 till 6 every weekday. The culture of teaching to exams and SAT targets must be further investigated and changed if necessary.

Let's be frank about why so many people are on incapacity benefit: under the Tories it was used to conceal unemployment. Next month we will publish proposals radically to reform the benefit for the future and help people who can work back into the workforce, where they belong.

This is an untruth, and Blair knows it. Incapacity benefit has been used by many of those who suffered in the industrial decline under Thatcher, especially in the north. Many of those on it will never work again. They should not be forced back into menial, depressing work on lower pay that what they currently get it, just to improve figures which the Tories themselves created.

Next year too, building on Britain's Kyoto commitments, we will publish proposals on energy policy. Global warming is too serious for the world any longer to ignore its danger or split into opposing factions on it. And for how much longer can countries like ours allow the security of our energy supply be dependent on some of the most unstable parts of the world?

For both reasons the G8 agreement must be made to work so we develop together the technology that allows prosperous nations to adapt and emerging ones to grow sustainably; and that means an assessment of all options, including civil nuclear power.

In transport, we will continue to develop proposals for a fundamental change in its funding, including road pricing. And next year, too, we will address the future of local government: a new and ambitious blueprint strengthening the leadership of our cities, giving good councils new freedoms and devolving more power to neighbourhoods.

Blair says the above, but we all know that energy policy won't go far enough. Some scientists already believe that global warming is too far advanced for anything to be done. As for depending on unstable countries for our energy supply, why doesn't he order the oil companies to actually drill what there is in the North Sea, rather than relying on easier to drill places such as in Russia? Part of the instability in the Middle East is our direct fault, and we continue to prop up regimes such as Saudi Arabia. Civil nuclear power is not going to solve anything. British Nuclear Fuels is badly run, costing taxpayers billions of pounds. Further plants would cost huge amounts of money, continue to create waste which we don't know what to do with, and would be unable to meet our energy demands on their own. All options must be on the table, but nuclear isn't the only answer.

In transport, we will continue to develop proposals for a fundamental change in its funding, including road pricing. And next year, too, we will address the future of local government: a new and ambitious blueprint strengthening the leadership of our cities, giving good councils new freedoms and devolving more power to neighbourhoods

No mention of the disaster of rail privatisation, a Tory blunder which Labour refuses to correct. Instead it is selling off a franchise which the public sector took over due to an appalling service, despite it being vastly improved and just as cost-efficient. The huge price increases in train fares have not resulted in an improved service. Buses are in a similar mess. Road pricing might work; it also might not. Instead of focusing on car-sharing, removing the car from the centre of our lives and developing alternatives, we continue with an unsustainable policy. New Labour, no change.

The truth is, command public services today are no more acceptable than a command economy. The 21st century's expectations in public services are a world away from those of 1945. People demand quality, choice, high standards. Why? Because in every other walk of life they demand them. And they are paying their taxes, so they feel they are entitled to them. If we misunderstand this, we will make a mistake of the proportions of council house sales in the 1980s. We know what makes a good school: good leadership, great teachers, strong discipline, a love of learning. We know what makes good healthcare: quick access, committed care, clean, comfortable surroundings. But what happens if you can't get them? If you've the money, you buy better. That is an affront to every progressive value we believe in. There's a great myth here, which is that we don't have a market in services now; we do. It's called private schools and private healthcare. But it's only open to the well-off. There is another myth: choice is a New Labour invention. Wrong. Choice is what wealthy people have exercised for centuries. The Tories have always been comfortable with that. But for Labour, choice is too important to be the monopoly of the wealthy.

A final myth: the way to keep universal services universal is to make them uniform. Again, wrong. The way to keep services universal is to make them of such quality that enough of those who can afford to go private opt to stay in the public service.

Of course people demand quality, choice and high standards. But they want it where they are, locally. They don't want to choose which hospital to have it, or whether to go part-private. They want it where they are. If that is being uniform, then uniform is what they want. What the rich have is access to quality; that is not choice. Choose between the NHS and private and if they can afford it they'll pick private anyway. The NHS is there for everyone's use, no matter what, but we shouldn't introduce needless reforms and markets to pander for those who always have and always will do otherwise. Quality at point of access is what is essential.

I will never return us to selection aged 11 in our schools. I will never allow the NHS to charge for treatment.

Under the Warwick accord, we are ending the two-tier workforce. But it isn't fair when parents have no option but to send their child to a poor local school, or a patient can't get diagnostic tests done in six months when the technology and the capacity exist to deliver it in days.

The wealthy, by their wealth, can change that in their lives. I want decent, hardworking families to have the same power. Every time I've ever introduced a reform in government, I wish in retrospect I had gone further.

Specialist schools, denounced at the time, have performed better than traditional comprehensives. Fact. City Academies are massively oversubscribed. Fact. And the beneficiaries are not fat cats. They are some of the poorest families in the poorest parts of Britain.

We only got big falls in waiting times after introducing competition for routine surgery. Fact. That is why the NHS reforms, to break down the old monolith, bring in new providers, allow patients choice, must continue. Money alone won't work; money and reform will, and if we stick with it, by 2008 we will for the first time in the NHS's history offer booked appointments at the patient's convenience and a maximum wait of 18 weeks from the GP to the operating theatre with an average wait of nine weeks - not the 18 months just to get off the consultants' list we inherited from the Tories but 18 weeks for the whole thing.

Selection at 11 still exists in many parts of the country, and Labour has done nothing to remove it. In fact, with the specialists and academy schools, it has continued to further it. Specialist schools can select some of their intake; academies are becoming massively oversubscribed because they're new and getting more money putting into them. Neither have yet been found to be improving standards when viewed on a basis with the schools they replaced. Instead of distributing the money fairly these schools are taking the pick over the "bog-standard comprehensives" loathed by Labour.

Every time he's introduced a reform he's wanted to go further. Did you want to make top-up fees even higher than £3,000 Mr Blair, when your education was free, even though you promised not to introduce them in the 2001 manifesto? Did you want to make foundation hospitals even more financially independent, even though they are having just as many problems without complete independence? Did you want to destroy the lives of even more single mothers by taking away their benefits? The numbers of those enduring long waiting times were dropping before competition was introduced.

The same adjustment to the modern world challenges traditional thinking on law and order. It is true: crime, overall, is down, burglary and car crime by big numbers. But it's not the point.

Respect is about more than crime. It's about the loss of a value which is a necessary part of any strong community: proper behaviour, good conduct, the unselfish notion that the other person matters. The roots of this are deep and are formed partly by the same forces of change at work in our economy: the break up of traditional communities and family structures, changing lifestyles.

The bonds of cohesion have been loosened. They cannot be tied again the same way. But, in a different way, they can. And, again based on my experience, I want to say how I think it can be done.

For eight years I have battered the criminal justice system to get it to change. And it was only when we started to introduce special ASB laws, we really made a difference. And I now understand why: the system itself is the problem. We are trying to fight 21st-century crime - ASB, drug-dealing, binge-drinking, organised crime - with 19th-century methods, as if we still lived in the time of Dickens.

The whole of our system starts from the proposition that its duty is to protect the innocent from being wrongly convicted. Don't misunderstand me: that must be the duty of any criminal justice system. But surely our primary duty should be to allow law-abiding people to live in safety.It means a complete change of thinking. It doesn't mean abandoning human rights; it means deciding whose come first.

I believe three things work. First, a radical extension of summary powers to police and local authorities to take on the wrongdoers. We will publish plans to do this by the end of the year. They will tackle, specifically, binge drinking, drug dealing and organised crime and develop existing laws on ASB.

Second, we need a uniformed presence on the street in every community. Officers on the beat is what the public have wanted for years, and they're right. I have seen teams of police and CSOs in action. It works. We want them across the whole of Britain over the next few years.

Third, give our young people places to go so that they're off the street. Invest in our youth services: more competitive sport in schools; give headteachers the full disciplinary powers they want; end the farce of half a dozen agencies all spending hundreds of thousands of pounds on problem families. Identify these families early, have them handled by one lead agency and give it whatever powers it needs to affect change or impose sanctions. And give local communities the powers they need to hold people to account.

Yes, the anti-social behaviour orders really have changed the criminal justice system. It's only in the last couple of years they have been fully implemented, and the results are there for all to see: the mentally ill, prostitutes, beggars, the disassociated of society, the different, they have all been targetted because of who they are. I'm not denying that ASBOs have worked in some cases, but they continue to be draconian as all Labour crime policy has been. The use of curfews meaning that law-abiding 16-year-olds cannot go out alone to the shops after dark without fear of being arrested is not what Britain should be associated with.

Blair once again gets the purpose of the criminal justice system utterly wrong; the system is meant to be neutral. It does not swing in either way. Deciding who comes first smacks of stacking the odds of the accused against the accuser, with all the problems that brings. If the summary powers involve on-the-spot uses of anti-social orders, then that must be opposed. Binge drinking is to be tackled at the same time as the government is handing out 24-hour opening licenses that will most likely change already no-go area town centres at weekends into permanent zones to be avoided. Joined-up thinking is not part of Labour's policy. Tackling drug dealing at the same time that cannabis is being reviewed as to whether it should become an arrestable offence again. Wasting police time is high on the agenda. There's still no direct evidence that police presence deters crime, but hell, I'd rather it'd been spent on more police than on ID cards, which are still going ahead.

The rest of the speech is mainly on terrorism and has all been said before. Notice what Blair didn't say: He didn't mention socialism. He mentions equality once at the end, but doesn't say how he attempts to achieve it. He doesn't mention the widening gap between the rich and poor. He doesn't mention the inflationary pay of those on the FTSE 100, as workers struggle on barely above the minimum wage. His whole arguments and repeated points for constant reform are tired. But Gordon Brown was no better on Monday. His vision is one only slightly less Blairite, but with the same pandering to business and the same private finance intitative schemes which have failed so spectacularly. Labour has become utterly moribund. The other two main parties are just even worse. The Lib Dems are moving to the right. Left behind are the Greens, Respect, UKIP, the nationalists and the BNP. All of them a wasted vote. If Blair's aim was to turn Britain into an effective one-party state, he has succeeded. If his intention was to make people feel a part of this one-party state, he has failed.

So where do we go from here? Today I feel utterly disenfranchised by a party which my father supported and campaigned for. Labour has become the party of big business. There seems to be little reason or even if there was, a way to stop it. Is there an alternative? Cherie Blair said it, but she was talking about her husband: "Darling, it's a long way in the future."

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Tuesday, September 27, 2005 

Unionists react to IRA disarmament with predictable scepticism.

Let's face it, we weren't going to have Ian Paisley dancing around the maypole hand in hand with Gerry Adams just because General John de Chastelain confirmed that the IRA had completed its decommisioning, not only in front of him but also two independent church witnesses. They had already demanded photographs of the IRA destroying their arms caches, a call which was rightly ignored. Even so, the attitude the DUP has taken to the completion of one of their key demands, and which the IRA had vowed it would never take, has been completely irresponsible and shows their utter political bankruptcy.

The leader of Northern Ireland's largest unionist party claimed today there had been a "cover-up" over the decommissioning of IRA weapons after meeting the man in charge of monitoring the operation, General John de Chastelain.

Ian Paisley, the Democratic Unionist leader, said he was "shocked about what we learned" in the meeting with Gen de Chastelain, who announced yesterday that the IRA's entire arsenal had been put out of action over the past few weeks.

The decommissioning of IRA arms is considered a crucial step forward in the Northern Ireland peace process because unionists refused to join a power-sharing government with the IRA's political wing, Sinn Fein, while the IRA maintained its weapons.

But Mr Paisley and his party have been sceptical of the process, claiming that the IRA has hoodwinked Gen de Chastelain and his International Independent Commission on Decommissioning.

Asked whether he could see himself joining a government that included Sinn Féin, he said: "We will not be doing it."

After an hour spent discussing decommissioning with Gen de Chastelain, he said there was a "very big question" over what had taken place.

"The more spotlight is put on this, the more we discover there is a cover-up," he said. "When we came to any question which could unravel what needs to be unravelled and could put some light on these things, they refused to give us any answers."

He specifically asked whether the intelligence estimates of IRA weapons had been revised, and why improvised weapons had not been included on the lists.

"Part of the weapons that should have been decommissioned have disappeared, and the security forces admit they are probably in the hands of dissidents," he said.

Sinn Fein's deputy leader, Martin McGuinness, was flying to Washington today to try to regain political support shaken by the killing of Robert McCartney in Belfast in January.

A campaign led by Mr McCartney's widow, and claims of IRA involvement in last December's £26.5m raid on Belfast's Northern Bank, led to Sinn Fein leaders being snubbed at Washington's St Patrick's Day celebrations in March.

However, the White House spokesman, Scott McClellan, called confirmation of IRA disarmament "very encouraging for all those who support the peace process, the rule of law and a Northern Ireland free from sectarian violence".

Senator Edward Kennedy, the leading congressional supporter of Sinn Féin, also welcomed news of the IRA's disarmament.

"Hopefully, this dramatic and historic step toward peace will be embraced by the unionist community and become a new dawn for the peace process, so that the all-important restoration of the Northern Ireland Assembly can take place as soon as possible," he said.

The Northern Ireland secretary, Peter Hain, said today that if the Independent Monitoring Commission gave the IRA the all clear in a report next January, talks towards a resumption of devolution should take place.

No one is denying that the IRA still has a long way to go. Its treatment of the McCartney family was indefensible. They need to disband fully, and stop the intimidation of families on some estates. They need to renounce criminality and not take the route of loyalist groups in fighting amongst themselves over drugs. But this is a huge step forward and should be acknowledged as such. Does Ian Paisley truly believe that two ministers, one whose father was killed by the IRA, have been tricked believingveing the IRA has destroyed its weapons when it did it right in front of their faces and even helped them?

The DUP, as I previously mentioned in my posts about the loyalist riots has a see no evil hear no evil approach when it comes to their own community. It only sees the nationalist community causing problems for its brothers. It ignores the feuds between loyalist paramilitary groups, who have made no mention of their intention to disarm. While the IRA and Sinn Fein have took action, the unionists have sat back on their hands and watched, and then criticised the final results. They have become the epitome of someone who was previously the centre of attention and calling the shots - once removed from such a position, they have become bitter and jealous, resorting to plotting. This is not just the politicians, it seems to be the majority of the loyalist community, convinced that the nationalists are receiving home improvements and getting an easy ride, while they have been left behind. This is not only nonsense, but ridiculous nonsense.

As Peter Hain says, power-sharing will not be able to resume until January at the earliest. Perhaps then Ian Paisley will have had to consider what is facing not only him but the country he has declared he will never surrender. He can decide whether his political legacy will be a historic sharing of power with Sinn Fein, leading to an outbreak of peace -- or he can decide to reject what has been achieved, continue in his navel-gazing and die having left the situation as it was. If the peace process then falls apart, it will not be because of the nationalists. It will be because of his party.

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Monday, September 26, 2005 

The Sun paid £30,000 to wife of suicide bomber.

The Sun has never been and never will be renowned for its high quality journalism. The newspaper that introduced the topless woman on its 3rd page to the world has always been racing to the bottom of the barrel. It's since been aped and beaten to the bottom of that barrel by the Daily Star and Sport, but continues to rule the roost. In a country that often finds itself staring into the abyss on a daily basis, it's still the highest selling and most read. The Sun hasn't broken any scandals recently (its sister paper the News of the Screws seems to get more than its share of late) but it's still the newspaper that many politicians fear and many love for its humour. Many of us also hate it because of the bile it preaches, how it betrays its working class readership and for its preaching of celebrity crap. For instance, today's front page features Sharon Osbourne confessing that she can't defeat bulimia. Fascinating.

All this said, you wouldn't expect the Sun, with its fiery right wing agenda and its attacks on "political correctness" to pay money to someone associated, however tenuously or dubiously to terrorism £30,000. That is exactly what it has just done.

There is no evidence or any question that Samantha Lewthwaite had any idea what her husband Jermaine Lindsay had been planning to do. She is free to tell her story and to earn money from it. That I do not question. What I do question is the Sun's rank hypocrisy. This is the same newspaper that for the last couple of years has been involved in a hate and vilification campaign against Maxine Carr, the girlfriend of Ian Huntley, who murdered the two Soham schoolgirls, Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman.

Maxine Carr was found guilty of perverting the course of justice. She was not involved in the murder of the girls, as she was away from home at the time. She believed his pleas of innocence, and has paid the price. It's very likely that she was living in complete fear of Huntley, terrified of him. There's been allegations that he had beaten her. Despite Maxine Carr serving her sentence and paying her dues to society, she has since not been left alone by the howling tabloid press, always looking for someone to scapegoat and blame. With the moor murderers, they had the figure of Myra Hindley to target, a bleach blonde whose police photo became an iconic image of "evil". She was never released from jail, mostly as a result of the hatred whipped up against her. Despite Carr's attempts to carry on with her life, with the creation of a new identity, she has not been left alone. There have been numerous falsehoods written about her. The latest, true or not, was in yesterday's Sunday Mirror which reported that she had visited the graves of Holly and Jessica to grieve for them personally. This was evidence to the Sunday Mirror that she somehow doesn't care about what their parents feel. I'm not sure how they reached that conclusion, but that's what was printed.

Carr had been a teacher's assistant at the school where Huntley also worked as a caretaker. She had known both the girls well. Whether the girls had called at Huntley's home to see her or whether he had met them is not known. Carr no doubt has been through hell since the girls were murdered and now has to face the rest of her life living with the regret that she lied to police and was unable to stop the deaths of two little girls. That is a life sentence in itself.

Maxine Carr herself was interviewed by the Mail on Sunday. She was not paid. The Sun no doubt had something to say about it at the time, but I'm not going to waste time searching for it. The Sun didn't feel it was necessary to mention in their story that they had paid Samantha Lewthwaite for her interview. You can imagine what the Sun might have said if it had been the Daily Mirror that had paid her for her story. No doubt there would have been cries of leftist apologism for relatives of murderers. The Sun greeted the arrests of the July 21st attempted bombers with the headline "GOT THE BASTARDS". Rebekah Wade is not only a piss-poor editor doing the bidding of a billionaire media megalomaniac, she is one that can't even see the craven hypocrisy of her treatment of those who have gone through similar problems.

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Saturday, September 24, 2005 

Moss watch Saturday.

Congratulations to the Daily Mirror on following up last week's scoop that Kate Moss scoops white powder into her nose with today's revelation that she also takes horse tranquilisers. Thanks for letting us know!

The Sun manages to not mention this thrilling developing story on its front page today, instead going with the gorgeous pouting surgically enhanced and certainly not fat Abi Titmuss, who must be modelling the new Marks & Spencer lingerie range, I assume. Who needs a news story related excuse for putting a woman in her underwear on your front page when you get a press release from a company through instead?

The other newspapers may well have had other Kate Moss stories on their front page, but I've lost the will to live already.

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Christian school expels girl because her parents are lesbians.

Reading this, you'd be forgiven for skimming it and assuming that it happened in some bible belt state in the US. This actually happened in Canada, not a country you usually associate with Christian moralistic bible thumping:

A 14-year-old girl has been expelled from school because her parents are lesbians.

The superintendent of Ontario Christian School, Leonard Stob, wrote to Shay Clark's biological mother, Tina Clark, this week saying Shay had been expelled because the family did not meet admission policies, which required that at least one parent did not engage in practices "immoral or inconsistent with a positive Christian lifestyle, such as cohabitating without marriage or in a homosexual relationship".

Ms Clark and her partner have been together 22 years and have two other daughters, aged nine and 19.

I'm assuming this is a private school, in which case they can obviously decide who to admit and who not to. Even so, it's still pretty depressing when you consider it's the child that's being taught, not the parents. If you're a teacher and don't happen to like some of the kid's parents when you meet them at an open evening, you don't expel their offspring the next day. It's all well and good not liking homosexuals because you base your morals on what you think a book written thousands of years ago says, but don't take it out on kids they've either adopted or had through IVF treatment. The kid didn't ask to be born, after all.

Edit: My source for this article, the Grauniad, has made me look stupid. They wrongly headlined it as happening in Canada. This actually took place in Ontario, California. Apologies.

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Guardian's saturday comment section.

For those of you who spat your museli all over your sandals this morning on reading Norman Johnson's second column in the Grauniad, if you haven't realised yet, it's a spoof. The Harry's Place blog seemed to think rather grandly that it was based on them, but it's obviously an attack on David Aaronovitch and his leftist-warmonger crap which filled G2 for a couple of years before he left for his more natual home at the Times, and no doubt a higher salary. It's not good enough to be an obvious spoof, and it's a rather Guardian-in joke which not that many people are going to get. It's certainly no Craig Brown, who while you always know that his works are spoofs, they come frightingenly close to the real thing. Today's mention of Paul Wolfowitz was excellent, though.

Still, it's nice to see that Aaronovitch pissed off just as many people who work for the paper as he did the readers. As to who the author is, some on the aforementioned Harry's Place blog seem to think it's Catherine Bennett. No insult to John O'Farrell, who used to write a satirical column weekly, but I think it's too literate for him. A.L. Kennedy perhaps?

Back a couple of pages from Norman Johnson, and you have Marina Hyde, who on her second week writing on showbiz seems to be getting more entertaining, especially her making fun of the Evening Standard in a similar way to the Moss dross I've been following. Never mind that though, check out the picture of her. Is she not a simmering sexpot if you ever saw one? I can see why Piers "Morgan" Moron did and continues to do the dirty with her.

For those too lazy to click:

I meant Harry's Place, not Bar. Durrrr.

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Friday, September 23, 2005 

Foreign insurgents in Iraq count for less than 10% of the actual number, report says.

As barbaric as the resistance or insurgency is in Iraq, don't let yourself be fooled that they are all foreign militants who have traveled to Iraq to commit jihad against the yanks.

The US and the Iraqi government have overstated the number of foreign fighters in Iraq, "feeding the myth" that they are the backbone of the insurgency, an American thinktank says in a new report.

Foreign militants - mainly from Algeria, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia - account for less than 10% of the estimated 30,000 insurgents, according to the Washington-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

The report came as President Bush said a pullout of US forces would embolden America's enemies, allowing the Jordanian-born terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and Osama bin Laden "to dominate the Middle East and launch more attacks on America and other free nations".

The report says the presence of foreign fighters is cause for alarm "particularly because they play so large a role in the most violent bombings and in the efforts to provoke a major and intense civil war". The CSIS disputes reports that Saudis account for most of the foreign insurgents and says best estimates suggest Algerians are the largest group (20%), followed by Syrians (18%), Yemenis (17%), Sudanese (15%), Egyptians (13%), Saudis (12%) and those from other states (5%). British intelligence estimate the number of British jihadists at about 100.

The CSIS report says: "The vast majority of Saudi militants who have entered Iraq were not terrorist sympathisers before the war; and were radicalised almost exclusively by the coalition invasion."

The average age of the Saudis was 17-25 and they were generally middle-class with jobs, though they usually had connections with the most prominent conservative tribes. "Most of the Saudi militants were motivated by revulsion at the idea of an Arab land being occupied by a non-Arab country. These feelings are intensified by the images of the occupation they see on television and the internet ... the catalyst most often cited [in interrogations] is Abu Ghraib, though images from Guantanamo bay also feed into the pathology."

In terms of fighters entering Iraq, Syria is clearly the biggest problem, the report says, but preventing militants from crossing its 380-mile frontier with Iraq is daunting. "Even if Syria had the political will to completely and forcefully seal its border, it lacks sufficient resources to do so." Oil-rich Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, has spent $1.2bn (£670m) over the past two years and deployed 35,000 troops in an effort to secure its border.

During the past six months this has led to the capture of 63 Saudis trying to cross into Iraq but also 682 Iraqi intruders and smugglers. The smuggling included explosives destined for Islamist groups in Saudi Arabia and neighbouring countries.

It's good to see that this report destroys quite a few myths and repeated statements from the USuk coalition. They've blamed Syria constantly for the amount of fighters entering Iraq, while they know full well that Syria is unable to control its border. That's just one consequence of the humiliation Syria has gone through over the past few years, as Bashar al-Assad has seen power slip away from him. The days of hoping that he would be a reformer have long since passed. The possibility of the forthcoming UN report into the assassination of Rafik Hairi pointing the finger directly at Syria could be the catalyst which results in the regime collapsing. With all its problems in the Middle East at the moment, it's not something which the United States will instantly cheer and relish.

Also destroyed is the presumption that it is mainly Saudi fighters who have been fuelling the insurgency. Turns out that the highest percentage is most likely Algerians, who are well versed in rebellion, having fought against the state and then each other. It's also the same country which Britain is currently negotiating with, in the aim of deporting "extremists" there.

Most of all though, it shows that the vast majority of fighters are from within Iraq itself. Whether it is former Ba'athists, disillusioned Sunnis or radical Shias is a moot point. These are not just terrorists, they are those who have been against the occupation from the beginning. It's easily forgotten that the beginning of all the problems in Fallujah was when soldiers indiscriminately shot at protestors after they had took over a school as a base, not when the contractors were lynched.

The war in Iraq has been a disaster. That this can still not be admitted, or that ministers still profess that things are getting better is shameful. If anything, the electricity and water supply is now worse than under Saddam. It took a lot of propaganda, disinformation and lies for the war to be "justified". It will take the truth for withdrawal of all foreign troops and end of the occupation.

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Moss dross continues yet again.

Congratulations to the Mirror, Daily Star and Guardian who all felt that Kate Moss was applicable to put on their front pages today. Trebles all round!

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Thursday, September 22, 2005 

Clarke considers compromise over terror laws, while Ian Blair takes his turn to spout drivel.

One reality check, and one from someone who's starting to seem increasingly deranged:

Charles Clarke said today he was seeking a compromise with opposition parties on his proposals to detain terrorist suspects without charge for 90 days.

In an interview published today in the New Statesman magazine, the home secretary said he was willing to consider limiting the timescale for detention in light of opposition from both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats.

Mr Clarke also alluded to revelations of his own reservations on the matter, when an early draft of a letter to his opposition counterparts was accidentally released. The first draft of the letter to the Conservatives' David Davis and the Liberal Democrat Mark Oaten was more equivocal than the one which was eventually delivered.

Today Mr Clarke said: "I'm convinced the three months is fine. But because David [Davis] and Mark [Oaten] had raised doubts, I was uncertain quite how to word the covering letter. "Will we compromise? We will seek to do so. My preference is to work on a basis of compromise and agreement if we can. But if Mark Oaten wants to say there is no case for extending the time beyond 14 days, I couldn't accept that.

"But you could have a slightly different argument about timescale."

However, Mr Oaten yesterday specifically said the Liberal Democrats were not prepared to "barter" on the matter. Mr Oaten dubbed detention without trial for three months "internment" and said he would oppose all of the government's anti-terrorist bill if that section was not dropped.

He said, "I'm not going to get into a barter [with Charles Clarke] My starting point is we don't need to extend it beyond 14 days. We are not going to barter about 1 month or two months ... "

Today the Liberal Democrat leader, Charles Kennedy, also attacked the idea in his speech to conference. He said: "There can be no consensus on detaining people for three months without charge. This proposal undermines our most basic rights and eats into our most cherished freedoms. If we undermine the foundations of our legal system then we let the terrorists win."

Liberal Democrat peers in Blackpool have suggested that the home secretary would find it very difficult to get his legislation through the House of Lords if he did not compromise on detention without trial and drop the new offence of "glorifying" terrorism.

In his New Statesman interview, the home secretary said he believed that the 90 day period was still justified, because the police and security services needed longer than the present 14 days because of the difficulty of obtaining forensic evidence.

Sir Ian's comments came on the same day as he announced plans to bring soldiers into police firearms units and give officers powers to confiscate driving licences or issue antisocial behaviour orders. His plans provoked alarm among civil liberties groups, but he won qualified support from the Home Office by suggesting that officers should be given radical powers to deliver justice on the spot.

Addressing the Police Superintendents' Association conference in Warwickshire, Sir Ian said he believed the police service should be "bold enough to explore whether certain functions can be carried out by people on short-term contracts, partially warranted only to do a certain type of the police job, whether that be surveillance officers, underwater search, financial investigators, mounted branch or, even, firearms officers.

"Could we bring staff directly in from the armed services, give them a certain amount of basic training and clear instructions as to their firearms duties, so they would be partially warranted, on a fixed-term contract, to undertake only those duties?" In clarification afterwards, the Met said those recruited would be "people leaving the armed services with proven firearms skills" who would be deployed as firearms officers following "a small amount of additional training".

On giving police officers powers to impose interim Asbos or suspend driving licences, Sir Ian said: "Some antisocial activities can be very difficult to deal with through the normal criminal justice system because it takes so long ... but we have to be careful about this. I don't want to see this as a massive widening of powers."

His remarks on pay set him on a collision course with rank and file officers by demanding the abolition of the body which negotiates salaries on a national basis. He told delegates: "We should press for the abolition of the Police Negotiating Board and move towards regional agreements around pay and conditions."

The director of the civil liberties group Liberty, Shami Chakrabarti, accused the commissioner of behaving like Judge Dredd, the post-apocalyptic policeman-cum-executioner in the comic 2000AD. "This is more like summary justice, which has no place in a democracy," she said.

A Home Office spokesman said Sir Ian's ideas were "part of the ongoing debate we are having about workforce modernisation and the police service".

Glen Smyth, chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation, criticised the idea of using soldiers. "There's a vast difference in the way police and soldiers are trained and their roles are very different. The army are trained to cope with war zones. London is not a war zone."

The Liberal Democrats seem to be the only party (that actually has seats in parliament at least) that has principles left. Despite their rather opportunist opposition to war, with their pledge of support to the troops, they have come into their own recently in demanding changes to the government's worst excesses. They helped knock the control orders bill down to size. Now hopefully they will stop the affront to liberty which is the planned 3 month detention. It's good to see that Charles Clarke recognises that there's almost no way he will get away with trying to force the measure through parliament. What I don't believe is claim is that it was him that was coming up with the wording of the letter sent to his opposite numbers. The draft which was sent has the fingerprints of a certain Mr Blair or one of his "advisors" all over it. The glorification clause must also be dropped, because it is utterly unenforceable, a restriction on free speech, and already existing laws can be used against the worst offenders or sympathisers.

Meanwhile, "Sir" Ian Blair seems to be a little worse for wear after his obviously unfortunate dose of reality which was dealt him thanks to his officers murdering Jean Charles de Menezes. His idea of recruiting army soldiers was shown to be a disaster by the events of July the 22nd. That he should consider extending such use of soldiers and even SAS men further shows how little he has learned, despite his professions that he thought about resigning. The police and the army are completely different cultures. Secondly, on the "interim" ASBOs idea, it smacks of the idea of taking "yobs" directly to cash machines to pay their fines. It didn't work and was a ridiculous idea, as is this. As with ASBOs, such interim orders would hit the mentally ill, prostitutes, beggars and the different in society. Such further marginalisation does not solve anything. As for taking away drivers licenses for reckless driving, it's the kind of idea that sounds good on paper but when actually carried in practice could result in people losing their jobs for a moment of silliness, which we all have.

Sadly, Blair's namesake is more and more keen on cracking down on "anti-social behaviour". Of course, this doesn't extend to bar and pubs being allowed to stay open for 24 hours, or for supermarkets to do the same when selling alcohol. Expect ASBO interim orders to be introduced and also used instead of actually arresting or cautioning youths who happen to just be loitering around "with intent". Blair is only interested in quick fixes now. His term is coming to an end, and he couldn't care less about the state of his party once he's gone. It makes a mockery of his slogan while shadow home secretary to be tough on crime and even tougher on the causes of crime. He's only ever tried to deal properly with the former.

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Two views of New Orleans.

Thanks to Rigorious Intuition for bringing this juxtaposition to my attention.

Stripper "Alex" entertains patrons at Deja Vu Showgirls during the strip club's second day of business in the French Quarter of New Orleans, September 20, 2005...entertaining the city's hoard of police, rescue and fire workers.


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Moss dross continues.

Guess I shouldn't have opened my mouth. I can't remember which newspapers had Kate Moss on their front page today, but at least one of the mid-market tabloids did, as well as the brilliant expose detailed below. Congratulations Sun on your superb banner boost splash!

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Wednesday, September 21, 2005 

Kate Dross: for fuck's sake.

Yes, amazing as it may seem, Kate Moss snorts cocaine. In other news, Pope Benedict has admitted that he has on occasion been known to pray to God.

Seriously, it's incredibly depressing to see the blowback and media hype from the Mirror's incredible expose that a model has been dabbling in illegal substances. She's been dropped as the marketing face of H&M, Chanel and Burberry. It's pretty odd that they thought she was appropriate even though she's dating the junkie Pete Doherty, formerly of the Libertines and a complete and utter fuck-up who should take the Cobain way out as soon as possible. Who honestly cares?

News editors, please note that there's just a few more important stories going on than what's currently in a pathetic model's nose. There's a hurricane heading towards New Orleans again, Iraq is a disaster zone, Britain is under attack not by terrorists but by lawmakers, the government is too cowardly to revalue council tax and stop the poor from paying too much, Uzbekistan is accusing the foreign media of supporting Islamists and conducting a Stalinist show trial, Tesco is continuing to destroy small businesses across the country and what do we get on our front pages? A model that can't even manage to take drugs in private. Get over this shit.

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Horrific failings by prisons, courts and prosecution service.

I opposed the recent plans to introduce double jeopardy (trying a suspect who has already been acquitted of the same crime again) and to reveal the criminal record of the accused as evidence in the prosecutions case. I did this on the basis that those who have changed their behaviour but are known by police could be brought in if they are in the wrong place in the wrong time. The revealing of their past in court could therefore result in miscarriages of justice. Although Ian Huntley was convicted for the murders of the two Soham schoolgirls, it was revealed afterwards that he had been accused of rape before and for having sex with underage girls. There now comes this case which shows that if the revealing of the criminal record had been allowed in the past, this man may not have been able to continue to commit such horrific crimes:

Details of how a killer and serial sex offender attacked women and children over 40 years were revealed for the first time yesterday following the conclusion of court cases in Britain and Northern Ireland. And, as the full history of Robert Howard emerged, it was announced that he could be questioned about a series of unsolved murders of women in the Irish Republic.

Howard, 61, was jailed for life in October 2003 for the murder of Hannah Williams, a 14-year-old with learning difficulties, but reporting of the case was restricted until outstanding sex charges were dropped this week at Belfast crown court. Howard strangled Hannah with a 12-metre rope and dumped her body at a disused cement works in Northfleet, Kent. She went missing in April 2001 but was not found until a year later.

It can also be revealed that this June a jury found Howard not guilty of the murder of Arlene Arkinson, 15, who was in Howard's car the night before she disappeared in 1994. Yesterday Arlene's sister claimed that Howard would not have been cleared of the killing if the jury had known of his past convictions. Kathleen Arkinson said: "The law has to change." Arlene's body has still to be found.

Howard is thought to have committed his first sexual offence aged 20 in 1964. He attempted to rape a six-year-old girl in London after he broke into her bedroom, pretended to be a doctor and told her to undress. In March 1969 he broke into a house in north-east England and tried to rape a young woman. When she escaped he pursued her into her garden where he tried to strangle her. He was sentenced to six years for aggravated burglary.

In March 1974 he was sentenced to a further 10 years after being convicted in Cork of raping a woman aged 58 who was bound with a sheet in her own bed.

In 1993 he lured a 16-year-old girl to his flat in Castlederg, Co Tyrone, where he drugged, stripped and repeatedly raped her over two days while keeping a noose tied tightly round her neck. His victim, who escaped through a bathroom window, claimed he threatened to kill her. He said the teenager had consented, and he was convicted of a lesser charge of having unlawful sex with a girl under 17.

In 1994 he drove Arlene Arkinson, as well as his girlfriend's daughter and her boyfriend, to Bundoran, Co Donegal, for drinks. He dropped the couple off at 2.30am promising to take Arlene home. She was never seen again. He also held a woman in her 20s captive for several weeks. In March 1995 he moved to Drumchapel, Glasgow, but was hounded out after a newspaper exposed his past.

At Northfleet Hannah Williams had played at his home in the months before she went missing.

It has to be asked why he was continually let out to reoffend. It also has to be asked why the judges in the cases did not impose heavier sentences, or even life imprisonment as it became clear what a menace this man was to vulnerable women. I'm not ashamed to admit that I'm a liberal when it comes to imprisonment. I don't believe that prison works. What I do believe is that there are some people so dangerous that they need to be locked away, for life if necessary, from the general public. This man was one of those people. That he wasn't identified as such is a scandal. Obviously the revealing of past cases would not have mattered in this case, as he was imprisoned despite him being found not guilty of the murder of Arlene. The least he could now do is admit that he murdered Arlene and reveal what he did with her body.

This case doesn't change my feelings that in general past convictions should not be revealed in court before the jury decides on their verdict. I do however feel that circumstances are constantly changing. If the change in the law results in people such as Robert Howard being locked away, then I would happily support it. At the moment however, it will still affect those who should always be viewed as innocent until proven guilty.

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Tuesday, September 20, 2005 

British army and Ministry of Defence spinning Basra incident.

Just what on earth actually did happen in Basra yesterday? Almost every news account I come across seems to be different. Here's the Guardian's account:

British troops used tanks last night to break down the walls of a prison in the southern Iraqi city of Basra and free two undercover British soldiers who were seized earlier in the day by local police.

An official from the Iraqi interior ministry said half a dozen tanks had broken down the walls of the jail and troops had then stormed it to free the two British soldiers. The governor of Basra last night condemned the "barbaric aggression" of British forces in storming the jail.

Aquil Jabbar, an Iraqi television cameraman who lives across the street from the jail, said dozens of Iraqi prisoners also fled in the confusion.

In a statement last night the defence secretary, John Reid, said: "I am pleased to be able to say that the British servicemen who were seen being injured in the graphic photographs are being treated for minor injuries only and are expected to return to duty shortly. We remain committed to helping the Iraqi government for as long as they judge that a coalition presence is necessary to provide security."

A Ministry of Defence spokesman said: "We have not had confirmation of the full details of this. We've heard nothing to suggest we stormed the prison. We understand there were negotiations."

In a day of dramatic incidents in the heart of the British-controlled area of Iraq, the two undercover soldiers - almost certainly special forces - were held by Iraqi security forces after clashes that reportedly left two people dead and threatened to escalate into a diplomatic incident between London and Baghdad.

The soldiers, who were said to have been wearing Arab headdress, were accused of firing at Iraqi police when stopped at a road block.

In another incident an angry crowd attacked a Warrior armoured personnel carrier with petrol bombs. A British soldier was forced to flee from his burning vehicle.

Muhammad al-Abadi, an official in the Basra governorate, told journalists the two undercover soldiers had looked suspicious to police. "A policeman approached them and then one of these guys fired at him. Then the police managed to capture them."

Senior British officials said the Iraqis who attacked the Warrior armoured vehicle had prepared their petrol bomb attack before the incident involving the two undercover soldiers. The origins of the attack on the Warrior, they say, lay in events the previous day when about 200 members of the al-Mahdi Army, a militia headed by the radical Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, made a show of force in Basra, blocking roads in the city and demanding the release of their local commanders.

So, 2 "undercover" British soldiers allegedly fired at a police roadblock, who were then captured and taken to the local lockup. A major incident nonetheless, but possibly a misunderstanding, right?

Here's the wire story from the Xinhua news agency:

BAGHDAD, Sept. 19 (Xinhuanet) -- Iraqi police detained two British soldiers in civilian clothes in the southern city Basra for firing on a police station on Monday, police said.

"Two persons wearing Arab uniforms opened fire at a police station in Basra. A police patrol followed the attackers and captured them to discover they were two British soldiers," an Interior Ministry source told Xinhua.

The two soldiers were using a civilian car packed with explosives, the source said.

He added that the two were being interrogated in the police headquarters of Basra.

The British forces informed the Iraqi authorities that the two soldiers were performing an official duty, the source said. British military authorities said they could not confirm the incident but investigations were underway.

Now they're attacking a police station with a car packed full of explosives. What would 2 undercover SAS soldiers be doing attacking police stations with cars of explosives, hmmm?

This is the latest BBC report:

The Iraqi government has launched an inquiry into the events that led the British Army to stage a dramatic rescue of two UK soldiers detained by police.

Both men were members of the SAS elite special forces, sources told the BBC's Richard Galpin in Baghdad.

The soldiers were arrested by police and then handed over to a militia group, the British Army says.

Iraq's interior ministry ordered the police force in Basra to release the soldiers but that order was ignored.

Defence Secretary John Reid told reporters that a delegation of six British military personnel, including a legal officer, had been sent to the police station to ease the release of the men.

Mr Reid said surveillance had established the men were being moved to another location, while at the same time an angry crowd posed an obstacle to the departure of the six-strong team.

The British commander on the ground, Brigadier John Lorimer, ordered British forces to move into the police station to help the team.

Almost simultaneously, a separate operation was staged to rescue the men from the place where they had been moved to.

It is understood force was also used in this operation, although there were no casualties as the Shia militia holding the British soldiers fled.

The episode saw a wall flattened at the police station by a British armoured personnel carrier, but Mr Reid said the coalition was still going "in the right direction" in terms of its overall strategy in Iraq and said this incident was merely "local".

Basra governor Mohammed al-Waili said the men - possibly working undercover - were arrested for allegedly shooting dead a policeman and wounding another.

Richard Galpin said al-Jazeera news channel footage, purportedly of the equipment carried in the men's car, showed assault rifles, a light machine gun, an anti-tank weapon, radio gear and medical kit.

This is thought to be standard kit for the SAS operating in such a theatre of operations, he said.

The arrests sparked angry protests from locals in which British vehicles were attacked and set on fire.

Seems like the soldiers captured were definitely SAS members, and that the BBC itself may well be trying to spin why they had "explosives" in their car. Apparently what they had is typical SAS kit. Without seeing any pictures I obviously can't comment. What I can say is that this entire operation stinks and that the government has lied from the very beginning. We've had no explanation as to why these two soldiers were undercover, apart from the rumour they may have been trying to track down insurgents that have recently seemingly perfected roadside bombs. Did they fire at a roadblock or a police station? Why did they do so? Had they infiltrated an insurgent group and were trying to prove themselves, or was this something much more sinister? Whichever it was, the army was very keen to get these two soldiers back as soon as possible. Are the claims that they had been handed over to a Shia militia credible, or more spin to make their use of force to break into the prison look better? Even if they were, it seems unlikely that the militia would have done anything stupid enough to hurt or kill them, as the British army has seemingly turned a blind eye to militias infiltrating or joining the Basra police force, despite Sunday's incident with the Mahdi army.

Whether we'll get any answers is doubtful. What is obviously nonsense is this pathetic statement put out by the army, which I'm not going to bother pasting. One thing though. Does the below look like minor damage to you?

Also, why did the government request that the photos of the two soldiers be pixellated?
Naturally, the Guardian and I would guess the rest of the British media very kindly decided to do what the government requested. Thanks again to RI for providing the uncensored image.

Here's some more minor disturbance photos that show that the UK has won hearts and minds and obviously shouldn't consider withdrawing any time soon:

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Monday, September 19, 2005 

Met chief faces own inquiry into his comments on murder of de Menezes.

This isn't going to go away any time soon:

Britain's most senior police officer is to face an official investigation into whether he told the truth about the shooting dead of an innocent man who was mistaken for a terrorist, the Guardian has learned.

Witnesses have told the Independent Police Complaints Commission about events inside the Metropolitan police on July 22, the day Jean Charles de Menezes was killed at Stockwell tube station. It is believed their testimony raises questions about a claim by Sir Ian Blair, the Met police commissioner, that he did not know that the wrong man had been killed until 24 hours after the shooting.

The Guardian has learned that a senior Met officer has told the IPCC of his concerns that senior colleagues knew or suspected on the afternoon of July 22 that the wrong person had been shot. Investigators have also received the names of other officers at the top of the Met who by the afternoon of the shooting feared the force had made a mistake.

Mr de Menezes was gunned down in a tube carriage by firearms officers who believed he was about to detonate a device. The officers were operating under a shoot to kill policy which allows them to open fire without warning. The IPCC was investigating how Mr de Menezes came to be wrongly identified as a terrorist and then shot, but has decided to widen its inquiries to include Sir Ian.

In an interview last month in the News of the World, Sir Ian said that for 24 hours he believed his officers had shot the right man. The newspaper quoted him as saying: "Somebody came in at 10.30am [on Saturday] and said the equivalent of 'Houston we have a problem'. I thought 'That's dreadful. What are we going to do about that?'" Straight after the shooting, Sir Ian wrote to the top civil servant at the Home Office saying that the police should conduct the inquiry, not independent investigators. Sir Ian told the News of the World: "The key component was that at that time, and for the next 24 hours, I and everybody who advised me believed the person shot was a suicide bomber."

Sources have told the Guardian that by just after 4pm on July 22 senior officers were discussing possible consequences of the shooting. The officers knew the name of the shot man and the fact that he was a Brazilian national. Sir Ian had defended the shooting at a press conference at 3.30pm that day, though senior officers believed there was a significant likelihood that the wrong man had been killed. The commissioner told reporters: "This operation was directly linked to the ongoing terrorist investigation. As I understand the situation, the man was challenged and refused to obey police instructions."

I already felt that it was highly unlikely the "Sir" Ian was not aware for 24 hours that the wrong man had been shot. However, this is perhaps one part of the case where we should hold our scepticism for now. It has been reported that senior officers at the Met were unhappy with appointment of "Sir" Ian to begin with, feeling that he was too "politically correct". True or not, this may well be the start of a whispering campaign against him. As in the courts, we should treat "Sir" Ian innocent until proven guilty. He was not in charge of the operation, did not fire the bullet, and may well have been handed faulty information or kept out of the loop. The case may be damning, but until the already discredited IPCC report arrives, it would be too easy to cast stones. If it turns out to be a whitewash, similar to Hutton, then will be the time to start hurling.

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Blair and Murdoch, the not so odd couple.

One is the prime minister of the United Kingdom, an Oxbridge educated barrister. The other is an Australian who has risen from reasonably humble beginnings to head one of the largest media empires in operation. One is meant to be a socialist, head of a party which for decades fought for the working man. The other is a major force behind conservatism, fights for complete domination of the media and has enriched himself and his family for decades while showering the public with propaganda. You would think that they would have nothing in common. You'd be utterly wrong.

The BBC and Downing Street were striving yesterday to avoid reopening old wounds after Rupert Murdoch said the prime minister had criticised the corporation's coverage of Hurricane Katrina as "full of hatred for America and gloating".

Downing Street signalled embarrassment as well as irritation over the widespread publicity given to Tony Blair's remark to the media tycoon, while senior BBC executives tried to play down the impact of the comments, made in a telephone call to Mr Murdoch last week.

Speaking on Friday night at a seminar hosted by former US president Bill Clinton, Mr Murdoch said: "Tony Blair - perhaps I shouldn't repeat this conversation - told me yesterday that he was in Delhi last week and he turned on the BBC World Service to see what was happening in New Orleans. And he said it was just full of hate for America and gloating about our troubles." Mr Murdoch, who regards the BBC as elitist and commercially unfair, has often used his newspapers to attack the broadcaster. His son James, chief executive of BSkyB, again criticised the corporation on Friday at a television industry conference in Cambridge.

Senior BBC executives yesterday refused to comment on Mr Murdoch's speech, saying they had received no official complaint from No 10, but privately greeted it with anger and incredulity. Nevertheless, most were relaxed about its impact, given the outpouring of public support that followed the Hutton report. "It says more about Blair's relationship with Murdoch than it does his relationship with the BBC," one executive said.

The BBC senior executives took the polite and low-key approach to such a ridiculous statement. That National Union of Journalists was not so subtle.

The NUJ has attacked Tony Blair for comments he reportedly made about the BBC over the weekend, saying his criticism of the corporation's coverage of Hurricane Katrina "exposed his contempt for public service broadcasting and the BBC in particular".

The NUJ general secretary, Jeremy Dear, said the suggestion that the BBC's coverage had been "full of hatred for America and gloating", revealed the prime minister's "craven devotion to President Bush ... only eclipsed by his craven devotion to Rupert Murdoch".

Mr Murdoch revealed Mr Blair's alleged comments at a seminar hosted by former American president Bill Clinton on Friday.

Mr Murdoch reportedly said: "Tony Blair - perhaps I shouldn't repeat this conversation - told me yesterday that he was in Delhi last week and he turned on the BBC World Service to see what was happening in New Orleans. And he said it was just full of hate for America and gloating about our troubles."

The NUJ said the comments showed that the prime minister was trying to curry favour with Mr Murdoch.

"Tony Blair's criticism of the BBC for exposing the divide between rich and poor in the US and the slowness of the emergency services to provide relief to the poor of New Orleans is beyond contempt, " Mr Dear said.

"Tony Blair has deregulated broadcasting to serve the interests of Rupert Murdoch. His latest attack on the BBC shows he is still doing Murdoch's bidding."

Both the BBC and Downing Street are trying to distance themselves from a possible fallout.

"We have received no complaint from Downing Street, so it would be remiss of us to comment on what has been reported as a private conversation," said a BBC spokewoman.

Yeah, I'd say that's pretty much closer to the truth. For a start, if Blair really did say that, he's even more out of touch than I thought he was. The American networks were also being just as critical of the relief effort, although the BBC was perhaps quicker to become frustrated and report on it. Secondly, I'm not sure in what sense Murdoch is using the phrase "our troubles". Just a reminder, Rupert. You're not American. You only became an American for tax purposes. Land of the free, etc. Blair is not going to forgive the BBC for the 45 minute report any time soon. Neither is he going to forget the interview with Jeremy Paxman at the election, which even I thought was over the top, nor the Question Time session when he was greeted with booing and also left with it howling around him. That the BBC is anything more pro-government than say, Channel 4 news is, is not the point. The BBC is publicly funded, and any questioning of his policy or investigations from now on may result in the charter now being drawn up dramatically changed.

Murdoch is dying to be able to gain an even bigger strangehold on the media in Britain. It's long been rumoured that he wished to buy into Channel 5, although the time has probably passed for such a move now. The Ofcom rules on impartiality and balance prevent him from turning Sky News into Fox News Britland. If Murdoch can get some more feathers in his cap before Blair steps down in favour of Brown, he'll try as hard as he can.

The real issue though with Murdoch and Blair has been the huge influence which his newspapers have had on the government. Ever since the 1992 election with the boast that "IT WAS THE SUN WOT WON IT" for the Tories, Labour as a whole has been completely craven towards the Sun and the Times. When the Sun switched to supporting Labour in 1997, it was a huge coup for Labour, whether it did any more to help their victory or not. The Hutton report itself was leaked to the Sun the day before it was published, with the source of the leak never properly identified. It's also highly rumoured that Blair gained the support of the Sun for this year's election thanks to him agreeing to hold a referendum on the European constitution, which is now unlikely to be held.

While Blair will no doubt be embarrassed in the short term by Murdoch's loose lips, it won't make any difference towards his position or devotion to courting Murdoch at every turn. While the Sun and Times are unlikely to change support or attack him now before the hand-over to Brown, Blair realises the more sycophantic he is, he may well be able to get him some kind of corporate job with News Corporation when he leaves politics. Blair doesn't care about the Labour party any longer; it always just his host for his own ambitions. Expect him to dump it as soon as he no longer needs it. If the Labour party has any sense left in its collective mind, it'll be sooner rather than later.

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Saturday, September 17, 2005 

Taking the piss - CCTV installed in school toilets.

Parents have protested to Ruth Kelly, the education secretary, after security cameras were installed in a secondary school's lavatories.

Staff at Westhoughton High, near Bolton, Lancashire, say the measure is necessary to combat vandalism, smoking and drug-taking.

But more than 80 parents have signed a petition demanding the removal of the CCTV cameras, and have asked Ms Kelly to intervene.

One parent, Carol Galloway, described the move as "an invasion of privacy". Bolton council said the school was seeking to "reassure parents about why it is necessary to have cameras in place".

Just imagine for a second that this wasn't in a school. Say it was in a busy shopping mall. The security and management of the mall installed CCTV in the toilets because they said that vandalism, smoking and drug-taking occurred in there. Not only would there be universal outrage, those behind the scheme would possibly get sacked and for good reason. While Britain has taken the constant surveillance of nearly every street in the country in its stride, I can't imagine anyone daring to defend putting CCTV in toilets.

That the school has decided to take such a measure shows how obviously disconnected the leadership of the school is from its own pupils. Any teacher will tell you that if you respect your students, they will respect you. This measure removes any notion of that. Instead of taking the option of positioning a member of staff near the toilets, who could monitor how long people were in there and possibly what they had been doing, they've decided to install a constant monitor of exactly what they're doing in probably the one place that most people consider to still be private.

That it's none of the school's business if the kids are smoking is obviously irrelevant. I never saw the point when I was at school of punishing children for smoking. It was their decision, they knew perfectly well what they were doing. They could have informed the child's parents if they caught them doing it. Instead they put them on "report", constantly monitoring the child's behaviour even if it was exemplary, and gave detentions. That this was completely hypocritical as it was well-known that many teachers smoked on school property didn't matter. Drug-taking is a different matter if it is occurring on school property. I only ever witnessed people smoking weed or coming back to lessons completely stoned, and they caused little harm generally. That said, drug taking and possession/selling is obviously more heinous than simple smoking. It needs to be dealed with. Unfortunately, the government is currently encouraging random testing, even though it's a private matter if it doesn't happen at school. The invasion of those at school's privacy climbs year on year, as more schools also adopt random searching for weapons.

I always felt that school was simply a lesser form of a totalitarian dictatorship. You had little say in any of the matters of running the school. Mine had a "student council" which relied on elections, which were blatant popularity contests. It didn't matter if those elected were too shy or idiotic to even take notes or then stand up in front of the class and say what happened. This was democracy in action.
Another thing that annoyed me was the hypocrisy of some of the teachers - the typical kind who demanded you take off your coat in the dead of winter while they sat there in theirs, sipping hot tea from their mug with a daft slogan on it. The many who always considered you guilty until proven innocent, for whatever misdemeanors which may have occurred. The humiliating experience of having to go and a piece of paper saying what time you had arrived if you were so much as two minutes late. This time was then how long you would spend in detention, added up over the week. This is not to say that schools are full of little angels who obey every command. Mine was full of uncooperative shits who would have tested the patience of Ghandi. It's simply that some teachers came in who already had a trench warfare mentality; that treating you like dirt would somehow make you fear them. It didn't work, and never has. Most of the above is simply counter-productive.

This installation of CCTV is from a similar school of thought. It ignores that students sometimes use toilets as havens as well as places to smoke, roll joints and throw wet toilet paper at the ceiling. Some would sit in there at lunchtime to be alone or avoid other people. I never did that, but I often left the school when I didn't have a lesson and went and sat in nearby public toilets. I could read in peace without anyone bothering me. As Michael Moore said in Bowling for Columbine, it sucks being a teenager and it sucks having to go to school. When schools treat you as a threat rather than as someone to teach, what do they honestly expect?

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Friday, September 16, 2005 

Was Clarke overruled by Blair?

Seems the Charles Clarke definitely had doubts over the possible imprisoning of terrorist suspects for up to 3 months. Was he then overruled by the Dear Leader who demanded that he follow the requests from the security services and police?

Signs emerged today that Charles Clarke shared opposition doubts about the detention without trial of terror suspects for up to three months, as proposed yesterday in his draft anti-terrorism bill.

Close examination of the letter the home secretary sent his opposite numbers by email yesterday showed that in an earlier draft Mr Clarke had himself been unsure about acceding to the police request for longer detention periods. Both Liberals and Conservatives immediately objected to the proposal on receiving the letter.

Mr Clarke's doubts were revealed by the accidental inclusion of an earlier draft in an "annex" to the letter. In a version of the letter later released to the press this annex had been removed. However, the slip will reignite speculation, fuelled by Sunday newspaper stories recently, that the prime minister regards Mr Clarke as too soft on civil liberties, and may replace him in a future reshuffle.

By the time the letter was sent, Mr Clarke had hardened his stance to agreeing with a three-month detention period - putting the onus on the opposition to make the case against.

The three-month issue - dubbed "internment in all but name" by Amnesty International yesterday - was the main sticking point in reaching cross-party consensus on the bill, which will be introduced when parliament returns in October.

In the first draft of his letter, Mr Clarke said: "I think the case for some extension is clear, though I believe there is room for debate as to whether we should go as far as three months, and I am still in discussion with the police on this point."

But the correspondence actually sent reads: "It may be that you are convinced by the case for some extension but feel that three months is too great an extension. I would be interested in your views on this particular point."

Is Charles Clarke going to turn out to be another critic of government policy when/if he leaves the cabinet? It was rumoured when he was promoted to Home Secretary following David Blunkett's resignation that he had been firmly against the introduction of ID Cards; he soon rectified that rumour by continuing with Blunkett's campaign to get them through parliament as quickly as possible. That still doesn't explain what his personal view is though. In recent weeks there have been persistent reports that Blair is not happy with Clarke's performance, that he is "too soft". That this is nonsense doesn't matter; the tabloids loved Blunkett until he became an easy scapegoat for their hatred of Labour before the election. The Daily Mail especially put the knife into his back. The tabloids this time are not supportive of Clarke. That Clarke still seems to have some doubts about the way the new terrorist laws are being seemingly drafted by Blair is encouraging - what's depressing is that he seems to be failing to have much input on them.

As well as this, yesterday's annoucement on the offence of "glorification" has today been further clarified:

The government's proposed anti-terrorism laws published yesterday are so widely drawn that anyone who "glorifies, exalts or celebrates" any terrorist act committed over the past 20 years could face a sentence of up to five years in prison.

But the small print of the draft terrorism bill published yesterday shows that the home secretary is preparing to go even further and draw up a list of historical terrorist acts which if "glorified" could mean a criminal offence being committed.

A Home Office spokeswoman said 9/11 was such an example; it would become a "listed event", the appropriate ban lasting longer than 20 years. However, the 1916 Irish Easter Rising would be exempt.

Shami Chakrabarti, the director of Liberty, said the offence of "glorification" was so broad it meant the home secretary was now acquiring powers to determine which historical figures were terrorists and which freedom fighters.

The home secretary, Charles Clarke, said the power was needed because the "celebration of despicable terrorist acts over the past weeks has only served to inflame already sensitive community relations in the UK". But he acknowledged that the proper exercise of freedom of speech meant the offence had to be carefully drawn. His proposals came as it emerged that the Crown Prosecution Service was preparing guidelines for "intelligence-only" interviews, whereby terrorism suspects could give information which would not be used against them. Senior prosecutors are convinced that this, plus other measures such as intercept evidence and plea bargaining, would strengthen their hand against international terrorism and organised crime.

An earlier draft of the letter made clear that powers allowing the police "to close down places of worship used to foment extremism" had been dropped.

Two other measures outlined by the prime minister - refusal of asylum to anyone who connected with terrorism anywhere in the world, and a maximum time limit on extradition cases - were also absent from yesterday's package.

Making the gloryifying of historical terrorist attacks a criminal offence smacks of countries which make Holocaust denial an offence. There is no doubting that such people are misled, stupid or willing to make others think that the opposite to the truth is the actual reality, but what is the point of wasting time legislating and then prosecuting such people? I'm not sure whether Holocaust denial falls under incitement to racial hatred in this country, but even if it does the point stands. Why can we not tackle these people through debate and summaries of the facts? Also as mentioned yesterday, the UN can't even decide what an act of terrorism actually is. One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter.

What is good to see is that some of the most extreme measures which the Dear Leader previously outlined have been quietly dropped or sidelined for the moment - hopefully for good. Closing down Mosques on reports of extremism is only going to enflame the situation around the country. As the Finchley Park debacle showed, the Mosque there was reclaimed while the likes of Abu Hamza just went outside and carried on their preaching in the street, solving little. The refusal to asylum of anyone associated to "terrorism" would have been an unworkable mindfield that may have condemned some to death at the hands of despotic regimes. The government seems to have seen sense on that point. Hopefully the government, with opposition from civil liberties groups and other political parties, will yet see sense on other measures of this draconian and mostly unnecessary bill.

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Thursday, September 15, 2005 

Prince Harry: For God's sake, shut up.

It's pretty pathetic that so much of this country still seems so obsessed with the royal family that Prince Harry's 21st birthday can't go by without there being a huge amount of bile splashed across both the TV and newspapers about him, with the interview being the main focus. Apparently he wants to fight for his country. If so, send him to Iraq. In fact, send the whole goddamn royal family there. The sooner we stop viewing them as important people and as commoners who have simply had the luck to be born into richness beyond most of our dreams, the sooner we'll get rid of the lot of them.

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No Trousers Charlie carries on with his determination for 3 months internment for "terror" suspects.

The cross-party consensus on anti-terror legislation broke down today, as the home secretary, Charles Clarke, proposed detaining terror suspects without charge for three months.

The Liberal Democrats immediately opposed both longer detention periods, which the police have requested, and the intention to create a new offence of "glorifying terrorism".

David Davis, the Tory home affairs spokesman, echoed the first objection, saying the government had "yet to make a convincing case" for extending the maximum period of detention.

After seeing the details of the offences, the Lib Dem home affairs spokesman, Mark Oaten, said: "We still want to try to seek consensus. However, two sticking points have emerged for us." Those sticking points are longer detention, and "glorifying terrorism".

The Liberal Democrats oppose the "glorification" offence on pragmatic grounds of how it would be drafted and interpreted by the courts, a spokesman said, rather than the principle of endorsing terrorism.

On detention without charge, they argue that if the police have difficulties amassing a case for a charge within a fortnight, that is a question of police and forensic resources, rather than a reason to increase the detention period.

A spokesman added: "The period has only recently been increased, from seven days to a fortnight, so that, plus more resources, should be tried first."

Mr Davis meanwhile repeated long-standing Tory concerns that the government was unwilling to allow security service phone tapping as evidence, but welcomed Mr Clarke's statement he was now willing to look at the possible use of such material.

The plan to increase detention periods was also immediately denounced by civil rights campaigners as "a new British internment".

3 months is a ridiculously lengthy amount of time to compile a case worthy of charging a suspect, whatever they are accused of doing. I accept that cracking PGP keys or encryption is obviously time-consuming, but three months? If anything this just shows under-staffed with specialists the police are. Note that it's only recently been agreed to extend the time to 14 days - the suspects in the July 21st "attacks" were charged before that period had even elapsed. A month, even six weeks may have been acceptable. Instead the government has followed the most draconian measures which the police and security services have demanded. It also brings into question how suspects will be treated during their time in custody. It needs to be clarified exactly how long they can be questioned for without a break. When arrested now, you are handed a piece of paper explaining your rights in detail. Those arrested under the terrorism acts need to be even more aware of what can and cannot be done.

The Lib Dems are also right in at the moment opposing the glorification offence. As has been shown at the UN in the last few days, defining terrorism itself is difficult enough, so what exactly would "glorification" be? Would it be daring to call Palestinian suicide bombers martyrs? If so, the current leaders of mainstream Islamic organisations may well be in trouble. Those glorifying acts of violence against innocent populations are obviously deluded and a possible danger, but so is the BNP. We've dealt with them and the far-right without banning them for half a century. Exposing their arguments for what they are has worked for a long time. The rush to make free speech illegal is worrying. Instead of engaging with Islamic groups, we've had BBC's Panorama which was a very one-sided and unsubtle veiled attack on the current leadership. The banning of peaceful but radical grouping Hizb-ut-Tahrir is also a retrograde step. At the moment the government and the media seem intent on provoking rather than helping and understanding.

Even more disgraceful is the move today to attempt to deport some of those who were acquitted in the so-called ricin case. It certainly seems to be taking revenge on those who humiliated the government when their case fell to pieces. While most of the media followed the government line, especially the BBC, whose reporting was some of the worst on the case that I have ever seen on the corporation, the Guardian demolished the government's case and reported the truth.

Evidence in the trial showed the British and US govern ments had made exaggerated or misleading claims based on the raid on the north London flat where Bourgass lived.

Making the case for the Iraq war in February 2003, the former US secretary of state Colin Powell said in his speech to the UN security council that ricin had been found there and that that demonstrated a link between Saddam Hussein's regime and al-Qaida. No such evidence was produced in court. Mr Powell spoke of a "sinister nexus between Iraq and the al-Qaida terrorist network".

The marathon trial, estimated to have have cost at least £20m, also revealed that government claims that ricin had been found continued after their own scientists concluded that none had been. The London flat where Bourgass's poison recipes were found had been raided on January 5, but within two days experts at Porton Down concluded that no ricin had been produced, according to a court document seen by the Guardian.

It can also now be reported that the attorney general took the rare step of warning his ministerial colleagues about prejudicing the jury after comments by the former home secretary David Blunkett. The trial judge wrote to Lord Goldsmith after Mr Blunkett, when in office and as the jury was hearing the case, said last November: "Al-Qaida is seen to be, and will be demonstrated through the courts over months to come, to be actually on our doorstep and threatening our lives. I am talking about people who are and about to go through the court system."

Lord Goldsmith has decided Mr Blunkett's remarks did not amount to contempt but yesterday the trial judge criticised Mr Blunkett for comments made during the trial.

Last night Muslim groups condemned the publicity over the plot. Azad Ali of the Muslim Safety Forum, where top police officers and Muslim leaders discuss terrorism and other issues, said: "The ricin plot was part of government thinking and public justification in bringing in control orders. This will confirm the feeling in the Muslim community that it is being victimised on the basis of intelligence that was not tested in anything like a court, and when it is, it is thrown out."

What also emerged was that an early test on a pestle and mortar, conducted when the flat was raided, showed possible traces of ricin.

But a more advanced test on January 7 found none, a result confirmed by a DNA test.

Professor Alastair Hay, an expert in biochemical poisons, reviewed Porton Down's tests for the defence.

Porton Down documents show that by January 8 scientists at the defence research facility had written to the police declaring there was no ricin on several items from the flat.

The jury heard that the plan had been to kill people by smearing ricin on door handles in Holloway, north London. But Prof Hay said: "With these recipes they could not have killed people. Ricin is not absorbed through the skin."

The government hyped the case from the beginning. Colin Powell used it in his now hilariously funny UN presentation on Iraq's "Weapons of Mass Destruction". When the jury acquitted the men, they had passed judgment that they were innocent. Now instead of the government trying the men again, they are deporting them, probably back to Algeria when they come to an agreement with that country on torture. If this isn't to be seen as a government lashing out for being humiliated in spite, they have a lot of explaining to do.

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Wednesday, September 14, 2005 

Pathetic fuel protestors fail to turn up.

After all their bluster and rhetoric, the greedy and selfish minority today failed to even bother to turn up and make their threats reality:

Fuel protests which sparked fears supplies could be blockaded fell flat when only a few protesters turned out today and no blockades were reported.

Early this morning, only around 12 people arrived for a demonstration outside an oil refinery in Jarrow, south Tyneside, with a similar number at an oil terminal in Purfleet, Essex, where one man was arrested for causing an obstruction.

Demonstrations failed to materialise at other refineries around the country, and journalists outnumbered protesters at at least two refineries visited by the Guardian this morning.

Farmer and haulier Andrew Spence, who was involved in the 2000 protests, said ministers had been forced to make concessions by the latest campaign.

He said that without it "I doubt that the government would have given us the 1.2p freeze in duty proposed for October. I like to think that we have achieved something this week."

Mr Spence, who was among a small group of protesters at the Shell refinery in Jarrow, south Tyneside, said: "We didn't want a lot of people here, I would rather there was just a handful of us."

Another protester, farmer Martin Stevenson, said that despite the low turnout, support for the cause was "very large" as "everybody is dissatisfied with the amount of money they're paying in tax on fuel".

At Purfleet in Essex protesters held placards saying "Support British Hauliers" and "End Labour's War on the Motorist". A man from Sheerness in Kent was arrested for obstructing the highway.

Mr Spence doesn't know what he's talking about. Fuel duty has been held at the same level for the last two years because of the high oil price - there was little to no chance that Gordon Brown was going to raise it, especially after Hurricane Katrina. I'd like to think that the majority that were going to protest have realised that the high price of fuel is nothing to do with the government, and all to do with the volatile situation in the Middle East, the hurricane and the greed of the oil companies themselves. Instead, the extremists are those who have showed up. The farmers who already are heavily subsidised and those who hate Labour with a passion.

The real culprit for the panic buying seen on Monday and Tuesday and according to some reports continuing today is the mass media. I assume the reports on possible shortages were in the scaremongering Sunday rags; I only saw the Sunday Mirror and didn't see any mention of it in there. Instead of reporting the situation which the petrol retailers and the government has said all along, that there was no shortage and no chance of one, they went along with their line of a juicy story to cause fear. It also wouldn't surprise me if it wasn't something to do with the number of adverts being placed in the media by the oil and petrol companies, constantly trying to convince us that they take human rights, the environment and climate change seriously. Is this their revenge for spending on the adverts, helped along by the media who gets a large amount of their advertising revenue from such companies? I honestly can't say I know.

The main thing is that the protests have failed, barring any militant action tomorrow or on Friday, when there is supposed to be a go slow blockade on the M4. The public may be unhappy about the price of fuel, but turning up at depots and blaming the government isn't going to solve anything.

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Tuesday, September 13, 2005 

Held to ransom by the selfish and the greedy.

It doesn't take a lot to get people panicking in general. When the panic involves the price of petrol, before you know it people are filling their cars full and leaving the stations empty. That's exactly what happened in some areas yesterday, and appears to be continuing on a slightly lower level today:

Customers began panic-buying petrol in some parts of the country yesterday, with long queues and anger on the forecourts as fears grew of fuel blockades.

Drivers were caught in hour-long queues in London, Yorkshire and Essex, while in the West Country and the Midlands some fuel stations ran out of petrol temporarily.

The stockpiling came after protesters predicted a fierce battle with the government as they prepared for three days of blockades outside refineries.

The protesters from the Fuel Lobby, including farmers and lorry drivers, have given the government until 6am tomorrow to meet them or face protests. They are demanding that the chancellor, Gordon Brown, cut tax on petrol by 10%. But Mr Brown will use a speech to the TUC's annual conference today to emphasise the global nature of the problem.

There were signs yesterday that not everyone is supporting the demonstrations. The Road Hauliers Association, which represents 10,000 hauliers, is not taking part in the protest.

"The police are concerned about terrorism at the moment; they have said they will throw an iron ring around refineries," said Steve Williams, from the association. "They are overstretched already with the terrorist threat and we don't want to be involved in something that will stretch them further."

The Fuel Lobby protesters say they will start three days of demonstrations if ministers do not meet them on Tuesday.

It wants the public to "attend" oil refineries on Wednesday to protest.

Lobby spokesman Andrew Spence said: "We are not calling for a blockade, but if oil companies decide they cannot send out lorries while there is a public presence at their site, then that is a matter for them."

Sir Jonathan Porritt, chairman of the Sustainable Development Commission, said the last thing the government should do was cut fuel duty.

Fuel prices needed to be kept high to drive changes in consumer behaviour and drive investment in new energy efficiency technology.

The average cost of petrol in the UK is now around 96p a litre. The price has risen dramatically this year due to the rising cost of oil, and has now been pushed higher due to Hurricane Katrina in the United States, which knocked out a series of refineries.

The price in the UK for petrol is higher than most countries on the continent for a few simple reasons. While countries such as France have lower tax duty on petrol, they pay more in taxes than we do in Britain in other ways. Secondly, this is not the government's fault. Gordon Brown has frozen the rise of fuel duty in line with inflation now for two years due to the high price of oil. As a result, pump prices have actually risen slower than in other countries. Britain is also running out of oil in its North Sea plants, making us coming to rely more on imports, especially from the Opec countries.

This however goes straight over the heads of the constantly angry majority in the country. The farmers, haulage industry and business leaders are all majority Tory voters and supporters. In addition to this, most farmers do not pay duty on their fuel, as they get the special "red-diesel". The haulage industry, which wants to introduce huge 60-ton trucks to British roads, permanently demands lower and lower fuel prices. This is not out of wanting to charge their customers lower prices; it's because they want to pocket the difference and make even huger profits, at the expense of the environment.

In fact, they have chosen the entirely wrong target. They should be focusing on the oil companies themselves, who are making huge profits in the wake of record oil prices. In July both Shell and BP announced record half-year profits, totaling 11bn. Imagine how those profits could be used to help lower the burden on the consumer. Of course, they will instead continue to please their shareholders by driving for ever huger surpluses.

Most of all though, it shows how out of touch the majority are, and how the general public and business is not admitting to a new global reality. Global warming is here, and it isn't going to go away. As we continue to use up the remaining oil we have at an ever faster rate, we are ever closer bringing us towards a crash. We need to reduce our use and reliance on oil, the car and the airplane immediately. This means changing our lives. Unless we face up to this, the crash will be more devastating and arrive sooner. At the moment we are being held to ransom by the selfish, the greedy and the dishonest. If the government gives in, then their entire environmental policy will be shown to be even more of a sham than it already is.

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Collagen being made from executed Chinese prisoners.

There's something pretty ironic about this. In Fight Club Tyler sold women the waste from their liposuctions back to them as soap. In this supposedly free age where women can pay huge amounts of money to become 'beautiful', they may well be being injected with what was the flesh of someone who most definitely wasn't free:

A Chinese cosmetics company is using skin harvested from the corpses of executed convicts to develop beauty products for sale in Europe, an investigation by the Guardian has discovered.

Agents for the firm have told would-be customers it is developing collagen for lip and wrinkle treatments from skin taken from prisoners after they have been shot. The agents say some of the company's products have been exported to the UK, and that the use of skin from condemned convicts is "traditional" and nothing to "make such a big fuss about".

It is unclear whether any of the "aesthetic fillers" such as collagen available in the UK or on the internet are supplied by the company, which cannot be identified for legal reasons. It is also unclear whether collagen made from prisoners' skin is in the research stage or is in production. However, the Guardian has learned that the company has exported collagen products to the UK in the past. An agent told customers it had also exported to the US and European countries, and that it was trying to develop fillers using tissue from aborted foetuses.

In China, authorities deny that prisoners' body parts are harvested without their consent. However, there is some evidence to suggest it may be happening.

In June 2001, Wang Guoqi, a Chinese former military physician, told US congressmen he had worked at execution grounds helping surgeons to harvest the organs of more than 100 executed prisoners, without prior consent. The surgeons used converted vans parked near the execution grounds to begin dissecting the bodies, he told the house international relations committee's human rights panel.

Skin was said to be highly valued for the treatment of burn victims, and Dr Wang said that in 1995 he skinned a shot convict's body while the man's heart was still beating. Dr Wang, who was seeking asylum in the US, also alleged that corneas and other body tissue were removed for transplant, and said his hospital, the Tianjin paramilitary police general brigade hospital, sold body parts for profit.

Although the exact number of people facing the death penalty in China is an official secret, Amnesty International believes around 3,400 were executed last year, with a further 6,000 on death row.

Not that this will make any difference to the average person who decides to have cosmetic surgery. These are the same people who think nothing of having a poison (Botox) injected into their foreheads to try to remove wrinkles. A recent article in Adbusters highlighted the number of young women who are now so concerned with how their vaginas look that they are having their labias augmented. A quick google search brings up 2 places offering the service. Another now popular request is apparently for anal bleaching - making the brown eye pink so to speak. If anything, this just seems to have been prompted by women looking at pornography and seeing the girls with their clean perfect bottoms, although there also seems to be rumours flying around about various celebrities having it done.

It does make you wonder where all this is going to end. Is it that people now are so vain or infatuated with beauty that they turn to the knife to sort out their problems? Is it the media, or is actually ourselves, with our seeming demand only for beautiful people to be our heroes? I can't say I know.

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Monday, September 12, 2005 

The changing of the Guardian.

The Guardian has changed its size from broadsheet to the Berliner (around mid-size between a tabloid and broadsheet) following the moves of the Independent and Times which went tabloid a couple of years ago. The wait and the money spent was well worth it; the paper really does look fantastic. The paper is now full colour throughout, the first national in Britain to go so. It's much more foldable, and I even found it easier to read than before. The G2 section though has to be the biggest triumph. It's gone to half the size of the Berliner, stapled, and is beautiful. The full colour printing really does lift the content.

You can view the whole of today's edition in PDF files, which are available here.

Not everything is perfect however. The masthead is nowhere near as good as the iconic old one sadly, but I'm sure I'll get used to it. They haven't got the ink quite right yet, and I found more on my fingers than usual. The TV guide has lost the acerbic comments and its expanded pick of the day section. There's also a lot of people who are very disappointed, even angry that the Doonesbury cartoon has been dropped without any notice. While I'm not one of them, I don't see any reason why it shouldn't be brought back.

All those are teething problems however. The new paper and design is fantastic. Here's to the journalism remaining the same quality and to hopefully a lot more readers coming to the best paper in the UK.

Here's a photo illustrating the change of size:

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Unionism's shameful days.

I still can't quite believe that Unionist politicians are blaming the government for the completely unnecessary and pathetic riots which have consumed Baghdad, sorry, Belfast for the last two nights:

Fifty police officers were injured during the weekend's riots across Belfast, Northern Ireland police said today.

A police spokesman said 18 officers were injured in riots last night and this morning, bringing the total number of officers injured since Saturday night to 50. The officers were largely injured by shrapnel from homemade grenades.

The violence began on Saturday night when loyalist supporters became angry at the re-routing of an Orange Order parade.

Last night, armed protestors set up roadblocks as police and the army battled with violent mobs up to 700-strong in the east of Belfast. In other areas, men with revolvers halted cars in the north of the city and in Rathcoole, although there were no reports of anyone being shot.

Riot police held back crowds with water cannons and fired several hundred plastic bullets in an effort to disperse the protestors. One Protestant man, who had been shot in the arm by British troops, was arrested on suspicion of attempted murder.

Northern Ireland secretary Peter Hain challenged loyalists this morning to decide if they wanted to become known as police killers. He told BBC Breakfast he was "horrified" by the violence that had ravaged the streets.

"This is taking Northern Ireland, or attempting to take it, back to a hideous dark past," he said. "These were serious attempts to kill police in some instances.

"This is really not loyalism but 'gangsterism' masquerading in this community. They are turning on themselves. These communities are being torn apart by their own paramilitary groups."

The Northern Irish chief constable, Sir Hugh Orde, said he was holding the Orange Order "substantially responsible" for the rioting, which was "some of the worst" in the province for many years.

He said his officers had come under attack from petrol, blast and pipe bombs as well as live rounds.

"We are very clear, our intelligence picture is very clear, this was loyalist paramilitary groups firing from the cover of the riot, aiming at my officers," he told the Today programme.

"There was a call by the Orange Order for their supporters to come out and support the march which had been banned from a certain route and had been given a determined route to go down.

"That's why we are holding them, or I am holding them, substantially responsible for the disorder that followed. It was inevitable and it was predictable."

Sinn Fein general secretary Mitchel McLaughlin said there had been disturbances across Belfast and North Antrim since the IRA announced the end of its armed struggle.

Mr McLaughlin argued that unionist politicians had left "a vacuum of leadership" which was being filled by loyalist paramilitaries.

Also speaking on the Today programme, he said: "It would appear that there is a deep sense of foreboding and concern about the future and there is an absolute vacuum of leadership within unionism at the present time, and unfortunately that manifested itself at the weekend."

Mr McLaughlin said many Protestants believed they had been short-changed in the peace process.

"I'm afraid that is the reality for unionists. It is not the reality for people who have been seeking for many years equality and indeed there is a puzzlement as to why equality and parity of esteem would threaten anyone's interest.

"But the fact of the matter is that many unionists feel that and clearly that is an issue which has to be addressed in the discussions if we could get the unionist party leadership to sit round the table and discuss these matters."

Peter Hain is utterly wrong. This is not gangsterism. This is loyalism's seeming revenge for what they see as a peace process that favours the republicans. That this is not only nonsense, but ignores the realities of the situation since the signing of the Good Friday agreement is even worse. These riots are the equivalent of a child who feels neglected when a new baby is born, and attention is diverted from them. Unlike the jealousy of a child who may do something silly and is too immature to realise the consequences, the loyalists know full well what they are doing. This was not a banning of their parade. It was a simple 100 metre diversion so that the parade did not pass through a Catholic-majority street and cause unnecessary trouble. The police were entirely right in their actions.

Unfortunately, unionism is now, as has been shown in the last few months, at war with itself. The IRA is to disband. Within weeks it will most likely have completely disarmed. Such a gesture is one that completely destroys the current unionist position of not talking or going into government with Sinn Fein while it has links with the IRA, or lies in the same bed as it. Ian Paisley's humiliating requests for photographs of weapons being destroyed were rightly denied. His only intention is to belittle the republican community, and portray them as weak at a time when they have just decided to perform such a historic move.

Most of all however, you can imagine the fury and denounciations which would be filling the airwaves if it had been the republican community rioting. Instead, Sinn Fein and others have mostly kept quiet, a credit to their judgment. Loyalist politicians themselves have shown themselves to either be incompetent, unable to control their own followers, or complicit in the violence itself. They have chosen to act like someone found guilty who then blames everyone except themselves and wallows in self-pity:

Belfast's most senior Orangeman, County Grand Master Dawson Bailie, told the BBC on Monday that the Orange Order was not responsible for the weekend disorder.

When asked if the Order condemned the violence, he said: "As far as I'm concerned the people to blame for that are the secretary of state, the chief constable and the Parades Commission, fairly and squarely."

DUP leader Ian Paisley denied prompting riots by saying the parade re-routing "could be the spark which kindles a fire there would be no putting out".

Mr Paisley condemned the violence but said his prediction had come true.

"I was telling the truth, I said I was very very worried," he said on Monday.

"At that time I was in the midst of trying to get a way whereby this would not happen. And it has happened - my words have been proved to be right."

The parade was re-routed by 100 metres. That such an act would spark violence is an outrage. The second Palestinian intifada was prompted by Ariel Sharon visiting the Al-Haram As-Sharif mosque, surrounded by 1000 bodyguards. This was not even close to such a provocative and stupid decision. This was an excuse for the loyalist thugs to show that they are still in action and are not going to go away any time soon, unlike the IRA. That Ian Paisley is either aware of this or actively encouraging it while denying it in public, is a disgrace. Sadly, he'll get away with it, just like loyalism will. Within two months this will have been forgotten, and once again, the republican community will be being attacked, with no news coverage of it whatsoever.

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Saturday, September 10, 2005 

Katrina: the dead.

It seems that some news sources are self-censoring some of their coverage. This is the reality.

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"Dame" Eliza Manningham-Buller says forget civil liberties, stopping terrorism is more important.

It really is sad that even those in charge of the top echelons of power haven't realised this is exactly what fundamentalists of all ilks want:

The head of MI5, Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller, has publicly warned that civil liberties may have to be eroded to prevent future terrorist attacks in Britain.

Dame Eliza's decision to disclose her comments - first made at a private gathering in the Netherlands - is significant, given that she touches on a controversial issue at the heart of the government's political agenda.

Dame Eliza said she recognised rights had been hard fought for. "But the world has changed and there needs to be a debate on whether some erosion of what we all value may be necessary to improve the chances of our citizens not being blown apart as they go about their daily lives."

The MI5 head gave her warning in a speech in the Hague on September 1 to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Dutch security service, the AIVD. She subsequently decided it should be published and it was posted yesterday on MI5's website.

Dame Eliza described what she calls a "central dilemma - how to protect our citizens within the rule of law when intelligence does not amount to clear-cut evidence and when it is fragile". It is in this context that she warned of the potential erosion of civil liberties.

Tony Blair has repeatedly asserted that the security services backed the government's system of control orders - restricting people's liberties without a trial in a court of law.

State prosecutors have also said that the 14 days the police can now hold suspect terrorists before they are charged or released is too short.

Government lawyers and MI5, meanwhile, want a system of "intelligence only" interviews - a kind of plea bargaining whereby valuable information provided by a suspect would be taken into account in the subsequent trial.

Security sources said yesterday that Dame Eliza was not advocating particular proposals put forward by the government, notably control orders, deportations, and far more broadly-defined offences in new anti-terror laws which would not require the evidence now needed to secure a conviction.

But her message was clear: information acquired through intelligence gathering was often insufficient to allow police and prosecutors to bring criminal charges, yet that information could prevent a terrorist attack if the suspects were rounded up.

Her comments are rather measured, it has to be said. Shami Chakrabarti, head of Liberty, has said that her remarks are a lot more reasonable than those by politicians, especially the Prime Minister. Despite this, "Dame" Eliza is just as much the problem as she is the solution. Her organisation still refuses to allow wiretap surveillance evidence to be used in the courts as they fear it would expose their practices. It's ignorant decisions such as these that are leading to alleged extremists being deported to countries that practice torture, rather than trying them here. Secondly, the world has not changed. Only the politicians believe that the world has changed, in America more than elsewhere. They have seized on the terrorist attacks of the last few years to push their own agendas which were already well pre-planned. The gradual removal of rights, the use of identity cards and CCTV has grown massively year on year, with hardly any questions being asked, especially about the latter.

More than anything, we need to get terrorism into perspective. They (whoever they is) do not threaten the life of this nation. As Lord Bingham said, it's bad laws that threaten the life of the nation, not terrorists who only managed to kill 52 people with their pathetic attacks. That is not to belittle those who died. As I have said before, would those who died have wanted their deaths to be used as an excuse to limit civil liberties? We're not only rewarding the use of violence, we're also disrespecting their memory. Only by challenging beliefs, by not reducing those they view as their brothers to shreds in Iraq and Afghanistan, by pushing for a balanced solution to the Israel/Palestine conflict will we improve our safety. In the mean time, what is needed is improved intelligence on those in this country who do pose a threat, not draconian measures which impact on all of us.

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Friday, September 09, 2005 

Hurricane hoedown: Breaking: Michael Brown fired, Colin Powell criticises effort.

Finally there appears to be some action being taken to make amends for the disaster:

The embattled director of the Federal Emergency Management agency (Fema) has lost his frontline job overseeing the Hurricane Katrina relief effort, according to reports tonight.

Michael Brown was being sent back to Washington from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where the aid effort is being coordinated, the Associated Press reported. It cited two federal officials, who declined to be named ahead of an expected official announcement.

Reuters said Vice Admiral Thad Allen, chief of staff of the US Coast Guard, would take over relief efforts on the ground, but quoted a homeland security official as saying Mr Brown would continue "to be the administrator for Fema nationally".

Working in Baton Rouge, Mr Brown has been the primary official in charge of the heavily criticised federal response to the hurricane.

During a visit to the disaster area earlier this week, the US president, George Bush, was overheard telling him "Brownie, you're doing one heck of a job", but the Fema director has become a focus for criticism of the relief efforts.

Earlier today there were accusations that Mr Brown had overstated his experience when applying for the director's job.

Mr Brown was also damaged by revelations in recent days that he waited five hours after the storm had struck the Gulf Coast on August 29 before asking his boss - homeland security secretary Mike Chertoff - for approval to dispatch 1,000 support rescuers to the region.

Before the storm hit, Fema had positioned small rescue and communications teams, and the agency has been castigated for not having better preparations when forecasts had given three days of warning of Katrina.

The Fema director told Mr Chertoff that conveying a "positive image" about the government's response would be among the duties of these 1,000 employees, which did not happen in the event.

Even the former secretary of state Colin Powell criticised the US government's response.

"There was more than enough warning over time about the dangers to New Orleans," Mr Powell told ABC news. "Not enough was done. I don't think advantage was taken of the time that was available to us, and I just don't know why." He denied racism was to blame for foot-dragging.

Criticism by Colin Powell is going to hurt Bush badly. It's a shame that he was so marginalised while he was secretary of state by Cheney and his acolytes, and that he ended up giving the now laughable presentation to the UN about Iraq. If he had been listened to a lot more, the US may now not be in the mess it is in Iraq and elsewhere.

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Mobile and net operators put boot in Clarke's ridiculous data plans.

Mobile phone and internet companies yesterday warned EU ministers that counter-terrorism plans for the compulsory storage of billions of phone and internet records would prove expensive and intrusive, with far-reaching implications for every citizen.

Industry experts also claimed that the demands for extra data to be stored on the location of mobile phone callers breached existing European privacy laws. The data will have to be stored for a minimum of 12 months and will be accessible to police and security services investigating terrorism and serious crime.

The EU-wide plan for the compulsory storage of telephone and internet data means that the industry would have to store records that not only tracked which numbers were dialled, the time and duration of calls, but also the location of the caller from a mobile throughout and at the end of the call. They would also have to record the location of the phone being called. Internet companies would have to preserve records of when users logged on and off their networks but not track the websites that had been visited.

While some of this data is already held for up to six months by the companies for billing purposes the industry says that the demand for the details of location of phone calls breaks new ground.

"We retain data for legitimate business reasons for three to six months but we believe the rationale for change and making far more intrusive measures remains unproved," said Michael Bartholomew of the European Telecommunications Network Operators's Association.

He said the demand for location data breached existing European data protection laws. He also protested about the demand for data about unsuccessful calls to be collected, claiming it would mean a typical mobile phone operator having to reconfigure 1,600 switches at a cost of £€160m (£108m). "We think this is a rather unsophisticated approach to a complex problem. Our plea to the ministers is to have more dialogue with the industry."

In other words, the government wants not only the police, but also the company in charge of the contract and no doubt many othebureaucracieses to have access to information about where you made a mobile call and throughout the duration of it. If this doesn't smack of a snoopers charter, with the possibility not only ounscrupulousus police but also private-sector employees being able to keep tabs on nearly anyone. In addition, the money needed to get the companies to make the necessary changes to their systems will doubtless be passed straight onto the consumer, screwing the public in not one but two ways. Let's hope that the industry's opposition to Clarke's plans at least limit the final law.

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Guantanamo Bay: 210 prisoners on "voluntary fast".

More than 200 detainees in Guantanamo Bay are in their fifth week of a hunger strike, the Guardian has been told.

Statements from prisoners in the camp which were declassified by the US government on Wednesday reveal that the men are starving themselves in protest at the conditions in the camp and at their alleged maltreatment - including desecration of the Qur'an - by American guards.

The statements, written on August 11, have just been given to the British human rights lawyer Clive Stafford Smith. They show that prisoners are determined to starve them selves to death. In one, Binyam Mohammed, a former London schoolboy, said: "I do not plan to stop until I either die or we are respected.

"People will definitely die. Bobby Sands petitioned the British government to stop the illegitimate internment of Irishmen without trial. He had the courage of his convictions and he starved himself to death. Nobody should believe for one moment that my brothers here have less courage."

Yesterday, Mr Stafford Smith, who represents 40 detainees at Guantanamo Bay, eight of whom are British residents, said many men had been starving themselves for more than four weeks and the situation was becoming desperate.

He said: "I am worried about the lives of my guys because they are a pretty obstinate lot and they are going to go through with this and I think they are going to end up killing themselves. The American military doesn't want anyone to know about this."

He pointed to an American army claim that only 76 prisoners at the base were refusing food, saying that they were attempting to play down what could be a political scandal if a prisoner were to die.

The hunger strike is the second since late June. The first ended after the authorities made a number of promises, including better access to books, and bottled drinking water.

The men claim that they were tricked into eating again.

Last night a Pentagon spokesman denied that there were more than 200 hunger strikers: "There are 76 detainees doing a voluntary fast at present. There are nine detainees in hospital as a result of their hunger strike.

"They are listed as being in a stable condition and they are recieving nutrition."

Asked if they were being force fed, he said: "They are being held in the same standards as US prison standards... they don't allow people to kill themselves via starvation."

Voluntary fast is a great example of the way that official spokespeople distort what is actually happening. Voluntary fasting makes people think of Lent and Ramadan, not of people willingly not eating with the intention of dying if their small demands are not met. Even worse, the BBC has fallen for this as well, here saved for posterity:

Some of the men held at Guanantanmo have now been there for approaching 4 years. No charges have been brought, despite attempts by the Bush administration to setup military tribunals. There have been numerous allegations by detainees, both still there and from those freed that they have been abused and tortured, mentally, physically and sexually. The US of course denies this. Republicans, including Dick Cheney have even had the audacity to describe the camp as a "resort" and that they have "everything they could want". Other claims by Amnesty International have gone to the other end of the scale, calling Guanantanmo the "gulag of our times". While the comparison does hold for some of the gulag's functions during Stalin's reign, those imprisoned are not being worked to death, and women and children are not being kept at the camp, although teenagers have been. While some of the gulag's prisoners were intellectuals or activists, many were innocents caught in the purges. Those who are at Guantanamo are thought to be at the least sympathetic to Islamism, although it's quite possible that those rounded up at the time of the war in Afghanistan are innocent of any such thing. However, being an Islamist is not a crime.

Guantanamo should be closed immediately, it goes without saying. Any plausible point that it may have served, on the basis of intelligence gathering has long since passed. Instead it now shows up every single thing that is now wrong not with America, but with the Bush administration. It shows its arrogance, its willingness to break any international law that doesn't suit it, and most of all it shows that it is no better than those dictatorships it supports in the Middle East who themselves engage in torture. That it has taken this long for so many to decide to die rather than live in a hell on earth is the real surprise.

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Thursday, September 08, 2005 

Facts from the UN's Human Development report 2005.

The Millennium goals themselves are available here.

Just some of the facts the report establishes are:

UN member states' progress has been depressingly slow.

The promise to the world's poor is being broken.

There has been some progress: An increase in life expectancy of 2 years (since 1990), child deaths have been cut by 3 million a year, 30 million more children are in school and 130 million have been removed from extreme poverty. These achievements should be not be underestimated, or exaggerated.

18 countries with a combined population of 460 million, scored lower scores on the human development chart than in 1990. The human development index assesses life expectancy, income and literacy. Top places in the league table are dominated by Scandinavian countries, while sub-Saharan African countries fill the bottom 25 places.

10.7 million children every year do not live to see their 5th birthday.

More than 1 billion people live on less than $1 a day.

Life expectancy in Zambia is now lower than it was in Britain in 1840.

The world's 500 richest individuals have a combined income than is greater than that of the poorest 416 million.

2.5 billion (40% of the world's population) live on less than $2 a day.

Redistributing 1.6% of the income of the richest 10% of the global population would provide the $300 billion needed to lift the 1 billion people living on less than a dollar a day out of extreme poverty, at least temporarily.

For every $1 spent on aid by rich countries, $10 is spent on the military.

Total spending on HIV/Aids prevention/treatment comes to three days of military spending.

Top places in the league table are dominated by Scandinavian countries, while sub-Saharan African countries fill the bottom 25 places.

The United States has a higher infant mortality rate than that of Malaysia.

A summary of the report is available here.

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UN spells it out: tax the rich to help the poor.

The United Nations warned Gordon Brown last night that he will have to levy taxes on the better-off in Labour's third term if the government is to meet its ambitious goal of halving child poverty by 2010.

In its flagship annual study charting progress in tackling poverty, the UN highlights Britain as a country where inequality has put a brake on development, and says there would need to be a complete reversal of the pro-rich bias of the 1980s to eradicate the legacy of Margaret Thatcher.

Its human development report (HDR) praises Labour for its efforts to tackle child poverty since 1997, but says a cash-strapped Mr Brown needs to go further in his coming budgets and contemplate politically sensitive tax rises to maintain the progress made in the past eight years.

"If the next 10 years did for the poor what the 1980s did for the rich, that would bring the UK within touching distance of the child poverty goals," the UN says.

In the UK the incomes of the richest 10% rose by 3.7% a year on average from 1979 to 1990 compared with a 0.4% average increase for the poorest 10%. Taxes on top earners were cut from 83p to 60p in the first Conservative budget in 1979 and from 60p to 40p in 1988.

If the incomes of the poor rose by 3.7% and those of the rich rose by 0.4% until 2010, child poverty would be cut from 23% to 17%, the UN says.

It says Labour's untrumpeted tax and benefit changes since 1997 have resulted in the incomes of the poorest fifth of the population rising by 20%. However, the report says the government needs to do more to load the tax and benefits system in favour of the less well-off, make it easier for poor parents to find work, and make "fundamental changes to the underlying distribution of earnings and income".

It's what many socialists have known for years and have begged for. Tax the rich that little bit extra, and the poor then have the chance to become part of the meritocracy which only exists in the middle classes. Instead, as above, the consensus has been to bring taxes constantly down. In America, President Bush has given the ultra-rich huge tax cuts as part of a misguided trickle-down philosophy. The problem is that such a policy simply means the rich stashing away even more of their money instead of spending, meaning there is nothing to "trickle down".

Even worse, it seems the Conservatives are now not only calling for tax cuts, but also for a "flat tax" system.

The Conservative party today held out the possibility of an east European style flat tax, with the shadow chancellor, George Osborne, commissioning an investigation of the system pioneered in some former Soviet states.

Mr Osborne today called for "a flatter and simpler tax economy" and announced he would hire a senior business figure to report back next year on whether a completely flat tax regime would be viable in the UK.

The introduction of such a system, which scraps progressively higher tax bands in favour of a uniform (and usually low) percentage, would be controversial, with opponents claiming it is little more than a tax cut for the rich. Flat taxes have so far only been introduced in developing economies seeking to attract foreign investors.

Such a move would be disastrous. It would destroy any of Labour's efforts to eventually eradicate child poverty and its undercover efforts to redistribute wealth.
The flat tax in full is debunked in this article. Another worthy example is this letter:
Flat taxes would be even more unfair to low-income recipients than Heather Long supposes (Briefing, August 15). The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics showed that people in the lowest fifth of incomes paid on average 38% of their gross incomes in taxes in 2003-04, while the richest fifth paid only 35.5%.

The reason is the burden of indirect taxation, which bears much more heavily on low incomes than high ones, and flat income taxes would make things worse. The justification for progressive taxation was first made by Adam Smith himself, because, as he wrote in The Wealth of Nations, inequality should be reduced "as much as possible by relieving the poor and burdening the rich".

Working out how to achieve that would be far more productive for society and the eco
nomy than treating rich people's self-interested panaceas like flat taxes as serious proposals for the UK.

Prof John Veit-Wilson
University of Newcastle upon Tyne

Proponents of a flat tax say it would reduce tax evasion and companies using offshore havens. That tax evasion is not a national disgrace is itself a scandal. If all the companies that use such evasions were properly taxed (individuals and others that have bases in tax havens and certainly do not pay their full share of tax include BP, Rupert Murdoch, Virgin to mention just three) then the there is the possibility that taxes on the rich would not have to further rise to help prevent child poverty. Just remember, greed is good.

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Wednesday, September 07, 2005 

Hurricane hoedown part four.

FEMA fuck-ups:

FEMA Accused of Flying Evacuees to Wrong Charleston

FEMA cut phone lines

Fire Fighters Forced to Sit Through FEMA Public Relations Class

FEMA won't accept Amtrak's help in evacuations

FEMA turns away experienced firefighters

FEMA turns back Wal-Mart supply trucks

FEMA prevents Coast Guard from delivering diesel fuel

FEMA won't let Red Cross deliver food

FEMA bars morticians from entering New Orleans

FEMA blocks 500-boat citizen flotilla from delivering aid

FEMA fails to utilize Navy ship with 600-bed hospital on board

FEMA to Chicago: Send just one truck

FEMA: "First Responders Urged Not To Respond"

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Clarke continues to spout drivel, this time in front of the EU.

EU states should keep mobile phone and e-mail records for longer to help fight terrorism and crime, Home Secretary Charles Clarke has told MEPs.

Without such measures, European states would be fighting terrorism "with both hands tied behind our backs", he said.

Mr Clarke said telecommunications data proved valuable in the investigation of the London bombings.

He rejected complaints about intrusion into privacy, saying there must be effective protection against abuse.

Mr Clarke also said laws preventing suspects being deported to places where they faced persecution might have to change.

He said he wanted judges to realise of "circumstances in the modern world" when they judging cases involving European human rights laws.

He has not spelt out how long companies should be required to keep records but said "the longer it is held, the better".

EU Justice Commissioner Franco Frattini has said internet data could be kept for six months and phone call details for 12 months across Europe.

In some member states, he said, there are no data retention rules at all.

Mr Clarke hopes to reach a consensus by the end of the UK's EU presidency in December.

In a speech to the European Parliament, Mr Clarke said countries could only fight terror effectively if they knew what the terrorists were saying to each other.

All measures had to be proportionate, with "appropriate safeguards" against abuse and a clear legal basis for exchange of information in each case.

"They will not lead, as some have argued, to the mass surveillance of our citizens or to unnecessary invasion of the citizens' right to privacy," he insisted.

He also wants biometric information included on driving licenses across Europe but he acknowledged the timescale for the change would be "enormous".

The European telecommunications industry will oppose the plans when EU justice ministers in Gateshead later on Wednesday.

The industry says the plans are disproportionate, expensive and ineffective.

Mr Clarke's dossier also calls for a rethink of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

The convention prevents terror suspects being deported back to countries with poor human rights records.

Mr Clarke says the British judiciary should respect controversial deals being sought with other countries to allow deportation despite poor human rights records.

Critics say such deals cannot guarantee that deported people will not be tortured.

Lib Dem MEPs leader Graham Watson said the human rights convention should not be changed in a "spasm" from recent events.

For a start, telecommunications data only became important once the attacks had taken place, and only to track down the suspect that had fled to Italy. They didn't lead to any further significant arrests. Besides, not having such communications data didn't stop the investigations into Madrid and London from quickly taking place and getting results. The funniest thing instantly follows on Clarke saying that such measures would not lead to surveillance of citizens, with plans to make all driving licenses contain biometric data. Why do driving licenses need such information? They already have a photo, home address and date of birth. What else do they possibly need, other than as a use to follow people's movements?

ISPs and other holders of information have already made the point that such laws to hold information would result in higher charges, and even the possibility the smallest would as a result go bust. In addition to that, the ECC has already said that such data retention laws could be illegal.

The facts of the matter are that Clarke and Blair have still not made a case for European convention on human rights to be changed. They have not managed to convince anyone that suspected extremists deported to states such as Algeria and Jordan will not be tortured or locked away without trial. They haven't even explained why suspects cannot be tried here. The government knows full well that these so-called written agreements will not stand in the European courts. They have set themselves on a collision course with the judges, purely so that they can come across as hardline for the tabloids who denounce any sane rights type ruling. No one is suggesting that a threat doesn't exist in this country or in European from extremists of all ilk; simply that the current proposals will do more harm than good.

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Tuesday, September 06, 2005 

Hurricane hoedown part three.

People living in the path of Hurricane Katrina's worst devastation were twice as likely as most Americans to be poor and without a car - factors that may help explain why so many failed to evacuate as the storm approached.

An analysis of census data shows that the three dozen hardest-hit neighbourhoods in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama had a disproportionate amount of ethnic minority residents and had incomes $10,000 (£5,427) below the national average.

The analysis showed:

· Median household income in the most devastated neighbourhood was $32,000, or $10,000 less than the national average

· 20% of households in the disaster area had no car, compared with 10% nationwide

· Nearly 25% of those living in the hardest-hit areas were below the poverty line, about double the national average. About 4.5 % in the disaster area received public assistance; nationwide, the number was about 3.5%

· About 60% of the 700,000 people in the three dozen neighbourhoods were from an ethnic minority. Nationwide, about one in three Americans is from a racial minority

· One in 200 American households does not have adequate plumbing. One in 100 households in the most affected areas did not have decent plumbing, which, according to the census, includes running hot and cold water, a shower or bath and an indoor toilet.

· Nationwide, about 7% of households with children are headed by a single mother. In the three dozen neighbourhoods, 12% were single-mother households.

The disparities were even more glaring in large, urban areas. One of the worst-hit neighbourhoods in the heart of New Orleans, for example, had a median household income of less than $7,500. Nearly three of every four residents fell below the poverty line, and barely one in three people had a car.

There is a similar picture in Mississippi. In one Pascagoula neighbourhood, where 30% of residents are minorities, more than 20% live in poverty.

In Alabama, where Katrina was not as severe, one of the hardest-hit areas was a downtown Mobile neighbourhood, where the median household income is barely $25,000 and one in every four residents lives below the poverty line.

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Israeli army soldiers admit to targeting unarmed civilians.

From a distance of 70 metres and through the sight of his machine gun, Assaf could tell that the Palestinian man was aged between 20 and 30, unarmed and trying to get away from an Israeli tank. But the details didn't matter much, because Assaf's orders were to "fire at anything that moved".

Assaf, a soldier in the Israeli army, pressed the trigger, firing scores of bullets as the body fell to the ground. "He ran and I started shooting for a few seconds. He fell. I was a machine. I fire. I leave and that's that. We never spoke about it afterwards."

It was the summer of 2002, and Assaf and his armoured unit had been ordered to enter the Gaza town of Dir al Balah following the firing of mortars into nearby Jewish settlements. His orders were, he told the Guardian, "'Every person you see on the street, kill him'. And we would just do it."

It was not the first time that Assaf had killed an innocent person in Gaza while following orders, but after his discharge he began to think about the things he did.

"The reason why I am telling you this is that I want the army to think about what they are asking us to do, shooting unarmed people. I don't think it's legal."

Assaf is not alone. In recent months dozens of soldiers, including the son of an an Israeli general, all recently discharged, have come forward to share their stories of how they were ordered in briefings to shoot to kill unarmed people without fear of reprimand.

The soldiers were brought into contact with the Guardian with the assistance of Breaking the Silence, a pressure group of former soldiers who want the Israeli public to confront the reality of army activities. The group insisted on anonymity of its witnesses to protect the soldiers from persecution and prosecution.

Although those speaking out are a tiny proportion, their testimonies reflect a widespread culture of impunity, according to Sarit Michaeli of the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem.

"During the first intifada, there were printed rules of engagement. In the second there are none and what rules exist are kept secret. This leaves a wide scope for interpretation for officers and soldiers," she said.

According to B'Tselem, 3,269 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli security forces in almost five years. About 1,700 are believed to have been civilians and 654 minors.

According to the army, over the same period it has investigated 131 cases of soldiers misusing firearms, resulting in 18 indictments and seven convictions. As a result of the testimonies received by the Guardian and Breaking the Silence, army prosecutors are looking at a further 17 cases of alleged criminal activity.

Another soldier, Moshe, told the Guardian he and his colleagues came under pressure to obey illegal shoot-to-kill orders. As part of his sergeant's training course, he and his fellow trainees were ordered to set up ambushes in Jenin in May 2003. He said there was "pressure to get kills".

Before the operation, the soldiers were briefed that they were on the lookout for armed men. But their targets also included children and teenagers who habitually climbed on armoured personnel carriers as they lumbered through the narrow streets. On a few occasions, machine guns had been stolen from APCs.

"We were expressly told that we were just waiting for someone to climb on an APC, and ordered to shoot to kill," said Moshe. "After a day or two, a 12-year-old climbed on one of the APCs. There were a lot of guesses about his age. First they said he was eight, later that he was 12. In any case, he climbed on an APC, and one of our sharpshooters killed him. The neighbouring company also had an incident with a kid or teenager who was killed."

The statistics collected by the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group show that on May 14, Diya Gawadreh, 13, was killed by a live bullet. Kamal Amjad Nawahda, 13, was shot by Israeli soldiers on May 22. He died on May 27.

After Moshe returned to his paratroop unit, he said there were several incidents when children and teenagers were killed after bullets aimed at their legs hit their chests. The attitude was, he said, "so kids got killed. For a soldier it means nothing. An officer can get a 100 or 200 shekel [£12.50-£25] fine for such a thing."

A common theme in the soldiers' testimony was the desire to avenge Israeli casualties and inflict collective punishment on Palestinians.

May 2004 was a bad month for the Israeli army in Gaza. Four soldiers were blown to pieces when their explosive-laden APC hit a roadside bomb in Gaza City. As the army took over, another seven soldiers were killed in a similar incident in Rafah, at the other end of Gaza. In response the army launched an operation "to secure the neighbourhood along the Philadelphi Road [the border between Gaza and Egypt] and to make sure they are clean from terrorists," said Major General Dan Harel, the local commander.

Thousands of Palestinians were expelled from their homes, and around 50 died, of whom between a quarter and a half were civilians. According to Rafi, an officer in the Shaldag, an elite unit connected to the air force, the whole mission was about revenge. "The commanders said kill as many people as possible," he said.

He and his men were ordered to shoot anyone who appeared to be touching the ground, as if they might be placing a roadside bomb, or anyone seen on a roof or a balcony, as if they might be observing Israeli forces for military reasons, regardless of whether they were armed.

Colonel Liron Libman, the chief military prosecutor, said testimonies brought to light by Breaking the Silence had resulted in 17 investigations, some of which were still going on. Investigation of the testimonies, he said, revealed that some were exaggerated and some relied on hearsay. However, the incidents described to the Guardian and Breaking the Silence by the soldiers match deaths recorded by human rights groups and in the media.

The article doesn't tell us anything we didn't already know. The shooting of Palestinian children throwing stones at tanks has been going on for years. It is however new that actual Israeli soldiers are coming forward, albeit anonymously to speak of their worries and concerns about shooting innocents. The number of conscientious objectors from the compulsory military service has also been rising. As more and more start to recognise the futility of a "Greater Israel" and the foolishness of protecting religious fanatics in the settlements, peace becomes ever more likely.

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More loyalist agitation goes on without condemnation.

It began late one night when Kathleen McCaughey's front door was kicked down by two men who stormed up the stairs shouting: "Taigs out."

"Aren't you going to call me an Orange bastard?" asked one of the men when Mrs McCaughey, 51, who has epilepsy, came out of her bedroom in her dressing gown.

After five months of attacks including petrol and paint bombs and a poster campaign calling her a republican scrounger, she was given a few hours to clear her house and leave the village of Ahoghill in Ian Paisley's North Antrim constituency.

Protestant children had been paid £5 each to sit on her front lawn banging drums until she caved in. If she did not go, she was told, her row of houses would be burned down.

The town of Ballymena and its surrounding villages are in the grip of the worst wave of anti-Catholic sectarian attacks for years and the police have been forced to adopt the same tactics as the UN uses in Kosovo: guarding Catholic churches, schools and Gaelic sports clubs at night to stop them being torched.

Northern Ireland is slipping into the kind of civil strife where people cannot tolerate the presence of their neighbours, and it is being demonstrated at primary schools. Two Catholic schools in the area were burned in arson attacks within 24 hours last week. The head of Northern Ireland's community relations council has said the police patrols are unsustainable, adding that many people would soon start to feel they could only live in Ballymena with UN-style protection.

Mr Paisley, who has always talked about his unbiased dedication to the Catholics in his constituency, was accused of moral cowardice and a lack of leadership. He returned from holiday and condemned the attacks last week but complained that, in the past, attacks on his church headquarters in Belfast had not been condemned by Sinn Féin.

Mark Durkan, the SDLP's leader, accused loyalist paramilitaries from the Ulster Defence Association of orchestrating sectarian violence in north Antrim.

Police said it was more complex than a coordinated campaign against Catholics, adding that teenagers and young boys had been involved. A 13-year-old boy has been charged with arson following last week's attack on St Louis' primary school which destroyed one classroom and damaged 10 others. A 15-year-old is also being questioned. Police have recorded 28 significant attacks against Catholics, including two attempted murders, and 14 attacks against Protestants.

In the nearby, predominantly Protestant, suburb of Harryville, the Catholic church has been repeatedly paint bombed and daubed with slogans such as "Fuck the Pope" over the summer.

A report by the Institute for Conflict Research shows that following the Good Friday Agreement in 1997, sectarian violence has increased, with more attacks on churches, Gaelic sports clubs and Orange halls than before the ceasefires of 1994.

There have been sectarian attacks on both side of the divide in north and east Belfast throughout the summer.

Dennis Bradley, the former Catholic priest who brokered the first ceasefire and is now a member of the policing board, said police alone could not solve the problem of the sectarian attacks, which he blamed on the "nihilism of 14-, 15-, 16-year-olds" and "20- and 30-year-olds who are quite sectarian in the sense that they cannot live with their neighbours".

Other research recently has shown that children as young as five or six are displaying bigoted ideas.

A generation is growing up more segregated and sectarian than its parents.

This is about more than just the peace process, the IRA and the DUP. That the loyalist and republican communities are growing up and teaching their kids to be bigoted by the age of 5 and 6 shows that something is badly going wrong. It seems incomprehensible to me that two groups who supposedly believe in the same God can be at war at each other in 2005. It's not just a failure of leadership and condemnation by the leading politicians, it's their petty radicalism and intolerance which is adding fuel to the fire. The distasteful Ian Paisley, a religious extremist if there ever was one, continues to lead the biggest politicial party, and is welcomed with hand shakes at 10 Downing Street. Gerry Adams and the other Sinn Fein MPs still do not take their seats.

What this amounts to is if not ethnic cleansing, religious cleansing. Most of all though, it's the same loyalists who are attacking catholics who are demanding that the IRA take photographs of them destroying their weapons, while they run around setting fire to churches. It's an endless cycle of stupidity, and I can't see it ending for a long time yet.

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Monday, September 05, 2005 

Hurricane hoedown part deux.

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John Humphrys tells the truth and gets attacked for it.

The BBC Radio 4 Today presenter John Humphrys has hit back at allegations that he disparaged senior Labour politicians in an after-dinner speech by implying that all ministers are liars.

Yesterday the BBC announced that it had asked for a full transcript of Humphrys' remarks to the Commercial Directors' Forum on June 8 amid newspaper claims that he had used the speech to pour scorn on Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, John Prescott, Peter Mandelson and Alastair Campbell.

In a video and transcript of the speech published on the Times website, Humphrys is reported as saying that some MPs "couldn't give a bugger whether they lie or not", and mocking the chancellor as "easily the most boring political interviewee I have ever had in my whole bloody life".

Humphrys also refers to Mr Brown, who lost sight in his left eye after being kicked in a school rugby game, as winking at him from "his one good eye" during a Today interview and pokes fun at Mr Prescott's habit of mangling familiar phrases, saying people "can't understand a bloody word he says".

Yesterday, Humphrys hit back at the Times report, saying it was "disgraceful" for the newspaper to suggest that his remarks were intended to imply that all ministers were liars.

"It's not what I believe and never have done," he told the Guardian.

Humphrys claimed the newspaper and its stablemate, the Sunday Times, which carried a similar report yesterday, had "conflated" a series of remarks he had made about politicians.

"What I actually said was that there are three kinds of politicians: those who do not lie full stop, those who lie if they absolutely have to, and those who do not give a bugger about lying," said Humphrys.

In one section of his speech Humphrys reportedly refers to the row over the Andrew Gilligan affair, telling his after-dinner audience that the former Radio 4 reporter's controversial claims that Downing Street deliberately inserted false information to "sex up" intelligence in Iraq, were substantially true.

"The fact is that we got it right," he is heard to say.

Humphrys also describes Mr Campbell, who led the government's attacks on Gilligan and Today, as "a pretty malevolent force" and pokes fun at an interview Cherie Blair gave to the Sun during the last general election in which she hinted at her husband's sexual stamina.

John Humphrys is often described as one of the BBC's interview "attack-dogs", the kind that actually do grill politicans over their policies and occasionally get the better of them. Along with Jeremy Paxman, he's one of the two presenters at the BBC actually worth listening/watching. It comes as no surprise that the newspaper behind these allegations is the Times. (Prop. R. Murdoch, certainly no friend of the BBC)

The worst thing about this is that John Humphrys was not only telling the truth mostly, he always speaking his mind, which is one of the things few politicians actually decide to do very often. John Prescott does mangle his words, and is occasionally incomprehensible. He himself admits so. Robin Cook on an appearance on Newsnight before the start of the war against Iraq defended the government position when it was clear shortly afterwards that he had been against the conflict from the very beginning, clearly an example of how ministers follow the party line when they disagree, as Humphrys states. Gordon Brown is depicted as being dry and wallowing in self-pity, as many politicians have in the past always said. The now infamous Andrew Gilligan report about "sexing up" the weapons dossier, along with the fourty-five minute claim, have now despite the Hutton report lambasting the BBC, been shown to almost completely correct. Finally, who wouldn't make fun of Cherie and Tony Blair's excruciating interview in the Sun (Prop. R. Murdoch.) just before the election when she claimed that they had sex five times a night and that he had a great physique? Both Private Eye and the Guardian had huge fun with it.

Pretty much all of these supposedly 'scathing' and 'inflammatory' remarks are old news or been made numerous times before. So why now have these remarks been so well publicised? While the silly season is drawing to a close, it's not like we've had no news worth reporting. I seem to remember there being some extreme weather in America that may have killed some people. Apart from that, I'm also suspicious of this being in the Times. There have been reports that Channel 4 might end up turning to Sky News for its news bulletins, as Channel 5 already has. That would leave ITV with its often execrable ITN coverage, and the BBC with its usually fine coverage. In other words, it seems to me as if Sky (Prop. R. Murdoch.) is already going on the offensive. If it wasn't for Ofcom's rules on impartiality, Murdoch would have already transformed Sky News into a British version of Fox.

John Humphrys isn't completely spotless, it has to be said. He has a large amount of shares in YouGov, the internet polling company which has suspiciously often led broadcasts on the Today programme. He often also takes large fees for corporate speaking. Aside from that though, he's one of the few in the television/radio journalism section of the media that is prepared to fight through the spin. The attack on him is typical not only of the way New Labour is becoming increasingly intolerant of mainstream criticism, but also of the way, post-Hutton, that the BBC has decided to roll over and play dead when invective is thrown against it.

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Saturday, September 03, 2005 

Hurricane Hoedown.

Credit to all photographers/agencies and especially for most.

Oh and don't worry, Halliburton are already on the case:

The Navy has hired Houston-based Halliburton Co. to restore electric power, repair roofs and remove debris at three naval facilities in Mississippi damaged by Hurricane Katrina.

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Flashback: No Trousers Charlie talks out of backside.

Remember this?

The home secretary, Charles Clarke, today said it would be "very, very surprising" if the two terrorist bomb attacks on London last month were not linked.

In his first comment since returning from a strongly-criticised summer holiday, Mr Clarke said there was no evidence "in the judicial sense" to yet link the July 7 and 21 attacks, but that the intelligence services were looking at the "support, training, inducting and tasking" of the men involved.

I said then that it was an incredibly stupid and presumptious remark to make. Now this has appeared, in an article about MI5 stepping up surveillance of 'Islamist extremists':

Officials are also convinced that there was no link between the July 7 cell and the failed July 21 attackers, whom they regard as "copycat" bombers. They base their view chiefly on the unplanned bombing of the bus in London's Tavistock Square by one of the July 7 suicide bombers, Hasib Hussain.

It is believed that Hussain, from Holbeck in Leeds, was meant to detonate his rucksack device on a Northern line train at the same time as his three fellow suicide bombers travelled south, east and west.

The would-be bombers on July 21 targeted a bus as well as three London Underground trains.

How about an apology or a clarification, Mr Clarke?

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Yobbish yob tsar to lead 'respect' "task-force".

There are some stories that you couldn't really make up. This is another piece of the fiction we live:

A government adviser who praised binge drinking and threatened to "deck" Downing Street officials will head a taskforce to promote respect, the Home Office said yesterday.

Louise Casey, 38, was formally investigated in July after complaints that her jokey speech to senior police officers breached the civil service code. She apologised and kept her job. But her promotion from head of the antisocial behaviour unit to director of the 30-strong taskforce drew criticism yesterday.

The National Association of Probation Officers said the appointment was "extraordinary" in light of her comments. Mark Oaten, home affairs spokesman for the Lib Dems, said it would "raise eyebrows".

So, what was that she actually said? Here it comes:

This is the first time I have done an after-dinner speech. It is half past nine at night and I'm sober and I am troubled by both those two things.

I feel like I am wearing a hoodie in Bluewater, being at a conference of coppers and researchers.

Topic for the evening. Research: help or hindrance? Hindrance, thanks very much.

I suppose you can't binge drink anymore because lots of people have said you can't do it. I know. I don't know who bloody made that up. It's nonsense. Particularly when you are 40 you can binge drink whenever you want. Life's downhill from there ...

Doing things sober is no way to get things done. I try to explain that to ministers but they don't get it.

All [our exhibition] stuff was bloody nicked at the Adelphi, Liverpool. What a fucking nightmare that would have been from a PR perspective. I just got hammered at the Adelphi.

I tell you that's a sad and miserable life.

Bloody BBC1 ... When do they interview the people who are on the receiving end of antisocial behaviour?

Excuse my language. I get lots of complaints about it. But you can't complain. It is an after-dinner speech. So you can write to Hazel Blears as much as you like. I'll just say 'after-dinner speech' and I wasn't even pissed ...

There is an obsession with evidence-based policy ... If No 10 says bloody 'evidence-based policy' to me once more I'll deck them one and probably get unemployed.

I remember the first time I did a meeting with a minister. It was like something out of Acorn Antiques. Honest to god. The most powerful person in the room is Betsy who brings the tea round.

After attacking senior civil servants who go to Eton and Oxford: You are a tough audience. Did you all go to Eton or something?

I don't want something written in the friggin' Guardian slagging me off.

What really hacks me off about this Bluewater stuff. It has bugger all to do with kids wearing hoodies. That really trivialises a serious issue. I don't care about teenagers wearing a hood up. What I care about are those who have rocks in their pocket to throw at the street warden who wants to talk about getting them involved in a sports competition.

Yep, a nice case of joined-up government. She attacks Eton and Oxford; granted, I'm not a fan of them either. She attacks research, evidence based policy, BBC1 and boasts of getting "fucking hammered" at the Adelphi. In short, she's a typical New Labour lackey. Unaccountable, out-spoken and full of herself. A shining example of how to instill respect into young people. All we need now is for her to punch someone who throws an egg at her.

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Friday, September 02, 2005 

New Orleans in flames.

The situation in New Orleans does seem like it may be about to get more stable. The interdictor blog, probably right now the best place for updates on what is actually happening reports that the military finally do seem to be getting there. It only took four days. Fires are now also being reported in addition to the earlier explosions.

I'm not going to comment on the whole rescue and aid operation, but I get the feeling that this might be the breaking of Bush. We'll just have to wait and see.

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The complete vacuity of a terrorist.

It appears that a tape has finally turned up of one of the London bombers explaining his reasons for taking part in the attacks. The video of Mohammad Sidique Khan was followed by the usual finger-pointing menace of Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaida's "spiritual" leader.

"I am going to keep this short and to the point, because it's all been said before by far more eloquent people than me.

"But our words have no impact upon you, therefore I'm going to talk to you in a language that you understand. Our words are dead until we give them life with our blood.

"I'm sure by now the media has painted a suitable picture of me, this predictable propaganda machine will naturally try to put a spin on it to suit the government and to scare the masses into conforming to their power- and wealth-obsessed agendas.

"I and thousands like me are forsaking everything for what we believe. Our driving motivation doesn't come from tangible commodities that this world has to offer. Our religion is Islam, obedience to the one true God, Allah and follow in the footsteps of the final prophet and messenger Muhammad.

"This is how our ethical stances are dictated. Your democratically elected governments perpetuate atrocities against my people and your support of them makes you responsible, just as I am directly responsible for protecting and avenging my Muslim brothers and sisters.

"Until we feel security, you'll be our target. Until you stop the bombing, gassing, imprisonment and torture of my people, we'll not stop this fight. We are at war and I am a soldier. Now you too will taste the reality of this situation."

Mohammad Sidique Khan doesn't seem to appreicate that his own recording is itself a piece of propaganda; that of the lowest form, a man who can only speak of his beliefs after his death. Instead of trying to change things through demonstration and peaceful methods, he chose to end his life by using his body to kill the innocents who surrounded him on that tube train. His video is meant to be addressed to the people of Britain, that we are responsible for the atrocities because we elected the government that is perpertrating them. Here's a few stats for Mohammad Sidique Khan, wherever he now is: only 36% of the electorate voted for Labour in the May election Of that 36%, of which I was one, how many does he think supported the war on Iraq? I voted Labour because my MP abstained on the vote for the war, and because they are still at the moment the least worst option that can actually govern. If this means that I supported the illegal and immoral war on Iraq and the continuing abomination which is the war on terror, then target me. Not those commuting to work.

It's a sad state of affairs when someone like Mohammad Sidique Khan, once a teacher, starts believing that the only way to bring about change is to become a suicide bomber. It's an even sadder state of affairs when the government still refuses to admit that the war on Iraq made us a target. Jack Straw has commented on the video, saying that there is "no excuse for terrorism". That's an arguable remark to start with, but let's forget about that. Saying that the Iraq war increased the threat to this country is not making an excuse for deadly suicide bombs. It's the truth. The government realises that there was no real strategic reason for them to join the US in the Iraqi crusade. It was purely political. Jack Straw is an intelligent man. He knows that. About the only men who do not are probably Tony Blair and the most craven and sycophantic of his followers.

The video itself leaves many questions about the origins of the suicide bombers. I think it's pretty certain that a lot of the conspiracy theories can now be thrown out the window. I don't recall any previous al-Qaida linked attacks having videos of the perpetrators explaining their "reasons" for the attacks. Hamas and Islamic Jihad are the groups which usually make such recorded statements. I do not believe that this was an attack authorised or ordered by any leading members of al-Qaida. As has been shown, al-Qaida is pretty much broken. What has replaced it is numerous autonomous groupings that have a shared ideology similar to the of al-Zawahiri and bin Laden, originating from the teachings of Sayyid Qutb. The relatively easy access to bomb "recipes" and other information, both on the internet and the black market has furthered their cause immensely.

If anything, this video has shown how the new anti-terror laws are yet another victory for those who use the excuse of Islamic fundamentalism for their own nihilistic purposes. The deportation of supposed "extremists" to countries where they could be tortured, the crackdown on anyone who dares to justify acts of terrorism, and the use of control orders shows the country in a state of panic. Panic and the reduction of civil liberties is exactly the response they want. Yes, we must become more secure, and address the threats. That requires better intelligence and not more draconian measures. The government could start by making wire-tap evidence admissible in courts. Such an act would show the government standing up to the arrogance of MI5 and MI6, as well as showing that the government is not responding to propaganda and murder with more of the same.

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Thursday, September 01, 2005 

Hurricane Katrina.

I haven't really felt the need or the desire to post about the obviously horrific situation that's going on in the states affected by the hurricane, mainly because news is still so sketchy and unreliable. However, here's a few links that are probably worth reading/seeing.

LSU hurricane expert on CNN just estimated 100,000 drowned

The Hurricane President

Satellite image of New Orleans 31st August 2005

Sat Image of Wasted Biloxi MS 31 Aug 05

Cryptome Eyeballing Katrina damage

I think it's way too early to blame this yet on global warming, or other even more out there conspiracy theories, which if you really want to see, click on the Rigorous Intuition link at the side. This is a natural disaster, just as the tsunami was. Whether it could have better prepared for is now the question that must be asked. Most of all, why did they persevere in thinking that a city below sea level would always be able to survive in a climate that is so susceptible to extreme weather?

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Child mental illness in the UK 'stable' at 1 in 10.

One in 10 children in Britain has a recognised mental disorder, ranging from depression to autism, according to the latest government figures.

The study, the second to map patterns of child mental health nationally, also found that boys were more likely than girls to have a mental disorder, and that in general children in poorer, worse-educated or lone parent families were likelier to be affected.

The statistics, based on a 2004 study of 8,000 children in England, Scotland and Wales, echo the findings of the first survey of child mental health in Britain in 1999, which recorded the same proportion of youngsters with a disorder.

They were interpreted yesterday as an indication that levels of mental health disorders among five- to 16-year-olds, which had risen over the preceding 25 years, had now stabilised and may begin to fall.

Experts also said they were reassured by figures showing that medication was very limited for children with disorders other than those connected to hyperactivity.

Obviously this doesn't recognise those who are living with mental illness but are not receiving any help with it, either because it's not recognised or untreatable (personality disorders). I find it difficult to believe that mental illness is now going down at a time when the world itself seems to be getting crazier by the day. The last 4 years have been enough to turn the most sane person into a gibbering wreck. The only way to counter this seems to be insulate yourself from any news and just keep consuming.

As for the figures showing that medication was limited for children, this may well be due to the recent rulings that the SSRI class of anti-depressants cannot be prescribed to persons under 18 because of the findings that they can increase the risk of self-harm and suicide. There are still concerns over the high rate of prescriptions for ADHD.

While I've been sceptical for a while about the effects of anti-depressants and their use as a cash-cow for drugs companies which rushed to produce them in the wake of the marketing of Prozac, I've also found that those opposed to their use can be just as aggressive and unwilling to see that some have been helped by these drugs, including the most complained about, Seroxat. What is fascinating and to do with this is the placebo effect. An excellent recent article about the effect is here, which is a great read.

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When is a terrorist not a terrorist? When he's a Jew.

Some rather excellent thinking has gone behind this decision by the Israeli defence ministry.

Four Arab Israelis shot dead by a soldier opposed to the closure of the Gaza Strip settlements are not victims of "terror" because their killer was Jewish, Israel's defence ministry has ruled, and so their families are not entitled to the usual compensation for life.

The ministry concluded that the law only recognises terrorism as committed by "organisations hostile to Israel" even though the prime minister, Ariel Sharon, described the killings by Private Eden Nathan Zaada, 19, as "a despicable act by a bloodthirsty terrorist."

Actually, this pretty much all makes sense. After all, the state of Israel was established thanks to terrorism which led to us fair Britains withdrawing from the area. The state of Israel was declared on the same day, with the United States recognising it seconds later. How can it then pay compensation to Israeli Arabs murdered by an AWOL IDF soldier? It seems even the words of Ariel Sharon, proclaimed as a war criminal himself by some, can't change such a ridiculous state of affairs.

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