Saturday, October 08, 2005 

Brunei envoy on BAE payroll, hilariously denies conflict of interest.

There's nothing that warms the cockles of my cyncial heart quite like a nice little tale of corruption. This is one of the best sleazy stories about Blair and his cronies in the arm industry to come out for a while:

Tony Blair is employing Charles Powell as his special envoy to Brunei, the Guardian can disclose, despite the fact that the businessman is on the payroll of BAE Systems. BAE is embroiled in a dispute with Brunei over the purchase of three warships.

The sultan of the small, oil-rich southeast Asian state, Hassanal Bolkiah, was persuaded to order the top-of-the-range vessels for his navy at a cost of £680m, but is now refusing to make the final payments to BAE and take delivery of the ships, which are marooned on the Clyde.

The three patrol boats were built and equipped with missiles at BAE's Scotstoun yard, and the first of them was launched by John Reid as Scottish secretary. The British taxpayer guaranteed the deal and may have to pick up a tab of more than £20m for any outstanding default.

Lord Powell denied yesterday that he had a conflict of interest by being a consultant for BAE while acting as the prime minister's special envoy to Brunei. Lord Powell's brother, Jonathan, is Mr Blair's chief of staff at No 10, and Lord Powell was previously Margaret Thatcher's foreign affairs adviser.

He told the Guardian: "There is no conflict of interest with BAE. Any consultation with BAE specifically rules out anything to do with Brunei." He said he had been acting in the unpaid role for three to four years. Asked how he got the job, Lord Powell said: "You do not advertise it and you do not apply." Asked how often he met the sultan, he said: "That is a matter between him and me."

The appointment of Mr Blair's friend and fundraiser Lord Levy as a special Middle East envoy angered some in the Foreign Office and there is also puzzlement over Lord Powell's new role. It is not clear what he will do that could not be done by the high commissioner to Brunei.

A Downing Street source said Lord Powell met the sultan, who owns the Dorchester Hotel, on his visits to London when Mr Blair was unable to see him. All discussions were on behalf of the British government, the source added.

A Downing Street spokesman said: "Charles Powell is special representative to the Sultan of Brunei and, in that role, he discusses a wide range of bilateral issues and regional issues."

A team from BAE Systems, which has been threatening to bring arbitration proceedings in Paris against the sultan, is believed to have flown to Borneo in July in an unsuccessful attempt to resolve the patrol boats dispute. Brunei claims the vessels do not meet the required specifications, but BAE sources say there are no facilities at the local Muara naval base capable of running and maintaining such advanced ships. BAE said last night the quarrel was in arbitration and confidential.

Brunei, whose sultan is propped up by British Gurkhas, is regarded as a crucial arms sales target. The defence ministry lists Brunei as a "priority market" which may buy more than £500m of weaponry if the warships row is resolved.

Most humourous is Charles Powell's arrogant replies to the questions put to him. I'd say that the matter of how often he meets the Sultan when he's doing business with the government of my country is as much a matter of interest for myself as it is for him. Why is he needed when everything could be done by the high commisioner? Call me a conspiracy theorist, but it almost seems as if he's been appointed by the government as their own lobbyist for BAE. Coming shortly after the Guardian's other report that both Blair and John Reid have been trying to persuade the Saudis to buy £40bn worth of various arms and military equipment, it almost makes you wonder where BAE stops and the government itself starts.

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Shoot the messenger.

Reading the Grauniad on a Saturday, one of the few things you don't expect is an advert telling you to be aware of a new gun law in Florida. I personally wasn't planning on travelling to the "sunshine state", but maybe some of you were, so here's the advert:

Still seems strange that a small campaign group would decide to take out adverts warning people in a British newspaper when there's a lot more chance of actual Americans being unaware of the changes in the law. That said, I guess getting more attention on such a bad piece of legislation may well help it to be struck down or repealed. Also amusing on their site is a typical piece of Fox News distortion which they've corrected.

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Friday, October 07, 2005 

Ten al-Qaida plots stopped since 9/11 and other stories.

Various interesting stories out today about Bush, the war on terror and its malcontents. The first is that in an otherwise piss-poor speech about Iraq, Bush mentioned that 10 al-Qaida plots had been stopped since 9/11.

George Bush claimed yesterday that at least 10 al-Qaida attacks had been thwarted since September 11, including three inside the US, during an impassioned speech in which he defended the war in Iraq and the wider fight against terrorism.

The president also said the US had stopped five more attempts by terrorists to "case targets in the US or infiltrate operatives into the country".

Among the 10 plots cited by Mr Bush, and later released as a dossier after much criticism for the vagueness of his claims, were three involving UK targets. The White House referred to them as the UK urban target plot of 2004 "using explosives against a variety of sites", in the UK, but remaining unnamed; the 2003 Heathrow airport plot where "the US and several partners disrupted a plot to attack Heathrow airport using hijacked commercial airliners"; and a bombing campaign planned for spring last year said to be "large-scale". Again, the supposed targets were not specified.

I wonder if this 2003 Heathrow airport plot is related to the government's deployment of tanks outside at the time, which just happened to be in the week before the February 15th Stop the War March, which at least 1.5 million attended. We have been told little of why they were deployed, and nothing much has been spoken of it since. If it wasn't to provoke fear and to make us think that maybe war against Iraq was justified to protect us here at home, why has there been no official explanation?
It's also worth wondering whether any of those plans intercepted involve the so-called ricin gang, where only Kamel Bourgass was found guilty.

Apart from the claims of saving us from human bombs, Bush's speech went over very familiar ground. An excellent rebuttal has been written by Juan Cole, and is available here.

Of more curious interest is the press release for an upcoming BBC2 programme, which has managed to get the former Palestinian foreign minister Nabil Shaath to go on the record and reveal that Bush seems to have a rather personal relationship with God:

One of the delegates, Nabil Shaath, who was Palestinian foreign minister at the time, said: "President Bush said to all of us: 'I am driven with a mission from God'. God would tell me, 'George go and fight these terrorists in Afghanistan'. And I did. And then God would tell me 'George, go and end the tyranny in Iraq'. And I did."

Mr Bush went on: "And now, again, I feel God's words coming to me, 'Go get the Palestinians their state and get the Israelis their security, and get peace in the Middle East'. And, by God, I'm gonna do it."

More humourously, the article also mentions Blair and Bush supposedly praying together when they met at the Crawford ranch in 2002: something which Blair has strenuously denied. When asked by Jeremy Paxman in his main interview before the general election this year, Blair looked exasperated and angry that it had been brought up. It's true that Blair is a believer, despite Alastair Campbell's now famous remark that "we don't do God". Many have also speculated that Blair will eventually turn Catholic, away from his Anglican roots, mainly because Cherie was brought up as one.

On the Bush issue though, it's rather worrying that the leader of the free world seems to think that he is being spoken through by the Lord, or that he is carrying out God's will. While many have rightly pointed out that the atheist regimes of the 20th century were among the most brutal, you can't exactly forget the inquisition, crusades, or to be more modern, the Taliban in a hurry. Whether Bush genuinely does think that he is doing what God wants, it's always also been marketed squarely towards the religious right, the same right which has been angered this week by Bush's decision not to nominate an ideological conservative to the supreme court. Maybe this report won't do him any harm in their eyes. That said, it's worth remembering that it's the apocalyptic Baptists who believe in the reestablishment of Greater Israel, so that the second coming and armageddon will occur, that offer Bush their full support. They might not believe that it's the same God that's telling him to establish a Palestinian state.

In more heartening news, the Senate has voted to ban degrading treatment of anyone in US custody, wherever they are. However, don't expect it to be applied to Guantanamo, or to other various US outposts where terrorist suspects are being held, as the CIA has a waiver. The White House opposed it, saying it would "restrict the president's authority to protect Americans effectively from terrorist attack and bring terrorists to justice". Yep, torturing suspects and anyone you just happen to pick up off the street in Iraq helps to protect Americans. You heard it here first.

Finally, New York's subway system has been put on alert following the supposed most significant and specific threat since 9/11. This alert of course would have nothing to do with the various scandals which now appear to be engulfing the Republicans and the Bush administration, ranging from Tom DeLay, to the Valerie Plame inquiries implicating Scooter Libby and Karl Rove, up to the handling of Katrina and the Israeli spying trials. Maybe a dose of heightened awareness about the terrorist threat will make everyone forget about them.

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Hurricane who?

You'd be forgiven for not realising that a hurricane has been battering Central America with heavy rain for days now, as the coverage of the event has been non-existent. Maybe the media are all hurricaned out after both Katrina and Rita, but Stan is turning out to be much more deadly than the latter:

Rescuers are continuing their search for hundreds of people missing after mudslides caused by Tropical Storm Stan hit Central America and Mexico.

The death toll in Guatemala, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras and southern Mexico has reached 244 amid fears that it will rise further.

Reports from worst-hit Guatemala say hundreds are still missing. In one town alone, 40 died in a mudslide.

More rain, blocked roads and collapsed bridges are hampering rescue efforts.

Across the region, an unknown number of people remain trapped in their houses, correspondents say.

Entire villages have been completely wiped out by landslides and flash floods.

Some 200,000 people have been forced to flee their homes.

Stan slammed ashore as a Category One hurricane in southern Mexico on Tuesday.

Despite being downgraded to a tropical depression by the end of the day, it triggered major flooding and landslides in the region.

Guatemala has so far recorded at least 146 dead.

The country's civil protection agency said 40 bodies were recovered from a town on the edge of Santiago Atitlan in the Mayan highlands, popular with Western visitors.

Reports in the local media say many people are still missing in the town.

"There are still a lot of people to be found, some 150 to 200," said Pedro Mendoza, a local taking part in rescue efforts.

"The landslide was on Wednesday but because the roads are blocked, no-one can get through to help us."

In Quezaltenango, the second most important city, people are still trapped in what remains of their homes as flood waters have reached up to two metres (6ft) high, correspondents say.

Guatemalan President Oscar Berger has asked Congress to declare a state of emergency.

In El Salvador, at least 65 people are known to have died. Officials said nearly 54,000 others had been evacuated to 370 shelters throughout the country, despite difficulties in travelling along many of the country's roads.

"The ground is saturated and we could have more tragedies," warned Salvadoran Red Cross spokesman Carlos Lopez Mendoza.

Mexico was also struck by the weather system, which has killed at least 17 people and caused at least 30 rivers to burst their banks.

The country is sending aid to El Salvador after a personal plea by Salvadoran President Tony Saca.

Mexican officials said the air force was preparing to deliver 200 metric tons of food and 30 metric tons of emergency supplies.

If over 200 had died in Rita, the coverage would have gone on for days rather than the few hours after its arrival, once it was realised that it was a lot less destructive than previously predicted. To paraphrase Kanye West, the media doesn't care about brown people.

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Thursday, October 06, 2005 

Iran supposedly supplying Iraqi insurgents with sophisticated roadside bombs.

It's that time of the month again when it's time to rattle the sabre against one of the Middle Eastern countries bordering Iraq. This month it's the turn of Iran, already in the west's black books for daring to have a nuclear programme, despite their right to have one under the nuclear proliferation treaty.

Yesterday it was a "senior British official" who claimed that the Iranians had been supplying Iraqi insurgents in the south of Iraq with infra-red roadside bombs, against which the British forces have little defence. Today it was the turn of the Dear Leader, who was giving a press conference in the company of the current Iraqi president, Jalal Talabani.

Today, Mr Blair - who admitted it was not certain that there was an Iranian connection - said he had been anxious about new kinds of explosives being used by insurgents "for some time".

"What is clear is that there have been new explosive devices used - not just against British troops but elsewhere in Iraq," he said.

"The particular nature of those devices leads us either to Iranian elements or to Hizbullah [the Tehran-backed guerilla group based in Lebanon]."

Mr Blair told Tehran not to interfere in Iraq, saying British troops were in the country with the support of the UN to help in the development of a "sovereign, democratic government".

He argued it could be the case that the "country next door" to Iraq was anxious about having a democratic neighbour, saying: "What's it going to be like if you have a free Iraq ... run by the rule of law, with a free press ... run by the will of the people?"

Not certain, but we'll blurt out that we think it's the Iranians anyway. Also of note:

There are differing views within the British intelligence community as to the level of Tehran's involvement. British military sources insisted last night there was no hard evidence that the explosives technology came from Iran. Defence sources suggested that blaming the IRGC for supplying the explosives technology was going too far. Other military officials said there was "so much expertise in Iraq" the bombs could have been made by former members of Saddam Hussein's security forces.

The difference in opinion may reflect concern on the part of the military that a sharpening confrontation with Iran could increase the chances of further attacks on British troops.

It's pretty easy to blame someone else for the troubles that you're having, as the US has demonstrated repeatedly by blaming Syria for various misdeeds. As the second report suggests, it's by no means proven that Iran has anything to do with the supplying of "insurgents" with such advanced weaponry. Iran has benefited measurably by the current situation in Iraq, and it's unlikely they would do much to alter it. As it stands, if the new constitution is passed, the Shia south will become autonomous to the same degree as the Kurdish north, leaving the Sunni triangle without oil and little else of value. The Iranian backed grouping the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq is also favourite to win a majority in the south in the elections in December, if they go ahead. Why would Iran risk this happening by supplying Sunni militants? What is more likely is that the insurgency is getting more members from previous conflicts, such as in Lebanon, or they are receiving training from those veterans. Of course, it's easier to blame a country than admit that you are in danger of losing a battle.

Also worth mentioning is Blair's rather patronising comments about Iran being anxious about having a democratic neighbour. While Iran is far from having completely free and fair elections, it's also the most democratic nation in the Middle East, only challenged for that title by Palestine, who are only allowed elections when the Israelis let them.

Britain's comments on Iran also have tones of anger over the situation to do with Iran's nuclear programme, following the new president Mahmoud Ahmadinejaid's rather combatant speech at the UN. While the IAEA has referred Iran's stance to the UN Security Council, the most which will happen is that Iran will again be warned. Both China and Russia are the main recipients of Iranian oil and gas, and it's hard to expect them backing sanctions which could damage such business dealings. At the moment then, it looks like stalemate. That Israel, India and Pakistan all have nuclear weapons but neglected to sign the non-proliferation treaty doesn't matter; Iran's always been the US's enemy since the revolution of 79 which overthrew the Shah. Even if they abandoned their nuclear programme, the current administration would be not be satisfied.

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Moss dross: will it ever stop?

Once again the Sun today provided us with latest up to the minute news on Kate Moss's fascinating chemical experimentation, revealing that she's now to be arrested. Hot stuff!

Again though the Sun changed between early and late editions. Rather than the above picture, they did lead originally with the Moss story, while later editions were the above, angry no doubt that the Mirror beat them to the punch and had it as their front page splash. Only question now is whether Tom Cruise's baby turns out to be a reincarnation of Xenu.

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Wednesday, October 05, 2005 

Prisons being used as a dumping ground for the mentally ill.

Nine out of 10 male prisoners have a mental disorder, the Zahid Mubarek inquiry was told today, on the last day of hearings.

The Zito Trust, which campaigns for better care for mentally ill people, told the inquiry that "prisons have become psychiatric asylums by default".

The trust's director, Michael Howlett, said in written evidence to an inquiry seminar today on the treatment of mentally disordered prisoners, that prisons are accommodating an increasing number of people with mental disorders.

He said: "Some 90% of the current male prison population is said to be suffering from a diagnosable mental disorder."

Mr Howlett blamed the shrinking number of psychiatric beds in the NHS, leaving treatment for people with mental problems or disorders to be attempted in prisons.

"We are now trying to rectify this by implementing NHS-style strategies in institutions which are not only over-crowded, but also culturally not necessarily sympathetic or receptive," he said.

Mr Howlett said a joint report from the Home Office and the Department of Health published in 1992 had said offenders with mental disorders should be treated by health and social services, not prison.

He also said that if Zahid Mubarek's murderer, Robert Stewart, had been given therapeutic help at an early age he may not have developed a "full-blown" psychopathic personality disorder.

Stewart was given life after bludgeoning Mr Mubarek to death in the cell they shared at Feltham young offenders institution in 2000.

The inquiry chairman, Mr Justice Keith, criticised the Prison Service's failure to ensure people with mental disorders were kept in segregated wings.

He said: "The increasing size of the prison population and the prevalence of offenders with mental disorders - whether mental illnesses or personality disorders - means that the overwhelming majority of prisoners with mental disorders are kept on ordinary location."

Mr Justice Keith is now hoping to complete his inquiry report by February when it will be submitted to ministers for their consideration.

Compare to this to what was said by the leading candidate for the Tory leadership:

Mr Davis received his loudest round of applause for the declaration: "We must take back control of our own borders."

He also echoed Michael Howard's famous declaration that "prison works" and ranged over his home affairs brief to attack the government on binge drinking and the downgrading of cannabis.

Like the other would-be leaders, he attacked Gordon Brown rather than Tony Blair. Joking that the chancellor was "not the sunniest character in British politics", he claimed that Mr Brown was "driven by a socialism that is out of date, out of time and out of place in today's world".

Promising not to "blow with every gust" or "junk policies" for the sake of convenience, Mr Davis declared: "I've set a course. It's a course that can unite all sections of this party. And I also believe it's the right course for Britain."

Oh yeah, prison works. It works as a place to put the mentally ill out of sight of the general public's eye, where they're forgotten about. It's handy for a government which is only interested in improving waiting lists and prescribing SSRIs to the depressed, rather than setting up counselling centres and building new pyschiatric wards, instead of closing down the few that are remaining.

The former weekend soldier also called the decision to downgrade cannabis to a Class C drug (an unarrestable offence, cautioned for first offence if openly smoking it in public) "stupid, dangerous and wrong". Yes, it was a stupid and wrong decision. It should have been decriminalised. With such men as Davis going to lead the Conservative party, Blair must be laughing. Unless the party decides to go with David Cameron (a young Etonian who wants to be the next Blair) or Kenneth Clarke (a veteran minister who if likeable and to the left of most Tories has some very dodgy business associates) then the Conservatives won't stand a chance in the 2013 election, let alone 2009.

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Media and police distortions of a brothel raid.

Remember last Friday? The main news story on the Ten O'Clock news was a raid on a massage parlour in Birmingham, where we were told that up to 20 trafficked women were being held against their will, selling their bodies for the brothel's owners. The doors were locked and there was an electric fence at the back. Shocking details, indeed. There was also the usual amount of hand-wringing, as well as demands that more be done to protect Eastern European women being brought here for sex slavery.

Just a slight problem. Turns out that 13 of those women actually had leave to remain here, and told the police they were voluntarily working in the sex industry. Of the remaining, the rest have so far said nothing of being brought here to work in the sex industry illegally, nor have they protested at being returned to their own country. Whether this is due to them being traumatised at their experience and afraid to talk to the police is an issue, however. They should be allowed to remain for now and receive support, as well as counselling.

This also raises issues of police and home office communication. The home office contends that it was police-led and not an anti-trafficking operation. If so, why did the police invite the media along to see them battering down the door of the brothel and leading the clearly frightened women out? Raiding a brothel isn't exactly an instant national news story. Was their information simply wrong and they've been too embarrassed to admit so? While the owners of the brothel have been charged for having firearms on the premises and running the place, they have as yet not been charged with anything related to trafficking. In effect, the media had made up its mind what happened before the truth was known. They believed the police and reported almost exactly what was told them. At a time when disbelief and questions clearly need to be voiced, the last thing we need is for the BBC to start believing every word they are told, whether it's by someone in a uniform or not.

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Former UDA leader murdered.

Detectives investigating the murder of former loyalist leader Jim Gray have arrested six people, police have said.

Detective Superintendent George Hamilton said the arrests followed a number of searches.

He said that the involvement of the Ulster Defence Association was a "major line of inquiry" in the investigation.

Gray, 47, the flamboyant former leader of the UDA in east Belfast, was shot outside his father's house on the Clarawood estate in the city.

Gray was expelled from the illegal organisation last March.

He was recently released on bail on charges of money laundering, and was living at his father's home in Knockwood Park while awaiting his court appearance.

He was shot behind a car parked outside the house on Tuesday night at about 2000 BST.

DS Hamilton said Gray had been warned that he was under threat since his release on bail.

Yeah, another man murdered in the loyalist feud which has been consuming Belfast for at least 2 months now. Again, expect mostly a silence from the Unionist leadership on the problems within its own community, while they'll still be happy to condemn the IRA for a "cover-up" over their arms decommisioning.

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Tuesday, October 04, 2005 

Bush picks completely unknown quantity for supreme court.

Bush seems to have picked a blinder for the newly available seat on the US supreme court, left open following Sandra Day O'Connor's retirement. Harriet Miers is unknown to almost everyone in America apart from the minority of politics nerds. She's been with Bush for over 20 years, first as his lawyer and then as a lottery chief. It follows the pattern of him picking buddies and old acquaintances for various jobs in government. Most of all though, no one properly knows what her politics are.

While Harriet Miers has obviously worked for Bush and is said to be solidly conservative, there is very little to go on as to know what her views on such litmus issues as state powers, abortion and affirmative action are. She has donated money to both the Republicans and Democrats, including to the Al Gore 2000 campaign. The only slight blot she has is that she supported a call for a referendum in the American Bar Association to reconsider its view on abortion rights. Apart from that, she's almost entirely clean.

She has already though stirred controversy on both left and right. The left are rather critical that she has never served as judge, although William Rehnquist also had not served as a judge before being appointed to the supreme court. That doesn't really allay their concerns though, as Rehnquist himself was thought to be a centrist who moved sharply to the far right. The right wanted an ideological conservative which would have swayed the balance of the court. They don't seem to realise that the Democrats would have done everything in their power to stop such a divisive appointment, and would likely have succeeded. Instead, Bush has rather cleverly chosen a candidate who will get through the hearings and be appointed unopposed. She can say whatever crap she likes in front of the Senate; there's not much they can do once she's on the supreme court. This isn't to say that Harriet Miers is definitely right wing. Such a pick would cause an already split nation another round of culture wars. We'll see what happens, but the best thing to hope for is that Bush has made the right decision in keeping the supreme court balanced, as the United States itself is.

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UK approaches Libya over deportation agreements.

Another day, another country with a poor human rights record is cosied up to by Labour so that alleged terrorist suspects can be deported from this septic isle:

The Guardian has established that Britain and the Gadafy regime have begun talks to reach an agreement which would allow Libyans deemed by the UK to be a terrorist threat to be returned there.

Libya has been accused by Amnesty International of having a poor human rights record, including using torture and the death penalty, and Britain will not officially confirm that the talks are taking place. Friends of the Libyan man arrested yesterday say that he is an opponent of the Gadafy regime and fears ill-treatment if deported to Libya.

Diplomatic sources said the negotiations began in August and that it was the UK that approached Libya to reach a memorandum of understanding.

Yesterday's raids were led by immigration officers supported by the police, and was the third such round-up of suspects since August. One man was arrested in London, another in Cardiff and three in the West Midlands. Anti-terrorism officers later executed search warrants at the addresses the men were arrested at.

The foreign nationals were detained using the home secretary's powers to deport those whose presence in Britain is deemed "not conducive to the public good".

A source described all five as being of "Middle Eastern" origin, and they were being held while the government tries to find a way of deporting them. It is understood that some were being held at Long Lartin prison, the same jail where some Algerians arrested under similar powers last month are being held.

The Foreign Office would not say whether it was negotiating with Libya. It recently reached an agreement allowing Britain to deport a Jordanian national suspected of terrorism, despite concerns about Jordan's human rights record. Under the agreement Jordan promised not to ill-treat anyone returned under the terms of the memorandum.

Yesterday's raids are part of a government crackdown on alleged Islamic extremists after the July 7 attacks on London. Ten people were detained for deportation in August, and a fortnight ago seven more people were detained. They included four Algerians cleared of involvement in a plot to use ricin poison.

Amnesty International said torture was "widely reported during incommunicado detention" in Libya last year and "security forces detain people arbitrarily for political reasons, holding them incommunicado for long periods without charge. Prisoners of conscience are also held."

For years the Gadafy regime was ostracised by the west. Relations between Libya and Britain improved after Tripoli allowed its nationals to stand trial for the Lockerbie bombing.

Yep, Britain wants to send back foreign nationals from here to the country run by the Mad Dog, as Ronald Reagan memorably described Colonel Gadafy. Libya has experienced something of a thaw in relations with the US and UK since they gave up their "weapons of mass destruction" programs at the end of 2003. Libya also agreed to pay compensation to victims of the Lockerbie bombing, despite many, including the late Paul Foot, who argued that Libya had nothing to do with it.

Despite all that, Libya is still undoubtedly practicing torture and carries out routine crackdowns on dissidents. For Britain to keep opening up contacts with countries such as these to get rid of suspects who could be tried here if they could be bothered to adjust the law is really scraping the bottom of the barrel. Will we next be sending dissidents back to Saudi Arabia, as part of a deal for the Saudis to buy £40 billion worth of armaments from us? Oh wait, we're probably about to do that too.

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Sun-watch: allegations of celebrity worship.

I'll admit, today isn't the biggest news day ever. Yesterday though had talks on Turkey being admitted to the EU and a nurse winning the right to a breast cancer treatment costing £20,000 a year on the NHS. It was also the start of the Conservative party conference, which this year is little more than an excuse to tell each other how crap they are while deciding who to pick to lead them to defeat at the next general election. Overseas George Bush picked a personal aide who has never been a judge as his pick to replace Sandra Day O'Connor. This is not to forget the continuing anguish and searching for those responsible for the bombings in Bali.

So, out of all those stories, what did the leading tabloid newspaper in this country decide to have as its front page?

Yep, that's right. It chose to have Jade Goody, a contestant from the third series of Big Brother who didn't even win, being falsely arrested for shoplifting from a supermarket. I'm assuming that was an earlier edition front page though once it realised that Jade was in the clear, as the front page on their site is the below:

Yep, instead of Jade they then decided to go with George Best, a permanently drunk idiot ex-footballer who has once again been admitted to hospital. A great replacement.

The stupidity isn't confined to the front pages though; the Sun appears to be supporting Liam Fox as the Tory party leader, the one furthest to the right who seems to want to follow neo-conservative ideology to the letter. Whether this is a ploy by Murdoch to support the most unelectable candidate so that his pal Tony can step down as prime minister on a high note isn't known.

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Monday, October 03, 2005 


The image of the bombers severed heads is here.

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Moss dross continues in advert form.

A big thanks to Sky television (Prop. R. Murdoch) for taking out numerous full page adverts in newspapers today for their no doubt exciting and thrilling programme on what substance is currently inside Kate Moss's nose. Here's the one from the back page of the Grauniad:

Unfortunately I don't receive Sky One, but I bet those of you who do will be tuning in post haste.

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Five more foreign nationals held as "not conducive to public good".

Five foreign men were today facing expulsion from Britain after being detained in the latest operation aimed at people deemed to be a threat to national security.

The men were held in dawn raids led by the Immigration Service and backed by police this morning in London, the West Midlands and south Wales.

They are being held under the home secretary's powers, under the Immigration Act 1971, to deport individuals whose presence in the UK is not "conducive to the public good".

The latest operation brings the total number of men who have been detained under the act in recent months to 30. Seven men were detained under the same powers on September 15 and another 10 were detained on August 11.

The home secretary, Charles Clarke, has said that he will use his powers to expel foreign-born "preachers of hate" and other individuals considered dangerous to national security.

The operations are part of a government crackdown on extremists following the July 7 bombings in London by Islamist militants, which killed 56 people.

Some human rights lawyers have expressed fears that some of the men face being deported to countries with poor human rights records. The government says it is working on securing memorandums of understanding with countries where the men are from so that they can be returned safely.

After today's raids, the Home Office refused to disclose the names of the men who were held.

A Home Office spokesman said: "The Immigration Act 1971 gives powers to deport individuals, and to detain them pending deportation. The Immigration Service has detained the five foreign nationals on this basis."

The spokesman said the men would be held in secure prison service accommodation.

If these men are such a threat to society that they need to be deported, it would be nice if the Home Office at least informed us who they are. How many more is No Trousers Charlie thinking of locking up? It also has still not been explained why these men cannot be tried in this country, or why what they are accused of doing cannot be disclosed. Not conducive to the public good is not an explanation, it's an excuse.

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Stop treating us like morons.

A team of doctors will today accuse Hollywood of irresponsibility over its portrayal of sex and drugs after a review of some of the biggest blockbusters from the last 20 years showed that only one movie made reference to a condom.

None of the top 200 films promoted safe sex, and nobody ended up with an unwanted pregnancy or any infection.

The doctors, writing in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, say filmmakers should reflect the real consequences of unsafe sex and illicit drug use in their work.

"The movie industry influences the perception of billions of people around the world," said Hasantha Gunasekera from the school of public health at Sydney University. "With globalisation and the growth of home-based media technologies, movies are more accessible to a wider audience and there is convincing evidence that the entertainment media influences behaviour."

Dr Gunasekera and his two co-authors, Simon Chapman and Sharon Campbell, studied the top 200 movies of all time, as listed on the Internet Movie Database in March 2004. The researchers excluded any movie filmed before 1983, the pre-HIV era. They also excluded animated features, those not about humans and any films rated acceptable for children. That left 87 films, in which there were 53 episodes of sex. Only once in those sex scenes did a condom feature, and that was a reference to birth control, they say. In 98% of sexual episodes, which could have resulted in pregnancy, no form of birth control was used or suggested.

"The study showed there were no references to important consequences of unsafe sex such as HIV transmission, spread of STDs or unwanted pregnancy," said Dr Gunasekera. "The social norm being presented in movies is concerning, given the HIV and illicit drug pandemics in developing and industrialised countries.

"The motion picture industry should be encouraged to depict safer sex practices and the real consequences of unprotected sex and illicit drug use."

The paper points out that 40 million people in the world are living with HIV/Aids, according to the World Health Organisation. "Addressing this problem in part requires population behaviour change relating to unsafe sexual practices and injected drug use," it says. "Observation of influential role models and the consequences of their actions affects our behaviour."

Bottom of the league came Basic Instinct (1992), American Pie (2001) and the Bond film Die Another Day (2002). Basic Instinct has six episodes of sex with no condoms used, no birth control and no public health consequences. American Pie has seven sex scenes, all involving new partners with no condoms or birth control measures. The "only consequences were social embarrassment", the report says. Die Another Day has three sex episodes, all with new partners, "no condoms, no birth control, no consequences at all".

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I thought that cinema was there as a form of escapism from the reality of everyday life. This condescending report by doctors seems to forget this entirely and wags the finger at everyone involved, as well as those of us who watch. As well as not using condoms when having sex, most characters in films also don't use the toilet and can smoke without getting cancer, to name just two.

The study and warning would carry more weight if it was addressed at films concering children, but it isn't. Of the three films mentioned, Basic Instinct has an 18 certificate, American Pie a 15 and Die Another Day a 12. By coincedence all three of the films are also crap, but I don't suppose that matters. If my memory serves correctly, the opening scene of Basic Instinct involves Sharon Stone's character killing a sexual partner while in the act with a knife. Not sure how that fits on their safe sex scale. Perhaps we should be warned not to have sex with Sharon Stone with any sharp objects in the vicinity.

By the time you're an adult or at least 15 you should know full well the dangers of unsafe sex and drugs, mainly because you should have been educated about them at school, let alone by your parents. For a group of doctors to then assume that the majority of population are idiots who believe everything that happens in films is real or risk free is rather patronising. That said, the amount of people who seem to believe that the Da Vinci Code is the gospel truth must disapprove my reasoning a little. Still, it's about time those who think they know better kept their nose out of what adults watched and let us get on with it. Treating people like idiots doesn't achieve anything.

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