Wednesday, November 30, 2005 

Cheney guilty of war crimes - says Colin Powell's chief of staff.

Don't expect it to come to anything though:

Vice-president Dick Cheney's burden on the Bush administration grew heavier yesterday after a former senior US state department official said he could be guilty of a war crime over the abuse of prisoners.

Lawrence Wilkerson, who served as chief of staff to secretary of state Colin Powell from 2002 to 2005, singled out Mr Cheney in a wide-ranging political assault on the BBC's Today programme.

Mr Wilkerson said that in an internal administration debate over whether to abide by the Geneva conventions in the treatment of detainees, Mr Cheney led the argument "that essentially wanted to do away with all restrictions".

Asked whether the vice-president was guilty of a war crime, Mr Wilkerson replied: "Well, that's an interesting question - it was certainly a domestic crime to advocate terror and I would suspect that it is ... an international crime as well." In the context of other remarks it appeared he was using the word "terror" to apply to the systematic abuse of prisoners.

The Washington Post last month called Mr Cheney the "vice-president for torture" for his demand that the CIA be exempted from a ban on "cruel, inhuman and degrading" treatment of detainees.

Mr Wilkerson, a former army colonel, also said he had seen increasing evidence that the White House had manipulated pre-war intelligence on Iraq to make its case for the invasion. He said: "You begin to wonder was this intelligence spun? Was it politicised? Was it cherry-picked? Did, in fact, the American people get fooled? I am beginning to have my concerns."

Mr Cheney has been under fire for his role in assembling evidence of weapons of mass destruction. Mr Wilkerson told the Associated Press that the vice-president must have sincerely believed Iraq could be a spawning ground for terrorism because "otherwise I have to declare him a moron, an idiot or a nefarious bastard".

Such charges have kept the Bush administration on the defensive for several months. Mr Bush yesterday repeated his earlier assertion that the US "does not torture and that's important for people around the world to realise".

You know that there's either some people who have been badly treated by the Bush administration or that it's in deep trouble when you get such a senior figure as Lawrence Wilkerson saying that Cheney is ultimately responsible and is very likely guilty of war crimes. While Colin Powell was by no means the liberal that he was made out to be (he had a chief role in writing the original neo-con defence strategy back in 92) he was certainly a restraining role on the President for a while. He was gradually side-lined by the likes of Cheney and Rumsfeld, resulting in his eventual departure from the administration following Bush's re-election. It seems unlikely that Wilkerson would be saying such things unless he has at least something of Powell's approval. Is this then Powell's revenge, or a case of someone having a change of heart when faced with the disaster that Iraq has become? It's obviously impossible to tell, but this continues to confirm that it was the men at the very top who said that torture type techniques could be authorised. They blamed lower-level officers and misunderstandings for the Abu Ghraib scandal. Now that more and more proof is coming to light, it seems unlikely that anyone will stop digging until they find the proof for what many have thought from the beginning - that torture or the tearing up of the Geneva conventions was condoned or even authorised by those at the very top of the Bush administration.

The full transcript of the interview with Wilkerson is here.

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Sun-watch: Blunkett to replace Richard Littlejohn as "star" columnist.

Yes, that's our favourite shagger and leaver of office without a blemish on his character Blunkett. Despite lying and twice being forced to resign from government, it appears that the Sun is quite prepared to take on a loser as its new columnist to replace Richard Littlejohn. In case you don't know about Richard Littlejohn, he's an hilariously right-wing loudmouth whose catchphrase is "you couldn't make it up!". He also has a very curious obsession with homosexuality and buggery, references to which are copious throughout his turgid and predictable columns.

Anyway, Littlejohn decided to leave the Sun and return to his "natural home", the Daily Mail. Littlejohn refused to run out his contract with the Sun which didn't end until next year, so after legal wrangling it was agreed that he would only begin writing for the Mail on Boxing Day. While it was thought that Kelvin Mackenzie (Sun editor during the 80s) was being lined up to be Littlejohn's replacement, it now seems that Blunkett will be instead. Of course, this arrangement will have nothing to do with the fact that Blunkett is very good friends with Sun editor Rebekah Wade and her husband Ross Kemp. Indeed, Blunkett happened to be consoling himself with Rebekah and hubby the day that he was resigned, and the day before the ginger ninja whacked Kemp, resulting in a cut lip.

Still, I'm sure we can look forward to some excellent columns by Mr Blunkett. Expect attacks on judges and complete support of his hero and chief confidant Blair. While Littlejohn hates New Labour, you can expect the opposite from the Blunkett, in that Tony can do no wrong and that its all the backbenchers fault. With Littlejohn and Blunkett writing in the two most right-wing tabloids, it'll be a case of either dumb and dumber or the blind leading the blind.

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Tuesday, November 29, 2005 

Brown throws operating and financial review out the window - CBI cheers.

Oh yes, just wait for Gordon Brown, then we'll get 'real Labour':

Gordon Brown's efforts to mend the Labour government's relationship with big business backfired spectacularly yesterday when the centrepiece of his proposals to cut red tape ran into a chorus of criticism from an unlikely alliance of business leaders, City investors, trade unions and green activists.

Addressing yesterday's meeting of business leaders at the annual CBI conference, the chancellor pledged to strike out plans to implement the so-called operating and financial review (OFR) - a requirement on stock market-listed companies to provide much more information to the public about the impact of their businesses on the environment and society at large.

The OFR was intended to provide a written account of how a company was being run - including corporate governance, social values and ethical policies - to complement the financial numbers contained in the annual report.

The decision to scrap the OFR had been held up as a demonstration of Labour's determination to tackle the regulatory burden facing British business and was clearly intended to sooth increasingly strained relations between the government and the corporate sector.

Instead, organisations as diverse as the Association of British Insurers, which represents big City shareholders, the Institute of Directors, the TUC, and Friends of the Earth reacted with fury, accusing the government of abandoning a central and widely supported plank of corporate reform.

While the CBI itself welcomed the move as a clear sign of the government's understanding of the burdens facing British businesses as they struggle to implement a range of European-inspired legislation, other business lobbies condemned it.

The IoD said it demonstrated "a cavalier and ill-thought-through approach to regulation and its impact".

The Association of British Insurers, whose members control shares worth around a quarter of the stock market, saw the U-turn as "peculiar" given that the government had been trying to promote shareholder activism and the notion of stakeholders.

Brendan Barber, the TUC general secretary, said: "This early Christmas present for the CBI leaves the government's approach to corporate governance looking confused at best."

In other words, Brown has given a blank cheque to some of the most corrupt and environmental damaging companies to continue to cover up the true impact and scale of their business. It's also a typical piece of smacking the unions while licking the boots of the CBI, who increasingly seem to be making their reactionary voice heard in the mainstream. It was they who campaigned with the Tories against the minimum wage, claiming it would cost thousands of jobs. It didn't and it has helped lift a considerable number out of poverty. They have also been vocal about the recent 'gas' problems - the price has been steadily rising - blaming the government even though the power industry was privatised by the Tories and Labour has very little control over it. Still, it's always easier to blame the government than face up to your own problems.

The tabloids, Telegraph and Times along with the CBI permanently decry EU regulations: while if they complained about farming regulations they'd have a point, they have no case on business regulations. The EU has contributed to increasing worker safety and commanding respect for the environment which was never there before. The CBI and their friends wish to see this reversed in order to maximise profits and cut jobs - at the same time as they demand that the government improves education as too many leave without vital life skills. They want to have their cake and eat it.

As the Guardian leader notes, Brown's speeches have been pro-market for a very long time. His speech to the CBI delighted them as they realised that he was one of them and not one of the firebrand mob. It's been no secret for a while though; while paying lip-service to social justice and reducing poverty, Brown idolises the American free-trade pro-market model. It's also Brown who is refusing to deal with the EU over the budget rebate; while Blair is prepared to exchange it for a drop in agricultural subsidies, Brown is unlikely even to accept that. For those of us hoping that Brown is going to around the Labour party, this is a wake-up call. If we are to reclaim the party or at least influence it, we need to speak up now. Otherwise Britain faces being dragged further from the EU and even more towards America - Gordon Brown as prime minister or not.

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Monday, November 28, 2005 

Sun-watch: Wade confuses political correctness with compassion and presumption of innocence.

Slow news day, so over in Wapping it was time to bring out an old favourite: political correctness.

The gist is that two Iraqis are accused of killing two of "our boys" in 2003. However, the Foreign Office is unwilling to hand them over for trial as they fear that they could face the death penalty.

The Sun well knows that it is British (indeed, EU) policy not to hand over suspects, convicted or not, to countries where they will face the death penalty. If a suspect is to be deported to the United States for example, assurances have to be reached that capital punishment will not be sought or imposed if the accused is convicted. Like it or not, this is not political correctness. It can be described as imposing our values on other countries, or even cultural imperialism, but it is not political correctness. This is not new. Also not new is the hectoring "voice of the people" type way in which the Sun puts forward its point of view on its leader page:

Political correctness is usually merely infuriating. When right-on councillors ban the word Christmas, we can simply tell them not to be such wallies. Or ignore them. It's a different matter when the PC prats interfere with the rule of law. We've captured two Iraqis strongly suspected of murdering brave British soldiers Simon Cullingworth and Luke Allsopp. Our top brass aren't allowed to turn them over for trial because they could face execution under Iraq's justice system. And that would infringe - you guessed it - their human rights. The hell with that. The powers that be were quick enough to put OUR boys on trial when they were suspected - wrongly - of killing an Iraqi. The lawyers must be told to mind their own business. The Iraqis must be handed over. There's plenty of time to build a gallows big enough for them AND Saddam.

Whose law is being interfered with here? If we are holding the captives in a British run prison or camp in Iraq, they are under our law, not the countries which they are in. As for bringing up the court martial of those accused of murdering an Iraqi, that is an entirely different matter. They were found not guilty, and it is unfortunate that they had to go through their ordeal. They did not face the death penalty, and even if convicted would likely have had a relatively light sentence. The Sun ignores that other cases are also coming up, including that of Baha Mousa, which has become notorious. It also ignores the previous conviction for those who abused prisoners and took photos of them. The simple facts of this case are thus: we are firstly unsure of whether these men would receive a fair trial, and secondly they should be innocent until proved guilty. The Sun with its ending seems already to have made up its mind that they are guilty - and that they should be executed alongside Saddam.

The Sun should come right out in the open and admit what it really wants - immunity from prosecution for all soldiers and police. They feel that they can do no wrong - despite such notable cases in the past proving otherwise. The men should be tried under British law, and if found guilty then handed over to the Iraqis for them to imprisoned - not executed. If that is political correctness, so be it.

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Saturday, November 26, 2005 

Murdoch: arrogant, pompous and self-deluded.

Oh, the joys of being a media billionaire. No one respects you, according to Mr Rupert Murdoch. In a interview with the Press Gazette, now run by a certain Piers "Morgan" Moron, a former editor of the News of the Screws, he lashes out at nearly everything and everyone in a Mr Burns-esque way, saying that no one loves him or understands him.

His influence extends across the globe: from Fox in the US to Star TV in Asia, and the Sun and Sky in the UK. He is courted by presidents and prime ministers, and his personal fortune is estimated at $7.8bn, or £4.53bn. But Mr Murdoch still does not feel he gets the respect his achievements deserve, using his first British interview in five years to complain about the "resentment" he inspired at the BBC and the "establishment forces" ranged against him.

In the interview with the trade magazine, Press Gazette, Mr Murdoch said that his bloody showdown with the print unions in 1986 over his decision to sack them overnight and move to then state-of-the-art presses at Wapping had been an "absolute turning point for Fleet Street and the whole of the newspaper industry". As the first private firm to take on the unions and win, it secured the future of many of his rivals which would have otherwise gone to the wall.

"I'm certainly very, very proud of it. And it'll be part of my legacy. It was only 20 years ago, but people are already forgetting it," he told Press Gazette, now co-owned by his son-in-law, PR man Matthew Freud, and celebrating its 40th anniversary this week.

Mr Murdoch, whose News International division owns the Sun, the News of the World, the Times, and the Sunday Times, said that it was because he had been "fairly radical" and "an agent for change" that his achievements were not appreciated by his peers.

He said there were "three or four major benefits that I've done in Britain": breaking the hegemony of the unions at Wapping; "introducing competition in the popular press" by taking on Hugh Cudlipp's Daily Mirror with a revitalised Sun in 1969; "dragging the Times into the modern age" since buying it in 1981; and launching Sky television in 1989.

It was the success of the satellite broadcaster, which dominates the pay-TV industry and has almost 8 million subscribers, that so infuriated his enemies, he claimed. "Sky put the whole of the broadcasting establishment against me, and particularly the BBC. They had 240 people in their public affairs department at one stage who did nothing but lobby for legislation against Sky, and were a constant pain," he complained. Mr Murdoch has long been dismissive of the BBC's right to licence fee funding, and scathing on the UK's regulatory environment, despite rule changes that have worked in his favour over the years. "Sky is doing very well. It will do a lot better. And as it does, the resentment from the establishment forces will only grow stronger," he predicted of the firm 37%-owned by News Corp and run by his son, James.

Mr Murdoch has a close relationship with New Labour. Tony Blair assiduously courted him before he became prime minister; in a memoir of his time as Mirror editor, Piers Morgan (who also now co-owns Press Gazette) said No 10 frequently tipped off the Sun before rivals.

Mr Murdoch predicted that the Tory leadership race would result in a stronger Conservative front bench, leading to some "interesting politics". He declined to be drawn on whether his titles would switch their support to the Conservatives in time for the next general election, but his right-hand man, Irwin Stelzer, has gone on record with his misgivings at the prospect of Gordon Brown as prime minister.

Most have assumed that James, who, despite the nepotism controversy that surrounded his appointment, is seen to have done a good job during his two years at Sky, is in pole position to take over from his father in due course. But Mr Murdoch Snr hinted that Elisabeth, who is married to Mr Freud, and left Sky to launch her own independent production business, and Lachlan, who acrimoniously parted from his father's company earlier this year, would return to the family firm.

"I don't think I've heard of any heir to a newspaper company who ever wanted to walk away from it. Children of major media people - generally, I wouldn't say universally - want to be part of it," he said.

Let's just start with his three or four "major benefits" that he's brought Britain. First off the bat is his breaking of the unions, when he sacked the lot of him and moved to his at the time revolutionary printing presses. Before then, print unions it has to be said were a troublesome lot. They were quick to strike and they occasionally refused to print some material, such as an infamous Sun front page which depicted Arthur Scargill as Hitler. But at this time the unions were under incredible pressure already, as the Tories passed more and more draconian legislation that effectively destroyed trade unionism in this country. It has yet to recover, and probably never will. Some may say this is and was a good thing. Others would disagree. While Murdoch was a trend-setter, he was no means the revolutionary who broke the unions back.

Second then is his taking on of the Daily Mirror under Hugh Cudlipp, when he bought the Sun in 1969. The Sun responded to the Mirror by going further down-market; the creation of page 3, sex scandals and treating politicians, especially Labour and the unions with contempt. As the sales of this new Sun rose, the Mirror, which although populist always has retained some serious high-brow journalism, followed the race to the bottom. It introduced its own Page 3, now long since thankfully removed. It went through the distressing period of having Robert Maxwell as its owner, who plundered the pensions fund. In short, a home for the working class consciousness outside the unions was largely destroyed. The Mirror has never recovered, despite many re-launches. It now sells less than 2 million copies a day, compared to the Sun's 3,300,000. The shame is that the Mirror's journalism has always been far superior to the Sun's, breaking many more important stories and scandals than the Sun ever has. Yet thanks to Murdoch's race to the bottom which he refers to as competition, the British tabloid press is now rightly seen as one of the most grotesque in the Western world. It isn't called the Street of Shame for nothing.

His third claim is of dragging the Times into the modern age since buying it in 1981. Well, he certainly has done that. What was once the house paper of the establishment is now a shadow of its former self. Transformed recently into a tabloid with little debate and angering a lot of readers, it has along with the Telegraph moved more into the realm of the Daily Mail than the serious broadsheet it once was. Its once highly regarded editor, Simon Jenkins recently jumped ship to the Guardian. Its banner above the masthead once this week was "HOW TO IMPRESS HER IN THE KITCHEN". As commented on, it was something you would have thought unbelievable to be in the Times. As for the Sunday Times, beloved and heavily rewarded at one time for its serious and hard-working investigative journalist team, Insight, it is also a shadow of its former self. While it continues to sell well, again the competition now comes from the left-of-centre papers, with the Observer and Indie on Sunday being felt superior, despite smaller sales. The recent imposition of Sarah Sands as editor of the Sunday Torygraph has led to it being renamed the Sunday Tottygraph and Sunday Hellograph, especially due to its apparent attempts to gain female readers through its new magazine Stella. The serious journalism of the past has been replaced with the tracking of desperate women who have gone to Spain to get late-term abortions unavailable here, with moralism ringing from its every ink-stained letter. The less said about Murdoch's other newspaper, the News of the World (Screws) the better.

His last claim to lasting change in Britain is his launching of satellite television in Britain as Sky. While it has undoubtedly brought benefits to Britain, with easy access to 24-rolling news channels and specialist channels unavailable to the average person with a TV licence who can get 5 channels, it also brought plenty of trouble in its wake. It can be argued that the buying up of all the rights to showing football games, especially in the top division, has led to the game becoming filled with overpaid players, watched only by those who can afford it. Tickets to games now start at around £20 a piece. The huge amounts of money from Murdoch have changed the game, and many would say for the worse. The recent buy-up of all the rights to cricket tests involving England has produced an angry response, just as the England win in the Ashes has led to a resurgence of interest in the game. Inevitably, the Sky channels have also resulted in a dash to the bottom of the barrel in television standards. With channels only supported by advertising revenue, the rise of reality TV, makeover shows, lifestyle programmes and even tarot card reading and "psychic" channels has been relentless. This is to ignore the distortions of Murdoch's ventures overseas, especially the nature of his notorious Fox News channel.

Through all this, Murdoch claims that he is resented by the BBC and other certain parts of the establishment. This is more or less based on how Murdoch has waged war against the BBC in his newspapers ever since he first bought into this country. He doesn't believe in the licence fee or public service broadcasting. That takes money away from his hands. As for the establishment forces against him, the Labour party which once hated him is now entirely in his pocket. It is widely alleged and believed that Blair decided to change his mind on having a referendum on the European constitution because Murdoch told him unless he did, the Sun and Times would once again support the Tories. Blair meekly obliged, only for the French and Dutch voters to reject the treaty and save his bacon.

Put simply, Murdoch is a megalomanic. He seeks and craves power. He pays very little in tax (He became a US citizen for this purpose). He now controls one of the most powerful media empires in the world, able of smearing anyone which gets in its way, and it has in its pocket many of the world's politicians. Yet this interview shows just how pathetic this man is. He isn't content with what he has, and he blames others who've dared to oppose his manipulation, conservative values and bottom of the barrel journalism for it. In reality, he's an old man who in ten years will most likely be dead. His empire will crumble, and his so-called legacy will be forgotten. Like Blair, he seems obsessed with history. And like Blair, I think history will judge him harshly.

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Friday, November 25, 2005 

Farewell George Best.

He's dead, so can everyone now shut up about it? Thanks.

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Thursday, November 24, 2005 

Sluts and Napoleon.

France's supposed dedication to liberty, equality and fraternity seems to be a little limited when a rapper dares to voice the opinion of some of the underclass:

A French court agreed yesterday to consider a complaint brought by a conservative MP against the rapper Monsieur R for referring to France as a slut in a song.

The court in Melun, south of Paris, said it would rule early next year on the complaint filed by Daniel Mach, MP for the Pyrénées Orientales, who said he had the backing of 150 MPs but was bringing the action "on my own personal account, because I feel assaulted by these insults. They are a real attack on the dignity of France and of the state."

The MP, the latest in a long line of people to object to French rap lyrics since the early 1990s, added: "I want to grab society's attention, to show it that everything could just explode when an audience that is already fragile listens to such songs."

Mr Mach alleged that on the song FranSSe, from Monsieur R's latest album Politikment Incorrekt, Monsieur R - whose real name is Richard Makela - raps: "France is a bitch, don't forget to fuck her till she's exhausted/You have to treat her like a slut, man." At another point, Mr Makela says: "I piss on Napoleon and on General de Gaulle."

If convicted, the rapper faces up to three years in prison and a fine of €€75,000 (£51,000). "As soon as a rapper expresses himself, bizarrely, everyone launches into him," he told the France Soir newspaper yesterday. "There are plenty of songs that are part of this country's artistic heritage and every bit as virulently anti-France, and nobody complains."

While Monsieur R is not going to win any poetry prizes for his verse, it seems a little harsh that he may well be imprisoned for 3 months for articulating what some feel about the hypocrisy of the French system. From the establishment of the republic based on those famous 3 principles, all 3 have been broken consistently.

The most recent egregious breaking was the banning of religious clothing or jewelry on state premises, under separation of church and state and on the basis that the nation is secular. A decent argument, but not one which should have become law. The authoritarian stance of some of France's politicians not only over these two issues, but also over the riots which have subsided somewhat is worrying. It's worth remembering that Jean Marie Le Pen, leader of the National Front, beat the socialist contender into third place in the presidential election. All these measures seem to be handing more ammo to the far-right, and with the French left notoriously split between Communists, Greens, Trotskyists and the main Socialist but economically liberal party (although like the right it heavily supports subsidies for the farmers), the upcoming elections could see a drastic shift to the right which could effect the whole of Europe.

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Wednesday, November 23, 2005 

Official Secrets Act threatened against newspapers over Bush memo.

I think this must pretty much confirm that it's true:

The attorney general last night threatened newspapers with the Official Secrets Act if they revealed the contents of a document allegedly relating to a dispute between Tony Blair and George Bush over the conduct of military operations in Iraq.

It is believed to be the first time the Blair government has threatened newspapers in this way. Though it has obtained court injunctions against newspapers, the government has never prosecuted editors for publishing the contents of leaked documents, including highly sensitive ones about the run-up to the invasion of Iraq.

The attorney general, Lord Goldsmith, last night referred editors to newspaper reports yesterday that described the contents of a memo purporting to be at the centre of charges against two men under the secrets act.

Under the front-page headline "Bush plot to bomb his ally", the Daily Mirror reported that the US president last year planned to attack the Arabic television station al-Jazeera, which has its headquarters in Doha, the capital of Qatar, where US and British bombers were based.

Richard Wallace, editor of the Daily Mirror, said last night: "We made No 10 fully aware of the intention to publish and were given 'no comment' officially or unofficially. Suddenly 24 hours later we are threatened under section 5 [of the secrets act]".

Under section 5 it is an offence to have come into the possession of government information, or a document from a crown servant, if that person discloses it without lawful authority. The prosecution has to prove the disclosure was damaging.

And that may well prove difficult. This memo only seems damaging to Bush - Blair for once comes off well, as according to the Mirror Blair made clear how idiotic such an act would be. Not only would it be an attack on an ally country, it would be an attack on the freedom of the press worldwide. Al-Jazeera is actually the most balanced Arabic news-station by quite some margin, and has recently signed up some notable western figures, including Sir David Frost. It plans to launch an English language station shortly.

More desperate however is the way in which the government has overreacted to the publishing of this memo by threatening the draconian Official Secrets Act. On the surface this is because it would bring the current case against the original leaker into contempt, but that seems like a wholly bogus argument. The government never threatened media organisations in this way over the leaks of the attorney general's legal advice over the war in Iraq. It also never took action against the Sun for leaking the findings of the Hutton inquiry - most likely because it was Alastair Campbell who did the leaking. The government seems to be taking the hard route to prevent high embarrassment to Bush at a time when things are not going well on the other side of the Atlantic.

If the memo is an actual transcript of a conversation between Bush and Blair, which seems highly likely, then it also brings back open the whole issue of the US bombing al-Jazeera in the past - in Afghanistan and in Iraq. The White House's official statement has been: "We are not going to dignify something so outlandish with a response." There have also been rumours that Bush was joking - that famed Texas droll.

We're unlikely to find out the whole truth unless someone with the memo decides to leak it onto the internet, and to be safe, to an American website. Cryptome which has obtained damaging documents and information in the past, has said it is happy to receive any information on it. Even if we do not find out the whole truth, the fact that the Bush administration seemingly saw that bombing al-Jazeera was justifiable because of their coverage of the reality in Iraq, and fear that they would show the truth of what was about to happen in Falluja, shows not only how paranoid the top wonks in Washington are, but also how they are prepared to deal with any dissent.

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Tuesday, November 22, 2005 

Vote Sharon!

As so often after high-profile political incidents, Steve Bell takes the issue and deconstructs it. He's done it again.

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'War crimes within war crimes'.

George Monbiot has come up with more evidence of the US military in Falluja using horrific weapons:

But buried in this hogwash is a grave revelation. An assault weapon the marines were using had been armed with warheads containing "about 35% thermobaric novel explosive (NE) and 65% standard high explosive". They deployed it "to cause the roof to collapse and crush the insurgents fortified inside interior rooms". It was used repeatedly: "The expenditure of explosives clearing houses was enormous."

The marines can scarcely deny that they know what these weapons do. An article published in the Gazette in 2000 details the effects of their use by the Russians in Grozny. Thermobaric, or "fuel-air" weapons, it says, form a cloud of volatile gases or finely powdered explosives. "This cloud is then ignited and the subsequent fireball sears the surrounding area while consuming the oxygen in this area. The lack of oxygen creates an enormous overpressure ... Personnel under the cloud are literally crushed to death. Outside the cloud area, the blast wave travels at some 3,000 metres per second ... As a result, a fuel-air explosive can have the effect of a tactical nuclear weapon without residual radiation ... Those personnel caught directly under the aerosol cloud will die from the flame or overpressure. For those on the periphery of the strike, the injuries can be severe. Burns, broken bones, contusions from flying debris and blindness may result. Further, the crushing injuries from the overpressure can create air embolism within blood vessels, concussions, multiple internal haemorrhages in the liver and spleen, collapsed lungs, rupture of the eardrums and displacement of the eyes from their sockets." It is hard to see how you could use these weapons in Falluja without killing civilians.

This looks to me like a convincing explanation of the damage done to Falluja, a city in which between 30,000 and 50,000 civilians might have been taking refuge. It could also explain the civilian casualties shown in the film. So the question has now widened: is there any crime the coalition forces have not committed in Iraq?

It seems strange that it has taken a year for the really damaging stories to come out about what really happened in Falluja. While there was uproar about the footage of a soldier executing a man who was clearly alive (he was subsequently cleared of course), and mutterings on blogs and elsewhere, it's needed some research to uncover the little which we know have. Who knows whether we will ever learn the truth of what happened in Falluja, or how many years it will take until we do. To take Monbiot's closing question further: is it possible anything worse will be uncovered?

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Sun-watch: Asylum seekers did it!

Here's today's completely non-prejudicial Sun front page, revealing that those being questioned about the murder of Bradford PC Sharon Beshenivsky are asylum seekers. The Sun doesn't go into what difference that makes about the whole awful case, but they can't miss a chance to blacken the name of those freeing oppression who come here. They have to make sure to get such information into the public domain as quickly as possible, in case they are charged and it then comes under contempt laws.

It doesn't look like they're going to be prosecuted, as 3 of them have now been released by the police. They now have the Sun to thank whipping up more animosity towards asylum seekers in general.

Also in Sun-watch news, Alex Ferguson has alleged that it was the Sun that bugged the Manchester United dressing room at Chelsea, and not that they were passed the tape as they said.
Following the Sun's attempts to fit-up Bruce Grobbelaar with match-fixing, it wouldn't be surprising in the least.

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Monday, November 21, 2005 

Bush in China.

A cheap shot, but how could I resist?

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Iraqi Kurds forcibly deported.

Another triumph for our caring, sharing and most of all compassionate New Labour government:

The deportees landed yesterday afternoon at the newly opened Irbil airport in northern Iraq and were given $100 (£58) each. They were reassured that they were in a "safe environment" and would be provided with transport to their home towns.

The decision to begin the long-threatened programme under cover of darkness reflects its political sensitivity. Previous attempts have been abandoned in the face of last-minute legal action and objections from the UN high commissioner for refugees.

"We can confirm that 15 Iraqi nationals with no leave to remain in the UK were removed," the Home Office said in a statement. "The government announced its intention to commence enforced returns in February 2004 and these removals bring Iraq into line with arrangements we have with other countries. All those removed were informed in advance and have been given assistance to help re-establish themselves in Iraq. It is important for the integrity of our asylum system that any individual found not to be in need of international protection should be expected to leave the UK.

"Enforced returns are on a case by case basis and only to areas assessed as sufficiently stable and where we are satisfied the individuals will not be at risk."

A quick search on the Guardian's website suggests that there's been at least 2 suicide bombings in Irbil this year. The whole of the country is still very volatile. Why are these people being deported back to countries which are by no means safe? Is this an attempt to get the figures down, and appease the tabloids press which never shuts up about spunging immigrants? Who knows, but when it endangers the lives of those who came here to escape Saddam, and when they are deported back to a country in turmoil following our enforced military liberation, don't we owe them something more?

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Association of Chief Police Officers opposes some of the government's anti-terror legislation.

From the way the government and Tony Blair in particular went on alarming about the police supported him and the government's position over 90 days detention without trial, you would have thought that he did genuinely have the backing of the police for all of his anti-terror bills proposals. Some of his wish-list was originally drawn up the police after the bomb attacks of July the 7th. Well guess what? On four points the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) opposes the bill. They are:

· Amending human rights laws to get round obstacles to new deportation rules.

· Making the justification or glorification of terrorism anywhere an offence.

· Automatically refusing asylum to anyone linked to terrorism anywhere.

· Banning the alleged extremist group Hizb ut-Tahrir and successor groups to al-Muhajiroun. Acpo says it knows of no intelligence to justify a Hizb ut-Tahrir ban.

In other words, apart from the 90 days, they oppose all the government's contentious proposals. "Glorification" has, and still is drafted far too broadly in the legislation and could result in the public or even journalists or commentators being arrested for saying that foreign regimes should be overthrown. Automatically refusing asylum to "anyone associated with terrorism" may well have stopped members of the African National Congress from fleeing here during the period of apartheid in South Africa. Its adoption would throw into the question the position of a least one notable opponent to Russian intervention in Chechnya, who has gained asylum here, to Russia's outrage. It would no doubt affect many others who have been falsely accused, or who have been smeared either by media, the state or intelligence services. Each case needs to be judged on its own merits. If Hizb ut-Tahrir were to be banned, why not the British National Party and/or other extreme right and left parties? Hizb ut-Tahrir are peaceful, however repugnant some may find their ideas. That cannot be said of some of the representatives whom have been put up for election for the BNP in the past.

From a BBC report:

On Sunday, Attorney General Lord Goldsmith insisted the bill was not "knee-jerk" legislation".

"The proposals in the bill do not represent overnight panic in response to the July attacks on London but are the culmination of proper policy development," he said.

He went on to argue that the danger came from "a knee-jerk reaction form the civil liberties lobby".

The civil liberties lobby now must obviously include the Apco, the Conservatives and numerous others who have condemned this draconian piece of legislation. If another attack takes place, it will not be because "the civil liberties" lobby has opposed these measures. It will be down to the incompetence of the police and intelligence services, and Blair's disastrous decision to hold President Bush's coattails. This so-called policy development happened the day before Blair went on holiday, in a typical media manipulation move while Charles Clarke was away. Before then consensus had been the key message. Now it is "it's better to do what we think is right and be defeated". What is it about this government that leads to its ministers indulging in such doublespeak? Are they gluttons for punishment, or do they genuinely believe some of this crap they call "policy?"

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Saturday, November 19, 2005 

Katrina 'sent by god to punish gays'.

It's the sort of comment you'd expect to be uttered by a bigoted Baptist southern minister. Proving the DUP is full of some of the most intolerant and deluded people on the face of the planet, Maurice Mills broadcast the following:

A Democratic Unionist councillor who said hurricane Katrina was sent to the US by God to punish the New Orleans gay community yesterday stood by his views despite calls for his resignation.

Maurice Mills, twice mayor of Ballymena, said New Orleans was about to host an annual gay pride festival when God intervened through Katrina.

It was a warning to nations "where such wickedness is increasingly promoted and practised". Northern Ireland gay rights campaigners said he should be sacked. But he said: "This is me as an individual taking a stand for God."

This is the same "Democratic" Unionist Party that tried to ban a gay pride parade in Northern Ireland on the grounds that it was offensive to the local population. I'd expect that the orange order marches that go through Northern Ireland every year are offensive to Catholics, but you can imagine the outcry if they were banned. As a believer in free speech, Maurice Mills is entitled to broadcast his moronic opinion to the world. His constituents should vote him out at the next election instead.

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Iraq - at least 130 civilians killed this week.

Add to that total 2 South African security guards, and at least 6 Iraqi police. I think it's shameful the way that the suicide bombings in Iraq are constantly slipping down the news agenda; we helped to create this situation, and if the bombings took place in a western country, they would be worldwide news with coverage for days.

Instead we have got used to the horrific scenes of pools of blood on concrete, of burned out cars, severed limbs and the harrowing scene of relatives mourning their dead in public. In a week that the US admitted using a weapon which burns the skin to the bone in a civilian area, isn't it time that the politicians faced up to the now horrific situation and stopped with the posturing that things are better than they were under Saddam?

(Sources for deaths:

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Friday, November 18, 2005 

UN stands up to US over Guantanamo bay.

Well, by stand up I mean they've refused an invitation because the US wouldn't allow them to talk the detainees on their own. In other words, a lose-lose situation.

The UN has formally rejected a US invitation to visit the Guantanamo prison camp, saying it cannot accept the restrictions imposed by Washington.

UN human rights experts said the US had refused to grant them the right to speak to detainees in private.

UN senior official Manfred Nowak said private interviews were a "totally non-negotiable pre-condition" for conducting the visit.

Some 500 terror suspects are being held at the US military camp.

Mr Nowak, the UN's special rapporteur on torture, told the BBC his team would accept nothing less than unfettered access.

"If you want to hear from a detainee or know from a detainee whether he or she has been subjected to torture or ill treatment then you must be allowed to speak to this person in private," he said.

"In front of prison guards they would never tell you the truth because of being afraid of reprisal.

"There are certain conditions which we feel are non-negotiable and unannounced visit to places of detention and private interviews with detainees is one of those totally non-negotiable pre-conditions."

Only the International Committee of the Red Cross has been given access to the prisoners. It reports its findings only to the detaining authorities.

Human rights campaigners have expressed growing concern about the treatment of the inmates at Guantanamo, a number of whom are on hunger strike.

Calls for it to be opened to human rights monitors increased this year, as more allegations surfaced of abuse at the prison camp.

UN officials have been trying to visit the camp since it opened in January 2002.

Last month, the Pentagon said the UN monitors would be allowed to visit the camp on 6 December.

Pentagon spokesman Lieut Col Brian Maker told the BBC the invitation to the UN team was intended to allay fears that detainees were being mistreated.

The Pentagon spokesman's contention that the invitation was to show that detainees were not being mistreated is nonsense on one simple matter: those who are on hunger strike in protest at the conditions in the camp are being force-fed, with the result that the prisoners are coughing up blood thanks to the ways they are having feeding tubes shoved down their noses.

Even more alarming is an article by Victoria Brittain, which contends that many of the detainees are innocents. The US has not yet confirmed whether it has released the two children it was detaining at Guantanamo, in breach of nearly every international war protocol you can name. It's also worth remembering that the US and Somalia are the only two countries not to sign the UN convention on the rights of the child, Somalia's excuse being that it lacks a central government. The US declined to sign it because some states execute children aged 16 and 17 for crimes which carry the death penalty.

Victoria Brittain ends her article by saying that history will judge the current administration harshly. Francis Fukuyama's statement that the end of the Soviet Union brought about the end of history was incorrect. The problem with both Tony Blair and the Bush administration is that they haven't and don't understand history. By the time the contemporary becomes history, who's to say it might have been abolished altogether?

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Thursday, November 17, 2005 

Pinochet says God will forgive him.

Augusto Pinochet, the former Chilean dictator, has declared that God will pardon him for human rights abuses committed during his 17-year rule, according to newly released court documents.

Asked by Chilean judge Victor Montiglio about the killing of 3,000 Chilean civilians during the military government, Mr Pinochet, 89, said: "I suffer for these losses, but God does the deeds; he will pardon me if I exceeded in some, which I don't think."

Extracts of court documents, released to human rights lawyers on Monday, show Mr Pinochet to be coherent and precise in his answers. When questioned about his decision to take power in the coup of September 11, 1973, against then-president Salvador Allende, Mr Pinochet said: "Everything that I did, all that I carried out, all the problems I had, I dedicate to God, all this I dedicate to Chile because this permitted that the country was not communist and arose as it is today."

It is being interpreted by Pinochet critics as proof of his mental acuity. Manuel Cabieses, editor of Punto Final, a Santiago weekly newspaper, said: "This shows what we all know, he is an old fox and that he can find the exact words to justify what he did."

Mr Pinochet provided a convoluted and contradictory denial when Judge Montiglio asked about the military chain of command. "I don't remember, but it is not true," said Mr Pinochet, when asked whether as Chilean president he was the director of the bloody intelligence agency known as the Dina.

Mr Pinochet's interrogation follows court decisions that again open the possibility that he is mentally fit to stand trial. The current investigations focus on alleged money laundering and responsibility for 15 deaths in Operation Colombo, a 1975 massacre of opponents of the military regime.

It makes you wonder what Henry Kissinger thinks about God. Does he think that God will forgive him for his part in that other September the 11th, the one which brought Pinochet to power? Or does he think that God will agree with his now infamous quote?

"I don't see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist due to the irresponsibility of its own people. The issues are much too important for the Chilean voters to be left to decide for themselves."

It's probably what Tony Blair thinks about those who voted against 90-day detention without trial.

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Jean Charles de Menezes: shot with 'dum dum' bullets.

Just when you thought it couldn't get any worse:

The Brazilian man shot dead by police in the mistaken belief that he was a suicide bomber was killed with a type of bullet banned in warfare under international convention, The Daily Telegraph has learned.

The firing of hollow point ammunition into the head of Jean Charles de Menezes, 27, is believed to be the first use of the bullets by British police.

It will re-ignite controversy around the shooting, at Stockwell Underground station, south London, on July 22.

Modern hollow point bullets are descendants of the expanding "dum dum" ammunition created by the British in an arsenal of the same name near Calcutta, in India, at the end of the 19th century and outlawed under the Hague Declaration of 1899.

The bullets, which expand and splinter on impact, were available to officers taking part in Operation Kratos, the national police drive against suspected suicide bombers which has been described as a "shoot to kill" policy.

Their issue was sanctioned after research suggested that they were an effective close-quarters ammunition for use against someone about to trigger a suicide bomb.

It is believed the decision was influenced by the tactics used by air marshals on passenger jets - where such bullets are designed to splinter in the body and not burst the fuselage. They have been assessed as posing less risk to people around the suicide bomber than conventional bullets but the effect on victims is devastating.

Like the overall Kratos policy, the decision to make dum dum-style bullets available was taken in secret. However, it is understood that the Home Office became aware three years ago that police were considering their use.

Negotiations on possible national guidance are understood to have been inconclusive and the choice of ammunition appears to be at the discretion of police chiefs, not the Home Secretary.

There is no legal prohibition on police use of such ammunition. The Home Office confirmed last night that "chief officers may use whatever ammunition they consider appropriate to meet their operational needs".

It is understood from security sources that hollow point bullets are still available as an option to police firearms teams in Kratos-type cases.

Coming the day after Sir Ian Blair claimed that he wanted a national debate on the police and their influence and power in society in a televised lecture, this seems just slightly embarrassing. He claimed that the public should decide measures like the Kratos shoot-to-kill policy, but neglected to mention that the police had done so with little consultation with the government. It now also appears that some officers decided to use bullets which shatter within the body - meaning that if they ever actually shot a terrorist and he/she survived, let alone another innocent like Jean Charles, doctors would be unable to remove all the fragments from their body and they would likely be in pain the rest of their lives - without bothering to consult the Home Office over it, who then discovered and did nothing about it.

It then brings the question to why they felt the need to put 7 of these bullets into his head. What exactly was left of his head following the barrage? I guess the orders must be to if possible utterly destroy the brain - stopping them from activating any explosives - but Jean Charles had already been stopped and restrained. An over eager officer, a show of force on a sloppily wrongly identified man to show the police were up to the task, a tragic mistake and failure of communication or a justified reaction to a perceived threat, followed by an attempted cover-up and planting of witnesses, with the head of Met lying to a national newspaper, or a bad mistake compounded by wrong information allowed to be printed in the media? I think I know what explanation I'm more likely to believe.

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Wednesday, November 16, 2005 

Two sides of Israel.

On the day when an agreement was finally reached over the border crossings into the Gaza strip, an Israeli military court gave carte blanche to the IDF to murder Palestinian children, by acquitting an army officer who shot a 13 year old girl 17 times.

Many Palestinian children have been killed since the break-out of the second intifada, but this case has become well-known thanks to soldiers under the officer's command who want to the press, themselves horrified at his actions. Iman al-Hams seemingly accidentally crossed into a security zone on her way to school. Fearing that her bag may hold a bomb, they fired first near her, causing her to drop her bag and run. The soldiers then shot her bag, confirming that it had no explosives. Most would now assume that the girl had been confused, maybe even dared into entering the security area, and let her go. The military themselves tried to justify what happened next by saying that she may have been trying to lure the soldiers out, but this is discounted when you consider that it was "Captain R" himself that led out some of the troops and then shot the girl. Believing she was dead, he walked up to her body and emptied his entire magazine into the girl's body, 3 of the bullets entering her head, according to the doctor at Rafah hospital.

Despite all this evidence available to the court, he was pronounced not guilty on minor charges. An original investigation found that he had "not acted unethically". In doing so, they are seen to agree with Capt R that anyone that's "mobile" in a security zone, even if it is a three-year-old, has to be killed. At no time were the soldiers threatened. They were stationed in a watchtower, and the girl was 100 yards away from it when she was shot at. One of the soldiers had radioed a colleague at an operations room and described Iman as a "little girl" who was "scared to death". The Israelis have condoned the actions of any soldier that feels like shooting a Palestinian child that accidentally or otherwise enters an area under Israeli control.
They don't even need to be throwing stones at tanks any more for it to be justified.

Away from the cold-blooded judgement of the military court, a deal was signed that does breathe hope into the currently moribund peace process. Gaza has been a prison since the evacuation of the settlers, with all the border crossings shut and all residents unable to leave. This was even worse than the situation which carried on for many years where Palestinians had to request permits to leave Gaza that often never arrived or were refused for the slightest reason.

The deal itself, negotiated with the help of Condoleezza Tanker, isn't in entirely revolutionary but it is a start. The main change is that the EU will oversee the Rafah border crossing, which is likely to make movement through there much easier for all concerned. Israel will though continue to have control of entry from Gaza into Israel, and will no doubt operate the same policy of shutting it off for hours or even days at a time. They also will monitor the crossing from Egypt into Gaza, so that they can stop weapons smuggling. The other main change was that a sea port will finally be built, although Gaza airport will remain closed. It would take a long time to get it up and running anyway, after Israeli bulldozers ripped up the runway a while ago.

The most important part of getting Gaza back up and running though is the transport of goods grown there. Following the evacuation of the settlers, Palestinian farmers have more land which they can work with, which will help to boost the economy which is an a disastrous shape, again thanks to Israel. Under the plan 150 trucks of goods can leave a day, and they hope this will rise to 400 a day once new scanning equipment has been installed. Hopefully this will also help stop produce grown in the occupied territories being marked as Israeli.

What this agreement also shows is that negotiation can work. Ariel Sharon has said that there is no partner for peace at the moment with the Palestinians, when the reality is that Sharon is only interested in emasculating the West Bank and defining the new barrier as the de facto borders of a Palestinian state, if one is ever to be declared. That this will never work doesn't matter to him. He will no doubt go down in history as the first man to broke "real peace". Finally though he is being challenged by the Israeli left, with Amir Peretz surprisingly winning the election for new Labour party leader. He has declared that if he wins the election he will immediately begin new negotiations with the Palestinian Authority. With Arafat gone, and the myth around him of being a terrorist who would not negotiate gone with him, there is a real chance that something may well finally be about to change. Don't hold your breath, but this may mark the start of the real hope of peace in Israel.

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Tuesday, November 15, 2005 

Star's fundamentalism over Barbie.

The Daily Star, a tabloid newspaper which makes the Sun look positively upmarket today leads with a great piece of smear on Muslims everywhere. The Star has been running a campaign against "political correctness", such as Christmas lights being banned because they might offend people of other faiths and piggy banks being removed from offices and banks because they might offend Muslims who find pigs unclean. Despite the fact the majority of such stories are complete bullshit, it doesn't stop them from being printed.

So, today's front page isn't much of a surprise. It states that a Barbie wearing a burqa (traditional Islamic dress) has become a major hit in the Middle East. Nothing wrong with reporting that. Except that the Star does it in the most bating way it possibly can. It says that she puts the fun in fundamentalism, implying that all women who dare to wear traditional dress or to express themselves through their religion are extremists waiting to explode on our buses. As you can probably see, the Star prefers women to be wear something much different or rather, as little as possible. It boasts it has a "page 3 girl every day". A quick flip through the paper, and you'll discover numerous pairs of bare breasts, celebrity fixation that makes Heat magazine look like a Will Self book, and a general contempt for ordinary news values.

Still, this is from the stable of Richard "Dirty" Desmond, who last year while he was thought to be close to buying the Telegraph strutted round the office sieg heiling and singing Deutschland Uber Alles while having a meeting with Telegraph execs. His reasons for doing so were because a German company was also in negotiations with the Telegraph. Neither ended up buying it. Desmond's other claim to fame is his huge porn publishing empire, which is how he made his fortune. While he sold of some of his mags last year, such as Asian Babes and Mega Boobs, he continues to own the Fantasy Channel which shows programmes of the Razzle nature of eroticism. Still who cares that a pornographer was able to buy one of the most venerable old British newspapers, the Express. It's the news values that matter, and as we can see from the Daily Star, they surely were right to let him buy them.

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Afghanistan, Iraq, CIA flights, white phosphorous, napalm, where does it all end?

Numerous stories coming out today concerned with military endevaours in various fields. The main one appears to be of how the US is abandoning Afghanistan and letting us here in the coalition of the doing the dirty work follow up:

Britain is attempting to build a coalition to pursue counter-insurgency combat operations against al-Qaida and Taliban fighters in southern Afghanistan after the withdrawal by the Bush administration of 4,000 US troops early next year.

Talks with Australia, Canada, New Zealand and several other countries are being held before a Nato meeting in Brussels on December 7. They follow the refusal of European allies, such as France and Germany, to allow their troops to become involved in counter-insurgency.

The discussions are among preparations for the deployment of 2,000 crack British troops backed by Apache attack helicopters to lawless Helmand province at the head of an expanded, British-led Nato force next spring. An additional 2,000 British troops are expected to be sent to Afghanistan next year bringing the total number to somewhere around 4,800. The British mission in the south represents a significant escalation of its overall involvement in Afghanistan. Military sources said it was potentially more hazardous - and could last longer - than Britain's postwar involvement in Iraq.

"The debate is not whether, but to what extent these troops will get into counter-insurgency and counter-narcotics," a military source said. "We are not talking war fighting. But there is potential for armed conflict in some areas. The reality is that there are warlords, drug traffickers, al-Qaida, al-Qaida wannabes and Taliban."

An officer said: "It could take longer to crack than Iraq. It could take 10 years."

Violence in Afghanistan is at its highest since the 2001 US-led invasion. Suicide bombers killed a German peacekeeper in Kabul yesterday. A British soldier died recently in a gun battle in Mazar-i-Sharif.

Mainly this is down to the public in America forgetting that there even was a war before the one in Iraq. I mean, Afghanistan is democratic, women are free and children can fly kites now right? That's all the matters really. The main problem which the west has with Afghanistan now is that they have gone back to their old ways of growing opium instead of crops. While the Taliban decimated the poppy crop through brutality, attempts by the British led counter-narcotics team have mainly failed. It hasn't been helped that America doesn't really care about the massive opium crop. It doesn't reach their streets, as it instead floods the pavements of Europe. A recent study suggested that just one kilo of heroin leads to 20 additional crimes. While America focuses on its "war on drugs" on Latin America and continues with its attempts to eradicate the coca crop in Columbia, Afghanistan's heroin problems are ignored. Even this focus ignores the underlying problems of Afghanistan, the warlords, the continuing instability and that the country has been through at least 25 years of turmoil. It also reflects on America's reluctance to face up to its funding of the mujahadein fighting the Soviet occupation, which led to the forming of al-Qaida. Instead of finishing off what they started, they're leaving it to the lackeys and minor partners in the war on terror to continue fighting what may become a perpetual battle.

More American arrogance is exposed with the revelation that Spanish officials have uncovered more secret flights allegedly made by the CIA transporting terror suspects to countries which turn a blind eye or participate in torture. The CIA seems to consider some individuals such a threat to either the security of the world or to the "new world order" that it has abducted people without bothering to inform the countries they have citizenship with. This has now happened in both Italy and Germany, where in the former a judge has called for extradition of alleged CIA agents for kidnap. Don't expect anything to happen or for the flights to legal black holes to end shortly. The Bush administration continues to fight attempts by the senate to make the mistreatment of terrorist suspects in Guantanamo Bay illegal, and is likely to win, while those incarcerated there have lost their right to appeal against their detention, as they are "enemy combatants".

While America ignores the right to imprisonment without trial and the right to legal advice in their little part of Cuba, it seems to be doing the same in Iraq. Figures received by the Liberal Democrats show that over 35,000 Iraqis have been detained since the invasion in March 2003, and of the 1,300 of that number who have been charged with any offence, only half have been convicted. Even more worrying, or not, if you're being cynical and have the feeling that the US intends to stay Iraq for a lot longer than they claim, is that the system of detentions may be fuelling the insurgency, with the amount of attacks doubling over the time that the number of detainees has doubled. Nothing like being humiliated by a foreign occupier to make a native react against a "liberation."

And last but certainly not least, George Monbiot crystallises a lot of blog activity and research into the allegations that the Americans have used both white phosphorous and napalm as offensive weapons in Iraq. As usual, the bottom half of the coalition of the willing is lied to, and made to look foolish when it turns out they have been, in this case the new Blair loyalist Ann Clywd. Ann became a minor celebrity in the Labour party ranks before the war, as she was one of the few who had condemned Saddam's attack on Halabaja in parliament at the time. She was one of the major backers of regime change, and has since become the chairman of the parliamentary Labour party. She also has a high entertainment value, as she is regularly asked onto Newsnight and seems to be pathologically convinced that Iraq is now a haven of sweetness and light where everyone is safe and Sunni and Shia tuck each other up in bed and tell each other bed time stories. Her claims that Iraq is safer, that democracy is flourishing and that less people are dying are laughable to anyone who often reads the depressing reality of Iraq as conveyed by the likes of Juan Cole.

As George Monbiot concludes, Saddam Hussein faces trial accused of mass murder, torture, false imprisonment and the use of chemical weapons. It's incredibly sad to realise that the liberators of Iraq have done all four of those things in a much shorter time frame than Saddam ever managed.

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Monday, November 14, 2005 

Greenpeace protest by dumping coal outside Downing Street.

In an otherwise rather slow news day (apart from the highly dubious parading of the Jordanian suicide bomber's wife) Greenpeace took a rather direct approach to criticising Blair's failures to cut by dumping coal at three of the entrances to Downing Street.

While Greenpeace's actions were a rather effective publicity stunt, underneath trouble seems to lurking under Britain's previously laudable climate change policies. Blair himself seemed to cast doubt on the idea of cutting emissions in favour of the environment when he said: "The blunt truth about the politics of climate change is that no country will want to sacrifice its economy in order to meet this challenge". Those who agree with that statement are those who want our children to inherit a dying planet. The west has got so used to the un sustainability of neo-liberal economics, with constantly rising profits and growth that it cannot see the reality of a planet which is not expendable. We need to move towards true cost economics, examining the damage we are doing and adjusting our GDP appropriately. Such a radical move is not being examined by anyone outside a small left wing movement, sadly.

Instead, we've got a fantastic idea from a leaked paper in today's Grauniad, with plans to clampdown further on the 70 MPH speed limit on the motorways:

Existing policies set out in 2000 to cut carbon dioxide emissions are falling well short, it adds. "We need to do about 75% more in around half the time."

The review lists 58 possible measures to save an extra 11m-14m tons of carbon pollution each year, which it calls the government's "carbon gap". One of the options, a new obligation to mix renewable biofuels into petrol for vehicles, was announced last week. Stricter enforcement of the 70 mph limit, the document says, would save 890,000 tons of carbon a year - more than the biofuels obligation and many other listed measures put together.

As if we don't have enough car people moaning about the stealth tax of speed cameras, you can imagine the virtual implosion of anger which will erupt from their already boiling brains. Still, what else is the answer? If the government says businesses should do more, the CBI jumps up and down like a petulant child, saying it is already being squeezed and squeezed despite Britain enjoying the most permissive business environment ever. If the government is serious about such a plan, it needs to sort out the railways and establish a true national public transport system. The reversal of its stubborn policy to keep the catastrophic privatisation of the railways going would be a great start. Too bad it'll never happen.

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Moss dross: Hypocrisy of the Mirror.

Here's today's Mirror banner boost, saying that Kate Moss has been warned that a "psychotic" stalker obsessed with her is on the loose. No doubt troubling news for a model who has already had enough problems this year.

Then again, there's another obsessed sex stalker that is on the loose. This stalker exposed her snorting cocaine, last Sunday printed her on the front page in lingerie, and then last Monday published topless paparrazi photos of her while she stayed in Ibiza. This obsessed sex stalker's identity? The Mirror group of newspapers.

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Saturday, November 12, 2005 

Did the public really support 90 days?

Before the vote on Wednesday, we were told repeatedly that public opinion supported the police and government push for up to 90 days detention for terrorist suspects. Out of the few opinion polls which actually tested that assertion, there were two which suggested they did. A poll in the Times suggested 64% supported the clause, while a poll either on the Wednesday or Thursday morning quoted by John Reid suggested that over 80% supported the government position.

Today a poll in the Guardian disputes the government's fallback position that the public supported them and not the Labour rebels, Tories and Lib Dems. Asked the question "The government could have compromised with MPs determined to vote against the 90-day period. Which of the following comes closest to your view?" 29% said the government should have compromised because it would have got longer than 90 days, 28% said 28 days is about right and 18% said 28 days is too long. 20% said the government should propose what it thinks is right, even if it is defeated. 5% either didn't know or didn't answer. That means that 75% did not support 90 days, whether they wanted 28, a slightly higher figure lower than 90, or felt that it should remain at 14 days. This is based on an random sample of 511 interviewed on Thursday and the results have been weighted to the profile of all adults.

This does not mean that the public did not support 90 days before the vote. We have to take into account hindsight and wanting to be on the winning side after the event. What it does show though is that the government's and Sun newspaper's claims that the public was fully behind 90 days is in short, piffle. John Reid has not learned his lesson though, and today seems to be taking back up his position as the government's attack dog, saying that the Tories have slurred the police. The fact he has to come to the government's "rescue" as he did repeatedly over the Iraq war shows how serious this is to Blair.

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Friday, November 11, 2005 

Muslim taskforce shames government with workable and excellent suggestions.

It's a shame that the seven working groups involved in coming up with this plan didn't publish their suggestions before the vote on 90 days. It would have shown the government up even further, with its distasteful politicisation of the police. The immensely unlikable Hazel Blears has to her credit said the government will attempt to implement most of it.

Main recommendations

The working groups call for:

· A training programme for imams in non-theological skills, including interfaith dialogue and conflict resolution

· A public inquiry into the root causes of 7/7 and 21/7 terror attacks and their consequences

· Muslim "beacon centres" to develop leadership and promote integration

· A Muslim affairs media unit to provide rapid rebuttal to extremist sentiments and maintain a database of talking heads

· British Islam-online website to provide an information one-stop shop for the young to represent all the mainstream schools of thought

· Roadshow of scholars in big Muslim centres across the country

· UK youth parliament to train young Muslim MPs to run debates with young Muslims in their communities, to provide a safe space for youth to debate issues and register dissent

· Education programmes for Muslim prisoners, and greater support for Muslim chaplains

· A mentoring scheme for Muslim women to shadow figures in public life

· A national campaign to increase visibility of Muslim women

· Seminars and training schemes to develop women's skills and knowledge

· A better reflection of Islam in education

· Measures to improve public-sector understanding of Islam through secondments and short-term contracts into and out of government

And they haven't been silent in criticising the terror bill, either:

Their findings published yesterday are sharply critical of "inherent injustices" in British foreign policy which they say are a contributory factor in triggering "radical impulses" among British Muslims.

They are also scathing about the potential impact of the new terror law, saying that creating a criminal offence of glorifying terrorism could stifle legitimate support for self-determination struggles around the world. They also criticise the Home Office plan to produce a list of extremist websites, bookshops and organisations, saying this will be seen as censorship of those critical of British foreign policy. They also renew the demand for a public inquiry into the underlying causes of the July attacks - an initiative the home secretary says he is considering.

An inquiry into the attacks is crucial. Blair is likely to resist such a move, mainly as unless it follows the same route of the Hutton and Butler inquiries, it'll uncover a trail of poverty and radicalisation linked inextricably to British foreign policy. Such findings would go not down well, as Blair and most of the tabloids continue to stick with the cliche that terrorists are evil and that they are nihilists intent on destroying the west. While some no doubt are that caricature, others are those who have been misguided into believing only violence is the answer. The Muslim task force's's plan would help to stop that indoctrination for happening.

The first step, and probably the most important is the training for imams, many of whom are of the old-school and focus on the old teachings of Islam which are now out of touch with many of the young who see their religion as defining them. While those young men increasingly see Islam as also defining their political views, they do not want sharia. They want to see their views taken on board and not completely ignored by the elite establishment. This desperately needs to happen.

The media affairs unit would help with countering the extremist statements we see of the Zawahiris and similar militants, which are often only those which the average person will see on the news. Islam also needs to be better taught in schools - while religious education in the UK is actually very good compared to many other countries, it could still be vastly improved as it only touches on Islam, Judaism and Hinduism briefly, concentrating on Christianity. It is also usually poorly attended at schools, with teachers and pupils alike seeing it as worthless. That needs to be changed.

Also worthy of praise is the attention the action plan puts on the role of women. Often seen as marginalised, the suggestions would certainly help. I'd like it to be even more radical, and see women be encouraged to learn English, as many of the older generations do not speak it. If this was attempted, it would need to be a lot subtler than Blunkett's past attempts at demanding all immigrants learn English. English would greatly help to improve their visibility - no longer should they be seen as the quiet women walking the streets either in brightly coloured saris or hijabs.

Now the government needs to keep its word. Unless these plans are accepted and implemented, the Muslim community will be embittered and feel even more ignored than before. That must not happen.

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It's the Sun that lost it.

Steve Bell's take on a wretched week for the worst newspaper in Britain.

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Thursday, November 10, 2005 

ID cards savaged again.

Another day, another blow to Labour's "reform" agenda, this time on the wholly unnecessary and illiberal identity cards bill:

Fresh questions over the government's costings for the introduction of the national ID card scheme were raised yesterday by its own consultants who doubt that the plastic cards will last for 10 years.

The Home Office published only an extract from the KPMG study yesterday, which omitted any of the actual figures in the confidential report. The consultants raised fresh doubts over costings in three areas. These were:

· the 10-year lifespan of the cards: KPMG said information from suppliers was inconclusive on this point and therefore their durability was questionable. It suggested that the costs of replacing damaged cards as they wore out needed to be revised;

· lifespan of the biometric pods: the Home Office expects the advanced scanners to be used to take everybody's "biometric" - an electronic scan of their fingerprints, irises and facial images - to last five years. But KPMG said this appeared to be optimistic given their "very heavy use and the rate of technology advance", and a three-year life would be a better assumption, leading to higher initial costs;

· offices to house the national ID register staff: The Home Office needed to house the staff to set up the central computer database within two years but there were few suitable buildings on the market outside London and the south-east and it would take three years to build new offices. Extra costs would be involved in renting temporary office space.

The Home Office said card manufacturers believed it was possible to develop an ID card that lasted 10 years. Estimates for the programme's contingency levels would be updated early next year.

The Home Office minister stated that the study confirmed the majority of the cost assumptions surrounding the scheme, but the neglected to actually publish the evidence which the report supposedly has. I wonder why? The whole programme ignores the facts that iris recognition technology is at the moment nowhere near close to being ready for use for confirming identification. The cards may well not last 10 years; the machines which scan might not even last five; they need a building which currently doesn't exist; pensioners and the poor will still have the pleasure of having to pay £30 for a card, even at a discounted price. It'll likely be much higher for everyone else, and oh, let's not even get started on what plans the government has for the database all this information is going to be stored on.

The Liberal Democrats position at the election was that the money spent setting up the scheme should be spent on the police. Following yesterday's humiliation for Blair, he'd be wise to heed some advice and actually support the police by helping them to train new recruits properly, instead of banging up suspects for longer because of their incompetence.

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Sun-watch: Predictable traitors.

Here's today's front-page banner-boost splash:

That the Sun call representatives of the people traitors is pretty low, especially considering if MPs did exactly what a majority of public opinion supports, we'd probably withdraw from Europe and bring back hanging tomorrow. Still, nothing like being honourable in defeat. Instead of accepting that is something that was unacceptable to parliament, it's quite easy to be a bad loser instead. Inside the Sun prints a full list of the "traitors" who dared vote against 90 day detention without charge. It also printed that they voted for a "cut" to 28 days before charges must be brought, a blatant piece of misinformation when 28 days is actually a doubling of the current limit. Its leader piece, written in short monosyllabic verb less sentences, somewhat like the prime minister occasionally tends to speak in, is a piece of trash which condescends to its readership. Compare the Sun to the Mirror on most days and you'll find that the Mirror doesn't patronise its readership the way the Sun does. Wade and Murdoch think that the average prole is too stupid to make up their own mind, making demands of their readership to oppose legislation to save their hero Blair. If anything, some MPs said they received more messages condemning 90 days as a result of the Sun's campaign.

Most damning of all though is the story of the man whose photo they used on their frontpage on Tuesday. You'd imagine that they would have consulted him before using his picture in such a way to suggest that he supported Blair and the Sun campaign. They didn't, and he doesn't. He is in fact a professor of Media Studies, and has professorships at both Brunel and Cardiff. His own words:

"This is using my image to push through draconian and utterly unnecessary terrorism legislation. Its incredibly ironic that the Sun's rhetoric is as the voice of the people yet they don't actually ask the people involved, the victims, what they think. If you want to use my image, the words coming out of my mouth would be, 'Not in my name, Tony'. I haven't read anything or seen anything in the past few months to convince me these laws are necessary."

"This is a classic piece of media manipulation demonstrating the cronyism of New Labour and the Murdoch press. You don't even have to be a sophisticated analyst to see what they are doing with the visual rhetoric and verbal anchorage. The words are tying down my image to a particular political interpretation of that event, making it seem as if they come from my mouth. I'm reminded of the famous essay by the semiotician Roland Barthes, who analysed an image of a black soldier saluting the French flag. What we've got here is: I am being made to salute the Blair flag."

Maybe Rebekah Wade should take Michael Howard's advice to Tony Blair and consider her position. The real traitors are those who will take away habeas corpus and the right of innocence until proven guilty. If the Prime Minister had suggested it, no doubt the Sun would have supported it. When you can't even be bothered to ask someone you use on your front-page to make a political point what they think, it's time that you shut up.

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Wednesday, November 09, 2005 

Sun-watch: Wade and Murdoch are the true dumb and dumber.

Here's today's hilarious Sun front-page:

Now ignore the rather pathetic photoshop and instead admire the banner that claims 100,000 of their readers supported 90 days possible detention. That's a rather impressive number when the Sun sells around 3,300,000 copies a day. However, the Sun often boasts that it actually reaches at least 10 million people each day. So, taking their boast at face value, that's just 1% of their readership who could be bothered either to register their support or who actually supported the 90 days proposal. Doesn't look so convincing and worth crowing about now, does it?

In other Wade news, the new Private Eye is out and manages with its front page to be crude but effective:

And inside:

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Government annihilated on 90 days plan, 28 days passes through.

I wrote a long post about this originally and then my browser decided to crash, so if this is shorter or not as good as my original would have been, I apologise.

This may be the only time I ever say this but: thank god for the Tories. Their principled stand, not political opportunism as described by Blair, has resulted in the government being defeated on their plans to hold terror suspects for up to 90 days in custody before bringing charges by 31 votes. The government has a majority of 66. Early reports suggest that 41 Labour MPs rebelled against the whips. They should have won, and instead they have been humiliated.

Blair staked most of his remaining political authority on this. He described the case that the police gave him was "compelling", while John Denham, chair of the home affairs select committee said he found it "thin". It was suggested that Denham at the vote did support the government, however, although I can't confirm that. The case was thin. It depends on the word of the police and not much else. They suggested that they needed the time to crack the encryption on computer hard drives which they recovered; then it was published that encryption was a lot less common place than they expected. They said they needed the extra time to study CCTV in-depth: the answer to that is better funding and training, not extra time for suspects locked in a cell. The government could easily provide that by dropping its potentially even worse ID Cards bill. The police said they couldn't enter the home of one of the July 7th bombers for two weeks because of the risk from the chemical concoction they had made in baths: they still didn't need 3 months. They claimed that they needed time to search everywhere possible, example being their probably fruitless digging at a rubbish dump for months. Again, specialists and quick response units are required, not extra time. As Gareth Pierce points out in a Guardian article today, the police often don't even bother interviewing suspects for a week; they leave them to stew in their cells. What judge would turn down a police request for more time when the possibility of the suspect going out on the street and blowing himself up is there? The police would abuse their powers like they have with section 44 of the current terrorism act.

Perhaps Blair's biggest mistake however was to so directly involve the police in trying to force Labour MPs into supporting the up to 90 days detention. He brought them in to meetings with waverers, repeatedly banged on about how desperately they needed it. MPs told of local chief constables phoning them up and telling them that had to support the government, angering many. It was the involvement of the other Blair, Ian, that annoyed me the most. Here is a man that should be laying low following the execution by his officers of Jean Charles de Menezes at Stockwell tube station. Instead he appears and says that he and the police would actually prefer 4 months rather than 90 days, but they would go along with it. Somewhat rich coming from the person who either lied to the News of the Screws about when he first knew that an innocent man had been shot dead with 7 bullets to the head, or who had been kept out of the loop by other officers for over 24 hours.

Those of us who opposed this measure will now no doubt be vilified by the likes of the Sun, more of which above this post. If there is another terrorist bombing, we will likely become the target for the blame, instead of how Blair led us into a war in which there were more deceptions than twists in the average Chuck Palahniuk novel. While Blair has said that he would rather be defeated and know he was doing the right thing than win and do the wrong, this will be a huge body blow not just to him but to the whole Blairite agenda. Their winning streak has been broken, the party is no longer invincible. When Labour won their historic third term in May, Blair promised that he would listen. He has not. We've seen what his listening results in: votes at conference being ignored and Walter Wolfgang being manhandled for daring to heckle. Today a majority has spoken in saying no to the worst excesses of this government. Labour now needs to look at its third term agenda in full, on the NHS, education, ID cards and the probation service, and think whether those policies are Labour. The backbenchers have finally shown they have teeth, and if the leadership does not compromise now, they should defeat measures which would only bring a Tory victory ever closer.

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Tuesday, November 08, 2005 

French riots in pictures.

Thanks to Cryptome for all of these.

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Sun-watch: Printing misinformation alongside the topless women.

Today's Sun front page focuses on the battle over the 90-day detention for terrorist suspects. Featuring an emotive picture of a man horrifically burned following the July 7th attacks, it urges readers to phone their hotline to register their support and inside it also tells readers to email their MP to demand they vote for 90 days and the glorification clause. A fairly typical Sun campaign, it's true. Too bad they then print bullshit of the highest order in their actual article. Firstly:

Mr Blair put on the “performance of his life” as he urged every Labour MP and peer to back him.

This would be the 50th or so performance of his life, following the ones he made in the run up to the war in Iraq, which the Sun backed ferociously. It printed pictures of Robin Cook and Clare Short, called them traitors and urged readers to throw darts at them. It doorstepped George Galloway and smeared him repeatedly.

Then at the bottom of the piece comes this gem:

A POLL by 24 Labour MPs revealed support among constituents for the new powers was up to 100 per cent.

Rrrright. Supposing that Labour MPs had even bothered to conduct a poll, seeing that they've been at Westminster, I somehow find it doubtful that the poll involved numbers high enough to make it representative. Also, the Sun's sister paper, which actually took the time to conduct a proper poll and not make one up, showed that only 64% backed up to 90 days detention.

Then again, why am I even bothering with a so-called newspaper that on its website on the sidebar from the article has links leading to a picture of 3 "beach beauties" one of whom has only her hair covering her breasts? Further down you can click on the Page 3 link, which promises Katie, 22, from Liverpool. 2 clicks and you can see her topless, along with many other one-handed delights. Or of course, you could click on Bizarre and find out about all the celebrity goings-on, like Joe, who now has heart problems as well as brain problems. Who Joe is anyone's guess.

The Sun also doesn't list a number you can ring to register your opposition to the equivalent of a six-month prison sentence for those just accused of "acts of terrorism". I can however link you to a website where you can register your opposition to your MP, like the Sun demands you to do. Write to Them is here.

edit hurr link fixed

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Monday, November 07, 2005 

Blair continues to demand 90 days, while everyone else wants nothing to do with it.

Is Tony Blair finally losing his mind, as all prime ministers are supposed to? His stand on the draconian up to 90-day without trial detention plan is either an highly principled stand which he truly believes in, or is evidence of his psyche on the edge of cracking. Does any other politician apart from him actually believe that 90 days are necessary? Charles Clarke is just being supportive; it's obvious that he always felt 90 days was a stupidly long figure. The opposition leaders are united in saying 90 days is a length of time too far. The Labour rebels have been woke up thanks to Blair's insistence on what amounts to a six-month jail sentence for those suspected of terrorism.

Blair's monthly press conference was full of the usual hyperbolic rhetoric which he always turns to when his plans are being opposed.

"If we are forced to compromise, it will be a compromise with the nation's security."

"We do not want to compromise on the 90 days at all," he said. "It is not the right thing for the country. Be under no doubt about that at all."

So, those who are arrested now under the current legislation who can be held for 14 days are in effect threatening the nations' security if they have to be released due to the police not having enough time to acquire incriminating evidence? This is plainly nonsense. If they have some evidence of any small misdemenaour, they could charge the offender and remand them in custody to continue the investigation. It would also be stupid to imagine that anyone arrested under suspicion of terrorism but then released is not going to be monitored by MI5 - you only have to look back at the way Special Branch and MI5 operated against left-wingers right up until the beginning of the 90s to realise that they will be under close surveillance. Blair's claims that this is what the police are demanding is probably accurate - but it is not what the intelligence services are necessarily demanding, as the Scotsman has revealed. It also whispered that many chief constables around the country are by no means convinced that 90 days is necessary or would even be helpful.

I'd like to think that Blair's position can be attributed to one of the two things I started this post with. It's actually once again more likely to be posturing to a tabloid press that continues to demand blood, that covered last week's remembrance service as if it was a royal coronation and not the deeply politicised event which some relatives of the bereaved boycotted. Blair is still trying to gain capital from the attacks on the 7th of July, and if the opposition backs down, he will have succeeded not only in denying that the attacks had anything to do with Iraq, but also in trying to regain control of his party and the country through the blood-letting of commuters.

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Moss dross returns.

Once you think it's safe to gaze at the front pages of the tabloids again, Kate Moss comes back and rips your face off. The Mirror, not content with melting our eyeballs with a picture of Kate Moss in some hideous lingerie on the front page in the Sunday edition, today prints a topless photo of her on the front page. Well, not topless but with her breasts covered by the "massager's" arms.

If you want to see her breasts, then the Mirror delivers by printing the more revealing photos on their third page. How nice of them.

In other Mirror news, the Sunday Mirror almost completely stole the Guardian's weekend interview with Christopher Meyer, former American ambassador, and printed it under an "EXCLUSIVE" banner. Exclusive to those who hadn't read it the day before, obviously. Fleet Street isn't called the Street of Shame for nothing.

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Saturday, November 05, 2005 

Hunting carries on the same as before.

The first official day of the new season of fox hunting, and the BBC reports that not a single registered hunt has disbanded since the ban was brought in on hunting foxes with hounds. It's just a slight contrast to the claims of those in the countryside who said that thousands of jobs would be lost, that dogs would be put down and that a way of life centuries old would disappear.

The bill though was and continues to be a proverbial dog's dinner. The law states that two dogs can be used to sniff out a scent and to flush out a fox, but the fox must then be shot, rather than ripped apart by a pack of hounds as before. I'm sure the fox appreciates the difference. In another twist, the law does not ban hunting with predatory birds, which has resulted in nearly half purchasing golden eagles, eagle owls or similar birds and using them to attack the fox instead. Not a single case has been brought against a huntsman in the public domain, and the League against Cruel Sports is now pursuing a private prosecution against a huntsman in Devon, fed up with the police not taking action that the law has been broken, despite video and witness evidence.

The law was criticised by the likes of the Daily Torygraph as been part of a class war against the gentry in the countryside. It wasn't, but it was a nice smear and I personally would be happy in starting a class war against the likes of those who find terrifying wild animals before slaughtering them a nice Saturday afternoon hobby. The government had banning fox hunting as a manifesto pledge, something which Tony Blair must curse. He must be equally pleased that the law is so useless and loopholes are being found and abused with glee. If Labour doesn't want to become known as passing a law even dafter and less thought out than the Dangerous Dogs Act, it will amend the act and make sure that such barbarity is completely outlawed. It should not be a part of 21st century Britain, tradition or not.

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Friday, November 04, 2005 

Government should have been defeated on glorifying terror - blame dozy, worthless MPs and Make Poverty History.

Yep, turns out that the government could have been easily defeated on the Terrorism Bill on Wednesday, when the government survived the poll on glorification of terrorism by one vote. They were forced to withdraw the vote on 90 days detention when they released they would be defeated.

Firstly we have Vince Cable, the Lib Dem treasury spokesman, who was held up by the Make Poverty History campaign who were lobbying parliament on the one day that they would have better off at home, and so he missed the vote. Thanks MPH!

Next up we have Brian Binley, a hard right Tory representing sunny Northampton South, who forgot about the vote and turned his mobile phone off. Trebles all round for those in his constituency!

And last, but by no means least, we have gorgeous George Galloway, leftwing hellraiser and scourge of Republican senators everywhere, who was in Cork where he was involved in.... yes, you've guessed it, An Evening with George Galloway! Nothing quite like a bit of self-promotion and a money raiser, after all, looks like he's going to need it for flying backwards and forwards to America.

I don't know about you, but it sure makes me proud of our representatives of the people.

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Ginger ninja strikes back!

As I hoped, both the Mirror and *shock* the Times had some incredibly amusing reports on Rebekah Wade giving her husband a good slap.

With a rather more sober account, and one which seems to differ from all the others, the Sun relegated its own house story to the 5th page.

(Sorry about the crappy quality photos, I took them quickly in a WHSmiths.)

The story seems to claim that Kemp was surprised by the police, while the others differ on whether it was him or a neighbour who rang them. Police would have interviewed her, despite the claims that they did not, as they would have wanted to hear all sides of the story regardless. The cut to his lip which had been sustained during filming - what filming was this? He's currently not shooting EastEnders. It seems rather strange no one who saw them during the evening beforehand has mentioned that he had a cut lip. Also rather intriguing is that she is referred to throughout as "Ms" Wade. If she's married surely she should be Mrs? The ginger ninja has rather a lot of explaining to do.

Also being talked about are various conspiracy theories that Max Clifford was involved in getting the other Mitchell brother assaulted by his ex, part of an attempt to push the highly embarrassing Wade story down the news agenda. Indeed, it was the story which the Sun led on, with just a small banner at the foot of the front page mentioning that Wade decked her husband.

Wade has been a pretty piss-poor Sun editor. Circulation is down (although to be fair it is on all the red-top tabloids), she's been out-scooped by the News of the Screws and Mirror, and has if anything made the paper backwards rather than forwards looking. She no longer gives any press briefings or statements in person about the paper because she cocked it up so badly at a select committee hearing when she admitted that the paper had paid police officers for information - something which mightily enraged Mr Murdoch. Let's crack one open for the downfall of an unpleasant hypocritical woman.

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Thursday, November 03, 2005 

Israel breaches international law, inflicts collective punishment on Palestinians. No one says anything.

It's been whispered for a while that Israel has been tormenting the population of Gaza since the evacuation of the Jewish settlers with so-called "sonic bombs": flying a super-sonic aircraft over the Strip at low-altitude, breaking the sound barrier, resulting in a terrifying noise which causes shock waves, breaks windows and making cracks in buildings. It seems that since the IDF accidentally produced one of these bombs too far inside Israel, causing panic in Tel Aviv, that the matter has come to the attention of many more people.

The Palestinian health ministry says the sonic booms have led to miscarriages and heart problems. The United Nations has demanded an end to the tactic, saying it causes panic attacks in children. The shock waves have also damaged buildings by cracking walls and smashing thousands of windows.

"I have never heard such a loud explosion. I thought it was right over the top of my building," said the owner, Tareq Dayyeh. "Sometimes you hear the rockets the Israelis fire but this was different. I felt like I was in the middle of a bomb. When I ran out the door I thought I might find the rest of the street was gone."

Over the past week, Israeli jets created 28 sonic booms by flying at high speed and low altitude over the Gaza Strip, sometimes as little as an hour apart through the night. During five days in late September, the air force caused 29 sonic booms.

A senior Israeli army intelligence source, who the military would not permit to be named, said the tactic is intended to break civilian support for armed Palestinian groups. "We are trying to send a message in a way that doesn't harm people. We want to encourage the Palestinian public to do something about the terror situation," he said. "What are the alternatives? We are not like the terrorists who shoot civilians. We are cautious. We make sure nobody is really hurt."

Yesterday, two medical human rights groups asked the Tel Aviv high court to outlaw the use of sound bombs on the grounds it amounts to illegal collective punishment and is detrimental to health.

"The stress is phenomenal," said Eyad El Sarraj, a psychologist and director of Gaza Community Mental Health Programme, one of the groups filing the petition. "The Israelis do it after midnight and then every one or two hours. You try to go to sleep and then there's another one. When it happens night after night you become exhausted. You get a heightened sense of alert, waiting continuously for it to happen. People suffer hypertension, fatigue, sleeplessness.

"For children, the loud noise means danger. Adults may know it's only a sound but small children feel threatened. They are crying and clinging to their parents. Afterwards they are dazed and fearful, waiting for something to happen."

The UN Palestinian refugee agency said a majority of the patients seen at its clinics as a result of the sonic booms were under 16 and suffering from symptoms such as anxiety attacks, bedwetting, muscle spasms, temporary loss of hearing and breathing difficulties.

Although the Israelis say the shockwaves do not cause casualties, doctors at Gaza's Shifa hospital said the overflights had forced women to miscarry. The number of miscarriages had increased by 40%, according to Jumaa Saqqa, a surgeon and hospital spokesman. "There were no other symptoms and the rise happened after the sonic booms. We can see no other explanation. The number of patients admitted to the cardiac care unit doubled. Some of them proved to have suffered serious harm."

Dr Saqqa said one overflight occurred while he was operating. The Palestinian health ministry estimates the sonic booms have caused at least 20 miscarriages.

The UN's Middle East envoy, Alvaro de Soto, wrote to the Israeli high command this week saying he was "deeply concerned at the impact on children, particularly infants, of the use of sonic booms".

Mr de Soto said he did not accept that the tactic was a legitimate response to Islamic Jihad and Hamas firing rockets into Israeli towns. "Sonic booms are an indiscriminate instrument, the use of which punishes the population collectively. We ask therefore that their use be stopped without delay," the letter said.

Compare the response to this to the admittedly much more inflammatory but rhetorical remarks of the Iranian president last week. While Israel called for Iran to be expelled from the UN and Blair rattled the sabre, Israel was actually breaking international law. That's forgetting the numerous UN resolutions which Israel is in breach of, and the ones which get vetoed by the United States.

If anything, this shows the depths which Israel continues to sink to. The Palestinian people refuse to be broken by their indiscriminate attacks, and they regarded the disengagement from Gaza as a victory for armed resistance. While it wasn't, and they are now paying the price for daring to openly celebrate it, sonic bombs are not going to make the residents of Gaza give up their support for the likes of Hamas and Islamic Jihad. It is more likely to entrench it further. Israel continues to demand the disarming of Hamas by the Palestinian Authority, despite knowing full well that any attempt by the PA to do so would lead to civil war, something which Israel would welcome with open arms. The sad thing is that after all the publicity surrounding the Gaza evacuation, Israel has continued to assassinate and make Palestinians lives a misery. They continue to emasculate the West Bank with the so-called security barrier, so that they can make that the new de-facto border when Sharon decides to impose his full "peace" plan. All this is going on under the noses of the international community, and they say nothing. They're more interested in damning old Iranian rhetoric than removing the main obstacle to peace in the Middle East and anger in Muslims worldwide.

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Sun editor smacks husband, released without charge.

There are some stories that on hearing about them you think that they're too good to be true. Probably the funniest thing to happen in the media world since Kimberly Quinn became known as the slut of the Spectator, Sun dominatrix Rebekah Wade was today arrested for presumably hitting her husband Ross Kemp (Grant Mitchell in EastEnders) and cutting his mouth.

Rebekah Wade, the editor of the Sun, was released from police custody at lunchtime today after being arrested for alleged assault on her husband, EastEnders actor Ross Kemp.

A spokeswoman for Scotland Yard confirmed that Ms Wade had been freed after questioning at a south London police station and no further action will be taken. "A woman who was arrested this morning has been released and no further action will be taken by police," she said.

According to police, Mr Kemp refused medical treatment for a cut mouth when the officers attended the couple's Battersea home at 4am today.

Wade and Kemp are understood to have started the evening at a cocktail party hosted by PR guru Matthew Freud and his wife, Rupert Murdoch's daughter Elisabeth. They then moved on to dinner with David Blunkett, who resigned as the work and pensions secretary yesterday.

Wade made a "low profile" return to the Sun's offices this afternoon, according to a well-placed source. Rupert Murdoch, the proprietor, has indicated to Sun staff that he is treating the issue lightly. It seems that Wade's position is secure for now, although the paper has been receiving emails from readers hoping they will "read the full story" in the Sun tomorrow.

One senior source said the paper was expecting to run a double-page spread on the story, which will include a statement from Ms Wade. Mr Murdoch and Les Hinton, the News International boss, plan to take Wade out to dinner tonight, possibly at One Aldwych, one of their favourite restaurants.

News of Ms Wade's arrest will prove particularly embarrassing for the Sun as Mr Murdoch is in London for tomorrow's BSkyB annual general meeting.

Ms Wade and Mr Kemp, who became a household name playing hard man Grant Mitchell on the BBC soap, were married in a ceremony in Las Vegas in 2002. She had been due to attend the Women of the Year lunch today at the Guildhall.

It's going to be very interesting to see what the Sun and Times publish tomorrow on this story (if anything, as they seem to often shy away from internal matters for some strange mystical reason) and Private Eye and the other tabloids especially are going to have a field day. Even more amusing is the friendship which Wade seems to share with David Blunkett, and how the page 3 models at the Sun seem to have curiously sympathetic views on the matter, as Bloggerheads has pointed out. I wonder if the model tomorrow will comment on how women are putting their best fist forward.

It's always nice to see a pathetic propagandist and all-round nasty figure get their just desserts, just as Jonathan Aitken, Jeffrey Archer and Piers Morgan have before her. It would all the more sweeter if Murdoch see fits to sack her.

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Wednesday, November 02, 2005 

Government's majority reduced to one over terror bill.

Looks like the backbenchers are finally awakening from their slumber. Here's to hoping the 90 days clause is defeated.

The government's majority was cut to just one today in a vote on an amendment to the terror bill.

Voting was 300 to 299 as the government narrowly fought off a rebel Labour amendment aiming to establish "intent" in the new offence of encouragement of terrorism. Cross-party opponents complained the government's current definition was too widely drawn.

The narrow margin makes it more likely the government will be defeated later on the most controversial clause in the bill, to extend detention of terror suspects without charge from two weeks to three months.

Mr Blair earlier warned MPs to "think very carefully" before opposing the bill, and reminded them that the 90-day pre-trial detention had the backing of the police.

The government had earlier pledged a rethink on the "glorification" clauses as ministers tried to head off a damaging revolt.

The Home Office minister, Hazel Blears, said she recognised "legitimate concerns" that a new offence of encouraging terrorism needed to be tightened up.

MPs have today began putting the terror bill through the detailed scrutiny of a committee stage.

In a sign of the bill's importance, MPs are debating it line by line in the Commons chamber. If passed in its current form, terror suspects could be jailed for 90 days without charge and a new offence created of glorification of terrorism.

Last week, the bill survived a mauling to be given a second reading by 472 votes to 94, a majority of 378. Sixteen Labour MPs rebelled to vote with the Liberal Democrats.

A row is expected over an amendment tabled by Labour backbenchers that would limit the 90-day detention period to 28 days. Charles Clarke, the home secretary, today said he would be "flexible" but insisted four weeks did not allow police enough time to charge terror suspects.

At prime minister's questions today, Tony Blair told MPs that a vote against the legislation would be a vote against the express advice of leading police officers.

The only reason the leading police officers need 90 days is that they do not have the specialist officers needed to decrypt hard drives and to follow up all their leads. This in an issue of training and funding, not an issue of suspects being locked up because of police and governmental incompetence and lack of planning.

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Private companies running young offenders institutes are fiefdoms.

This story will be buried by the Blunkett aftermath and vote on the terror bill, but this is a scandalous story which deserves much larger public knowledge.

A former Labour minister called for the contracts of two privately run child jails to be terminated yesterday after they refused access to a Home Office team investigating their use of physical restraint techniques on teenage inmates.

Sally Keeble, Labour MP for Northampton North, told the Commons that the unpublished report from the inquiry team, which included medical experts, recommended that more than 20 restraint techniques currently in use be scrapped. She said physical control was routinely used in Britain's four secure training centres, designed to hold the most troublesome 10- to 17-year-olds.

The highest use of restraint was at two centres run by Rebound, a subsidiary of GSL Limited, one at Rainsbrook, near Daventry, Northamptonshire, and the other at Medway in Kent. The official review of physical control techniques was triggered by the death of Gareth Myatt, 15, in Rainsbrook in April last year.

"I understand that these two secure training centres did not provide admission to the consultants employed by the Home Office to carry out the review of physical control in care," said Ms Keeble. "In these circumstances, the contract with the private company responsible should be terminated because they have not demonstrated that they are able to provide a regime that is either appropriate for the staff, or safe for the young people."

Ministers have modified some of the restraint techniques but decided to ban the use of only one of them - the "seated double embrace" which was involved in Gareth Myatt's death.

Contrary to the unpublished recommendations of the review team, ministers have allowed the continued use of a painful "karate chop to the nose" technique and a "thumb distraction" method.

Ms Keeble told a Westminster Hall debate yesterday that the "nose distraction" put staff at the risk of being bitten, and "thumb distraction" involved an adult hand restraining a child's thumb and had the potential to cause more injury than other techniques.

"How on earth do we, in the 21st century, manage to run a regime for young people that includes an equivalent of thumb screws?" she asked MPs.

"In at least one of the institutions, in place of the seated embrace a standing hold is used. But children are still being bent over - and it is bending that is so dangerous because this is what prevents breathing. During the course of my investigations I actually have had some of these holds demonstrated on me, and once shown, the risks are evident."

Official figures showed that restraint was used 3,289 times in 2003 and 1,228 in the first few months of 2004 in the four secure training centres.

There are 274 places in all the centres, and 322 "trainees" went through Medway in 2003 and 289 through Rainsbrook. The average age of those sentenced to detention and training orders is 14, and half of them are unconvicted teenagers on remand awaiting trial.

Fiona Mactaggart, the Home Office minister, denied there was a routine use of physical restraint in the centres and said that only a "tiny minority" of such incidents involved inflicting pain.

"We need to protect other trainees and the staff themselves in potentially violent incidents. We need to have ways that we can distract children who are behaving dangerously," she told Ms Keeble.

But she admitted that staff were increasingly using handcuffs as an alternative to the physical control techniques. Ms Mactaggart also confirmed that restraint was being used to ensure the compliance of the trainees and not just to defuse potentially violent situations.

The government is paying private companies to hold some of the most sensitive inmates in its care, and those companies are then refusing to let the public's representatives visit the prisons to ensure that children are not being harmed. Not only should their contracts be withdrawn immediately, the companies should be banned from running for government contracts in the future. We are not talking about children that have been convicted of anti-social behaviour or more heinous crimes, half of these are on remand and not been convicted. The whole story brings back echoes of the horror of Borstals, and unless the government acts to improve conditions and gain access to these prisons, they will be complicit in destruction of these children's future.

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Blunkett becomes Blair's sacrificial lamb.

David Blunkett's decision to resign today has been rather convenient for Blair. Blunkett has claimed that his decision to step down came as he travelled from Downing Street from a previous meeting with Blair to Portcullis House for a scheduled select committee meeting, despite Blair apparently asking him to stay at that meeting. He then returned to Downing Street and tendered his resignation.

For Blair though, this apparent course of events has been nowhere near as bad as it could have been. Firstly it meant he didn't have to go through a whole session of Prime Minister's Questions entirely dealing with Blunkett, and it also has took the story away from cabinet disagreements and from today's revelations that Blair appears to be agreeing with George Bush that economic growth is more important than the health of the planet. While he faced a reasonably effective Michael Howard, being attacked by someone who is no longer leader was never going to cause him much damage.

Blunkett probably made the right decision, benefits for Blair or not. He may have jumped before even worse allegations were uncovered. He is also now free to sort himself out. He has become the opposite of what he most likely originally thought of himself: a man who raised the red flag above Sheffield town hall, now more happy to be associated with the Spectator set and seen in high society places such as Annabel's. More happily for those of us who despise Max Clifford, he has promised to persue him and expose his lies. Whether this whole affair was Blunkett's fault or not is also uncertain. Devastated by the severance and way he was treated by Kimberley Quinn, he was brought back much too quickly by Blair, who misjudged his ability to cope with his personal crisis. There was however no way that he could he remain in the cabinet, if what Blair said in 1997 in the aftermath of the Tory sleaze years was applied consistently. He said that ministers had to "act within the letter and spirit" of the code of conduct. Blunkett clearly did not. I still would have liked to seen him finish his tasks before resigning; it now remains to be seen whether John Hutton, his replacement, will continue to reject Blair's demands for a macho stance on incapicity benefit reforms.

What will be most interesting now will be to see whether Blunkett again instantly takes up positions in the private sector. That may well be the litmus test of whether he has learned his lesson. His career is by no means totally dead, for while Peter Mandelson was not returned to the cabinet for a third time, Blair found him a job as trade secretary at the EU instead. Blair might be able to find similar for Blunkett. Whether he will retain his grace and favour house in Belgravia, as before, remains to be seen.

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Tuesday, November 01, 2005 

Blunkett: the new Mandelson.

David Blunkett, former Home Secretary and now Works and Pensions spokesman, appears to be again close to resigning, as once again he is embroiled in allegations of sleaze and conflicts of interest.

Blunkett was first forced to resign in December last year, following his admittance that he may have inadvertently helped "fast-track" his lover's nanny's visa. He denied that he knowingly did anything wrong. He is again pulling the same cover this time, with even less effective results.

David Blunkett now comes across as a sad and lonely man. Blind from birth, a handicap which must be incredibly painful and troublesome in dealing with other politicians as well as former lovers, he overcame his hardship and rose to be touted at one point as a potential prime minister. As Home Secretary, he annoyed the left and delighted the right, cracking down on "yobs" and attacking judges who dared to rule that some of his legislation was in breach of the Human Rights Act. I have previously written that he was the worst Home Secretary of recent times. I stand by that, but it doesn't mean that I don't feel sorry for someone who is now an easy target for the tabloids and poking fun at.

His problems started with his relationship with Kimberley Quinn, publisher of the right-wing Spectator and Telegraph group of newspapers. Quinn has since been exposed as being the Spectator bike, having relationships with at least three other men at the same time. Her reasons for this seem to be that her husband, who is very supportive of her, is either impotent or sterile. Instead she turned to others, with the result being a baby Blunkett, who he was since referred to as "the little lad" and tirelessly attempted to win custody rights to. She has also had another baby, of which her husband is not the father.

This is where the new scandal comes in. In proving his parentage, he came into contact with DNA Bioscience, a private company specialising in paternity tests. After his resignation, Blunkett wasted little time in joining the ex-ministerial gravy train and became a director on at least one other company. On April the 21st, less than 3 weeks away from the general election, he joined the board of the company and bought £15,000 of shares - 3% of its nominal worth. On May the 5th, he was back in the cabinet following Labour's 3rd consecutive victory and the following day he resigned from the board.

The first question arises from why he joined the board for such a short period of time, especially when it was open knowledge that he would be put back into a ministerial position; he himself was boasting about it. The explanation given is that he needed to to buy the shares, and that he was by no means certain that he would become a cabinet memeber again. The first part holds up, the second doesn't. Another reason for this is that he has ran up "mega legal bills" over his court cases attempting to get access to his son, which his salary as a MP and minister supposedly do not cover. It also raises murkiness over his reasons for joining the firm when it was competing for government contracts, especially when his personal problems were such a hot topic.

Even more damning, Blunkett did not seek the advice of the committee for business appointments. His explanation for this is that he thought it was voluntary. While taking the advice the committee gives is voluntary, seeking their advice is mandatory. The Times has since published letters showing the Blunkett was told by Lord Mayhew that he had to consult it about any business dealings when he resigned last December. In short, it seems to be another failure of memory by a man who we've been told before can remember meetings he had in the 70s while head of the Sheffield council with constituents.

Blunkett yesterday promised to sell the shares that he had put in trust for his sons with his ex-wife. It now seems unlikely though that this will be an end to the controversy that he hoped it would be. He has not apologised or admitted doing wrong, simply that he would sell the shares so that there is no issue of a conflict of interest. As the Guardian has said, he has done the least that he had to.

The Daily Mail and News of the Screws have been the foremost in attacking Blunkett. It's alleged that they set-up the honeypot entrapment with Sally Anderson that occurred at Annabel's, with the help of the shameless Max Clifford. He also has been attacked for using Commons headed note paper inappropriately and for keeping his Belgravia apartment he used while Home Secretary, with the agreement of Blair.

Blunkett has been a polarising figure, but now that he has been removed from the position of Home Secretary, despite his arrogant and deeply rhetorical oratory, he has so far not been a bad Works and Pension minister. As Polly Toynbee writes today, he is refusing to bow down to Blair's Tory-baiting benefit reform demands. A lesser minister might well give in to those demands, as might the weakening of his character thanks to the drawn-out press hounding.

Peter Mandelson is famed for resigning twice from the government, both times over scandals. He is also a polarising, some would say hated figure, often referred to as the prince of darkness. Blunkett is in danger of becoming the second Labour minister to fall on his sword twice. He has few friends left, following all his serious misjudgments and criticism which was published in a biography. He should stay works and pension minister for now, complete the green papers for benefit reforms, and then resign. He may need to just to end the tabloid free-for-all and to keep his sanity.

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