Saturday, December 03, 2005 

Quote of the week.

"The President strongly supports the death penalty because he believes ultimately it helps save innocent lives." - Scott McClellan, White House spokesperson.

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Torture still widespread in China.

It's good to know that one of the countries which is increasingly making more and more business deals with western companies and contributing to the kleptocracy which operates in both China and the US is actually becoming such a beacon for human rights:

Immersion in sewage, ripping out fingernails, sleep deprivation, cigarette burns and beatings with electric prods - these are some of the torture methods used by China's police and prison officers to extract confessions and maintain discipline, a United Nations investigation has found.

Manfred Nowak, the UN special rapporteur on torture, said yesterday that abuse of suspects and prisoners remained widespread in China. Treatment was far worse than international norms, despite recent signs of improvement.

Mr Nowak's investigation was the first ever permitted by China and, as such, represents a breakthrough in human rights. Despite this, he said he had been obstructed by security officials, who intimidated some victims and their relatives or prevented them from seeing him.

However, he was able to visit prisons, detention centres and "re-education" labour camps in Beijing and the troubled regions of Xinjiang and Tibet, as well as interviewing academics, justice officials and detainees. Among the prisoners, Mr Nowak said he observed a "palpable level of fear and self-censorship", which he had not seen in missions to other countries.

Human rights groups say brutality and degradation are common in Chinese prisons, where many of the victims are from the Tibetan and Uighur ethnic minorities, political dissidents, followers of the banned Falun Gong sect and members of underground churches.

Although China outlawed torture in 1996, its definition of illegal acts - those leaving physical marks - is so narrow that interrogators can employ a wide range of methods contravening UN standards. Suspects are manacled in contorted positions, deprived of sleep and subjected to psychological torture. Some techniques have been given names, such as "reversing an aeroplane", where a victim must remain standing, bent double, with arms splayed upwards and backwards.

I find it really sickening how increasingly cosy relations are getting between the Chinese and other nations and companies. This is a country which is no longer in any way Communist - which is what it claims. It is rather a fascistic ultra-capitalist state where dissent is managed on the internet by blocking numerous sites and words, and where nationalist sentiment is riled up by cadres of the party, most recently seen against Japan. It shows no signs whatsoever of giving in to some vestiges of democracy, and has cracked down brutally on peasant movements and against those who refuse to have their land taken from them for industry. In short then, it's a dream for most business - little regulation, low taxes and low pay for the workers.

China does however have a huge number of rural poor. While the middle classes in the major cities are engaged in an orgy of consumerism and greed, those outside them increasingly find themselves being swept into destitution. It is they who have the power to change China's direction. The question is when or if they will awaken from their slumber. If they don't, then it looks increasingly like we will have an emerging world power that makes the Soviet Union look like a beacon for prosperity and hope.

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Thursday, December 01, 2005 

Fuck Christmas.

Today is the 1st of December. As I walked along the street earlier, one person greeted a friend by saying "Merry Christmas!". He wasn't being ironic. They were putting the Christmas trees up on the buildings around the town as well, ready to light them up with the gaudy lights that for around a month illuminate the night sky, before we pack them away for another year.

As a child, I didn't celebrate Christmas, thanks to my parents religious beliefs. Maybe that's why I've come to hate this time of year. Maybe it's because of the way a single day has become hyped up into being the ultimate day of fun, joy and family harmony. We base the whole day around the myth of a man who comes down the chimney to deliver presents to the good little children of the world. Others will remind us that it's about the birth of a savior, a child that would light up the whole world and give hope to those everywhere.

In reality, the day has long since lost any meaning. Some shopping malls have had their decorations up since the beginning of November. To many, Christmas is when the businesses make their biggest profits, as parents splash their cash on little Junior and give into his ever whim. The reality of this is that most will put it all on their credit cards and forget about it, or at least try to. It's no wonder that the country is facing a crisis over the huge amount of people with negative equity.

Away from the spending, we are engulfed with songs by one hit wonder bands that we never heard of again. It's the same stuff every year, played and then retired. The adverts on TV also start around mid-November time. This year we're being encouraged by Kerry Katona to spend spend spend at Iceland. Tesco, with their arrogant rubbing your nose in it mentality continue to awash the screens with numerous adverts for various products, voiced by feckless celebrities who take the cash and saying nothing else. Then there's Coca Cola, back with another retake of their infamous "holidays are coming" Coke truck adverts, with Santa at the end swigging back a bottle of the sugary brown liquid.

Christmas fills me with misery. It may be because I'm a sour little pessimistic asshole, who can only ever see the glass as half empty instead of half full, but I detest this season with a passion. It's so fake. It leaves those lonely and depressed even more upset with the way their luck has gone rotten. It takes the poor and forces them to lie to their children who don't know any better that they will spend what they can't afford on presents. It takes the country for a month and forces it smile, whether it wants to or not. Those who don't get into the spirit for whatever reason are cast out. Yet every year it gets longer and longer and more drawn out. The build-up intensifies. Nevermind that nearly every Christmas day numerous families break apart as arguments take place and children rebel. Nevermind that all meaning has been stripped away and that it has become a celebration of capitalism and greed and nothing more. Nevermind that it ignores the plight of those forgotten. Nevermind that it makes vast silent majorities of the public deeply uncomfortable. Just think of the children and the joy on their little faces as they open their gifts, eat their turkey and as the family glows with happiness at their perfect little nuclear world.

Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe I'm just sad that my childhood wasn't like that. Maybe I'm sad that I feel deeply alone. Whether it's the former or the latter, fuck christmas.

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Pentagon paying for articles in Iraqi media.

I'm surprised that this hasn't been exposed sooner:

Faced with suicide bombings, claims of Iraqi death squads, and kidnappings, the Pentagon has come up with an innovative solution to solving the problems in Iraq: buying good news. Using defence contractors or intermediaries posing as freelance reporters, the military has been paying Iraqi newspapers to publish stories written by a military propaganda unit lauding the US mission.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the articles are translated into Arabic and placed in Baghdad newspapers where they are often presented as unbiased accounts by independent journalists. Records obtained by the newspaper indicate the US has paid to publish dozens of articles since the operation began this year, with headlines such as "Iraqis insist on living despite terrorism" and "more money goes to Iraq's development".

One military official told the LA Times the military has also bought an Iraqi newspaper and taken control of a radio station, both used to channel pro-American messages. The propaganda offensive is said to have caused unease among some senior military officials at the Pentagon and in Iraq, especially when the US is promising to promote democratic principles.

Well, I suppose this is the lighter option to bombing al-Jazeera. With Baghdad now quite possibly the most dangerous place on the planet though, is their money actually doing any good? Following the revelations over prisoner abuse by the majority Shia over Sunni prisoners, the mood has turned even more downcast. Reports suggesting that the Kurds have independently struck a deal with the Norwegians over oil-drilling are unlikely to help matters. While many doom-sayers have for months now been saying that civil war is if not already underway, then just around the corner, the signs on the ground are that it is still not likely.

I can't really tell what the US wants in Iraq anymore. Their plans for staying until "victory is complete" runs with their wanting to maintain numerous bases in Iraq. However, the emergence of the Shia as such a political force was certainly not what was wanted, especially as problems over Iran intensify. It seems increasingly likely that Iraq is going to split, whether down to civil war or not. With the Sunnis left with only the desert Anbar province, you can bet that the Sunni-led insurgency will carry on for years to come. Also expect the US to justify permanently staying because the Anbar province will be used by "terrorists" for planning attacks on America. If the above happens, it could really be the most disastrous war for America since Vietnam.

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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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