Friday, June 30, 2006 

By-election cry babies.

Yesterday's by-elections were little more than humiliating for both of the main parties. Despite all the polls showing the Tories taking major leads over Labour, and Cameron gaining popularity all the time they haemorraged a massive 11,962 from their majority at the general election in Bromley. In Blaneau Gwent, the Labour candidate actually lost votes on the performance in the general election rather than gaining; the consolation was that Peter Law's successor, his former agent, lost nearly 8,000 votes.

The Liberal Democrats and UKIP gained in Bromley, with Ben Abbots for the Libs gaining 1,620 votes, with Nigel Farage, the easy to dislike foghorn voiced UKIP candidate gaining 872. This resulted in Labour being pushed into 4th place - losing an astonishing 8,316 votes. Plaid Cymru were the only real winners in Wales - gaining 912 votes on their 2005 performance.

The main winner, as it often is in by-elections, was apathy. While turnout was still a reasonably impressive 51.7% in Blaneau Gwent, it was down 14.4% on last year. There was an even bigger drop in Bromley, where turnout touched only 40.5%, down nearly 25% from May 2005. It seems that both Conservative and Labour voters stayed at home. Whether this was down in Bromley to the belief that the Tories were unassailable or to the position Cameron is taking is obviously uncertain, but the increase in UKIP support was certainly boosted by them throwing a quoted £75,000 into their campaign. Dai Davies' loss of nearly 8,000 votes will be put down to apathy, as Labour showed no sign of any recovery in the valley. Their performance was not helped by the continuing anger over the initial all-wimmin shortlist that imposed the Blairite Maggie Jones on the consitutency, or the fact that the selected candidate currently works for drug company Pfizer, well known for its socialist business practices. The allegation that Law had been offered a peerage by Peter Hain to stand down, vehemently denied by the Welsh secretary, must also have rankled.

Neither of the two parties has either been truly honest about what happened to their support. Hazel Blears cried that Blaneau Gwent was a "unique set of circumstances" and represented a "family feud", which seems rather insulting considering that it was the Labour's arrogance which resulted in Law standing as an independent in the first place. That his death encouraged his wife to stand for the Welsh assembly seat he has also held (she won) shows how deep the feeling against the current New Labour leadership is. David Cameron has unsportingly decried the result in Bromley as down to Lib Dem dirty tricks, even though the Tory candidate had been widely criticised for having "3 jobs" and making a false declaration on his nomination form.

Will it change anything? It's incredibly doubtful. The Blairites and Blair continue to be in complete denial about the way they are viewed, and Alan Johnson has continued the current theme of warning against a shift to the left. Gordon Brown, despite how he might view it as being a bloody nose against Blair and not him, will likely be concerned about how Labour is currently stuck in a downward spiral which they show no signs of getting out of. The way he continues to throw off any hint that he might do things majorly different to Blair seems more than anything to suggest that there is very little he can do to stop New Labour's apparently inexorable decline. As for the Tories, the result will no doubt have come as a shock, having had one of their safest seats turned into a marginal - but it will doubtless be dismissed as a blip or the result of apathy, as detailed above.

The most heartening thing about the results for the neutral is that it shows the parties other than the main two continuing to gain support. While the possibility of proportional representation being introduced by either Labour or the Tories is almost unthinkable, it shows just how badly such a system is needed. What should be encouraging is the way that a hung parliament, leading to a possible Tory-Lib Dem coalition could bring about just that. Until electoral reform is tackled, a large number of the British population will continue to be disenfranchised. It can't come soon enough.

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Thursday, June 29, 2006 

A bizarre coincidence.

Yesterday John Reid announced that the post of chief inspector of prisons, currently held by Anne Owers, is to be abolished in March 2008.

Today Mr Justice Keith presented his damning findings on the murder of Zahid Mubarek, killed by his white racist cellmate. Keith found a shocking 186 failures that led to Robert Stewart being able to attack Mubarek, who was to be released the next day from Feltham young offenders' institution.

Sometimes there are just no words to describe the way you feel.

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Don't you just love being in control?

The government knew full well that it was coming. It knew almost from the moment that the control orders were given royal assent that they would be found incompatible with the Human Rights Act. Liberty, the Tories and lawyers all warned them. They went ahead regardless, and then yesterday and today have the temerity to once again blame the judges.

John Reid went in at full pelt, as you might expect, "strongly disagreeing" with the decision of Mr Justice Sullivan. Control orders, according to Reid, "are necessary to protect the public and proportionate to the threat that these individuals pose." The normally sane Labour MP John Denham, who resigned from the a ministerial position over the Iraq war, said that judges have sparked a "constitutional crisis", and added that "we have got to have a serious discussion between lawmakers in parliament, ministers and judges about the way through here."

Yet you can imagine the cries of certain members of the media if the judges got a hand in deciding policy, especially as some already view them as "soft". There is no reason for judges to be involved if the government properly consults before-hand, takes on board the views of lawyers, which considering the fact that there's a fair number in the cabinet shouldn't be too hard, and then legislates accordingly. Yet this still doesn't happen.

The whole issue over control orders has still not even been properly discussed. In the case yesterday, it involved 6 men, 5 of whom were Iraqi and one of whom was of either Iranian or Iraqi origin. All the men were arrested under the anti-terrorism act, and then later released without charge, only to be then held immigrations laws, likely to be deported under the "not conducive to the public good rule". Once it was discovered that they could not be deported back to Iraq or Iran, they were placed under the control orders.

If these men are such a threat to society, why were they not initially charged when they were arrested? Was there a lack of evidence, or was that evidence obtained via wire tapping, something which MI5 is still refusing to allow to be used in court, despite the recent use of bugs and listening devices in the on-going case against the men who discussed bombing the Ministry of Sound nightclub in London. Such tapes were not only played in court, but also given to the media in full. Is the intelligence on these men so top secret that it can't be disclosed, or gathered in such a way that it would expose the person who did so? The problem with this now is that we've seen in the last month what poor intelligence can lead to - and it doesn't inspire confidence that these men may be being held on incredibly flimsy information.

I have yet to hear a convincing reason, or even a reason from a minister on why these men on control orders or waiting to be deported for alleged links to terrorist groups or acts of terrorism cannot be tried in this country. Is it because it's just easier to get rid of them rather than go through the whole possibility of a trial failing, as it did in the case of the so-called ricin plotters? The men accused who were acquitted are now set to be deported, although whether they will be or not remains to be seen. Is it because it would expose MI5 officers and suppliers of intelligence to do so? If that is the case, then why can't the whole trial be held in secret, if necessary with just a judge, with the outcome then being given to the media once the trial has finished, along with all the evidence and countering arguments made, some blanked-out and protected if it needs to be? That seems a much better option than the current system of making men prisoners in their own homes, with contact with the outside being as minimal as the authorities would allow, with all visitors having to provide exactly when they would be visiting and what for. Even then their conversations would no doubt be taped. Their families are under the same conditions.

There is no doubting that there are men in this country who are plotting further terrorist atrocities. Yet the response from the government has been out of all proportion from the beginning; the original holding of prisoners without charge in Belmarsh applied only to foreign nationals, when it was home-grown militants who attacked London on 7/7. It also put Britain in the unenviable position of being next to the United States in locking up terrorist suspects without charge or trial. When that was rightly struck down by the courts, control orders were the answer, despite everyone warning that they too would do more harm than good. So it has been proved. After 7/7 we returned to the draconian measure of 90 days possible detention without charge or trial, and even then the police said they'd like to have even longer. We're now threatening to deport those "who are not conducive to the public good" back to their home nation, whether they are likely to be tortured or not. A piece of paper that says the likes of Algeria or Jordan won't isn't worth the paper it's written on. Yet recently two detainees awaiting deportation gave up their fight and elected to take their chances back home.
Doesn't that say something about British justice and the effect that this Kafkaesque system is having on anyone seen as a potential threat?

The government could still change all this. It could devise a way that these men could be brought to trial that all could agree on and that doesn't break the vital Human Rights Act. It could instead of appealing against Mr Justice Sullivan's verdict start doing this immediately with the help of the Tories, Lib Dems and eminent lawyers. Instead it's continuing with its sure to fail quick fixes, same as always. The tabloids will scream, the government will react, and we'll be back where we started. Just don't say we didn't warn you when it happens again.

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Skull rape.

I don't check the comments on old posts very often. Hence how I missed up to now this gem on an old post on a school putting a CCTV system in the toilet:

are u kidding? respect yer students and theyll respect u?
u ever taught in a skool?

our skool has cctv in the loos and no-one complains. weird comments u make, mate.

when yer daughter or son gets skull raped in a school toilet then set alight maybe you'll think different.

I'm not sure what skull rape involves, and I'm not sure I want to know, but thanks to Anonymous anyway.

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Wednesday, June 28, 2006 

Ex-MI6 officer arrested over leaked lists of current agents.

The infamous lists of MI6 officers, long leaked onto the internet have been confirmed as real, in case anyone had any doubts. Richard Tomlinson, the ex-MI6 officer who was imprisoned for attempting to publish a biography on his career, was arrested in France yesterday and accused of publishing the lists, which he vehemently denies. He details the raid on his blog:

From 0627 until 1030, they thoroughly searched my house and confiscated my main computer, my laptop, my Psion organiser, my mobile phone, the brand new laptop of a friend who had unfortunately left it at my house for a few days, all my legal documents concerning my long battle with MI6, all my CDs (including software CDs), all my photographs, my camera, several books, and numerous other small items. They left my house as tidy as it was before they came - not like the Italian Police.

They then escorted me to my boat, and searched that. This really was a bit ridiculous - if I wanted to hide something on my boat, they would not find it in a week of searching - there are so many places to hide stuff in a sailing boat.


I was then taken for interview, and learnt for the first time the charges against me. Apparently, MI6 believe that I am responsible for publishing three lists of MI6 agents on the Internet. These allegedly first appeared on the newsgroup uk.politics.misc in 2005, and then appeared again on The police allowed me to take notes from the interrogation sheet, though I was not allowed to keep a copy.

The three lists were posted on uk.politics,misc:

1. 1322 on 21 August 2005, by "John J", email
2. 0930 on 27 August 2005, by "Todor Velichkov"
3. 1024 on 13 October 2005, by "Alan Bond",

I have absolutely nothing to do with the publication of these lists. The British police would not let me see the lists to discuss in detail, but they agreed that the lists were genuine. This in itself is a fairly astonishing admission - the only people who can verify that the lists are genuine are the British authorities themselves. They obviously think that this is worth doing, if it gives them a chance to harass me and take all my computers from me, knowing what difficulty and expense this will cause me.

Anyway, I was questioned until about 2130, then formally released from "garde en vue" at about 2200.
The lists themselves are still freely available on Cryptome, itself visited by the FBI on behalf of Her Majesty's Government, and Private Eye mentioned them earlier this year in connection with the allegations made by some Greek citizens that they were beaten in the presence of British intelligence officers, one of whom is alleged to be Nicholas Langham, the MI6 station chief in Athens at the time.

Tomlinson deserves support, although whether he's done exactly what those making accusations against him wanted by now commenting on the lists and tracking them down himself is worrying.

Update: Both Richard Norton-Taylor, the Guardian's excellent security affairs correspondent and Tomlinson himself are now casting doubt on the veracity of the lists.

Tomlinson writes:
Personally, I am not sure at all that they are genuine. For example, at the bottom of the "John Jo" list there is a section entitled "HM Ambassadors", followed by a list of more names. Now as far as I can see, all of those names are genuine members of the Foreign Office and not at all members of MI6. When I was in MI6, no MI6 officer was ever promoted to the rank of Ambassador (except on one very rare exception). So unless the rules were changed radically after I left, then this seems very odd.

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Tuesday, June 27, 2006 

When politicians attack: Clarke bites the hand that feeds.

There's a strange thing that happens when ministers resign or are fired from the government. They suddenly become human again. Instead of walking around bleating out slogans and the government line like daleks, they often turn into someone you might even not mind spending some time with. Watching the Daily Politics or Question Time, they often turn up and whether you agree with their politics or not, they seem amiable enough. If only the ministers themselves were like that.

Which brings us to Charles Clarke. Here was a man who entered the Home Office after the years of judge-baiting by David Blunkett, himself brought down by the tabloids who he had got into bed with. For a while he seemed like he was going to be different. After 7/7, he promised that he would keep in contact with his shadow home secretaries so that they could reach a consensus on any new laws following the attacks. This was thrown out of the window by Blair himself while Clarke was on holiday, with his "the rules of the game are changing" speech, itself a reaction to a campaign by the Sun which seemed to think that the whole country was going to collapse because the politicians were away on holiday. Throughout the battle over the 90 days detention issue, Clarke repeatedly held out on a olive branch to the opposition parties who opposed his plans, only for Blair to again bring him to heel. As a result, the government suffered its first loss. Clarke and the police rather than Blair got the blame.

It was the start of the slide. This year Clarke went from bad move to bad move, first being incredibly rude to Rachel North's father when he tried to speak to him, then making a speech attacking the Guardian and Independent for daring to suggest that the government was diluting ancient liberties and become more and more authoritarian. Within days the foreign prisoner scandal had broken, and while Clarke seemed to weather the storm and face the criticism, the Labour local election results were so bad that Blair sacked him. Embittered, Clarke refused any job other than foreign secretary, which wasn't offered. He went to the backbenches.

And from there he seems to have been quietly seething. Two months on, and he's emerged to give his first major interviews, as well as making a speech defending his stewardship of the Home Office. On Newsnight he seemed neither anxious to precipitate a "Geoffrey Howe" moment, the speech by Thatcher's ex-foreign secretary which brought about her downfall, but neither was he particularly praiseworthy. Rather, he seemed demoralisingly angry about the job done since his removal by his successor, John Reid, who he launched a number of attacks on.

INT When you left the Home Office, when you cleared your desk, did you think you were leaving a department that was unfit for purpose?

CC No I didn’t. I thought that was absolutely not the case.

INT John Reid was absolutely clear, wasn’t he, that this was a department that was unfit for purpose, your leadership was incoherent and there was a failure to ensure accountability. He was talking about what you'd done.

CC Er…. Let’s… I think John was wrong to say that.

INT Do you feel hurt about the way John Reid described the Department personally?

CC No, I don’t feel that. I think he came in as every incoming Secretary of State is entitled to do and said it as he saw it. It’s just that I don’t agree with his analysis of what he saw ...

The overall picture of a department not fit for purpose in any of the respects he described I think is and was fundamentally wrong, and I think John was wrong to use those descriptions as I told him before he gave evidence to the select committee.

INT The criticism is that you were unwilling to carry out that wholesale transformation.

CC Well if that was his criticism, and by the way I’m not sure that’s what he meant by it, but let’s assume it was, it certainly is not true.

INT He upset some members of the judiciary when he questioned the sentence of a paedophile by a judge. Is that something that you would have done?

CC Decisions are taken by parts of the Criminal Justice System which the Home Secretary of the day is routinely asked to comment on and either criticise or support. I made it my practice not to do that.

INT Having ruffled the feathers of the judiciary, Dr Reid then found himself criticised by the police - this time for appearing to respond to a News of the World campaign by asking for a new assessment of the law the tabloid demanded. The paper wanted legislation allowing public information on where convicted paedophiles live.

CC I don’t know if his timing was influenced by the News of the World campaign or not. I haven’t spoken to him about it so I can’t tell you. If it was then I would criticise it. I don’t think that’s the right thing to do.

INT There’s always a pressure, isn’t there, from the media, the media will always be on the Home Secretary’s back.

CC ... the Home Secretary of the day should not simply be running on the band wagon of some particular media campaign...

INT Last week, John Reid announced that his predecessor’s carefully negotiated plans to restructure the police in England were being put on hold.

CC I regret that John has decided not to proceed with the orders before Parliament for four of the regions of the country forces that we propose.
In other words, Clarke seems to disagree with almost every major policy undertaking or action that Reid has decided upon since he has become Home Secretary. What's remarkable about the attack is that Clarke and Reid are, or were, ardent Blairites, dedicated to the cause of furthering New Labour. When Blair was thinking of throwing in the towel in 2004, it was the likes of Tessa Jowell, Hazel Blears, Reid and Clarke that persuaded him to stay on. For there to be such a major disagreement with the main running of the Home Office since Clarke's sacking is the first sign that the consensus between the Blairites themselves is beginning to break down. Of course, this might simply be Clarke trying to get some sympathy and recognition of the difficult job that he had. The Sun, which loves Reid's immediate capitulation to any campaign which they or their sister paper decides to run, has today described his attack as "sour". No doubt that reflects the mood in Downing Street, which has simply said that Clarke was "expressing his disappointment".

Yet inside they must be cringing. While Clarke was much less harsh on Blair, who he still believes should serve until 2008, he didn't put his complete faith in him either.

Today if we look at the Labour Party generally there is a sense of uncertainty about the direction we are going to follow and we have to recover that. My preferred option has been and remains that Tony Blair stays as leader and Prime Minister to complete the execution of the manifesto upon which he was elected in 2005 and then hands over to a new leader who would prepare the manifesto for 2009-10. That is the logic of his statement before the last election.

“The logic of him carrying through the manifesto would point to 2008, as I have always said. I do think there is a sense of Tony having lost his sense of purpose and direction, so my advice to him is to recover that sense of purpose and direction and that remains the best option. I intend between now and the party conference to say things about the future of the party, which would be about what I think that sense of purpose and direction should be.
The horrible thing that must be worrying Blair's sycophants and acolytes is that Clarke is entirely right. Is there a more despicable sight than Blair, after almost 9 years in office, finally deciding that there should be a "open debate about where we go next"? Even then the open debate is false. Blair makes clear which way he believes that the party should go - and there's no chance that he'll let anyone alter that, or that when Gordon Brown takes over that he'll change direction. Blair lost his sense of direction when he decided to join the United States in a war which was unnecessary, illegal and which we had no need to participate in. His purpose went even earlier than that, when he dedicated the Labour party to further privatisation and the establishment of the mantra of "choice", which has become a hideous distraction which no one other than the Labour party and private companies profiting out of it are interested in. In riding the Murdoch and Rothermere tiger, he's removed central liberties, became even tougher on crime, only for the fear of it to continue rising with prisons full, and he still thinks he hasn't gone far enough. Only an extension of summary powers will sort out the mess of our streets, with all the ugly connotations that carries with it.

The solution should be obvious to everyone, but hardly anyone in the Labour party wants to face up to it. No one can stand the main Blairites any longer. Most people when they hear the voice of Jowell, Hewitt, Reid or Blears reach for the sick bag. The public at large seem to have little more respect for Brown, especially as he seems determined to make himself a laughing stock with his attempts at appearing "with it", by watching the football and listening to the Arctic Monkeys, as Jackie Ashley wrote yesterday. All it does is make him look like he's going through a mid-life crisis. Brown needs time for him to establish himself as the next leader, if he does one day finally become prime minister. Yet before that there needs to be a debate, if not a contest over where Labour is going. The Blairites and their message has failed. They have to go, and very quickly if Labour is not to find itself out of power. Brown has to heed that message and come up with some decent alternative policies if he is not going to just be the PM until Cameron restores the Conservatives as the "natural party of government". It's often forgotten, but Labour under Brown would still be better than the Tories, especially when Cameron is dedicated to the same quick fix solutions that Blair has been, with his wheeze about a Bill of Rights designed purely to win support from the Sun. At the moment many seem to assume we're either heading for a Tory government or a hung parliament. Brown can still change that.

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Monday, June 26, 2006 

News of the Screws and Sun pay Ashley Cole £100,000 over "gay orgy" claims.

Well, who would have thought it? Despite the Daily Star apologising months back and no doubt saving itself a hefty amount in damages, the Sun and Screws decided against doing so, only to now have to pay Cole £100,000.

The difference with the case is that Cole was never actually directly named by the articles in the Screws and the Sun until he started legal proceedings. The original stories, over two weeks in the Screws, did however drop hints while coyly describing those involved as "two Premiership footballers and a well-known DJ", who had allegedly indulged in gay sex acts, using a mobile phone. The name of the other footballer supposedly involved has never come out. Cole's however did, especially when the Sun ran an obviously suggestive headline, "Ashley's got a good taste in rings", a non-story about his engagement to gorgeous pouting hideously tattooed wasp chewer Cheryl Tweedy, and when the website uncovered the un-digitally altered photograph, which clearly showed Cole and DJ Ian Thompson, aka Masterstepz.

At the time the printing of the articles seemed like an incredibly stupid decision, purely on the basis that England were in the World Cup and any stories about those who were going to play in it that were negative were unlikely to go down well with patriotic readers. That the Screws then only alluded to those involved when it obviously knew full well who it was was a typical piece of tabloid cowardice. There'd rather smear people who are entirely innocent of any of their allegations and worry about the consequences later, as has been evidenced over a number of years.

What remains to be seen now is whether Smears International try and recoup some of their losses by attempting a claim against PinkNews, which did the most "damage" to their stories, or rather, published what they were too cowardly to. They might try attempting to claim that the original reports were not about Cole, although proving that will for obvious reasons be difficult. The editors might instead have to live this one down, and no doubt face the wrath of Murdoch for wasting his money. That makes two footballers that the Sun has had to grovel to in recent months, after it wrongly claimed Rooney had hit his girlfriend. Whether Sven will have similar luck with his legal action against the Screws over his encounter with the fake sheikh remains to be seen.

A new reader writes: Who is this "fake sheikh", and do you happen to have any photographs of this clearly brilliant journalist who managed such a tremendous scoop?

Well, a new reader, his name is Mahzer Mahmood, although whether that's his real name or not is unclear. He also at times goes by the moniker Pervaiz Khan, and here are a couple of snaps from his otherwise threadbare family album:

In another tabloid triumph, the Observer reported yesterday that the removal of sex offenders and paedophiles from hostels close to schools was something approaching a disaster. John Reid acted, entirely of his own volition, after the News of the Screws told him it was about to go to print exposing 11 such hostels as containing paedophiles, as well as naming the locations. Reid instead groveled, had the offenders removed, and promised the Screws that he was going to have a good old think about introducing "Sarah's Law", honest guv. Apparently the offenders moved are now under far less supervision and some are being held in bed and breakfast accommodation, which is clearly a good idea. Many homeless families are usually put in the same places when there is nowhere else for them to go, so instead of looking over into the playground they'll be able to... well, it doesn't bear thinking about. Congratulations then to the fearless protectors of children at Wapping!

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Saturday, June 24, 2006 

Criminal justice.

I posted this as a comment yesterday on the Comment is Free site. This is a slightly revised version.

Blair's speech, which is worth reading in full, is a lot better than he'll probably be given credit for. Yet nowhere in it, despite all his talk of the civil liberties and human rights of the victim and rebalancing does he talk about the presumption of innocence. The one right which a lot of people would consider to be absolutely inalienable is to be innocent until proved guilty. Nowhere does Blair state that he agrees with this. That is the problem with the proposed increase in summary justice and interim anti-social behaviour orders; the use of which will no doubt soon be given to the usual suspects, whether they actually are committing the supposed offences or not. Once you've been fingered, it leaves the problem that you become known, and it's far easier to go after them.

Take the story I was told today: A friend of mine who works on a market stall has a son who's known to the police. His son smokes, and there's very little that he can do to stop him from doing so. A police car drove by his son and saw him smoking, and as they know he's 15, the officer jumped out and ordered the teenager to give him the tobacco. He threw it to a friend who is over 16, but the police officer was having none of it. He grabbed the 15-year-old, and put his arm behind his back. The boy proceeded to tell him to get off and told him to "fuck off". The officer said right, that's disorder, you're under arrest. He kneed the teenager in the back of his legs to put him to ground and cuff him, but kept holding his arm. The result? The officer broke the boy's arm around the elbow, and he's had to have pins put in to correct the break. All because the person in question, who was minding his own business, was "known". Somehow I think that the police have a lot more important things to be doing than trying to stop 15-year-olds smoking.

Anyway, I digress. Blair's speech is delivered in the usual way in that what he says is so compelling and seems balanced and right that it's difficult to disagree with. Yet while he makes some welcome points about easy solutions, such as those advocated by the Sun, the repeal of the Human Rights Act, naming, shaming and blaming judges as completely missing the point, he only recognises the instances in which the current ASB legislation has worked. He doesn't admit to the sufferers of mental illness and behavioural problems who have been criminalised, the beggars and prostitutes served them that have done nothing illegal. And he goes back to his age-old excuse of blaming the opposition and those who have dared to "water down" his legislation, when all they've done is do exactly what their job is; to review legislation and stop the government of the day from abusing their powers.

Most people recognise that there are problems with drug dealers and crack houses, and few people have disagreed with those parts of the legislation which have gone through. Yet the emphasis on "shaming", which itself is part of the tabloid agenda he rejects is nearly always counter-productive. Where local police forces, like Thames Valley introduced softly-softly approaches to crimes such as shoplifting, where they made offenders meet managers of supermarkets, they are criticised for being politically correct by the same newspapers that Blair does so much to woo. As a result the shops themselves introduced civil recovery schemes, demanding huge sums from those who stole in the first place because they have little money or other problems. The likes of Tesco demanding money in the regions of hundreds of pounds from teenagers who stole a couple of chocolate bars isn't decried as greed. It's rather common sense.

Blair points out that those with drug problems and mental health problems litter our prisons. Yet he doesn't suggest that prison isn't the best place for them, and that more secure hospitals should perhaps be built to house them instead. While drug treatment programmes have admirably been much better funded in recent years, more still needs to be done. Blair's point that they need to made compulsory and with repercussions if they're broken is welcome, but there need need to be as many carrots as there are sticks. As for those with mental ill health, he seems more likely to bow to the tabloids and build yet more prisons. He talks of the voluntary sector being given more involvement in the probation system, without mentioning the attempt by Charles Clarke to privatise that exact system, which would have left companies deciding whether it should keep offenders in prisons run by themselves for profit. There is no acknowledgement of the conflict of interest in such a scheme, which still has not been ruled as dead.

He deserves to be listened to. He makes some salient points. But while he continues to criticise those who suggest that we should stand back, let the current reforms to the system settle and become more rational about the debate on crime, he continues to play to those who he denies pandering to: the hysterical tabloid press. Blair's allegiance to Murdoch is going to end in tears, but he can't accept that inevitability yet. His moves should be seen in that light, and the most objectionable should be rightly rejected.

Other posts on same subject:
Tales from the real world - Big Stick Small Carrot
A decent (*shock*) article by Martin Kettle
The Great Law 'n' Order Debate - Lenin's Tomb

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Friday, June 23, 2006 

A troubling survey.

There's a deeply troubling and depressing survey reported on by the Guardian today. The Pew Global Attitudes Project surveyed both Muslims and non-Muslims across the globe. It suggests that British Muslims are the most anti-western in Europe.

The poll found that 63% of all Britons had a favourable opinion of Muslims, down slightly from 67% in 2004, suggesting last year's London bombings did not trigger a significant rise in prejudice. Attitudes in Britain were more positive than in the US, Germany and Spain (where the popularity of Muslims has plummeted to 29%), and about the same as in France.

Less than a third of British non-Muslims said they viewed Muslims as violent, significantly fewer than non-Muslims in Spain (60%), Germany (52%), the US (45%) and France (41%).

By contrast, the poll found that British Muslims represented a "notable exception" in Europe, with far more negative views of westerners than Islamic minorities elsewhere on the continent. A significant majority viewed western populations as selfish, arrogant, greedy and immoral. Just over half said westerners were violent. While the overwhelming majority of European Muslims said westerners were respectful of women, fewer than half British Muslims agreed. Another startling result found that only 32% of Muslims in Britain had a favourable opinion of Jews, compared with 71% of French Muslims.

Across the board, Muslim attitudes in Britain more resembled public opinion in Islamic countries in the Middle East and Asia than elsewhere in Europe. And on the whole, British Muslims were more pessimistic than those in Germany, France and Spain about the feasibility of living in a modern society while remaining devout.

The Pew poll found that British Muslims are far more likely than their European counterparts to harbour conspiracy theories about the September 11 attacks. Only 17% believed that Arabs were involved, compared with 48% in France.

There was general agreement that relations are bad, but Britons as a whole were much less likely than other Europeans to blame Muslims. More Britons faulted westerners (27%) than Muslims (25%), with a third saying both are equally responsible. British Muslims were less ambivalent. Nearly half blamed westerners. By comparison, in Germany and France both communities blamed each other in roughly equal measure.

Unlike the rest of Europe, a majority of Britons declared themselves sympathetic to Muslims offended by the cartoons of the prophet Muhammad published in the European press last year. But most Britons said the outbreak of violence was the result of Muslim intolerance for western freedom of expression. Only 9% of British Muslims agreed with that view. Nearly three-quarters blamed the controversy on western disrespect of Islam.
That so many Britons still have a good view of Muslims is reassuring, especially in a climate which has at times been oppressive, in particular following the 7/7 attacks and the government's campaign for terrorist suspects to be held for up to 90 days without charge. Both Britons and British Muslims are pessimistic about relations between each other, as 28% of Britons think relations between Westerners and Muslims are generally good, with 61% thinking them generally bad. 23% of British Muslims think relations are good, compared to 62% who think relations are generally bad.

What's most worrying is that even after 7/7, (15% sometimes, 9% rarely) 24% of British Muslims still think suicide attacks are in some way justifiable against civilian targets. This won't have been helped in recent weeks by the likes of George Galloway saying that an Iraqi carrying out a suicide attack on Tony Blair could be morally justifiable. This doesn't necessarily mean that they support such attacks here in Britain, but they may do in Israel. British Muslims are also most likely to see unpleasant traits in people in Western countries, such as being selfish, arrogant and violent. By contrast, non-Muslims in Britain are at the bottom in the survey for seeing Muslims as fanatical and violent among countries in Europe, and Germany is the only country below Britain where non-Muslims see Muslims as arrogant. A shockingly low figure, 17% said that the 9/11 attacks were carried out by Arabs, compared to 56% who disagreed. Conspiracy theory seems to abounding among Muslims, the reasons for which aren't clear.

Some of these feelings among British Muslims will no doubt have been aroused by the fact that the UK was the main coalition partner in launching the Iraq war. The 90 days distraction of last year was also likely to have affected relations. Even so, in Spain, which was also part of the "coalition of the willing", Muslims were much more optimistic about relations, and saw westerners as being much more respecting of women. 71% of Spanish Muslims saw no conflict between being devout and living in a modern society, compared to 49% in Britian, where Muslims were almost evenly split on the issue (47% saw a conflict.)

What is to be done? To start with, there needs to be a re-opening of government talks between the chief Muslim organisations, over all aspects of the policies affecting them, especially the police in the aftermath of the Forest Gate fiasco. Such talks should be transparent and transcripts should be placed in the public domain. Both the government and the media need to listen more to what Muslims are saying, and what they're worrying about. At the moment there's an obvious disconnect and a thinking within the Muslim community that they are dismissed as terrorists and fanatical. This survey shows that the majority of the British public clearly do not see them as such. Whether the police do is a different matter.

However, such a dialogue cannot be one-sided. Muslims need to explain why almost a quarter of them think that suicide bombings against civilians can be justified. Britain is not Israel, and London is not the West Bank. Even there suicide bombings can only be barely justified as legitimate resistance against the occupying troops, and even that is a hugely counter-productive and wrong way to go about things. What is so bad about living in Britain that such actions would be necessary or justified? Why are so few prepared to admit that the 9/11 attackers were Arabs? There's a difference between thinking that more could have be done to prevent those attacks and thinking that Mossad did it, or that it was an inside job. The poisonous falsehood that Israelis were warned not to go to work at the twin towers on that day still seems to have quite a grasp on British Muslims. We need answers. While the likes of Melanie Philips and her acolytes seem to think that all Muslims view themselves as "victims" of western foreign policy, this survey tends to suggest that some do think that way. Such views need challenging, especially by the Muslim organisations which are springing up to speak for them. It is down to them to do so, not for the government.

The survey suggests that things are not as bad as the doom-mongers would have us believe, but they are neither as rosy as those on the other end of the debate would like to think. There's a disconnect between the two communities. Whether this is down to the increasing segregation amongst Muslims and non-Muslims, the increase of religious schools, the hatred of the likes of the BNP or simply a divergence of opinion between the two groups, something has to be done if things are not to get worse. Unless we all try our best to find out why things have reached the stage they have, then multiculturalism might yet fail. We have to stop that from happening.

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Thursday, June 22, 2006 

Nuking the "debate".

There's something deeply unpleasant and undemocratic about the way in which Gordon Brown last night more or less said that he supports the replacement of the trident nuclear missile system, or rather in the Newspeak type way in which it is referred to, as "our nuclear deterrent". It says something that rather than expressing his views in an interview, say with a newspaper, or actually in parliament, that he decides that the best place to announce his intentions once he becomes prime minister is in front of a gathering of London businessmen in Mansion House. Not that he actually devoted the speech to his reasons why the British government should write a cheque for up to £25bn for something we'll never use. He starts with a few words about the 7/7 attacks, before reeling off the usual amount of economic guff that his speeches are peppered with. Here's what he said that's relevant:

And I mean not just stability by securing low inflation but stability in our industrial relations, stability through a stable and competitive tax regime, and stability through a predictable and light touch regulatory environment - a stability founded on our strength to make the right long term decisions, the same strength of national purpose we will demonstrate in protecting our security in this Parliament and the long-term - strong in defence in fighting terrorism, upholding NATO, supporting our armed forces at home and abroad, and retaining our independent nuclear deterrent.

In an insecure world we must and will always have the strength to take all necessary long term decisions for stability and security.
6 words then, but six which have predictably caused a storm among the "Labour left", as the Times puts it on its front page. That the Times leads on it itself speaks volumes, as Brown's speech is part of his continuing fawning attempts to woo the Murdoch tiger. You can imagine the outrage of the Sun (Kelvin MacKenzie let the cat out of the bag earlier in the week when he rather absentmindedly said on Newsnight that Rebekah Wade and Brown had recently shared dinner.) if Brown dared even to think that it might be worth waiting a little longer to see if any credible "state" enemy emerges on the scale of the Soviet Union - after all, while the decision supposedly has to be made in this parliament, the submarine system itself isn't scheduled to become the name of this blog until 2024. 18 years is a long time in politics. No, the decision is urgent because it concerns our "stability" and "security".

Like Blair did in front of the CBI just over a month ago, when he said that "nuclear was back with a vengeance", which conjured up visions of Bruce Willis killing terrorists daring to disagree with the concept of nuclear power, what Brown said amounts to pre-emptively dismissing the supposed debate which is meant to occur on the issue. While the Guardian leader talks about being politically naive, it itself is being naive when it states:

This is a big decision. It needs time. It needs debate. And it needs honesty.
All of which are things that those who are in thrall of US power will never allow it to become. While the argument being articulated by those in complete opposition to Trident is that it sends a message to the likes of Iran that while it's perfectly OK for us to upgrade and replace our nukes, the likes of you can't even have them to begin with is reasonably sound and has a point, something few still seem to question is in what situation would we ever use the missiles unless the US ordered us to, or unless we asked the US's permission first. What threat would emerge that threatens us, but not the United States? Aren't we still interdependent, despite the end of the cold war and 20th-century military strategy? In other words, what point do the missiles serve, except looking all shiny and nice and making us look bigger on the world stage than we deserve to? At the amount they cost, they're a hugely expensive way to secure our stability and security.

Not that the government is averse to spending huge amounts of money which will do little to secure our stability and security. In the other Guardian leader of the day, it highlights that ID cards might cost £10bn or even £20bn. That was a decision that was rammed through the House of Commons and House of Lords, which admirably made a stand until it reached a feeble compromise. In the resulting fued triggered by Brown's remarks, Jack Straw has stepped in and pledged that there will be a white paper. Apparently the House of Commons will be shown "proper respect", although what that means is anyone's guess, as Straw stopped short of promising a vote on the matter.

If there's one thing that isn't naive, it's believing that Brown's political ambition knows no limits. The decision has already been made. Thinking anything else is foolish.

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Wednesday, June 21, 2006 

Mail-watch: The hounding of Colin Stagg.

For years, the Daily Mail suggested that the murderer of Rachel Nickell was Colin Stagg. Stagg, who was tried once for the crime, had no forensic evidence linking him to her murder. He was flagged up as a potential suspect because he matched the psychological profile of her killer that esteemed forensic psychologist Paul Britton had drawn up. (Britton is supposedly the man on whom the criminal profiler Fitz in the ITV series Cracker was based on.) To try to trap Stagg, the police, in consultation with Britton, set up a plot involving a female police officer. She offered Stagg friendship and sex, hoping that he would reveal the sexual traits that Britton thought that the suspect had. Instead Stagg throughout the operation denied involvement in the crime, and did nothing to suggest that he was "deviant" in any way. So desperate were the police that the woman recorded a tape in which, on orders of other officers, she fantasised about being dominated, and even using a knife in apparent sex sessions she was promising. The judge in the case, Mr Justice Ognall, called it the "most vivid illustration of shaping the accused's mind".

Instead of accepting that Stagg was not the killer, the paper continued to lead a low-level campaign for the law against double jeopardy to be changed, so that Stagg could be tried again. In October 1996, the Mail published an article by Chester Stern, a former Scotland Yard press officer, based around quotations from supposed evidence that the police would have used against Stagg, had his trial not been stopped at an early stage by the judge. Another article in the same month, with more of the same, added that "Stagg cannot stand trial for Rachel's murder again, even if new evidence came to light which incriminated him". Four years later in July 2000, the Mail printed another series of articles about Nickell's murder. These were based on a book by Keith Pedder, the detective inspector who led the murder inquiry. Pedder's book is based around the premise that Colin Stagg "got away with murder", and appears to be have been revised at least once since then. Another year went by, and the Mail then carried an interview with Nickell's former boyfriend. He desperately wanted the government to abolish the double jeopardy law. This is just a selection of the most damning articles; no doubt there were others, including opinion pieces, which made similar allegations or insinuations against Stagg.

Today the Mail appears to be running an exclusive interview with Stagg, as it turns out that a Broadmoor inmate is now being questioned over Rachel's murder. The man, if it turns out to be the same one who has been previously fingered, was first accused of being her murderer back in 1995 by err, the Daily Mail. When he was sent to Broadmoor, the next day's Mail led with "DID HE KILL RACHEL TOO?". Is there an apology in the article then, from the interviewer that the Daily Mail likely got it horribly wrong for over ten years? Err, no. Stagg does however intend to claim damages from the police for his treatment. He might want to look back over past issues of the Mail and consider whether he has grounds against them, and indeed Pedder, to sue for either defamation of character or libel.

(This post couldn't have been written without Private Eye 1120, once again showing the Eye's record in campaigning for the victims of miscarriages of justice. Thanks to them for the sources, and the new issue is out today. Go buy it.)

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Tuesday, June 20, 2006 

Welcome to paedogeddon.

Back in those halcyon days of 2001 before the whole world fell apart, the spoof documentary show Brass Eye returned for a one-off special dealing with paedophilia and the media hysteria surrounding it. In 2000 the "newspaper" the News of the World, alongside its campaign for a law to be drawn up allowing parents to be informed when a sex offender moved into their area, "named and shamed" known paedophiles. The government at the time managed to persuade the newspaper that such methods were counter-productive. While the satire in the resultant show, obviously influenced by the hysteria of the Screws was a lot broader and less humourous than that which had been in the previous series shown in 1997, it resulted in a predictable furore, which was what the makers of the show knew would happen and wanted. Ministers queued up to denounce the show despite not watching it (Home Secretary David Blunkett criticised it, despite definitely not being able to view it) and even the Guardian suggested that the show had gone too far.

5 years later, and we've learned nothing. Following last week's attacks on judges in the Sun newspaper, and the resultant anger after a judge followed the "formula" which meant a paedophile who was given a life sentence could be freed after 5 years, John Reid gave in to 6 years of campaigning from the News of the World. Alongside its report that hostels which held offenders near schools were apparently full of slobbering sex offenders waiting to pick up kids on their lunch hour, it showered praise on Reid, who has decided to look into how a "Megan's law" (the campaign for similar legislation in the UK has been renamed Sarah's law, after the schoolgirl, surname Payne, murdered by paedophile Roy Whiting), the legislation enacted in America following the rape and murder of Megan Kanka, would work over here. He's therefore decided to send the prisons minister for a summer holiday (surely fact finding trip? Ed.) to America.

Not all is well though with the government's apparent capitulation to the agenda of certain tabloid newspapers. One brave police officer, the chief constable of Dyfed and Powys, Terry Grange, no doubt soon to be christened as a politically correct lunatic, told Radio 4 that:
"The last three years has been a litany of abandonment of any real strategic design in the Home Office in the management of sex offenders, in favour of trying to find out what one particular tabloid newspaper wants and then complying with their wishes."
Which is a bit over the top. The real rush to find out what the tabloids want has been since the beginning of this year, as scandal after scandal has rocked the Labour party. Grange then added:
"Anybody who has watched the last six months in all forms of the debate on public protection, whether it's our own home-grown criminals, foreign criminals, the immigration and nationality department, sex offenders, violent offender orders - one of my favourite on-the-hoof policies - all brought about by the media putting pressure on the government and the government responding.
He certainly has a point. We only have to look back on the last 2 weeks to witness how the government has responded to a tabloid campaign. With most attention being on the World Cup, there hasn't been much hard political news. In the resultant vacuum, the Sun launched its shameful attacks on judges for being "soft". Just hours after the paper had hit doorsteps across the country, John Reid had decided to write to the Attorney General over the sentence given to Craig Sweeney. It seems unlikely that the two things are unrelated. As the Sun built up the storm further with more outraged and distorted editorials, the reality became clear: that judges are getting harsher, that life sentences are getting longer and that because of the constant crack-downs the prison population is close to bursting point. Despite this, with the News of the World breaking its story that sex offenders were being kept in hostels near schools, John Reid, apparently determined to be the worst in a long line of bad home secretaries, decided that "Sarah's law" is worth a look after all.

All of this is resultant of a constant barrage of tabloid headlines about human rights laws favouring criminals, that our police are in the apparent clutches of a bunch of polticially correct idiots who couldn't run a tap, and that the criminal justice system is collapsing around our eyes. None of which is true, but it sure makes for something to moan about as the red-top tabloids continue to haemorrhage sales. In the last ABC figures, it was only the Sun and Daily Mirror that were losing readers (The Financial Times was also down, but the FT has long sold the majority of its copies outside the UK). Almost every other newspaper for a change had increased its sales. Labour's response to this has not been to criticise the agenda of certain newspapers, or to question whether they're right or not. Instead it has been to take their criticism on board. After all, the tabloids don't just do whatever the editor or proprietor wants; they do what their readers want, and they're reflecting their views. Or that's at least what their argument is. Blair's spokesman, in response to Grange said:
"I'm not aware of the law which says it's wrong to reply to a media organisation's questions... There's nothing wrong in meeting representatives of the press.
Well no, there certainly isn't. It's just strange that after six years of disagreeing with the way the News of the World has demanded that paedophiles be revealed that suddenly John Reid thinks that it might be worth a go. After all, Beverly Hughes back in 2001 said:
it was "unworkable" because "it drives offenders to ground".
80% of sex offenders comply with their orders in the US following Megan's law, compared with 97% in the UK. At the moment, MAPPA, which monitors sex offenders in the community, decides on a case to case basis whether parents and schools should be notified when a sex offender moves into their area. Their hard (and good work, which goes unnoticed, it has to be said) graft is being undermined by ministers who give in to the whims of the tabloids for short-term political gain. This is what Labour is now desperate for. The polls have gone against them in favour of the Tories now for 6 months, and the debacle surrounding the Home Office has been a huge reason for it. The party's response has been to ask a load of leading questions under its hideously monikered "Let's Talk" iniative, handled by the similarly unlikeable Blairite robot Hazel Blears.

There's no doubting that there is public unrest about the criminal justice system in some cases, especially about the foreign criminals wrongly released without being deported. The rules regarding guilty pleas and the resultant reduction in sentences also need to be looked into again. What has been happening instead has been the knee-jerk reactions of a party which is already looking forward to years in opposition, probably to rebrand itself as New New Labour. When a judge breaks his silence to talk openly, itself a very rare occurrence, and is especially forthright about the attacks on his colleagues, by politicians and newspapers alike, there has to be something wrong with the current atmosphere. Everyone needs to step back, examine what will actually work as opposed to being a quick fix that will please newspapers that were formally supporters of the government, and then decide how to proceed. More new laws and more new initiatives will only make the public more cynical, and they will be right to be.

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Monday, June 19, 2006 

Tackling depression.

Richard Layard and the Mental Health Policy group have today published their report on depression. Its main conclusion is that there needs to be a major extension in what are often referred to as "talking therapies", the likes of cognitive behavioural therapy, or in some cases just simply to talking to someone about how the person feels. It estimates that for this to happen in every part of the country, 10,000 more therapists will need to be trained by 2013.

The first point should be that such a major report is welcome. Statistics show that 1 in 4 people during their lifetime will experience a form of mental illness. It of course does not just affect that one person; it can lead to the breakdown of families, the inability to the work, and the effects which one sufferer can inflict on those around him or her. Depression and mental illness is shown to be rising, although whether this is down to better diagnosis, drugs companies coming up with increasing numbers of supposed disorders or to the effects of consumer society could be argued about for hours. What is certain is that mental illness makes people prisoners in their own bodies, affects aspirations, inhibits expectations and can be far more destructive than physical illness can be.

The second is that the actuality of the government supporting this and recognising that mental health is such a problem is unlikely. The fact of the matter is that mental illness just isn't, well, sexy enough. It also can't be treated with a panacea, and there is no sign of any "wonder" drugs that so perk up the tabloids being around the corner. The initial effect of the the emergence of the SSRI class of drugs, of Prozac, that depression could be kept under control just by popping a pill has long since passed, and with it so has the safety of the drugs, especially Seroxat (Paxil). The side-effects, especially the immense difficulty which emerges when people attempt to come off them, have in some cases left the drugs with few people other than the drugs companies continuing to be rapturous about their worth. When it comes down to it, the danger of women losing her life to breast cancer is always going to be the story which leads the newspapers, not that of someone committing suicide, unless they happen to be famous. While the NHS faces huge bills for drugs which are little better than the current ones available, but which have been built up by the media to work "miracles", such as Herceptin, the first services that face the chop in the resultant cutbacks are often those which treat mental illness. Obsolete's local NHS trusts first move to trim its deficit was to cut the cognitive behavioural therapy groups. Even worse, most mental health trusts are already the runts of the litter when it comes to getting funds in the first place.

What needs to happen is a sea change in the attitude towards mental illness, by the media, health professionals, the government, and the public at large. The reaction to when the Sun led its first edition a couple of years back with "BONKERS BRUNO LOCKED UP", has not changed its policies in regarding mental illness more carefully. The likes of Pete in Big Brother, who suffers from Tourettes syndrome, are still alliteratively referred to as "Potty Pete". A Sun leader referred to them as a "house full of loons" and "nuts in may". Doctors, fed up with having to listen to many of those complaining of mental ill-health, have little option other than to prescribe an SSRI and fob them off. Sadly, it isn't their fault. Referrals to psychiatrists, unless the case is urgent, takes longer. Places on CBT groups are even rarer. Perhaps more dangerous though is the sad way in which mental ill-health may well be the last real taboo in British society. Brits have often had problems relating their emotions, and that hasn't changed in the decades since the 60s. Talking to each other, much as we do it about other things, still doesn't extend as much to about how we actually feel. It can be difficult trusting people enough to let them into your mind, but we often feel better for it afterwards. It's through this however that the problems themselves can often be nipped in the bud. We should be quicker to lend an ear, but we should also learn to recognise when things may well be getting serious. There is nothing that substitutes talking to a trained professional. The availability of such rightly needs to be extended quickly.

Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, although those who do suffer often suffer alone. While there will remain no cure-all, and the likes of Polly Toynbee, who is quick to jump on a passing bandwagon, in this case CBT, should be more careful about how much they talk it up, it can be lived with in almost all cases. As well as talking therapies there needs to be more mental hospitals which can handle in-patients in secure accommodation. Those who are severely mental ill are at the moment increasingly locked up in prison, unable to get the treatment they desperately need. The Guardian should also be careful of dismissing the rise of the consumer society and the link with depression, especially in the way it casually quotes a poet and philosopher talking of their own experiences as evidence that depression is not a modern problem. The concept of wage slavery, the problem in modern society of alienation, and the increasing lack of empathy are all precursors to depression and mental ill-health. What now needs to happen though is for a political consensus to emerge; Cameron, with his recent speech on happiness should sign up to the the Policy Group's conclusions. Whatever political party is in power, those who come down with mental illness, or who are born with it through no fault of their own should be able to rely on the services being there to help them. The policy group's recommendations should be just the first step.

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Saturday, June 17, 2006 

Rewarding pure greed.

While the main controversy over the Queen's birthday honours list will be that the police man behind the Forest Gate raid, Andy Hayman, has been awarded a CBE for his response to the 7/7 attacks, there's another two or three awardees that are less than deserving of their relative honours.

Of those, Philip Green is the one that will anger the most. A bald oleaginous cunt of the highest order, he paid himself £1.2 billion last year. Oh, and he paid it to his wife Tina, who lives in Monaco, so he avoided that nasty business of having to pay tax on it. That amounts to more than the 11 million citizens of the African state of Malawi earned last year. Green is spending his money well though, it has to be said. He bought a portrait of fellow entrepreneur, fellow tax dodger and fellow cunt Mohammed Al-Fayed, the one who alleges that MI5 and Prince Philip murdered his son and daughter-in-law to be, who was of course also carrying his grandchild. He also purchased one of Madonna's tasteful gold Versace bags, presumably so when he has sex with his wife he can put it over his head and save her the indignity of looking at his face.

Also awarded a knighthood is Stelios Haji-Ioannou, owner of low cost airgroup EasyJet, and as a result one of the contributors to climate change. At least he was more graceful in accepting it than Green:
"I'm not sure at this stage that I deserve an honour which is usually reserved for those with a lifetime of business achievement," he said, adding that he wanted to accept the award in the spirit of entrepreneurship.

You're right. You don't deserve one.

Finally in the business category, John Sutherland, chairman of Cadbury Schweppes also receives a knighthood. Apart from peddling junk food, Cadbury Schweppes has also been trying its hardest to pay as little tax as possible into the UK's coffers. It took the UK to court over its demand for £8.64m from Cadbury Schweppes subsidiaries in Ireland, and partially won its case. It was also involved in the case of Marks and Spencer, who took the UK to the European court of Justice over not allowing companies to deduct foreign losses from its UK tax bill, something which a small number of other European states allow. Private Eye estimates that the effect of the group litigation orders over the franked investment income tax rules could cost the UK exchequer £5bn, or the equivalent of just slightly less than 4 more Green paychecks. As "Sir" Digby Jones, another knighted pork trougher said of Sutherland:
He has always maintained the Cadbury tradition of balancing business success with social inclusion and corporate responsibility all over the world."

Corporate responsibility in this case translates as giving as little money as possible to the tax authorities, and fighting to get a nice lump sum of it back by suing them later.

As with all honours lists, there's an idiot who shouldn't be getting one who was dreamt up by some civil servant who rather likes him for some odd. Last year it was Gordon Ramsay, the man whose only benefit to society has been the spread of constant swearing (yes, I know this post is rather full of it) and opening shitty restaurants. This time it's Gary Rhodes, another chef, who by coincidence is also a wanker with a suitably big mouth, but with a ludicrous haircut thrown into the mix.

It has to be said that most of the honours do go to the deserving, who have given years of service either to the state or to those around them. It's spoilt by those whose only benefit has been encouraging greed and lethargy.

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Sun-watch: M'luds crack down thanks to us!

The Sun is always quick to claim that it is personally responsible for subsequent changes in the law, or in this case, to seeming harsher sentences by judges following its campaign at the start of the week. As usual, the Sun's claim in the main is nonsense.

The main article highlights the sentencing of the two men who beat Jody Dobrowski to death to a minimum of 28 years in prison before they can be considered for parole - even though both men had already pleaded guilty. What the Sun doesn't mention until the end of the article is that although their guilty plea was taken into consideration, as it was in the cases involving Craig Sweeney and Alan Webster, what was also taken into consideration was that the men had set out to commit a hate crime, as the killing was aggravated by the men's homophobia. Also taken into consideration was the suffering inflicted on Dobrowski, who was beaten so badly that his family could not recognise him. The Sun also makes clear in its article that the judge told them that there was no guarantee they would be released after 28 years. This is in contrast to how they glossed over how the judge in the case of Craig Sweeney told him that it was "unlikely" that he would be released after five years. While the Sun mentions that one witness said that the men had told him that:

“We don’t like poofters here — that’s why we can kill him.”

it doesn't mentioned that they while they were beating Dobrowski to death they had shouted:

fucking queer, bastard, faggot and poof.

Which may be a bit strong for a "family newspaper" that nonetheless prints photographs of lovely ladies in few clothes on its third page with relish.

It does however print the words of Dobrowski's mother Sheri, who said:
Tragically, he will not be the last to suffer the consequences of homophobia in this society. This is unacceptable.”

Quite right. After all, it was only a few months ago that the Sun was talking about rear gunners, limp dems, biting pillows and Simon Hughes hanging around toilets, as they'd found a plaque which stated that Hughes had opened one such brick shithouse. While the Sun's homophobia against men is still there for all to see, they by contrast led with the news that an army lesbian couple were the first of those in the armed forces to get a civil partnership, and who could forget their shameless trouser rustling antics in claiming that two of their page 3 girls had fallen in love? While women being gay is fine, presumably because that's a red-blooded heterosexual male fantasy, men being gay obviously involves biting pillows and hanging around toilets, which isn't so attractive in the Sun's eyes.

The paper additionally doesn't mention that while Dobrowski's family had concerns about the probation and parole system, as two weeks before Jody was killed, another gay man was attacked by the pair. This was while Scott Walker was out on licence. Their attack on Dobrowski occurred the day after Walker's licence expired. Unlike the Sun though, that blames everything and everyone other then the men, such as the judges, the probation service, the human rights act and the politicians, Jody's stepfather said that the blame lay with only two individuals, Walker and Pickford. A shame that such a refreshing statement wasn't mentioned.

The Sun then mentions two other cases that seem rather like a contradiction. While an illegal immigrant who was jailed for six months was recommended to be deported as soon as possible to save on the prison bill to the taxpayers, a man who indecently assaulted a 12-year-old girl in 1970s was sent to prison for 10 months, with the judge saying she felt obliged to jail him because of “current views about sentences”. What purpose is served sending a man who committed a crime such a long time ago at taxypayer's expense to prison for 10 months when he could have been heavily fined or placed on a tough community service order, working to pay back his debt rather than sitting in a cell for 5 months, is not explained. Deporting one man to save costs is therefore marred by another judge not showing mercy when she previously may have done. It's another example of judges being tougher when the topic is being raised by the media and causing controversy with politicians, as has been documented in the past.

Also revealed today is the fact that the actual time being served by lifers today is 50% higher than it was a decade ago, that number given life in the last 10 years has doubled, and that the courts are actually getting tougher. This no doubt will be ignored by the leader writers and populist public protecting crusaders in Wapping.

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Friday, June 16, 2006 

Guess the quote.

"Look at Blair and Reid and how they almost take pride in the rigid populism of their political thought. There is a new and profoundly unpleasant Blair agenda abroad - the Labour party is now increasingly given over to the worst of petty bourgeois sentiments, the thought that there is something clever in cynicism; realistic in selfishness; and the granting of legitimacy to the barbaric idea of the survival of the fittest."

Who do you think? George Galloway? Tony Benn? Some other far-lefty? Well, it's a trick question, as the above is adapted slightly from a real quote. It's taken from a letter sent to Michael Foot in 1982, with Thatcher and Tebbit changed to Blair and Reid, Tory changed to Blair, and then in the following sentence Tory to Labour. The writer of that letter? One Tony Blair.

Elsewhere in the letter, Blair admits to reading Marx, which is something he might not today, especially in the company of his new found friend Silvio Berlusconi, who often accuses judges of being left-wing stooges and communists in disguise, or indeed Dick Cheney or Donald Rumsfeld, who had involvement in the Reagan administration which called the Soviet Union the "evil empire". He castigates Thatcher for visiting economic madness on the country, something he has been happy to further entrench rather than slow. He states that the right wing of the Labour party is politically bankrupt, which certainly hasn't changed since his day. The difference is he's now a part of it. He also admits to being happiest addressing people who don't necessarily agree, but are willing to listen, which pretty much sums up his relationship with the majority of the Labour party. Most of it just hasn't fallen into "introspection", which he accuses the left of doing. Power and being pragmatic, something which he said tainted the right wing, has resulted in the current malaise which the Labour party is in.

Some things don't change though. Blair at the time recognised "in nuclear war we face a greater threat than any of our ancestors". Now he recognises it by sacking Jack Straw who described war with Iran as "inconceivable", and the plan by the US to attack it with nuclear weapons, reported by Seymour Hersh, as "nuts". He also notes that profound problems require profound remedies. Sadly that now means "choice", more privatisation, more reform and a rebalancing of the criminal justice system in favour of the victim, accompanied with a populism and relying on tabloid headlines that would make an 80s Tory blush. As Rudge said, history is just one fucking thing after another. Even back in 82, Blair was already New Labour.

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Sun-watch: Smearing and distorting on a grand scale.

The terror raid on the home of brothers Mohammed Abdul Kahar and Abul Koyair, involving at least 250 police officers, continues to raise as many questions about the media's involvement in the debacle as the police's brutal and cack-handed way of going about things. Since the beginning there has been an almost smear them and think about the consequences later mentality. The Murdoch papers have been at the forefront of this.

The Times on the Saturday alleged that at least one of the brothers had a criminal record. Neither do, although the Sun alleges that one of them committed offences while a juvenile.
On the Sunday following the raid,the News of the World led with the report that one brother had grabbed at the gun and shot the other, along with incredibly menacing black and white photos of one of the brothers. It also alleged that the police were looking for a device that would spray out cyanide, and that the brothers were about to leave the country. Indeed they were, as the whole family was about to leave on holiday. The gun story has since been denied by both their lawyers and the men themselves. The Sun then revealed that the brother's half-brother was a "vicious" armed-robber, and had supposedly also taken part in the extremist protest back in February where demonstrators had carried placards with "butcher those who insult Islam" and chanted that terrorist vengeance would be forthcoming. The half-brother was jailed in 2003. How much influence he could have on the brothers from inside is not explained. The Sun quoted a police source that the link the brothers had with him "totally justified" the raid in which one of the brothers was shot.

Yesterday the Sun splashed on the story that £38,000 had been found in the house, the only major find apart from a bottle of aspirin, despite taking the house to pieces, digging up the back garden and drilling the walls.
Police quizzed Mohammed Abdul Kahar, 23, and his brother Abul Koyair, 20, about the money during the week they spent in custody.

But neither would tell them where it came from. Last night a security source said: “It was a hell of a lot to have knocking around. The cash was in a bedroom, much of it in £50 notes.

“Urgent inquiries are being carried out to trace the source of the money and what it was intended for.”

Police were desperate to learn how Kahar, a postal worker, and Tesco shelf-stacker Koyair could have had such a vast sum in their house.


But neither they nor their lawyers made any mention of the £38,000.

Today the truth emerged, as the sister of the brothers' made a statement which explained why the money was there and made it look increasingly like a section of the press, in co-operation with the police, is determined to smear the entire family:
In a strongly worded statement, his sister Humeya Kalam said she had informed police about the money two hours after the raid took place. She said it was accumulated income which the family was reluctant to store in a bank because they felt that to do so would conflict with their religious beliefs. She said the money was kept in the basement of the house next door, which is owned by her and rented to a separate family.

"The story is incorrect in every way. It suggests that there is something sinister and unexplained in relation to monies found in my house," Ms Kalam said.

"The monies are neither sinister nor unexplained. I told the police that the money comes primarily from the monthly income from the rental of number 48, kept by my mother for safekeeping over the period of time in which I have owned the house, ie over approximately four years. My mother has never felt it right to keep this money in a bank account, or to hold savings in a bank; Islam prohibits the keeping of money in circumstances where interest is earned or where it is paid."

She added: "My mother has always held our savings in this way; in the same way savings were kept by her for me to buy number 48. Now in turn, I am providing my income from number 48 for my mother to keep in the same way.

"My brothers Kahar and Koyair each contribute from their wages every month to the money that my mother holds. Despite being told this by me, at Plaistow police station, and by my brothers entirely separately in Paddington Green station, the police have asked neither my mother nor my father any questions on this issue." She said her family felt there were people who wished "to believe the worst of my family and ensure that their slur reaches the widest audience."

So either the Sun believed what they were told by their source, which was a bunch of lies, or they participated in making up a large amount of their story from a small amount of truth told to them.

Since the beginning the Sun has wanted to believe the worst. When it seemed that nothing would be found and the police had made a mistake, based on erroneous intelligence, they brought the fact that their half-brother had a criminal record into the mix to make them look as though they had something to hide. They alleged he attended the extremist demo to paint them as likely sympathisers to the cause of radical Islam. They then led the paper with a story which was wrong on every single level, and which could have been explained by making just one phone call to the brothers' lawyers. Either they didn't bother, or they knew that it was likely that the story would fall apart if they did. This is of course the same newspaper that is read by a large number of plods, whose editor has admitted that police have been paid for information provided to it, and which was so behind Blair's plans for terrorist suspects to be held for a maximum of 90 days without charge that it called all the MPs that voted against the act "traitors".

Hardly anyone disagrees that if the police get credible intelligence which points to the likelihood of there being an imminent terrorist attack, or that a device is being stored, that they must take action. What is disgraceful is the way the police since the raid have briefed the media almost every hour, providing erroneous story after erroneous story. That the majority of the media, including the BBC (remember the reports on the ricin plot that never was?) has fell for so many of these whispers shows the way that so much of it has become a mouthpiece for Scotland Yard and Special Branch - only reporting what their sources tell them, not questioning them or anaylsing their information with the other facts on the ground. After all, no source likes having his material debunked. Some of the stories as a result have been nothing more than crude smears; there is no other way to explain them.

When another raid such as this happens, the first thought of many will be "here we go again". This will not be down to those who the Sun called traitors - it will be the result of a media only too willing to join in with the police in presuming guilt until proved innocent. They have a lot to answer for, but as we know, the Sun is answerable to no one.

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Thursday, June 15, 2006 

Saudi torturers, the ginger ninja and Reid.

Sometimes a cartoon manages to just sum all the issues of the day up. Saudi torturers can't be sued, John Reid talks bollocks and gets told by Blair's mate Charles Falconer that the judges aren't to blame, while the government gives in to the Sun campaign that the judges are to blame. Brilliant!

Related articles: Chicken Yogurt: It’s not personal, Sonny. It’s strictly business.
Big Stick Small Carrot.

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Wednesday, June 14, 2006 

And so it rumbles on: Blair ducks the blame, and the Sun continues to wail.

For those who still refuse to believe the influence the tabloids, and especially the Sun have on our politics, they'll have to find some way to explain the main exchanges between David Cameron and Blair at today's Prime Minister's question time. Blair adopted his usual tactic in response to Cameron rightly attacking John Reid for blaming everyone but the government's own decision to adopt the guidelines suggested by the sentence council; he blamed the Tories.

Now we're told that John Reid is going to tighten up the parole system. The tightening of the system is a good first step, but it must be on the basis that the protection of the public comes first. It should not just reject every prisoner coming up who has committed murder or other serious crimes; each case still needs to be judged on its merits, the behaviour of the prisoner in jail and his remorse and rehabilitation while serving his sentence. What should be changed is that those who still refuse to admit to their crimes, but have perfect behaviour records should be allowed out. At the moment those who deny their crimes are left to rot because of their refusal to admit their guilt. The few that do are those who are often genuinely innocent. The balance needs to be struck carefully but fairly.

Second, as Marcel Berlins recommends, when someone's guilt is so obvious, like in the cases of Alan Webster and Craig Sweeney, then they should not have reductions in their sentences simply for pleading guilty. Their crimes have rightly outraged opinion, without the Sun leaping in and blaming the judges for simply do what the guidelines set down for them to do. Ministers such as John Reid, as the Guardian leader argues, should also damp down the scorn of the likes of the Sun rather than encouraging it. Both men received life sentences, whether they are eligible for parole after 5 years or 8 years respectively. There is no guarantee that they will be released by parole boards, and considering that both were convicted of second serious offences, there is little hope of them being released any time soon. At the same time, the Sun should also recognise that the lives of these men will shortly be hardly worth living; they will no doubt be assaulted, have their food tampered with and be treated as the scum they undoubtedly are.

The Sun's leader today recognises none of this. It refuses to admit that prison fails those who are sent to them; those who enter it young come out as career criminals. It protects society, but it fails those who have originally failed.

But the PM must tackle the nonsense which says life does NOT mean life.

Which idiot dreamed that up?

The Tories’ policy of honesty in sentencing is about right.

It states a convicted criminal must serve the sentence dished out by a court.

Not half.

Or a third for pleading guilty.

The PM should also order the building of new prisons — urgently.

Prison works and the figures prove it.

There must be no excuses for early release into a society already plagued by thugs, killers and perverts.

Justice must not just be done. Justice must be seen to be done.

Life should not always mean life. Life imprisonment for a first crime means that the defendant has no chance of repentance, of reforming or being rehabilitated. As a result we condemn that person to a life of abject pointlessness. As much as those affected by that person's crime no doubt want punitive punishment, if we condemn all those who offend once then most of the country's population will be locked away. Forgiving but not forgetting, as long as the offender regrets his offence and is no longer a danger to the public should be the order of the day. No one questions that those who commit a second serious offence should face a much more punitive, if not life sentence. The Sun's demand that life should always mean life should be rejected.

Then we're back yet again to the building of more prisons. Despite the prison population fast approaching 80,000, despite figures from the Prison Reform Trust which shows that overcrowding as it currently is raises the reoffending rate by more than 10%, and the simple fact that the building of more prisons will simply result in yet more being incarcerated, there is no evidence that prison works, no matter what the Sun says. As the Prison Reform Trust additionally states, non-violent women, shoplifters, petty fraudsters and those awaiting trial should not be in prison. As Jonathan Freedland points out, neither should the estimated 5,000 who have serious mental health problems. As a result of there being so few mental health hospitals, and there being so few beds, they are instead left with little to look forward to other than going in out of prison for the rest of their lives. Care in community fails them.

The Sun's campaign against judges is also fundamentally flawed. The average sentence now served by a mandatory lifer is 14 years - higher than 10 years ago when Michael "Prison Works!" Howard was Home Secretary. Judges are increasingly passing down harsher sentences. Blair pointed out at question time that over 1,000 indeterminate sentences have been given since April 2004. Those sentences mean that those convicted are so dangerous that only when they are considered no longer a threat to public safety will they be released, or considered by parole boards. None so far have been.

The Guardian leader gets it right:
The current hysteria does little to protect the public and much to destroy public confidence in the criminal-justice system. It substitutes the rule of the lynch mob for the rule of law. It is time for the government to call off the dogs.

As does the interviewing of those directly harmed by Alan Webster and Craig Sweeney's crimes. While their input is valuable and shows the hurt caused, neither have properly known what they were talking about. The grandfather interviewed on Newsnight last night couldn't even get Blair's well-known slogan "tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime" right. Only when the cases are discussed rationally does good government and sentencing come as a result. At the moment rationality is thrown out the window in favour of finger-pointing and distortion. The government must move to make a good system which is working, however much the Sun screams, better. In the current atmosphere that is impossible.

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Tuesday, June 13, 2006 

Continuing the theme: Shameless.

The Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas comforts Huda Ghalia, who lost all her siblings to the Israeli shell.
Shameless is the only word that can describe the cover-up initiated by the Israeli army once one of its shells hit the Gaza beach, killing 7 people. If there hadn't been a news crew quickly on the scene, and the disturbing sight of a girl screaming as she saw the dead bodies of her relatives, then they might have got away with blaming Hamas from the start.

Instead they've decided to shift the reality of what happened gradually over a few days. Their cover-up has been helped by the continuing barrage of Qassam rockets which have hit the nearby Israeli town of Sderot, one of which badly injured a 61-year-old school caretaker. The stupidity of the launching of the rockets has only succeeded in diverting the attention of the Israeli public from the massacre which occurred due to the badly fired shell, yet that won't stop the militants from continuing to do so. Except, err, according to the Israeli Army, it wasn't a rocket after all. It was actually a mine, planted by Hamas to stop the Israelis from coming ashore on the beach. Why Hamas would suddenly decide to do some even stupider than the firing of Qassam rockets, and something they've never done before, isn't explained. It's just the truth, OK?

Not that the Israeli side of the story stands up the slightest amount of scrutiny. Shrapnel find out at the scene of the deaths included a piece stamped with "155MM". Obviously planted by the Palestinians. The crater at the scene itself matches those which feature elsewhere on the beach where shells have hit. The army admits that one of the six shells fired at the same time went missing, but claims that the deaths occurred 8 minutes after it fired the shells. One can only assume that the shell was briefly abducted by a passing alien spacecraft, only for it to be torpedoed at the beach from the craft a few minutes later.

The sad thing is that the initial Israeli response was so encouraging. They called an end to the shelling, and said they "regretted" the deaths. It made you wonder whether something good might come out of the horror caused. Instead things have just returned to business as usual. The Palestinians fire their pitiful rockets; the Israelis respond with hellfire missiles which kill militants they allege are travelling to fire them, with innocents usually getting caught up in the resulting explosion. Add in to the mix the fact that the new Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert is visiting various European capitals, hoping to drum up support for his unilateral disengagement plan, and the need for the demonised Hamas to be responsible for the deaths of innocents becomes apparent. The only thing that will come out of it will be more hatred, more deaths and more buck passing. An initial tragedy becomes even more tragic, and the deadly farce continues.

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Sun-watch: Sycophancy will get you places.

Oh dear oh dear. The Sun is fuming after the German tabloid Bild (more or less the German version of the Sun) wrote some rather nasty things about David Beckham's family.

Germany’s biggest newspaper plumbed new depths in their attack on innocent family members of an international sports star.

Of Joanne, they wrote: “Dear me, she is chubby. Arms, bust, bum, all very British. Joanne is the sort of girl who drinks sangria on the beach in Majorca. And then dances on a table with her top off.”

They also accused her of not working but of being a “professional sister”.

Of Becks’ mum they said: “Mama-ham, Sandra, 50 - the superstar mother with the peasant smile.

“Ex-hairdresser, a Robbie Williams fan. After the divorce from Beckham’s dad Ted a kitchen fitter, she’s single again.”

“Beckham, who gets a salary of 8.5million euros a year, bought her a house in Loughton, Essex. In the same place, the little sister lives.”

The poisonous piece tried to be clever by describing the Beckham group at the game with the introduction: “As delicious kicker David Beckham, 31, sang the English national anthem God Save the Queen, he displayed his closest family on the stage next to him.

“Curtain up for the Beckham family ... trophy wife Victoria, 32, we already know.

“With England flags on her behind, litres of cola and popcorn under her arms, Popham (her nickname in Germany) planted herself directly near to her two Zwerge (dwarfs).”

Even then the articles could not lay off having a pop at defenceless Romeo, who has long hair.

It claimed one person asked a Bild journalist: “What’s the name of the daughter Beckham.

As I'm sure you're aware, the Sun has never ever published a critical word of Beckham's wife, former Spice Girl Victoria Beckham. The following is simply a figment of Private Eye's imagination:

On January the 15th 2004 Victoria Newton, the Sun's piss-poor showbiz editor revealed that she had received a copy of Posh Spice's "top secret" rap album. According to Newton, "Victoria murders the Beatles and massacres George Michael... rubbish... torture... embarrassing." For those more worried about the looks of Mrs Beckham, on the 25 March 2004 Newton compared a photo of Posh with one of Geri Halliwell, describing Victoria as "stick-thin... doing her lady of lesiure routine." The Sun's sister paper, the Times, also ran a rather less than pleasant article by Julie Burchill which began: "Why do I hate Posh? Let's count the ways, because few things are as much fun as kicking a bighead when they're down." Indeed.

The Sun asks at the end of the article:
While the England players’ wives and girlfriends include stunners like Posh Spice, Coleen McLoughlin and Cheryl Tweedy, can anyone name a partner of the German footie stars?

Apart from the fact that most England fans aren't much interested in the German team or German football in general, they have a point. After all, the Sun would never have been critical of any of those gorgeous stunning birds, would they? Coleen McLoughlin wouldn't be the same shopaholic queen of chavs that the Sun was printing photographs of as she left numerous shops, would she? The Sun's changing views on McLoughlin have nothing to do with sucking up to Rooney (Coleen's boyfriend) after they settled his libel suit out of court with the paper, or the fact that the Sun now wants to get behind "our boys". Cheryl Tweedy is the fiancee of Ashley Cole. That would be the same Ashley Cole accused of being a "rear gunner" and having a gay orgy by both the News of the World and the Sun, despite never having the guts to directly accuse him. As for Tweedy (for it is she), was it really only a couple of years ago that she found herself in court for punching a toilet attendant and calling her a "black bitch"? At the time the Sun referred to her as Cheryl Seedy, but that's all forgotten now.

Another insider said: “David and Victoria are furious. They thought this was all about football and didn’t come to Germany expecting to be ridiculed.”

Obviously not. Rather than leaving the families to get on with England's preparations though, the Sun's "Woman" section promises:
The World Cup footie gossip
We're watching the stars' wives and girlfriends
And while Joanne Beckham may be "Arms, bust, bum, all very British", the same can't be said for the current inhabitants of that other Sun obsession, the Big Brother house. The "life" section whets your appetite for the paper's coverage with:
The Big Brother babes in bikinis
Fame-hungry wannabes who flashed flesh
Still, maybe this will make up for the way the Sun got burned over their previous criticism of the England team, still probably in the memory of both the stars and coach. After an especially poor performance from goalkeeper David James a while back, the Sun printed a picture of a donkey and asked readers to phone in asking which they'd prefer to see between the two posts. The England team responded by refusing to speak to any reporters from the paper.

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Sun-watch: Shameless Page 3.

Obsolete is thoroughly fed up with all the crap over Heather Mills and the obscene way the tabloids have leapt at her once she's weak, but this couldn't be passed over.

You might have realised that these Sun-watch posts aren't based on actually reading the newspaper. After all, you might catch something doing that. I go by the coverage on the website. That's how I missed this absolutely staggering case of shamelessness.

“GORGEOUS” AMI, 19, from Birmingham, posing in The Sun dressed only in skimpy Ann Summers knickers, says she feels sorry for Paul McCartney, a Beatle, “after sordid new revelations about his wife Heather emerged”. Quoth gorgeous Ami: “He must be reeling – it’s bad enough finding your wife posed for porn pictures, but even worse to know she had sex after.”

It makes you wonder whether they actually do this on purpose to get a rise out of idiots like me. Either that, or those who work on the Sun are completely and utterly shameless, the same as they were back in the days of Hillsborough. Oh, and we've had the "views" of "Ami" before.

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Monday, June 12, 2006 

Sun-watch: Cowardly naming and shaming, and burying yet more bad news.

One thing Obsolete cannot claim to have experienced is what it must feel like to go through a trial, then watch the perpetrator get what you think is an unreasonably light sentence. Such a thing must be shocking and even more damaging on top of the original pain caused by the crime. Today the Sun, in yet another campaign against what it sees as madness in the criminal justice system names and shames judges which it says have been unduly lenient in passing sentences.

For anyone who doubts how much power the tabloids have over the government of any day, let alone this one, the Sun's campaign has already reaped a result. John Reid, the Home Secretary has announced that he intends to request the Attorney General refer a case involving a man indecently assaulting a three-year-old girl to the court of appeal. The man was sentenced to life imprisonment, but could possibly be freed on parole after five years, even though the judge said that this would be "unlikely". He was also placed on the sex offenders register for life. The family called the sentence "an insult".

The Sun's campaign was developed after a similar case. Alan Webster was also sentenced to life imprisonment, but was given a minimum sentence of six years, after which he would eligible for parole. He was jailed for raping a 12-week-old baby, and photographing himself while in the act. He had previously also indecently assaulted a teenager. The attorney general sent the case to the court of appeal, especially after the Sun fumed at the short sentence. They demanded that life mean life, but the man's sentence was only extended to a minimum of eight years. The chance of him being released after those eight years are still small, as those crimes which gather a lot of public attention often result in the convicted serving a longer sentence, especially if the tabloids were following the case with interest to begin with.

The sad thing about the Sun's campaign is that it has some excellent and correct points which should be adopted, but it overshadows all of them by its use of such emotive and angry language, and Rebekah Wade's favourite method of doing things, which is the name and shame. The Sun names and prints the photographs of the ten judges which it alleges have given overly lenient sentences.

There a number of problems with the Sun's inflammatory attack. The first is that judges cannot respond and give their side of the story. They are barred from doing so, and can only reply once they have retired. As a result, the Sun's naming and shaming is cowardly, as they know full well that judges cannot respond to its ferocious attack. The second is that it seems unlikely to achieve anything; for the government to now act against the judges would be seen as appeasing the Sun over matters which it has no right to interfere in. The criminal justice system is separate from the legislator for obvious and numerous reasons. The third is that unless the Sun has had a reporter at each of the cases which they point to, they have not heard the whole of the evidence. Only the judge, the barristers, the accused, the jury and those in the public gallery have. The only other way they could have seen all the evidence and countering arguments, as well as the judge's summing up and sentencing if they didn't have a reporter is if they have read the full transcripts. It's unlikely that the Sun has done that in all of the cases it mentions. The judge sits through it all, abides by the decision of the jury and then decides on the sentence. There is no problem with criticising judges, and it's quite right that newspapers should be allowed to do so, but it's something that politicians should not, and the newspapers should also acknowledge that they may not have all the facts behind the case. The judge does.

One of the judges who the Sun names is Stuart Fish, who has since retired. The Sun didn't bother asking him for a response, or if it did, it hasn't bothered printing it. The Daily Mirror did. He said:
To be regarded as unduly lenient would be a big surprise to one or two people I know are doing 20 years, two at 17, three at 15 and a 74-year-old man doing 12 years. It's a matter of balance.

He has a point. The Sun in most cases is only pointing out one sentence which it regards the as being lenient. The judge may have been involved in numerous other cases in which he may have unduly harsh, especially if it later turns out that the convicted is innocent, but that's something the Sun isn't going to crow about. This is why the pointing out of one sentence without knowing the full background is a road to disaster. The criminal justice system and judges are on the whole doing an incredibly difficult job reasonably well. Such campaigns only sow disillusionment and make people feel that they are being failed, whether they are or not.

The Sun's campaign then is based around the following:
TODAY, The Sun demands...

# Suspension for bad judges

# 'Name and shame' lists of judges suspended or disciplined published by the Government

# Abolition of Court of Appeal double jeopardy rule

# Increased deadline to appeal against a lenient sentence to three months

# Judges are made to tell victims they have the right to appeal a soft sentence

# Elected public prosecutors and community judges

What exactly makes a bad judge? How is he judged so to speak? Once that is sorted out, there should be no problem for that point to be put into practice. Name and shame lists are typical of the Sun - they make for easy sledgehammer journalism. The names of judges who are suspended or disciplined are usually published anyway - although if there are concerns over a judge in a certain area of crimes in which he deals, they are occasionally "barred" from presiding over those cases. In those circumstances it would be better if they were not named. The abolition of the double jeopardy rule, as described by the article, should rightly be got rid of. Ditto for the deadline. It is not the judges' job to inform victims of the right to appeal - that should come down to either the police or the prosecution lawyers, as they are also likely to know whether the sentence is "soft" or not. The judges' job is to preside and sentence, not advise victims. The Sun does not explain why elected public prosecutors or community judges are necessary, so I can't comment on that point.

The Sun's leader, as usual, is full of straw men and bilious outrage and little else. The article by the political editor is by contrast well-argued. This is just pure crap:

HOW many more rapes, stabbings, shootings and assaults must there be . . . before judges understand they are there to protect the law-abiding public, not the ruthless criminal?

The same old, often brought up argument. Tony Blair has often talked of re-balancing the criminal justice system, and such talk is dangerous talk. The criminal justice system is balanced - it protects both sides equally, or it should do. If it doesn't at the moment then something must be done. Just arguing from one side of the fence, demanding that the courts only protect one side helps nobody.

Why do they never impose a maximum sentence — even for offences like child rape that make the blood run cold?

The maximum sentence is life imprisonment, and in the case that the campaign was started on that was the sentence given. Judges also give a recommendation of how long someone should serve before they can come before a parole board - which is what so angered the Sun when the judge in the baby rape case decided 6 years. The man would have to have made it through 6 years in prison to start with as the lowest of the low, then have to make an application to the parole board, who would have to decide whether to even see the man before he actually came before the board. Maximum sentences would mean that the prisoner would have to be freed after that time has been served - even if he is still a threat to society. This is why the government has brought in the indefinite detention part of the criminal justice act - which can dangerous prisoners locked up. The Sun ignores this.

Even worse, some judges seem to be lenient towards the most abhorrent criminals in society.

And why has Lord Chancellor Charlie Falconer refused to suspend arrogant beaks who think they are a law unto themselves? The last time it happened was back in 1983.

As things stand, these cosseted M’luds are utterly unaccountable to the public at large — or even the Government.

The only way a High Court judge can be sacked is by a long Parliamentary process and with the consent of the Queen.

We now know more than 200 of our so-called “top judges” have been rebuked for giving an easy ride to very nasty criminals.

Between them they delivered 339 duff rulings which were rightly challenged by Attorney-General Lord Goldsmith and branded “unduly lenient” on appeal.

The Sun willfully gets the figures wrong here. 339 "duff" fulings were referred to the court of appeal, but of that number 109 were considered harsh enough. 220 were lengthened. The judges are accountable to the public - as the fact that sentences can be referred to the court of appeal to be lengthened shows, as does the Sun's naming and shaming. The judges cannot respond, but that doesn't matter when it comes to selling newspapers and the Sun's ideological attacks. The Attorney General has been critical of judges giving low sentences to those convicted of sexual offences against children, but that isn't good enough or harsh enough for the Sun's liking.

They include short jail terms for perverted attacks on children — the nastiest sex crime of all.

Yet out of 2,000 complaints against individual judges, just 28 resulted in disciplinary action.

It is true one reason for short sentences is overcrowded prisons — but that is because the Government refuses to build new ones.

And even the nation’s only prison ship scandalously lies empty.

The Sun doesn't say whether those complaints were made either by those convicted of crimes or those who had cases brought on their behalf by the crown - but I suppose any statistic will do to further the point. All those complaints were no doubt investigated - although it does make you wonder if only 28 resulted in action. Then we come on to the old chestnut which is the building of new prisons. The Sun doesn't seem to want to discuss where these prisons will be built, how much they will cost or who they'll be run by, it just wants some up sharpish. This is ignoring how long they take to build in the first place, which is at least a couple of years.

Oh, and the prison ship, the favourite of the Sun's anecdotes which makes the government look soft. The reason it "scandalously" lies empty is because it was condemned by the chief inspector of prisons back in 2004.

Anne Owers says HMP Weare, which is moored at Portland, Dorset, is "literally and metaphorically a container", and although notionally a training prison it has no space for workshops, and not enough for exercise or education.

The chief inspector says that significant money needs to be spent just to keep it seaworthy. She says that the prison ship, used as a troop ship in the Falklands war, and then a floating prison in America, was a temporary solution to what was envisaged as a temporary problem.

The ship was meant to be a "temporary overcrowding measure". As a result of continuing draconian criminal justice campaigns, it was in use for 8 years. Weare was replaced when a private-run prison in Peterborough was opened.

It is also true that judges must administer the law as laid down, sometimes bizarrely, by ministers.

Nobody, for instance, understands why sentences are automatically halved for good conduct or slashed in return for a guilty plea.

Or why hardened villains are put in open prisons — only to flee.

Again, the Sun is being willfully stupid here. Sentences are halved for good conduct because what point is there behaving and taking part and work and education once in jail if the prisoner gets nothing back in return, except for the small wage given for work? They are also slashed for guilty pleas, and not always in all cases, because it saves the taxpayer the cost of a full trial, involving lawyers and additional police work, as well as the time of witnesses and the jury. Why else would those who stubbornly refuse to admit their guilt when they are clearly guilty decide to plead that way? As for hardened villains being put in open prisons - only those usually reaching the end of their sentences, or those convicted of offences where they are considered of little risk to the public are placed in them. Anyone who does flee is usually swiftly caught - and has their sentence extended and moved to a closed prison for their trouble.

Above all, why should a prisoner whose sentence is increased on appeal receive a discount for the “trauma” of re-sentencing?

This I don't disagree with.

But judges have plenty of leeway when it comes to sentencing.

Look at the shining example of Judge David Calvert-Smith. He locked up the killer of John Monckton for 36 YEARS.

More must follow his example. Today The Sun vows to go on naming and shaming the judges who let down victims and their families.

We demand harsh punishment for judges who favour thugs and their own liberal consciences – while failing our society.

Indeed, judges who favour thugs should obviously lock-up all criminals for life, or 36 years. That's a nice round number, isn't it? The Sun would have a lot more credibility if instead of demanding name and shaming and constant punishments actually considered that prison fundamentally doesn't work, that most crime has been falling for a decade, according to both Home Office figures and the British Crime Survey, and that community penalties are often the best option for non-violent offenders. Those who does use violence or commit sexual offenders do deserve harsher sentences - but they should be proportionate to the crime and to the circumstances surrounding it. The Sun's demand that sentences just be harsher ignores the nuance and differing nature of each case. Prisons at the moment are full of those who are mentally ill, who would be better cared for in hospitals, but there are no places for them. Those who have drug problems or addiction are sent to prison but can't always get on rehabilitation programmes. The Sun's campaign amounts to wanting the government to interfere in something which it should only issue guidelines for. Judges need to be accountable, but newspapers do as well.

And on that note, in line with the post on Friday, there is no mention today in the Sun of the suicide of the 3 men at Guantanamo Bay. More bad news buried.

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Sunday, June 11, 2006 

Blair must go.

The News of the Screws has managed to obtain a copy of the first IPCC report into the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes. Its findings are damning.

The dossier, leaked by Whitehall insiders, reveals that some of Sir Ian's senior officers KNEW de Menezes was innocent and definitely NOT a suicide bomber just hours after he was killed. But they failed to tell their boss until the next day.

The report also reveals how officers:

USED the Prime Minister's name in a bid to stop the IPCC probe,

FAILED to pass on alerts from the undercover team that they were tailing an innocent man,

DELAYED five hours in deploying ‘specialist' firearms cops who could have taken him alive,

DOCTORED a Special Branch log of the surveillance operation leading to the shooting, as revealed by the News of the World in January, and

FOULED up orders to frontline men, ordering that the suspect be "stopped" which was tragically interpreted as "kill him".

I've mirrored the report here, as the Screws has no archive.

Most damaging to "Sir" Ian Blair will be the revelations that he immediately tried to stop the IPCC from investigating the shooting. While there is nothing to suggest that he was already aware that an innocent man had been shot, his decision, including mentioning the prime minister, could have resulted in vital evidence being destroyed or damaged. While he was overruled later in the day, the IPCC was still not allowed access to the scene of the shooting until much later in the day. While Blair will argue that he was simply trying to keep resources free to hunt the seeming remaining failed bombers of the previous day, if he had allowed the IPCC to start their investigation at once, the damaging smears and wrong witness statements that emerged may never have occurred.

The other revelation is that the report confirms that senior officers knew that an innocent man had been shot, apparently by 9:45pm on the Friday night. Their excuse for not informing Blair is according to a Whitehall source, that Blair takes bad news very badly. This clears Blair, who has always maintained he was not informed until the Saturday morning. It also clears Brian Paddick, who has since been moved, for daring to suggest that officers other than Blair had known that de Menezes was innocent. Their decision not to inform Blair on the Friday night allowed the following morning's newspapers to speculate wildly, and in the event, wrongly.

The report also seems to spell the end of Cressida Dick's career. She apparently ordered the CO19 team to "stop" de Menezes, as they arrived after he had entered the Stockwell tube station. Another officer says that she also added "at all costs". If that is true, then it seems that the C019 team were only following orders. As de Menezes had already entered the tube, the officers took that order to mean to kill him. This was despite de Menezes already been held down, that he was never ordered to stop, that at least one officer in the special branch team had said that he was not the suspect Osman, and that he had not been acting suspiciously, however much the police will now crow about de Menezes apparently having recently used cocaine.

No one in the report comes out well. It still leaves many questions. Why did the Special Branch team follow him but not stop him, apparently having already determined that he was not the suspect, to make absolutely certain? Why were their concerns not communicated to the higher-ups? Why was he allowed to get on and off the bus, when the station he normally went to get on the tube was closed? Why were the witness statements such as those that claimed he had been wearing a heavy coat, that he had leaped the barriers, and that he had a belt with wires coming out of it not corrected much sooner? Some of those questions might be answered in the full report, which will hopefully be released in full after this leak. What seems certain is that both Ian Blair and Cressida Dick cannot remain in their jobs. Whether anyone will be prosecuted remains to be seen, and to judge from the part of the report we now have, there seems little would be achieved from prosecuting the officers that shot de Menezes, who were following cocked-up orders from a team that seemed to be panicking. Dick and Blair may not be so lucky.

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Saturday, June 10, 2006 

What's more important than 7 innocents killed in Gaza and Hamas responding stupidly? Take a wild guess.

Obsolete did cheer on England earlier in the day, even if it was a tedious game and a tepid performance at best. Still, it's good to know that Sky thinks that side issues to the World Cup are more important than the latest breakdown of humanity in the Gaza and West Bank.

A lot of people have been waiting for Sky News to slowly but surely turn into its American sister, Fox News, so as to avoid the tougher rules in Britain over political impartiality. Seemingly rather than do that, it looks to be turning itself into a TV version of the Sun.

Sky illustrates its story on the weather for today's big match by providing two well-endowed gorgeous pouting lovelies wearing their bikinis. Saucy! Not only that though, we have another World Cup story, which is, err, the launching of football bras. Then we have the sensitively placed middle story, highlighted, which is that sexual harassment is still a problem. No further comment necessary.

Anyway, getting back to the situation in Israel and Gaza. It's hard to know what is more pointless; the futility of the various Islamic and secular groupings in the Strip which think that the launching of their Qassam rockets, aka home made mortars, achieves anything other than the occasionally damaged building or slightly injured person, or the Israeli response, which is the launching of much more destructive and deadly shells, which yesterday killed 7 innocent bystanders and injured dozens more who were picnicking on the muslim day of rest on the beautiful Gaza beach. The horror of the aftermath, which even the BBC vividly showed last night, of a young girl, bloody and running, only to discover a relative or someone she knew, laying dead on the sand. Her harrowing screams were heartbreaking. Another shot, this one only shown on Newsnight, most likely as it was too graphic for the 10 O'Clock News, showed a medic carrying a little girl who had the top half of her head blown off. As he hurried to get her body in the ambulance, some of the remaining brains in her head fell out.

Hamas's predictable response has been to call off their long held ceasefire. They haven't wasted any time; they apparently launched some of their own rockets into Israel, although one according to the BBC landed in the Jabaliya refugee camp in northern Gaza. Their anger had already been raised by the assassination of Jamal Abu Samhadana, the head of the Popular Resistance Committees in Gaza, who was killed by the usual Israeli method of hellfire missile.

The situation in the West Bank and Gaza is beyond simply asking for both sides to halt their respective attacks. The response of Israel, it has to be said, has been a lot more cautious and apologetic than it has been when such incidents have occurred in the past. They have called a halt to the shelling for the moment; something they should consider on a permanent basis. Likewise, the stupidity and pointless launching of the home made mortars from Gaza, not just in response to Israeli shelling and attacks, but also to the continuing economic disaster which is now engulfing the territories thanks to the boycott of the Hamas' government, and the near constant closure of the border into both through which the Gazan farmers can export their produce, should be halted. Sadly, the reaction of Hamas and even Mahmoud Abbas, who was rightly outraged, suggests that no such concession will be forthcoming. And really, why should it? The people of Gaza and the West Bank made their democratic decision, only for it to be rejected and for them to be punished for making the "wrong" choice. The constant shelling in response to the pathetic mortars is out all of proportion, and does amount to collective punishment. The withdrawal from Gaza of the Jewish settlers has only resulted in the Strip becoming even more of a prison, and in this case one in which hardly any of the prisoners are even getting paid for the work they are doing.

All we can hope for is that Abu Mazen's plan to hold a referendum on the recognition of Israel and the prisoner plan for peace will embarrass Hamas into doing what its leaders have said informally for years; that they will leave it to their children to decide what to do if the Palestinians finally get their viable state. The other option may well be the even more radical Islamic Jihad; something that no one wants to happen. The Israeli government should respond by giving both Hamas and Abbas breathing space for the referendum to take place. Any attempt to redraw the borders around the "security" wall, while removing a minority of settlers from the West Bank will not lead to peace. The viable two state solution is the only solution.

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Friday, June 09, 2006 

Sun, Star and Express-watch: Burying bad news.

Today's Sun for once has a serious news story on its front page. Rather than still obsessing over Lady Mucca's ancient photo shoot, they quite predictably have a bit of a song and dance over the death of al-Zarqawi. Nothing wrong with that particularly, although whether he was personally responsible for the deaths of thousands, or that he deserved a violent death, whatever he had done, is questionable, as the Sun says in its leader. What is wrong is the fact that the Sun has been burying some of the more "bad" news from Iraq.

Arab Media Watch noticed that the Sun, Daily Express and Daily Star have not printed a word about the alleged massacres by US troops of Iraqi civilians at Haditha and Ishaqi. Asked for their response as to why they didn't decide to print this bad or troubling news, the Sun told the AMW that they would get back to them. They haven't. Someone at the Daily Express was a little more verbose. He/she, claiming to be the news editor, said:

Why should we tell you? It is not a forum for discussion, it is not a debating society, it is a newspaper.
Some would disagree with the Express being a newspaper, but his/her response is typical of the arrogance of tabloid news editors being questioned over what they consider newsworthy. Only "they" know what the public want. The real Express news editor later got in touch with AMW, who report the following:

Express news editor Greg Swift told AMW he was not the person who responded to our request for comment on this lack of coverage by saying: "Why should we tell you? It is not a forum for discussion, it is not a debating society, it is a newspaper." As someone else at the Express wrongly claimed to be the news editor (Swift said he is the only one at the paper), AMW is not to blame for the error, but nonetheless apologises to him for any inconvenience caused, and has removed specific reference to him in the initial press release on our website.

Swift said the Express did report the Haditha massacre, but AMW has not found evidence of this in print or through LexisNexis.
The Daily Star also responded, with the reply coming back from the AMW:

The Star emailed AMW the following statement: "The Daily Star is about giving readers a smile with their morning newspaper. We specialise in celebrity, television, sport and fun, upbeat stories. Our readers - being the youngest and most new technology aware in the UK - will have got their hard, international political news stories from television and internet news services."

However on 7 June, the day after AMW's initial press release, the Star had a half-page article entitled "Boy, 4, kills himself making a sarnie", with the subheading "Horror as knife goes through lad's heart". On 8 June, it reported rape allegations ("I'm no rapist") and an anthrax scare in Parliament ("MPs anthrax fear"). These can hardly be described as "fun, upbeat" stories "giving readers a smile".

The 7 June edition also reported three British soldiers being cleared of killing an Iraqi boy ("Squaddies in the clear"). On 8 June, it reported "a British computer whiz kid" being "at the heart of an international al-Qaida terror network" linked to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, "al-Qaida's top man in Iraq who mercilessly slaughtered Brit hostage Ken Bigley." These are surely "hard", political news stories with an international dimension, and further raise AMW's concerns that coalition abuses in Iraq are not getting the attention they deserve.
Back to the Sun, who have yet to respond to AMW's concerns, and where it's not the first time that concerns over the behaviour of coalition forces have been buried. Bloggerheads reports on the Sun's coverage of the Abu Gharib prisoner abuse scandal:

For example, when the images of torture in Abu Ghraib were front page news, The Sun buried it on page 6, with less than a 1/4 page, 130 words and a teeny-tiny picture. The next day, leading with George W. Bush's version of events, they used 229 words. And that was about it.
Not that all of News International has been so silent about abuses. The Times reports on the Haditha massacre attracted the wrath of Michelle Malkin, the bat shit insane right-winger, when they used the wrong photograph. The photograph on their website report of the massacre was actually that of 19 Shia fishermen killed by Sunni insurgents, rather than the 24 allegedly killed by the US marines. Despite one of the editors' quickly making things right and apologising profusely, Malkin and her readers weren't satisfied, one of whom came up with this completely bone-headed anaylsis:

That would be Rupert Murdoch who is holding fundraisers for Hillary Clinton. Small world.
Err, yes, it would also be the same Rupert Murdoch who owns Fox News, and hundreds of newspapers across the globe, every one of which supported the Iraq war. It would also be the same Rupert Murdoch who said the best thing to come out of the Iraq war would be $20 for a barrel of oil, not the finding of WMD or ridding the Iraqi people of a hated tyrant. All Hillary Clinton is doing is sucking up to Murdoch, much like Blair did prior to the Sun coming out in favour of Labour in 1997. It should also be noted that Hillary Clinton is more gung-ho over Iran than many Republicans, which no doubt fits with Murdoch's own political views.

What is typical is the Sun's reporting only of the good news from Iraq, or of the cycle of death which is close to civil war. There must be no bad name given to the liberators who are there saving the Iraqis from themselves. No one is suggesting that all of them are murdering out of control bastards, but when you don't even devote a single word to the matter of such a horrible apparently covered-up massacre, especially when it featured on the Times' front page, not known for being quick to condemn the army, it makes you look like a propaganda rag purely for the neo-conservative cause. And that of course, is exactly what the Sun is. It's also worth remembering the amount of criticism the News of the Screws came in for when it published the story about the British servicemen who beat up a number of Iraqi youths after they were apparently attacked with stun grenades and stones. If it puts "our boys" in danger, then it looks like the Sun will no longer touch it.

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Thursday, June 08, 2006 

So. Farewell then Abu-Musab al-Zarqawi.

Well, the seemingly unkillable has met his end. Despite numerous former reports about the terrorist leader being killed, losing limbs or generally not being in the land of the living, two 500lb bombs were dropped on a house where he was staying, killing him and 5 others in the process, although his body seems to be rather intact considering how badly the house itself has been destroyed.

Although there is no doubting that al-Zarqawi was in some ways a bogeyman for the coalition forces in Iraq, he certainly was involved in the planning of suicide bombings and of sectarian violence. No one should weep any tears for the loss of such a brutal, despicable man, and unlike the recent attack in Pakistan aimed at killing al-Qaida's second in command, it seems that by contrast such a strike can be justified, although whether the parading of his body is either wise or in good taste is questionable.

What should be examined now is just how much of the blame for the violence in Iraq can actually be blamed either on him or on his grouping. While his organisation was renamed al-Qaida in Iraq, mainly for the purpose of intimidating and frightening Westerners and Iraqis alike, it's unclear whether Zarqawi had any genuine links to real al-Qaida supporters or not. Zarqawi himself, according to Juan Cole, had originally been critical of al-Qaida, and had been if anything, a rival to that so-called organisation. Zarqawi's past is also eye-opening; he was apparently an out of control young man in Jordan, which would seemingly explain his tattoos. Like Sayyid Qutb, who many consider the starting block for what became the radical Islamist movement, he became fully radicalised in jail, (Qutb visited American society and found himself disgusted by it, which led to the beginnings of his own radicalism; he was hanging in Egypt in 1966) before going to Afghanistan where according to today's Guardian obituary he edited a magazine for demobilised mujaheddin in the aftermath of the CIA-backed and funded war against the Soviets, and met bin Laden.

Also of note is the supposed letter from al-Zawahiri, the aforementioned second in command of what remains of al-Qaida, which told al-Zarqawi in no uncertain terms what he was doing wrong. Zawahiri denounced the beheadings carried out, including that of Ken Bigley, whom it has constantly been rumoured was personally decapitated by Zarqawi. Zawahiri told him that he risked losing the support of those who opposed the occupation of Iraq in the Middle East. It's unknown whether Zarqawi responded to Zawahiri's criticisms.

What is known is that Washington was involved in a demonisation and propaganda campaign against Zarqawi, highly overstating his actual involvement in everyday attacks both on Iraqi civilians and coalition forces. Donald Rumsfeld continued that campaign even today, when he said that of Zarqawi: "arguably no other single person on the planet had more blood of innocent men women and children on his hands in recent years."

As a result, we have inevitably had various people reporting today that his death marks yet another turning point. We shall have to see, although it seems doubtful. The death of one man, especially one whose reputation had been massively inflated, does seem like a sort of victory, much like the capture of Saddam Hussein for a while had everyone thinking that the insurgency would fade away. It didn't. Zarqawi will soon no doubt be having his image sold in certain parts of the Middle East, maybe in the way that Che Guevara's image has become ubiquitous in the west. He might have his 77 virgins. We still have to pick up the pieces of a country which we have helped destroy.

Update: I'm going to paste the following from a post on Comment is Free by SimonRalli, who has more spare time than I do:
Let's check I have this right!

Lost a leg in 2002 (but US later changed their tune)

Killed in March 2004

Came back to life to personally behead Nick Berg (post-Abu Ghraib photo release)
(interesting as no one in that video appeared to be handicapped - Zarqawi had one leg amputated)

Killed again in Oct. 2004

Seriously injured or killed in May 2005

Zarqawi shot in chest/lung in May 2005

Killed and body in Falluja cemetery in June 2005

And now killed again in Nov. 2005

Baghdad imam says Zarqawi killed at beginning of US invasion

Backed up by this March 2004 article

Update 2: Corrected some erroneous details.

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Wednesday, June 07, 2006 

Rendition flashback.

Q 23. Unless we all start to believe in conspiracy theories and that the officials are lying, that I am lying, that behind this there is some kind of secret state which is in league with some dark forces in the United States, and also let me say, we believe that Secretary Rice is lying, there simply is no truth in the claims that the United Kingdom has been involved in rendition full stop, because we have not been, and so what on earth a judicial inquiry would start to do I have no idea.

I do not think it would be justified. While we are on this point, Chairman, can I say this? Some of the reports which are given credibility, including one this morning on the Today programme, are in the realms of the fantastic.

The full extent of European collusion with the CIA during operations to abduct terrorism suspects and fly them to countries where they may be tortured is laid bare today by the continent's most authoritative human rights body.

Several states have allowed the agency to snatch their own residents, others have offered extensive logistical support, while many have turned a blind eye, according to the Council of Europe.

The UK stands accused of not only allowing the use of British airspace and airports, but of providing information that was used during the torture of one suspect. The report adds that there is strong evidence to suspect two European states, Poland and Romania, of permitting the CIA to operate secret prisons on their soil, despite official denials.
and now today, Tony Blair continues to see no evil, speak no evil and hear no evil:
"We have said absolutely everything we have to say on this," Mr Blair replied. "There is no more to add to that. The report adds absolutely nothing to the information we already have. We have kept parliament informed."
How about condemning the practice of rendition? How about asking, nay, demanding the United States to come clean about whether they have been using UK airspace to transport prisoners, or even just to refuel their jets? Their current denials are not good enough given the evidence. How about telling us who gave information to the Moroccans which was used in the torture of a man, and why was it, knowing full well how it would be used? How about ordering a full inquiry to get to the bottom of what has actually happened? No, that might result in some unpleasant and uncomfortable facts coming out. Instead, all we have is the silence of the complicit.

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Sun-watch: Yes, even more Lady Mucca.

The Sun is certainly nothing if not consistent. For the third day visitors to the website are being treated to yet more photographs of Heather Mills in very few clothes. But what's this? Could it be that the Sun is putting words and deeds into the mouth of the man who is with Mills in the photos, or even shock horror, appealing to him to come forward so he can earn a nice wad for starring in some mucky book?

LADY Mucca’s partner in porn is set to tell the world they had passionate sex over and over again after the cameras stopped clicking.

The curly-haired male model is hoping to bag thousands of pounds by selling his story of how he did it for real with Heather Mills.

His move will heap yet more shame on Sir Paul McCartney’s estranged wife — mother of his two-year-old daughter Beatrice.

Yet at the end of the article the Sun asks:
DO you know the man in the pictures with Heather?

and separately online:
DO you know the man who stars in the sex book with Heather Mills?

We revealed exclusively on Monday that she posed for the hardcore porn book in 1988.

Many of the pics were too explicit to print.

We want to hear from you if you know the male model who is her co-star.

Call our newsdesk on 0207 782 4104 or email

Don't worry about the cost, we'll call you straight back.

Accuse me of being cynical, but could it be that the Sun wants to pay the man a large amount of money to tell them that everything they've accused Heather of is true, and that they had sex after the actual shoot? That would surely mean that the Sun is making up the news, not reporting on it.

Speaking of making up the news, something else in the Sun's article makes me wonder about the impartiality and truth of their supposed asking people on the street whether they thought the book was pornographic. One of those asked is:
Journalist Ruth Lumley, 26, of Brighton, said: “Blimey, I’ve never come across a ‘sex education’ book that has whipped cream in it.”

You might remember the name Ruth Lumley, but not what for. She was the journalist who replied to a piece of graffiti on a train asking young girls to text a number for sex. Her investigation resulted in four men being jailed. Rather a coincidence that such a journalist would be wandering around the streets of Brighton and just happen to bump in to a Sun lackey, isn't it? Makes you wonder whether catering worker Madeline Johnson, facilities manager John Bertram, printer Andrew Love and engineer Stuart Lye might just happen to be News International employees, doesn't it? Apparently no one who they "approached" agreed that it was sexually educating, as there are no such sentiments expressed in the Sun's article. Funny that.

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Tuesday, June 06, 2006 

Give them what they want.

Instead of pontificating myself on the lack of an independent inquiry into the bombings of the 7th of July, I'll leave it to those who survived them. Rachel North is eloquent as ever, and Holly Finch also calls for one.

What I will say is that the arguments by John Reid, namely in pointing to the example of the botched Saville inquiry into Bloody Sunday, and also that it will divert resources from current anti-terrorism actions, is that the first is nothing more than a pathetic excuse and mistake of the government's own making, in allowing a cocked-up investigation to continue for so long, while the second looks stupid when 250 police officers are apparently required to terrorise a neighbourhood and find nothing on a solitary tip-off that looks to be badly incorrect. What is wrong is the way that the petition and so much of the debate surrounding the attacks has been taken over by the conspiracy theorists, who apparently would rather believe their own ridiculous theories than the people who survived. That said, it doesn't help when the loathsome Peter Power, who was supposedly running an "exercise" on the day, pops up on the news commenting on the terrorism raid and report by the London assembly. His attempts to profit out of the misery of others are deeply upsetting.

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Sun-watch: More "Lady Mucca".

The Sun's journalists really do feel nothing but contempt for their readers. Victoria Newton, the paper's piss-poor Showbiz editor, along with Henry Austin (who he?) have recruited the creator of the Lover's Guide to help convince them that the book Heather Mills appeared in was pornographic, after she denied that the book was "hardcore porn" and rather a lover's guide.

He said nothing of the sort. What he did say was, mostly plugging his own wares:
“What we do is erotic rather than pornographic. We show people how to do it without showing everything off.

“This, on the other hand, does it in a particularly lewd manner.”

“Maybe they do things differently in Germany.

“But I think they’re closer to something you might find in a top shelf magazine, rather than an instruction manual.”
Completely unlike the near top shelf exploits of the Sun's third page and its accompanying website, of course. Or the Sun's shameless showing off of its collection of Mills' photographs, of which there are another 7 today. Of those, 5 clearly show Mills' breasts, and one censors what would otherwise show her nether regions. It also censors the man's seeming erection.

Still, perhaps the Sun would like to argue with the British Board of Film Classification's view of sex education material and hardcore material. The BBFC's guidelines are as follows:

Sex Education at ‘18’

Where sex material genuinely seeks to inform and educate in matters such as human sexuality, safe sex and health, exceptions to the normal constraints on explicit images may be made in the public interest. Such explicit detail must be kept to the minimum necessary to illustrate the educational or instructional points being made.

Sex Works at ‘18’

Sex works are works, normally on video or DVD, whose primary purpose is sexual arousal or stimulation. Sex works containing material which may be simulated are generally passed ‘18’, while sex works containing clear images of real sex are confined to the ‘R18’ category.

It seems very likely that Mills' so-called hardcore material would be suitable at the 18 certificate. Let's not let that get in the way of Rebekah Wade's scoop though, as she has been desperate for them of late, what with the Screws' printing more crap that she was once renowned for getting, and with the Mirror exposing John Prescott, a natural Sun story. The difference is that Mills did this shoot 20 years ago; it was only a few years ago that Wade disgraced herself by publishing child pornography downloaded from a website in comparison with an exhibition by an artist which featured a portrait of her children naked. Rather than "shaming" celebrities with what they did when they were young, Wade would perhaps be better looking over her shoulder and wondering how much longer she has left in the Scum's hot seat.

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Mahzer Mahmood: Up to his old tricks; Protest at News of the Screws.

Hat tip to the void.

Obsolete's old friend, Screws' "journalist" Mahzer Mahmood has been up to his old tricks. His latest hilarious wheeze was to pretend to be a mini-bus driver, picking up "migrants", only to take them to the Colnbrook detention centre. Sounds like kidnap, doesn't it? Rather than inform the authorities of these supposed illegal migrants, the News of the Screws takes the law into its own well oiled vigilante hands (printing photographs of alleged paedophiles will never be forgotten, or forgiven) and delivers them to a centre where those who have found it their temporary home have been on hunger strike in protest at their conditions.

He's also allegedly exposed some east London solicitors who were "coaching" their clients into how to convince the immigration authorities that they are legitimate asylum seekers. After being exposed by Galloway and by blogs which in solidarity published his photograph, it seems Mahmood has been left to pick on even more vulnerable people who are unlikely to be able fight back. Even so, the detainees at Colnbrook have written to the Screws:

Dear Mr. Mahmood,

We, the detainees of Colnbrook Detention Centre think that you are a gutless, incompetent bully, and together with your editors and newspapers pick on foreigners because they are a soft target. You do not represent the real views of the common UK nationals, but rather, you have been misleading the general public with your unfair, ill-informed partial news for years. You have influenced the way this government perceives it should deal with refugees and asylum, by presenting it as incompetent, to make it adopt inhuman policies against people who have fled their countries of origin for one reason or another. This has led to refugees not seeking asylum with the authorities, for fear of being detained and removed to countries where their lives would be in danger. This has in turn pushed those refugees to provide for their survival by being exploited to work long hours for very low pay (such as the ones you helped catch), for those very fears.

From your name, I can tell that you are a descendant of immigrants. In your quest to further your career, to please your bosses, to embarrass the government, and for whatever other selfish motives you may have in taking advantage of foreigners in the UK, we wonder how you sleep at night. You should reconsider your position by educating yourself on refugees, asylum seekers and immigrants' issues before you unfairly target them. You should go back to your roots and stop thinking that you are better than any other foreigners just because you hold British citizenship.

Well done for doing none of your business, and encouraging vigilanteism. You would be very much at home with the BNP and Migrant Watch, Mr. Mazer Mahmood (News of the World) for your Nazi-like work of spreading hate and kidnapping people to detention centres ( UK concentration camps). Print this in your hate paper if you have the spine!

Read below and enlighten your ignorant self.

Victims of Intolerance! - 'Asylum Madness' in the UK

'The Sun, Daily Mail, Daily Express, Daily Star and their three Sunday stablemates - *News of the World, Mail on Sunday and Express on Sunday,' slammed by UNHCR report

"Ill-informed or sloppy journalists or editors are one thing: they can always be better informed. A media organization that deliberately pursues an agenda which is applied to all its contents - not just the editorials and opinion columns, but also the news coverage - is something altogether more deadly."

UNHCR have published their quarterly 'Refugees' magazine, this issue 'examines the phenomenon of intolerance in many parts of the world and exposes the myths and misperceptions that give rise to it.'

António Guterres UN High Commissioner for Refugee in the introduction says: "In some countries, deliberate attempts to dehumanise asylum seekers are continuing, always presenting them as menacing statistics, as criminals and bringers of disease, or as some other form of generalised abstract aberration that is easy to hate,"

"In an increasing number of countries, asylum seekers - and the refugees among them - have become a tool for political demagogues, or have been turned into faceless bogeymen by an unscrupulous popular press. "

The report devotes two pages to the media in the UK, reprinted below:

London No Borders is additionally organising a protest outside the Screws' offices:

(off The Highway, nearest tube Tower Hill - District & Circle, or DLR Tower Gateway)

Obsolete can't be there, but there is something you can do if you also can't attend. Ever wanted to talk to Mahmood or one of his lackeys? The Screws' helpfully published his email address and phone number at the end of his last story. His phone number is 020 7782 4402 or you can email him at

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Monday, June 05, 2006 

What to believe?

The reporting on the terrorist raid in Forest Green has not been the police's finest hour, nor has it been the media's. While you expect some confusion and initially wrong details, the press and police have been spouting crap from the minute that the 250 police officers smashed their way in at 4am on Friday morning.

Gradually the police and Scotland Yard have been lowering our expectations that a viable bomb, poison or weapon will be found. This morning the Guardian reported that "confidence among officials was waning" and a "senior police source" had said:

"The public may have to get used to this sort of incident, with the police having to be safe rather than sorry."

Now this evening the Assistant Commisioner is telling us:
Police had "no choice" but to raid a house in east London after being told a chemical device might be found there

True, but that doesn't really make up for all the speculation that has circulated since the event. Both the Daily Mail and Times ran on Saturday with the story that the police were looking for a "suicide vest", that would either pump out a deadly poison, or that would have poison inside it that would be released when the person set off his explosives. The BBC had a police officer deny it later in the day. Yesterday the Sunday Express cleared the front page for the banner headline "ANTHRAX TERROR BOMB HUNT", while the News of the Screws, the paper of choice for cops to leak to, had the "exclusive" that the police were looking for an "explosive device designed to spray out deadly cyanide".
They also had a photo of the shot suspect looking very menacing in black and white, along with the claim that one of the brothers had tried to grab the gun, which with its safety catch off, somehow managed to shoot one of the men. This has been categorically denied by the men's lawyers. Along with this, the News of the Screws (proprietor:R. Murdoch), unbelievably shoehorns in a reference to the television TV series 24 (made by 20th Century Fox: proprietor:R. Murdoch) currently showing on Sky (proprietor:R. Murdoch) claiming that the plot was for the device to be set off in a "enclosed and busy shopping centre", which mirrors a similar conspiracy in the current series. The whole Screws article screams of a hatchet job; they have a "neighbour" claiming that there had been a series of "violent incidents" outside the house in recent years, which seems rather at odds with the testimony of another neighbour in other coverage which said that they had stepped in to stop fights. There's more on this over at Lenin's Tomb.

Why 250 police were needed (the Screws' claims the real figure was nearer 300) is not clear. All they had to was raid one property, although the Guardian reports that the next door neighbours had a rather shocking and violent awakening as well.

Hanif had been asleep when he heard a commotion. He got up as the bedroom door was forced open by police. "I saw a guy with a machine gun pointing and he hit me on the side of the head straight away with the butt. Another man hit me behind my knees, then tied my hands with plasticuffs. I saw blood coming from my head. The guy noticed it and took a bandage out and put it on me."
So that's all right then. They also had their DNA and fingerprints taken for the trouble. It's worth remembering that it took 78 officers for Brian Haw's protest to be "cleaned up"; even more are seemingly required to stand around and do nothing but make up the numbers so that it looks even more dramatic. What we are supposed to believe is that the police's intelligence was both correct and obviously so life threatening that such a raid was required immediately, and in today's climate we have to give the benefit of the doubt. What rankles however is that the supposed intelligence which goes into such raids is not of the same quality which goes out to the newspapers, who have printed such contradictory and sensational stories. If it turns out that there is no such device, or that other "possibility", that it may be elsewhere, then the damage done could be palpable. While these raids may become more common, the police really need to get their stories straight, and the media has to play its role as a "honest" broker better as well.

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Sun-watch: Family newspaper? Revolting?

The knives have been out for Heather Mills ever since (and probably before) her marriage to Paul McCartney. The Sun, that paragon of values and British fair play, has managed to find a dirty book which supposedly features Mills performing hardcore sex acts.

LADY Heather McCartney posed in depraved pornographic clinches which are bound to sicken her estranged husband Sir Paul and his army of fans.

The ex-model was snapped in a string of lurid scenes for a hard core German book.

Many of the images are too explicit to print in a family newspaper.

No doubt they are. Not that that stops the Sun from printing a gorgeous pouting lovely without a top on every single day on its third page. You see, that's not depraved or explicit; that's just a bit of fun. Mills no doubt did the pictures for the money, which the Sun certainly can't be accused of doing. Over on its site, you can err, get today's picture by texting their service which charges you for the privilege. Further down the site you can vote for your favourite page 3 "fresher"; essentially a readers' wives section where you can give one of the lovely ladies a chance to have a professional shoot, which wouldn't be anything like the one which Mills took part in.

In other scenes, Heather and the man appear to have sex and perform sex acts while watching themselves in a mirror. And in yet more, Heather ends up naked during a game of strip poker.

By a bizarre coincidence, now has.... a casino!
The sexiest casino in the world is cheering on Becks & Co in the World Cup with its own special offer. You can play all your favourite casino games for fun or for real whilst cheering England to glory!

Now 38 and mum to Sir Paul’s two-year-old Beatrice, she stopped at very little when she took part in the revolting snaps for Die Freuden Der Liebe — The Joys Of Love.

Yes, if there's one thing that Rebekah Wade doesn't like, it's her newspaper being revolting. After all, her name sake, Rebekah Parmar Teasdale, was fired for taking part in racier shoots, only to be brought back on the day Wade ascended to the editor's chair so that the page 3 girl could be called "Rebekah" and pour scorn on whispers that Wade might ditch page 3. Not being revolting of course didn't extend to the almost pornographic way it described the apparent death of murdered teenager Rochelle Holness, only to find that their source had it completely wrong. The family of Rochelle called the Sun's behaviour "as inhumane as John McGrady's", the girl's killer. It also didn't extend to the Sun's tale of how two of their page 3 girls fell in "love", but I suppose that is neither here nor there.

The filthy volume features 112 pages filled with pictures — and contains NO accompanying words.

Yes, clearly a poor editing decision. Unlike that of Rebekah Wade, who decided to equip each of her lovelies with lines of pure political propaganda, aka the News in Briefs which accompany the girls on Page 3.

Oh, and did I mention that the Sun, despite saying that most of the pictures are too explicit to print in a "family" newspaper, does provide 7 of them for your own one-handed delights on their website, 3 of which clearly show Mills' breasts. On each picture, tastefully adding words to the proceedings, is the legend "OUR LAWYERS ARE WATCHING". Not just your lawyers, I'm afraid.

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Media Grauniad.

One of the joys of the English language is that perfectly normal and acceptable sentence structures can still be hilarious. Take this, from the Guardian, reporting on Hugh Grant and Jemima Khan suing the Daily Mail:

Solicitors acting for Hugh Grant and Jemima Khan are taking legal action against the Daily Mail over an article about their relationship printed at the weekend.

The Four Weddings and a Funeral actor and his heiress girlfriend have instructed London solicitors Schillings to begin legal proceedings against the Mail over an article on Saturday May 3 headlined "I never knew he was such a good actor."

The pair claim the article is "false and defamatory"


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Saturday, June 03, 2006 

BNP councillor exposed as holocaust denying, jewish conspiracy believing racist misoygnist. (and this is news?)

The next time the BNP appear on television and try to say that they're not racist, or when someone tells you that they're now a "respectable" party, point them to the example of Simon Smith. He was recently elected as a councillor for Great Bridge on the Sandwell council in the West Midlands. Like many members of the British National Party, including their candidates, he has a "secret" identity on the internet, where he shares his real foul views in the comfort of other like minds on the white nationalist (aka racist) Stormfront forums.

The Ministry of Truth has patiently and brilliantly went through the over 2,100 posts of Steve Freedom, Simon Smith's Stormfront alias. They expose the man as a fraud.

Some of his "choice" posts:
I wrestled with this subject for a long time….I didn’t want to accept what you may could call the "WN postion on the subject" just to fit in with everybody else…

The "Holocaust" is the biggest lie of all time….

I know where you are, so to speak..You will need to carry reading on the subect to put your mind at rest…

Here's a letter he sent to the Daily Telegraph, then owned by Conrad Black, about an article over Nike dropping their "Zyklon" shoe:
Umbro drops its Zyklon shoe after Jewish protests…numbro29 .xml

I sent this email to the Telegraph in response

"Dear Sir,

With regard to the “Zyklon” trainers article…

After doing quite a bit of reading on the "Holocaust" , I must say I don’t believe in the "Received Version" that is put out by the mainstream media. I believe we are living in a "Pre Copernican" era on this subject, and whilst it may be painful for vested interests to get to grips with this subject and call me an "Holocaust Denier", "Nazi" etc the truth will eventually stand by itself.

I believe that people who promote the "Orthodox" version of the "Holocaust" i.e. 6 million and mass executions by gas either believe in it as an article of faith or actually know they are propagating a myth whose demise would have consequences for Jewish interests.

I’m not stupid, I know that the Daily Telegraph is controlled by a Zionist lobby and I know that there is no way you would publish this letter in your newspaper. My hope is that this email may be seen by at least one truthfully minded individual before it’s consigned to the trash folder.

The six million figure is not even believed by Jewish “Holocaust” researchers. They do keep quiet on the matter so as not to dispel the myth. In fact the six million is in mathematical terms 6 times 10 to the power 6, a significant mystical Jewish number. The six million was being predicted way before 1945. It doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

The 1988 Zundel trial allowed independent execution expert Fred Leuchter to demonstrate that the crematoria at Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II could not have been used for execution purposes.

Zyklon “B” is not a fast acting gas. You are wrong. Even the article you link to refers to half an hour. The amount of Zyklon “B” used at the so-called “extermination” camps was no more or less than the other concentration camps. Cremation in 20 minutes is impossible. Germany wouldn’t be able to provide the coke for the crematoria for the number claimed.

The pictures of the emaciated corpses we see are of starvation and typhus victims and were taken in the western camps of the Reich. The tragic events occurred towards the end of the war when supplies were being cut off. British autopsies showed that none of the victims died of cyanide. In fact it was still claimed until the early sixties that gassings took place at Dachau and Belsen etc where the witness testimony (which has been debunked) was in no ways different to the witness testimony put forward at the IMT trials with respect to the eastern concentration camps….

I could go, but what’s the point ? You either believe the “received version” or you might have a slight doubt. If you have a slight doubt then research the topic…"

He also came up with 13 similarities between a certain German leader and another reasonably famous Biblical character:
These are some comparisons that came to mind between Jesus Christ and Adolph Hitler:

1 Both vilified by the major ruling powers of the world

2 Jesus killed by Romans because of Jewish lobby – Adolph affectively killed by Allies because of Jewish Lobby

3 Followers of Jesus persecuted after his death – Followers of Adolph persecuted after his death

4 Both drew attention to the lies of the Jews

5 Jesus threw the money changers out of the temple – Adolph threw out the Jewish bankers from Germany

6 Both were courageous men

7 Both were orators who connected with the “common folk”

8 Both came from fairly humble lower middle class families

9 Both have attracted devotees who would die for their respective causes

10 Jesus vilified by the Talmud, Adolph vilified by the (Jewish) media

11 Arguably both have attracted distorted ritualistic/fetishist behaviour from their fans that may have missed out their essential philosophy driving them (Truth/Salvation ?)

12 Neither had offspring – their legacy was who they were and what they stood for.

13 Both spoke the Truth and were willing to suffer the consequences for it

Much, much more is over at the Ministry of Truth's post. Smith does however has his own blog, where he's on his best behaviour but where even he can't help dropping some of his more bat shit crazy ideas:
Links: - This amazing video shows that 911 was an inside job . The PNAC document -"People for a New American Century" describes how the American Neo Conservatives had said that they needed a new "Pearl Harbor" to foster American expansion in the middleast and beyond. George Bush and lapdogs like Blair are War Criminals. More than that - they are evil people. - Flying saucers have been around for a while. They are secret government projects. The "alien" mythology has been created to disguise this. I am very angry about this.

The moon landings were a hoax

He also has a councillor website, no doubt funded by taxpayers, where he spends some of his time pointing out how other parties' councillors have criminal records, as well as explaining that there's more anti-white racism than there is of the non-white variety. This is of course because the media is owned by persons who benefit from uncontrolled immigration, despite the right-wing media's hostility to exactly that. This is to deflect attention from how many of the British National Party's prospective candidates have had previous incidents with the police. Indeed, according to Private Eye's Rotten Boroughs column, the only reason that the BNP did not field a full field of candidates in the Barking and Dagenham council elections was that not enough local members could be found who didn't have a conviction which had resulted in a custodial sentence of 3 months or longer in the last 5 years. This information was acquired from Robert Buckley, one of the successful candidates who boasted about the fact to anyone who would listen.

Not that everything is going swimmingly down in the appropriately named Barking for the BNP. Three of their number have been taken to court over owing thousands in rent and council tax. And after trying to get an amendment passed which would have condemned "discrimination against the indigenous majority", only one of their councillors had the brains to raise his hand to support it. They later complained that they thought they had to press buzzers. The BNP aren't idiots, they just sometimes act like it.

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Following the start of yesterday's Sun campaign to end politically correct persecution of St. George flag flyers, its rivals have inevitably seen a gap in the market.
The Mirror then offers a complete England car kit, normally costing £32 for free. Those jittery horses had better watch out.
The Sun, apart from getting excited over someone with a one syllable name kicking a football, has a free St. George poster, which has "FLY THE FLAG WITH PRIDE" emblazoned across the middle red stripe. Why the Sun is so attached to what one letter writer to the Grauniad today calls "the much hated papal banner of the Norman/French occupation" is probably a question not worth asking. Where a Palestinian mythical dragon slayer born in Asia Minor comes into it is anyone's guess.
Richard "Dirty" Desmond, proprietor of the Daily Star and Diana Express, has decided to put his hand in his pocket (bulging with the £52 million he took home last year) and give away yet another £50,000 camper van, which you can use to go and visit the tunnel where the people's princess sadly came to her tragic end. Alternatively you could just leave it on your drive or outside your house and hang your free "official Daily Star" wall chart inside it. Remember, it's three times the size of that page! Sadly they don't compare it in size to Rebecca Loos' surgically enhanced breasts, whom is today's lady in her underwear on the front page. Surely a missed opportunity?

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Friday, June 02, 2006 

Keeping it in the family.

There's nothing quite like journalism which involves nepotism. Recently we saw the offspring of Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger, Isabella, commenting on the relationship of airheads Chantelle and Preston, who met on Celebrity Big Brother, although she was helped with some of the words by Alexia Skinitis (who she?).

Today's Grauniad G2 features an article written by none other than 12 and 14 year-old aspiring hacks Alix and Maya Hattenstone, reporting on meeting some of their favourite authors at the Guardian-sponsored Hay-on-Wye literary festival. Alix and Maya are of course the daughters of Grauniad sports writer and interviewer Simon Hattenstone, who is credited with "additional reporting, aged 43." They talk to among other authors, Jacqueline Wilson, Andy McNab (forever immortalised by Alan Partridge as Randy McNob) and Michael Morpurgo. Accompanying the piece are photos of the girls with all of the authors, which will no doubt look great in the family album. Trebles no doubt to the commisioning editor and congratulations to the Hattenstone family!

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Sun-watch: Up yours, health and safety!

You could have seen this one coming. As the country gears up for England's inevitable exit from the World Cup in the quarter finals on penalties, every right thinking person is of course showing their support by sticking up the flag of St. George in as many places as possible.

According to the Sun, those that object are killjoys, and are of course, preaching hated political correctness. That nearly all the original "killjoys" have relented doesn't seem to matter. First of all, those well known politically correct fascists, namely Hampshire police, warned that flags attached to cars could scare wildlife and make horses bolt. They also warned that flags could become detached and turn into "plastic missiles" which could cause serious injury. Perhaps over cautious, but isn't it better to be safe than sorry in some cases? Even so, I'm sure that the Sun's objection to such worries has nothing to do with the fact that they were offering car flags which as well having the flag and England printed across them, also had the Sun's logo clearly visible all over them in their newspapers. It's also reminiscent of their campaign to err, "save Christmas" from politically correct councils which supposedly thought lights and decorations may offend some ethnic minorities. Complete rubbish of course, but it makes for a good campaign and might trick a few punters into buying the paper in the bargain.

The other politically correct killjoys were those other well known socially caring and environmentally friendly guys at err, Tesco, who briefly banned their drivers from flying the England flags in their cabs. They relented after pressure from their drivers and public, especially after it was pointed out that drivers already flew football club flags and had such murals in their cabs. The council in Milton Keynes briefly objected to a man who had painted his house in the style of the St. George's flag, as it was in-between two protected and registered buildings. They also quickly relented. Another case was a school in Stoke-on-Trent, a town which has had problems with the British National Party, which also briefly banned the flying of the flag. Again, they relented.

There is of course a serious element to all of this. There are some who feel threatened by the flag of St.George, whether wrongly or not. Joseph Harker wrote a very ill-judged article for the Guardian a couple of weeks ago which was very close to being racist, made sweeping generalisations and was excessively paranoid. What has been evident about the burst of patriotism and flying of the flag is that it has been almost comprehensively reclaimed from the racist far-right. Understandably, those that remember the bad old days of BNP and National Front fetes are a little concerned about the connotations, but they need not worry. One only has to go into the average Chinese or Indian restaurant to find that they too have put up wallcharts to chart England's progress. If anything, it shows that the nation is coming together, and that the implications of Norman Tebbit's notorious test, that being that nationality could be judged on whether immigrants supported England or Pakistan at the cricket, are becoming a thing of the past.

Even so, why should one have to fly the flag to show their support for England? Anyone with half a brain can do it without having to become one of those idiot goons that Charlie Brooker described as branding themselves and paying for the privilege. You too can support England, while sneering at the likes of the Sun and their demands that anyone who objects to the flag is a politically correct wanker. I object to the Sun on the grounds that it's written by semi-literate morons and owned by a man who does everything he can to avoid paying tax in this country, even though his newspapers and media interests have such a big influence on the political culture and discourse. Will the Sun support me flying an England flag from my window with "FUCK THE SUN AND ALL THAT BUY IT" written on it? That should answer whether or not they truly support the rights of everyone to put whatever things they like on their houses or cars.

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Thursday, June 01, 2006 

Hazel Blears talks a load of crap - so what's new?

Well, you have to at least give Hazel Blears credit for trying. As one of the slightly less annoying Labour party women cabinet MPs - she rankles less than Patricia Hewitt, and more than Tessa Jowell - there's already a mountain to climb, especially as she's a committed Blairite. She today writes in the Guardian that the Labour party has to prove that it has the "governing" gene - and boy, she tries to convince you, but only through boring you to tears by coming up with same old cliches.

My challenge as Labour party chair is to rehabilitate party politics as a reputable, even honourable, activity. I want local activists to be proud of their role in making our democracy work. I want to see more working-class people - especially women - involved in party politics, including at the highest levels. Working-class people have the most to gain from party politics, and the most to contribute. Politics pothe country, in towns, on estates and in cities, I have met people who are working to improve their localities. Some, such as the women of Mothers Against Guns, face huge danger to take on drug gangs or criminals with guns. Every year we honour, with the Taking a Stand awards, local activists who tackle crime and antisocial behaviour. Others are involved with Sure Start or New Deal for Communities schemes. Two things stand out: first, it is often the women in the community who come forward to make a difference; and second, they seldom make a connection between their campaigns and mainstream party politics.

Yes, they seldom make a connection because they're not interested in mainstream party politics, and they're not going to be interested in becoming part of the Labour party when no one will bother listening to them once they are, which is what will happen. This government is almost immune to listening, unless it's what it wants to hear. We've had the Big Conversation and the Let's Talk shambles, and nothing good has come out of them.

I know that this is a tough time to be a Labour supporter. Some people are angry with us on specific issues such as Iraq or tuition fees; others are frustrated by what they feel is a lack of progress on issues that they care about, such as education or crime. But I do not believe that the country is at a tipping point between governing parties. This is not 1945, 1979 or 1997.

Despite the current poll leads for the Conservatives, I do not get a sense that Britain is desperate for a change of government. Michael Howard enjoyed poll leads of 4% over Labour in January, February and March of 2004, but went on to lose the election. Labour was ahead of the Tories in the 80s and 90s but lost in 1987 and 1992. Opposition parties normally lead government parties at this point in the electoral cycle.

We are experiencing the natural rhythm of government. After nine years in power no government can expect an easy ride from the voters. People are sceptical, querulous, hard to please. Good. No government should be free from proper scrutiny. People should be ambitious for change. But most still want Labour to succeed. They know we are basically on their side. And they don't want the Tories back. The BBC's adaptation of The Line of Beauty serves as a terrible reminder of the Tories in government: arrogant, decadent and elitist.

She's right about two thing, it's a tough time, but it's not about specific issues or a lack of progress on other issues - it's about almost everything. The other thing she's right about is that it is not yet a tipping point - but it will be soon unless something is done. Then we have the biggest laugh in the whole article - the Tories in government: arrogant, decadent and elitist. A complete difference to this government then, which bans protests without prior permission within a mile of parliament, which tries to make ID cards compulsory despite its manifesto saying that they would not be, which has John Prescott hanging on to all his perks despite being caught shagging his secretary, only to give up a house after weeks of pressure, the antics of Tessa Jowell's husband, his hedge funds, offshore tax havens and Jowell's apparent lack of enquiry involving his dealings. Then there's loans for peerages, as well as peerages for academy sponsors, all of which is neither decadent or elitist. True, the Tories were guilty of undeclared loans as well, but that was to be expected from them. Blair's promises to be whiter than white look more laughable by the day. As for no government being free from proper scrutiny, the Abolition of Parliament Act, aka the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill in its unaltered state would have left ministers with the powers to change bills almost at will, with only a committee being able to object.

I don't believe I am giving away Labour's election-strategy secrets when I say that at the core of Labour's exposé of David Cameron will be the simple reminder that he is a Conservative. We need to show people what Cameron is really all about: saying whatever it takes to get the Tories back into power. Vote Cameron and you get the rest of them: Gummer, Hague, Duncan Smith and Redwood. Cuts to public spending. Attacks on the unions. Longer NHS waiting lists. Isolation in Europe. Just like last time.

Oh, so Labour's election strategy will be more of the same? Dave the Chameleon worked like a dream - the nasty, personal campaign the Conservatives wanted. Cuts to public spending, hmm, what was that about NHS deficits, caused in some places by huge PFI bills and companies making excess profits? Oh, that's happening under this government. Attacks on the unions? Who could forget about Blair's speech about "wreckers", which targeted nurses and teachers? The lack of solidarity with those sacked or under threat of redundancy, both at Vauxhall plants and at Gate Gourmet show how hollow the government's support of the unions is, as is the way that Labour treats the resolutions made at its conferences - it just ignores them. Isolation in Europe? This couldn't possibly be the same government which has been thinking about amending or pulling out of the European Convention of Human Rights, only for Charlie Falconer to eventually mention that it wouldn't be a very good idea. This government was also the only one to imprison foreign nationals without charge, which required a lapse of the government's implementation of the European right to liberty. Still, if you ignore all that then I guess that Blears is pretty much right.

After 106 years, this is the Labour party's defining moment. The coming months will answer a simple question: is Labour a party of government or a party of protest? Are Labour governments an aberration? Is our job simply to take over from tired Tories and let them take a breather for a few years? Or do we have a "governing gene" in our DNA?

The evidence is promising: we are facing up to tough long-term challenges in energy policy, public-service reform, pensions and immigration. We are governing for the long term. We are trading short-term political popularity for the long-term benefit of the country, and that is the hallmark of a serious government.

So there are multiple tests for the Labour party during the coming months. We must deliver on our manifesto pledges, based on a mandate only a year old. We must be united, because, as recent events prove, the only winners when Labour people scrap are the Tories. We must demonstrate that Labour is different from the Tories, that our values and our instincts are different. We are not simply a competing brand, but represent a distinct political and moral tradition. We need to continue to dominate the centre ground of politics, forcing the Tories on to the extremes - where most of them are quite comfortable.

Facing up to long-term challenges in energy policy - translation: Tony told his business chums that nuclear is back on the agenda with a vengeance. Public service reform - yet more constant change in the NHS, causing deficits, low staff morale and patients to suffer as a result. In schools, the establishment of academies ran by religious nutters where the kids have to carry Bibles on certain days and are expelled for smoking, or ran by business groups which in some cases haven't even yet paid the sponsorship money. Then there's the trust schools, which won't result in a two-tier system because Tony says so. Pensions reform is around the only issue where Labour has admittedly got it right - only because Turner was allowed to do a full report, which Blair beat Brown into agreeing to most of its conclusions. Then there's immigration, where the government allows the hysteria of the tabloids to override the real picture, which is that those seeking asylum is down, removals are being accelerated at the expense of those who aren't seeking asylum but are just illegal, and where those being readied for deportation are being kept in disgusting conditions.

Trading short-term political popularity for long term benefit - from a government that has legislated on the back of a fag packet, that has played to the day's headlines and been more interested in what the Sun and Daily Mail think than its own supporters, seems just a little rich. From 42 separate pieces of criminal justice legislation, from hundreds of newly created offences, to Blears' own wheeze about making those carrying out community punishments wear orange jackets like the detainees at Guantanamo, this is dishonesty of the highest order.

Blears' last gasp is that Labour has to deliver on its manifesto pledges - but how many of those who voted Labour voted for it based on its manifesto - Obsolete voted for Labour, but certainly not for the manifesto or Blair. As for delivering on its pledges, we've already seen how a voluntary ID card system becomes compulsory when the legislation is introduced, only for the House of Lords to manage to come to a compromise with the government. Labour does represent a different political and moral tradition - but it doesn't at the moment, and hasn't for a good few years. The centre ground is the ground of despair, held hostage by the rampaging right and the hate of the Sun and Daily Mail. Labour has had 9 long years to govern not from the centre, but from the centre-left, and it hasn't. Look what 9 years of centre governing has created - a Labour party emasculated of almost all its members, activists alienated and a country increasingly cynical of politics as a whole. Pointing out how nasty and horrible the Tories are will not do any longer, and neither will the constant finger pointing of Blair at PMQ's, still blaming the Tories and saying how they never did anything when they were in power. That's ancient history - we need honesty and proper answers now. Labour needs to articulate where it's going, and this article by Hazel Blears does nothing of the sort.

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