Monday, July 31, 2006 

The vacuum is here to stay.

While the children of Qana suffocated in the one place they thought they'd be safe, Tony Blair was in the Californian resort of Pebble Beach, delivering a speech to a bunch of Murdoch employees and various other worthless nobodies.

In case you're wondering, it wasn't up to much. In fact, it was typical Blair, filled with the same meaningless nonsense which has now been blathered about for nine years.

The era of tribal political leadership is over in Britain with "rampant cross-dressing" on policy set to become a permanent feature of modern politics, Tony Blair told News Corp executives in conclave in the Californian resort of Pebble Beach yesterday.

In an elegiac survey of his nine-year leadership, Mr Blair claimed the true divisions opening up across the world were now not between left and right, but between advocates of modern, open societies and closed, traditional ones.

Absolute and utter rubbish. The left-right divide is still there for everyone to see; it's only the politicians themselves who want to remove the spectrum from view, and that's because they want to hide the fact that nearly all of them say exactly the same thing and have policies which are almost indistinguishable from one another. This all began with Blair making the break from New Labour, the idea that without rejecting the past that Labour would never return to office. This was nonsense then, and it's nonsense now. In the aftermath of Black Wednesday, Labour was always going to win the 1997 election. If John Smith had lived, he would almost certainly of become prime minister.

The ideological break came with the establishment of what was called the "third way". Neither left nor right, but something entirely new. In the event, what this third way meant in practice and still means is essentially Thatcherism with a kinder face. The ultimate example of this was the way Labour didn't dare to touch the Tory spending plans for a couple of years, lest they be accused of returning to the tax and spend policies which they had supposedly promised to leave behind. The third way meant sucking up to what had previously been seen as the nest of vipers which was the Daily Mail and the Sun, and with Major being made a laughing stock, it worked for a while. The Sun came out for Labour a few weeks before the 97 election, when previously on the day of the election in 92 it informed its readers that if they were the last to leave if Kinnock won, would they please turn out the light? Kinnock himself blamed the Mail and Sun for losing in 92. There was therefore no chance that Blair would dare to anger the Rothermeres' and Murdoch.

It has to be said that there have been some successes regarding the "third way". Nominally left wing policies such as the huge rise in spending on the NHS and schools have now become such sacred cows that the Tories cannot dare to question them, to the horror of their own right wing. Alongside this though the "third way" has meant the acceleration of the private finance initiative in providing new hospitals and schools; contracts which will result in millions for companies over decades, but which aren't on the chancellors budget books for now. The reintroduction of the market in health care, the use of private consultants for various operations are all examples of how Blair has thrown off the ideological shackles with no regard for what is the best value for both money and care. In education, academies which require sponsors who can then dictate an amount of the curriculum are resulting in schools where creationists are taking control, as well as where minor indiscipline is now also leading to suspension and expulsion. Trust schools, which no one wanted except the Tories and Blair, will be exploited to their full potential if Cameron manages to get back in.

But I digress. Back to Blair:

He defended boldness in his political leadership, saying: "In these times caution is error; to hesitate is to lose", adding that his worry has been that he has not been radical enough in his leadership.

Yes, a non-sequitur, one of Blair's favourite methods of talking complete bollocks but which looks like it means something on the surface. What Blair really means here is that he's dedicated to pleasing the headlines of the newspapers. While the left and the Guardian often urge caution and suggest to take things slower and to come to policy agreements over time, as well as having trials first, such as over the introduction of 24-hour drinking licenses and liberalisation of gambling, what Blair does is respond. If the Sun is screaming about asylum seekers, he cracks down. If the Mail suggests that yobs need tackling, along come ASBOs and the idea of summary justice. If the Sun demands that we have a referendum on the EU constitution, then bam, we get one, even if he'd suggested just days earlier that there was no need whatsoever for one. In essence, Blair has always known where his bread is buttered, and it's buttered with the rich and the powerful. He has to be especially careful now he has a reduced majority in parliament, hence why we've seen the complete capitulation of home office policy to the Sun, and the obscene and deadly way we've adopted US foreign policy without any debate.

Mr Blair, who flew by helicopter from San Francisco to the exclusive Pebble Beach resort to make his speech, argued that modern political debate in Europe and the US was "no longer between socialists and capitalists but instead between the globalisers and the advocates of protectionism, isolationism and nativism", which he described as issues of migration and national identity.

Blair is right on one thing here. Socialism as it was is dead. There's no turning back on that score. However, the purpose of the left now is to attempt to make capitalism kinder: to redistribute, to dull the worst excesses of mass consumerism, and to make sure that business is regulated not too heavily, but not too lightly either. Blair though conflates what he sees as protectionism and isolationism with what is actually self-preservation and being more critical of our allies. The example of the Peugeot workers is one of so-called protectionism: it's well known that they're being sacked here because our rules on employment are less stringent than they are on the continent, even though the factory to be closed is more productive than those in France.

Blair is such an ardent believer in the "special relationship" that he'll support America over absolutely anything: he involved us in a war in Iraq which we had no need to join in, a war we could have instead helped stop. The result is a country heading towards civil war where over 100,000 may well have died. His complete sycophancy towards the Bush administration position on Israel has lead directly to the deaths we saw yesterday in Qana. The refusal to demand an immediate ceasefire means that more have died than was necessary, and more will continue to die until they demand it. That isn't about isolating ourselves from the world at large, or rejecting the special relationship. The very best friends you can have are critical ones.

The prime minister argued: "Most confusingly for modern politicians, many of the policy prescriptions cross traditional left-right lines. Basic values, attitudes to the positive role of government, social objectives - these still divide among familiar party lines, but on policy cross-dressing is rampant and a feature of modern politics that will stay.

Again, more nonsense. Evidence that the left-right lines still exist are evidenced by the hatred that some quarters of the media have shown towards the Human Rights Act. The Human Rights Act should be a shining example of what a Labour government has brought in which has made life better for everyone in the country, and of the left's basic values. Instead it gets the blame for what are seen as "unpopular" decisions, such as that regarding the Afghan hijackers fleeing the Taliban and over control orders. The Sun demands that it be repealed, or the "worst" parts of it either struck out or amended. David Cameron suggested a UK bill of rights, only to be universally laughed at, especially because he hadn't consulted Kenneth Clarke, the man in charge of constitutional and democratic policy, who then described Cameron's idea as almost "xenophobic".

Attitudes to the positive role of government is not a good example of left-right attitudes being abandoned; mainly because the Blairites has thrown themselves in with the Tories in regarding the state as evil. Listen to Cameron go on about charitable organisations and entrepreneurs, without explaining how they'll make up for what the state provides in programmes such as Sure Start. The fact of the matter is that Blair has similarly repudiated the state - hence the ever rising involvement of the private sector in the NHS. The left still believes in the state and is right to - but Blair doesn't.

"In these conditions political leaders have to back their instinct and lead. The media climate will often be harsh. NGOs and pressure groups with single causes can be benevolent, but also can exercise a kind of malign tyranny over public debate.

"For a leader, don't let your ego be carried away by the praise or your spirit diminished by the criticism and look on each with a very searching eye. But for heaven's sake lead."

Yes, it gets worse. NGOs and pressure groups apparently can exercise a malign tyranny over public debate, but the media climate can often only be "harsh". The most obvious example of a malign tyranny on public debate is of course, the Sun - (proprietor: R Murdoch) a newspaper that tells it readers what they want and has an overbearing influence on the government. Hence the Sun believed every word of the "intelligence" on Iraq - mainly because Mr Murdoch thought it would lead to a barrel of oil being $20, not out of his feelings for the oppressed, murdered and tortured citizens of the country. When Dr David Kelly tragically took his own life, the Sun knew who was to blame, and it sure wasn't the government. The BBC came in for a battering day after day after day. When it came to terrorist suspects being held in custody for up to 90 days without charge, the Sun used an image of a man injured in the 7/7 bombings who was opposed to Blair's demands, with no apology given. When MPs voted against the plans, those who dared to exercise the right to represent both the public and their own minds were called traitors for their trouble.

All this support comes at a price though - hence the hysteria over the criminal justice system being "unbalanced", years of attacks on those fleeing persecution who came just wanting sanctuary, resulting in crackdown after crackdown on "bogus" asylum seekers and immigrants in general, and the demands for the Human Rights Act to be axed. Blair doesn't name what NGOs or single-issue lobbies he finds most distasteful, but we can be they're the same ones which cause him the most trouble: the likes of Liberty, the Stop the War coalition and various human rights groupings that don't turn a blind eye to abuses which the government does.

For Blair to pretend that he doesn't let his ego get carried away with praise is perverse. Here is a man that prefers the company of Silvio Berlusconi, Rupert Murdoch and others than to his cabinet or natural Labour supporters. His obsession with the rich has led to his biggest disaster on the home front: the loans for peerages scandal. He's more than capable of ignoring criticism, he's done that for years. Praise however will get you places.

Here though comes the most hypocritical line of them all:

My concern is that we cannot win this struggle by military means or security measures alone, or even principally by them.

"We have to put up our ideas against theirs. But our cause will only triumph if people see it is based on even-handedness, on fairness, on a deep and genuine passion to help others."

You only have to see the post previous to this one to realise what this means for everyone apart from Blair in practice. He's quite right that military and security means will never triumph on their own, yet still he wants to throw away hard-won liberties in the fight against terror. He either can't or won't criticise the destruction that Israel has heaped on Lebanon, out of all proportion to what started the conflict. Most of all, his government has been complicit in torture, as evidenced by Craig Murray in Uzbekistan, and by the rendition flights that ministers still refuse to admit they had any knowledge about. To Blair, even-handedness and the passion to help others only extends once the bombing has ended.

Blair then sums up his duration as prime minister in one speech. There's no doubting that at the low-level, Labour has improved Britain. The NHS, despite the problems it's now suffering has greatly improved. Education results are getting better, although whether this is down to pupils and students only being taught for the exam and nothing else is an argument that we should be having. Redistribution through tax credits, although badly flawed, is going on. Sure Start centres are helping the under-privileged with families immensely.

Yet there's so much more Blair could have achieved with his majorities. Instead, in his pursuit of headlines, of his lust for American power and continuing reliance on doing things almost entirely designed to rile both Labour backbenchers and his nominal support, he's failed. He'll be remembered, not for his political courage, but for his vacuousness. He led his party to victory, but without any love between him or them. The road ahead looks bleak, but not for Tony. He'll be with his friends making speeches across America, writing his memoirs and most likely sniping at the party which he has broken. Lucky for him, David Cameron seems ready to continue his legacy, although whether the kinder face of Thatcherism will remain we have yet to find out.

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Sunday, July 30, 2006 

She loves it.

One day. Two very different photographs.

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Saturday, July 29, 2006 

Oh, what a lovely war!

31 Lebanese are laid to rest in a mass grave in Tyre; an environmental disaster is now also taking hold across Lebanon, as an estimated 15,000 tons of oil from the bombed Jiyeh power station is washed ashore.

Despite being hyped up by Downing Street, yesterday's talks between George Bush and Tony Blair were yet another miserable failure. If Blair did tell Bush that a ceasefire was urgently needed, then neither of them showed it at yesterday's joint press conference. Instead, it was all too depressingly familiar.

Mr Blair said events such as the conflict in Lebanon underscored the "simple choice" faced by Iran and Syria. "They can either come in and participate as proper and responsible members of the international community, or they will face the risk of increasing confrontation," he said.

Quite right. Except that, err, Iran and Syria were purposefully not invited to the talks in Rome on Thursday, and have been shut out of all discussions about the conflict. There are no signs that diplomatic contact has even been attempted to be made with Syria. Iran and Syria are therefore damned if they do and damned if they don't.

Mr. Bush said that, despite the bloodshed in Lebanon, Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East, democracy is taking root in the region and will flower “unless we lose our nerve.”

Indeed. Iraq gets ever closer to civil war with each passing day, the democratically elected government of the Palestinian occupied territories is boycotted and as a result cannot pay the workers of the Palestinian authority, while Israel arrests numerous members of that government without a word of criticism from those who are determined to make sure that democracy takes root. Instead of urging Israel to act proportionally, or even, god forbid, call a ceasefire, the US and Britain continue to give carte blanche for even more civilian casualties and the almost wholesale destruction of Lebanon, driving ever more of the remaining population in southern Lebanon into the arms of Hizbullah. Rather than supporting the democratically elected government which gained power in the aftermath of the "cedar revolution", they'd rather see Israel destroy a militia and most of the country in the process, just in case they have to attack Iran at some point in the future.

The whole of the meeting of the two minds can be summed up more succinctly using Bush's words of two weeks ago:

You see, the ... thing is what they need to do is to get Syria, to get Hezbollah to stop doing this shit and it's over

That's about as far as the analysis of the current situation goes, and even that is full of doublespeak. They have no intention of talking to Syria, let alone getting them to stop Hizbullah from doing this "shit".

In the meantime, while we wait for what looks to be another false dawn of hope at the UN security council on Monday, Israeli spokesmen continue to lie through their teeth. They're now rejecting calls from the UN for a 3 day truce so that humanitarian aid can be delivered because
"Israel has opened humanitarian corridors to and from Lebanon." That would be the same corridors that are repeatedly coming under attack from Israel shelling and bombing raids, as evidenced by Robert Fisk and Fergal Keane (Click on the "refugee convoy comes under fire" link in the box on the right).

The motto of the Israelis seems to be, if in doubt, blame Hizbullah. They've blamed the high civilian casualty rates on Hizbullah rockets and arm caches being located right next to houses or even inside them, while there has been absolutely no evidence whatsoever to substantiate this.
In fact, Salon has even reported that this is a complete and utter lie. Israel is now saying it's Hizbullah's fault that aid isn't getting through, yet another falsehood, as confirmed by both the UN and Observer journalists. That Israeli jets are seemingly willing to pound almost anything that moves has nothing to do with it. After all, the Israeli justice minister spelled it out only a couple of days ago: all those still in southern Lebanon are terrorists, and no one should shed any tears if they're targeted, aid convoys, refugees or otherwise.

As the Guardian leader notes, the situation is getting worse, not better. It's also entirely correct in highlighting that yesterday's talks were a charade. Even if the Foreign Office disagrees with the policy adopted by Downing Street, there's nothing they can do to persuade Blair to change his mind. He's already decided to support America's decision to let Israel do whatever the hell it likes until it feels that Hizbullah has taken enough of a battering. All the talk so far has been just that: talk to make it look as if they, and as a result, we, are genuinely concerned. Neither Bush or Blair has uttered one word in condemnation of the Israeli reaction; the nearest Blair has come is admitting that the conflict has been a "complete tragedy". Sadiq Khan, the Labour MP for Tooting, is rightly furious, and recognises just how badly this is going down not just with British Muslims, but with most of the population.

What we're left seeing is the real agenda of Blair. The mission to the White House yesterday was purely an afterthought:
today he speaks at a News International bash, surrounded by acolytes and other political spent forces. While the Sun screams about a terrorist war on Israelis, you have to wonder whether Blair believes exactly the same thing. He's done nothing to suggest otherwise. A foreign and home policy set by servility to both Murdoch and Bush? Stranger things have happened.

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Friday, July 28, 2006 

Daily Star/Sky-watch: To shock or not to shock?

Today's Daily Star announces on its front page that it has snatched/been sold pictures of Kate Lawler (she was in Big Brother) in "crazed obscene romps in nightclub", while the photograph of said gorgeous pouting Lawler shows her putting a brown substance (Mark Oaten denies all involvement) into her mouth. Incredible news, you're probably thinking, but who gives a shit?

Well, it seems that Sky News does. On their daily front page review, it says the following of the Daily Star:
The Star carries a picture of former Big Brother contestant Kate Lawler and promises more "shocking" shots of Kate in "crazed obscene romps". But if you buy the paper beware: the pictures aren't that shocking.

This public service message wouldn't have anything to do with Sky News sharing the same proprietor (R. Murdoch) as the Sun, would it? The Sun also fights for the same downmarket demographic as the Star, although the Scum does at least attempt to feature some news, whether plagued with its right wing bias or not.

You might also remember some recent shocking photographs that were featured in the Sun, or in this case, not quite featured. The Sun somehow came to the conclusion that there was "WORLDWIDE OUTRAGE" over the photograph of Princess Diana being helped to breathe as she lay in the crashed Mercedes. According to their sources, Wills and Harry were "sickened and appalled". All this was happening on the same day as dozens of Lebanese citizens were being killed by Israeli airstrikes across the country, but strangely that wasn't felt to be a "WORLDWIDE OUTRAGE". Probably because the Sun were more concerned with convincing its readers that what was actually happening was a "terrorist war on Israelis".

Cast your mind back a bit further, and you might recall the "shocking", "depraved" and "revolting" pictures of Heather Mills which they printed on a number of consecutive days. Like Sky says of the Star's shocking snaps, the supposed "hard core porn" shoot Mills' was involved in wasn't up to much either, but that didn't stop them splashing numerous amounts of them all over the paper and website, despite the Scum screaming that many were "too explicit to print".

Mr Pot, are you acquainted with Mr Kettle?

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Adding insult to injury.

You sometimes have to wonder whether the Met realises just how obnoxious its actions actually are, as their ignorance seems to know no bounds. Following on from the CPS decision to only prosecute the force on health and safety grounds over the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes, they've publicly announced that the two firearms officers involved his death are back on "full operational duties". Whether this means they'll rejoin their colleagues in CO19 and potentially be called as a rapid response armed unit, we're not told.

This shouldn't necessarily cause a problem or be potentially offensive to Jean Charles's family. Yet the decision comes before the Met has concluded whether they should face any disciplinary action and not even a week after the Grauniad revealed that the two officers had lied to the IPCC, in another leak from the otherwise currently indisposed report. It therefore comes across as a snub, not only to those who remembered de Menezes's life last Saturday, but also to the IPCC and CPS for daring to suggest that the Met has a case to answer.

"Sir" Ian Blair fully illustrated the contempt with which the Met is treating the various investigations on what happened and went wrong on the 22nd of July last year yesterday. He said:
"This goes right to the heart of the policing mission, mandate, the nature of risk-taking and the nature of assessing risks beforehand. I am not sure that was the design of the legislators in 1974 and it will be a matter that the courts will have to decide because the implications for everyday policing will be very significant."

Blair is right on one thing: the decision to prosecute on health and safety grounds is a horrible fudge which serves little purpose and helps absolutely no one. Even so, Blair's whine about the nature of risk-taking is pretty rich. From what we know so far, it was numerous errors on the behalf on nearly all those involved in the operation on the 22nd that led to an innocent man being shot. He wasn't properly identified; he was allowed to get on and off a bus without being stopped; the firearms squad only reached Stockwell tube after Jean Charles had entered the station; Cressida Dick, the woman in charge, was hopelessly vague in her orders: she claims she only wanted the officers to stop and arrest de Menezes; the officers took her "stop him" and possibly added "at all costs" to mean to shoot him dead; and even then he had been tackled and would have been unable to trigger any explosives when he was shot repeatedly in the head. Adding insult to injury, officer/s later tried to change the log to make it look as if they had concluded he wasn't one of the suspects, smeared de Menezes repeatedly and Blair himself tried to stop the investigation from starting straight away, possibly destroying evidence and hampering efforts to establish what went wrong from the very beginning. It wasn't de Menezes that put himself at risk; it was incompetent, panicked policing that did.

Thankfully, not everyone involved with the Met has been so dismissive and resistant to the possibility that things went horribly wrong. Richard Barnes, a member of the Metropolitian Police Authority was yesterday both outspoken and eloquent:

"Is there no one within [the Met] with the moral fibre and sense of personal obligation to recognise that Jean Charles's fate was sealed by systemic failure?" he asked. "The power to exercise ultimate force carries with it the responsibility to ensure all other possible alternatives are exhausted, even in such a fast-moving, fluid situation. Those obligations were not fulfilled at Stockwell, and Jean Charles paid the ultimate price for that failure."

He added: "I find it repugnant, and an affront to common decency, that the establishment can get it so wrong and then close ranks to protect its members from accepting and exercising the obligations of office. It is simply not enough to accept the glittering prizes, whilst ignoring the failures. Where is the man of personal stature and integrity amongst them?"

Mr Barnes, who is the Tory policing spokesman in London, said the shooting was followed by "various leaks that intended to besmirch his [Mr Menezes'] character. The source of this information is questionable, but it most probably came from those in authority. An innocent man was shot dead, and it was thought appropriate to traduce his character."

Could anyone have put it any better? At the moment, instead of reading the report that would tell us just how badly the operation went and how things could be improved in lieu of a similar situation, we're instead told with no apparent humility that the officers who shot dead an innocent man are returning to work, doubtless unlikely to face any further action against them. I don't doubt that they themselves have most likely suffered, having to deal with the fact that they shot a man dead who was in the wrong place at the wrong time, but the decision seems to be rubbing Jean Charles's relatives face in it. In a week in which it's been revealed that the investigation into the death of Stephen Lawrence was affected by corruption as well institutional racism and incompetence, you'd think that they give a bit more thought into their public relations exercises. That seems as much of a pipe dream as ever.

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Thursday, July 27, 2006 

Bombs over Gretna, caravans in Rome.

The aftermath of the Israeli bombing of the southern port city of Tyre; blood on the pavement in Haifa.

Margaret Beckett wasn't always New Labour to the core. In 1981 she supported Tony Benn in his fight for the Labour deputy leadership against Denis Healey. Even in 2002 she apparently had reservations about war with Iraq, but was promptly reassured, most likely by the dodgy intelligence which convinced so many other MPs.

Fast forward 4 years, and Beckett finds herself as foreign secretary after a disastrous period as head of Defra where this year she managed to comprehensively cock-up the EU subsidy payments to farmers in England, in many cases leaving them penniless. Her first 2 months as Jack Straw's successor have not been full of defining moments, except for her pathetic performance on the Today programme last week. Attending the Rome discussions yesterday, she performed what has become the UK's bone-headed and predictable attitude and role in foreign affairs: supporting the Americans come what may. According to Beckett, "even if you could get a ceasefire half an hour ago, you would probably be back in hostilities in a few days", which sums up exactly how optimistic and tough the UK and US have been in forcing Israel and Hizbullah to stop their deadly exchanges.

It's in this light that we should examine what seems like fake outrage over the use of Prestwick airport in Scotland to transport laser guided missiles to Israel. The United States apparently didn't seem to think it worth telling the airport what they were carrying until they more or less got there, leaving the officials on the ground with no choice but to wave them through. We're told by a spokesman that Beckett has risen the issue with Condoleezza Rice (she had an oil tanker named after her, don't you know?), and she herself has said that she may make a formal protest.

All of which is fair enough. There's not much more that Beckett could probably do, seeing as it's already happened, apart from making sure that the US isn't allowed to do the same thing again (which err, seems to be exactly what they are going do). What seems so out of kilter with Beckett's words is what happened at yesterday's diplomatic talks in Rome. According to the Guardian report, Rice was isolated in being the only one who didn't want the conference to end with a strongly-worded appeal to both Israel and Hizbullah to declare an immediate unconditional truce. Well, apart from, of course, Margaret Beckett.

Israel has quite reasonably taken this fudge to mean that it's been given carte blanche to do whatever the hell it likes. Israeli justice minister (irony strikes again) Haim Ramon also said that Israel has now given those in south Lebanon not connected to Hizbullah more than enough time to get out - so anyone there now is a "terrorist". By Ramon's logic, the 4 UN peacekeepers who were killed in an apparent deliberate attack were actually Hizbullah militants who by staying in the area were asking for it. Even more logically, as Israel now seems to consider anyone there a terrorist, it's probably a good idea to take out independent monitors who might make accusations of war crimes. After all, armies have to make as much effort as possible not to kill civilians, whether there are fighters in the area or not. With the UN and Lebanese army being bombed, there's less chance of Israel's moral military having to fend off charges of crimes against humanity.

Ramon's belligerence also rams home the comments of Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, who made what even the heartless Condoleezza Rice called an "impassioned plea" at the Rome summit. He asked whether "an Israeli teardrop was worth more than a drop of Lebanese blood". It seems quite so. Those who are still fleeing the fighting have often had to go on foot - the roads being made impassible by Israeli bombing, bridges broken in two and vehicles blown apart by the very same laser-guided missiles that went through Prestwick airport. Those who have stayed behind, unable to take elderly loved ones with them, will now seemingly be dismissed as terrorists and killers for doing so.

The situation then is thus: Beckett is deeply concerned about the United States not informing the UK that it's moving weapons of mass destruction through our territory destined for use in Lebanon, yet she won't call for the immediate ceasefire which would mean that those weapons wouldn't be used to possibly kill innocent civilians. Such mendacity shows the UK's policy over Israel-Lebanon for what it is; complete murderous folly. The apparent lack of permission to use Prestwick should also re-open questions about whether the CIA bothered to ask permission to refuel jets linked to extraordinary rendition there. Figures compiled by the Guardian show that Prestwick was one of the airports most used by jets linked to rendition flights. On that respect, we're similarly told that if the US had wanted to render suspected terrorists through our airspace to countries where they could held illegally and tortured, they'd have asked permission. The missiles to Israel seem to give the lie to that argument.

Meanwhile, everyone's second favourite terrorist nutjob has been calling for Muslims worldwide to become "martyrs in the war against the Zionists and the Crusaders." Expect the left to use this as evidence that Israel's actions are provoking extremism, while the right will say that this proves that Israel's response against Hizbullah is part of the global war on terror. The first position holds more water than the second, but it's still giving more credit to the ranting lunatics of al-Qaida than their clash of civilisations creed deserves. What it really shows is the failure of the international community. We've been so weakened by the war in Iraq that all we can do is mutter apologies to the slaughtered Lebanese and Israeli citizens, while doing nothing to stop the bombing on both sides, as extremists call for yet more blood to be spilt. At the same time, we refuse to involve the two nations (Syria and Iran) that can help stop it. Our policy is not only spineless, it's also condemning the Middle East to yet more decades of turmoil.

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Wednesday, July 26, 2006 

It continues.

Israeli soldiers with bodies of Hizbullah fighters in bags; the body of one of the UN force killed in the Israeli airstrike on their outpost being loaded into a vehicle.

2 weeks in to the Lebanon-Hizbullah-Israel crisis, the terrified citizens who fled to Tyre in the south of Lebanon are finally receiving some trucks of aid after an apparent understanding was reached with the Israelis to give the convoy safe passage.

4 members of the UN interim Unifil force encountered the other face of the IDF. After suffering 6 hours of bombardment by Israeli forces, with up to 10 phone calls being made to military commanders begging for them to stop, a missile scored a direct hit on the post, killing all of those inside at the time. Ehud Olmert is convinced that it was a terrible mistake, and has told Kofi Annan so. For Harry's Place, it's simply a mistake that happens at war time, while updates from the original post suggest that the UN deserved it because one photograph evidences a Hizbullah flag almost opposite from a UN one. They don't go into how the IDF still managed to blow the outpost up despite the UN making frantic phone calls asking them to stop, but that might make posters such as Gene and Brownie think twice about the devastation being visited on the Lebanese nation as a whole, which they virulently support as self-defence.

It does then make you wonder whether the IDF is visiting revenge on the UN force because of the outspokeness of Annan and Egeland in calling for an immediate ceasefire and denouncing the collective punishment being visited on Lebanon from a great height. After all, the evidence continues to stack up that Israel has deliberately targeted civilians and civilian areas. One report, coming from Israeli Army radio said that orders had been given to blast ten buildings in southern Beirut for every katyusha rocket fired at Haifa. Add this to those blown-up who were obeying Israel's orders to flee the far south, the attacked Red Cross ambulances, the destroyed factories, the blown apart airport, power stations and targeted church, and the claims that the IDF is the world's most moral military look increasingly hollow.

Things are no better in northern Israel, still coming under fire from barrages of Hizbullah rockets. A 15-year-old girl was killed yesterday, while others were injured. That Hizbullah can still launch its missiles two weeks on either shows that they were thoroughly underestimated by the Israelis, or that the IDF has been attacking places where there are no Hizbullah militants, letting them continue to fire their deadly weaponry with impunity. Nasrallah, Hizbullah's leader has today warned that missiles will soon be fired further than Haifa, increasing worries that Hizbullah still has Fajr-3 Iranian made missiles which it has not yet used.

In Gaza, where the Israeli incursion following the kidnap of Corporal Shalit has been quickly forgotten in the carnage visited on Lebanon, 10 Palestinans including a three-year-old girl were killed in a air strike. This comes despite apparent plans for a ceasefire and exchange of prisoners in an agreement brokered by the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas. The Qassam rocket attacks on Israel had dropped off in recent days accordingly, with only 3 being fired yesterday. None of them caused any injuries, or likely any damage. The Israeli attack therefore shows just what they think of iniatives by Abbas to broker a peace settlement, and is mirror of what has happened in the past. Ceasefires by Palestinian groups have been ignored while Israeli has carried on with its targeted assassinations and border closures, leaving the Palestinians with nothing in return for their gestures.

Everyone agrees that this cannot go on, yet the diplomatic discussions in Rome are nothing more than a talking shop which the United States is in complete control of. The US refuses to even talk to Syria or Iran, saying they have to act first, which is ridiculous considering the influence they have over Hizbullah and in the region as a whole. The lasting permanent ceasefire the US say it wants cannot be delivered without their involvement. Israel is of course above even attending such discussions, tied up as it is in destroying an entire country little by little. As Jonathan Freedland points out, it has been the failed diplomacy and wars of the States that have led to this situation in the first place. The failure to be tough on Israel over Palestine means that the whole region is paying the price. Sadly, there's nothing to suggest that this is going to change. Instead, the bodies will continue to pile up, while everyone continues to wring their hands.

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Things go from bad to worse for Mr Mahmood.

A day after three men walked free from court, cleared of attempting to buy the fictional chemical substance "red mercury" for terrorist purposes, Mazher Mahmood is facing yet another crisis. Florim Gashi, the man paid £10,000 for informing Mahmood of the "plot" to kidnap Victoria Beckham and her children has turned supergrass.

In a request for an appeal against a failed libel claim against the News of the Screws over the kidnap plot that never was, Gashi has given evidence against Mahmood. Apparently seeing the error of his ways, and feeling guilty, especially after meeting with the MediaGrauniad blogger Roy Greenslade, he told the two court of appeal judges that the kidnap plot was a "put-up job" in which our friend Mr Mahmood was complicit. According to the MediaGrauniad report, Gashi also apparently gave evidence against the Screws and Mahmood in the "red mercury" case.

All of which has to make you wonder whether Gashi was cut loose by the Screws after he was deported from Britain last year. While his story that he has seen the light may well be true, it's equally possible he tried blackmailing the Screws out of more money by threatening to go public. News International is not one to given in to such a scheme, and most likely called Gashi's bluff.

The court judges themselves are not optimistic that Gashi's evidence will be accepted by a jury; after all, he lied to the police. Nevertheless, it's another set-back for Mahmood, a man who only believes in press freedom when it earns him and his bosses money. The full unmasking of the fake sheikh and his gutter entrapment journalism are a step nearer.

Update: Surprise, surprise, there's no mention in the Sun today of yesterday's verdict involving Mr Mahmood and his imagination, although the Times does cover it.

Oh, and there's this:
On March 15 we published an article about a postman Jason Johnson who has difficulty reading numbers.

We have been asked to point out, and accept, that Mr Johnson, of Blackheath, South East London, has no difficulties performing his job and we were wrong to highlight his disability.

The Sun apologises to him for the distress our article caused.


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Tuesday, July 25, 2006 

Book review: Murder in Samarkand by Craig Murray.

Craig Murray's memoir of his time in Uzbekistan is one of those books that ought to be required reading for anyone who supports the "war on terror" as it is being fought at the moment. David Cameron's shadow cabinet, now increasingly likely to form the next government, could learn a lot too.

Opening with Murray's account of attending the trial of Uzbek "dissidents", you instantly discover just what sort of a country Uzbekistan is. While the United States and British government during Murray's time in Tashkent praised President Karimov's liberalisation, both of the economy and on human rights issues, the reality is laid bare page after page. Murray's description of the trial is remarkable for its similarities to K's nightmare first appearance before the court in Kafka's The Trial. The judge makes jokes which he and his officials laugh at heartily, while ignoring the defenses case that is being put to him. This itself is just a taster of what it is to come in the rest of Murray's tale: the behaviour of Simon Butt, Murray's Head of Department is a reflection of the justice system. He ignores and is angered by Murray's attempts to show the despotic nature of Karimov's regime, instead only listening to the positive spin that the Uzbeks and Americans put on things. Butt is in that respect, New Labour to the core.

Murray quickly established himself in Tashkent, both as a principled man who would listen to anyone who came to him with tales of human rights abuses, but also as a great friend to the British business community, the few of which were/are located there. On arrival, he visited each - something which the previous ambassador had not bothered to do in his entire time there. The so-called liberalisation of the economy was not only not happening, the country was in fact going backwards. The borders were closed; bazaars had been shut down; projects which were meant to being set up were either mothballed or not even getting off the ground; and on a visit to Ferghana university he finds there are no students; they were all out in the fields, forced into picking the cotton crop. The economy depends on the crop, with sixty percent of the population serving as a tied labour force. As such, the workers are slaves - paid too little to be able to leave. In Soviet times 70% of the crop was harvested by machine; now it is 90% picked by hand.

The fact that the country was better off in Soviet times is another recurring theme. Murray himself argues with an Uzbek girl about this, only for him to discover that he's badly in the wrong. The universal literacy which the Soviet system had provided was collapsing, while the welfare state institutions had already done so. Rather than pursuing communism, the country is now in the way Russia appears to be heading towards: ruthless nationalism, crackdowns on any dissent, no freedom of religion, banning of NGOs and all are being carried out under the banner of protecting the country from Islamic extremists, as part of the worldwide "war on terror".

Murray was expected by the Foreign Office to be just another yes man who questioned nothing and abided by the New Labour line of supporting America in whatever circumstances arose. If the Americans think Uzbekistan is OK, then so must Britain. It was Murray's disquiet and refusal to accept this that resulted in the now notorious charges being brought against him. Starting with his speech at Freedom House, only cleared at the last minute by the Foreign Office, his outspoken attacks on the human rights situation led to him slowly but inexorably being discommunicated, with his telegrams and emails back to Britain being ignored. Simon Butt described his telegrams as having an "emotional style", as if you can somehow report on men being raped with glass bottles with a stoical aloofness from the horror which is being perpetuated around you.

Throughout the book, Murray describes the true nature of the Uzbek security services and police, our former allies in the war on terror who provided us with "intelligence" which the government has no qualms about using or relying on. Male or female, nearly everyone who is arrested is raped. Torture is endemic - whether it involves the arrested being put in TB wards in order to catch the disease, the use of gas masks which are then blocked off to suffocate the victim without the normal telltale signs, or even and most notoriously, being boiled alive, all was carried out with no criticism from London or Washington.

Finally, Murray, about to go off on holiday but visiting London for the day is told that his staff have been suspended pending investigations. He himself was also under investigation over numerous allegations, involving issuing visas for girlfriends, turning up for work late and drunk, and various other trumped up misdemeanors, all off which apart from a couple he is eventually cleared of, neither of which should have been disciplinary issues in the first place. Eventually allowed to return to Tashkent, despite suffering a mental breakdown, his career is only ended after he wrote a telegram damning the intelligence which the West received from Uzbekistan through torture. After the leaking of the telegram to the Financial Times and interviews in the Guardian and on the Today programme, Murray was suspended and eventually given a severance package.

So far then, so grim and so political. Yet the book is enlivened throughout by Murray's nature. While for Max Hastings, reviewing the book in the Sunday Times, this trivalises the serious subject matter, Murray's almost laddishness actually tells you far more about the man than his passion for freedom and human rights does. While there's no doubting that his relationships with Uzbek girls and visits to nightclubs and "strip bars", if they can be called that, resulted in the breakdown of his marriage, Murray is the first to admit that he behaved badly. In the circumstances however, ignored by his superiors and accused of bringing the embassy into disrepute, he took solace in what he liked best, like anyone else would. His behaviour is wholly understandable, if not defendable. Most of all, it shows him as a normal human being, something which cannot be said about the New Labour people who tried to bring him down. His indiscretions also pale into insignificance when compared to the womanising and sleaze of John Prescott, David Blunkett and Boris Johnson.

While Murray's book arrives too late for those of us who sadly voted for Labour with a heavy heart last year, it's the kind of angry shout against the futility of Western policy that is so badly and desperately needed. The end result of the West's appeasement of Karimov was the Andijan massacre, which earned the Uzbeks the mild rebuke that was the excuse for Karimov to return into the welcoming arms of Vladimir Putin. Kicked out of the airbase they had used to bomb Afghanistan, the whole experience should of told the Bush administration just how counter-productive their current strategy is. On the contrary, it continues to regard Middle East dictatorships such as Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Egypt as best friends, while snubbing its nose at the democratically elected Hamas and Lebanese governments, letting Israel reduce Gaza and Lebanon to rubble. Most shocking off all, a so-called Labour government has stood by and supported the US to the hilt. As Murray writes, something about September the 11th changed the psyche of those who beforehand had been promoting an ethical foreign policy, allowing them to justify the use of torture, the lies surrounding the war in Iraq, and the attacks on civil liberties in this country.

Murray doesn't want to be referred to or thought of as a hero. John Pilger however manages to come up with a fitting description without using the h word, printed as it is on the front cover: a man of the highest principle. How true, and how typical of this Labour government, that it conspired to remove an ambassador who told them what they didn't want to hear. Tony Blair came to office promising to be purer than pure. Next time the government suggests that it has nothing to do with extraordinary rendition, or that it abhors torture, throw Murder in Samarkand at them.

(There's an excellent interview and further review on Lenin's Tomb. Obsolete also hosts the documents that Murray was ordered to remove from his website, here.)

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"Dangerously deceitful, ruthless, exploitative and corrupt."

Oh dear. Poor Mazher Mahmood, the notoriously private "fake sheikh" who objects to having his photograph being published but is more than happy to ruin the lives of entirely innocent people to help the sales of the News of the Screws, is once again left looking like a liar and fantasist of the highest order.

In surprisingly similar circumstances to the Victoria Beckham kidnap plot which never was, the trial of three men accused by the News of the Screws of attempting to buy "red mercury" for terrorist purposes has ended with all of them being found not guilty. Mahmood was told of the "plot" by someone known only as "Mr B" - which echoes what happened in the case of the Beckham kidnap plot, as then Mahmood was informed of the plan by a man called Florim Ghasi - who was paid £10,000 for his trouble, which when revealed led to the collapse of the trial. You have to wonder whether Mr B was also given a large cheque for his helpful assistance to Mr Mahmood.

The acquittal again raises questions about the police's relationship with the News of the Screws, as well as the seeming acquiescence of the Crown Prosecution Service in once again allowing itself to be humiliated for the purposes of enriching a certain R Murdoch. Their healthy relationship with the Screws is something that out to be examined by parliament - Rebekah Wade herself admitted that police officers had in the past been paid for information.

The whole trial was based around the mythical substance red mercury - most recently used as a plot device in an episode of the BBC series Spooks, where a chemistry professor at a university offered to sell some to a student from a terrorist organisation in order to entrap them in the process. Any self-respecting jihadi would know that red mercury is complete and utter bollocks - there's plenty of recipes out there on the internet for bomb-making without searching for a made-up chemical substance that could be used in a dirty bomb - a scenario that has been hyped out of all proportion (a BBC Horizon programme showed how ineffective such a bomb would be).

One of the defendants claimed in the case that he was interested in a liquid called red mercury that could be used wash discoloured money, which is a bit daft as any fule knows that you can clean dirty coins using either vinegar or coke. This is doubtless why it took the jury 30 hours of deliberations before they reached their not guilty verdict. Nevertheless, none of the evidence used against them, including Mahmood's own testimony suggested that they had been anything other than pawns in the News of the Screws' and Mahmood's game.

Unlike in the case of Mahmood versus Galloway, the defence lawyers were uncowed and vociferous in their condemnation of both Mahmood and the journalism of the Screws. Jeremy Dein QC said:
the "sensationalised" story was solely about bringing the paper "commercial gain" and "personal kudos". And he accused Mahmood of being a "manipulative" person who "exploited others".

"He [Mahmood] is certainly charismatic and highly intelligent but we submit he is dangerously deceitful, ruthless, exploitative and corrupt.

"[He has] an egotistical obsession with extracting front page terror stories on the streets of Britain."

He added that the substituted headline should have been: "Anti-terrorist caught up in Mazza plot to clinch terror glory".

Mr Dein said that his client was a "fierce opponent of terrorism".

Earlier in the case, Stephen Solley QC had accused the Screws and Mahmood of engaging in "backdoor vigilantism" - forcing the police into investigating alleged crimes through their hyperbolic and sensational reporting. So damaging were the accusations leveled against the Screws and Mahmood that the judge at the end of the case tried desperately to infer that the case was not about the abhorrent, arrogant journalism which the Screws indulges in, but rather about the suspects non-existent plot. The failure of the prosecution however shows that is exactly what the Screws and Mahmood do: they build celebrities up, then they knock them down. In the case of the Victoria Beckham kidnap plot and today's not guilty verdicts, it shows how incredibly careful you have to be: the slightest fantasy about kidnapping a famous person or trying to gain a mythical substance can lead to you being in the dock.

Where does all this leave Mr Mahmood? As can be expected, he's still be robustly defended by his employers:
A spokeswoman for the News of the World said the paper was "disappointed" with the outcome of the trial but was "entirely satisfied" that the investigation was conducted with "wholly proper" methods and in close liaison with the police.

"Our story resulted from a thorough and legitimate investigation by Mazher Mahmood, one of the paper's most senior and experienced reporters, whose exposes have led to over 200 convictions," she said.

The most hilarious thing about this is how Mahmood's "investigations" seem to be leading to more and more convictions without any publicity being given to them. Back in April the Screws claimed that he had been responsible for 130 criminals being prosecuted and found guilty. 3 months later and this has jumped by 70.

Mamhood and his journalism are then again back in the dock. Despite having his life being threatened by bloggers who dared to publish old photographs of him, he shows no sign of stopping being corrupt, ruthless and arrogant, as evidenced by his recent escapade of kidnapping "illegal immigrants" and transporting them to a detention centre where those being kept there had been on hunger strike over the conditions. Mahmood thus lives up to the very worst stereotype of a tabloid journalist; no morals, no conscience and no ethics. He's also more than willing to go along with politically motivated stunts to discredit anti-war MPs; his attempts to show George Galloway as being corrupt led to him being unmasked, an investigation which the Screws never published, mainly because it was so ham-fisted and anti-semitic in its tone. Jeremy Corbyn, another left wing anti-Iraq war MP was to be the next target.

Doubtless, Mahmood will soon return to being the Screws' star reporter. He'll still probably expose more minor celebrities for being hypocrites, or entrap some into buying drugs which he himself bought for them. The only action then is to write to the NotW and tell them what you think about how they have persecuted innocent people for sales purposes, while still claiming to be representing the public at large in their endless campaign for "Sarah's law". is the address. Alternatively you can write to Mahmood himself, or even phone his desk. His phone number is 020 7782 4402 or you can email him at He'll no doubt be happy to discuss his principled, caring and public-spirited journalism with you.

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Monday, July 24, 2006 

Blair, Israel, Lebanon and political bankruptcy.

A man cradles a Lebanese child injured in an Israeli airstrike on a car.
12 days after the crisis engulfing Lebanon and Israel began, the Dear Leader has finally decided that it's time to get tough on both sides. Spurred into action by both Kim Howell's howl on Saturday, and Condoleeza Rice's arrival in Beirut today, he called the destruction of a large part of Lebanon a "catastrophe", going on to say, "I don't want the killing to go on. I want the killing to stop. Now. It's got to stop on both sides and it's not going to stop on both sides without a plan to make it stop."

How very different from just 3 days ago, when his spokesman said that a call for a ceasefire would only "make people feel good for a few hours". It's also a marked change from just 24 hours ago, when Kim Howells was notably less critical of Israel than he had been on Saturday, when he accused the Israelis of going after the entire Lebanese nation. It appears that the odious Margaret Beckett, who felt it wasn't helpful to be critical of Israel in almost any way, had phoned him and informed him that Downing Street was not best pleased.

Even now though, Blair has still not been directly critical of Israel in any way, shape or form. At the same time, the evidence that the IDF is targeting almost anything that moves is mounting. Those who were heeding Israel's warning to flee have been cut apart by air strikes. Red Cross ambulances have been fired at (Click on the Red Cross medics attacked in Lebanon link in the box on the right.) The United Nations presence was hit last week. The Lebanese army, which has had nothing whatsoever to do with Hizbullah, has been struck. All of this is being excused, firstly by the Israelis who maintain that motorbikes, minibuses and trucks can be used to transport the dreaded katayusha rockets, hence they are legitimate targets, whether they're doing so or not. Then there is the apologia of the likes of Alan Dershowitz, who seems to think that some civilians are more guilty than others. Others still, such as some reputed members of the Lebanese forces, appear to think that Hizbullah is moving around their rocket launchers so that the Israelis strike factories or civilian areas. It's strange that no media seem to be reporting this.

As is usual, Harry's Place, the supposed home of the internationalist, interventionist, "sensible" left, is ranting about "stoppers". They refer to the Stop the War march on Saturday in London as being pro-fascist, as many declared their solidarity with Hizbullah. Obsolete wasn't in attendance as it had to work, but otherwise would have been there, and it has to be admitted that declaring support for Hizbullah makes me very uncomfortable and uncertain indeed. While claims that Hizbullah is both fascist and terrorist are neither here nor there at the moment, why would any self-respecting left winger support an armed militia that is murdering innocent civilians, "resistance" or not? What Israel is doing amounts to state terrorism. What Hizbullah is doing amounts, as Juan Cole puts it, to war crimes. Supporting Hizbullah because they might make the Israelis think twice before they do such a thing again is not only harebrained, but smacks of the infantile gesture politics (not that there's anything wrong with them on occasion) of yesteryear which we have to leave behind to be taken seriously. That does not mean abandoning our values, our morals or our outrage. What it does mean is not supporting one bunch of killers over another. The principle of my enemy's enemy is my friend is a sign of political bankruptcy.

In the same way, we should be stepping up pressure on Tony Blair to actually put into action what he says. He needs to criticise Israel, forcefully and fully for the amount of innocent civilians they have killed purely as revenge. He rightfully recognises that what is at the epicentre of this whole debacle is the Israel-Palestine conflict. The two-state solution cannot come soon enough. Hence he needs to demand that Israel negotiate with Hamas and Mahmoud Abbas immediately. The disengagement plan Ehud Olmert was elected on is dead, destroyed by his own recklessness in the original attack on Gaza following the abduction of Corporal Shalit. It would never have worked anyway. Blair has made the right first steps in recognising that there needs to be a ceasefire. Next he has to realise that Britain has been left weakened internationally by its unprincipled and unquestioning lust for American power. Pulling back is still possible, even at this late stage.

Blair and the whole Foreign Office also have to understand that our silence over the last 12 days has helped Israel get away, literally, with murder. They have just as much blood on their hands as the IDF, Olmert, Peretz and Nasrallah. An early call could have saved lives. If Blair had an ounce of humanity left in him, he'd lose some sleep. Instead, he'll probably be as dead to the world tonight as those further down this page. The only difference being he'll wake up in the morning.

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Saturday, July 22, 2006 

de Menezes: CPS letter to family shows the firearms officers lied to the IPCC.

Another day, yet another revelation involving the 22nd of July last year. While most of today's Grauniad report tells us little we didn't already know, it for the first time exposes that the armed police who shot de Menezes lied to the investigators, something which they have in common with the officers who shot Harry Stanley.

The CPS letter also reveals that the two officers who shot the Brazilian told investigators de Menezes was wearing a "bulky jacket", when he was not. The marksmen also said they had shouted "armed police" before firing, but no independent witness corroborated their assertions.

In other words, they attempted to pervert the course of justice. This is something they could be charged with, or which at the very least should led to severe disciplinary action. It's also something that their comrades in CO19 would be unlikely to protest over, as even the likes of the Sun don't take kindly to lying police officers.

Hence a plea that is highly unlikely to lead to anything, but for once I'll be optimistic. To anyone who has access to the IPCC report: please leak it so that we can actually see in full what it says. Don't bother with the mainstream media; even the likes of the Guardian or Independent are unlikely to make the whole of it available. Send to it the likes of BlairWatch, Guido or Cryptome. Only then will the public be able to get to the bottom of all the bluster.

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Friday, July 21, 2006 

Tragedy after tragedy unfolds.

You have to wonder whether those trapped in southern Lebanon can see the funny side of the Israelis dropping leaflets telling the citizens who remain who haven't either fled or been blown up to leave.

Gallows humour it might be, but the irony involved in Israel telling the population to get out when it's already
blown up at least 55 bridges, attacked convoys which were either leaving or carrying medicine and made getting out as difficult as possible must be apparent even in terrifying moments. As Juan Cole notes, the bombing raids have been so intensive that citizens have no chance of getting out, Israeli leaflet drops or not:
So let's get this straight. The Israelis warn the small town Shiites of the south to flee their own homes and go hundreds of miles away (and live on what? in what?). But then they intensely bombing them, making it impossible for them to flee. The Lebanese have awoken to find themselves cockroaches.

I repeat, this is nothing less than an ethnic cleansing of the Shiites of southern Lebanon, an assault on an entire civilian population's way of life. Aside from ecology, it is no different from what Saddam Hussein did to the Marsh Arabs of southern Iraq, and the Israelis are doing it for exactly the same sorts of reasons that Saddam did.

The calls for a ceasefire, illustrated superbly by today's Independent front page, are continuing to be ignored. Tony Blair's spokesman said that "a ceasefire call would only "make people feel good for a few hours" and would have no impact," which is the biggest load of nonsense to come out of his mouth since he last opened it. A call by Britain, American's supposed top ally for a ceasefire would increase pressure on Washington to urge Israel to at least show further restraint, if not bring a quick end to the conflict. The spokesman's remarks came after the Archbishop of Canterbury added to the clamour for a stronger statement against Israel's continuing strikes on Lebanon.

It's obvious that what Rowan Williams referred to as "despair and dismay" at Israel's war crimes and collective punishment is growing. Chris Mullin, a former very New Labour foreign office minister who lost his job, described Israel's actions as just that. Lebanon's prime minister, Fuad Saniora, continues to speak out, now saying: "This attack is no longer against Hizbullah; it is an attack against the Lebanese and Lebanon." He's right, but it's been that from the beginning. Ever since the first missiles struck Beirut's international airport, it was clear what Israel was intending to do, and indeed some Israeli military officials gave the game away: knocking Lebanon back twenty years. And for what? This isn't just about destroying Hizbullah; it's also about Ehud Olmert and Amir Peretz showing they can be just as tough and just as criminal as Ariel Sharon. It's also worth remembering that it wasn't until Israel had starting bombing Lebanon that Hizbullah started firing its katyusha rockets in response.

This is not to apologise for or justify Hizbullah's actions. They started this, whether over the years Israel has been the aggressor or not. UN Resolution 1559 needs to be enforced, but then so do the resolutions that Israel has been in breach of for decades. The Middle East will never be at peace until the Palestinians have their state. The efforts by Olmert and Sharon to create an emasculated state not based on the 67 borders but on the security wall will fail, and the international community has to make sure that any state is viable. Similarly, the efforts by Israel ministers to link Hamas and Hizbullah into the "war on terror" have to be resisted. These groups can and must be negotitated with. Until everyone realises this, the cycle of death, hatred and crimes against humanity will continue, and for the moment it shows no signs of abating.

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Tabloids shamed by the Daily Filth.

As Obsolete noted a couple of days ago, the tabloid coverage of the crisis in Lebanon has been astonishingly poor, even for newspapers whose natural concerns are their middle class readers' house prices.

What's even more pathetic is that both the Sun and Express have today ran stories relating to Lebanon on their front pages, but rather than focusing on the human catastrophe which has left over 300 Lebanese civilians dead and forced at least 500,000 to flee their homes, they're more concerned about the extremist cleric Omar Bakri Mohammed. He left Britain of his own volition last year in the aftermath of the 7/7 bombings and was then blocked from returning. Yesterday he was apparently begging to be let on one of the British ships transporting stranded citizens to Cyprus, so that he could visit his family back in Britain.

The Express up till today had made no mention of the Israeli-Hizbullah conflict on its front page since the conflict was triggered last week, instead splashing variously on the weather, house prices and Princess Diana, all far more important topics for the average person who cares about real values and real value for money. The Sun meanwhile has been the tabloid which has gone with Lebanon the most, but with its own atypical spin and devotion to covering how our citizens were/are in peril. Last Saturday's paper described the conflict as a "terrorist war on Israelis", Monday's talked of a "Mercy dash to Brits", Tuesday's reported that 6 ships were in involved in a 'war' rescue (apparently changing their minds over the nature of the bombing within 3 days) while Wednesday's front page was mainly dedicated to the "BRITS FLEEING LEBANON".
Today's coverage inside the Sun is just as bad. It refers to the tour given to journalists of the southern Beirut Shia suburbs, destroyed and reduced to rubble by Israeli bombing, as a "sympathy seeking stunt by terrorist leaders". Nowhere in the two pages given over to the crisis does it mention the civilian death toll.

The Daily Mirror, the supposed left wing tabloid which proclaims to still carry its heart on its sleeve only bothered to mention Lebanon on its front page in a tenuous way when it reported on Bush and Blair's inadvertently recorded conversation at the G8 conference on Tuesday. It did however call for a ceasefire in its leader column on Wednesday. bat020 from Lenin's Tomb reports that today's Mirror contains coverage on the 18th and 19th pages - even further back in the paper than the Sun's articles.

Most disgraceful of all though has been the attitude of Associated Newspapers. Yesterday's London Evening Standard has to be a contender for worst front page of the year, if not the decade. Entirely based on the comments of Amos Oz, a man of Israeli left, who seems to think that the large child death toll may be because Hizbullah is using them as "human sandbags". No evidence to back it up, especially when it's considered that Israel has been bombing southern villages and roads, full of those trying to flee from the violence. Still, put the idea into the public's heads, and it's another way to look past the otherwise horrendous loss of life. After all, Israel is protecting itself from terrorists bent on the destruction of the Jewish state, right? Justification for more death is always needed.

As for the Daily Mail itself, the only mention given over to the conflict on its front page was on Wednesday, a small box reporting "180 Britons in escape from Beirut". Over the rest of the week, the Mail variously screamed that it was "hot enough to melt the roads", how "well-off children are more at risk from cancer" and advised the nation not to rub in suncream. Today it reports on the "biggest wave of migrants in history" and how the Spice Girls, err, betrayed women.

Which brings us to possibly one of the most shameful episodes ever to hit the Street which wallows in it. The Daily Sport, the newspaper which habitually prints fake nude photographs of celebrities, has a pair of breasts on almost every page and which in the aftermath of September the 11th printed articles calling for little less than the turning of the Middle East into a sheet of glass, today features Lebanon on its front page. The centre pages contain various photographs of dead Lebanese civilians, some of which can be seen on this blog, and has an editorial which begs readers to write to the Israeli embassy calling for an immediate unconditional ceasefire. The Sun, by contrast, attacked Jacques Chirac last Saturday for daring to do just that. One pornographer having more morals than another might not be much to get excited or hopeful about, but when even the gutter can see that something is going horribly wrong, a lot more of those who normally ignore or shrug off the news start to take notice, which can only be a good thing.

(If you happen to have a copy of the Daily Spurt for whichever reason and can scan/take photos of it so we can have the images for prosperity, Obsolete would be eternally grateful.)

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Thursday, July 20, 2006 

Rebekah Wade for Home Secretary?

"Dr" John "Oh fuck, not health" Reid's plans for "re-balancing" the criminal justice system have been well-trailed, but it's no surprise that the plans announced today were leaked last night to the Sun. As you might well expect, they are predictably claiming victory for their campaign against so-called soft sentences. In fact, it's even worse than that. Almost every point that the Sun demanded is now to be implemented, without any reasoning behind what causes crime in the first place, or realising that prison fundamentally does not work.

THE Government today bowed to pressure from The Sun by axing soft sentences for the nation’s most dangerous prisoners.

In the biggest shake-up in sentencing for a generation, the automatic right to parole at 50 per cent of a life term is being scrapped.

That means murderers, repeat rapists and paedophiles will have to serve the FULL term dished out by a judge. Judges will also get far more say in the sentences given to dangerous villains.

The automatic third off for those who plead guilty — even though they were caught red-handed — is also being dumped.

And there will be an end to the bizarre double jeopardy rule, where Appeal Court judges who increase a soft sentence must give prisoners a discount due to the “trauma” of going through the case again.

The move, unveiled today by Home Secretary John Reid, comes in the wake of The Sun’s hard-hitting Charter for Justice campaign, which demanded tougher sentences for paedophiles, rapists and killers.

Outlining the changes in the House of Commons, Mr Reid also announced plans to provide an additional 8,000 prison places and confirmed the maximum penalty for carrying a knife would be increased to four years.

He said: “Too often it appears that the criminal justice system is on the side of the offender - protecting their interests and individual rights over those of the victim and the law-abiding majority.

“That has to change. The proposals set out today all have at their core the re-balancing of the system in favour of the victim and the law-abiding majority.”

The requirement that judges should automatically halve the minimum term when setting the earliest release date for those serving unlimited sentences will also go.

But it will NOT affect criminals already serving time.

A source said: “We understand very much the concerns of the public that justice must mean justice.

“It’s a nonsense that the most dangerous inmates are not serving their sentences.

“It destroys people’s faith in justice and that criminals get punished properly, let alone that the public can be protected.”

The shake-up is the brainchild of Home Secretary John Reid, Attorney General Lord Goldsmith and the Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer.

It will see all crown prosecutors forced to sign a new “victim’s charter”.

They will promise to put the victim and their family first in all cases.
And so it goes on, with some bilious outrage still at the end because the government doesn't think that naming and shaming "soft" judges is a good idea. Not that all of the Sun's demands were idiotic, one-sided or counter-productive, some do make good sense, such as the double jeopardy rule over sentences which are considered too lenient, and unanimous decisions by parole boards.

The problem is that despite the Home Office website promising that it is to "stimulate a wide-ranging public debate on the way forward", it's already clear that like the so-called debates over Trident and nuclear power that the decisions have been made, and in this case the government has only listened to one side of the story. The re-balancing argument is complete and utter rubbish and has been from the start: the criminal justice system shouldn't be balanced in favour of the victim or the "offender" (the Sun likes to call them villians); it has to be independent, neutral and transparent.

Take for instance the automatic reduction in sentence for pleading guilty. In the case of Craig Sweeney, who as the Sun likes to remind us, was found literally with the blood of his victim on his hands, this resulted in his sentence being reduced dramatically. It should be obvious to anyone that in cases where guilt is apparent this shouldn't happen; yet those who now admit to their crimes where guilt is not immediately obvious and save the taxpayer the money and time of a trial, as well as trauma of the victim having to go through their ordeal again, no such reduction will be available. This will mean that more people are likely to plead not guilty and increases the possibility of some who are guilty going free. Not something that the Sun would like to be found responsible for.

Other headline-grabbing measures are the increase in maximum sentence for being caught carrying a knife, and the increase in number of available prison places. The former will do nothing to stop the mainly young people who carry knives from doing so; it's the typical knee-jerk reaction that ignores why the person carries the weapon in the first place. As the figures released today show, street muggings are up 8%, mainly because of the amount of the public who are now carrying various expensive gadgets which can be quickly sold on and fund those with drug addictions. It's also mainly young people who are robbing young people; the older targeting the younger easier targets who are less likely to fight back. Having a knife therefore makes the average youth feel safer, which is why more and more are doing so, as well as the fact that they can also increase social status. Increasing the sentence then makes it more likely for those who use the knives for pure protection being convicted and sent to prison for longer.

The increase in prison places is along the same lines - it assumes that prison works, when it should be increasingly obvious that apart from protecting the public from the most dangerous criminals it does nothing of the sort. Britain already has one of the highest prison populations in Europe,
and more spaces will just encourage judges who have already been shown to be getting progressively harsher sending more to jail. It's been noted that when there are more places available and when the public seems to be in a punitive mood, more offenders get sent down for longer as a result. When those 8,000 extra spaces are full, will we just build even more places? Where does it all end?

Other parts of the Sun's, sorry I mean Reid's plans seem designed to deal with single issues which have outraged the aforementioned newspaper's delicate disposition: "Restricting the ability of the "plainly guilty" to be released on appeal due to "procedural irregularities" seems to be obviously designed to stop the likes of the Afghan plane hijackers fiasco being repeated; they were freed on appeal after it was ruled that the law about whether they had acted under duress had been wrongly applied. Nevermind that they had fled from one of the worst regimes in recent memory in the only way they possibly could, treating their hostages properly and giving themselves up without a fight; they need to be sent back to their home country which has been so successfully liberated and returned to peace.

As mentioned earlier though, what's more striking is what is missing from the plans at the moment. While Reid promises a white paper in the autumn, there is nothing here about how prisons have come to be so overcrowded (because judges are no soft touch, despite the Sun's constant harping), or whether there's anything to done about it apart from increasing the number of places. Those with severe mental ill health who are dumped on the prison system aren't considered worthy of victim status, nor are the drug addicts who can't all get on the treatment programmes which are horrendously oversubscribed and underfunded. Dealing with the mentally ill and drug addicts should be done outside the penal system, not within it, as it often is at the moment, as it's clear it's failing spectacularly. The number of beds for those who are mentally ill has dropped so dramatically over the last few years that are no places for those who have committed crimes as a result of their condition and who need constant care and therapy in order to stop the cycle being repeated.

Those with drug addiction are caught in the same cycle. While such treatment regimes are no panacea, they can be help a great deal, especially if enforced with a carrot and stick approach, with those who fail to comply with orders set down by courts sent to jail for longer. It ignores the fact that non-violent offenders are best kept outside prison, as where those who go in often come out as even more hardened criminals. Community sentences need to be seen as tough but working, which thanks to the likes of the tabloids they are not even where they are shown to be the best option.

The crime figures released today speak for themselves. Crime has been dropping overall since 1995. Last year it was either down 1% or up 1% whether you believe the Home Office or the British Crime Survey more. Either way, it's more or less stable. The murder rate is down. Fatal shootings are down. Car theft and burglaries are at historically low levels. The worries though are similarly self-evident: violent crime, often influenced by alcohol continues to climb, as does that involving drugs, although the police say it's down to the amount who have been formally cautioned for carrying cannabis. Why then is some of the public so concerned? It can't just be blamed on the ever outspoken tabloid press; it also has to be that while some middle class suburbs experience next to no criminal offences, it's the working class estates that are plagued by it, much like town centres are the focus at weekends. This has been picked up on by the government and the tabloids; hence Labour's dedication to tackling anti-social behaviour which few complained about before Blair started banging on about it constantly. Things are not that bad, but as usual media coverage blows certain concerns out of all proportion.

The government then has more or less turned over the entire Home Office policy agenda to the likes of Murdoch and Wade, just like it seems to have turned our foreign policy over to the hawks in Washington. It ignores dissent and has come to only one conclusion: that the "victim" is being failed. We should have seen this coming; after all, the government is planning to slash the money paid to those who suffer miscarriages of justice, and the position of chief inspector of prisoners is to be abolished, incorporated in with other organisations, just as it becomes apparent how badly the likes of Anne Owers are needed. The authoritarian populism which prospered under Blunkett has re-emerged, having been made to behave under Clarke. While Labour suffers in the polls and Cameron repositions the Tories in the centre ground, the Blairites have sought solace under the protection of the Murdoch press, determined to keep the likes of the Sun on side, no matter whether it disillusions Labour's natural support or not. The only obvious further step for Labour to take is the example of Lord Drayson, now a junior defence minister after donating a large amount of money to the party and making a pretty penny out of providing the smallpox vaccine: give Rebekah Wade a peerage and make her Home Secretary. At least then Labour would be being honest not just with itself, but also with us.

Update: Reid did actually mention taking the mentally ill and vulnerable women out of the prison system. We shall have to see whether this actually happens, and gets the same amount of time and effort dedicated to it as that which has been to making sure the Sun is placated.

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Wednesday, July 19, 2006 

Which part of "unconditional ceasefire" don't you understand, Mr Blair?

Lebanese woman reacts to a truck being bombed; injured Lebanese child; wounded Israeli soldier being taken into hospital.

Prime Minister's Questions is well known for being a complete farce. Blair does everything possible to avoid answering almost every question, and in the case of questions from the Tories and Lib Dems often goes on to denounce their various policies whether he's meant or allowed to or not. It certainly wasn't any different today.

Menzies Campbell: ...Did he (Blair) understand that it was America's policy to allow Israel a further period for military action, is that why the United Kingdom is not calling for an immediate and unconditional ceasefire?

Blair: I mean, if, if what the right honourable gentleman is seriously saying to me, is to call for an unconditional ceasefire by Israel now (barracking from MPs)... should call for both sides to do it, yes, well can I just point out to him that our influence with Hizbullah has been somewhat limited (laughter) it is not going to be possible, I mean, does he understand that they have fired somewhere in the region of 1,600 rockets into northern Israel, now I agree that what is happening in Lebanon is tragic and terrible ... it has to stop by undoing how it started and it started with the kidnap of Israeli soldiers and the bombardment of northern Israel and if we want it to stop, that has to stop.

Blair dodges Campbell's main question, which was that as reported in the Guardian the United States has given Israel another week to complete their bombing before they'll call for a ceasefire. He also gives a huge figure for the amount of rockets fired by Hizbullah, which seems far over what most news organisations have reported. He does at least admit that the situation in Lebanon is tragic and terrible, but as with the rest of the comments by British and American politicians he does nothing to condemn what anyone can see have been war crimes committed by both sides. While Hizbullah's rockets have targeted civilians, killed tens and injured hundreds, Israel has been reported by the Lebanese Daily Star as destroying privately owned factories: the largest dairy farm in the country, a paper mill, a packaging firm and a pharmaceutical plant have all been hit, as have power stations, the airport, bridges, roads, trucks carrying medical supplies, and even a church. If that is not an example of inflicting collective punishment, something which as BSSC notes, breaks Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, then clearly our ministers have been taken in by the rhetoric of the likes of the loathesome Hiliary Clinton:

"I want us here in New York to imagine, if extremist terrorists were launching rocket attacks across the Mexican or Canadian border, would we stand by or would we defend America against these attacks from extremists?”

“We will support [Israel’s] efforts to send a message to Hamas, Hezbollah, to the Syrians, to the Iranians, to all who seek death and domination instead of life and freedom.”

The relatives of the 280 Lebanese who have been killed in Israel's attacks will no doubt appreciate the fact that they were slaughtered so that a message could be sent.

We're meant to be a civilised, ethical country, but then again, Israel's army is meant to be the most moral in the world. One thing we could do is what Ming Campbell has been proposing: to call for an unconditional ceasefire so that the air can be cleared and a possible deal be worked out. Hizbullah, despite what Mr Blair says, has said that it will accept such a ceasefire. Only then can the captured soldiers be returned, in a likely swap of prisoners, a possible UN force sorted out, and then the enforcement of UN resolution 1559 could begin in earnest. Israel has only made the chance of that resolution being applied more unlikely; by attacking the same Lebanese army which it supposedly wants to control the UN blue line, it has already shown that this is not just a war purely against Hizbullah, if that hadn't already been established by the carnage which has been wreaked across Lebanon. Instead of calling for a ceasefire, which would be the very least we could do, our prime minister can only see one side of the issue; the American and Israeli side. In effect, our foreign policy is being decided not by the Foreign Office, but by Washington. It's also unclear whether the supposed week given by the Americans to Israel, with British backing, will be an actual week. It's unlikely that the Americans, spineless as they are at the best of times to the Israeli lobby, will demand an end until Israel thinks the "job" is done.

Not that anyone would notice that our foreign policy is being decided across the Atlantic anyway. The reporting of the crisis has been absolutely woeful. The tabloids, except for the Sun (which has made the situation out to be a "terrorist war on Israel) have done the best to completely ignore it, more concerned about the weather, and even then the small amount of coverage given has been inevitably about the evacuation of British citizens. Murdoch News, sorry Sky News, considers the deaths of two Israeli soldiers more important than the dozens of Lebanese citizens being killed each day, not to mention Israeli casualties:

Newsnight last night carried a report on Lebanese citizens who had fled, only to try as best they could to then get them to denounce Hizbullah, which only a couple did. Next up was an arslikhan interview with Shimon Peres, who wasn't challenged over anything he said. Finally there was the bat-shit insane Newt Gingrich, who was spouting his own creed about this being World War 3. BBC News have at least tried to give a semblance of balance, but even that has been marred by the usual reliance on Israeli spokesman and reports from where rockets have been landing, rather than reports from inside Lebanon itself.

As a European official who was talking to Simon Tisdall said, this is all very dangerous. The more humiliation that Israel heaps on Lebanon, a country governed by a prime minister and president that were supported only last year by the Americans after the assassination of Rafik Hariri, the more likely that extremist forces will tighten their stranglehold on the region. The only moral thing we can do is to call for that unconditional ceasefire, and our government would rather spit in the eye of the deceased Robin Cook, architect of the long dead "ethical foreign policy" than do anything of the sort.

(PS: Here's a fuller background to the image of the Israelis writing messages on shells. Make sure to read the comments as well.)

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Tuesday, July 18, 2006 

"I don't think it's helpful to get into that..."

From Israel with love; seriously injured Israeli; dead Lebanese man.

That glorious former old Labourite Margaret Beckett was on fine form when she talked to Jim Naughtie this morning on the Today programme. Blairwatch has the full discussion, but it'll probably make you want to take off all your clothes and go dance in the middle of the M1, so it isn't recommended.

Here's the main points:
Naughtie: Is Israel's response proportionate?
Beckett: I don't think it's helpful to get into that...
Naughtie: Well, surely you have a view?
Beckett: Well, it's not proportionate to be firing rockets into Israel all the time either...

An old classic, ignoring the question and pointing out the opposite sides' faults at the same time. While the Guardian estimated that 50 rockets were fired into Israel yesterday, they mainly only did structural damage, and far less structural damage than that being inflicted all over Lebanon, not just in the Hizbullah dominated south. 11 were injured by Hizbullah's rockets, while 47 were killed in Israeli bombings raids, with at least 53 wounded. The BBC is reporting that 25 Israelis in total, 13 of them civilians, have been killed since last Wednesday. That's hell of a difference to the at least 200 mostly Lebanese civilians killed. That the British government, and indeed, almost the entirity of Europe cannot even manage to call unanimously for a ceasefire to end the bloodshed is an indictment of the weakness and slavishness to Israeli and American interests that is now dominating our diplomacy. As ever, everything returns to being about Iraq, despite Margaret Beckett's rose-tinted glasses in that respect:

Naughtie: But you see Mr Blair talks about an arc of extremism err, curving through the Middle East, and isn't it the case, that in Iraq, what's happened as a result of the invasion is not that terrorism has been obliterated, but a new generation of militants is being created?
Beckett: No, it's not as simple as that...
Naughtie: Not simple, but..
Beckett: and I should have known that you would drag this back to Iraq, Jim...
Naughtie (angrily, with passion): Oh, oh! Foreign Secretary, if I may so that is ridiculous. To say "drag the situation back to Iraq". The Middle East is in flames. Lebanon is being destroyed. Israel is being attacked. The President of the United States saying that "Syria has got to stop all this shit", I quote the President. Mr Blair wants to go there; the President doesn't want him to go. 60, 100 and 150 people are being killed every day in Iraq and you say to me, "you're dragging Iraq into it.
Beckett: I speak just as one of your humble listeners Jim, who listens to you every morning, and every, most mornings I turn and I say "aha" I might have known, we're talking again about the situation in Iraq. The situation in Iraq is difficult but Iraq has an elected government and many things are improving in Iraq and that's something we need to continue working on. We've just had the handover of the first province in Iraq to Iraqi security forces.

The situation in Lebanon is actually deteriorating and that is something that does require not only help to nationals who are there but also help to try and bring this situation into a rather better place, into somewhere where we can credibly have and maintain, and I repeat, that is the key, maintain a ceasefire, and that will be more difficult if all of the kind of context of that conversation is "oh, but this is impossible, it isn't working in Iraq, it isn't working in Afghanistan", it is not as simple as that. And there is some good that the international community can do, let's not discourage them from doing it.

Naughtie has absolutely hit the nail on the head. The situation in Iraq has everything to do with Israel-Lebanon, as even Blair admitted yesterday in his craven conversation with Bush. The horror which has been unleashed on the country, as a direct result of the US/UK invasion, means around 50 Iraqis are dying every day. 56 were killed in a massacre in Mahmudiya on Monday. 53 were killed in a car bomb today in Kufa. Not only is Iraq spawning a whole new wave of militants, the entire world is seeing Israel break numerous international laws, inflicting collective punishment on the whole of the Lebanon because two of its soldiers were snatched and more killed, with unknown consequences for the future. In the words of the Lebanese prime minister, Israel has "opened the gates of hell and madness". Meanwhile, the United States continues to bleat that "Israel has the right to defend itself", but cynically calls for restraint, something it knows full well will be ignored. Even if the US and Britain did call for a ceasefire, why should Israel listen to them? Israel at least has the justification that it was attacked; the "coalition of the willing" in Iraq certainly didn't. Why should anyone ever listen to calls for peace from us again? Anti-semites and those opposed to the existence of Israel are rubbing their hands together with glee, as no one has either the stature or the courage to tell Israel what they're doing will only result in inevitable blowback.

The situation just reflects the impotence that Britain as a whole now has on the world stage. Our prime minister is called like a dog by the United States president, humiliated and then agrees with everything that he says, while the new foreign secretary installed primarily because Jack Straw wasn't hawkish enough on Iran performs apologia for Israel and then conjures up an image of Iraq which no one there would recognise. In effect, we've given over our foreign policy to the Republican right and the likes of the Sun, which instead of calling for a ceasefire on Saturday attacked Jacques Chirac for doing so. When you're expected by your own government to turn a blind eye to atrocities on a grand scale, committed by whoever it is, something has to have gone horribly wrong.

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Phew, what a scorcher! (or, don't mention the war.)

If there's one thing that the British press isn't afraid of living up to, it's a cliche. As Lebanon burns, Britain on the other hand suffers under another kind of burning. Whether that's skin burning or brain burning from stupidity is up for debate.
Hence we have the Daily Mail, which has some advice for those silly enough to go out in the sun, namely, err, DON'T RUB IN SUN CREAM!!!!!!! Better to get sunstroke than the risk of skin cancer, right?
Over then to the Sexpress, which leads on the bourgeois bombshell that house prices are going to rise by another 50%, apparently. Competing with the pseudo-scientific bullshit which also permeates the Mail, they also reveal the "new secrets of reflexology". Presumably that entails how it's a huge scam. Oh, and there's err, the exact same photograph as on the Mail, which must have perplexed the average Mail/Express punter this morning. Do you buy the one produced by a family that loved the blackshirts, or the one produced by a pornographer who ran competitions in his wank mags which involved tours of his offices, where the winners used to eat sugar cubes from his models' vaginas? Decisions, decisions.
Desmond's other publication continues the theme of the weather, while splashing on its other obsession, Big Brother. Notice how all of the papers have gone with Fahrenheit and not Celsius? That's not down to the fact that newspapers are mainly still run by those who were brought up with Fahrenheit, but for the simple fact that err, the Fahrenheit system means higher numbers. The opposite is used when the weather is cold, as that produces lower numbers. Isn't that fascinating? Also note that the weather means an excuse to put even more lovely ladies in few clothes on the front page of the Star.

That's a policy which is continued over on Sky News, which digs out the exact same photo used during the World Cup heatwave, except this time the couple of busty beauties are bikini babes, while before they just illustrated the err, "pretty perfect weather for England".
Over at the Daily Moron, they provide some free publicity for McDonalds, which obviously doesn't have enough money at its disposal already. They do at least mention Bush's impromptu chat with "Blair", which has a link with Lebanon.

The Sun is the only tabloid that does in some way mention the war, and they're naturally more concerned with the Brits trapped there than the Lebanese citizens dying in dozens as Israel continues to wage war. Not really surprising, when you bother to have a look at the Sun's predictably ludicrous leader:
Israel is fighting for its life. Killing innocent civilians is not the answer. Its tormentors are not ordinary Palestinians who yearn for peace, nor the Lebanese on the brink of real prosperity.

The blame for this terrible war rests with the Mad Mullahs who run Iran. And with Syria, the cowardly middleman which provides Hezbollah and Hamas terrorists with the missiles to bombard Israel.

The conflict presents the world with a massive challenge.

The UN must step in fast to guarantee Israel’s security.

There I was thinking that Israel was fighting to get back the err, 2 soldiers captured by Hizbullah, and the one kidnapped by Hamas, but Israel is actually fighting for the life of the nation. The blame similarly isn't with the Israelis who have acted out of all proportion, killing hundreds of innocent civilians, or Hizbullah for their solidarity attack and missile barrages which gave Israel an excuse to try to destroy the militia, but with the "mad mullahs" in Iran. Rather gives the lie to the idea that this is all part of a lead up to an attack on Iran itself, first making sure that the militia it funds is at least partiality out of action. Also, the UN isn't needed to protect the Lebanese and make sure that the attack doesn't escalate into a full-flung invasion, they need to guarantee Israel's security. According to the Sun, the nation which has 168,300 active personnel and spent $7.17 billion on defence this year needs some help. Then again, when you realise that in the next column the Sun seems to be claiming that the "Health and Safety" executive is the nation's real Big Brother, which must come as a huge surprise to the government introducing ID cards and the companies and councils that operate the largest number of CCTV cameras in the West, if not the world, you start thinking that maybe the real leader writer is actually Ross Kemp, after suffering another battering from Wade herself. Stranger things have happened.

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Monday, July 17, 2006 

Yo Blair, how are you doing?

Some have accused Bush and Blair of living in their own fairy world. Now we know it's true.
Bush: Yo Blair How are you doing?
Blair: I'm just...
Bush: You're leaving?
Blair: No, no, no not yet. On this trade thingy...[inaudible]
Bush: yeah I told that to the man
Blair: Are you planning to say that here or not?
Bush: If you want me to
Blair: Well, it's just that if the discussion arises...
Bush: I just want some movement.
Blair: Yeah
Bush: Yesterday we didn't see much movement
Blair: No, no, it may be that it's not, it maybe that it's impossible
Bush: I am prepared to say it
Blair: But it's just I think what we need to be an opposition
Bush: Who is introducing the trade
Blair: Angela
Bush: Tell her to call 'em
Blair: Yes
Bush: Tell her to put him on them on the spot.Thanks for [inaudbible] it's awfully thoughtful of you
Blair: It's a pleasure
Bush: I know you picked it out yourself
Blair: Oh, absoultely, in fact [inaudble]
Bush: What about Kofi [inaudible] his attitude to ceasefire and everything else ... happens
Blair: Yeah, no I think the [inaudible] is really difficult. We can't stop this unless you get this international business agreed.
Bush: Yeah
Blair: I don't know what you guys have talked about but as I say I am perfectly happy to try and see what the lie of the land is but you need that done quickly because otherwise it will spiral
Bush: I think Condi is going to go pretty soon
Blair: But that's that's that's all that matters. But if you, you see it will take some time to get that together
Bush: Yeah, yeah
Blair: But at least it gives people...
Bush: It's a process, I agree. I told her your offer to...
Blair:'s only if I mean... you know. If she's got a..., or if she needs the ground prepared as it were... Because obviously if she goes out, she's got to succeed, if it were, whereas I can go out and just talk
Bush: You see, the ... thing is what they need to do is to get Syria, to get Hezbollah to stop doing this shit and it's over
Blair: [inaudible]
Bush: [inadubile]
Blair: Syria
Bush: Why?
Blair: Because I think this is all part of the same thing
Bush: Yeah.
Blair: What does he think? He thinks if Lebanon turns out fine, if we get a solution in Israel and Palestine, Iraq goes in the right way...
Bush: Yeah, yeah, he is sweet
Blair: He is honey. And that's what the whole thing is about. It's the same with Iraq
Bush: I felt like telling Kofi to call, to get on the phone to Bashad [Bashir Assad](9a and make something happen
Blair: Yeah
Bush: [inaudible]
Bush: We are not blaming the Lebanese government
Blair: Is this...? (at this point Blair taps the microphone in front of him and the sound is cut.)

Meanwhile, over in the non-fairy world, this is, to turn Bush's words against him, Israeli shit:

For those who are keeping up on the grim calculus since Israel responded outrageously to Hizbullah's stupid solidarity,
24 Israelis are now reported dead to 203 Lebanese.

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de Menezes: An absolute sham.

Nearly a year after Jean Charles de Menezes was shot dead by the "elite" CO19 firearms unit, the Crown Prosecution Service has announced its intentions over whether to prosecute officers involved in the tragedy. Unsurprisingly, as reported by both the BBC and the Guardian over the weekend, and rumoured in the Sun months back, no officer is to personally face charges. The Met as a whole is however to be prosecuted under health and safety laws.

The decision is really nothing more than an appalling joke, played by the CPS to make it look as if it's serious about the public concern over what happened on July the 22nd. Ever since the beginning, the IPCC and CPS would have known full well that it would be impossible to prosecute the actual officer/s that shot de Menezes; when two other members of CO19 were suspended over the shooting dead of Harry Stanley, 20 of the 400-strong unit refused to carry weapons in protest, and 100 others temporarily withdrew. The charging of those who shot de Menezes would have resulted in exactly the same thing happening again, something which in the climate of fear following 7/7 would be unthinkable for the government to have to face. You can imagine the screams of the Sun, especially as we approach the silly season and with government ministers away on holiday, that they would be failing in their duty to "protect" the public.

In any case, the C019 officers could plead the defence that they were only following botched orders. The only person in the circumstances which the CPS could have charged without triggering a monumental backlash from the police, government and newspapers was Cressida Dick. She was in charge of the whole anti-terrorism operation which was taking place in the aftermath of the failed bombings of the previous day. According to the IPCC report which was leaked to the News of the World, Dick said that Menezes was to be "stopped" getting on a train. Another officer claimed that she had added "at all costs" to her sentence. The leaked report suggests that it may well have been this "loose language" that condemned Menezes to death. The CPS then would have had to consider Dick's testimony that she only meant for him to be apprehended. It seems that they therefore came to the conclusion that there was insufficent evidence that Dick could be found guilty of manslaughter, hence no prosecution.

The decision announced today by the CPS then helps absolutely no one. The prosecution on health and safety grounds means that the IPCC report will still not be released to the public until any trial is over, which could take years, while still angering the police themselves, whose message still appears to be that they did nothing wrong. There's been no further apology forthcoming to de Menezes's family. This is despite all the evidence which has leaked so far, which suggests multiple cock-ups, mistakes and errors. One source at the Met memorably told the Grauniad that it was a "complete and utter fuck-up", but even so, it had to be viewed in "the context of what police were facing on the day."

The context of what police were facing on the day was that they themselves were panicking, resulting in the police and special forces who were helping being badly prepared and organised. They also faced a media and government that were hollering for the failed bombers to be found, whatever the cost. After the shooting, the police allowed downright lies and smears to go uncorrected to the media about de Menezes, such as
how he was wearing a heavy coat, how he jumped the barrier, how he was "acting suspiciously", how he overstayed his visa (which makes not one jot of difference in any case) and how he was accused of rape (allegations disproved with a lot less fanfare than the allegations were). All of this to distract from the fact that de Menezes should never have been killed, as he was, in the most barbaric fashion. He spent his last moments held face down to the seat where he had been sitting, unable to move even if he had got explosives strapped to his body. He was shot with dum dum bullets; designed to cause more damage, and not just once, but seven times, with 11 shots fired in total. He was never told to stop; he was grabbed and then pushed down on the seat after getting on the train and sitting down.

Despite all of the above, Ken Livingstone, determined to keep his pal Ian Blair in top seat of the Met at all costs, has criticised the decision even to prosecute on health and safety grounds.
"I doubt that al-Qaida will be considering the implications for health and safety legislation when they are planning their terrorist activities," he said.
Entirely true, but that has nothing to do with the fact that the police should not be shooting dead innocent members of the public in the hysteria which follows such acts of terrorism, or in this case, a failed act of terrorism which is yet to be linked to everyone's favourite bogeyman, al-Qaida. The Met's own statement has made clear that they regard the policy which resulted in de Menezes's death as still "fit for purpose". They said:
"In the absence of a viable alternative, we will continue to use it where necessary to protect London and Londoners from any threat posed by suicide bombers."
This is despite the Israelis, who the policy was copied off, making numerous criticisms of the way that Operation Kratos was managed. In other words, killing an innocent person under a scheme which was put into practice with no debate in parliament and with the public not being informed of its operation is preferable to the risk involved in coming up with a "viable alternative". Not shooting someone who's already being held under control might be considered a viable alternative by the general public, but seemingly not by our fearless boys in blue.

To conclude and summarise then, the Met and Ian Blair have got off (for now) entirely scot free. No officers charged, next to no chance of the prosecution on health and safety grounds being successful, the damning IPCC report still under wraps, possibly for years, Operation Kratos still the modus operandi against suicide bombers, and no one likely to face
disciplinary action. The only losers in all of this are the public and the de Menezes family. To paraphrase a right wing idiot's catchphrase, you can make it up.

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Saturday, July 15, 2006 

The rise and rise of the idiots.

(Obsolete has posted something similar to this before, so it may sound familiar.)

Last year on Channel 4, there was a comedy show titled Nathan Barley. Developed by Chris Morris, who co-wrote and starred in the seminal Brass Eye spoof documentary series, and Charlie Brooker, who ran the TVGoHome website, as well as writing the Screen Burn column in the Guardian Guide, it was much anticipated by Morris's fans, who hadn't seen much of him since the deeply weird (some would say disturbing) Jam series, as well as his short film My Wrongs 8245 - 8249 and 117.

Most however were to be disappointed. Nathan Barley lacked the savage satire which Brass Eye was both celebrated and notorious for, leading many to believe that Morris had lost his touch. It was also criticised for being years out of date, set as it was in trendy London, and much of it based around Barley's website. Fortunately, for those who dipped deeper into it, it soon became clear that the other main character in the show, Dan Ashcroft, was a projection of Morris himself. The first episode, which begins with Barley reading Ashcroft's article for SugaRape magazine about the rise and rise of the idiots, sets the stage for the whole series: Ashcroft is held up to be a genius by the very people he detests and writes about, despite pleading with them that he's not. As a result, he can't win, and the "idiots" are victorious every time.

What most who criticised Nathan Barley seemed to fail to notice is that what is happening in the series is also happening in the country at large. The rise of the idiots is inexorable. The rise of the idiots, as it is, is inextricably linked with the also seemingly unstoppable rise of celebrities.

Monday the 10th of July then may go down as a result as the start of the idiot and celebrity apocalypse. At 9pm, 3 of the 4 main terrestrial channels in the UK were either broadcasting "reality" or "celebrity" shows. BBC1 was showing Only Fools on Horses, one of those shows which the BBC promised it would be cutting down on, but because it's raising money for their "sport relief" charity drive, it's OK. The show itself, if you can't guess from the name, involves celebrities learning to ride and show jump horses, then competing against each other, with the public involved in voting for who did best. Involved in the show are such well known idiots as Sara Cox and well... that's about it, because none of the others are the kind who you'd even recognise on the street, except for perhaps Ruby Wax. At 9pm over on ITV1, viewers were treated to "Love Island". Last year it was called Celebrity Love Island, and was possibly the most ridiculed, hated disaster that ITV has ever produced. It seems though that ITV executives are gluttons for punishment, and they seem to think that the nation's population is similarly inclined. This year's show features such well known celebrities, as err, Bianca Gascogine, step-daughter of Paul, and Chris Brosnan, son of Pierce. Other delightful characters involved are Sophie Anderton, someone known only for the amount of cocaine she managed to shovel up her nostrils while a model and "glamour" model Alicia Douvall, whom Obsolete is proud to say it's never heard of. Finally then, at 9pm on Channel 4, the station that has done much to aid the rise of the idiot and celebrity culture, was showing its tedious behemoth, Big Brother.

The rise of the idiots was at first slow to start. While the British tabloids have always loved a good idiot, none of them really managed to create one themselves, until at least the glamour model Jordan
came along. Jordan is probably the "model" for which most female idiots are based on, unless they are of the "laddete" type, such as Sara Cox, mentioned earlier (and I know I'm probably going to sound misogynistic here, but bear with me until I come to the male idiot); huge pouting lips, possibly created with the aid of collagen; hair extensions, of which blonde is the colour of choice; breast implants, in Jordan's case ridiculously huge; pierced navel, with expensive gold dangling things being the first port of call in a crisis; a lower back tattoo, usually in the "tribal" style; and, without getting into it, a "Brazilian" is a must. In addition to physical attributes, the female idiot must also be unsurprisingly, of very little brain. Jordan fits this requirement admirably, frequently referring to her second child, as the "normal" one. (Her first was born blind.)

Jordan's success as being Britain's favourite female idiot has been threatened by various others who have come along, mainly out of Channel 4's Big Brother show. They are often, like Jordan, referred to by just their single name; hence we have "Jade", who has lately been joined by "Chantelle". Tonight both are taking part in BBC's spectacular "Sport Relief" Saturday Night, competing on "Mastermind". The hilarity. The most widely known American female idiot would probably be "Paris", although "Anna-Nicole" would give her a run for her money.

So then, to the male idiot. The male idiot, as it is, is more complex than the female idiot. Perhaps best described as a mixture of footballer (or sportsman), playboy and TV presenter, the celebrity male idiot is exemplified by Vernon Kay or David Beckham, or perhaps "Preston", who may well start the craze for male idiots becoming known just by their first name. He is often dressed immaculately, has his hair in whichever is the current hip style, and may, like the female idiot, have a huge love of hideous body art. Most arresting about the male idiot will be his face; it will have a slight pout, but the eyes will be incredibly distant, as if his brain is in a vacuum, which it most likely is.

Having established themselves, the idiots and celebrity idiots are on a quest to conquer the world. Once only being topics which the tabloids and celebrity gossip mags would dare touch, the broadsheets and rest of the media are latching on to them alarmingly quickly. The Guardian, once the secular serious left-liberal newspaper of choice, has recently carried interviews with "Jade", Jodie Marsh and "Paris". The Daily Telegraph, known universally in this case as the Daily Tottygraph, finds any excuse to print photographs of said totty, sometimes of the idiot type, sometimes not. The Times, whose formidable reputation was quickly destroyed by that purveyor of idiots, Rupert Murdoch, is a shell of its former self, especially since it went tabloid. As mentioned, television along with the tabloid was the beginning of the rise of the idiot, and as such has since gone nuclear. Tonight on BBC2, in addition to Sport Relief on BBC1, you can watch Steve Davis and Ronnie O'Sullivan partner themselves with the aforementioned Vernon Kay and Bradley Walsh, a failed comedian, for a game of snooker. The show's name? Celebrity Pot Black.

The rise of the idiot and celebrity idiot has been further exacerbated by the simultaneous rise of the weekly "lads" mag. Once only being of the monthly persuasion, the 90s heralded the start of the second sexual revolution. Feminism was dead, and the lads mag danced on its grave. While at first being no more explicit than page 3, except with more well known celebrity women taking their clothes off, it's evolved into the hell which is Nuts and Zoo. Both seem to compete to see whichever can get the most nipples into each issue, and both are of course the first port of call for the idiot and celebrity idiot to take their clothes off. Grace, within a week of being kicked out of this year's Big Brother, had already sold her soul and her body to Nuts. Both feature explicit sexual stories and advice of the kind you would have once only found on the top-shelf, and both also feature that other preserve of the wank mag; the reader's wife or girlfriend.

Which brings us to the questions which are connected at the hip to the idiot and celebrity idiot. Are we laughing at these people, are they laughing at us, or are they us? Many who claim that Nuts, Zoo, Big Brother etc are utterly harmless are those who argue that what most people are doing are laughing at these people; after all, they're grotesques, the most vapid of the vapid, those who crave attention and money so badly that they're prepared to humiliate themselves in the bargain. Yet the young and impressionable are growing up with this being their defining moment of popular culture, and they seem to be worryingly showing signs of not laughing at it, but being those who want to follow in their footsteps. Of 1,000 teenage girls in the 15-19 bracket who responded to a survey by The Lab, a mobile phone entertainment service, 63% said "glamour model" was their ideal profession. Either that's a lot of deluded teenage girls, an indictment of consumer society or a horrible practical joke. The idiots are also having a laugh at our obsession with them. "Jade" is said to have made £1.5 million as a result.
Being stupid seems to be increasingly lucrative. Then there's the nagging self-doubt that these people are us; you only have to watch the "Jeremy Kyle" show or "Trisha" to experience that.

Is there then any sign of a backlash against the idiots and celebrity idiots, then? Ariel Levy started something of a counter-attack against "raunch", with less than impressive results, with the launch of her book "Female Chauvinist Pigs". The problem with Levy is that she instantly is associated with the radical feminists that want to ban Page 3 and the likes of Nuts; a lot of us dislike both, but things have moved on since the days of banning and thinking about the consequences later. There's also no doubting that many of us, Obsolete included, enjoy pornography (although the vilest types which are available do nothing to shed the image of male dominance which doesn't ring as true as it once did). Those starring in it are the same idiots we should lambast, yet they again have the last laugh, making huge amounts of money having sex while middle aged men pay their wages. As adults, we have the choice whether to watch it or not. Censorship is never the answer. Yet all of this is interconnected with Britain's place in the world; the fact that our children seem to be growing up to be these idiots (and the odd Question Time programme is not proof that this isn't the case) is a huge cause for concern. Know nothings, no questioning, and no special skills; just fucking, shopping and drinking. It's true that young people have been doing this for generations, but it seems to be on the rise on a major scale, media panic or not.

It might just be that I'm a bitter young person who isn't experiencing the former. It might be that I'm a horrible pessimist, which I am. It might be that things, as usual, are honestly not as bad as they seem. Yet none of that reassures me. And there, when we turn to the idiot box to wind down, entertain us or educate us, the same idiots are there, mocking us and showing the world how stupid they are. Now that's fucked up.

(Or for an alternative view of pornography, you could watch the Annabel Chong story, which is about to start on Channel 4 now. Obviously an extreme case, but quite possibly one of the most soul-crushingly disturbing and depressing films you're ever likely to see.)

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Friday, July 14, 2006 

Just keep saying it: Israel has the right to defend herself.

Israel has the right to defend herself. Israel has the right to defend herself. Israel has the right to defend herself. Israel has the right to defend herself.

Well, at least that's what George Bush added to the debate yesterday. It's also pretty much been the line of all the Israeli spokesman who've blessed us with their presence. The one on Newsnight seemed increasingly incredulous as Emily Maitlis (I think?) asked whether he thought the Israeli response had been "disproportionate". "What are we supposed to do? Sit back and let them attack us?" (I paraphrase slightly.) No, and no one was suggesting you should. On the other hand, repeatedly bombarding an airport, attacking TV stations deep inside civilian areas, pumping out propaganda or not, and blockading the whole country because an organisation in the south of Lebanon decided to show some solidarity with the people of Gaza and maybe free some of its prisoners in the bargain, is not just disproportionate, it is as the Guardian leader says, highly dangerous, destructive and illegal. As Juan Cole also points out, the emphasis on Beirut and the ever familiar collective punishment ethos of the Israeli army meant that Hizbullah managed to fire at least 70 (Wikipedia suggests 700, but that is wildly out of wack with the BBC reports) katyusha rockets into Israel, killing 2 people (The BBC now reports 4) and injuring many more, as illustrated in the previous post.

All of this could have been expected. The Palestinians in Gaza have now been suffering for almost three weeks - they are mostly without power, sewage is pouring into the sea, and rubbish is building up on the streets. Only small amounts of food are being let in by the Israelis, with no Palestinians being allowed in or out. At least 80 Palestinians have been killed in the violence since Hamas and other Palestinian military groups jointly seized the Israeli corporal Gilad Shalit, killing 2 other soldiers in the process. The raid itself had been planned for seemingly a long time, but it came in response to repeated assassination attempts by the Israeli military with jets and helicopters firing missiles into the Strip, as well as the beach massacre, caused by an errant Israeli shell which killed Huda Ghalia's 7 relatives. Hamas broke its military ceasefire, which had held for nearly a year and six months, as a result.

Not that Hamas and Hizbullah are blameless in all of this, far from it. Hamas's failure to stop the pointless Qassam rocket attacks from Gaza was part of the Israeli excuse given for their return to the Strip. Hizbullah saw an opportunity with the Israeli army seemingly being occupied in Gaza for an attack which could similarly lead to the agreement which Hamas wants over their captured soldier: the freeing of prisoners from Israeli jails. They knew full well that Israel was bound to overreact as it always does, especially now as it led by Ehud Olmert and Amir Peretz, both of whom lack the military background which almost all other Israeli prime and defence ministers have had. As a result of Hizbullah's indefensible action, solidarity or not, the whole of Lebanon is feeling the similarly indefensible power of Israel. Israel's response, bombing the airport, launching missiles at the roads leading to Syria, defended by the Israelis as "to stop Hizbullah from moving the soldiers to Iran" have left not just the population of Lebanon with few places to hide, it is also holding the tourists and visitors to the country to ransom for the acts of Hizbullah.

As it always is with the Middle East, things are incredibly complicated. UN resolution 1559 orders the Lebanese government to disarm Hizbullah and for the militia to disband, something which it both is unwilling to do and incapable of doing. Israel holds this as part of its justification, while she herself is also in breach of numerous UN resolutions, ones that require immediate action or not. Yet the Lebanese government is the same one much praised by Mr Bush and America for its "cedar revolution" of last year, which succeeded in expelling the Syrian military, if not entirely its security officers. The Americans would not be pleased to see it overthrown as a result of the Israeli attack, which is why Condoleeza Rice called for restraint, and why Bush is now said to be "urging Israel to avoid civilian casualties." For the Israelis however, this is a perfect opportunity to lump in all their enemies in one go. Iran and Syria, while providing assistance and money to Hizbullah, do not by any means have complete control over it. The talk has been of an axis of terror - itself a reference to the infamous Axis of Evil state of the union speech by President Bush - all of which is calculated to draw the world into believing this is all part of the so-called war on terror. For their part, the US played the role they have many times before of neither full support nor full condemnation, yesterday vetoing a UN resolution condemning the violence in Gaza (the United Kingdom abstained) for being unbalanced.

Mostly though, things continue as normal: (apart from those in sight of Israeli missiles and Hizbullah rockets) European governments hand-wring without doing anything to alter the situation, and the Americans, hearing no evil, seeing no evil and speaking no evil as ever, continue to mutter to themselves: "Israel has the right to defend herself. Israel has the right to defend herself. Israel does not target civilians. Israel has the right to defend herself. Israel has the right to defend herself. Israel has the right to defend herself. Israel has the rigsifhghds... Israel has ththehs... Israel...."

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Those shocking, sickening, outrageous photographs in full.

There's two topics today in Britain's street of shame. For the broadsheet, or ex-broadsheet press, it's the Israeli attack on Lebanon. For the tabloids, apart from the Mail and Star which have more pressing matters involving their own obsessions, it's groundhog day once again. Yep, it's Diana Friday.

Apparently William and Harry are "deeply saddened" by the decision by an Italian magazine and newspaper to print photographs of their mother as she was receiving medical attention in the car which was to be her last but one resting place. That's fair enough, considering that few people would like to see their loved ones in their death throes. What isn't fair is what everyone's favourite Diana conspiracy theorist has to say:

Mr Al Fayed said the publication of the photos represented a "heartless pursuit of money".

"It makes me sad and angry that a magazine would reproduce an image of the princess as she clung desperately to life," he said.

"The editor and the author, who probably have families of their own, have no thought for the feelings of those who loved the princess, first and foremost her sons, Princes William and Harry."

Al Fayed would know a lot about heartless pursuits of money, seeing as he tries to pay as little tax as possible through offshore havens, and how he recently for a couple of years decamped to Switzerland, purely for tax reasons. Nevermind that though, the phony pharaoh also thinks that the magazine editor and author have no feelings for Diana's sons. This would of course be the same Mohamed Al Fayed who thinks that MI5/6 conspired with the Duke of Edinburgh to kill Diana and his son Dodi, for various reasons which are all laughable. Thanks to Al Fayed's persistence, huge amounts have been wasted on an inquiry which is set to find that Diana died because err, her driver was drunk and she wasn't wearing a seatbelt.

The Sun doesn't have a leading article on the photographs, which is probably for the best (it instead supports Israel's right to bomb anyone it likes anywhere) seeing as only 3 years ago it had no qualms about showing Marc Vivien Foe in his death throes on the front page. They seemed to forget that he had played for Manchester City - prompting 400 complaints to the Press Complaints Commision. More recently it printed the notorious photographs of American lawyer Katherine Ward committing suicide by jumping from a building, resulting in the PCC hardening its line on stories involving suicide, due to the fear of copycats. If you want to go even further back, you can bring up the Hillsbrough tragedy - with the Sun delighting in graphic photographs of fans meeting their end, while at the same time alleging that some fans had picked pockets of victims, urinated on the police officers and beaten one up who was giving the kiss of life, none of which was true. Sales have never recovered in Liverpool as a result.

Are these photographs shocking, sickening, outrageous and disgraceful then? Err, no not really. Maybe you'd like to compare and contrast the photographs with others taken in the last few days, the story of which has been pushed off the tabloid front-pages by Diana and her obsessives:

Lebanese child victim of Israeli attack on the village of Dweir.
Another Lebanese child killed in Dweir.

Other children killed in Dweir, here being taken to the funeral in the town of Nabatiyeh, south Lebanon. 10 were killed in total when an Israeli missile hit their house.
Palestinian child lies in the morgue of a hospital in Rafah. He died despite being allowed into Israel for treatment, after being badly wounded in an Israeli missile strike.

Wounded Israelis after Hizbullah launched rocket attacks in response to Israel's airstrikes across Lebanon.
Israeli soldier Nimrod Cohen being laid to rest. He died after the inital Hizbullah cross-border attack which killed 7 more soldiers, with 2 others being captured.

Does anything else need to be said?

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Thursday, July 13, 2006 

When the Levy breaks.

Labour has had numerous bad days in government since the 1997 election, a lot of them coming over the last two years, but yesterday has to rank up there among the very worst. Aside from being humiliated over the debate in the Commons concerning the despicable extradition treaty with America which is not reciprocated, they additionally had the spectre of yet more blood on their hands. As the Ministry of Truth noted, the discovery of the body of Neil Coulbeck, a witness involved in the case of the Natwest Three, brought back unpleasant memories for everyone of the suicide of Dr David Kelly, which resulted in the Hutton inquiry. (Thom Yorke's solo album, released on Monday, has a tribute to his memory which doubles as also being the best song - Harrowdown Hill.)

The Hutton inquiry and the investigation by Scotland Yard into the loans for peerages scandal at the moment share some possibly undesirable parallels for those of us who are hoping this will be the end of Blair. The Hutton inquiry heard what everyone assumed was damning evidence against the government, and that at least one government minister, possibly Geoff Hoon, would be made the fall guy. In the event, Lord Hutton turned all his fire on the BBC, and let the government off spectacularly.
The arrest of Lord Levy, Blair's chief fundraiser, Middle East envoy and tennis partner, might well turn out to be a similar dead end, but for now it's certainly something to *almost* get excited about.

And why not? Who honestly thought when the SNP MP made his complaint to the Met about the reports in the papers that they'd be taken seriously? It's easy to be wise after the fact, as some blogs have been, but the police don't usually make much of politically motivated campaigns. It's left Downing Street seething, as evidenced last night by dear old Dave Blunkett, the former rottweiler wheeled out to denounce the police for behaving "theatrically" in arresting Levy when he was more than willing to go and hand himself in. Sadly for Blunkett and all other Blairite loyalists, the man in charge of the investigation just happened to be giving evidence today to the Commons public administration committee, where he made clear that the arrest had been "integral" to the process - and also revealed that 48 people had been interviewed so far, with 13 under caution. Nor is the Met going purely after Labour's dodgy dealings; more Conservatives, who abused the system similarly to Labour, have been interviewed so far.

Labour's solution, as always, is to just avoid answering the questions. Ministers are refusing to comment because an "investigation is under way", while others just play the innocent act. The main excuse is that the Tories were doing it as well, and that the Lib Dems have their own dodgy sponsor in the shape of Michael Brown, but neither of them rewarded their secret donors with anything in the shape of peerages, nor did the chief architect behind the fundraising tell one of the donors to lie on his peerage nomination form. The other self-defeating excuse comes down to "Well, where else were we meant to get the money from? Most of our supporters detested the war in Iraq, the unions were only eventually placated through the Warwick agreement, so that left us with our favourite businessmen. And why would we want it to be shown that a party created by the unions to represent working people was being funded by the rich, even though their companies are crap? Wouldn't you have used a loophole if you saw it too? Be honest! Would you rather have had the nasty Michael Howard in power, with his "it's not racist to put limits on immigration" and "are you thinking what we're thinking?" campaign?" Complete and utter bullshit of course, but it makes some critical Labour supporters think twice.

All of which leaves Blair worrying about getting his collar felt as well. It's long been suspected that it was only he, Levy and Matt Carter, Labour's general secretary that knew about the secret loans. When Jack Dromey dared to suggest that he was kept in the dark,
he was smeared as not doing his job properly. From a man who promised to be whiter than white and to bring an end to sleaze, he's left looking as if he's been in a fight with someone using snowballs rolled in soot. Not even the worst of the sleaze throughout all the Tory years stuck to Major or Thatcher - it was only afterwards we found out about their misdeeds.

More damaging though are the prospects for Labour in government as a whole. It's no wonder that backbenchers are imploding, but not through anger at the police.
The left seems to be gearing up to challenge Blair, if Nick Robinson is to be believed. John McDonnell has no chance of winning or even coming close in a battle, but it could just be the additional catalyst needed to get Blair packing his bags, start his speaking tours of the US and writing his no doubt abominable memoirs.

Even so, it leaves the Labour party as an empty, vacuous shell. The Grauniad reports that Levy was yesterday meant to be having a meeting with "Sir" Philip Green, the cunt who thinks paying tax is only for the poor and middle classes, and Alan Johnson over possible sponsorship and fundraising for Labour's dismal city academies. When Blair finally goes, unless there's a complete clean out by whoever his successor turns out to be, the current cabinet will still be the same lot who are in thrall to those with huge amounts of money, the same set who got Labour in this mess in the first place.

As a result, Labour looks ever more likely to be booted out by that other vacuum, David Cameron and his err, resurgent Tories,
who can't even organise their removal from the centre-right grouping in the European parliament, one of Cameron's main actual policies, for years. At the moment though, even Cameron's face looks preferable to the Labour mess of their own making. Blair keeps talking about renewal. Surely even he, deluded as he is, must realise that his and Prescott's continued presence is destroying Labour as a whole. If Blair genuinely does care about the Labour party, and there's plenty of evidence suggesting he doesn't, then he'll either quit now or very very soon. Anything else will just be giving David Cameron a blank cheque.

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Craig Murray forced to remove source documents.

New Labour are not as stupid as they seem. I have now had a chance to take legal advice, and that advice is as follows. To defend this case would cost the price of a London house. I don't have a house, in London or anywhere else. I am therefore obliged to give in to force majeure and remove some of the documents from my own site. This reeking government is therefore able to mask its stink on this particular miniscule corner of the internet.

Obsolete still hosts the documents here, as does BSSC, and others.

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Wednesday, July 12, 2006 

Peace, justice, love for all - not in Britain.

Hat-tip to D-Notice:

The ridiculous and disgraceful policing of the banning of protests within a mile of parliament without seeking prior permission continues apace. The law primarily meant to remove Brian Haw and stop a repeat of the schoolchildren who blocked parliament square at the start of the Iraq war (as well as the embarrassment caused when the police started leathering Countryside Alliance supporters) has claimed a couple more victims. Barbara Tucker and Steve Jago, quite clearly suicidial terrorists hell bent on assassinating Tony and Cherie Blair, were both arrested after having the indecency to turn up outside Downing Street with a couple of placards:

The legal justification for arrests within a mile of parliament is section 132 of the
Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005, more widely known as the Serious and Organised Farce Act. A judge has already said that 132 interferes with protestors human rights, but he was obliged to hand down sentences despite that. While it seems unlikely in this case that Steve or Barbara will be prosecuted, it gives the lie to what Tony Blair told Henry Porter in their email exchange over civil liberties a couple of months ago.
You say people can only have blank placards outside Parliament and can't protest. Go and look at the placards of those camped outside Parliament - they are most certainly not blank and usually contain words not entirely favourable to your correspondent.
And within weeks of Blair saying that, Mr Haw had his protest destroyed by 78 police officers in the dead of the night. Freedom of speech and protest - but only if you let them know you're going to do it first, and forget about using a loudspeaker, or even a bell. Welcome to Blair's Britain.

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Tuesday, July 11, 2006 

Sun-watch: Kids betrayed by their own outrage.

Rebekah Wade, a danger not only to husbands, but children too.
There is little more satisfying than watching the Sun squirm. As could have been predicted, the average Sun-reader is today subjected to a suitably outraged editoral over the attorney general Lord Goldsmith's decision not to refer the sentence given to the paedophile Craig Sweeney to the court of appeal for being "unduly lenient".

Kids betrayed
THE distraught mother of paedophile Craig Sweeney’s toddler victim tells how he was “literally found with her blood on his hands”.

Yet Attorney-General Lord Goldsmith rejects any appeal against his grotesquely inadequate sentence.

Sweeney was given “life”, with a starter of 18 years.

Under a chaotic formula, this was cut to 12 because he pleaded guilty — even though caught in the act.

The term was then automatically halved, minus his time in custody.

This crazy process could see Sweeney free while his violated victim is still at primary school.

His Lordship ignores public fury and claims the judge was simply following the rules.

But it is the government that sets these ludicrous rules.

The same government that refuses to build new prisons and puts judges under pressure to set prisoners free as fast as possible.

As long as this continues, ministers are betraying their first responsibility — to protect us . . .

And our children.

Now, the Sun is being just slightly coy about all this. Apparently it's now all the government's fault, even though just a month ago it was, err, all the judges fault! Their naming and shaming campaign has been such a huge success that it's seemingly been forgotten about within a month.

The Sun editoral also ignores their own hand in the decision by the Attorney General not to refer the sentence as "unduly lenient". On the morning of the sentence being handed down to Sweeney, the Sun started its campaign against "soft" judges. Within hours, "Dr" John Reid, had made public his reservations about the sentence, and set about sending his concerns to Lord Goldsmith. Goldsmith was not amused. Can anyone claim that the Sun's campaign didn't influence Reid? Of course not.

The arguments made by Lord Goldsmith for why he didn't refer the case to the court of the appeal are similarly disengenous, aimed at protecting Reid from further criticism. He claims it was because the judge followed the formula set down by the sentencing council properly - which is entirely true, but that didn't stop him from referring the other case that has been mixed in with the coverage over Sweeney - that of Alan Webster, who was given a life sentence with a minimum of six years for raping a 12-week-old baby. That judge also followed the sentencing formula, but Goldsmith argued that the sentence was too short for a crime which had "shocked and outraged public opinion." The court of appeal agreed, and his minimum sentence was extended to 8 years. The only difference is that the outrage in Webster's case only came from the media - not from a government minister who should have kept his mouth shut. Reid and the Sun should not be blaming anyone else; they are the ones who are responsible for Sweeney's sentence not being extended.

The Sun however is right in its claims that some of the discounts given for pleading guilty when guilt is obvious are ludicrous, and Goldsmith has said so himself, with a review currently taking place. Yet it is unwilling to recognise that in both cases Sweeney and Webster were given life sentences. It is highly unlikely that either will be granted parole at the end of their minimum sentences, as the judge in the Sweeney case himself said. Procedures are also now in place that rightly put public safety above all other concerns. The Sun just can't help itself though, and continues to parrot its line over the lack of prison building and pressure on judges to release prisoners early. It has been the pressure on the government, a lot of it coming directly from the Murdoch press that has resulted in prisons now being horrendously overcrowded, full of the mentally ill and those with drug problems who would be better treated outside the penal system. Last Tuesday the prison population was 78,107. The maximum prisons across the land can hold is is 81,149.

Just build new prisons then, that'll sort it out, right? As Obsolete has said in the past, 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 them to suddenly appear out of thin air. As the Guardian leader today points out:

In the past 18 months, Labour has repeatedly been shortsighted and inconsistent over terrorism and law and order when it should have been farsighted and consistent. The result has been both a policy and a political shambles that has brought the government nearly to its knees.

New Labour just cannot see how the tabloids are helping to destroy it from within. Hazel Blears froths at the mouth over David Cameron's hoodie-hugging speech (nowhere near tough enough for someone who wanted community offenders to wear Guantanamo style orange jumpsuits), mainly because even though as usual he's devoid of an actual policy behind the soundbites, he's got the balance right (although whether farming out paperwork to the private sector is a good idea or not remains to be seen). Blair's whole reign has been an example of how selling your soul right at the start to Murdoch will in the end result in you being hoisted by your own petard. Mirroring that, John Reid's start in the job of Home Secretary would be almost comical if it wasn't for how dangerous his giving in to the tabloids potentially could be, especially over "Megan's law". Sadly, there's no doubting that the tabloids will continue to scream, and the government of the day will continue to jerk their knees in response, either Conservative or Labour. Rationality was kicked out of bed long ago.

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Monday, July 10, 2006 

OK class, does anyone have any idea what we're doing in Afghanistan?

Does anyone have an answer? When the former Defence Secretary "Dr" John "Oh fuck, not health" Reid announced back in January that nearly 6,000 troops were going to be deployed to Afghanistan, the tasks that the army were meant to be facing up to were "peace-keeping, nation-building and counter-narcotics." Yet at the same time dear Dr Reid said "we do not go there with the primary purpose of waging war," and that he'd prefer it if there was not a "single bullet fired".

6 months later, and after six deaths in a single month, the lesser-spotted (and known) defence secretary Des Browne has belatedly announced that 900 extra troops are going to be sent, despite Downing Street denying that more troops had been requested by the military throughout the whole of last week. This still only brings the total numbers up to 4,500 troops, still short of the first reported figure of 6,000. Also, their mission now is apparently to "help security and reconstruction efforts". and that "UK troops were not seeking to take part in a war on drug production." In other words, they seem to be there for the sole purpose of target practice for the Taliban and various other malcontents who want to fight the Brits. After all, we're told that the British deployment has "energised" the Taliban.

So has the "counter-narcotics" part of the mission been dropped? It seems unlikely. Not only does 90% of the heroin that enters Britain come from Afghanistan, but the UN now estimates that it produces 89% of the entire global crop, even though the area under cultivation decreased in 2005. Despite what Blair said at PMQ's last Wednesday, the Taliban were incredibly successful in almost eradicating the opium yield. It has to be said that this was done mostly through threats, but according to Simon Jenkins Mullah Amir Mohammed Haqqani, a member of the Taliban pleaded at the time in 2001 for Western aid for farmers that had their revenue drop by three quarters as a result of growing vegetation and corn rather than poppies. The UN also confirmed that the crop for that year was virtually nil. What has now changed is that the remnants of the Taliban, various mujahideen and otherwise have realised the potential of the opium crop. It provides them with an excellent source of money, and what's more pleasing than seeing corrupt Westerners not only slowly kill themselves, but also pay for attacks on their own troops?

What's alarming the "coalition" in Afghanistan is how little they can do to stop farmers from growing their favourite crop. Softly softly tactics, first mooted by Clare Short while she was in charge of that ever optimistic cabinet post named "international development", failed spectacularly, and the crop has grown ever since. They appear to have completely rejected pleas from opium farmers across Afghanistan, organised by the Senlis council, for the West to buy up the crop to use in medicines such as morphine and codeine. In exchange they promised to fight drug trafficking, although how they would in practice do this would need fleshing out. Rather than go for what seems incredibly attractive on paper, the US crazily seems to be weighing up whether to go for airborne eradication, as Shaphan notes. This would be done with a variant of Agent Orange, the notorious defoliant that has been blamed for causing birth defects in children in Vietnam.

The United States policy on Afghanistan has changed remarkably since the 2001 invasion. With even the dedicated programme to find bin Laden being abandoned, and with Hamid Karzai propped up in Kabul, despite the odd problem, they're content to let Nato do the dirty work. After all, heroin is nowhere near as big a problem in the States as it is in Europe. They prefer their crack, PCP and "legal" opiates, such as Oxycontin. It's therefore left to the Brits, Canadians and other nations silly enough to provide troops to help re-build and keep the peace. The whole concept of keeping peace in Afghanistan is laughable. With the porous Pakistani border letting anyone who wants to cross back and forth, the smuggling of weapons couldn't be easier. As has been noted, the remnants of the Taliban and others have quickly learned new tactics from the disaster in Iraq. Roadside bombs, suicide bombings and ambushes are the order of the day. All this takes place in the shadow of history: Afghanistan has been restive for almost 200 years, only having a period of relative stability during the reign of King Zahir. Otherwise, it's been at war either with itself or with colonial occupiers for most of that time.

It's clear that the troops are not welcome. Even those who don't side with the Taliban forces are faced with enduring battles and deaths in the crossfire. Apache helicopters are increasingly called in, and as one of the operators tells the Guardian, they don't really have any idea who they're killing. Those who argue against British involvement are told that they would rather have the Taliban and the al-Qaida training camps back, as if they aren't already, or that the camps have merely moved across the border. It might be defeatism, but what is the point of sending in more troops simply to be shot at? At the moment they're trapped in their sweltering barracks, able to do almost nothing to change the situation. As Simon Jenkins, who has returned to the topic again and again and gets more forceful and outraged each time notes, to complete the supposed "mission" UK troops are meant to be carrying out would need not 10,000 men, but possibly 100,000, the sort of number which is still failing abysmally in Iraq. Menzies Campbell today hilarious says that if the mission were to fail it would "deeply damaging to the credibility of Nato", the same Nato which has been made completely redundant and non-credible since the death of the Soviet Union. Still, maybe that will be one good thing to come out of this seeming mea culpa. The downfall of Nato and the rise of European Union backed peacekeepers seems to be the only possible positive that can be taken from the amount of blood which will be shed in the long run. And that's very, very little comfort.

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Saturday, July 08, 2006 

Craig Murray threatened again by Foreign & Commonwealth office.

Craig Murray, the former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan, has just published his book, Murder in Samarkand. As he was barred from printing the supporting evidence in the actual book, he has put the documents up on his website. On the same day as he did, he received a letter alleging he was breaching copyright by doing so. Apparently, even though documents released under the Freedom of Information Act and Data Protection Act are then in the public domain, they cannot be published without permission as they remain the copyright of the Crown. This seems to be a rather convenient law in this case, as the Guardian and other newspapers have published documents obtained under the FoI on their websites with no problems.

Still, as is becoming increasingly clear in the internet age, such arcane and disgraceful rulings often turn out to be unenforcable.

Obsolete mirrors the documents, in a zip file, here. You can also jump on the torrent hosted by Dahr Jamail.

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Friday, July 07, 2006 

A year on.

A year ago today, at around 9:40am, my father was driving through Tavistock Square, having just left Covent Garden market. 7 minutes later, Hasib Hussain detonated his explosives on the number 30 bus he was on, after having apparently missed his chance to kill himself at the same time as his 3 fellow bombers. The explosion killed 14 people.

It's only when my father realised later that night that he had missed the bombing by a matter of minutes that the reality of what happened dawned on both of us. He was not the only one who had a near miss. No doubt hundreds, possibly thousands, made split-second decisions which meant they were out of the possible line of fire. 52 people were not as lucky, and hundreds of others were horribly injured.

Obsolete doesn't live in London, so it can't comment on the apparent solidarity that quickly followed, along with a measure of defiance. Sadly, within weeks, and especially after the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes, that solidarity started to crumble.

Which brings us to today. Yesterday we saw Shezhad Tanweer, apparently filmed in the same place as the previous video which starred Siddique Khan, pointing his finger, telling us that Britain deserved to be attacked because "we" voted for a government that oppresses Muslims around the world. Apart from upsetting those killed in the bombings with the timing, which must raise the question of why al-Jazeera could not have sat on the video for a while rather than inflaming what should have been a tender and sombre occasion, it quickly led to Inayat Bunglawala (media secretary of the Muslim Council of Britain) on CiF saying it should make the government realise that it must recognise the links between 7/7 and its policies overseas, as predicted by Sunny Hurndal. It drew the usual responses by those who see Islam as purely a wicked and vicious faith.

Some issues should be ironed out. There is no excuse whatsoever for the bombing of innocent civilians. Terrorists must not be allowed to get away with justifying their actions based on Western foreign policy, or with saying that it's deserved because "we" voted for the government. However, there is a difference between a grievance and a justification. Not just Muslims, but also many millions of people in this country feel aggrieved that our political leaders launched a war of aggression against Iraq, on what we now know was flimsy, politically spun and entirely spurious intelligence. We were lied to. That is a legitimate grievance. Despite what some liberal-leftists who supported the war say, making the point that the Iraq war has left us not more safe, but less safe, is not to give terrorists the opportunity to blackmail us over our foreign policy.

The other worrying thing, again pointed out by Sunny Hurndal, is the way that the main Muslim organisations now seem to be the only ones being approached to speak out. Some of their spokesman have or have had extreme views, yet at the same time the Labour party has given large amounts of taxpayers money to Muslim Council of Britain, the same organisations responsible for a lack of introspection that Blair barked about earlier in the week. What seems to be emerging is that they only seem to be able to point to Western foreign policy as being why 4 Muslim men did what they did. The point is valid, but 2 million of us marched against the war and don't feel the need to explode ourselves to continue to show our outrage.

Hurndal's point was emphasised last night on the BBC's This Week programme. They invited on, of all people, the Muslim winner of Miss England. Not only was she articulate, but she noted that the Muslim community in Britain tends to be inward-looking and conservative, especially compared to some Muslim countries, even in the Middle East. The contestants in Miss World from Egypt and Malaysia had no problems in taking part in the bikini contest, while she felt under pressure to wear something not so revealing from those in her own community. As a result, she wore a sarong.

Hurndal expands his point on CiF, reporting on a debate organised by the Fabian society. David T, who is one of the more reasonable and eloquent contributors to Harry's Place, also comments, and points out the way that some of Muslim groupings are increasingly turning to Mawdudist and Muslim Brotherhood ideology, although he also puts it down to the notion of Muslims feeling victimised, which is not only exaggerated, but they also undoubtedly have been over the last year. It's the feeling that Islam is under siege in this country, emphasised by the likes of Melanie Philips with her concentration on the Judeo-Christian ethic and idea that Islam is incompatible with democracy and "Britishness" that means that the idea of victimhood is becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The media has to share some of the blame. In their bid for increasing comment and reaction, they turn first of all to the Muslim organisations and rely on their sometimes unhelpful statements. Newsnight, when debating Islam, allowed the likes of Anjem Choudary, the idiot from al-Ghuraba, to be involved, along with a token white person and a Tory Muslim, rather than anyone who doesn't belong to some organisation. While the survey of last month was in some ways worrying, it also showed that things are nowhere near as bad as some have made out. More effort needs to be made on both sides, both by the media and by those in the Muslim communities themselves to make sure that other voices are heard. They are definitely out there, but at the moment are only being heard inside, not outside.

As well as being a day of reflection and quiet contemplation, today should also be a day of hope. We should hope that the one of the darkest moments in British history can be used to make sure that such a thing never happens again. All the talk of when, not if, is only helpful to those who wish to keep the level of fear at a premium. Effort is required by everyone. There is one thing that the government could do to kickstart this: it should order the independent inquiry into the events of 7/7 which is so desperately needed.

Update: Well, it looks like I fell into every trap set by Lenin for today's coverage. Rest assured, this sentimentality isn't here to stay. And yes, we should also be remembering all the innocents killed in Iraq and Afghanistan both by the coalition forces and terrorists as well.

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Express-watch: Diana Excess.

Every UK newspaper today features the anniversary of 7/7 on its front page. Well, except for one. Which newspaper do you think it is? The Daily Star, with its Big Brother fixation would be the most likely answer in a straw poll.

Well, it's actually the Star's sister paper (the Star's main splash is Big Brother, but 7/7 is mentioned), that bastion that stands for real values and real value for money. Rather than stand up for real values and remember those who lost their lives a year ago today, it's instead polishing its rod once again. Yep, Diana is back on the menu.
Apparently the photos shot by paparazzi of Diana lying unconcious in the back of the car, close to death, are to be printed in a new book. As we know, the Express, along with other tabloid papers at the time made a solemn promise never to buy snatched shots again. All of them broke that promise within weeks, if not days. On a day when many are going to be remembering dead loved ones, the Express seeks to bring up the past and focus on a dead celebrity, rather than real, ordinary people who died going about their daily routine. There's only one reply that's suitable to describe Peter "Mentally" Hill, Richard Desmond and the others on the Express today: you cunts.

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Thursday, July 06, 2006 

Prescott vs the bloggers.

While the main news story has been about Prescott's relationship with a bigoted rich American, there has been a continuing sexual undercurrent running beneath it. A few days ago, Guido decided to invite the wrath of Rosie Winterton, long mentioned in the comments and alluded to on other blogs as being another of Prescott's conquests. According to Guido, the Sun was going to name her but Rosie threatened them with Suue, Grabbit and Runne. Guido has yet to receive any legal papers.

Rosie is not the only other woman alleged to have been involved intimately with Prezza. A now Chinese diplomat apparently rebuffed his advances, and Sarah Doubled-Barreled Name gave an interview to the Blackmail on Sunday and Sunday Moron saying that she had indulged in practices which Prescott supposedly finds difficult.

As a result, both Iain Dale and Guido have been comprehensively briefed against by the New Labour machine. The Independent's Deputy Political Editor grabbed this juicy tidbit and set about devouring it, with some erroneous personal information about Guido included. Newsnight's Paul Mason has set about asking why internet sites seem immune from the libel laws, making the point that the BBC would most likely be get sued within seconds if they made similar allegations as to that which Guido has. Well, it's up to those who have been "libelled" to play their card. Either they put up or shut up.

All this is being hyped up as some kind of panic in the mainstream media about blogs stealing their readers/listeners/watchers. There's an element of truth in that, but bloggers should be more honest with themselves as well. Iain Dale on Newsnight last night said that the running on stories such as Cherie Blair's decision to sign a copy of the Hutton report for a Labour-money raising auction and on Prescott's meetings with Mr Anschutz had been by blogs. Well, yes, to an extent. Few blogs however are breaking the news themselves. The Cherie Blair story was broken by the Mail on Sunday, while Anschutz was by one of the Times papers. At the moment all blogs are doing is stirring and performing a similar job to diary and comment pages. There's no way that any of us can be claimed to be about to destroy the mainstream media. Further diversifying it, yes. Taking over from it, no.

Which brings us back to Prescott's non-sexual (we assume) exploits with Philip Anschutz. In case you haven't been keeping up, his company AEG bought the symbol of New Labour's failure (although to be fair, it was first proposed by the Tories) that is the Millennium Dome. AEG at the time bought it and said that it was intending to redevelop the dome into a "sports and entertainment arena". In less than a year, AEG were aggressively lobbying the Department of Culture, Media 'n' Sport, and making clear that they would very much like to build a major casino along with their other plans.

Between August the 15th 2002 and July the 22nd 2005 Prescott met with Mr Anschutz not once, not twice, not thrice, but seven times. The last was the trip to Anschutz's ranch, which Prescott has now declared to the parliamentary register, both after he said he didn't need to and after Philip Mawer, the commissioner for standards had started a preliminary investigation into whether it should have been or not. Mawer this morning extended his investigation into a full inquiry. Prescott has claimed that the proposed casino was not discussed, but rather err, ranch agriculture and William Wilberforce's role in ending slavery was. Seeing as Anschutz seems to think that homosexuals would be better off if they were slaves, maybe this was mentioned.

Yet Whitehall documents released yesterday to Newsnight and today's Guardian, show that an internal briefing dated July the 11th 2003 referred to a meeting between the European managing director Detlef Kornett and Richard Caborn, who was one of those responsible for the review of the gambling laws. It was apparently a follow-up to the meeting that AEG had with Prezza, further stating their intention to build a palace where idiots can go to lose money. In addition to this, civil servants in Prescott's department kept up the pressure on the culture ministers to have more meeting with AEG managers.

Prescott's predictable denials are that he has no control over those in his department deciding to do this on their own iniative, and that he never discussed Anschutz's plans for a casino when he visited him on those, err, 7 times. He hasn't explained what they did talk about, although whether Ugandian discussions were involved is thought unlikely.

All of which puts in to perspective the government's lust for extending the opportunities to gamble. It was only after concerted media pressure and rebellions that the plans were suitably scaled down, with one "megacasino" (allowed to have up to 1,250 slot machines, each with a jackpot of £1m.) eight "supercasinos" and eight smaller casinos allowed in a trial. The Conservative council of Southend has since said that it was asked by the government to reconsider its plan for a "megacasino" in favour of the scheme to redevelop the dome. Tessa Jowell's lolling on roulette tables was all part of a plan to get rid of the white elephant which was the dome. The undoing was that they hadn't bargained on the opposition to their plans.

It should perhaps go without saying that Prescott should resign. To be honest, he should have gone as soon as his affair with Temple was exposed, along with her schoolgirlish scribblings on the size of his penis. Along with it though we've seen the arrogance of the government on cracking down on opposition to it from new quarters, libellous allegations being made or not. While Labour could freely point out that Boris Johnson has been caught with his pants down twice recently, and that nowhere near as much has been made of that as has been of Prescott, anyone with half a brain can see that Prescott must go. He's lost his job, his dignity and might well be close to losing his wife. But then, how can Prescott go without Blair going at the same time? We may yet be stuck with the pair of them for a while long

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Wednesday, July 05, 2006 

A major escalation.

The Palestinian school in Anata, with the playground split in two by the Israeli security wall.

At times it's difficult to know whether to laugh or cry when it comes to Israel and Palestine. When once asked who would win out of a fight between an Israeli and a Palestinian, I remarked that the Palestinian would first poke the Israeli, with the Israeli retailiating by drawing a gun and blowing the Palestinian's head off.

So it seems to be when it comes to today's "major escalation". While Gilad Shalit is still being held by his Palestinian captors, Israel has been shelling and firing missiles into Gaza as usual, while forces have been gathering on the border surrounding the strip. The bridges and power station remain smouldering, while Israeli jets have been breaking the sound barrier at night, making life as uncomfortable as they can without invading. In response, the usual barrage of homemade rockets, including Qassams have been fired into Israel, causing little damage but spreading fear and anxiety in their wake.

Today one group finally managed to get a rocket to travel as far as a school yard in the centre of Ashqelon, a small city to the north of Gaza, which is far further in distance than the other usual target, Sderot, which is to the east of the Strip. (Maps showing the Gaza Strip with Ashqelon and Sderot are available here and here.) No one was hurt. In response, the Israeli security cabinet has authorised the re-occupation of parts of Gaza, which has been free of Israeli troops since the disengagement of last summer.

The fact that the missile hit a school obviously did nothing to help matters. Yet while any attack on a place of learning full of children is unacceptable, the Israeli military has killed at least seven children who were in Palestinian schools at the time since the second infitada began in September 2000. One school in the West Bank has had its playground split in two by the security fence which is meant to stop suicide bombers from getting through into Israel. And just yesterday, an Israeli airforce missile hit a school in Gaza City itself.

It's a point that's been made countless times, but the entire issue in Israel is one of reaction to a reaction. Both sides are prone to hyperbole. Both sides share the blame. Even so, signs last week were encouraging when Hamas was humiliated into accepting the prisoners document which supported the two state solution. They were left explaining that they still hadn't recognised Israel's right to exist, even though they had signed up to the PLO documents that do exactly that. As such, even though the kidnapping came before that agreement, it's rightly being seen as being part of the power struggle between the exiled Hamas military wing leadership, which seemingly ordered and knew about the plans, and the political leadership which has had to face up to reality. This has been used as an excuse for the Israelis to seize many Hamas politicians, and hold them as "terrorists". Some have already appeared before a military court.

This then, is what it comes down to. A Palestinian poke leads to an Israeli bullet, and at times, vice versa. There is cynicism on both sides, as well defeatism. As a result, both nations live in fear of each other, with a unhealthy mix of hatred thrown in. The re-occupation of Gaza won't stop the Qassam rockets, much like the beach massacre didn't end the Israeli shelling. Until both sides dedicate themselves to talks, accept that there will have to be sacrifices on both sides (although a state in the West Bank and Gaza must be viable, something the current Israeli plan of disengagement does not offer) then peace will not happen. We know what will end the war. It's just down to how long it takes for both sides to realise it.

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Tuesday, July 04, 2006 

The naivety of age restriction.

As the fear of crime and disorder continues to rise, we often find ourselves looking for quick fixes. If you live in the UK, you'll have noticed that every major supermarket now has numerous signs up informing you that if you look under 21 and intend to buy age restricted products (such as cigarettes and alcohol) then you need some form of ID, otherwise you won't be served.

It's in with this sudden lust for control over teenagers who are apparently getting more hedonistic by the minute that the government has decided that the current legal age to purchase cigarettes has to be risen to either 17 or 18. This would bring it into line with the current age required to be allowed to purchase booze, pornography and the highest rated video/movie.

The first argument against such a raise will inevitably be the inconsistency which comes with this myriad of age restrictions. Currently a 16-year-old can consent to sexual intercourse, leave home, with parental consent marry and purchase cigarettes, as well as play the national lottery. The irony that 16-year-olds can fuck but can't watch others doing so has been raised in the past by the Lib Dems, only for them to be universally laughed at. They do however have something of a point. Surely if someone is mature enough to be allowed to consent and get married, then they can be allowed to decide to slowly poison themselves and/or also enjoy intoxicating liquor?

The second is that politicians are lying to themselves as much as the public is. While supermarkets put up their signs saying don't be offended when that is exactly the emotion that anyone asked for proof of age when they are 18-21 feels if they are questioned, it's well known that the average person who is underage certainly doesn't go to them to get their supply. The government freely admits that it is the off-licenses and corner shop newsagents that sell the majority of age restricted products without asking first. They're also far less likely to get caught in stings checking that shops are abiding by the law. The average newsagent or off-license, already in danger from the ever-rising likes of Tesco & co, relies on selling cheap and cheerful products to whoever walks in the door in order to make ends meet. Hence why the average teenager doesn't sip on the much maligned "alcopops" unless they're at a pub or club; they're downing cheap but strong cider and lager readily available from such shops.

The third is that even then age restrictions simply do not work. Raising the age at which you can buy fags is not going to stop the average teenager from starting smoking, much like it doesn't stop them from drinking. Even if they can't buy the products themselves, there's always someone older willing to do so for them, or if not, there's probably one person who looks considerably older than they actually are. Hence why the entire policy of age restriction is a facade.

The government should be honest both with us and with itself. If smoking is so bad for us, then why is it simply not made illegal? The obvious answer is that it contributes a nice slice of revenue to the Treasury, but it's more complicated than that. No one suggests that alcohol should be made illegal, yet we witness what happens as a result of it every weekend. Smoking is much more problematic. While you can infinitely raise the amount of tax on the sticks, all that will result in will increased smuggling in of cigarettes, or even more trips abroad to bring back much less heavily taxed foreign fags. In other words, like drug use, it will simply now never be eradicated, even though there are suggestions that countries such as Australia will eventually becoming completely smoke free.

What can be done instead is that we need to recognise the relevant harm caused by each product which is supposedly bad for us and act accordingly. Simply because many don't like smoke or smokers is no reason for us to persecute those who do. Raising the age limit would do nothing to stop young people from smoking, like the warnings on fag packets do nothing to stop current smokers from buying them. Cannabis, despite all the hype and moral outrage surrounding it, causes little harm compared to uncontrolled alcohol abuse, and those that grow it and move it around the globe are nothing like the savages that transport cocaine and heroin, damaging everyone at every turn of its production, even if they are the same people. There is also no evidence that all of it is gaining in strength (certain varieties are much more powerful and intensively farmed, often under hydroponics) or that it leads to harder drugs. A truly honest government would consider further decriminalisation of cannabis possession, even if it didn't fully legalise the production. On cigarettes, it would leave the current age restriction as it is, but gradually increase the taxation on them and directly and transparently use the money raised to fund programmes to help others to quit and not to start in the first place. Accountability should be the key.

It's open to debate whether increasing the taxation of alcohol would do anything to stop the carnage that comes from its use. Britain seems almost uniquely in Europe to hold the same mindset regarding drink that occurs in the States; working all week and then getting lashed at the weekend to forget about it. We're often told that the culture in Europe means that this simply doesn't occur there. Whether there's much truth in it or not is uncertain, but the way that they seem to be brought up to enjoy it socially from an early age appears to have some bearing. More equal societies may also be key. At the moment however, we seem to be perversely persecuting one part of society while seeing no evil in the other. This should change.

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Monday, July 03, 2006 

Terrorism: Even when bombs aren't exploding, it never goes away.

When those planes hit the World Trade Center on that beautiful September day, the cliche that nothing would ever be the same again rang true for once. Terrorism has come to define this short early period of the 21st century. We live both in fear of it, and in fear of what governments are prepared to do to prevent it. We hear the prime minister of Israel without irony refer to the Palestinian Authority as being run by murderous terrorist organisations. This is the same Prime Minister that ordered the collective punishment strike on Gaza's power plant, leaving at least 60% of possibly the largest prison on earth without power, without water, and without fuel. At night Israeli jets go supersonic over the city, creating ear shattering booms which sound like huge explosions right near you, wherever you are.

We hear of at least 66 people ripped apart by a huge truck bomb in Sadr City in Baghdad. News that has become so grimly familiar that you accept it with a weary sigh, thinking of the mothers and fathers who won't be going home that night, of the children that will never again slam doors in houses. We hear Peter Clarke, head of the anti-terrorist branch of Scotland Yard inform us that the number of investigations into supposed terror plots has never been higher. His timing, as the anniversary of the July the 7th bombings fast approaches, and as the Home Affairs committee, with one rebel, says that 28 days detention without charge for terror suspects may not be long enough, is nothing short of infuriating.

It starts you thinking: is it always going to be like this? Was it like this during the Blitz? Was it like this at the height of the IRA's bombing campaign on the mainland? Is the threat really so great?

The answers are not easily forthcoming. Yet it seems obvious that the case for longer detention without trial for terrorist suspects is no stronger than it was last year. We're now told that the police apparently don't need 28 days to question suspects; that much is pretty clear following the Forest Gate fiasco. Last year's campaign by the Sun and the Prime Minister, with the police towing behind them in their parade of toughness, still says that the police need time to crack information that has been encrypted, but the main reason now given by the security services is that the 20 foreign security agencies need longer than that to get information across to them about the suspects. Even if we were to accept this at face value, what is stopping the suspects being released on strict bail conditions, made to report to the police station, once or even twice a day, as well as being electronically tagged? Are dangerous men so dangerous that they cannot be let back out to their empty shell of a homes with police guard, or similarly put up in hotels? What it seems to come down to is a series of long excuses and pleas that things might be different in the future. Yet the same people who have come to this conclusion admit that no one so far has needed to be locked up without charge for even 14 days, let alone 28.

In the end it all seems to be a distraction. The number of arguments the government is using to shrug off calls for an independent inquiry into what happened on the 7th of July are falling off steadily. From the beginning when it was claimed that such an inquiry would be a waste of time and tell us nothing new, we're now repeatedly slapped around the face by indignant government ministers who say it'll take too long, that only the lawyers will profit, and that it'll cost too much. It seems more and more likely that the government is frightened of what the report would say. Some of the less thorough investigations have already said that the Iraq war was a factor. An inquiry that the government could not control could come to even more alarming conclusions. While the recent Hutton and Butler inquiries were given to an establishment judge and a long serving mandarin respectively, the government could be less lucky this time around. The Mubarek inquiry, released last Thursday, showed how absolutely devastating such reports can be. To stop such a thing from happening again, we're warned that we could repeat the Saville inquiry into Bloody Sunday - a costly, hugely time-consuming cross-examination which seems unlikely to tell us anything we didn't already know.

Yet as Rachel North again posts, the ministers involved can't even find 15 minutes to meet the most seriously injured man in the 7/7 attacks. At the same time she and other survivors have to put up with commenters that accuse them of pushing for a independent inquiry in order to politicise what happened to them and so to "press her own particular views on how the so-called 'war on terror' should be conducted." Then there's the conspiracy theorists, still fantasising about how it was actually a government operation, that the bombs were under the carriages and that even suggest that those who saw the 4 men explode are deeply deluded. (I should admit something here: I thought for a while it was possible that the other men could have been drug mules duped by Siddique Khan. That is obviously wrong by what we now know.)

This same government that denies what is so obviously both wanted and needed is the same one that is now clamping down even further on whistleblowers and leakers who dare to suggest that all is not right in the world. Whether this is down to the embarrassment of allies, or just complete control freakery is unknown. What is known is that is only through fighting and continue to fight will an independent inquiry be achieved. It shouldn't have to come to this. The survivors deserve so much better, as do all those who have suffered through acts of terrorism since those fateful late summer days. New Labour, aptly described by Charles Leadbeater as neither new enough or Labour enough, can prove that it is still the party of the people. Whether it will or not is another story entirely.

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Saturday, July 01, 2006 

The truth will out.

Remember Shanni Taylor? She was the twelve-year-old who was viciously slashed across the face by another girl with a razor blade, requiring at least 30 stitches to her face. She will additionally be scarred for life. At the time the reporting was that Shanni had intervened when her assailant had been bullying another boy. It now appears that the opposite was the case.

A girl who slashed a classmate's face with a razor blade has avoided a custodial sentence after being cleared of wounding with intent, but convicted of unlawful wounding.

Yesterday the girl, who cannot be named, received a two-year supervision order for attacking Shanni Naylor during an English lesson at Myrtle Springs secondary school in Sheffield last October. Both girls were 12 at the time.

Judge Goldsack added that current legislation did not give him the power to hand down a custodial sentence. After the trial, the Naylor family expressed their disappointment that the jury had cleared the girl of the more serious charge and their solicitor said they had already started civil proceedings against the school, alleging breach of its duty of care towards their daughter.
An outrage then, you would imagine. A revenge attack for intervening to help another pupil, and only a supervision order? Is this a case for Tony Blair's vaunted rebalancing of the criminal justice system in favour of the victim? Err, no. Read on:

During the three-day trial, jurors heard that Shanni assaulted the girl the day before the classroom attack, punching her and banging her head against a wall as more than 100 pupils looked on. Nobody came to the girl's aid.

The jury was told that the defendant was the only Somali girl in her year and had few friends. She lived in Somalia for the first 10 years of her life, without any formal education, and was orphaned when she was young.

Her isolation at school led to bullying - some of it racially motivated - at the hands of her peers. Teachers were aware of this problem and they also knew the girl had learning difficulties.

The judge heard evidence from two psychologists and two psychiatrists, with all four saying she was not fit to plead due to her extremely low intelligence and difficult background. One psychologist put her IQ at 45.
It appears that none of this has been denied by Shanni or her family. Rather than Shanni stopping bullying, she was the bully, a bully of a girl of extremely low intelligence, with possible racial connotations. As the Ministry of Truth notes, it appears that there was no action taken against Shanni, despite the original attack being seen by a teacher, as well as the 100 pupils that had gathered as often happens when there are fights at school.

Not that this mitigates in any way what the Somalian girl did. It was an horrendous attack, but it appears to have come only after a sustained period of bullying of which there seems to have been little done to stop. In the circumstances, it appears quite appropriate that a custodial sentence was not passed, and just what benefit would have been brought from such a sentence also seems uncertain. That Shanni's parents are now considering suing the school for breach of duty seems highly ironic. Rather than failing to protect Shanni, it seems to have failed to protect a highly vulnerable girl who fled to this country.

How did the biggest selling tabloid in this country report the outcome of the case?
THE girl who slashed classmate Shanni Naylor with a razor blade escaped a jail term yesterday.

The 13-year-old, originally from Somalia, was given a two-year supervision order by Judge Alan Goldsack QC at Sheffield Crown Court.

He told her: “Parliament has not given courts the powers to pass custodial sentences for this offence for a person of your age, without previous convictions.”

Shanni, also 13, needed 30 stitches in her face after the attack during an English lesson. She said yesterday: “I am just glad the whole thing is she is done and dusted.”

Her attacker was found guilty on Thursday of unlawful wounding.
No mention of what Shanni's assailant had to deal with then, except for the fact she was Somalian, and an obvious dig masquerading as news that there needs to a tightening of the law so that such assaults do result in custodial sentences. There's bad reporting, there's distorted reporting, and then there's the Sun.

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