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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