Thursday, August 31, 2006 

Violently criminalising the "deviants".

Jane Longhurst's mother has got her wish. After a two-year long campaign and a government consultation, "violent" pornography is to be made illegal to have in your possession.

Before examining exactly what the government intends to criminalise, it's worth remembering the victim in this. Jane Longhurst, a 31-year-old music teacher at a school for children with special needs was killed by Graham Coutts, a 35-year-old who had an obsession with asphyxiation during sex. This obsession was allegedly exacerbated by his visits to pornographic websites which featured simulated necrophilia and strangulation. Former girlfriends testified that he had performed asphyxiation on them during sex, while he had told one that he feared that he would end up killing someone.

Coutts has always claimed that he accidentally killed Longhurst during consensual sex. Last month the House of Lords agreed that the jury should have been given the option of convicting him for manslaughter rather than murder. The Crown Prosecution Service is applying for a retrial. Coutts had kept Longhurst's body in a rented unit in Brighton, visiting 10 times before eventually dumping her corpse in a field, setting it alight. Found in the unit was a condom containing traces of Coutts' semen, as well as Longhurst's DNA. This led to it being claimed that Coutts had sex with her body after her death, although he has always denied this and it has not been proved.

The whole issue comes down to whether Coutts was further influenced by the material that he used on the internet. There's very little to suggest that he was. While the internet has undoubtedly made access to extreme pornographic material far easier, there's everything to suggest that Coutts had already carried out his fantasies on past girlfriends in a consensual situation, and that for him this was just a part of his normal sex life. Whether he got carried away with Longhurst, or set out to fulfil his ultimate fantasy we may never know. The government itself admitted in the first consultation document that the link between such pornography that Coutts' used and violent crime had not been established. "We recognise that accessing such material does not necessarily cause criminal activity," it said. "We consider the moral and public protection case against allowing this kind of material sufficiently strong."

So it has proved. 50,000 people, mainly coming from campaigning in the tabloids, signed a petition calling for violent pornography to be outlawed. Those who actually responded to the consultation document that the government published on its website were by far in favour of the current law situation remaining unchanged. 223 individuals, compared to 90 who replied said there should be no change. This was reversed when it came to groups who responded, with 53 calling for such material to be banned, with 18 backing no change. Even so, this still left the "no" camp with a majority of 98.

Away from the rather vague BBC reports, this is what the government plans to make illegal:

Content of Material
12. The material covered by the offence would be:
(i) intercourse or oral sex with an animal; and
(ii) sexual interference with a human corpse, as proposed in the consultation document.

We have considered the point raised by some respondents that
these categories do not exactly mirror the criminal offences set out in the Sexual Offences Act 2003, which refer to penetration, but have concluded that the broader categories should remain.

13. We have reconsidered the remaining categories set out in the consultation:
(i) serious violence in a sexual context, and
(ii) serious sexual violence.

We have concluded that the reference to “in a sexual context” caused confusion and was unnecessary in view of the pornography threshold described above. We therefore propose a single category of serious violence.

14. We have considered the violence threshold, which was originally proposed at GBH level, and concluded that the test was not sufficiently precise, would be difficult to apply and would draw in material which would not pass the obscenity threshold. We have concluded that the offence should apply to images of acts that appear to be life threatening or are likely to result in serious, disabling injury. Again, it would be for the prosecution to show that the material fell into this category. We would consider giving non-statutory guidance on the type of injury which we consider would fall within this category.

15. In summary, material would need to be:
(a) pornographic
(b) explicit
(c) real or appears to be real act (these would be objective tests for the jury)

16. It would cover:
(i) serious violence*
(ii) intercourse or oral sex with an animal
(iii) sexual interference with a human corpse
*by serious violence we mean appears to be life threatening or likely to result in serious, disabling injury.

The government has thankfully decided that the violence threshold has to be above GBH, as GBH has in the past been defined as "breaking of the skin". GBH would have meant that sadomasochist pornography would almost certainly have been made illegal, as would spanking material, which often involves welts being made on the skin.

Even so, the legislation as it is risks criminalising a distinct minority of what some would consider "sexual deviants". For those who practice erotic asphyxiation, it's quite possible that if they decided to take photographs or record themselves while doing it that they would be breaking the law. While it would be up to a jury to decide, the possibility is always there that something that is taking place between two adults in the privacy of their own bedrooms could be criminalised. Choking during sex can certainly appear to be life threatening or likely to result in serious injury, especially if taken too far. This isn't just a minority pornographic pursuit/interest either; "gonzo" pornography often features the male actor choking the female star during sex. It may be deeply unpleasant, it may be dangerous, but it's taking place in what is a safe, controlled, consensual environment. The sex industry in America is remarkably self-regulating, and takes safety, especially HIV/AIDS protection incredibly seriously. The BBFC cuts such practices from all R18 submissions, but the DVDs that are available to download from the internet from American websites could fall foul of this law.

The most troubling thing though is just what could be made illegal if it was taking place in a sexual environment rather than in say, a comedy or art film. Frank Fisher on Comment is Free identifies Hitchcock's Frenzy as featuring asphyxiation that could fall foul of this legislation. The Channel 4 comedy Peep Show contains an episode in which the Mark character ends up having sex with a teenage goth, who starts to choke him half way through, to his terror. It looks real, and could potentially be considered pornographic or explicit. Any film or work that has a BBFC certificate is to be exempt from prosecution, but doesn't this set up a double standard? Why should we persecute those who have different sexual interests who have as much right to see what they enjoy going on as anyone else? Why is asphyxiation in pornographic material seen as more dangerous than asphyxiation in "art" films?

The government is on safer ground on the banning of bestiality, but even here there are dangers. Many such examples of bestiality are often short clips, which are considered humourous. There's a lot of people out there with these who could be potentially prosecuted. One such video that was doing the rounds on forums last year was a clip of a man who died after receiving anal sex from a horse; not the most enlightening, educational or tasteful entertainment available, but should having such a video lead to someone facing imprisonment? The Good Old Naughty Days, a collection of silent pornographic vignettes, one featuring bestiality, was passed uncut by the BBFC with an R18 certificate. What makes old porn featuring sex with animals more acceptable than more modern examples?

The banning of necrophilia faces similar problems. While there is no such thing as real "snuff movies" (the closest thing to real snuff is the beheading propaganda videos released by the likes of al-Qaida in Iraq), or real necrophilia videos, sites such as necrobabes are easily available and feature men having sex with women who are made to look dead. Could a jury potentially view such material as real?

With there being no evidence that viewing such pornography leads to any more likelihood that someone will commit a crime, why on earth has the government gone along with what is the pet project of radical feminists who think all women in pornography are being exploited, censorship groups such as Mediawatch, which grew out of the ashes of Mary Whitehouse's old pressure organisation, and the ever reactionary plod? The only answer must be that it'll help to appease a certain amount of people and the press who are otherwise pissed off with the government, i.e. the Daily Mail, Sun etc.

It seems like a very British disease, and it is. No other European country has such a interest in criminalising minority sexual pursuits. Only Germany has what could be considered a more draconian censorship body than ours. We've had to deal with moral panics such as this before: one was over "video nasties" with the advent of the home video recorder. There was another in the aftermath of the James Bulger case, despite there being no evidence that his killers were influenced in any way by horror films, or even seen them. The current panic does not have such wide ramifications, but it will still do very little to nothing to stop what happened to Jane Longhurst from happening to someone else. I don't doubt Mrs Longhurst's sincerity and belief that making this material illegal might save further lives, but she ought to consider the likelihood of men and women having their lives ruined by draconian legislation which makes their "kinks" illegal to view. She should also wonder whether she is being used by those who want to remove the freedoms of the wider public to watch they want to, something which the intolerant likes of John Beyer has wanted for a long time.

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Wednesday, August 30, 2006 

Blair or bust.

It's almost possible to feel slightly sorry for Tony Blair. Going from the most loved, respected and impressive politician of his generation to being the most loathed, detested and untrusted within 10 years must be difficult to adjust to. Long gone are the now hilarious in retrospect "Cool Britannia" parties at 10 Downing Street, where hand-picked celebs all worshipped at the feet of the king of spin, replaced instead with a bunker mentality, advised only by his remaining friends and allies.

These friends and allies, exemplified by the likes of Charles Falconer, chief crony and unelected to boot,, seem to be the only ones left in the country that can't see how badly Blair needs to go immediately, not in a few months, not in a year, but right now. It is only they that are still convinced by his messianic complex, that only he can solve the problems of the world at large. That Blair has had next to no influence on Bush administration despite riding their coat-tails and in effect turning our foreign policy over to the hawks in the Pentagon doesn't stop them from continuing to claim that he must be the one who goes to the Middle East to bang heads together. The possibilities of a peace settlement any time soon between Israel and Palestine are now laughable, thanks in part to Blair and Bush's insistence that Israel be given time to destroy Hizbullah, while hundreds of innocents died. As it has turned out, the Israeli public appears to have decided that they didn't hit Lebanon hard enough. This is coupled with the abduction of countless Hamas and Palestinian authority members by Israel, which only underlines the contempt the Israelis feel for democracy that leads in their eyes to terrorist groups gaining more power.

Falconer's other wheeze is that only Tony can save this country from evil terrorists dedicated to destroying our loving and peaceful way of life. That Blair was on holiday and didn't feel the need to return earlier this month at the height of the hysteria over the hyped out of all proportion terror plot should be enough to destroy this mendacious argument, but there's something else worth acknowledging also. Only 1% believe the country is safer after Blair's wars on Afghanistan and Iraq, surely the biggest indictment of the man and his supposed power in dealing with the terrorist threat. Even if you don't think that Blair's decision to needlessly join the illegal war on Iraq directly led to the 7/7 attacks, it's clear that many believe that he has done nothing to help the situation. Rather, he's ever more convinced of his righteousness in his foreign policy. His "arcs of extremism" speech was frightening in how close in proximity it was to Bush's rants about "Islamic fascists". His desire to lump all nominally "extremist" Islamic organisations together as one homogeneous entity, different aims and all, as well as the refusal to directly contact either Syria or Iran during the Israel-Lebanon-Hizbullah war ought to show that his foreign policy is not just wrong and counter-productive, it's downright dangerous.

Even Tessa Jowell, who has in the past suggested she'd throw herself under a bus to protect her saviour Tony, recognises there are doubts about Blair's continued leadership, but these are laughably only in the "Westminster village". More notable is the nugget that nearly all the closest Blair allies have either resigned in the past or been caught in scandals. Stephen Byers, or as more popularly known, Byers Byers Pants on Fires, sounds off first to Sunday Telegraph that inheritance tax should be scrapped so that Middle England has a reason to love Tony, then uses the Murdoch press to suggest that Gordon Brown has to use the 2007 spending review to cement the New Labour legacy. Alan Milburn, who resigned to spend more time with his family and at the same time join the board of a company with a direct interest in the NHS, the department he previously ran, has refused to deny that he would run for the leadership once Blair does finally go. No one cares any longer what David Blunkett thinks, but he doubtless would like Blair or one of his allies to become leader, only because that'd be the only chance he has of returning to the government for a third time.

The longer Blair stays, the more enemies he creates. Charles Clarke continues to skulk in the background, embittered by his removal as Home Secretary. Michael Meacher, the former environment minister has since emerged as one of the darlings of the parliamentary left. Clare Short, who left it far too late to resign over Iraq, has similar qualities. None of these could on their own force Blair to consider his future, but together and with other Labour MPs they could almost certainly force something approaching a coup. That they haven't, and that the party seems disinclined to do anything, despite reports in the Grauniad this morning that something finally seems to be happening, means that they will just as culpable if it ends up with David Cameron winning the next election.

The biggest wimp of all though has been Gordon Brown. For a man who has waited so long, who has plotted for so long, who has been betrayed time and again, he seems remarkably content to let Blair completely wreck the Labour party. As Polly Toynbee has pointed out, the satisfaction rating with Blair is half that of Thatcher's when she was forced to leave Downing Stret in tears. Getting rid of Blair would be incredibly popular in the country, but the worry for Brown must be that the Blairite ultras and the Tories would combine together to say that the left was regaining the upper hand in the party. Utter bollocks, obviously, but you can bet your money that the Daily Mail and Sun would go along with it.

Blair himself should have resigned over the death of David Kelly. He should have resigned over the absence of WMD in Iraq. He should resign over the disaster that Iraq has become. He should resign over the loans for peerages scandal. If he won't go now, he has to be forced to.

Labour then is faced with a choice. It can let Blair to continue in his delusion that only he can solve Britain and the world's problems single handedly, or they can get rid of him. They have it in their power to do so. The longer this continues, the more the hatred for Blair, and as a result, Labour, grows. This would not be the equivalent of the Tories getting rid of Thatcher; the party has far longer to re-establish itself with the electorate, with a leader and new policies that actually do something other than disillusion the party's core support. Unless it happens now, we may face another 18 years of Tory hell, and you can rest assured that however bad New Labour has been, the other lot will be worse.

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That New York Times article.

You've probably already read it elsewhere, but the New York Times article on the alleged terror plot is available in full on Pickled Politics.

The most interesting thing is that the article suggests the liquid explosives were HMTD, not TATP as we’ve been led to believe by the press over here, although they are both made with similar ingredients. The arrested 17-year-old was charged with having a book on explosives. Wikipedia suggests that there are recipes for creating HMTD in the Anarchist’s Cookbook, that incredibly inaccurate and freely available manuscript. This may be a major leap, but that it’s possible they’re charging him with having that seems utterly ludicrous.

In short, the government yet again hyped it out off all proportion. They’d been watching these men for months. They knew actually what they were doing, or were planning to do. There’s widespread agreement that it would have been near impossible for them to mix these chemicals and create a bomb once aboard an aircraft. Some of them didn’t have passports. It seems incredibly likely the supposed ringleader in Pakistan has been tortured, hence the almost laughable claims of top-level al-Qaida involvement, and to top it all, we have to read the reality about it from an American newspaper, with blogs having to do the leg work in getting hold of a copy. Long live freedom!

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Tuesday, August 29, 2006 

Scum-watch: Sickening speculation.

Message to the media: The only thing from which the press should save me is the eternal lies about my person, the false interpretations, the we-know-better mentality and the lack of respect toward me.

A more than reasonable request from Natascha Kampusch. After spending 8 years with only the company of her kidnapper for comfort, you'd think that the media would be kind enough to let her try to rebuild her life in peace. No such luck.

First up then we have the Daily Mail, with quite possibly the most sickening and misleading front page they have had in a long time. Not content with trying to sell newspapers through lurid voyeurism, with the picture of her as a 10-year-old and not one taken after her escape, they completely distort her statement. She repeats twice that she doesn't want intimate matters to be discussed, as they are quite rightly nothing to do with anyone other than her and those who will be treating her.

Far from acknowledging that the trauma of escaping and readjusting to normal life is likely to be even more stressful than being captured in the first place, the Sun similarly decides to freely speculate and lie through its teeth. The first paragraph sets the tone for the rest of the article:

SEX-slave schoolgirl Natascha Kampusch told for the first time yesterday about her eight years in a pervert’s cellar — and stunned the world by insisting it was not all bad.

The article then goes on to speculate that she's pregnant, despite also quoting her insistence that intimate matters stay private.

As so often happens, what was once satire eventually becomes reality. In the Brass Eye paedophilia special which attacked the hysteria surrounding media coverage of paedophilia, a section of the show has the presenter asking one of the fictional paedophile's victims to demonstrate his perversions; she does so, while Chris Morris narrates with "Someone who agrees to rub their breasts on television is undoubtedly inexcusably disturbed". This is exactly what the tabloids are doing today, slavering, salivating, waiting for all the horrible details to be told to them, only for their victim to refuse to do so. This leaves them with the only other option in the circumstances: make it up instead and speculate wildly. That they're using the victim as an object almost as much as the original kidnapper did doesn't seem to make them any less ashamed of their actions.

Adding insult to injury, the Sun also dedicates part of its leader column to the unfortunate Natascha:
THE horror of being kidnapped for eight years does terrible things to the mind.

Natascha Kampusch describing captivity as almost a blessing is extraordinary.

The 18-year-old is grateful for not mixing with a bad crowd or experimenting with fags and booze.

Natascha’s comments show her journey back to reality will be a long, difficult process.

We wish her well every step of the way.

And if you'd like to change your mind about telling the world the horrible minute details of your horrendous experience, News International will be there to pay you a huge amount of money and use your pain for sales purposes.

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Monday, August 28, 2006 

Scum-watch: Criminalising an entire generation.

Put it down to the silly season, or there just being a general drought of news over the weekend until the bombs in Turkey late last night, but some of today's papers, especially the Sun, seem to be obsessed with crime.

The Daily Mail wails about how John Reid has supposedly ordered magistrates to free suspects on electronic tags rather send them to jail, presumably because of the overcrowding crisis. That it's been the screaming leader columns of the likes of the Mail than have considerably contributed to the prisons being overcrowded is naturally not worthy of a mention. Over in the Mirror, Tony Parsehole, sorry, Parsons, calls for the return of the death penalty for the killer(s) of Peter Woodhams. This isn't so that there's a possible deterrent even worse than at least a 15-year stretch in a stinking prison, but seemingly because a death seems to deserve another death in return. The revenge mechanism may be strong, but what difference would it make? Is taking another life justifiable in any circumstances? Parsons doesn't bother to explain, but then that might be taxing for the male Glenda Slagg.

The Times leads with the comments of the head of the crown prosecution service, Ken McDonald, who's spoken out to say that "elitist attitudes had helped to break the bond of trust between the public and the criminal justice system." No Ken, it's been the likes of the Sun and the Daily Mail screaming that the victims of crime are being failed, along with the appeasement of this point of view by the Labour government, which hasn't helped matters by being thoroughly incompetent, i.e. over the foreign prisoners scandal. When there was an outcry over the length of the sentence given to the paedophile Craig Sweeney, the judges got the blame, when the fault was entirely with the government.

It's no surprise that there has been something of a breakdown in trust in the criminal justice system. The reason for this has not been the justice system itself, which has been shown to be getting progressively more punitive and harsh when sentencing offenders, but with the governments and the "popular" press. This very Labour government has directly said that it intends to rebalance the "criminal justice system in favour of the victim". That they have said this repeatedly might be why a recent opinion poll, quoted by the Times, suggests that only 36% are confident that it satisfies the needs of victims. If the government suggests it's going to do something about it because this is what's happening, a certain amount are going to believe it, whether there's a crisis in confidence over trust with this government or not. This has been coupled with the increase in "campaigns" in the tabloid press, likely linked to decreasing circulation and the descent into hysteria which seems to have become inexorable.

The article goes on:

Mr Macdonald said that the old-fashioned idea that thecriminal justice system sits above the public and consists of principles and practices beyond popular influence or argument was “elitist and obscurantist”.

Who believes that? It's not old-fashioned, it's entirely untrue. How can the criminal justice system sit above the public when the public are directly involved in it, i.e. in jury trials. The fact of the matter is that the criminal justice system is now being undermined not by the judges and lawyers, but by the government which increasingly interferes, such as the sentencing guidelines in the case of Craig Sweeney.

He added: “If people, including victims, feel they cannot secure justice through the courts, we are entering dangerous territory”.

Which brings us on today's Sun. While later editions splashed on the explosions in Turkey, earlier editions screamed "BANG UP THE GANGS".

TODAY The Sun declares WAR on gangs of young savages terrorising Britain’s streets.

We are demanding a crackdown on behalf of decent, law-abiding families — after a boy of 16 became the latest victim killed.

Glen Corner was knifed to death on his birthday less than a week after brave dad Peter Woodhams, 22, was shot dead.

Outraged locals in South Shields, Tyneside, said cops IGNORED warnings that thugs had made their neighbourhood a no-go zone.

Like all deaths, Glen Corner's is undoubtedly a tragedy. However, there has no been direct link between his death and that of gangs operating in the area. According to the Daily Mirror, the attack came after an argument over a stolen mobile phone. It's only been casually linked in with the fact that the area has had alleged problems with anti-social behaviour.

The case of Peter Woodhams seems entirely different. Woodhams was murdered seemingly by the same gang that had attacked him 6 months previously, an act of violence that was according to his family not properly investigated by the police. The plod and IPCC are now both reviewing the matter. The only link between the two separate incidents is that gangs of youths may have been however tenuously involved. The Sun's use of Glen Corner's image for their campaign is similar to the way they jumped on the death of Mary-Ann Leneghan to further their own political agenda.

What does the Sun want then? Their demands are succinct yet vague:

Tony Blair says there are 6,000 more cops now than when he came to power — but where are they? As hoodlum gangs rampage unchecked across the country, The Sun is demanding:

MORE cops on the beat to make our streets safe.

TOUGHER sentences for violent yobs — with gangs locked up.

PRESSURE to be put on parents by the Government to raise decent kids.

We start then with hoary old chestnut about how police out on the beat make the streets safer. That there's a body of evidence that suggests that people actually start to believe that there's more crime than there actually is when there's police on the streets doesn't enter in to the Sun's equation; neither does the fact that police walking the beat means that there are less to actually attend to emergency situations: a bloke in a helmet walking around can only run so fast. The only plus which more police wandering around bring is that they do have a certain deterrent effect, but even that is disputed.

Tougher sentences for violent yobs? Fine, why the hell not? I thought we had them already, and that the prison overcrowding situation rather proved that, but obviously not. As for gangs to be locked up, how exactly do you go about doing that? Does the Sun want the police to just arrest any group of young people that happens to be standing on street corners? Does the thought not enter the heads of those in Wapping that locking up young people in young offender institutions isn't the greatest idea in the world?

Pressure to be put on parents suffers from a similar problem. Just how exactly does the government force parents to bring their children up "right"? Isn't the Sun one of the newspapers that complains about the "nanny state"? Why yes, of course it is, but in this way the Sun gets to bash the government for not doing enough to tackle problem. It's damned if it does and it's damned if it doesn't. Then again, the Sun editor isn't the greatest role model for children anyway, unless battering your husband teaches them vital lessons of how women can be stronger than men.

It goes on:

We also pledge to act if YOUR neighbourhood is plagued by the gangs. If the police won’t do anything we want to know.

Tell us the names of the ringleaders, where they live or simply where they hang out. We will put pressure on the police and Government to keep their vow to be tough on crime.

You can also shop the mums and dads of tearaways. We will name and shame the worst.

If in doubt, turn to the name and shame. It worked so well over paedophiles! It was also so successful in this year's earlier campaign against "soft judges" that it was abandoned after about a month. Again, the Sun ignores yet more evidence that naming and shaming does more harm than good, emphasised by the fact that in some areas ASBOs are becoming badges of honour. The paper also doesn't explain how it's going to know for a fact that the people it names and shames are actually guilty of any crime, but then vigilante action has never been about justice, more about making a point, which is exactly what the Sun is doing. That entirely innocent people may have their lives ruined by the very lowest form of journalism doesn't matter, as long as some thoroughly nasty people get their just desserts.

Our campaign follows a shocking eight per cent rise in street crime — with the use of knives rocketing by a terrifying 73 per cent.

The 73% figure involves muggings in which a knife was used. Other statistics from the same survey showed that murders involving knives has actually held steady over the last ten years. Violence with knives had also peaked in 1995, and the study stresses that the long-term trend is downward. This is no comfort to those attacked by thugs with knives, but it's worth seeing the bigger picture.

The whole Sun campaign though reflects something much more sinister: the criminalisation of young people as a whole. In another Sun article, a police officer gives the game away:

Alan Gordon, vice-chairman of the Police Federation, said officers had to choose which incidents to investigate.

He said: “It is frustrating for the public when you have gangs of youths who congregate and are intimidating.

“Unfortunately, until they commit an offence there’s little the police can do.

Yes, that's the problem isn't it? Why won't they break the law so we can arrest the bastards? That the vast majority of young people who do congregate on street corners or in bus shelters aren't doing anyone any harm doesn't seem to matter, but it's through the constant repetition of the horror stories about gangs and anti-social behaviour that lead to people of all ages fearing groups of youths. A lot may be intimidating, but they're probably not intending to be. The continuous tabloid campaigns against "yobs" have in effect meant that they are seen as criminals or even enemies within. This might not happen if there was something for kids to actually do in their neighbourhoods other than just meet together, but for many they'd rather that young people just didn't exist than do something about it, and the Sun's increasingly hysterical campaigns do nothing but encourage yet more people to be fearful rather than constructive. This was to an extent what David Cameron was getting at when he made his "hug-a-hoodie" speech, that young people quite rightly feel marginalised, that they seek solace through groups and what some might see as menacing or concealing clothing.

There is one voice of sanity, but only one, in the whole of the Sun's coverage today:

Chief Constable of Leicestershire Matt Baggott said all young people should not be tarred with the same brush.

He added: “Youngsters are not just the perpetrators of crime but often the victims.”

Indeed, the rise in street crime reflects the fact that older youths are robbing younger ones of their expensive mobile phones and ipods, rather than a general explosion of violence against just anyone. The sad fact is that Matt Baggott is commenting on exactly what the Sun is doing and has been doing: tarring every youth as a potential yob.

Just like when the News of the World launched its name and shaming campaign against paedophiles, there's also no dissenting mainstream political voices on the issue (the government eventually persuaded Wade to tone down her coverage, but not before Paul Boateng had praised the Screws for its "important contribution to the debate"):
Shadow home secretary David Davis said: “I congratulate The Sun on taking up this immensely important issue.”

Quite. Why bother criticising the fact that the Sun has a terrible record on these matters, that young people are being unfairly demonised for the crimes of a few and that naming and shaming only makes things worse?

The underlying message of the Sun's campaign can be summed up then thus:
Young people, we know that you want to have fun and enjoy your childhood, but wouldn't it be better for you to stay indoors and be seen and not heard? After all, you're scaring the old folks, and you don't want that, do you? You might want to check out this website, called (Proprietor: R. Murdoch), it's like going outside and meeting people except inside, but with more bad music and stupid haircuts!

But what do I know? I'm just an obscurantist and an elitist.

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Saturday, August 26, 2006 


In the blue corner, fighting for corporate greed, perpetual environmental destruction, and the worst McJob on the entire planet, we have Ryanair!

In the "red" corner, fighting for the right to continue establishing a constant culture of fear, for the creation of the crime "travelling whilst asian" and to maintain the exaggerated threat to the country from a few extremist idiots, we have the Labour government!

Whoever wins, we lose.

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Friday, August 25, 2006 

Internet Explorer problems.

I've just noticed that the blog looks absolutely atrocious in Internet Explorer, especially the lower posts, which appear to have stupidly huge fonts. I use Firefox, which shows the page as having no problems. While I see if I can fix it, can IE users report if there are any problems? I'd appreciate it, thanks.

Update: Seem to have sorted it.

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The simple sword of truth and the trusty shield of British fair play.

Only just over a year on from when the country discovered the truth about the so-called ricin plot, one of the men cleared by the jury in that case has been told by the Special Immigration Appeals Commission that he can be deported to Algeria, as he is "a danger to national security" and that the situation in Algeria is "improving". Mr Justice Ouseley, the chairing judge, also said that it was "inconceivable" that the man would face ill-treatment, even though there has not been a "memorandum of understanding" reached between the UK and Algeria. Instead, the judge ruled on the basis of an unpublished exchange of letters between Tony Blair and Ahmed Ouyahia, who was prime minister of Algeria until earlier this year.

The most disturbing thing about the case is that appears that the exact same evidence used against the man in the ricin trial has been used against him again, along with evidence that was given to the judges in secret. This has led three of the jurors in the original ricin case to speak out via Amnesty International, something almost unprecedented.
The jurors have been repeatedly outspoken, as the government has continued to detain those who were initially cleared and released, only for them to be taken back into custody.

While the media can only currently refer to the man as Y, it seems that the man's real name is
Mustapha Taleb. About the only evidence that linked him to the ricin plot was that his fingerprints were found on the handwritten ricin and other poison recipes that been found in a police raid on a house in Thetford, Norfolk. Taleb had been working at the infamous Finsbury Park mosque in the bookshop, which means almost instantly that he can be dismissed by the government and majority of the media as an extremist. He was in charge of the photocopier, which is how his fingerprints were found to be on one of the copies' of the recipes. Whether he even bothered reading what he was copying is uncertain. Another piece of evidence put to the SIAC was that his fingerprints were found on the bag which contained the much paraded imitation handgun, stun gun and CS canister which were found in the mosque.

There is no doubting that Taleb had been involved in Islamist groupings. Indeed, he admitted to working for the
GIA, the Armed Islamic Group, at his interview over his asylum application. He said he left in 1994 because of its policy of killing innocent civilians, maintaining that he had never taken up arms and had only helped the families of fighters to flee. During 1994 he was tortured daily by the Algerian security services, something substantiated by medical evidence and the scars on his body. It's therefore perhaps not surprising that his laptop was found to have at least 50 files containing Algerian opposition material. There was also one file on "bomb-making", although experts said that it was both "incoherent and incomplete". The SIAC said yesterday that it also considered Taleb to have been a leader of the FIS, the Islamic Salvation Front, which did not turn to armed struggle until 1993 in the aftermath of the elections in Algeria being cancelled by the army, and their leaders being arrested and sentenced to 12 years in prison. Whether this evidence came from the torture of Taleb is unknown.

The most perverse about the ruling is that the judges admit that the evidence against Taleb cannot even be said to make it more probable than not that he was involved in the "ricin plot". For those who still don't know the truth about the alleged ricin plot which was disrupted,
it turned out that the ricin recipes, despite being legitimate, would have been of incredibly weak potency. Bourgass most likely got hold of them from extreme rightwing American survivalist websites. Even if they had been made, the concoction would not have been able to kill anyone. Bourgass's plan had been to smear the poison on doorknobs and car door handles, which would have not worked even if the recipe had been potent, as ricin needs to pierce the skin in order to be deadly, as in the case of the Georgi Markov, a Bulgarian dissident murdered by the KGB with an umbrella tipped in the poison. The judges nonetheless claim that Taleb "was aware of the plot, he was trusted by those who engaged in it to know of it and to keep quiet about it, and would not have alerted the UK authorities to it." They claim this despite the prosecution in the ricin trial no doubt making the exact same arguments, where he was cleared of all wrongdoing.

What seems most likely is that the Algerians want Taleb back, having managed to lose him once. In his absence he was convicted of "organising an armed group prejudicial to the state", and sentenced to death. Under the Algerian charter on Peace and National Reconciliation these convictions would be quashed. Whether he would be allowed to rebuild his life in Algeria if deported is questionable though, especially when viewed in the light of the Algerians requesting his extradition in June 2003, one of only three such requests from the country since 1997.
As Jason Burke wrote in the Observer in April 2005, most of the information about the "ricin plot" was received from interrogations of Mohammed Meguerba, who had returned to Algeria after jumping bail in the UK. It's uncertain whether Meguerba was tortured, as Burke reports that he seemed confident when talking to officers from the Met, showing few signs of being broken. This may have been because he was more than willing to tell his interrogators what they wanted to hear: Meguerba said that the ricin already existed; it didn't. It was most likely Meguerba's evidence that led to the Algerians calling for the extradition of Taleb, using the excuse of the plot to get him back.

Nonetheless, the SIAC has ruled that Taleb is a threat to national security. While he can still appeal against the ruling, the whole decision of the government in first detaining him and the others acquitted in the original trial smacks of a vendetta against the men that showed that the true level of threat to Britain is much lower than the government has always claimed. The trial also revealed that those who are inclined to jihadism are often complete amateurs, using recipes from the internet for both poisons and bombs that often range from being hopelessly difficult to manufacture to being hopelessly wrong. It's also worth wondering whether some such sites that offer recipes are honeytraps, operated by the security services who monitor the server logs. Richard Reid was such an amateur. Kamel Bourgass was such an amateur, although one who was obsessive and murderous in his devotion to the cause. Those arrested a couple of weeks ago may yet also turn out to be so.

This is what it comes down to then: sending a man who has been a victim of torture, who has only been circumstantially linked to the "ricin plot" and faces a horribly uncertain future back to a country where despite the SIAC's decision, Amnesty reports that military intelligence still torture and ill-treat suspects with impunity. We appear to be damning a man who has in the past been involved with Islamists and who previously worked at the Finsbury Park mosque purely for his past relations, and on dodgy information by security services that might well also have been obtained under duress. It seems that in order to win the "war on terror" we have to be prepared to ignore jury rulings when they come to the "wrong" decision.

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Thursday, August 24, 2006 

Government plans to share personal information throughout departments.

...This is a time to push forward, faster and on all fronts: open up the system, break down its monoliths, put the parent and pupil and patient and law-abiding citizen at the centre of it. We have made great progress. Let us learn the lessons of it not so as to rest on present achievements but to take them to a new and higher level in the future...
Speech by Tony Blair to National Policy Forum, 9th of July 2005.

Kiss goodbye to the Data Protection Act. Say hello to a new snooper's charter. The government has come to the conclusion that in order to fully streamline the way the state works, it no longer needs to seek permission for your personal details (it seems likely they'll use the national insurance database) to be shared between different departments of state. As you can expect from Labour, this is being dressed up as part of necessary reform, and even as a step in introducing the "choice" agenda into the public services.

There's no need to worry though, as John Suffolk, tasked with making the "Transformational Government" agenda happen, tells the Grauniad that "Not all information will be shared." We can also rest assured that information will only be shared when it's in "the public interest".

Primarily, the main concern is that there will no longer be a 'functional seperation' between departments, meaning that it may no longer be possible to fight a local authority over a small personal matter without them gaining information on you that they previously wouldn't have been able to. Doubtless this will be glossed over with the predictable "if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear" argument closer. What's perhaps more worrying is how we've seen the government in the past conspire against those who have in some way threatened it: the whistleblower who leaked the information which led to the resignation of Beverley Hughes was variously smeared for his trouble. Craig Murray faced similar attacks when he didn't follow the government line. There's also the spectre of what happened in the run-up to Dr David Kelly taking his own life: Campbell writing in his diary about "fucking Gilligan", the Ministry of Defence's policy of confirming the name of Kelly if it was one that was put to them, etc. Once a government gets further powers, it's hard to grab them back, and they invariably use and abuse them for their own ends.

This isn't the only recent threat to civil liberties to emerge. Apart from the continuing campaign aginst ID cards, The Observer reported a couple of weeks back on an EU plan to fingerprint all children from a certain age (Sweden seemed to suggest that 6 was acceptable, although plan appears to be from 12), with the possibility that they may made available on a database to all current member states. This in addition to a continuing library project in some schools which requires all the students to have their fingerprints taken; apparently a card just isn't good enough anymore. Many probably wouldn't object, but parents are not being asked to give their consent in almost all cases. A campaigning website has been set-up to pressure schools into at the least making sure that consent is sought.

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Wednesday, August 23, 2006 

Israel accused of war crimes by Amnesty; organisation calls for international investigation.

Before and after satellite shots of Beirut (top two) and Bint Jbeil.

Another case of just confirming what you already knew:

Amnesty International delegates in south Lebanon reported that in village after village the pattern was similar: the streets, especially main streets, were scarred with artillery craters along their length. In some cases cluster bomb impacts were identified. Houses were singled out for precision-guided missile attack and were destroyed, totally or partially, as a result. Business premises such as supermarkets or food stores and auto service stations and petrol stations were targeted, often with precision-guided munitions and artillery that started fires and destroyed their contents. With the electricity cut off and food and other supplies not coming into the villages, the destruction of supermarkets and petrol stations played a crucial role in forcing local residents to leave. The lack of fuel also stopped residents from getting water, as water pumps require electricity or fuel-fed generators.

Israeli government spokespeople have insisted that they were targeting Hizbullah positions and support facilities, and that damage to civilian infrastructure was incidental or resulted from Hizbullah using the civilian population as a "human shield". However, the pattern and scope of the attacks, as well as the number of civilian casualties and the amount of damage sustained, makes the justification ring hollow. The evidence strongly suggests that the extensive destruction of public works, power systems, civilian homes and industry was deliberate and an integral part of the military strategy, rather than "collateral damage" – incidental damage to civilians or civilian property resulting from targeting military objectives.


Israel has launched widespread attacks against public civilian infrastructure, including power plants, bridges, main roads, seaports and Beirut’s international airport. Such objects are presumed to be civilian. Israeli officials told Amnesty International that the potential military use of certain items, such as electricity and fuel, renders them legitimate military targets. However, even if it could be argued that some of these objects could qualify as military objectives (because they serve a dual purpose), Israel is obligated to ensure that attacking these objects would not violate the principle of proportionality. For example, a road that can be used for military transport is still primarily civilian in nature. The military advantage anticipated from destroying the road must be measured against the likely effect on civilians, especially the most vulnerable, such as those requiring urgent medical attention. The same considerations apply to electricity and fuel, among other items.

Similarly critical is the obligation that Israel take "constant care to spare civilians, the civilian population, civilian objects, from attack". This requirement to take precautionary measures in launching attacks includes choosing only means and methods of attack "with a view to avoiding, and in any event to minimizing, incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians and damage to civilian objects".

It is also forbidden to use starvation as a method of warfare, or to attack, destroy, remove or render useless objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population. Some of the targets chosen – water pumping stations and supermarkets, for example – raise the possibility that Israel may have violated the prohibition against targeting objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population.

Israel has asserted that Hizbullah fighters have enmeshed themselves in the civilian population for the purpose of creating "human shields". While the use of civilians to shield a combatant from attack is a war crime, under international humanitarian law such use does not release the opposing party from its obligations towards the protection of the civilian population.

Many of the violations examined in this report are war crimes that give rise to individual criminal responsibility. They include directly attacking civilian objects and carrying out indiscriminate or disproportionate attacks. People against whom there is prima facie evidence of responsibility for the commission of these crimes are subject to criminal accountability anywhere in the world through the exercise of universal jurisdiction.


Over the many years of the conflict between Hizbullah and Israel, both sides have repeatedly committed grave violations of international humanitarian law without any accountability. The Israeli authorities have investigated a few incidents, and have stated that they are still investigating some of the incidents in the latest outbreak of hostilities, but the methods and outcomes of these investigations have never been properly disclosed. They fall far short of the standards required. No investigation on violations of international humanitarian law by Hizbullah is known to have been conducted by the Lebanese authorities. If respect for rules of war is ever to be taken seriously, a proper investigation of their violation by both parties of the recent conflict is imperative.

Amnesty International calls for the immediate establishment of a comprehensive, independent and impartial inquiry into violations of international humanitarian law by both Hizbullah and Israel in the conflict. The inquiry should examine in particular the impact of this conflict on the civilian population. It should propose effective measures to hold accountable those responsible for crimes under international law, and to ensure that the victims receive full reparation.

Amnesty International has asked the UN Security Council and the UN Human Rights Council to request the UN Secretary General to establish a panel of independent experts to conduct this inquiry. They should include experts with proven expertise in investigating compliance with international humanitarian and human rights law, in military matters, as well as in forensics and ballistics. The experts should receive all necessary assistance and resources. The outcome of the inquiry should be made public and include recommendations aimed at ending and preventing further violations.

Amnesty will no doubt quickly come under attack from Zionist apologists for not dealing with the attacks by Hizbullah in the same report; the report only states that are being addressed elsewhere. Amnesty's report however is damning and deserves reading in full. At least two hospitals were completely destroyed, including the one in Bint Jbeil, the "Hizbullah stronghold". The rest of the town was similarly reduced to rubble, as can be seen in the satellite images provided by Amnesty with the report. At least 20 fuel depots were destroyed, the Lebanese government estimates that 200,000 square miles of road were completely devastated, while the number of the population unemployed is estimated now to be touching 75%. $200 million worth of damage has been estimated as being done to the industrial sector in the country. The oil slick, caused by the destruction of the fuel tanks at the power station in Jiyyeh, is now feared to have sank to the seabed, suffocating sea life.

All of this is increasing the pressure on Israel to pay reparations for the almost unbelievable damage done to the country by Israel's bombardment. As Brian Whitaker points out Comment is Free, Israel was told by the UN in 1968 that Lebanon was right to expect "appropriate redress" for the destruction of Beirut's airport. The bombing raid then was in response to a PFLP attack on an El Al plane at Athens airport, which killed one Israeli. The problem would be actually forcing Israel to pay; she predictably never paid the estimated $43 million worth of damage done to the airport. One way of paying for the damage might be for the UN to force the US to divert its economic and military aid to Israel to the Lebanon instead: last year the US gave $360 million in economic aid and a staggering $2.22 billion in military aid. President Bush has promised to increase aid to Lebanon to $230 million this year; that this doesn't even touch either of the amounts given last year to Israel speaks volumes.

Meanwhile, France is predictably getting a lot of stick for not keeping its word in sending the amount of forces it originally seemed to be suggesting it would to attempt to keep the peace. Allegations of cheese-eating surrender monkeyism are running rampant, coming from the usually sane Jonathan Freedland. As Daniel Davies eloquently puts it, everyone seems to have forgotten that a ceasefire would not have happened without France's attempts from the beginning to broker one. Despite the delays, the fact that innocent civilians are now not being slaughtered on a daily basis on both sides is worth celebrating on its own. While France was trying to do this, the US and UK were intent on keeping the war going long enough for Israel to reach its objectives: the destruction of Hizbullah, or at least the purging of the militia from south of the Litani river. It achieved neither, only succeeding in becoming even more of a pariah nation in the eyes of millions worldwide, if not in the minds of governments. Italy at least appears to be picking up in the baton, in offering 3,000 troops, while other nations such as Indonesia, Malaysia and Bangladesh have all offered soldiers, but Israel has balked because it doesn't have diplomatic relations with any of them. That these soldiers would be wearing the blue caps of the UN seems to have passed them by.

Freedland is always angry that the plan for the unilateral withdraw from the West Bank has been discarded for now. Freeland doesn't seem to release than a withdrawal that only leads to the West Bank becoming another open air prison similar to Gaza is no better than the current occupation. Some settlements may have been dismantled, but not ones such as Ariel which almost cut the territory in two. The result would have been an emasculated, unconnected, disjointed territory nothing like that which existed in 1967. That this would never have led to a peace that the Palestinians can accept passes Freeland by completely. He also criticises those of us who declared that "we are all Hizbullah now". His attack is rather mild compared to those who suggested that the demonstrators wanted all the Jews to die, or that the marchers were unknowingly supporting the establishment of an Islamic caliphate, yet it still misses the point entirely. Those of us who marched were showing our solidarity with the Lebanese people who had been dismissed by the Israelis as terrorists for staying in the south of the country; if they were Hizbullah, so were we.

As ever, the only way forward for the region is a negotiated peace. That Israel appears to have completely abandoned this, and shows no sign of wanting to return to the diplomatic table gives the lie to the idea that the Israeli government wants peace. The Israeli people might, but their representatives do not. This could not be better illustrated than by Olmert's continued attempts to abduct democratically elected members of the Hamas dominated government. A Palestinian minister was yesterday charged with being a member of the organisation. For once, I agree with George Galloway, in his now widely viewed interview with Sky News: no one knows the names of those killed by Israel, or the ministers held for daring to put themselves up for election, but everyone knows the names of the soldiers captured by Hamas and Hizbullah. That there is no international outcry over Israel's contempt for Palestinian democracy is disgraceful; it is little different from the way that the military junta in Burma holds Aung San Suu Kyi without charge, yet that regularly leads to condemnation around the globe. This cynicism is reflected in the way that only 25% of Lebanese think peace with Israel is possible; it is, but without a sea change in the views and attitudes of all the major parties, this situation will continue for yet more decades.

Curious Hamster also has an excellent post on Israeli censorship.

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Tuesday, August 22, 2006 

Mea culpa.

and at the moment, Labour, which looked to be trapped with huge problems, is benefiting substantially from the hysteria.

me, yesterday.

David Cameron is on course for a possible general election win, according to a Guardian/ICM poll published today that shows support for the Conservatives climbing to a lead that could give them a narrow majority in the Commons, while Labour has plunged to a 19-year low.

the Grauniad, today.

Ahem. It may of course just be something of a mid-summer dip, with Blair away and a lot of problems all coming to roost at the same time. What's even more gratifying for the Tories, and troubling for Labour is that this is happening when the Conservatives still don't have any set in stone or recognisable policies.
Sure, Cameron launched the supposed "mini-manifesto" last week, but it got hardly any attention in the media, and three quarters of the policies are the same old half-baked ones of yore, ranging from the ridiculous, such as a "UK bill of rights", to the "Flatter and simpler" taxes, for which read less for the rich and more for the poor. Cameron also faces a backlash from grassroot Tories, unhappy with his continuing efforts to get more women candidates nominated for parliament by local constituencies. The Lib Dems also climb back up, which isn't much of a surprise. If Menzies Campbell had been a little stronger on the issue of the Middle East, and the party actually decided to try and get a higher media profile, it might do even better. At the moment it's just coasting, much as it was before Charles Kennedy was forced to resign.

The more interesting part of the poll is that on the terror threat itself. Only 1% (and considering opinion polls generally have a margin of error of around 3 to 4%, it becomes even more meaningless) think that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have made the country safer, which is perhaps the biggest indictment of Britain's foreign policy yet made. When it comes to the level of threat, the results are more ambiguous. 20% think that the government is telling the truth, 21% believe it's exaggerated, but a staggering 51% think the government is actually telling less than it knows about the threat. It has to be said that the question isn't exactly clear - are the government telling less than they know because they're exaggerating it, or less because there's an even greater threat than they're letting on? Either way, it shows that less than a quarter of the public think the government is being entirely honest.

The 51% figure though is the most worrying. If over half the public believe there's an even bigger threat than we're being told about, the government's propaganda and the media bluster is undoubtedly working, but it's not leading to support for the government - far from it, it would seem. It ties in with
the Spectator poll, which apart from having horribly leading questions, showed that 53% wanted an even "tougher" response in relation to the terror threat.

You also can't blame the public for feeling attacked from all sides at the moment - at the end of the report on the 10 O'Clock News last night on the charges against the terror plot suspects, the BBC reporter needlessly reminded everyone of how one police officer had described it as a plan "to commit murder on a massive scale". Peter Clarke was on next, scaremongering about the threat
and coming up with such ridiculous figures for the amount of stuff they'd seized, which must have been more or less everything the accused had in their houses, all in the aid of defending the police from suggestions that the plot was mostly invented and politically motivated. His case won't have been helped by another letter in today's Guardian, which suggests it would be possible to create TATP in an aircraft's toilet - but only if the person had uninterrupted access to it for two or more return flights to America. It's also worth remembering Lord Stevens' rant in the NOTW.

The other attack is on the immigration front, which has grown to new levels of hysteria, especially in the right wing tabloids.
Tales of thousands of Romanians and Bulgarians waiting to come here and infect everyone with TB and HIV once their countries join the EU abound, not to mention the way they're forcing down wages and stealing all our jobs. When it goes on for day after day, it's also unsurprising to find 75% apparently want strict controls on the level of migrants, and the best counter-argument that the likes of the Independent can come up with is from Digby fucking Jones, the ex-head of the CBI, the organisation that supports fat cats and sticks two fingers up at the workers. He also goes on to lambast the government for turning out kids that don't know anything and don't question anything, which are the exactly the sort that he and the rest of his band of neo-liberal capitalist freedom fighters love.

Where do we go from here? From a Labour point of view, Blair has to go. His cronies have to go. Even Gordon Brown, unlikely as he is to change anything, would be better than the band of robots which continue to control the Labour front-bench. That Stephen Byers talked a load of crap over the weekend about scrapping inheritance tax, only to get slapped down, was encouraging in that there are still signs of independent thought somewhere beneath surface. From the left's standpoint, there needs to be more honesty about the real level of threat we face, and there needs to be a greater effort to tackle the nonsense talked about immigration. It's not racist to put limits on it, but it's also an act of political bankruptcy to do it just to appease the screaming the tabloids, especially when we as yet do not have the full facts. Once the conference season kicks off, things might well calm down, but for now exaggeration seems to be the order of the day.

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Monday, August 21, 2006 

"The threat from terrorism is real. It is here, it is deadly and it is enduring."

Don't panic!

Peter Clarke, announcing the decision of the CPS to charge 11 of those held over the terror plot to blow up aircraft, did his best, but still scaremongered over the true threat level facing the UK. The police have been stung in recent days by the accusations that the plot has been at best politically motivated with other events in mind and at worst with being entirely concocted. The reply of Ken Jones to Craig Murray's article in the Guardian was a prime example of this.

Clarke then decided to go in for non-sequiturs in his statement, in one sentence saying:

"I would like to reassure the public that we are doing everything we can to keep you safe so that you can live your lives without being in constant fear.

then in the very next he continued with the quote which is this post's title. We're doing our best but you're probably all going to die anyway, so please don't panic.

The police then claim to have found chemicals, with
hydrogen peroxide being named, and electrical equipment, which may have been used in the preparation of the bombs. The consensus still seems to be that the materials for the bombs were to be mixed together once the suspects were in the air, something which has already been dismissed as incredibly difficult to nigh on impossible to achieve. Whether the men had the motive, as suggested by the "martyrdom videos", which still have not been conclusively identified as containing the suspects rather than just being the readily available propaganda of radical Islamist groups, may come to be the key factor. Taking together all the evidence currently revealed,there appears to be a lot less than that against the men who talked about bombing the Ministry of Sound, as they had ammonium nitrate fertilizer almost ready to use. Questions will also inevitably be asked about the point of attempting to blow up airliners, which has so many potential pitfalls, when there a lot of easier, or "soft" targets in the UK.

The announcement of the charges being brought against 11 of the suspects after less than 2 weeks in custody also shows the stupidity of the calls by the likes of the Sun for 90 days detention to be re-considered. It now seems highly unlikely that the full 28 days available will be used, as some reports had claimed. Despite what their denials, the police, the majority of the media and the government are determined to try to keep the nation in a constant state of fear.
That passengers demanded two entirely innocent Asian men were removed from their flight for "looking suspicious" shows just how successful this is becoming, as does the increasing amount of those who seem to want "tough" action on terrorism. The terror threat is real, but it is nowhere near as acute or "deadly" as it is being made out to be, and at the moment, Labour, which looked to be trapped with huge problems, is benefiting substantially from the hysteria.

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Big Brother paper-watch: The reckoning.

For those of you who've ripped the 4 button off your remote control, it's now safe (or reasonably so) for you to dive down the back of the sofa and look for it. After 13 weeks of absolute fucking hell, Big Brother has finished.

(The below opinions are based on various articles (
Charlie Brooker's Screen Burn reviews, Private Eye's review, numerous Grauniad articles) I've read on the show. I didn't watch the actual programme.)

The seventh series of Big Brother has created at the most two stars, both of which were identified within two weeks of the show beginning. Pete Bennett, the eventual winner, a cross dresser with Tourette's syndrome, quickly emerged despite his ailment as being the most normal and likeable character, and was tipped for victory from the beginning.
He's today found himself being praised in an editorial by the Observer, as well as being hailed by other Tourette's sufferers for helping the general public understand their problems better.

The other more predictable "star" was Nikki Grahame, a young woman who had previously been sectioned for suffering from anorexia. She arrived for the show dressed in a Playboy bunny outfit, and things went downhill from there. A spoilt brat, her temper tantrums got worse until she was eventually evicted by a public evidently fed-up with her. This rather peeved the show's producers, who within a couple of weeks had managed to get her back in, along with other fellow evictees. Presumably advised by her agents that attaching herself to the obvious winner would be a good idea, she announced her love for Pete, which even the most non-jaded viewer could have seen as being cynicism of the highest order. She's since admitted to being an escort, but she didn't have sex with any of her clients, which says something about the punters more than it does about her.

What about the others? Well, the show has another idiot to add to its already bulging ranks of the brain-dead. Imogen, a vacuum so powerful that she appeared to be able to pull in orbiting satellites, thought that man landed on the moon in 1903 and that there were 360 days in a leap year. Halfway through the show a sex tape featuring a Welsh female protagonist who looked mightily similar to the newly christened Dimogen appeared on the internet, and since being evicted she has done a shoot for one of the lad's mags. Shahbaz, a man so clearly mentally ill and without any social skills that it seems incredible he got past Big Brother's supposed impregnable medical checks and sessions with psychologists, left the show within a week. Bonnie, one of the first to be evicted, wasn't able to return later on because she was on police bail for non-payment of pizza deliveries. This was glossed over by the ever talentless and perennially pregnant coloured hair-ball Davina McCall, with the brilliant "legal reasons" explanation, which resulted only in a mass of googling for the real reason (I know this because the blog returned numerous search results for "sezer bonnie legal reasons", due to my initial summing up of the various housemates). That this was more exciting to many who had been watching than the show itself may well have told the producers what a complete fiasco the programme has become.

Nonetheless, the newspapers continued to lap it up.
The Daily Star, which lost 10.4% of its sales in July 2006 compared to July 2005, only missed the show off its front page 5 times during its complete run. While the Sun and Mirror were seemingly less interested than in years past, there was still a good amount of Big Brother "news" inside, despite the lack of exposure on the front covers. Interestingly, the Daily Mail and Express, both mid-market middle class Tory panic and hysteria sheets, didn't feature the show once on their front pages. Whether this is down to snobbery or not could be debated for decades. Of the broadsheets, or ex-broadsheets, the Guardian was by far the most enthusiastic about the show, featuring it in some way at least twice on its front page. There were also articles which in some way shoe-horned in the show, as we shall see.

I've tried to capture the headlines in as an accurate state as possible, hence the use of caps, etc. It should be noted that I read the Guardian, hence how I've noticed the articles written about it in there, although I'm sure I've missed some. I suspect the other broads and Mail/Express etc. had similar pieces, but seeing as the Grauniad in particular often thinks of itself as above shallow tittle-tattle, I feel that highlighting its decline into celebrity worship is justified alongside the tabs.

So without further ado, here are those Big Brother newspaper front pages in full. Some of the comments are contemporaneous to when I wrote the headlines down, some I've re-written, and some are new:

Tuesday the 23rd of May:
The Sun:
BB SPECIAL - Shahbaz on suicide watch - Get it off your chest, Nikki! HOUSE ROCKED BY ROW! (accompanied by image of Nikki barely covering her breasts which are somehow managing to remain in her dress)
Daily Star: BB FRUIT GOES NUTS - Suicidal Shahbaz to be pulled off show - MEANWHILE, Nikki takes her clothes off (again) (PS. The Star is the OFFICIAL World Cup paper)
Daily Mirror: REVEALED - Sezer's BIG secret - EXCLUSIVE
Guardian: Over on Comment is Free, Jonathan Heawood writes that "Big Brother makes us complicit in the victimisation of the damaged, the deranged and the excluded." graemewilliams in the comments gets the better of him with "There's nothing quite like cloaking voyeurism in indignation."

Wednesday 24th of May:
Sun: Shahbaz gets BBOOT - BIG BRUV LATEST!
Mirror: GONE - Shahbaz is first Big Bro casualty - JADE exclusive - Why I'll have a tummy tuck (P.s. the Daily Mirror is YOUR WORLD CUP PAPER ... JUST 16 DAYS TO GO!)
The G2 section runs an interview with the aforementioned Jade Goody, in which she startlingly reveals that she's not pretending to be thick. Elsewhere in G2 Sam Wollaston reviews the show, the paper itself covers a mental health charity protesting about the programme, and on Comment is Free, Matt Wells talks about self-delusion, involving both Mark Oaten and Shahbaz.

Thursday 25th of May:
Star: WE'VE GOT BIG BRUV'S GOLDEN TICKETS and YOU can win 'em and be a housemate! (accompanied by gorgeous pouting blonde woman holding a gold ticket while only wearing a gold bikini top) - SHAHBAZ - BB ordeal will kill me - READ MY STORY ONLY IN THE STAR
Mirror: MY PAIN By Big Brother's SHAHBAZ - EXCLUSIVE

Whether Shahbaz talked to both, or one ripped the "exclusive" off the other is unknown.

Friday 26th May
Star: GOLD RUSH - Mad race starts for our Big Bruv tickets - Dawn booted out for cheating - Bonnie 'next to go' (accompanied by gorgeous pouting blonde wearing bikini bottoms, showing off her navel while wearing a low cut t-shirt with Daily Star logo on it)

The Sun was referring to Dawn, I believe.

Saturday 27th May
Mirror - SOMEONE WILL DIE - EXCLUSIVE - Big Bro's Dawn blasts bosses
Star - BB SEZER STOLE MY BABE - Sleazy geezer's gone too far with Imogen (accompanied by photo of Imogen in her underwear) - Life's not funn-eh enough for the Bonn-eh boiler (geddit???) - WIN BIG BROTHER GOLDEN TICKETS TODAY! - You could be a housemate in two weeks and win £100,000
Sun - Big Bruv Eviction - Bonnie gets the BBoot - SCANTASTIC - Roo's on his way!
Guardian -
Brooker's Big Brother - The rodent, the posho and the pornstar - a brief guide to series seven.

Monday 29th May
Mirror - BB LEA AT 22st - amazing story is given two pages on 13 and 14 - report about Indonesian earthquake has to make do with a third of a page back at 23

Tuesday 30th May
Mirror - SENSATION - New BB girl is a BOY! - 3AM EXCLUSIVE - KATE, SEX AND ME By Big Brother's Russell Brand
Star - BB PETE: I SWEAR I'LL HAVE A SEX SWAP (also featured is gorgeous pouting Nikki Sanderson in her underwear, as some sort of link to the celeb X-Factor show)

Wednesday 31st May
Sun - BIG BRUV EXCLUSIVE - EVIL EYE - BB blast by mental health groups - Sam is fifth unstable housemate
Star - Big Brother Picture Exclusive - TRANNY SAM AS A BOY

Thursday 1st of June:
Star - Big Bro's Eviction Shock: Aisleyne (who she?) flashes the flesh (again)

Aisleyne, her of the stupidly spelled name, was I presume one of those parachuted in after Shahbaz/Dawn left.

Friday 2nd of June:
Star - Sleazer (geddit?!) and Lea battle it out - also on the front page - gorgeous pouting Michelle Marsh in her underwear after she exclusively tells the Star that Simon Cowell is scared of girls - or perhaps just of worthless cunts like Michelle Marsh who show off their body parts for huge amounts of money.

Saturday 3rd of June:
Mirror - BBitch! - The REAL Grace by her cousin
Star - HARD CHEEZER SEZER (geddit?!) - Most hated housemate ever is axed (oh, and win a £50,000 camper van!)

All this was on the same day as most of the papers were more concerned with the anti-terror raid in Forest Gate.

Monday 5th of June:
Amazingly, this was the very first day that Big Brother went without being mentioned on any mass-market UK newspaper front page. It was kicked off the Star's front page by the supposed rift between gorgeous pouting surgically enhanced Rebecca Loos (claims to fame: shagged David Beckham, jerked off a pig, got boob job) and not so gorgeous and pouting, although surgically enhanced Sharon Osbourne (claims to fame: married Ozzy Osbourne, gave birth to Kelly Osbourne, got boob job), which somehow has overshadowed the rest of the X-Factor charade.

Tuesday 6th of June:
It didn't last. The Star bellows on its front page "BIG BRO NIKKI'S 48-HOUR SEX ROMP".

Wednesday 7th of June:
Star - BB BABE'S WORLD CUP SEX HAT-TRICK - Imogen's secret romps with England ace (and Portugal and Trinidad and Tobago!) - RUSSELL BRAND - EXCLUSIVE - Kate Moss, hookers, and me

Would that Russell Brand exclusive be the same interview lifted from the previous week's Mirror? Surely not.

Thursday 8th of June:
Star - Big Bro... Small Brains (featuring two of Big Brother's stunnas in their bikini tops.)

Friday 9th of June
Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is dead, which is the main story elsewhere on the Street of Shame. On the Star though it's business as usual. The majority of the front page is given over to the start of the World Cup, but alongside the masthead is a gorgeous pouting lovely laying down while wearing a tiny bikini and holding one of the Big Brother golden tickets with the headline: "BB's Gold ticket winner REVEALED".

Saturday 10th:
No mentions, thanks to the first England game of the World Cup.

Monday 12th:

Tuesday 13th:
And so begins the great Big Brother fix conspiracy, which the Daily Star investigates day after day over the coming weeks. This was presumably because their giving away of tickets came to nought, as someone else entirely who had previously auditioned for the show and had been rejected was drawn instead.

Star - BIG BRO IS BIG FIX - EXCLUSIVE: Gold ticket reject reveals how Suzie got into the house

Wednesday 14th:
Star - I KNEW I WAS IN BIG BRO 2 WEEKS AGO - EXCLUSIVE - Susie admits Friday's gold ticket draw WAS fixed

Of course.

Thursday 15th:
Star - RIOT COPS GUARD BB HATE TARGET GRACE - She's more loathed than sleazer Sezer - EXCLUSIVE

Friday 16th:
Star - BB Grace's love-in

Love, hate? Make up your mind!

Saturday 17th:
Star - GRACE GETS THE BOOT - BB bitch evicted as mum sells flat behind her back.
Mirror - SEX with BB's Grace - By her superman ex-lover

So, err, what happened to the riot cops?

Monday 19th:
Star - BB BANS THE BITCHES - They're banned from picking rivals for eviction

Tuesday 20th:
Star - Big Bruv Aisleyne's kinky sex website - EXCLUSIVE
Guardian - Ahh, Big Brother fever resumes in the Graun.
G2 explains what the "handstand position" is, which inevitably refers to the Sun or Mirror's interview with Grace's ex-lover, as she was especially skilled at "all of them", apparently. Elsewhere, Arabella Weir, yes the "does my bum look big in this?" woman, describes all the Big Brother contestants as repulsive, and gets paid money for it. If only life was so easy.

Wednesday 21st:
Today's Daily Star has the unenviable honour of having both the worst headline and worst pun about the show to date:
NIKKI'S HOT BOT BB PLOT (groan) - Secret sex scheme to win revealed
Sky comments on their front page review: Desperate Big Brother whinger Nikki Grahame is planning to spring a secret plan to stay in the house, the Daily Star reports.

Thursday 22nd:
Star - I missed it, but the story was along the lines that Susie's entry to the house was a fix, or something. I bet no one's reading this anyway.
Guardian - After a rest of a day, the high-minded liberal left paper of record is distracted back to the joys of Big Brother.
"In Big Brother, there are no secrets. Everyone can hear you speak, and understand what you say. Except, it seems, if you are Imogen Thomas or Glyn Wise. There they were in the Big Brother house, speaking in strange lilting accents, when the disembodied voice of authority ticked them off for speaking in "code". An article about how, err, Welsh is suddenly popular with striking resemblance to actually being an article about Big Brother in disguise.

Friday 23rd:
Star - FAKIN' THE MIKEY - He's Iranian not Scouse - His real name is Sahin - He's never been a model - FIRST FOR BB EXCLUSIVES - FULL AMAZING STORY - PAGES 8 AND 9

Someone on a reality TV show not telling the truth? Who would have thought it?

Saturday 24th:
Today marks the starting of the house within a house, with walls so thin that the other housemates could almost hear every word, and quickly came to the conclusion that a "surprise" was to be sprung on them.
Mirror - NO! FIVE NEW WEIRDOS GO INTO BB (Shouldn't that be "WEIRDOES"?)
Star - BIG BRO SECRET HOUSE NEXT DOOR ... and there's FIVE new housemates

Monday 26th:
Star - BB NIKKI FRUIT 'N NUT CASE - Health fears over secret fig stash

Or maybe Nikki was just constipated and didn't want to embarrass herself to the other housemates?

Tuesday 27th:

Wednesday 28th:
Star - Another BB cover-up exposed - BIG BRO LEA IS SECRET ALKY - Housemate downs a bottle of vodka a day - And we reveal her TRUE age
Mirror - BIG SNORTER - Big Brother's Pete hoovers up horse drug - EXCLUSIVE

The Star doesn't explain how Lea doesn't seem to be showing signs on the show itself of being an alcoholic, as she certainly doesn't have access to a bottle of vodka a day. The Mirror story is similar to those where it's exposed Kate Moss and Craig Charles, as it has a photograph of Pete snorting the horse tranquillizer and increasingly popular club drug Ketamine.

Thursday 29th:
Star - EXCLUSIVE - ANOTHER BB COVER-UP EXPOSED - AISLEYNE BLOWS LID ON BB FIX - She knows about 'secret' second house - She lets slip about 5 new housemates (with photograph of Aisleyne in a pair of tiny hipster panties)

Err, yes. Wouldn't be anything to do with Aisleyne being able to hear the housemates, would it?

Friday 30th:
Star - IT'S ANOTHER BB CONSPIRACY EXCLUSIVE - NOW BB FIXES THE WORLD CUP! - House to be told England win Cup even if we lose

Saturday 1st of July:
Star - FAKE THAT - EXCLUSIVE - BB's new housemates and, guess what, they aren't what they seem...

Monday 3rd of July:
Star - AISLEYNE WRECKS BB PLOT - Babe tells all over eviction shock (with photograph of her wearing only panties, covering her breasts with her hands)

Tuesday 4th of July:
Star - BIG BRO CRISIS TALKS - Show faces axe after this series

You can imagine the panic in the Daily Star's offices with this news. What on earth are they going to find to splash on during the barren summer months if Big Brother goes? Quick, start a campaign to save the show!

Wednesday 5th:
Star - Big Brother Suzie is a secret floosie
Guardian - Germaine Greer, who appeared on Celebrity Big Brother before leaving in a huff,
writes about the incident on the Australian Big Brother in which two male contestants allegedly sexually assaulted a female housemate.

Thursday 6th:
Star - I missed it. Apologies, but there was a story on there, although "Celebrity Love Island" took precedence as I recall.

Friday 7th:
A year on from the London bombings, and the Star's main story is - "AGENTS RIGGED IT FOR BIG BRUV STARS" with yet another photograph of one of the housemates (I'm assuming it's Aisleyne) wearing just bra, stockings and a thong with her back to the camera. The amazing courage of 7/7 victims gets a box half the size of the photo on the left.

Saturday 8th:
Star - LEA: I'LL TELL ALL ON BB FIX - Busty wannabe to get it off her chest

The Star seems to have forgotten about Lea being a "secret alky", or rather they didn't bother telling her about their "exclusive".

Monday the 10th:
Star - SPIRAL'S A BB SEX BEAST - Rapping rat goes too far with Aisleyne - EXCLUSIVE (complete with photograph of the female participants in Celebrity Love Island, all who just happen to be wearing their swimwear.)
Mirror - No Big Brother, but it does have Sophie's Love Island diet! (i.e. cry a lot, eat nothing, get hideous tattoo, become a prostitute, repeat)

Tuesday 11th:
Star - PR KING FIXED IT FOR BB SUSIE - Golden girl groomed by guru to the celebs (with picture of Bianca (who she?) with her ample assets flowing over her corset, with the Star putting the following into her mouth: Bianca - I need a boob job
Grauniad - Over on Comment is Free, Rebecca Atkinson says that
"Big Brother's freak show has produced the first warts-and-all disabled person on TV - when will the soaps follow?" Who knows? Who cares?

The PR king turns out to be Max Clifford. Whether he "fixed" or not is uncertain. I'm assuming Bianca is Bianca Gascogine, who is some relation to Paul.

Wednesday 12th:
7 explosions ripped through Mumbai's train network in the evening rush hour on Tuesday, killing at least 183, the government releases the long awaited energy review that recommends the building of new nuclear power stations, but in the street of shame things carry on as normal:
Star - B BRO FIX ROW GOES TO PM - Now top Blair MP wants answers - ANOTHER BB CONSPIRACY EXCLUSIVE (with photo of Nikki wearing a tiny pair of cut-off jeans and covering her breasts with her hands)
Mirror - REALITY TV WARS (it does mention the energy review, to be fair)

Thursday 13th:
Star - Big Bro makes fool of my Jen - EXCLUSIVE (relegated to a box by story which claims man was told he couldn't get a job because he was white)

Friday 14th:
Thursday marked the start of the Israeli-Lebanon-Hizbullah month long war. In the Street of Shame however, things just carry on as normal:
Star - AISLEYNE - New BB phone vote fiasco - EXCLUSIVE (with photograph of Nikki Sanderson wearing transparent panties, with hilarious pun alongside - Nikki's bot ITV bosses panting)

The Express, Sun and Mirror on the other hand all lead on the outrage of some badly lit photographs of Diana lying dying being published in Italy.

Saturday 15th:
Sun - Sad Nik gets Big Bro kick

Whoever came up with the term "WAG" needs to be shot, buried, dug up and then shot again.

Monday 17th:
Star - Nikki's kinky secret (with photograph of said Nikki in lingerie)
Sun - EXCLUSIVE - THE TEARS AND THE TRAUMAS - NIKKI - HER OFFICIAL STORY (SEE CENTRE PAGES) (with photograph showing off ample cleavage, naturally, or in Nikki's case, not)

Tuesday 18th:
While war continues to rage in Lebanon, all the tabloids except the Sun are still obsessed with everything else:

Wednesday 19th:
Star - BB FIX MADE MY LIFE HELL - EXCLUSIVE (Axed Dawn's torment over TV stitch-up)

However many weeks on and Dawn breaks her silence in order to back up the Star's repeated claims of a fix. That she was booted off for "cheating" doesn't seem to both worth a mention.

Thursday 20th:
Star - THROW OUT TRICKY DICKY - OFFICIAL BIG BROTHER PAPER (main story is two "Daily Star Babes" one of whom is pulling her bikini top off but covering her breasts with her hands) - RECORD BAKER

Friday 21st:

Saturday 22nd:

Rumpy pumpy, for those of you not familiar with tabloid euphemisms, means sex.

Monday 24th:
Star - Big Brother stars are heading for jail

If only.

Tuesday 25th:
Like rats leaving a sinking ship, today's Daily Star instead focuses on Love Island, rather than Big Brother. Meanwhile, both Zoo and Nuts claim to have exclusives with Nikki, one with her stripping, the other with her naked.

Wednesday 26th:
Star - NIKKI'S GOING BACK IN BB HOUSE! - Another BB EXCLUSIVE - And she's topless on p3 first (with photograph of said Nikki covering her breasts with her hands.)

Thursday 27th:
No Big Brother today, but the Star does have gorgeous pouting Sophie Anderton in her underwear on the front page, showing off her fucking grotesque lower back tattoo. According to the sages at the Star, LOVE ISLE IS BIG FIX! Someone should tell them that doesn't make grammatical sense, but plots and conspiracies seem to be a favourite of the soaraway Daily Star. Rodman reveals Sophie plot - EXCLUSIVE

Friday 28th:
Star - The main story is KATE LAWLER KINKY SEX PIC SHAME - Ex-BB star's crazed obscene romps in nightclub - JADE - Going back to BB house

It later turns out that the pictures are nothing more shameful than Lawler licking chocolate spread off her finger, and messing around with two male friends in a nightclub. The pictures were featured in the previous week's Heat magazine, and being short of news, the Star turned them into an "obscene" exclusive.

Saturday 29th:
In the most tedious news since yesterday's Daily Star revelations, Kate Lawler today reveals all to the Star - COCAINE ORGIES AND ME, which is a rather misleading headline, as Lawler denies taking cocaine or taking part in orgies. The other story is: B Bro Spiral in a spin

Monday 31st:
While every other paper except for the Sun and Express leads on the massacre in Qana, the Star dedicates yet more space to Nikki: BIG BRUV NIKKI'S DEATH THREATS - with photograph of Nikki in a transparent negligee showing off a thong, naturally - EXCLUSIVE

Tuesday 1st of August:
Star - No Big Brother, as the main story is given over to Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney's re-union at Manchester United. The other story is "BIANCA - First sex on Love Island, with accompanying shot of Bianca (who she?) in her underwear.

Wednesday 2nd:
Star - Big Bro Susie faces the boot - the main story is about one of the cunts (surely significant contributor to modern society? Ed.) on Love Island exchanging "sex texts" with becks

Thursday 3rd:
Star - BIG BRO £1.5M BETTING SCAM - EXCLUSIVE - Punters pour cash on Mikey in 2hr frenzy

Friday 4th:
Star - NUTCASE NIKKI RETURNS - She's back in house tonight - EXCLUSIVE

Saturday 5th:
Star - Big Bro £5M eviction rip-off

The Star apparently didn't see the rather predictable outcry from the fans coming, as they complained about wasting their money on voting out those who now returned. This may just be because it's just as exploitative of the fans of the show as the producers are to both them and the actual contestants.

Monday 7th:

Tuesday 8th:
Sun - Big Brother 'rip-off' crisis - furious fans demand probe
Star - BIG BRO IN TOTAL CRISIS - Golden Ticket fiasco a 'con' say TV officials - 1,500 complaints as Nikki & Susie return - Show may be sold as profits take a hit - SHOCK REPORT - Page 6 - 9

Wednesday 9th:
Star - BB: FRAUD COPS ARE CALLED IN - Complaint is lodged as 2m fans switch off

Thursday 10th:
Sun - Mikey and Grace turn on a MILLION extra views
Star - BB FIX NIKKI PETE FINAL - Insiders bet on babe to win even AFTER she was evicted

As it turned out, Glyn came second. Obviously those insiders were tricked.

Friday 11th:
All the papers go with the terror plot apparently foiled yesterday. Except for the Star, which still can't give up Big Brother even for one day:
Big Bro Grace's birthday romp... 'cos life goes on!

The other headline was the tactful "UP YOURS".

Saturday 12th:

Monday 14th:

Tuesday 15th:
Star - AISLEYNE A SECRET ACTRESS - She's done ads, movies and has showbiz agent - ANOTHER BB CON EXPOSED

The Star here wilfully ignores what it knows all too well about; that most of the "reality" stars are members of "talent" agencies that inform them of any possible parts, hence why Aisleyne has appeared as an extra in ads and movies. One such agency is
Envenio, where many of those who want to get on shows like Big Brother host CVs and show-reels. Currently on its index page it has Jonathan Leonard, as its "face of the month". He was in the "second house" for 5 days. It's not a con at all, but that doesn't stop the Star from screaming about it.

Wednesday 16th:
Star - NIKKI'S SAUCY SEX PIC SHAME - ANOTHER BB EXCLUSIVE - We reveal shocking nude snaps BB's 'Miss Innocent' tried to ban

Yes, this would be the same "Miss Innocent" who has stripped naked for Zoo and Nuts, and even, err, the Star's page three. The Star had previously revealed her "kinky secret" and about her "48-hour romps", neither of which possibly conflicted with her 'Miss Innocent' image.

Thursday 17th:
Star - BIG BRO FIXES IT SO ASH LOSES - Show in panic as she beats Nikki & Pete for final votes - YET ANOTHER BB CON EXPOSED

As stated above, Glyn came second. Pete won with 61% of the vote. The Star most likely made the story up as an attempt to get Aisleyne's exclusive story once she's out the house.

Friday 18th:
Mirror - BIG VERDICT - Read Polly Hudson's hilarious end of show report on ALL 22 housemates
Star - £2M CASH ON ASH - She's hot fave after 24-hr betting frenzy - Romp with Nikki loses Pete votes - BB FINAL, TONIGHT, CH4, 8:30PM (with photograph of Aisleyne with back to camera, wearing only a thong)

£2 million down the drain, then. The "romp" with Nikki also didn't stop Pete winning by a very comfortable margin.

Saturday 19th:
Star - PETE'S THE EFFIN STAR - He lands first ever Tourette's talk show - EXCLUSIVE
Mirror - KING PETE
Guardian -
gives over page 3 to Mark Lawson to talk a whole load of shite

Which brings to an end the Big Brother paper-watch in full. Obsolete hopes you enjoyed it more than he did.

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Sun-watch: "House of horrors" update.

In an effort to at least give the Sun a fair hearing on their failure to point out that there were no bodies buried at the former home of Leslie Ford-Thrussell, I emailed them on Saturday shortly before posting the proceeding article with the following:

Dear Sirs,
Is there any chance you could comment on why there is no
mention either in today's newspaper or on the website of the police's
statement that there are no bodies buried at the former home of Leslie
Ford-Thrussell? (,,1853589,00.html)

Previous articles in the Sun
(,,2-2006360391,00.html) suggested that
the the man could go down as the next Fred West, while another
called the home and garden the "House of Horrors"
(,,2006370596,00.html). Surely your
readers would like to be reassured that there were no such grim
discoveries after all?

I got a sort of reply earlier today:

Dear Obsolete

Thank you for taking the time to email us.

I have passed your email onto the relevant department for their attention.

Please note due to the level of emails they receive, the correspondent may not be able to personally respond to your enquiry.

Kind regards
System Manager
Online Team

Obsolete awaits a proper response with intrepidation.

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Saturday, August 19, 2006 

Sun-watch: The "house of horrors", that err, wasn't.

Right from the beginning, the Sun was certain that police were going to find unimaginable horrors beneath the topsoil of 107 Walton Green, New Addington in Croydon, Surrey. A convicted paedophile, Leslie Ford-Thrussell, had lived at the property for 17 years prior to his imprisonment in 2004. A letter sent to the house 12 months ago, written according to the Sun by the brother of a man it alleges helped Ford-Thrussell run a paedophile ring from the property, claimed that two children had been buried there 35 years ago.

If there's one thing that the Sun newspaper loves, it's a crime involving children and sex, with a nice splash of death thrown in. Coming in the middle of the silly season, hacks at the paper were no doubt rubbing their hands with glee at the possibility that they might well have something meaty to sink their teeth into, as well as helping with their constant war against the sick, evil paedo-perverts that lurk around every street corner. It seems that the paper has learned very little from the case of
Rochelle Holness, which led to her parents calling the Sun's behaviour as inhumane as that of her killer.

The Sun wasted no time in drawing grim parallels with their exclusive, once they had revealed that the house was at the centre of what they called a "murder probe".
Fred West, the serial killer who lived at 25 Cromwell Street in Gloucester, notoriously burying 9 of his victims beneath the cellar and patio garden of his house, was quickly brought in to the frame, reminding readers of what police might find once they started digging. A "local source", in an article by the Sun's crime editor Mike Sullivan, said “It’ll be the talk of the estate for days and years to come.” That seems quite likely, but not for the reasons the Sun and "the source" were thinking. A follow-up article referred to the property directly as the "house of horrors", the same expression which came to be used when referring to the home of Fred and Rosemary West.

Even the announcement by detective chief inspector Mark Stockford, who was heading the inquiry, that they had established that Ford-Thrussell had not been living at the address at the time when the murders were said to be committed didn't dampen the Sun's enthusiasm for its exclusive. The police had also trawled through records of children that had gone missing at the time, without finding any that could have been linked to the "House of Horrors". This might have sent alarm bells ringing at any other newspaper, but apparently not at the Sun. That Stockford seemed uncertain before even ordering the digging of the garden as to whether any crime had been committed ought to have perhaps signaled that a toning down in the hysteria of the coverage might be necessary. None was forthcoming.

It may then have come as something of a shock to the Sun journos covering the story and to the wider public
that the police yesterday abandoned the search, saying they were satisfied there are no human remains there, and that they would not be returning to the garden. The house may have once been the base of a paedophile ring, and in that sense can be described as a "house of horrors"; the garden however has no such sickening secrets.

The Guardian today reported the end of the dig with a small item from the Press Association on the 10th page. As for the Sun, it appears that there was no room in the newspaper for the truth about the non-existent garden of horrors. If they were pressed for space, or if the news came too late for the newspaper itself, there's also no mention of the apparent end of the inquiry on the Sun's website. Surely some mistake?

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Friday, August 18, 2006 

Sun-watch: You knew it was coming.

Less than a week after the alleged terror plot was foiled, the Sun is already calling for the legislation that proposed up to 90 days detention for terror suspects to be reintroduced:

TONY BLAIR’s first act on returning from holiday must be to reopen his battle for 90-day detention orders.

More than two-out-of-three voters back his view that terror suspects should be held for up to three months while inquiries are under way.

The absurdity of the present 28-day limit is clear as police race against the clock to amass evidence on the Heathrow suspects.

Detectives have to shuttle between London and Lahore to unravel a complex web with links to al-Qaeda.

Computer wizards are sifting through a mountain of encrypted programmes. And two dozen contradictory statements must be checked and re-checked before charges can be laid.

Parliament’s perverse rejection of 90-day orders MUST be reversed.

And the sooner the better.

The Sun mentioning that two-thirds of the population apparently support up to 90-day detention without charge is based on the survey that was in yesterday's Spectator, and also lead its sister publication the Torygraph. BSSC has already had a look through it, and found that it contains some seriously leading questions, loaded towards harsh action against both terrorist suspects and "terrorist" nations. This increasingly reflects the Spectator's own political outlook, which has changed from the one-nation Toryism which it advocated under previous editor Boris Johnson, to more of a neo-conservative agenda under its new editor Matthew D'Ancona.

Besides, the men currently held have only been in the police cells so far for a week and a day.
A judge has already given police another week to question the majority of those held, with police being given 5 more days for another 2. There are also another 2 weeks available after that, with permission of a judge needed to be sought again. The whole system is something approaching a farce: no judge is going to release men that police lawyers suggest are involved in terrorism in any way if they say that they haven't yet finished their inquiries. The Sun's panic that the police are racing against time is clearly rubbish. Some of those previously held, as well as their lawyers, have even suggested in the past that the police have just left suspects to stew in the cells for up to a week before they were even questioned, which gives the lie to the need for even longer detention.

The problem for the police may be that they have found little actual evidence so far that there was a plot about to be put into action, or at least that we have been told of so far.
The suitcase supposedly found yesterday is the only major find, and even that hasn't be confirmed. As it is, we have to take the Sun's words at face value when they state that "computer wizards" are trying to crack encrypted programs. There's already a law that gives the police the power to demand encryption keys, as David Davis has pointed out. If they refuse, they can be instantly charged, something which hasn't happened yet. PGP itself, the encryption standard most often used, is already assumed to have been broken by top-level government agencies, although some think that only the original algorithms have been cracked.

The links with Lahore are also starting to be questioned. The arrest of Rashid Rauf, with the information apparently coming from him and others detained at the same time or in the aftermath, is looking increasingly like the desperate singing of a canary having its wings slowly broken.
That the Pakistani authorities are by the day revealing more and more sensational details of the alleged al-Qaida links with the plot, details which still have never been confirmed over the 7/7 bombings, suggests that it's all part of a media frenzy designed to show that the men held in both countries are clearly guilty, even when not yet charged with anything. That every single terror attack or plot ever exposed is linked almost immediately to al-Qaida is absurd; the organisation was nearly destroyed by the attack on Afghanistan, but has since re-emerged more as a common idea than as a network. Autonomous operating cells with aims similar to those of al-Qaida now appear to litter the globe. It is these that pose the real threat to the west, through their shared jihadist ideology, not a tiny actual organisation led by two men perceived to be sheltering along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. We seem to be determined to give bin Laden and Zawahiri more credit than they deserve.

What's most unnerving about the Sun's demands for 90 days to be reintroduced though is that it seems unlikely they would have already gone ahead in calling for it if they didn't already have some insider information that it is exactly what the government intends to do. The Sun always wants to be on the "winning" side of the argument, whether it's on prisons, terrorism, or even Big Brother. The real perversity is not those who rejected the Scum and government's sensational demands,
but rather that the newspaper called those who voted against "traitors". The true traitors are the ginger ninja and the Australian-born tax avoiding American megalomaniac, who'd rather that they were in power than the democratically elected representatives of the people.

Those who oppose the ever increasing attacks on civil liberties therefore need to perform a pre-emptive strike on the governments plans, making clear that 90 days is completely unacceptable in any situation. There is absolutely no evidence to suggest, despite the Sun's increasingly hysterical pleading, that anything longer than 28 days is needed.
As Craig Murray has pointed out, only 12% of the over 1,000 British Muslims arrested under anti-legislation have been charged, and of that 12%, only 20% were convicted. If other new laws are necessary, we need to demand that we get intercept evidence made admissible in British courts, however much the spooks complain. The security services also desperately need a watchdog, as the "war on terror" results in intelligence agencies worldwide indulging in unethical and immoral methods that are simply unacceptable and counterproductive. It's only then that we should accept that yet more restrictions of liberty may be needed.

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Thursday, August 17, 2006 

Is this a joke?

Some days, and today is just one of legions, you have to wonder whether the news is being made up by a better satire writer than the likes of Inigo Wilson. (I'll come to him later.)

The BBC tonight is going into the collective orgasm of managing to get something approaching a "scoop". Officers searching woods in High Wycombe have apparently found a suitcase, "containing items which could be used to construct a bomb". A police source mutters sweet nothings into the ear of a BBC journalist, informing them "the case contained everything you would need to make an improvised device". The police themselves are refusing to comment further, only saying a "suitcase" has been found.

Assuming the police source is telling the truth, this would be the first major find in a week of searching, apart from the "firearms" apparently found, and the "martyrdom video" which may or may not have led to the police acting, according to which reports you believe. Let's also assume that the suitcase contains explosive materials which the politicians, media and police have been telling us were going to be mixed in mid-air. It might then be worth reading Thomas C Greene, who thoroughly debunks the idea that someone would be able to create TATP aboard a flight without either be detected, or without the mixture blowing up in the evil one's face. Even if the terrorist managed to against all the odds get a decent mixture of TATP, it seems unlikely that it would be able to bring a plane down, as Ramzi Yousef comprehensively failed to do in his test run. Craig Murray has had similar thoughts to Greene.

Not that this stops the media from reporting ever more dubious links between those arrested and the higher ranks of the al-Qaida leadership. "Staff and agencies" on the Grauniad website are reporting that Ayman al-Zawahiri, who certainly is a dangerous man, had probably cleared the plot. Where did this come from? From the interrogation of suspects, who it seems unlikely have yet to have lawyers made available to them. It also seems increasingly obvious that the suspects are being tortured, and are agreeing with any old crap which the men with cattle prods are putting into their heads. This doesn't warrant a mention, because it may just render the story to being the nonsense it almost undoubtedly is.

Away from the shock and awe of fear, today's Independent reported that John Prescott had called the Bush administration "crap." A few hours later, and Prescott denied doing so. That the man denies what's probably the most intelligent thing to leave his lips in months, if not years, pretty much sums up the current irony which is underpinning everything.

The annual outcry that exams are getting easier is also here once again. This year 24.1% achieved maximum A grades, while 96.6% passed. That somehow the press cannot imagine that either students are being better drilled and taught to the exam, which is most likely the reason, or that those growing up now are genuinely more intelligent, despite all the evidence which modern culture throws up to suggest the opposite, seems beyond them. (It's also down to how those who didn't want to learn and who were disruptive leave at 16 and leave those who want to get on with their studies in peace.) Exams are obviously getting easier! The claims that students are insulted and offended by this happening every year are also wide of the mark - they're more interested in getting drunk on the day of results, or sorting out clearing if they have to, than worrying about what the increasingly reactionary old fogies think. Still, at least we can look forward to tomorrow's Mail, Express and Telegraph having lots of photos of fruity 18-year-old girls leaping for joy and exposing their midriffs on discovering their results.

And so we come to poor old Inigo Wilson, the man suspended from his job as the err, "community affairs" manager for Orange. Let's start by examining what his likes, dislikes, turn ons and turn offs are:

Inigo Wilson manages community affairs for a large telecoms company. He lives with his wife and young daughter in Fulham. His favourite blogs are ‘the Belmont club’ and ConservativeHome. He is a regular reader of Commentary, National Review and The Spectator.

In other words, he's a regular bundle of laughs, as his article proves. Another question I'd like to have asked is whether he prefers pink or brown, which may challenge him judging by his obvious distaste for both the Palestinians and Muslims, even when it comes to sex acts.

Here's a small sample of his hilarious attacks on lefty jargon:

Critique - media, academia: same as 'rebuttal'. When a Lefty alleges that someone's writing is 'riddled with factual inaccuracies' then mysteriously fails to identify any.

Disproportionate - foreign affairs: Describes any act by USA or Israel.

Egalitarian - “if I can’t have one, then neither can you”. Shared misery much better than unevenly scattered joy.

Fascism/Nazism - apparently the 'opposite' of Socialism - despite sharing party members, ideology and - in National Socialism - the name.

Palestinians - archetype 'victims' no matter how many teenagers they murder in bars and fast food outlets. Never responsible for anything they do – or done in their name - because of 'root causes' or ‘legitimate grievances’.

And so it goes on, very boringly, for quite a while. The thing is that Wilson does have something of a point: New Labour has introduced a whole dictionary worth of jargon which strangles the English language and stops it from being something that can be endlessly beautiful and inventive (Text/internet slang perform much the same function). Private Eye and parliamentary sketch writers have focused on this for a long time, and they've done it while actually being funny and not stupidly right-wing. Any idiot that genuinely thinks socialism shares the same members and ideology as National Socialism wouldn't pass GCSE History, let alone A Level, dumbed down exams or not.

Normally Wilson would only have attracted his fawning right-wing chums, as his article did to start with. Then those on the boards of the MPAC spotted it, and decided to complain to Orange. Cue the "community affairs" manager probably getting the sack. It's rather sad that those over at the MPAC thought it better to complain than tackling Wilson's easy to debunk and stupidly hostile article, but internet communities often go for low blows and vigilante action than working things out. Even so, there's no justification for Wilson being suspended. There's nothing in the post which suggests he's unsuitable for his job, just that's he a London-based right-wing snob, and there's just as many of those as there are left-wing snobs. As such, I thoroughly agree with Chicken Yogurt, as this shows just what type of Tory still dwells below the Cameron retint. It also highlights the major disagreement at the Tory grassroots over the position of Cameron and Hague in calling the Israeli military action in Lebanon "disproportionate".

Then there's the biggest joke of the day. Graham Norton, possibly the least funny and least talented man to ever possess a job on the television, is having his contract renewed by the BBC, who seem to be gluttons for punishment in their attitude to light entertainment. More reality shows! More people getting humiliated! More money for these idiots to keep coming up with these crap shows!

Nurse! The screens!

Update: Pickled Politics suggests that Inigo Wilson may have been suspended over other aspects of his article, namely the "Consultation" part:

Counsultation - a formal system for ignoring public views while patronising them at the same time. London’s Congestion Charge for instance.

Wilson's job is.... to consult local communities on the positioning of mobile phone masts. Doh!

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Wednesday, August 16, 2006 

David Cameron: still an idiot.

One of the few things that Obsolete is proud of is that this blog is within the top 5 results on Google when you search for "David Cameron+idiot". I don't have any idea how that came about, but it's still one of the main searches that brings people here.

I digress. Cameron yesterday, fresh from wherever he's been on holiday, decided to open his big trap to say that "I do not believe the government is doing enough to fight Islamist extremism at home, or to protect our security."

Whoops! Within seconds John Prescott appeared out of the locked room he's been kept in, frothing at the mouth like a English sheepdog with rabies, yelping that Cameron's comments "were almost beyond belief." A Home Office minister popped up to say the Tories "talked tough but voted soft", and today John Reid said "I think David Cameron's remarks are disappointing and ill-judged. At a time when we need the maximum unity in this country and throughout Europe, I think they were unhelpful."

The trouble with what Cameron said isn't that he's wrong on the actual details of what he suggested should be done; that the Muslim taskforce set-up after 7/7 was almost entirely ignored, and that intercept evidence needs to be made admissible in the court system; on both points he's entirely right. It's just that his main rhetorical flourish was a load of crap, and he walked straight into a huge trap.

The Home Office minister was shrewd enough to realise that the Tories voted against what the Prime Minister and police/security services felt were desperately needed powers to hold terrorist suspects for up to 90 days. Their opposition, before Cameron had ascended to the leadership, resulted in the Sun calling a huge number of MPs 'traitors'.

This isn't to say that the Labour ministers aren't huge hypocrites. For Prescott and Reid to suggest that Cameron's remarks threaten the unity of the country is nonsense. There is no unity in this country, as anyone other than a Labour apologist could have told you. Any unity that may have developed in the aftermath of 7/7 was demolished on two fronts; firstly with the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes, and secondly when Blair decided to make his "the rules of the game are changing" speech. "The unity" certainly hasn't redeveloped since then, and the Forest Gate raid meant that a large proportion of the population are now sceptical about the huge threat that John Reid wants to convince us we're facing.

Even so, Cameron should have kept his mouth shut, at least until parliament is either recalled or reopens, or the government makes it known whether it is going to introduce yet another anti-terror bill. After all, the government's main media sponsors, the Scum and News of the World have already started to question whether the current legislation is tough enough. That the Sun did so the day after the plane plot was apparently foiled suggests that they've already been briefed as to what Downing Street plans to do.

Rather than being opportunistic, as they were accused of being in the aftermath of the terror vote, the Tories stand against the very worst aspects of last year's legislation was highly principled and a politically difficult decision. They knew they'd be criticised, and might even strain the support of their typical devotees, but it meant that this country was not thrown into the disgrace of having laws that would shame a dictatorship. Thankfully, Cameron's speech yesterday suggested that there's unlikely to be a change in policy; instead he suggested that there should be "a more hard-nosed defence of liberty."

Even more humourous were the suggestions from Labour that Cameron was "playing politics with terror", which coming from the government which played up the non-existent ricin plot, the non-existent threat to Manchester United's ground and sent tanks to Heathrow is just slightly rich. What should also be watched is just how similar UK and US rhetoric on the war on terror is now becoming: while Bush spoke of "Islamic fascists", Reid today talked of an "intolerant and violent totalitarianism", which pretty much sums up plenty of the regimes which the UK and US are propping up, both in Central Asia and in the Middle East. The move to compare the threat currently faced to that from Nazism in the 30s is something which governments over previous decades have tried to do to the other contemporary "daily hate" figure: the Soviets, Saddam Hussein, Libya, etc etc.

Really though, there's plenty of ways that Cameron could have gone about attacking the mostly bogus threat level. BlairWatch details a number of ways he could have gone about it, and Simon Jenkins' article in the Grauniad today makes good points about real risk levels and general hysteria. Cameron could have suggested that this government is increasingly using fear to sell its policies: why else would sections of the police be so insistent on having new "instant justice" powers? Because "yobs" threaten us just as much as terrorists do, duh. He would have been attacked, but he'd have less damage done to the credibility of his position.

There we have it. Cameron's still an idiot, mainly because he hasn't quite yet worked out how to spin like Blair and his cronies have for years. He's still a vacuum, as evidenced by the mini-manifesto launched today, which is the same re-hashed Tory policies of old, just with a kind, gentler, greener face. The only decent ideas are the drug rehabilitation schemes, binding targets for emissions and scrapping ID cards. A genuine Labour movement would have all three of those, but this Labour government is increasingly to the right of the Tories. The choice though, remains the same as ever. Either evil, the lesser of the evils, or a wasted vote. The only hope remains the hung parliament and Tory-Lib Dem coalition that brings in PR. We can but dream.

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Tuesday, August 15, 2006 

Sun-watch: Dirty Harry. Again.

Apparently unable to make up/get another exclusive leak about the terror plot, today's Sun splashes on a photograph of Prince Harry groping and kissing a gorgeous pouting young blonde.

Firstly, the subs at the paper are obviously suffering from silly season fatigue. The Sun led back in April with the story that Harry had visited a lap-dancing club with the very same headline. Secondly, the photographs are, err, three years old, and have been published without the permission of the young woman, Natalie Pinkham. The Scum's claims that Harry was cheating on his girlfriend are therefore complete and utter bullshit.

As with its calling Harry "dirty" for his visit to the lap dancing club, could this be the same newspaper that today has Keeley without any clothes on her top half on its third page? Oh, and then there's the pictures of Alex Best groping herself that are also in today's newspaper, although rather than being dirty, she's doing "her breast". Obsolete attempted to contact Rebekah Filth to try and get her comments, but she was out of the office looking for a new kettle, after the old one had been painted black by the pot.

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Monday, August 14, 2006 


And my job in the city won't matter no more / When the network is down and my flesh is all torn... -- The Rakes.

According to a Press Association article filed at 2:13am on Sunday morning, the government has issued what it calls a "stark warning" to the media not to "put the probe into the alleged terror plot at risk by publishing information about suspects."

That would explain today's Mirror super splash then. "MY LOVE FOR TERROR SUSPECT" the front page screams, with the girl declaring her lust for Don Stewart-Whyte, one of those arrested who had recently converted to Islam. With a hefty cheque bulging out of her jeans pocket, the teenager also hands over a handwritten card from Whyte, suggesting he is going down a lonely dark path. The Mirror calls it "chilling". The Sunday Mirror led on the suggestion that one of the bombers had intended to use his wife and child as decoys, even hiding explosives in milk for the baby. The dehumanisation of the suspects is one of the first steps towards assuming their obvious guilt.

Similarly, the stark warning also doesn't apply to the usual suspects in the police/security services who have been leaking to the Sun. "GUNS AT 'TERROR' HOUSE" the splash roars. The article only suggests that "firearms" have been found. They could quite easily be air guns, or blank shooting pistols, as the story doesn't elaborate any further. What sort of person has a gun in their house though? Certainly not someone innocent, obviously. The report also alleges that "£19,000" in cash has been found. The Sun doesn't seem to have learned its lesson from smearing the Koyair brothers, as it reported that £38,000 had been found at their house, without bothering to ask the family for an explanation. Their beliefs regarding bank accounts paying interest meant that they had kept it there. Whether it will turn out to be a similar story in this case we shall have to wait and see. The article goes on to say that bottles filled with explosive were also found yesterday near a bottle bank in High Wycombe, but as yet there has been no confirmation of any of the Sun's "exclusives".

Even the broadsheets aren't free from wild speculation. The Grauniad, usually more level headed, reports unquestionably the statements given by the Pakistan interior minister, Aftab Sherpao, regarding Rashid Rauf, already nicknamed the "Talibrum" by the Scum. Only later in the article does it give credence to the possibility that Rauf may have been tortured. Human Rights Watch has reported on two US citizens of Pakistani origin, arrested in the country on suspected terrorism offences, who were tortured by the security services. There seems little reason to think that Rauf would have been treated differently. The paper also reports that "suspected terrorists have mounted training exercises in some of the most popular areas of the national parks of England and Wales." Scary, no? Only later in the article comes the rather less than frightening bombshell: "The group, unaware it has been under surveillance, was not undergoing weapons or explosives training." In other words, it seems some dark people may have been camping out in the woods, who may or may not be terrorist suspects.

As yet, we still know very little about the supposed plot for mass murder on a grand scale. While as Andrew Gilligan pointed out on Newsnight on Friday, there doesn't seem to be the huge amount of off-the-record briefing going on as there was after the Forest Gate raid, the whispers to the press appear to be starting up again, if anything because there is little to show except leaks to the press for the days of searching of properties. Some reports suggest some of those arrested didn't even have passports. As the Guardian leader on Friday mentioned, the story of the boy who cried wolf ends with there actually being a wolf. Healthy scepticism should be welcomed, but we should also be careful not to dismiss everything out of hand, however convenient these plots seem to be.

Yet it was this "huge and growing threat" that John Reid scaremongered about on Sunday, despite having called for calm and solidarity amongst communities. His motive seemed purely to attack those who don't share the government's view on the threat to the country. He said "4 terror plots had been foiled since 7/7", then decided to neither confirm or deny a story most likely leaked to the Observer by his own department, which suggested there were up to 24 investigations into terror cells that were currently in operation. He also mentioned that there had been an al-Qaida plot in Birmingham in 2000, as if to prove that the threat existed before 9/11. That he neither stated whether those involved were brought to justice, in jail or now in places unknown doesn't inspire confidence that he was telling the full truth. He then wildly missed the point of the letter signed by 3 Muslim MPs, 3 peers and 38 different groups which suggested there may be a link between the country's foreign policy and how the level of threat to Britain has increased, saying "No government worth its salt would stay in power in my view, and no government worth its salt, would be supported by the British people if our foreign policy or any other aspect of policy was being dictated by terrorists."

This is the view that is becoming common currency among the right. The Sun devotes its leader to the subject, saying "once again leading Muslims are intent on excusing Muslim violence rather than condemning it". Both Michael Howard and David Davis also criticised the letter, in differing terms of strength.

This completely ignores what the letter actually says. This paragraph from it destroys the entire basis of the Sun's leader:

Attacking civilians is never justified. This message is a global one. We urge the Prime Minister to redouble his efforts to tackle terror and extremism and change our foreign policy to show the world that we value the lives of civilians wherever they live and whatever their religion.

The letter doesn't suggest that we appease fanatics who threaten mass murder. It condemns violence against civilians, and instead asks the prime minister to change foreign policy because it simply isn't working. Our position on Lebanon meant that the conflict raged on for 4 weeks, with at least 1000 killed as a result. Our hypocrisy and craven attitude towards the United States favoured policy on the Middle East was exemplified by Blair's continued standing shoulder to shoulder with America, no matter how many die in the process. The war in Iraq, supposedly a war that was meant to free the country from the tyranny of Saddam Hussein and free us from the threat posed by Saddam's weapons of mass destruction has not only destroyed that country, but also left us even more insecure, as Iraq becomes an almost safe haven for terrorists and jihadis to learn their craft. Reid's remarks also seem to forget how this war on terror started, with the attack on Afghanistan that was meant to destroy al-Qaida. If that isn't our foreign policy being shaped by terrorists, what is?

While Reid and others have been making fools of themselves, Ruth Kelly has been sent in to meet a number of Muslim leaders in London. Apart from the bizarre thinking behind Kelly being appointed to do this, what with her membership of Opus Dei somehow not making her a religious extremist, the BBC reports that the leaders were angry with the way the letter had been dismissed by ministers. You can't exactly blame them. What seems to be going on, shockingly, is the government's attempts to make the whole Muslim community responsible for the machinations of a tiny part of it. While the government is by no means going as far as Lord Stevens, ex-Knacker of the Yard, his rhetoric yesterday in the News of the Screws pretty much sums up what some think, and it's this that is the real danger:

WHEN will the Muslims of Britain stand up to be counted?

When will they declare, loud and clear, with no qualifications or quibbles about Britain's foreign policy, that Islamic terrorism is WRONG?

Most of all, when will the Muslim community in this country accept an absolute, undeniable, total truth: that Islamic terrorism is THEIR problem? THEY own it. And it is THEIR duty to face it and eradicate it.

The first thing that hits you is that it's no wonder the Met was/is institutionally racist when there's executives with this kind of mindset. Secondly, all you need to expose the fallacy of Stevens' argument is to change one word: Muslim to Catholic. Suddenly the whole set-up is laughable, and fundamentally dishonest. Nearly all Muslim groups accept that there is a tiny, tiny minority in this country which have extremist views. All of them accept that they need to do more to tackle it. Yet the government has to perform its own share of the bargain. It rejected out of hand many of the recommendations made by a panel of Muslim groups in the aftermath of the 7/7 bombings, showing in general how much faith they put in their dealings with them. That the government continuously denies that the way our foreign policy has been pursued has led to some being led into extremism who otherwise wouldn't have done is just as fundamentally dishonest as Lord Stevens rant. While the letter writers suggested a change of foreign policy, this is no way gives extremists a veto over what Britain as a nation does; rather it is reflecting on the actual views of the population in this great democracy of ours.

The other danger of Stevens' is apparent. The exact message going out to the Muslim communities should be that we do not regard every single one of them as a threat, or that it's their fault that this is happening. Instead some newspapers and commentators seem to be conjuring up an image of an enemy within, which is exactly what the extremists on both sides want. The likes of al-Qaida don't want communities to integrate and stand together; they want to divide and rule. The far-right and yes, even some on the far-left (Yvonne Ridley's stupid remarks that Muslims shouldn't co-operate with the police come to mind) would like the same thing to happen.

What becomes obvious is the government is prepared for all this to take place in order for the larger issue to once again come to the fore. Yep, their plans for 90 days detention and even more anti-terror laws. The softening up for such has already happened in the supportive Murdoch press, and despite Reid's claims he will not push legislation through on the hoof, you can bet that once Blair is back that it will be on the agenda again proper. Quite why the police and security services need even more draconian measures when Britain is already turning into a surveillance state is unclear, but the government seem absolutely determined to force it through. There's also no respite in the shape of Gordon Brown: he's fully behind the plans as well.

We should wait and see what happens. We should listen if there is any genuine new reasons why longer detention is necessary. At the moment however, such plans should be rejected just as forcefully, if not more so, then they were last year. Our handing over of liberties has so far left us both less safe and with fewer rights. The government needs to prove they geniunely have all our best interests at heart, rather than both short-term political gain for them with certain sections of the media and public.

Related posts:
BSSC - Messenger Shoot
Nether-World - Playing Politics with Terror

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Rosa - 2003 - 2006 - RIP

So. Farewell
Then Rosa
The Gerbil.

"Squeak squeak

Yes. That was
Your catchphrase.

Now you are
Part of a dumb
Private Eye
Style poem.

E.J. Obsolete (17½ months)

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Saturday, August 12, 2006 

War is peace.

Lebanese woman lies injured in hospital after a missile attack on her car; Israeli citizens in Haifa run as sirens warn of a rocket attack.

No one honestly expected that the passing of a UN resolution calling for a "full cessation of hostilities" would instantly end the Israel-Lebanese conflict, having now raged for over a month. Even the most cynical though thought it unlikely that Israel would have the audacity not only to almost entirely ignore its passing, but continue in the collective punishment of the entire Lebanese nation. On Friday the Israelis destroyed one of the last remaining bridges to Syria, this time in the far north of the country. They also bombed "power facilities" in the port town of Sidon, which had so far emerged relatively unscathed. A convoy of refugees, escorted by UN peacekeepers was also hit, killing at least 4 people, with other sources saying 7. The Israelis had been informed, and had agreed to its passing, yet it was still attacked. An Israeli spokesman said that the raid had been a "mistake", which obviously makes everything a-ok.

While Olmert has stated that he will put the UN resolution plan for a ceasefire to his cabinet on Sunday and argue for it be accepted, whether even that will bring a quick end to the fighting is in question. The ordering of the major ground offensive, with the emphasis appearing to be on getting to the Litani river as quickly as possible, suggests that Israel has no intention of leaving the south of Lebanon until at the very least the Lebanese army deploys its 15,000 troops, as stipulated in Resolution 1701. That the Litani river continues to play such a major part in the conflict reflects one of the other issues affecting Israel: the arid nature of the region, and the drying up of the remaining resources of water available to the country. The strategic benefits of controlling the river are both obvious and may become increasingly important, as the shortage of water looks likely only to get worse.

For their part, Hizbullah's leader Nasrallah has already said that the militia will abide by the ceasefire, once that all the Israeli troops have left Lebanese territory. Seeing as that doesn't seem to be something that'll happen quickly, the horrible spectre of yet more atrocities being committed on both sides remains.

While some apologists for Hizbullah have been pointing out how their rockets are being launched at legitimate targets, such as army bases within Israel, the very nature of the katyusha rockets, being both old and very inaccurate, as well as filled with ball bearings, means that innocent civilians are always going to be hit. That their missiles have also been just as likely to kill Arab Israelis, with some also landing and killing Palestinians in the West Bank, shows how futile and counter-productive the majority of the Hizbullah attacks on Israel itself have been.

Not that this in any way mitigates for the crimes which have been visited on Lebanon from the air. The Guardian reports on how at least 61 Lebanese were killed on Monday in a strike on the Shiyyah district of southern Beirut. That's 20 more than the entire number of Israeli civilians killed, and far outstrips the massacre in Qana as one of the worst, if not the worst, Israeli atrocity of the war. The destruction of numerous power plants, in one case leading to an environmental disaster which threatens to be as devastating to the Lebanese coastline as the Exxon-Valdez spillage was in Alaska, shows in its true light just what Israeli "self-defense" means. 1,020 civilians are dead. Thousands of homes have been destroyed. And for what?

If anything, the resolution leaves Hizbullah stronger than ever before. Even if now rightly forced to disarm, it's likely to become an even bigger force in politics in Lebanon, with the recognition from around the Arab world that it held off and struck a blow against Israel. In Israel, the opposite is the case. The bombardment of Lebanon will leave it with even fewer friends around the globe, sickened by the disproportionate nature of its response to an attack which was unjustifiable, but clearly aimed at showing solidarity with the Palestinian fighting which continues in the Gaza strip. If anything is to be learned from the disaster, it's that the military option no longer works. It should re-energise the Israeli left into realising that the unilateral settlement proposed by Olmert is dead in the water. Their supposed pacifist hero, Amir Peretz, has been just as bloodthirsty as his predecessors. The way forward is for a negotiated peace, involving both Hamas and Abu Mazen. Both Israel and the Palestinians (especially Hamas) will have to make sacrficies, but both must now accept that persistent conflict only leaves a legacy of hatred and grievance that cannot be easily diminished, forgiven, or forgotten.

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Friday, August 11, 2006 

From the ridiculous to the ridiculous.

On grounds of pure tastelessness, today's Daily Mail front page couldn't have been much more potentially offensive, even if they'd asked Bernard Manning to tell one of his "jokes" and photographed him wearing his underpants.

Who honestly thought that the infamous photo of one of the planes crashing into the World Trade Centre was either relevant or suitable to illustrate a disrupted terror plot? Notice also the paper promises a "15 page special". Why not go the whole way and call it a souvenir issue?
Over on the Sexpress, things are a little calmer, but not by much. 24 suspects all British may not be very good English, but it otherwise simply parrots the official line of what we've been told so far. Nice of them to show us what a plane looks like though, as I'd forgotten.
The Mirror uses a huge photo of one the suspects, who allegedly only converted to Islam six months ago. Whether the naming of the suspects and publishing of their photographs is going to be helpful in the long run is unclear; those arrested may yet be released without charge, as has happened in the past. One of the confusing things seems to the number of apparent planes that were to blow up. The Guardian front page refers to the police saying up to twelve were to be targeted, the Sexpress and Star report 10, with the Mirror and Sun going for nine.
Speaking of the Scum, their take on this is "BOTTLE BOMBERS", which by their past standards of "PLOT TO KILL YOU" is rather tame. Rebekah Wade, or whichever moron it was that wrote the leader column though just can't let a great opportunity like this go to waste. Yep, it's time to attack the Human Rights Act again!

But while commending his appeal to Britain’s famous “stiff upper lip”, The Sun has a couple of questions.

What happened to Tony Blair’s 12-point anti-terror campaign announced with fanfare after last year’s London Tube bombs?

Why have we ditched plans to fast-track extradition of terror suspects, shut extremist mosques and deport preachers of hate?

Most important of all, why have ministers refused point blank to change or scrap the human rights laws which offer sanctuary to the fanatics who wish us harm?

Had the bombers triumphed over the Atlantic, nobody would be worrying about wrecked holidays.

They would be demanding to know why these promised – and desperately needed – national security measures were not already in place to protect us.

What happened to it? Parts of it were dropped because they were horribly unworkable. In the aftermath of the 7/7 bombings, Charles Clarke had kept in contact with the other home affairs spokesman, keeping open a dialogue about whether new laws were necessary. Both David Davis and Mark Oaten responded favourably. This though wasn't good enough for the Sun - it screamed about how it hoped the terrorists were away on holiday as well, as parliament broke up for its long break. In response, Blair made his "rules of the game are changing" speech, waiting until Clarke had gone off on holiday himself, in the process undermining and destroying his work in creating a cross-party consensus.

As for the Sun's individual points, the government has deported some extremist clerics, or in the case of Bakri Mohammad stopped him from re-entering the county. Other suspects are awaiting deportation, while the "memorandums of understanding" with countries that are known to practice torture are sorted out. Whether these will ever be acceptable in a court of law is unknown, and the government would be better off taking the accused men to trial. An insight into the mindset of some of these being held under anti-terror laws is reported in today's Grauniad. According to a Council of Europe investigation team, 3 of the former Belmarsh detainees have been admitted to Broadmoor, apparently suffering mental breakdowns. Another has been bailed to house arrest for health reasons. The team's report also warns of the possibility of multiple suicides. Not something the Sun would shed any tears over, but it shows the mental duress that those accused of something that they can't even defend themselves against undergo.

The plans to shut "extremist" mosques were rejected as unworkable, mainly because of the effect such closures would have on community relations. Even the Finchley Park mosque was eventually rid of Abu Hamza, showing that even if there are mosques which have extremist preachers, there is usually a power struggle between more moderate elements within them.

On to the best bit, the same old nonsense that the Human Rights Act offers sanctuary to fanatics. It doesn't. What the Human Rights Act does is strike a fine balance between the rights of the public, and between those of the accused. John Reid's failure to accept that some control orders breach the right to liberty and to a fair trial is the result of this government railroading through "tough" measures when they were repeatedly warned that doing so would be both counter-productive and fall foul of the Human Rights Act. Instead of recognising they were wrong, the politicians have instead turned to attacking one of New Labour's finest achievements, mainly because it's an easy scapegoat. The Scum is more than happy to oblige in this kicking of the smeared underdog, while blaming the government it has been so slavish in supporting in the past. Anyway, where do you start in changing the Human Rights Act? Do you remove the prohibition of torture, the right to a fair trial, or the right to liberty or security? Maybe the Sun would like to elaborate?
Finally then we come to the Star, which still manages to find space for a Big Brother story, which predictably involves one of the female contestants wearing as little clothing as possible, as "life goes on". That was certainly the message of the Big Brother contestants last year, who on being told of the 7/7 attacks on leaving the house apparently couldn't have cared less. Oh, and apparently everyone is saying "UP YOURS". No doubt the other evil-doers ready to murder us all in the name of Islamic fascism are shaking with fear at the Star's defiance. "Murdering scum foiled" is the other mantra of the day. Speaking of fascism, Richard "Dirty" Desmond, Sexpress and Star proprietor knows plenty about it, having in the past said that "all Germans are fucking Nazis", goose-stepped and led a stirring rendition of "Deutschland Uber Alles" during a meeting with Telegraph executives.

There's been very little said about the planned attacks today, except for 19 of the men being named and having their assets frozen by the Bank of England. No one else has been arrested, no explosives or materials which could have been turned into bombs have yet been found, although Pakistan is inferring that there are "indications of an "Afghanistan-based al-Qaida connection", something which has long been alleged of last year's bombs, but never proven. CNN is reporting that the men had not bought tickets, but were perusing internet sites and planning a dry run. As with all such information coming out, it should be taken with a pinch of salt. CNN also claims that two suspects had left "martyrdom tapes", without saying whether they had done this in Pakistan or Britain.
Whether these are the tapes of the kind that Mohammad Siddique Khan and Hamas suicide bombers routinely made or propaganda videos of the type freely available on the internet is unclear.

In other news, 35 people died in an actual terrorist attack yesterday.
The Guardian gave less than 100 words to its report of the explosion in the Iraqi city of Najaf. Six were also killed in a bomb attack in southern Baghdad. Ehud Olmert has given the go-ahead to an expansion of the ground invasion of southern Lebanon, while the US and France have just agreed on a revised text of the UN resolution, wrangling that has been going on for more than two weeks now, according to the BBC ticker. You don't need to be clairvoyant though to know what story is going to be leading the news tonight and in the morning's papers.

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Thursday, August 10, 2006 

It's brown trousers time! (Again.)

Coincidences happen. That's a fact. Not every single coincidence is inextricably linked to something more sinister, even in politics and the world of terrorism. You don't need to calculate the tiny chance of happening to bump into an old friend you haven't seen for years while you're on holiday to know that. Also, the coincidence is the biggest friend of the conspiracy theorist. Connect A to B, and you'll get C, or in most cases, X.

Today though, you may as well throw all that out the window and start wondering just how much dear old John Reid knew about the supposed threat which for a while shut down all the airports in the country. Yesterday Reid gave what can only be described as a rant to the thinktank Demos, about of all things, the terrorist threat to Britain. This wasn't just to outline where he thought there needed to be changes in thinking, or where laws need to be tightened. This was an attack, an arrogant and one-sided bullying speech, designed only to please the likes of the Sun and Melanie Philips. As the Guardian reports, the talk firmly placed the blame not on the "fascist individuals" who threaten our safety, but on those opposed to the government's attacks on civil liberties:

· Politicians who opposed the anti-terror measures the police and security services said were necessary to combat the threat.

· European judges who passed the "Chahal judgment" that prohibited the home secretary from weighing the security of millions of British people if a suspected terrorist remained in the UK against the risk he faced if deported back to his own country.

· The media commentators who "apparently give more prominence to the views of Islamist terrorists rather than democratically elected Muslim politicians like premier Maliki of Iraq or President Karzai of Afghanstan".

This isn't just bollocks, it is dangerous, reactionary, highly politically motivated attacks on those who challenge the government's policy on the war on terror and in foreign affairs. Reid almost entirely adopts the viewpoint of the Sun, which in the aftermath of the defeat of legislation which would have seen terrorist suspects held for up to 90 days without charge, called those who voted against "traitors".
In Reid's view, the government, the police and the security services have to be trusted, and we have to bow down to their every whim when it comes to fighting terrorism. This ignores the spectacular failures that have happened over the last couple of years, such as the ricin plot that never was and the Forest Gate fiasco. Those with longer memories will remember the tanks sent to Heathrow just before the huge demonstration against the Iraq war, which was threatened at one stage because ministers were worried that the demonstration might damage the grass in the park. We never learned anything else about the supposed threat that led to their deployment.

Reid justifies what he thinks might be needed to fight terror by saying that Britain today faces "probably the most sustained period of severe threat since the end of the second world war." Really? Did everyone just suddenly forget about that lumbering giant, the Soviet Union? Didn't they have, uh, big shiny nuclear missiles pointing right at our cities, ready to be launched at a moment's notice? Weren't we warned to be ready with bin bags to pick up what was left of our friends and relatives after the nuclear holocaust? We can but surmise, but maybe Reid's forgetfulness might have something to do with him once being a member of the Communist party. It also could be related to the fact he was an alcoholic, like Alastair Campbell, now reformed and cruising for a fight that makes up for the lack of the sweet amber nectar. And who could possibly forget his charming pal, Radovan Karidizic?

In a rare part of eloquence in the speech, Reid makes a somewhat decent argument, but not one that can't be picked apart:

Sometimes we may have to modify some of our own freedoms in the short term in order to prevent their misuse and abuse by those who oppose our fundamental values and would destroy all of our freedoms in the modern world,

The problem with "modifying" freedoms in the short term is that once you've given something up, it's increasingly difficult to get them back. As well as this, we've seen law after law passed in this country which has been abused and used against those which it wasn't designed for. The Protection from Harassment Act, designed to target stalkers, has been used against protestors. Section 44 of the Terrorism Act of 2000 is notorious for numerous reasons. Reid's arguments also ignores the possibility that freedoms given up today could be exploited by a government even less scrupulous than New Labour. Finally, and perhaps most powerfully, giving up our freedoms to fight terrorism is doing exactly what "they", whoever they are, wants: They want to make us afraid. They want to scare us to death. They want to make you fear the unknown. Another problem with this is that governments both here and abroad have continually used the terror threat for their own purposes. Many suspect the random changing of threat levels to be politically motivated, and cynical.

Well, that's certainly not something Dr John Reid can be accused of. For, oh, a whole day after he made his vomit-inducing masturbatory pre-emptive strike on the pinkos who believe in civil liberties rather than living on their knees, the whole country is alerted that terrorists are once again in our midst. Terrorists, which George Bush has already described as "Islamic fascists", apparently planned to blow-up 10 transatlantic flights with "liquid explosives", possibly hidden in baby milk or drinks cans. Heathrow shuts down. Travel chaos takes over. The government's patented doom-o-meter, introduced only last week, goes up to "critical", meaning an attack is expected "imminently". This is despite the attack apparently being foiled, as it's possible there could be a back-up plan. The Americans, who jump at any chance to put the threat level up, react by putting their own risk of death calculator to its highest level.

The plan itself, as much as we've been told so far, is highly reminiscent of a plot
masterminded by Ramzi Yousef, called "Project Bojinka". The plan, or at least the first part, was to blow up 11 jets as they were over the Pacific, as Yousef and his partner in crime, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, were in the Philippines at the time. The bombs were going to use liquid nitroglycerin, with Casio watches as timers. Being the sort who wanted to make sure that these things actually worked, and there's nothing to suggest that this plan involved suicide, Yousef planted one on a flight from Manila to Tokyo on December the 11th, 1994. It exploded, killing the man sitting in the seat which Yousef had vacated on a stop-over, but the pilots managed to guide the plane down safely. Yousef was now left to try to make the explosive more potent. The second part of "Project Bojinka" was to involve martyrdom operations, with, you've guessed it, terrorists piloting jets into large buildings. The first part of "Project Bojinka" was disrupted when the apartment they were staying in caught fire.

Whether today's terrorists were influenced directly by this plot or came up with something of their volition which is remarkably similar doesn't really matter. What matters is that it was disrupted. The question that remains unanswered is how much John Reid knew about this before making his speech yesterday. The Guardian reports:

"This wasn't supposed to happen today," a US official who asked not to be named, told the Washington Post. "It was supposed to happen several days from now. We hear the British lost track of one or two guys. They had to move."

In other words, he must have known. Would a politician really exploit the public by making a speech about the terrorist threat, knowing full well that one such plot was about to be foiled? You bet a man of the stature of John Reid would. You also to have to wonder if the raid was brought forward by a couple of days because of the political difficulties the government has found itself in. 150 MPs were calling for parliament to be recalled over the Lebanon conflict. A PPS yesterday resigned in protest at the government's appalling handling of the crisis. As Craig Murray notes in an excellent post, there'll be no dead Lebanese children on the news today, or if there are, they'll be after the 20 minutes or so of coverage of people stuck in airports, demanding that we feel sorry for them.

The reporting of the arrests and apparent plot have been suitably breathless. Lenin on the comments at the Tomb described them as "orgasmic", and I couldn't have put it better myself. There's something about a terrorist plot that means even the best journalists that hate sensationalism start spouting the most ridiculous things, or believing the most ridiculous things. The Forest Gate raid was evidence of that. As yet, there seems to have been no explosives found. That might well change. We should reserve our judgment, and wait. It's just that this government has cried wolf so many times, has demanded that we obey their thinking that only they can protect us from the evil mongrel Islamic hordes that want to slit our throats and boil our children, and remember, this involves locking up suspects for 90 days and deporting others to countries where torture is endemic, rejecting calls for them to be tried here, or for wiretap evidence to be introduced.

Once everything dies down, and it will, although the Sun and its followers will no doubt inform us tomorrow that this justifies everything Blair and Reid have ever said, and that terrorists dressed as clowns are waiting on the street corner to hit us with custard pies flavoured with anthrax, those of us who honestly care about civil liberties need to decide how best to oppose the government's plans, which now will likely be accelerated. We can either say no more anti-terror laws full stop, or demand that if they really are telling the truth and that we need to suspend some freedoms, that we get some carrots in return. Wiretap evidence must be made admissible. The security services must have a watchdog. The attacks on the Human Rights Act must cease. The government should accept that trial here is better than deporting someone to where they face torture. It's only then we should perhaps listen to their plans. Until that happens, no more new anti-terror laws.

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Wednesday, August 09, 2006 

Schadenfreude is my best friend.

Another Screws journalist not known for his honest methods.

Can things get any worse for the News of the World? Within days of losing the libel action brought against the paper by the Scottish Socialist Tommy Sheridan, the paper's royal editor is still in police custody, after the plod were given longer to question him and another man, presumed to be another Screws journalist, over an 8-month long investigation into phone-tapping at Clarence House, Prince Charles's residence. Another man, not thought to be a News International employee, has been released on bail. The Screws offices in Wapping have also been raided by Inspector Knacker.

Rumours are already starting to fly. Guido wonders whether others bugged could include Boris Johnson and Michael Portillo, both recently exposed by the Screws as having affairs or relationships with women. Tom Brady, the ITV political editor, speaking on the 12:30 bulletin today, suggested that anti-terrorist IT specialists had discovered that others bugged could include cabinet ministers. It was the News of the Screws that broke the news of David Blunkett's affair with Kimberley Quinn, which could possibly mean that the bugging has been going on for years. Presumably John Prescott was not one of those potentially bugged, as his affair was exposed by the Mirror.

The arrests cap a miserable few months for the UK's worst newspaper. Mazher Mahmood was found to be a lying fantasist, as the "red mercury" case collapsed around his ears, fresh from being exposed by Galloway as a... lying fantasist. Mahmood also faces another libel trial over the Victoria Beckham kidnap plot that never was, after his partner in entrapment, Florim Ghasi, changed sides. The cheque-book journalism which results in numerous kiss 'n' tell stories every Sunday was left looking like the corrupt practice it is, as a jury in Scotland decided that the Screws' witnesses were lying while Sheridan wasn't. Sheridan's speech afterwards, lambasting the journalism carried out by the likes of the Screws would have been better if he hadn't sold his story straight afterwards to the Daily Record, owned by the same people as the muck-raking Sunday Mirror and People.

What's most amusing is that it's usually the Screws which contacts the police with some crime they've uncovered, or the police which leak stuff to News International for money; perhaps the royal editor will experience similar feelings to those set up by Mahmood when they've only been guilty of being gullible. For once the boot is on the other foot. Either way, anything that's a set-back to the Murdoch papers is to be celebrated. Schadenfreude is once again the enemies of the Screws' best friend.

P.S. - There's nothing in today's Sun about the arrests, something that they'd usually be all over like a rash, although there is a story about a goat dying after being taken for a joyride. Why could that possibly be?

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Can't we burn her on a funeral pyre?

The deep affection felt for Margaret Thatcher by some of the media and elements of the Tory party appears to have been reawakened of late. This may be down to the election of David "Dave" Cameron, and his quest to turn his party into a touchy-feely bunch of tree huggers, as evidenced by their apparent change of logo. There was outrage in the Mail on Sunday after Jonathan Ross asked Cameron whether he had ever fantasised about Hilda while masturbating. Now the Telegraph and a couple of Tory MPs are angry that Thatcher might not get the state funeral which she so clearly deserves.

Tony Blair was accused last night of appeasing Left-wing Labour MPs after Downing Street confirmed that it did not intend to recommend a state funeral for Lady Thatcher, the country's first woman prime minister.

Senior Conservative MPs expressed anger over a letter from one of Mr Blair's aides to a Labour backbencher setting out No 10's position.

They accused Mr Blair of provoking an "unseemly" political row by entering into a discussion about Lady Thatcher's funeral arrangements at a time when she was in good health.

Iain Duncan Smith, the former Conservative leader, said there were "lots of reasons" why Lady Thatcher should become the first prime minister since Winston Churchill to be accorded a state funeral.

She turned round the British economy and victory in the Falklands conflict restored the country's international prestige, he said.

Gerald Howarth, the Tory MP for Aldershot and Lady Thatcher's former parliamentary aide, said that the No 10 letter showed that when Mr Blair was in trouble with his party he made a gesture to appease his Left-wing MPs - such as the ban on foxhunting.

"That is Blair all over," Mr Howarth said. "It is contemptible. He claimed the mantle of Thatcher but when the going gets tough with Labour MPs, he throws them a bone."

Much as one loves to hate Tony, whatever he did here he'd end up getting criticised. If his private secretary hadn't ruled out the funeral entirely (which he hasn't, simply saying "that there are no such plans"), then the same Tories and Torygraph would be indignant that they weren't confirming what they clearly want, with Blair avoiding questions as usual. Instead he's now accused of being "unseemly", simply for answering a question and giving a response which doesn't much please the Torygraph.

Then we have the determination of the self styled quiet man, Mr Iain Duncan Smith. According to him, Thatcher turned round the economy, which would come as a surprise to the millions of unemployed who lived the early 80s in misery. The economy in fact went through its usual boom and bust during the decade, only calming down in the aftermath of Black Wednesday. Then we have the curious remark that the Falklands war, quite possibly the most pointless conflict the UK has ever participated in, helped restore our international prestige. What it actually did was show the world how to fight a war in a near-media blackout, with almost all information controlled by the government. The sinking of the Belgrano, while it was outside the 200-mile exclusion zone and sailing even further away from it, remains controversial to this day. With an almost entirely pliant media, helped along the way by the Scum's complete obeisance to "Our Boys" and its infamous "Gotcha!" headline, the country united behind Thatcher and returned her to office in 1983 (The longest suicide note in history, aka the 1983 Labour manifesto and the SDP-Liberal pact also played their part) with an increased majority. Duncan Smith also doesn't mention those other foreign policy triumphs of the Thatcher years - supporting the mujahadein in Afghanistan against the Soviets, which then turned its guns and bombs against the west, and selling weapons to Saddam Hussein, as well supporting Iraq in the war with Iran, which cost a million lives.

Howarth is spouting similar nonsense. Could anyone imagine a Labour prime minister, even Blair, giving Thatcher a state funeral? You may as well reintroduce the poll tax, because the response from the public at large, not just the left, would be similar. He mentions the ban on fox hunting as appeasing the left at a time of trouble - but Labour had promised a free vote on banning hunting with hounds since the 1997 manifesto. He's right that Blair modelled himself on Thatcher, but can any Tory now deny that Cameron is a clone of Blair, except newer, younger and more green?

Obsolete therefore thinks that we can come to a compromise. When Thatcher keels over, let's have an open-air cremation in parliament square. It can be both a state funeral, pleasing the Tory diehards, and also delight the left, which has long ached for the dreadful woman to be burnt at the stake.

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Tuesday, August 08, 2006 

Bourgeois superficiality.

Two articles from July/August's Adbusters (Click to enlarge.). Advert for Vogue in today's Guardian.

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What is it good for? More sales of Powerpoint to the military.

Blood stains the walls in the Lebanese village of Brital; relative of 3 women killed in a Hizbullah rocket attack on Arab el Aramsheh collapses with shock; man killed after an Israel drone fired a missile at a motorcycle in Tyre.

What's become most chilling about the war in Lebanon has been how Israel has repeatedly ratcheted up the rhetoric. Every day the conflict is "escalated". Today is no exception.

This might be because the diplomatic end-game is in sight, and Israel has still completely failed to stop Hizbullah from launching their katyushas into Northern Israel. For a ceasefire or "cessation of hostilities" to take hold, Israel has got to at least look as if it has got something out of this otherwise pointless conflict. All they've got to show at the moment is a lot of dead soldiers and civilians on their own side, and the near full-scale destruction of the southern half of Lebanon, something that is not going to be quickly forgotten by the wider world. From claiming at the beginning that they would destroy Hizbullah, the militia has instead held out against the IDF for longer than an Arab army ever did. The Lebanese army might be deployed to southern Lebanon, but will Hizbullah be forced to disarm immediately? It seems highly unlikely.

The other possibility is as George Monbiot and others over the last few weeks have suggested, that this war was pre-meditated and planned in advance, with Israel waiting for the right time to launch the destruction of Hizbullah and most of the country's infrastructure. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, a three-week campaign was planned for. The officer's power-point demonstration of how the war would be fought is almost an exact replica of how the Israeli bombing and military action has panned out:

The first week concentrated on destroying Hezbollah's heavier long-range missiles, bombing its command-and-control centers, and disrupting transportation and communication arteries. In the second week, the focus shifted to attacks on individual sites of rocket launchers or weapons stores. In the third week, ground forces in large numbers would be introduced, but only in order to knock out targets discovered during reconnaissance missions as the campaign unfolded. There was no plan, according to this scenario, to reoccupy southern Lebanon on a long-term basis.

In the New Statesman, John Kampfner reveals how the actions of Blair and Beckett in not calling for an immediate ceasefire have all been a part of how Britain knew in advance of Israel's planned attack. It's only now that the 3 weeks are up that the diplomatic stance has changed, with Blair today jetting of on holiday, hopeful that the UN resolution will be quickly passed.

Unfortunately for Israel, those 3 weeks have not been enough. The missiles continue to rain down on Haifa, 250,000 have fled the north of the country, and anyone remaining in the town of Kiryat Shmona is to be evacuated. Yet even this is now in dispute. On CNN on Sunday, the Washington Post journalist Thomas Ricks went on CNN and told the show's host, Howard Kurtz, that Israel was purposefully not destroying some Hizbullah rocket launchers, so that the offensive in Lebanon could continue to be justified.

As time seems to be running out, Israel is going to even greater lengths to "finish" the job before it is forced to. Yesterday they told the UN that engineers sent to fix a bridge between Beirut and Sidon that they'd be targeted if they did so. A further curfew is now imposed on the area below the Litani river - any vehicle on the road is now a target. Anyone remaining in the area is left with a wonderful choice - remain where you are and face the possibility of being blown up in your house, like countless others across the country have, or be blown up trying to flee. In an attack that'll be familiar to those in Afghanistan, where firing into the air has brought out the US F16s, a funeral parade was blown up in the town of Ghaziyeh. Reports differ on the amount killed, with ynetnews suggesting 14, and 1 killed in another raid 5 minutes later, while the Guardian says it could be either 6 or 1. The BBC has also finally got round to reporting on the environmental disaster facing Lebanon's coastline, known about for at least a week but only dealt with in-depth now.

As Blair sets off to wherever it is he's going, he can at least know that's he got one more friend to add to his ever shortening list. Binyamin Netanyahu, former prime minister, has saluted what Bush would most likely call his "moral courage":

He said Hezbollah regarded Israel as "the first step on the way to an Islamic empire" and "would not last a day without Iran, where its fighters are trained".

"It is a mad wisdom and it should not be dismissed because it's mad, just as Hitler - he started off as an attack on the Jews and this is the same thing," he said.

Who could possibly disagree with that analysis? Anyone who opposes what's going in Lebanon, as Stephen Pollard has already shown, clearly wants all the Jews in the region to die in a second Holocaust. Even Netanyahu is moderate compared to this guy though:

Israel should have given Lebanon an ultimatum like this: "Until our abducted soldiers are returned and the rocket fire at our communities ends, we will destroy the communities of southern Lebanon via aerial bombardment, methodically going from south to north, and we will begin within 24 hours." In this way, we would not have endangered even one soldiers in battle.

It's not genocide and ethnic cleansing when Israel does it. Honest.

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August is traditionally the leanest month, both on sales and news for media organisations. The broadsheets deal with this by using any old crap they can get their hands on, usually surveys or research which otherwise would have been left out in the cold. The Guardian today reports on a study involving youths in the United States by the RAND Corporation, which comes to the conclusion that those who listen to music with "raunchy" lyrics have sex earlier. Almost certainly bollocks, as it ignores everything other than the individual's music taste, but it fills some space up.

For the tabloids, things are a bit different. Even with a war going on in the Middle East, August provides an opportunity for them to retreat and stare at their navels, examining in detail their own individual obsessions and beliefs. Today's papers are a prime example of this in action.

The Mail and Express then leap at the chance given to them by the Local Government Association. In a letter to the Home Secretary, the body expresses concern that failure to properly monitor the number of legal migrants coming to the country from the EU may lead to a rise in council tax, due to additional funding needed for the services the migrants use not being forthcoming.

What the Mail and Express want you to think is that these people are purely coming here to "skive" - when in fact the LGA in its letter points out how many migrants have registered themselves in Slough for national insurance payments. It's certainly by no means a country wide problem either, although 25 councils think they may have problems, which isn't a tiny number by any stretch of the imagination. Nowhere does the letter suggest that they're struggling to cope, as the Express claims - the furthest it goes is "there are a number of local authorities for whom the current system of measuring the number of migrants in specific council areas is failing to ensure adequate funding to keep council services to local people maintained." Now this is out in the open though, it's bound to be used as a useful scapegoat for overspending or ill-calculating councils for when the rises are announced, migrants or not, which will probably lead to more council tax "martyrs", like Josephine Rooney being given publicity by the bastions of Middle England.

The Sun goes with the story of the convicted paedophile Leslie Ford-Thrussell, whose former house and garden police are planning to excavate, after allegations in a letter that there are two children buried there. The paper links Fred West in, even though he killed at least 12 people, and only one of his victims was under the age of ten. Above that, the paper reports on the "crisis" engulfing Big Brother. The Star goes with the same thing, although inevitably illustrates the story with a photograph of Nikki, her modesty only protected by her hair. The complaints have poured in after the producers of the show had the brilliant idea of bringing back a whole bunch of already evicted housemates - which the watchers of the show had already paid money to get rid of through their phone/text voting.

It's rather difficult to feel sorry or have much sympathy for those complaining. After all, the whole show is manipulated and a con to begin with; the most likeable characters are identified in the first week/s of the show, while the others become demonised by the show's producers in order to increase the tension inside the house and to get the morons who watch it passionate enough about what's going on to actually participate in the evictions. If you're stupid enough to watch a show which features the absolute dregs of modern society and complain when you personally get shafted by a show that shafts almost everyone foolish enough to go on it, then you deserve what you get.

Speaking of which, there's something incredibly creepy about Nikki, the Series 6 poster girl, despite being as dull as dishwater both mentally and physically. (She's also surgically enhanced of course, and since being evicted she has appeared in a state of undress for both Nuts and Zoo, despite saying in the house that she wouldn't). It's the eyes: in all the photographs of her there is absolutely nothing behind them. It's like staring into a dark abyss, which then in turn starts to swallow you into it, trying to steal your soul to replace the one she was born without. The worrying thing is that something demonic will fill the void, resulting in Nikki masturbating with a crucifix and projectile vomiting everywhere, although seeing as other ex-Big Brother female contestants have gone into soft pornography, that might be tempting fate.

Finally then, the Mirror continues to bore the entire country with yet more talk of McCartney n' Mills' split, as they seem to be following every twist and turn after revealing the break-up to start with. Quite frankly, who gives a fuck?

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Monday, August 07, 2006 

"Let The Jews Die".


It's taken them a while, but the smear merchants against the huge demonstation in London on Saturday are starting to come out into the open.

Fighting on the side of good thinking moderates such as Melanie Philips, we have Stephen Pollard, who has rather unfairly in the past been compared in the looks department to another Pollard, namely Vicky. He came across Lenin's Tomb, which he calls "awful", but that's nothing compared to the photographs which Lenin took that showed the mass of people calling for an immediate ceasefire. They are apparently "obscene". I quite agree, the placards showing the children killed in Israeli air strikes are obscene. In the eyes and minds of numerous Israeli ministers, who said that anyone remaining in the south would be considered a terrorist, and that the clock was going to be turned back 20 years, then those children and everyone remaining are Hizbullah. Hence those of us who oppose the collective punishment imposed on Lebanon are more than willing to take on the same moniker. I'm an atheist, I condemn Hizbullah for their original action, I condemn them for killing innocent Israeli civilians, but to some I'm still Hizbullah. That's fine.

There's similar thinking going on in the mind of Steve Tobias, from sunny Houston, Texas, on the Guardian's letters page.

As an American, watching British media is like viewing events in a parallel universe. There has been incredulity at the Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer's comparison of the Hizbullah assault on Israel to the London Blitz. As I recall south London took some 2,800 hits during all ofthe second world war, which is about what Israel has absorbed in the last three weeks.

Isn't it awful that an American has to remind us Brits of the horror of the Blitz? Have we really forgotten so quickly? It's all well and good talking about how London and Israel have taken so many hits, but perhaps we should look instead at something else, such as how many died. According to Wikipedia, 38 Israeli civilians have died so far in Hizbullah rocket attacks, with 1300 "shocked" or wounded. The blitz, according to the same source, killed an estimated 43,000, with 139,000 injured.
The two things are completely incomparable, but fatuous historical parallels are a favourite thing of the right. On Comment is Free, numerous posters have mentioned the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in order to show that "disproportionate" actions sometimes have merit. It'd be a decent point, if you completely ignore the history both of the lead up to the second world war and the constant skirmishes between Israel and Hizbullah, which in the past haven't led to such destructive and despicable uses of force. It also ignores how the horror of WW2 directly led to the setting up of the Geneva Conventions. Everyone recognised then that there are certain things, even in the time of war, that are completely unacceptable. Those who think that they need to be abandoned to fight the war on terror are one and the same with the commentators that perform such hysterical apologetics for Israeli war crimes, while condemning Hizbullah for exactly the same thing.

Over on everyone's favourite cruise missile "left" site, Harry comes out of retirement once more to quote Andrew Murray, saying that there is no way that STWC should become a support group for Hizbullah. Quite right too. Harry then links to some more photos of the demo, prominently showing the few Hizbullah supporters/flag wavers who were on the march. Murray is therefore a stinking hypocrite, surely? Well, if you were actually at the march demanding a ceasefire, as this blog was, then maybe you'd have seen how few Hizbullah supporters there were. As there were at least 50,000 on the march, with it being quite possible that they were 100,000 as claimed, the tiny amount of those waving their flags of resistance were overwhelming outnumbered. Every movement or grouping has a number of blowhards, and Harry's Place is no different.

Out in the real world, another 24 Lebanese civilians have died today. Israel destroyed the last road into Tyre, meaning that the city is now completely cut off, with aid unable to reach those who still remain behind, unless Israel allows ships to enter the port. The UN resolution, which has been roundly rejected by Arab countries, Lebanon and Hizbullah, is still a decent starting point for a settlement. Hilariously though, the revisionism has already begun. Condoleezza Rice, who only a couple of weeks ago was spouting "there cannot be a return to the status quo ante!" now says "We're going to know who really did want to stop the violence and who didn't." Yes, we are. You didn't, and now that you've helped manufacture a resolution which Israel couldn't have dreamed of being better, those who have been calling for a ceasefire are apparently obstacles to peace. The position of the US, along with the ample support of Blair and acquiesence of those around him has meant that the Jews talked about by Pollard have continued to die. Hundreds of Lebanese civilians have died. Still, why focus on the big picture when you can attack those who wanted peace from the beginning?

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Saturday, August 05, 2006 

Uh, yeah, there was sort of a demonstration...

(Full directory of photos, full size, many shitty and out of focus, here.)

Today's demonstration was huge. The police are saying 20,000, but those same police also told the organisers that there were still protestors back at Picadilly more than half way through the speeches at parliament square. There was easily 50,000, although the STWC may not be far off in saying 80,000-100,000.

What was also crucial was that there was a true cross-section present. There is no way that the usual suspects can call it a "pro-fascist rally". As the speakers noted, all religions, all races and all classes were present. The media are predictably focusing on a couple of incredibly minor scuffles, neither of which I saw, but everyone was enjoying the weather and the attitude of the march in general. Most notable was going past the US embassy, a building surrounded by not one but two protective fences, both of which contained numerous police, while the plod further back in the compound also had German shepards, just in case anyone decided to even go near the place. The march was also directed the whole way round Grosvenor Square, rather than go along the road by the side of the embassy, while the park in the middle of the square was also closed off, inhabited by a couple of officers who were most likely appreciating the sunshine. Only one man was looking out of a window as we went past, the rest knowing that today would not be the best day to get work done.

Going past Downing Street, you couldn't help but notice how a CCTV camera had been set up purposefully on a crane attached to a moveable van, focused right on the entrance, just in case anyone decided to start throwing things or doing anything other than chanting or booing. A few children's shoes were thrown at the gates, which I think was the original plan, rather than placing them at the Cenotaph.

The speeches at the end, were, as you might expect, a mixture of posturing and slogan filled crowd pleasers. Also, and I feel shamefully, I have to report that there was no direct criticism of Hizbullah, although I left after George Galloway's rant (where he glorified Nasrallah and Hizbullah again). This might well have been because the small contingent of Hizbullah supporters who were there had set-up shop near the front of the stage, with a large flag taking up a good amount of room. John McDonnell was one of the speakers who stood out, delivering a fine speech not just full of what everyone else had already said, and it was rapturously received. The Green Party person who spoke (I didn't catch his name) was also good, and the closest to come to directly taking on Hizbullah's murderous actions in all of this. Jeremy Hardy, who I'd never heard of before, said he dreamt of the day that the Middle East was secular and at peace, and (perhaps surprisingly) got a decent response. Tony Benn was his usual self, and got the biggest cheer apart from Galloway. Craig Murray gave a crowd-pleasing but credible oration also, and received a large amount of applause for his trouble.

Did it achieve anything? It's sent a message to Blair that he cannot take this country for granted, for as the speakers repeatedly made clear, we were and are the majority in calling for an immediate unconditional ceasefire. The UN has agreed on the text for a first resolution, and although it says 'cessation' rather than ceasefire, at America's request, it's a start. Most of all, Israel can never be allowed to destroy the infrastructure of a democratic country, kill hundreds of civilians and get away with it like it has this time ever again. Hizbullah are to be condemned, and rightly so. We "are not all Hizbullah", but neither are we Israeli, or imperialist. If Blair wants to survive, and let's face it, he shouldn't, then he must rethink his "values" even more than he has done so already.

Oh, and I shook Brian Haw's hand, which was something I'd wanted to do for a long time.

Other reports on the march are arriving. The mainstream media has been absolutely fucking terrible, nothing short of a disgrace, repeating as complete fact the woeful police estimate of 20,000.

Lenin's is complete brilliance. BlairWatch has some maths, and more excellent photographs that put my efforts to shame. EllisSharp has even more. Nether-World's is also top draw.

And I haven't been completely honest. At one point during the march I was chanting "We all are Hizbullah." In hindsight, I wish I'd shouted it more often.

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Friday, August 04, 2006 

Ceasefire now.

little people in little houses / like maggots small blind and worthless / the massacred innocent blood stains us all / who's responsible - you fucking are / who's responsible - you fucking are / who's responsible - you fucking are / who's responsible - you fucking are / who's responsible - Of Walking Abortion, Manic Street Preachers.

Despite all Blair's rhetoric, despite all the whispers that the UN was getting ready to pass a resolution, the conflict in Lebanon continues. Today Israel cut off the last remaining exit to Syria, destroying four key bridges. It leaves aid convoys with few, if any ways to reach Beirut and further south. At least another 29 civilians were killed in Lebanon, while yesterday was one of the bloodiest days in Israel, with eight civilians killed and dozens more injured by Hizbullah rockets.

All of this could have been stopped much earlier if Blair and Bush had wanted it to. Instead they have given Israel, and as a result, Hizbullah too, carte blanche to kill civilians, wreck infrastructure and commit crimes against humanity. Tomorrow is an opportunity to protest against Blair and Bush, but also against war in general. Even if you don't like the message which the SWP and the other usual suspects who go on these rallies bring - please come. The more who march the bigger the message we send that there are those of us who are not prepared to be complicit in the human suffering which our politicians refuse to condemn. The STWC says there could be up to 50,000 in London tomorrow - small compared to the February 2003 Iraq protest, but bigger than a lot of the more recent ones. Every single person counts. We're responsible - but we're also not going to take it lying down.

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What to believe? (Part two.)

The IPCC report into the shooting of Mohammed Abdul Kahar, like the decision by the CPS not to prosecute anyone over the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes, does little to answer any of the questions still surrounding the police raid on Forest Gate (Although there are another 2 reports still to come.).

While Kahar maintains that he was 3 feet away from the officer who shot him, referred to in the report as "B6", the forensic report commissioned by the IPCC showed that the gun was fired from a distance of two inches. The report doesn't call Kahar a liar - rather it suggests he is blameless. What appears to have happened is that the two brothers were awakened by the police smashing in. Presuming they were about to be robbed by intruders, they came down the stairs of the house to come face to face with police officers wearing full body suits, including gas masks. The officer claims he shouted "armed police", but admits that this would have been muffled by the suit. The brothers claimed they had no warning, and that one was shot as they ran at the police officers. The IPCC concludes that Kahar was shot accidentally, partly because of the two pairs of gloves that the officer was wearing. The officer says he had a "loss of sensation" in his trigger finger and was unaware he had fired a shot.

The IPCC then seems to have decided that since Kahar was not critically injured that what happened was simply an accident. The police officer's excuse that he lost sensation is brushed over. It's quite possible that Kahar was purely mistaken over where he was when he was shot - the impact of the bullet would have thrust him backwards, and the momentum of running down stairs might have meant that he was leaning over towards the officer - hence why the IPCC considers him blameless. What seems more likely is that the officer panicked with the two brothers coming towards him and fired. There would have been little point in prosecuting him over doing so in the circumstances, but it has to be something which the Met has to learn from.

What is really going to make people cynical though is the "purely coincidental" decision to arrest Kahar yesterday over accusations that child pornography was found on a family computer he used. His solicitors have stated that he "strenuously denies" the charges against him. As Obsolete has noted, there seemed to be an almost co-ordinated campaign to smear and discredit the two brothers, which was mainly conducted in the Murdoch newspapers. The claims in the News of the World that one brother grabbed the gun and shot the other have now been shown to be false. The Sun reported that the brothers' half-brother was a "vicious armed robber" and that he had attended the extremist demonstration over the Danish Mohammad cartoons. It later splashed on the story that £38,000 had been found in the house - later explained by the family as being there because of their religious beliefs - some Muslims considered accounts where interest is paid to be forbidden. The Sun didn't bother asking them for their side of the story, something which seems to be getting a habit, judging by yesterday's apology to Galloway.

Today's Sun report also confuses the officer's statement:

But the IPCC report yesterday said the shooting came as the cop felt someone trying to GRAB his gun.

It doesn't - the officer said he felt someone pulling at his right arm, but he was concerned they were trying to grab the gun. There's a crucial difference. The story also claims the child porn found was of the hardcore variety; a previous report quotes a CPS source as saying it was "high level".

After all the smearing, the failed attempts to find anything, and no doubt police disquiet about having to repair their house and putting them up in a hotel which the Sun claims is costing the taxpayer £20,000 a month, you have to wonder whether the police had to find something. Even more distasteful is the way the Daily Star puts the story on its front page - at the time of the raid the front page was filled with Big Brother crap. With the tabloid hysteria over paedophilia running almost as high as it was back in 2000, suggesting someone is a user of child porn is almost certainly the ultimate attack on a person you can make. Predictably, the tabloids which were certain something was going to be found have lapped it up. Justification will be claimed if the case is proved, even if no terrorist material was.

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Thursday, August 03, 2006 

Sun-watch: Newspaper admits to smears and lies about Galloway.

George Galloway isn't an easy man to like at the best of times. He recently wrote an article for the Socialist Worker which he concludes with:

I glorify the Hizbollah national resistance movement, and I glorify the leader of Hizbollah, Sheikh Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah.

He therefore seemingly finds a militia which is indiscriminately firing missiles full of ball bearings into another country by the dozen worthy of praise. Supporting one set of murderers over another set of indiscriminate murderers is the politics of the sewer.

Nevertheless, Galloway is a supporter of press freedom, as shown by his exposing of the fake sheikh Mazher Mahmood and his refusal to back down to lawyers' attempts to gag blogs such as Obsolete which published his freely available photograph. On the other side was News International, publishers of the Sun and Times.

It was those newspapers, supporters of free speech and freedom of the press only when it means more profits for Mr Murdoch, that printed a tissue of lies linking Galloway to the extremist Muslim cleric Delwar Hossain Sayeedi. The reports alleged that Galloway was to share a platform with him at a rally in a London park, after Sayeedi had been invited to the UK by the London Muslim Centre. Not only was this completely untrue (Galloway was pictured at another rally on the day in question) but Sayeedi wasn't even in Britain, apparently back home in Bangladesh with no knowledge of the rantings that the Sun published. The Sun also went ahead with publishing despite being informed of the errors in the Times piece by Galloway's office.

The Sun's leader was as follows:

YET again Britain extends the hand of hospitality to a ranting Islamic madman who glorifies suicide attacks on us.

Bangladeshi cleric Delwar Hossain Sayeedi, who says we DESERVED the 7/7 atrocity, has been allowed to enter the country for a rally alongside vile George Galloway.

The Foreign Office’s “Islamic Issues” adviser Mockbul Ali insisted he should be heard.

Tony Blair said after 7/7 that “the rules of the game have changed”. Harsher measures were needed.

So we now have new laws against glorifying terrorism.

But why allow Sayeedi this golden opportunity to break them?

Why not just ban from our soil anyone with a track record of backing terror?

And here's today's apology, which is hidden from view, seeing as it isn't featured on the Sun's big news page:

CONTRARY to our reports (Ban this beast and Kill Brits’ Hate Cleric let into UK, July 15), we would like to make clear the Respect MP George Galloway was not scheduled to attend a rally or any other event alongside Islamist cleric Delwar Hossain Sayeedi.

We did not contact Mr Galloway before publication of this report.

We are happy to correct the record and apologise to Mr Galloway for the error.

In other words, the Sun is written by a bunch of lying and smearing fantasists who can't even make a story up properly. Another triumph for Rebekah Wade!

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Wednesday, August 02, 2006 

Arcs of extremism.

With the silly season just about ready to bite, the Mail and Sun have one of their opportunities to praise our valiant boys fighting for freedom in Iraq and Afghanistan. They way they go about doing so though is rather different.
For the Mail, it's time to bring out the black banner of bleakness to express just how distraught the paper is at so many pointless deaths, but alongside the downbeat headlines is the usual attack on Blair. What it doesn't tell you is that the Mail was behind the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan all the way. As for the situation in Beirut, it's been so horrific that since the conflict began 3 weeks ago the Mail has only felt it news worthy enough to give it space on the front page twice, once when British citizens stuck in Lebanon were fleeing, and for the second time on Monday in the aftermath of the Qana massacre. Other stories featured on the Mail's front page while the other papers worried about the Middle East were how it was hot enough to melt the roads, and that people were being advised not to rub in suncream.
The Sun goes for the other angle completely. While still using the photograph of Corporal Matthew Cornish with his children, it salutes Blair's speech given at the Los Angeles World Affairs Council, where he said "These are people of whom we should be very proud." Seeing as how those men in Iraq are losing their lives as a result of the lies told by Blair and his cronies that led directly to a unjustifiable and illegal war, he ought to know better.

His speech last night though proves otherwise. While both BSSC and the Nether-World have already fisked it and have probably done a better job than I would, there are certain parts that are such absolute rot that they need to be challenged.

There is an arc of extremism now stretching across the Middle East and touching, with increasing definition, countries far outside that region. To defeat it will need an alliance of moderation, that paints a different future in which Muslim, Jew and Christian; Arab and Western; wealthy and developing nations can make progress in peace and harmony with each other. My argument to you today is this: we will not win the battle against this global extremism unless we win it at the level of values as much as force, unless we show we are even-handed, fair and just in our application of those values to the world.

How far is this "arc of extremism" from the more notorious
"axis of evil"? Answer: not very far. Mr Blair makes the exact same mistake which countless others before him have made. He conflates the legitimate grievances of the likes of Hamas with the suicidal jihadis of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Iraq. This arc of extremism seems to contain Hizbullah, Hamas, Syria, Iran and the various insurgent groupings in Iraq. This is the kind of "clash of civilisations" type nonsense that leads to people seeing every single Muslim as a threat. Hamas, for all its threats and charter that calls for the destruction of Israel, wants a peace settlement and a viable Palestinian state. It was originally funded by Israel as a counter-weight to the secular fighters of the PLO, a coincidence similar to how the US and Britain funded the muhjadein in Afghanistan which became al-Qaida. Blair also ignores the sectarian differences between the various groupings. Hamas is a Sunni Muslim organisation; Hizbullah is Shia; al-Qaida is mainly Sunni, but also takes in Salafist beliefs which it shares with the rulers of Saudi Arabia. Hamas may want to set-up Sharia type law at some point in the future, but for now is quite happy to let the pseudo-liberalism which developed under Fatah to continue. Hizbullah similarly is not interested in the caliphate which al-Qaida wants to see established. The joining together of their separate and unique aims and ideologies helps no one, except those that are more than happy for Islam to be seen as incompatible with Western values.

As for the inclusion of Syria and Iran, is it really less than 4 years since Bashar al-Assad was given the red carpet treatment at Downing Street, as well as meeting the Queen? Have we forgotten so quickly Jack Straw's numerous visits to Teheran? It seems that Blair would like us to. Blair later returns to the two countries:
Fourth, we need to make clear to Syria and Iran that there is a choice: come in to the international community and play by the same rules as the rest of us; or be confronted.

Yet they are not being given this choice by the United States and America. They preach that Syria and Iran need to join the international community, but the two biggest and most influential nations on the world scene refuse to reach out to them in any way.
Instead it's being left to Germany to talk to Syria, while France claims that Iran is a stablising influence on the Middle East. Blair cannot have it both ways; either you make the effort to let them play by the "same rules", or you tone down the threatening rhetoric which helps no one.

Blair claims to be supporting "moderate Islam" and democracy. Would anyone call the type of Islam practiced and dictated by the rulers of Saudi Arabia moderate? Despite this, they escape all criticism, purely because of the pro-western stance of the Saudi royal family. This ignores how 11 of the September the 11th hijackers came from the country, how British citizens there were tortured and forced to confess to bomb attacks likely carried out by al-Qaida and how the propping up of the House of Saud may one day lead to a much more radical grouping emerging from the repression in the country to challenge for power. As for Iran, which at least has a semblance of democracy, Blair instead misquotes the Iranian President with the infamous "wiping Israel off the map" line, which was wrongly translated. There's no doubt that Amhadinejad is a hot-head anti-Semite, but to smear him is entirely wrong. He was elected mainly (and possibly fraudulently) on the back of his promise to redistribute oil wealth, something which he is yet to put in place. The democratically elected government of Hamas, which Blair claims is battling with moderates and extremists was boycotted and marginalised from day one for refusing to alter its charter and recognise Israel. The west is left being the same old hypocrite it always has been in the Middle East: only supporting democracy when the results suit its larger aims and goals.

There's still worse to come though. Once again Blair attempts to rewrite history with this whopping great lie over the war in Iraq.
The point about these interventions, however, military and otherwise, is that they were not just about changing regimes but changing the values systems governing the nations concerned. The banner was not actually "regime change" it was "values change".

How can anyone let Blair get away with such blatant untruths? The war in Iraq was justified on the basis that the country was a direct threat to the UK and UK interests with its weapons of mass destruction. They didn't exist. It was only in the last few days of the long campaign for public support for the war that Blair changed to emphasising the suffering of the Iraqi people. In reality Blair had long before signed himself up to the regime change banner which he now disowns.

The speech goes on in much the same vein for a long time. The only thing of any real worth in it is that Blair recognises that the Israel-Palestine conflict desperately needs to be resolved. It's only now, with the whole of the Middle East in such an unholy mess that he realises how badly that affects every other problem the region has. Despite all the spouting of values throughout the speech, the UK yesterday was still dedicated to watering down an EU statement from demanding an immediate ceasefire in Israel and Lebanon to instead saying that a cessation of violence was urgently needed. Israel today has gone on killing, with 19 civilians reported dead in air strikes around the eastern city of Baalbek. Hizbullah has responded by firing 190 missiles into Israel, showing just how its infrastructure has not been destroyed, despite Ehud Olmert's continuing claims to have done so. For every day that goes by, more die needlessly. It's a indictment of our values, which Blair wants to see spread throughout the Middle East that we are allowing this to continue.

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Tuesday, August 01, 2006 

Spooks without mouths.

In the unending battle to make as many members of the public fearful of brown men exploding in their vicinity as possible, today has seen the unveiling of the "official assessment of the threat of a terrorist attack". The threat level is calculated by taking into account "Available intelligence" (meaning the ramblings of the cranks and assorted weirdos which make up MI5's outside horse whisperers), "Terrorist capability" (meaning whether those who hate our freedom come to the inspired plan to smear ricin they don't have on doorknobs when it has to pierce the skin to be effective), "Terrorist intentions" (realising that the average jihadi is less likely to blow himself up in the middle of Epping forest than he is at a football game, for instance) and "Timescale" (meaning whether MI5 can tell how early the terrorists are getting out of bed on the morning of the destined day of attack).

Yes, I'm being rather glib. When faced with such nonsense clearly aimed at keeping the public scared and failing uniformly in its purposed role to help the average joe assess the level of genuine threat posed though, this system is second only to the American traffic-light like advice. If anything, the American system is actually less panicky, as it doesn't have the critical brown trousers time highest level which our political masters have deemed necessary. The other problem with the system is obvious: is the "threat" ever going to be lower than "substantial"? It seems highly unlikely.

Unfortunately for the government, it releases this system designed to frighten on the same day that the joint committee on human rights, containing both MPs and peers, has come to the conclusion that the security services urgently need a watchdog.

Our dependence on the spooks of 5 and 6 has in these troubled times increased to a greater degree even than that at the height of the threat from the IRA. Sadly, they show no signs of realising that they need to be accountable just like every other organisation dedicated to protecting the public. It's true that the bad old days, when MI5 thought that Jack Straw was a subversive purely because he was head of the National Union of Students at the tail-end of the 60s (he was New Labour like even back then) are gone, although in the more recent past in 1994 they were so concerned about Victoria Brittain (a former foreign associate editor of the Guardian, most recently wrote the play Guantanamo and co-wrote Mozzam Begg's memoir of his time there) that they were tapping her phone and considered breaking into her house to plant a bug, according to David Shayler. Craig Murray, in his memoir of his time in Uzbekistan, recalls how while staying with a friend in London he mentioned that he was minded to return to the country without getting medical clearance. Within hours he was receiving phone calls from the Foreign Office telling him that to do so would be a disciplinary offence. For an organisation that defends itself by saying it only monitors "subversives working to undermine democracy" such examples must be embarrassing.

Not as embarrassing for the government though as the current head of MI5's refusal to even appear before the commons joint committee on human rights. They wanted to question Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller about the refusal of the government and MI5 to make wire-tap evidence admissible in UK courts, as well as the agency's reliance on "intelligence" obtained via torture, and how much she knew about the US policy of "extraordinary rendition", jets involved in which having landed at airports across Britain. Her objection to even giving evidence in closed session seems increasingly at odds with organisations that once were so secretive that their existence was denied; today they openly advertise in the newspapers and online for recruits.

The questions the committee wanted to ask her are urgent and increasingly important. The ban on wire-tap evidence is based on MI5's insistence that to present such evidence to a jury would involve giving away their methods. This is despite such evidence being used routinely in the United States and other nations across the globe. It's also strange considering how evidence against the men accused of plotting to bomb the Ministry of Sound in London obtained via bugging or wire-tapping has been made freely available to the media. It makes you wonder whether those terrorist suspects that the government is so desperate to deport could be tried here if such evidence was made admissible, something which the government refuses to discuss or countenance. There's no doubting that is something the committee would have liked to have asked Buller. Craig Murray ably exposed how MI5 and 6 are using intelligence sourced from the torture chambers of countries such as Uzbekistan, as it is passed on to them from the CIA. Some lawyers consider the use of such "intelligence" to break international law. On rendition, the government refuses to comment any further, and as we've seen in recent days, the United States seems to be able to operate with impunity in our airspace, making the transporting of terror suspects to secret prisons through Britain even more likely.

The committee proposes "an "arm's length" body independent of government and the agencies, which would report to parliament." MI5 and SIS would almost certainly fight tooth and nail to stop from such a system from being put into place, and there are no signs that the government is willing to anger the spooks, even if they provide such duff intelligence that it results in innocent men being shot, their neighbours brutalised and houses torn to shreds. After all, they'll remember the plots against Harold Wilson. The arguments for such a watchdog though should are obvious. The police have the IPCC. The prison system has a independent inspector. Why should MI5 and SIS be any different? In the meantime, Richard Tomlinson, a former MI6 agent still being pursued by his former employees, has set up a database of known officers in an attempt to get the property taken from him back. For now it's about the most that is being done to hold these shadowy organisations to account.

Update: I just noticed that I accidentally posted this without any corresponding links. Doh. Fixed now.

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