Thursday, November 30, 2006 

Screwed by Inspector Knacker.

Guess who?

2006 is shaping up to be the News of the Screws' annus horribilis. It would be churlish and egotistical to claim that this is down to the curse of Obsolete - after Mazher Mahmood failed miserably in his attempt to stop George Galloway and various blogs from publishing his old photographs - but I'm going to anyway. Ever since Mahmood and Farrer & Co's pathetic legal attempt to silence bloggers, everything has gone tits up. Mahmood's reputation was further tainted when the "red mercury" trial ended with all the accused being acquitted; Tommy Sheridan emerged victorious from his libel trial, only for the Screws to very conveniently get a tape from a former friend of Sheridan's which they claim proves Sheridan committed perjury; then Clive Goodman, the utterly piss-poor Screws' royal editor was arrested, and yesterday pleaded guilty to tapping into Prince William's voicemail.

As well as exposing the shadier, hidden side of tabloid journalism, Goodman's arrest is significant in that the information he obtained was so underwhelming, the kind of banal crap that fills tedious tabloid diaries every day of the week. One of Goodman's exclusives was that Prince William had pulled a tendon - hold the front page! More humourously, the Screws wasn't paying just once for such groundbreaking stories; they were also funding Goodman's accomplice, former footballer Glenn Mulcaire, who did the dirty work, i.e. utilising the well-known voice mail hack which lets anyone phoning in the line have a go at guessing the owner's pin. Most don't change it from the default, leaving their messages easy pickings for snooping hacks and private dicks.

Hilariously, Obsolete's favourite national newspaper editor, Rebekah "Filth" Wade was apparently one of those who was targeted, one must assume by a rival newspaper, although the relationship between Andy Coulson, Screws editor and Wade is allegedly strained. It's often been suggested that Wade is not the sharpest tool in the shed, being ignorant of much outside her favourite topics - stringing up paedophiles and naming and shaming anyone who annoys her newspaper's sensibilities. Even by her standards though, this seems a schoolgirl error - Piers "Morgan" Moron mentions the voicemail trick in his diaries.

Not that anyone should feel any sympathy for Wade - for it seems to have been the voicemail trick which led to this year's earlier outting by force of Simon Hughes, which was accompanied by typically homophobic headlines and reports. Other victims are meant to have included Max Clifford, well known for his likeliness to the little packages left on the streets by dogs.

One can only hope that Goodman is handed a harsh sentence. There only seems to have been one case that could be argued was in the public interest - that of David Blunkett being exposed as having an affair with the Spectator publisher Kimberley Quinn, and even then only if it was affecting his ability to be Home Secretary, which is debatable, as it was after the break-up of the relationship that he in his words became clinically depressed. As the Guardian argues in its leader, what we have learned so far is likely only the tip of the iceberg. The tabloids especially are engaging in illegal methods in order to get background to their stories, whether it's from paying police, getting private detectives to do their dirty work, or blagging information from those with access to databases. Some of the smear jobs conducted on those arrested under terrorism laws seem incredibly likely to have been helped along by these factors. A custodial sentence might send a message that there are real consequences for those breaking privacy laws for less than noble causes. With the government's love for central sharing of information increasing, the situation can only get worse with time, especially as circulations continue to slump.

P.S. Would you believe that there is no mention of Goodman's guilty plea in today's Sun? The only mention of him found via the Sun's search engine is an online report that was put up yesterday, which presumably wasn't spiked as Wade doesn't have full editorial authority over the website.

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Wednesday, November 29, 2006 

Rendition: Those liars and their lies in full.

Unless we all start to believe in conspiracy theories and that the officials are lying, that I am lying, that behind this there is some kind of secret state which is in league with some dark forces in the United States, and also let me say, we believe that Secretary Rice is lying, there simply is no truth in the claims that the United Kingdom has been involved in rendition full stop, because we have not been, and so what on earth a judicial inquiry would start to do I have no idea. I do not think it would be justified. While we are on this point, Chairman, can I say this? Some of the reports which are given credibility, including one this morning on the Today programme, are in the realms of the fantastic.

-- Oral evidence given by Jack Straw to the Foreign Affairs committee on 13th of December 2005.

I, I have absolutely no evidence to suggest that anything illegal has been happening here at all, and I'm not going to start ordering inquires into this, that and the next thing when I've got no evidence to show whether this is right or not - and I honestly, and you know, it's like all this stuff about camps in Europe or something - I don't know, I've never heard of such a thing.
I can't tell you whether such a thing exists - because, er - I don't know.

-- Tony Blair speaking at his press conference on the 21st of December 2005.

We already knew that those camps that Tony Blair had "never heard of" existed, as George Bush was forced into admitting they did. Don't worry though, everyone in them was treated humanely, and they certainly weren't tortured.

The most curious thing about the whole rendition scandal is that the same government which didn't know anything about the CIA's fleet of planes and the ghost prisons across the globe, and hence, you would think, has then got nothing to hide, has been so determined to push the debate forward, as outlined in the leaked New Statesman memo. For a government that always dismisses civil liberties concerns with the old adage that "if you've got nothing to hide, you've got nothing to fear", it's odd that government ministers and advisers have been so thoroughly uncooperative with the EU investigation into rendition. If they didn't know anything, why would they do everything they possible could to obstruct and filibuster the Europe-wide inquiry?

The reason, as you've already guessed, is that the government is actually up to its neck in the scandal, as the draft EU report makes clear. Not only have there been another 100 flights linked conclusively to the rendition program which landed in the UK, but the report, drawn up by the Italian socialist MEP Giovanni Claudio Fava, who has received death threats for his trouble, also finds that the government did in fact know full well about the visits by our friends in the CIA. As well as lying about this, they then set out to do everything they could to both play down and ignore the questions asked of them by the committee set up by the EU.

Geoff Hoon, the hapless and hopeless Europe minister, is singled out for the strongest criticism after he adopted the "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil" approach when questioned by the committee. Sir Michael Wood, legal adviser to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, who you might remember from the Craig Murray documents, repeated the same assertion he made there, that information obtained through torture, as long as there was no "direct" involvement in the torture involved, was not illegal under international law. The "information" discussed in those documents was from the Uzbek security services, who among other methods, have been known to rape men and women with glass bottles in order to obtain confessions. The US State Department website page on Uzbekistan admits that "the police force and the intelligence service use torture as a routine investigation technique." That gives an insight into the mindset of those drawing up their considered legal opinions; they know full well how the information they receive is gotten, yet when it comes for them to give evidence to committees set up to investigate the kidnapping of European citizens, who are then taking to "black holes" and tortured, they refuse to even justify their opinions to them.

Perhaps most shocking, or perversely, actually predictably discomforting, is that the denial and no comment policy was adopted across the whole of the EU, making the whole organisation complicit. Nato's chief executive refused to give evidence. The EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana was also criticised for his lack of cooperation with the committee. The only conclusion that conceivably be came to is that the governments and their security services honestly thought that they would get away with it. One of the justifications used by Condoleezza Rice was that the United States had been "rendering" prisoners for decades, which is true, but not on anywhere near the scale as in the last five years, and neither had they then been tortured with the help of friendly foreign security services.

Whether the government's arrogance was down to the belief that anything can now be justified in the war on terror, or simply due to the belief that the CIA had covered their trails well enough doesn't really matter. After the system was exposed, instead of admitting to their role in allowing those kidnapped to be rendered, with CIA planes refueling in Britain, they instead denied all knowledge, and continue to deny all knowledge. Rather than condemning a practice that is clearly contrary to international law, they've simply said that they don't approve of it. Instead of investigations, we've had lies. This ought to be a front page reaching scandal. Ministers should be resigning. The sad fact is that in five short years, Britain has moved from laughably championing the benefits of an "ethical foreign policy" to turning a blind eye while men such as Binyam Mohammad endured "horrific torture" by proxy, with our own security services supplying information to "help". While those accused of being terrorists rot in Guantanamo Bay, the head of MI5 makes speeches about the terrorist threat that we've helped create, and like her colleagues refuses to give evidence to investigatory committees. Worst of all, we're letting them get away it.

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Tuesday, November 28, 2006 

Scum-watch: Forgiveness? What's that?

For all its disgust and anger at crime, one of the contradictions at the heart of the Sun is just how much it depends on the misery of others, especially those who have experienced tragedies, to sell newspapers. Naturally, all media organisations can be accused of this, and to an extent, they're giving the public what they want.

The Sun though has often taken this to extremes not normally seen in the institutionally uninhibited British press. Hillsborough is a case in point. While other newspapers made similar allegations to the Sun, none did so in the hysterical manner which infected that day's front page. They also quickly retracted the claims when it became clear that they were not true. It took Kelvin MacKenzie until 1993 to personally apologise, when in front of a parliamentary committee. The Sun itself didn't issue an unreserved apology until 2004 - and only then because Wayne Rooney had made the mistake of taking Murdoch's money for his non-existent life story.

More recently, the Sun's sensationalist accounts of serious crimes has again came under scrutiny. Reporting the case of Rochelle Holness, who was murdered by John McGrady, it alleged that McGrady had strapped Rochelle to a table and dismembered her with an electric saw while she was still alive. Holness had in fact been dead for 15 hours before she was dismembered, as a post-mortem established (the story was published before one had even been carried out) and there were no blood stains on the ceiling or walls of McGrady's flat. Their story was not only wrong and deeply hurtful, causing more pain to Holness's family, but the newspaper has so far failed to clarify the story. The article remains, uncorrected, on the Scum's website. Holness's family have apparently complained to the supine and servile Press Complaints Commission, but the case appears yet to be adjudicated. Another similarly disgusting report made the front page a couple of weeks ago, not to mention this summer's fiasco involving the "House of Horrors" which turned out to be nothing of the sort.

It's with all this in mind that we should approach today's Sun leader on the sentencing of the two teenagers found guilty of murdering Tom ap Rhys Pryce, the young lawyer who died only metres away from his house in west London.


Tom’s brave mum and dad are devout Christians.

After the murder, they somehow found it in their hearts to say they felt sorry for his killers who started off as decent kids but took a terribly wrong turn.

Their forgiveness is as awesome as it is humbling. But that must not stop the judge doing his job.

He must sentence the killers to life, with the longest possible minimum term before they can be released.

The public must know these thugs will never have another chance to treat life with such callous contempt.

In other words, they should be thrown away and forgotten about. If the Sun had its way, they would most likely spend the rest of their lives in prison. It's a sharp contrast even with the statement of ap Rhys Pryce's girlfriend, Adele Eastman, which is completely heartbreaking:
I very much doubt that as children, any of the hopes and aspirations they held for their future included killing a man, and yet here they stand convicted of that heinous crime. What happened along the way for them to become so cruel and hateful towards others, and at such a young age? What a huge waste of life - not just of Tom's but also of their own - years in prison for an Oyster card and a mobile telephone. How, on any level, could it have been worth it for them?

There are no more tomorrows here for me and Tom, and all of our hopes and dreams have been brutally torn away. I just hope that there is something better for us on the other side. In the meantime, just as hate and bitterness had no place in Tom's life, neither will they in his memory. I am determined to ensure, along with many others, that as much good as possible comes out of this horrific tragedy, so that I can say to Tom when I see him again, as I believe I will, "That was the most agonising experience of my life, but everything that you worked so hard to achieve, and everything of you that you left behind was cherished and built upon to touch the lives of others in the way you would have wanted - and it was all done out of our great love for you."

Fine words, but also followed up by fine actions, for Ms Eastman, ap Rhys Pryce's parents and Linklater's, Pryce's employers, have set up a memorial trust dedicated to helping disadvantaged children.

The judge, rather than giving in to the whims of the persecutors in chief at the top of the Sun, gave an appropriate sentence in the circumstances. Both men have been sentenced to life in prison, with Brown ordered to serve at least 17 years, with Carty serve 21. Whether either will even be released then is anybody's guess. While neither of the men appear to have shown any true remorse, they now have almost the same length of time as they've already been alive to dwell on their crimes. In line with the families' belief in forgiveness, they will most likely at some point be given another chance to prove their worth to society. A harsher sentence, as demanded by the Sun, would have meant that neither would have had to face up to their crime in order to be released. Instead, it would have left them with little hope of ever being set free, and so with no reason to bother to change their ways. While the Sun cannot forgive, the humanity of those who actually experience crime instead of just profiting from it shows through.

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Monday, November 27, 2006 

It's the most miserable time of the year...

Spotted tonight: the first Christmas tree actually set-up in a house, with lights on.

Someone fucking shoot me.

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Sleepwalking into the arms of busybodies.

I try not to stray into hyperbole, or scaremonger for no good reason. That's their job. As you might expect, there is now a huge but coming. But, you have to wonder if in years to come they'll look back and decide if 2006 was the tipping point when Britain became a true surveillance state. Let's face it, when that friend of authoritarians everywhere, David Blunkett, starts speaking out, something has to be wrong.

POLICE and councils are considering monitoring conversations in the street using high-powered microphones attached to CCTV cameras, write Steven Swinford and Nicola Smith.

The microphones can detect conversations 100 yards away and record aggressive exchanges before they become violent.

The devices are used at 300 sites in Holland and police, councils and transport officials in London have shown an interest in installing them before the 2012 Olympics.

Right. In the best possible circumstances then, police might be able to get to the scene of a fight slightly quicker. They're unlikely to be able to break it up before it starts. While the first thought for why they're thinking of installing them prior to 2012 must be in case a jihadist decides to discuss his martyrdom with his fellow bombers before they proceed to explode with extreme prejudice, it also occurs that they might be interested in them for other reasons. Like making sure that those unsightly inhabitants of any big city, beggars, the homeless and prostitutes, are tucked away out of sight and out of mind, away from the shining regenerated smiling happy new East End of London. Not that properly regulated women of the night will necessarily be prohibited;
Athens did exactly that prior to their games. The article continues:

Derek van der Vorst, director of Sound Intelligence, the company that created the technology, said: “It is technically capable of being live 24 hours a day and recording 24 hours a day. It really depends on the privacy laws in a particular country.”

The possibilities are endless for snoopers. It also has depressing echoes of 1984, when O'Brien plays back tapes of Winston and Julia making love out in the countryside, where they thought they were safe.
Thank God then for possibly the least likely knight in shining armour in the country sticking his oar in:

But the former home secretary David Blunkett called publicly on the government to block the scheme.

He told BBC Radio Five Live's Weekend News programme that the suggestion was "simply unacceptable", and smacked of the "surveillance state".

"As you walk down the street you expect to be able to have a private conversation," he said.

"If you can't guarantee that - and here is someone speaking who has been pretty tough in terms of what should be available to protect society - I believe we have slipped over the edge."

Not that the government will take the word of one authoritarian over another - if John Reid wants it, no doubt we'll get it.

Then there's the police themselves to worry about. With the politics of terrorism increasingly becoming a party political issue, thanks partly to the government and partly to the screams of the tabloids, demands that once would have been dismissed out of hand suddenly become attractive to a home secretary determined to make the opposition look soft due to their stance.
We've seen Ian Blair time and again demand 90 day detention without trial, even when the Attorney General himself has said that he's seen no evidence to back up such a lengthy time period, and that's a year after the government first attempted to ram it through parliament.

According to the Grauniad, the ever reactionary plod have even more radical and draconian plans than yet seen. Tarique Ghaffur, assistant Met commissioner,
who has already recommended that flag burning and the wearing of masks be banned, has drawn up his own wish list for Lord Goldsmith to cast his eye over.

Police are to demand new powers to arrest protesters for causing offence through the words they chant and the slogans on their placards and even headbands.

Great. And what's the justification for such a chilling imposition on freedom of expression?

Mr Ghaffur has previously advocated banning flag burning. But this document would take the police a lot further. Mr Ghaffur says there is a "growing national and international perception" that the police have been too soft on extremist protesters, which has led to rising anger across the country. "The result has been to create an imbalance in public perception that is manifesting itself in passionate responses from elements of the community not traditionally given to publicly protesting. What we are seeing in effect is a rise in the politicisation of middle England and the emergence of a significant challenge for capital city policing."

The entire basis for potentially criminalising what are harmless and typical chants on protests is the chestnut the police have come to adore, the extremists. There have been a maximum of 3 protests which have caused widespread publicity this year by well-known extremists: the first, in February, in the aftermath of the controversy of the Danish Mohammad cartoons, involving less than 500 people, where protesters clearly incited murder, with the result of one man being convicted; the second, when
Anjem Choudary and other usual suspects, numbering less than 100, protested outside a Catholic church shortly after the Pope's quoting of a Byzantine emperor, with Choudary suggesting that the pontiff could be subject to capital punishment, although he did not say he should be executed; and the third, when a similar number of protesters made their feelings known outside the Old Bailey during the trial of Mizanur Rahman.

The protests have caused offense, the first one rightly so, and the second one predictably. The hole in Mr Ghaffur's argument is that one of those on the February protest has been successfully prosecuted under current laws; others are likely to follow. As Not Saussure also argues, this isn't about "Middle England" being politicised, it's about the Sun screaming about the "faces of evil" who dare to use their right to protest. The media's focusing and reliance on getting the views of extremists, who represent absolutely no one within the wider Muslim community, has to share part of the blame for the rising levels of Islamophobia.

The police want powers to tackle a "grey area" in the array of public order laws. At present, causing offence by itself is not a criminal offence.

God, causing offence hasn't been criminalised yet? New Labour have been slacking off. Criminalising causing offence in any way whatsoever is a recipe for absolute disaster. How can you justify criminalising extremist groups' banners and chants, without at the same time cracking down on the BNP? How can you legislate without at the same time potentially limiting the right of comedians to free speech? Many people find the stand-up routines of Roy "Chubby" Brown and Bernard Manning offensive. Creating an offence of causing offence would be a meddlesome busybodies dream. It could also be used both ways; the Sun might rejoice that the tiny bunch of extremists are stopped from covering their faces and saying that the Pope could theoretically be executed, but somehow I get the feeling it might feel the opposite if "politically correct killjoys" started targeting page 3 for offending women.

The document continues: "Is the sand shifting in our collective viewpoint around what constitutes 'causing offence'? Equally, we need to have a clearer determination of current community perceptions around what 'public offence' actually means. We also need to think more laterally around how we police public demonstrations where 'offence' could be caused, while still respecting the British position around freedom of speech."

The document, entitled "The widening agenda of public demonstrations and radicalisation", says Islamic extremists have learned how to cause offence without breaking the law. It also reveals that the government has yet to implement the bill outlawing religious hatred which received royal assent in February. It says that the law may prove useless against extremists: "Virtually all activity by protesters could constitute insulting or abusive language, behaviour or banners towards particular religions, but
would fall outside the remit of inciting religious hatred."

The police then want to have their cake and eat it. They recognise that virtually all demonstrations could be considered insulting and abusive, but Ghaffur seemingly wants to bring in a new law anyway. Their real reasoning might actually be that they want to remove all nuances; after all, it's really difficult to tell the difference between inciting murder and calling someone a murderer. Rule of thumb for all plods: calling Blair, for example, a murderer, is perfectly ok. Calling for Blair to be murdered, especially if he is to be beheaded, or killed in a suicide bombing, is not ok.

To give Ghaffur his due, his heart and motives may be in the right place. His concern could be that letting the current situation continue, with extremists causing outrage among those who don't much respect the right to protest in the first place, could well lead to more mosques and hijab-wearing women being attacked as a result by knuckledragging idiots.

The consequences of such a ban though would be multiple.
As Not Saussure again points out, we've already had a young woman wearing a "Bollocks to Blair" t-shirt arrested, as was another young man for suggesting that a police horse was gay. Protests normally involve robust denunciations of politicians, suggesting that they're the real terrorists, for example. Companies are oft accused of having blood on their hands. Both could be under threat for causing offence. If such a law was put in place, you may as well ban all protests throughout the country without prior permission, as is the current situation within a mile of parliament. This might make Ghaffur happy; those planning to attend could in advance tell the police what they intend to chant or show on placards, which the police could then check before giving the ok. Nanny knows best.

As ever, the best argument against such a potential ban is that every additional power given to the police is inevitably abused. Section 44 of the Terrorism Act has become notorious after Walter Wolfgang was refused re-entry to the Labour party conference. Stalking laws have been used against repeat protesters. If the police want to do something, they'll find a law they can justify it under.

OK, you might be saying, but parliament wouldn't let such potentially draconian laws be passed. The answer to that is that we sadly and simply can't rely on that being the case. The recent vote on the setting up of an inquiry into the Iraq war was a case in point:
the government got off the hook through sheer cowardice, by attacking the nationalists who got the debate in the first place. Voting with them would be betrayal, they said, along with potentially undermining the troops, a disgustingly mendacious argument when inquiries have on numerous occasions in the past been set-up during times of war.
Even with Labour MPs being the most rebellious ever, some will always abstain rather than face the wrath of the whips or their colleagues for helping defeat the government.

Such potential legislation then needs to be vigorously opposed before it even gets near the House of Commons. Write to your MP, write to your local council, write to your local newspaper, write to members of the House of Lords. Better yet, join Liberty. It's better to be unnecessarily concerned and do something about it than wait until it's too late.

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I got a bone to pick...

Walking through the glorious cornucopia which is the local shopping mall at this time of year, it's impossible to avoid the hawking calendar stalls, filled with the glossy machinations of whichever page 3 girl or hot-bodied celebrity the public most wishes to jump. What you don't generally expect to find is the err, "official" Che Guevara 2007 calendar:

This bizarre creation is produced by those nice people over at Pyramid Posters, who as well as printing calendars featuring a Marxist revolutionary, also make a pretty penny from selling posters, badges, stickers, keychains, postcards and prints all featuring the familiar cliched but iconic pose of the man.

Over on the licensing page, Pyramid explains it all:

We take our brands and license responsibilities very seriously. Pyramid Posters are one of the founder members of TRAP (Trademarks and Rights holders Against Piracy) and are also a member of LIMA (Licensing Industry Merchandisers' Association).

Whether Che would have approved is uncertain. In 2000, Alberto Korda, who took the photograph, went to court against Smirnoff to stop them using Che's image in an advertisement. Korda, who died the following year, most likely left the image rights to his sons. Korda said at the time:
"As a supporter of the ideals for which Che Guevara died, I am not averse to its reproduction by those who wish to propagate his memory and the cause of social justice throughout the world, but I am categorically against the exploitation of Che's image for the promotion of products such as alcohol, or for any purpose that denigrates the reputation of Che"

When your photograph is sitting next to a calendar of Jordan, I'd say that capitalism hasn't so much turned your image into a commodity, as metaphorically dug up your corpse, rooted it, gave a number of bones to a passing dog, then buried it unmarked.

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Saturday, November 25, 2006 

Those little Wikipedia monkeys...

For anyone else still smarting from having watched Esther Rantzen's witless appearance on Thursday's Question Time, where she made Denis MacShane look like Noam Chomsky by comparison, someone saw the red mist long enough to edit her Wikipedia entry:

On 23rd November 2006 Rantzen appeared on Question Time, where she abused the memory of World War Two and the Holocaust by attempting to draw a parallel between Saddam Hussein and Adolf Hitler. She made the ludicrous assertion that in both the Second World War and the Iraq War, the consequences of inaction were likely to have been worse than action, a statement refuted utterly by the carnage that has ensued in Iraq. It has been speculated that the moustache shared by both of the aforementioned men may have caused her the confusion.

She also justified the utterly disproportionate Israel-Hizbullah-Lebanon war, saying the fault lay entirely with Hizbullah, and that
Israel was surrounded by nations that wanted to destroy it. Maybe she should tell that to the 24 civilians who have now died since the war from setting off unexploded cluster bombs. A British man helping an international team clear them also today had to have his leg amputated after stepping on one.

Update: It's since been removed. Boo. Discussion page here.

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Blair's "socialist" contracts.

One of Blair's other current feats of logic.

After 9 years of Labour, you would have thought that they'd got the crackpot headline grabbing schemes out of their system. In the past we've suffered from the possibility of the police marching "yobs" to ATMs in order to pay on the spot fines; it never materialised. Neither, thankfully, has "Sarah's law", as demanded by the News of the Screws, which was almost certain to lead to suspected paedophiles being strung up by their testicles from the nearest lamp-post.

Well, if you did believe that, then here's Mr Blair's so-called policy review to prove you wrong. Apparently convinced the public is lapping up their continued devotion to the idea behind "rights 'n' responsibilities", Labour's great new big idea appears to be the "social contract". The notion behind it, as explained by the Grauniad article is thus:

Examples include an expectation that a local health authority will only offer a hip replacement if the patient undertakes to keep their weight down. Parents might also be asked to sign individually tailored contracts with a school setting out what the parents must do at home to advance their child's publicly-funded education.

The review is likely to examine fundamentally the future relationship between citizen and state. The public service commission has been asked to consider "whether it is possible to move from an implicit one-way contract based on outputs, to one based on explicit mutually agreed outcomes". It asks "should we be aiming for a more explicit statement of the contract that covers both the service offered by the public sector (what is in and what is not) and what is expected from citizens (beyond paying taxes and obeying the law)". It also asks "whether these explicit and binding contracts could work not just for individuals and communities".

Filter out all the jargon, and what this essentially comes down to is that the government doesn't trust you to keep your end of the bargain. Apparently, instead of simply being expected not to break the law and pay your taxes, we have to do more. The state is doing all these wonderful things for us, and are we grateful? No, we're still as petulant and incalcitrant as ever. As we've already discovered this week, Labour especially doesn't like the way those either critical or indifferent towards it are going.

It seems to be the sure sign that Labour has completely run out of ideas. Thrashing about, trying desperately to come up with something both noteworthy and radical, it's instead a bizarre hybrid, something almost entirely meaningless but which also has sinister overtones. What could be more vacuous than a useless piece of paper agreement that you'll do something to make yourself a better citizen? At the same time, it signals a change in the relationship between the individual and the state. No longer does it seem can you just aimlessly but merrily work your way through life, going to school, getting a job, paying taxes, starting a family, etc, oh no. Now you have to sign on the dotted line and say that you solemnly promise that you won't let your children grow up to hang around on street corners, frightening the old folk. Want to use the maternity ward at the hospital? Fine, but first you have to say you won't smoke or get pissed while little Johnny is growing inside you. Want to protest outside parliament? Sure, but before you do, you have to ask that nice Commissioner Blair for his permission.

We had to sign something very similar to this at school. We had to promise that we wouldn't be late, that we'd wear the correct uniform, that we wouldn't swear at the teachers and that we'd do all our homework like good little girls and boys. Everyone signed it. Did anyone stick to it? Did they hell. It was a pointless exercise because there was no comeback on it. Even if there hadn't been the contract you still would have been punished for doing all the things you promised you wouldn't.

That right there is Blair's plan. It looks earnest and polite, yet like everything about New Labour, underneath the surface it stinks of old-fashioned authoritarianism. What do they honestly think such contracts will achieve? Will anybody take any notice of them? Of course not. If there was anything behind it, it would need to be backed up by real consequences, but if such consequences were there, it would mean the government removing services from perfectly law-abiding hard-working citizens. I may be taking this too seriously, but it almost seems to be designed to nip in the bud the difference between people, to root out individuality. It's society OK, but with Blairism stamped all over it. What a great potential legacy for the Dear Leader.

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Thursday, November 23, 2006 

David Cameron: Yeah, he's still an idiot...

Kids, David Cameron likes you. He wants to be friends with you. He knows where you hang out. He wants to be like you. A little like that strange old guy in the duffel coat who hangs around by the swings. Smells like old wet newspaper, probably has a drink problem. Like that guy, Cameron just wants to be loved; that he comes across to everyone else as being a strange man that you should never ever go off with doesn't occur to him.

Hence his fatuous, hilarious attempt on Comment is Free to get down with kids. As part of the launching of, he's come up with the biggest load of stringed together nonsense you may ever read in your life. It quickly becomes apparent that he doesn't have the slightest clue what he's talking about.

Right now, our political culture is undergoing unprecedented transformation. The old answers will not work in a new age, and political parties need to understand the forces that are stirring within society if they are to keep being relevant.

Yes, you've figured it out. We don't like being lied to. Congratulations.

There are two fundamental and mutually dependent factors that are contributing to this shift. First, we are in the early stages of the internet revolution, and evolving with it is a whole new age of political communication and engagement. A generation of people is rejecting more traditional mediums and forms of interaction in favour of an environment where they are in control.

Before, politicians and the mainstream media believed that when we talked people listened. Now, there are 57m blogs - that means 57m new newspaper editors. Every minute, 15 new user-generated videos are uploaded on to YouTube - that means 450 new news items during the time of an evening news bulletin.

Have you ever actually read a blog Dave, other than perhaps Iain Dale's or ConservativeHome? Why don't you click the next blog button up there at the top of this page and see where it takes you? I just clicked it about 20 times and not a single one of the blogs was about politics. Millions of those blogs may have been started, then probably never updated again. The amount who write about politics and update daily or even every other day is miniscule. The vast majority are full of personal vanity crap, the stuff that only their friends would ever be interested in. And yes, I realise that I'm a horrible hypocrite.

As for YouTube, well, just go to the home page. The top featured video currently is:
Yea im double jointed in alot parts of my body and idk i found out some of the weird stuff i can do decided to record it and not really proud of it so i wore some weird mask i found in my room....enjoy

99% of the videos are pure crap. Surely your advisers told you this, right Dave? You might want to hug these people uploading their cat falling into a pond, but they don't want to embrace you in return.

People are talking back, and as much as this is exciting and liberating, it is also a challenge. Politicians need to find new ways to communicate with this ever-expanding political class, and work with them to find the best solutions to the problems in our country.

Second, and linked to this, we need to understand that young people are not disengaging themselves from the political arena. In fact, the reality is that they are getting more involved than ever before. Social networks such as MySpace and Bebo bring together people not through common geography, but through common interest.

Again Dave, have you ever looked at MySpace or Bebo? They're the equivalent of a new layer of hell. Every single fucking person thinks it's a brilliant idea to have a song on their page which blasts out at you, making you both jump a mile and want to strangle them at the same time. Animated GIFs also seem a brilliant idea; it's like we've gone back to the days of Geocities. Plus, they don't bring people together through common interest; they're purely there for those who know each other in real life or at school to share their photographs, where they're going out, etc.

Right, so we've established that you don't know what you're talking about, can we get to the point now?

This week, we will be launching "sort-it", an innovative and provocative internet-based campaign designed to encourage young people to think about their own social responsibilities. The first issue we have chosen is personal debt, but many more will be addressed in the months ahead, such as racism and homelessness.

Well innovative and provocative it certainly is. Cameron and his old buddies in PR have got some poor perma-tanned guy to wear an outlandish suit to represent how he's the "tosser" inside young people, the instinct to splash the cash and worry about it later. Presumably tosser is used as "wanker" is just that bit too rude. As with everything that comes out of Cameron's mouth, he and they haven't thought this through. Their thinking seems to be thus:

Hey kids, we want you to engage and listen with us, but first you've got to prove just how responsible you are! Do you spend money like water? Do you snort cocaine, a drug that impoverishes and makes the lives of people in other countries miserable? Do you need some help? Well, we can provide that, but first we've got to point out just what a tosser you are! Sort yourself out! We may be old, not know anything about anything and all have directorships with the companies that give you the credit, but that doesn't mean we can't offer you hopeless advice when you'd be better off going to the Citizens Advice Bureaux!

Dave leaves us with some of his favourite mysticism:

There is an old Chinese proverb: "Tell me and I will forget. Show me, and I will remember."

Or there's that other one: Go to bed with itchy bum. Wake up with sticky finger.

You know Dave, instead of trying to get into bed with all the young people you so obviously adore, you could perhaps do your job as leader of the opposition. Such as challenging Blair to bring the troops home from Iraq instead of just holing them up in a barracks where every passing jihadi or Ba'athist can come and plant IEDs and mortar the base. What we actually had was Hague doing his Churchillian "we shall not be moved" act, wondering whether even this pathetic half-measure withdrawal might encourage those opposed to the British presence to up their attacks. You could demand that there be a free vote on Trident renewal, as Jack Straw tonight said that the vote would be whipped. Oh, I forgot, your line is that it must be renewed, even if it costs £75 billion, so we can expect that free will won't reign on your side either. You could go against the instincts of your party and pledge to introduce proportional representation, which really would give the power back to the people, giving them the opportunity for their voice to actually be heard and their vote counted. What we have now is a government elected with a large majority, when only 22% of the electorate voted for them. We deserve better than this.

Get the picture Dave? No one's going to vote for you based on how much you want to shag their leg, like a too friendly Jack Russell. They care about policies, how you're going to be different to Labour. Your speech last night about Brown and Reid playing politics with terrorism was a lot better than this woe-begotten shambles. In your own words, sort it out.

Related (and better) posts:
Ministry of Truth - Bunch of Tossers
Guido - Who is the real inner tosser?

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Wednesday, November 22, 2006 

Scum-watch: Various bits and bobs.

Warning: Hardly any of the links on this post are safe for work, or in some cases, life itself.

Looks like Murdoch forgot to tell Wade that the deal with OJ Simpson was off. Despite two puff-pieces about the show and book appearing in the Scum, one of which has a lot of what looks highly like exclusive material, there's been no report of Murdoch's statement on Monday, cancelling both.

More stupidity occurred when the Sun, splashing on the setting up of a website naming those who are being sought for failing to comply with notification requirements under the 2003 Sexual Offences act, used the headline "PERVHUNT.COM". It never crossed their minds to actually buy that domain and link it to the actual page, so one of the wags on did instead. They then directed it to, where 3 barely legal 18-year-old ladies profile themselves. Says Danni:

Do you have a tattoo?
Yes, I have the Chinese symbol for angel on my lower back

Aww! How sweet! does now actually point to the proper page, and with listing 4 changes to its history since the 17th, it seems likely that some hard cash was exchanged in order for Wade's blushes to be spared, although they quickly changed the rookies page URL.

Keeping with the theme of sickening exploitation, the Sun currently has an advert for its pervtastic page 3 idol competition alongside the "news" that Rose West has been err, eating some food in prison.

On the page itself:
GIRLS! Don't forget to enter our Page 3 Idol contest.

The winner nets a Sun modelling deal, exotic photoshoot and £5,000.

To enter, post a pic of yourself topless or in bikini to Page 3 Idol, The Sun, 1 Virginia St, London E98 1SN. Or email to

Give your name, age and daytime number. You must be 18 or over and silicone-free. Every usable entry will be posted on our website.

To see our new contestants visit

Welcome then to the sleaziest and cheapest leering lads competition in Britain. And they can't only view pages and pages (I count 40, with more yet to come) of young women undressing for a national newspaper with the distant prospect of winning a paltry £5,000, you can also go and see them do it live, in a Miss World type competition where the swimsuit contest turns into one involving wet t-shirts instead:

In addition to this, far be it from me to suggest that some of the girls might lie about their age, but there doesn't seem to be much of a safeguard against under-age teenagers sending in photographs of themselves in a state of undress. That would be awful, wouldn't it, the self-proclaimed scourge of paedophiles everywhere hosting photographs of under-age girls on her newspaper's website. Let's hope to God that doesn't happen.

Not content with giving over their page 3 site to all and sundry who wish to send in out of focus photographs of their sacks of fat, the page also encourages women everywhere to sign up to MySun, and get them out there too!

We want YOU to appear on MY Sun!

IF you're a Page 3 wannabe then you can post your profile online right now.

Publish your picture on our superb community site MY Sun and get other readers to read your blog, comment on you and spark debates about whatever you fancy.

To join in now, all you have to do is click here.

Ah yes, MySun. This is the Scum's attempt to build a MySpace style community around its newspaper. Like the newspaper (and, like MySpace) it's a collection of the banal, the bullshit and the bastards. Today's profile of the day is "Jennerotic", whose photograph seems to show the 23-year-old laying very close to her webcam. Naked. Her latest blog post, which will no doubt soon be a rival to Comment is Free for well-developed and involved political argument, is titled, Shall I have more cake........?

NOW.... After a nice long hot, soapy bath I've come to a decision of either having some cake or not? I know it (sic) late but it just tastes sooooooo great. So I'd thought I'll celerbrate (sic) ....

Faced with a photograph of Jennerotic coming out of the shower, her modesty protected by a towel, the salivating one-handed hordes on MySun get stuck in:

Hi Jennerotic, can I borrow that towel for a minute? ;)

You look well fit. Please, please, please post more piccies. Are you on Page 3 Idol?

Posted by: Badboy on November 22, 2006 at 11:35:48 AM

Ambassador, with this towel pic you are really teasing us! Can we have the pictures without the towel now?

Posted by: chucky on November 22, 2006 at 04:57:08 PM

Get back in the shower, I'll be there in 5 minutes :))

Posted by: MikeyMouse on November 22, 2006 at 07:50:50 PM

Away from the delights of Jennerotic, the current top discussion on MySun is the deeply thoughtful:
Who is the fittest soap babe on telly?

And as for the blog of the week:

Cornishcream is another of our Page 3 Idol contestants hoping to get a Sun modelling deal. Will she get your vote?

Maybe not, but she might get her fair share of wads, judging by her posted photographs. Badboy puts in another appearance, commenting on cornishcream's baps:

I am officially in love with you. You are so sexy and gorgeous! Where are the pics of your bum I asked for!? You've got to keep your public entertained, you know? ;) Very nice...

Posted by: Badboy on November 22, 2006 at 11:46:23 AM

Finally then, it's time for another of the Sun's favourite rituals, apart from the one alluded to above. Yes, it's BBC bashing time!

The bent BBC

THE BBC parades itself as a bastion of impartial news broadcasting.

Indeed this dubious claim forms part of its bid for a giant rise in funding.

Now we know better.

The Beeb is offering staff cash-for-questions to embarrass the government.

Staff can earn a £100 bounty for new angles on the honours saga.

What an insult. It’s not even enough to pay the new licence fee.

Well, err, yeah, they were, for oh, a whole couple of hours, before they withdrew the offer, realising that it was in their words, inappropriate. How completely unlike the Sun, which on its own website urges readers to text, phone and send in their own pictures of the day's news, with the illustrative mobile flashing the £ just to get the message across. We could also mention Rebekah Wade's confession to a parliamentary committee that she had paid police officers for information, but that would be unfair. Similarly, it would be entirely uncalled for to point out that the Sun was the newspaper which most echoed the government's line on the Iraq war. Or, for instance, how Fox News is about as fair and balanced as a banana. That the Sun still gets away with its shameless attacks on the BBC when BSkyB just cynically scuppered attempts by NTL to take control of ITV, further enhancing Murdoch's grip on the British media, shows just how much power we've already given away to this unelected, unaccountable Australian-American megalomaniac.

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What's the difference between the death of one Lebanese politician and the deaths of over 1000 Lebanese civilians?

The murder of Pierre Gemayel, Lebanese industry minister and a leading critic of Syria's role in the country, as well as being the son of the former president, is a shocking crime that has rightly been condemned by all sides, including by Syria.

What a sharp contrast it makes though with the reactions of both Tony Blair and Margaret Beckett to the events this summer, when Israel launched air strikes across Lebanon in response to the Hizbullah abduction of two Israeli soldiers, which resulted in the deaths of over 1,000 Lebanese civilians, the destruction of 74 bridges and 94 roads and an environmental disaster after the bombing of Jiyeh power station, which leaked 20,000 to 30,000 tonnes of oil into the Med. The UN has put just the initial clean-up bill at $64 million.

It took 12 days for Tony Blair to even so much as say that he wanted the killing to stop. Before then, Beckett, when asked whether she thought Israel's response was disproportionate, said that she "didn't think it was helpful to get into that." Only when it became apparent that Israel was not achieving its objectives, and that the whole international community apart from the United States, the UK and Israel wanted an immediate unconditional ceasefire, was a UN resolution finally passed, on August the 11th, nearly exactly a month after the beginning of the conflict.

Blair said:

We condemn this murder utterly. It is completely without any justification at all. We need to do everything we can, particularly at this moment, to protect democracy in Lebanon and the premiership of Prime Minister Siniora.

How strange that it's only now that he wants to protect democracy and Siniora. The destruction of a large swath of southern Lebanon has been the catalyst for the current turmoil which Lebanon is experiencing. While Siniora appeared on TV screens daily, pleading for an end to the violence, questioning whether "an Israeli teardrop was worth more than a drop of Lebanese blood", Blair and Beckett refused to stand up for Lebanese democracy.

Whether Syria carried out the assassination needs to be urgently investigated. It's worth wondering however just how Syria would benefit from a renewed surge of finger-pointing at them, just as the country appears to be regaining its stature within the region. The Iraq Study Group seems likely to recommend that the US at least starts talks with both Syria and Iran in an attempt to find a way out of the impasse in Iraq. Syria has just re-established diplomatic ties with Iraq after 24 years. Iran's president has invited his counterparts from Iraq and Syria to a conference this weekend. At the same time, two weeks ago the US suggested that Iran and Syria were plotting a coup in Lebanon, and Hizbullah has almost succeeded in bringing down the Sinioria government, after leaving the cabinet and taking other Shia representatives with them.

As Juan Cole notes, Lebanon has in a sense become the new Middle East experiment for the neo-cons and interventionists led by Bush and Blair. The assassination of Hariri, whether it was carried out by Syria or not, led to the Syrians' withdrawal. Ever since, the nascent democracy in Lebanon has been supported to the hilt by the West, as part of the strategy to isolate both Iran and Syria. Where the real sympathies lie though was exposed by the Israel-Lebanon-Hizbullah war. While the US expected that Israel would destroy Hizbullah in double-quick time, humiliating the Shias and further diminishing Iran and Syria's influence, the opposite happened. While Lebanon itself took the damage of the war, Hizbullah were strengthened immeasurably, winning the support of the Arab street and leading Nasrallah to demand more power for his previously unpopular terrorist organisation.

Gemayel's assassination is only the latest salvo in what is an increasingly bloody situation which is engulfing the Middle East. Whether his assassination turns out to be another Hariri moment remains to be seen. Either way, it shows how the Iraq war has rather than made the region safer and more secure as promised, has instead had the effect of pouring petrol onto an already lit bonfire.

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Tuesday, November 21, 2006 

Hi, we're going to bomb your house in 15 minutes....

Palestinians outside a house which the residents were warned was going to be bombed.

It's 10:30pm, and you're about to go to sleep. Suddenly, the telephone rings. Not expecting anyone to be calling you, you nevertheless answer it, after 4 rings.

It's a man who says that he's a representative of France's military intelligence. He asks you to listen very carefully, because this is the only warning you're going to get. He explains that within 15 minutes, your home is going to be destroyed. His justification for this is like a multiple choice question. Either you're a terrorist, or a terrorist sympathiser, or whether you're aware or not, there's a tunnel beneath your house which is being used to smuggle weapons, or to store them. He says that this phone call is designed to make sure that everyone gets out before the missiles strike your home, to avoid unnecessary casualties. He says once again that you have 15 minutes, then he hangs up.

Understandably, your mind is reeling. You know you have to take the warning of the French man deadly seriously. That doesn't stop you from being rooted to the spot, however. It occurs to you that every second you're standing here, frozen, is another second lost. Your synapses are working overtime. Within moments, your house, that you might have saved for years for, that you're so close to finishing paying the mortgage off on, is going to be nothing more than a pile of rubble. Then there's your possessions. What can you possibly save within 15 minutes? Your photographs of your children, your parents, those ornaments that contain numerous memories, all the sentimental things that aren't worth anything but that make you who you are, are about to be destroyed. Then there's all your vanity items that you've collected over the years, all the things you don't really need but that you must have anyway, like that flat screen LCD TV, your brand new dual core PC, all your music, your DVDs. Your antique furniture you inherited.

Before you realise it, you've been sitting on your bed with your head in your hands for five minutes. You've got 10 left, maybe 20, if what you've known of previous attacks on houses by the French is repeated again. Do you run, tell your wife, wake up your kids, grab as much as you can in the fast slipping away seconds, and get outside? Or is there a way to stop this? The French would probably get away with killing you and your family, if you decided to make the futile gesture of accepting your fate, even if you're not guilty. What if however, you ran up and down your street, telling all your neighbours what's about to happen? Would they be prepared to fill your house, or get on the roof and make it obvious that to attack your dwelling is an attack on all of their lives? Could they possibly cope with the backlash from the media photographs of all those bodies of innocent men and women, limbs strewn throughout the debris, with your 5-year-old daughter miraculously surviving, left without parents and siblings? Would they win the resulting argument over whether the actions of those on the ground constitute the use of innocent human shields by terrorists, even if they were defending the home of their neighbour with their bodies completely of their own accord?

Replace French with Israel in the above, and more or less, you have the situation faced by the Palestinians over the last few days in Jabaliya, although I've obviously westernised the reaction. Informed by "Abu Nimr" that their home is about to be obliterated with a burst of hellfire missiles, rather than just getting out and staying alive, residents have decided to fight back with civil disobedience involving the use of potential mass casualties if the Israelis carry through with their warning. Knowing full well that it'll result in yet more bad publicity for the collective punishment the Israelis are inflicting on the Gaza Strip, sometimes in response to the firing of Qassam rockets, sometimes to assassinate militant group leaders, the tactic has worked remarkably well so far.

The start of this new mass resistance was with the protest a couple of weeks ago by hundreds of Palestinian women in hijabs, who marched on a mosque surrounded by the IDF and containing alleged armed militants. The soldiers, uncertain of what to do when faced by a mass of unarmed women, mainly ceased fire. Two of the women were however later killed when the troops shot at the crowd, later justified on the basis that some in the group were armed, something not backed up by television pictures.

Enthused by the success of that march, the tactic has now been repeated to defend houses. While the Israelis use of a warning is meant, so they say, to avoid civilian casualties, it can just as much be a cynical act of warfare: meant to terrify the occupants of an area, knowing that there's nothing they can do to stop the army from destroying their homes. As Conal Uruquat has reported, those whose houses have been destroyed following such warnings have not always had the alleged tunnels beneath their homes.

Naturally, the Israeli response to this mass uprising of resistance has been to allege that the terrorists are using human shields to stop them from destroying the militants' capability to launch the rockets into Israeli territory, one of which last week killed an Israeli woman in Sderot. There is no evidence to suggest that this is the case. Rather, the residents of those around the doomed houses appear to be more than happy to take part in what could potentially be their untimely death. Reports have also suggested that there has been euphoria once it's been realised that the Israelis have called off the air strikes which they said were coming.

It's an incredibly welcome development. It's long been suggested that the Palestinians should drop their violent resistance and instead switch to non-violence, which in the past has been rejected because of the realisation that the IDF just can't be trusted not to attack such protests. After all, this is the same military which has fired hundreds of thousands of cluster bombs into southern Lebanon, purely to punish the residents whose houses were likely also damaged in the month long bombing campaign during the Israel-Hizbullah-Lebanon war, and which habitually fires hellfire missiles into the crowded streets of Gaza City, normally at the cars of suspected militants. One such attack was on the paralysed and half-blind Hamas spiritual leader Sheikh Yassin, which also killed his two bodyguards and 8 others.

For the moment at least, this new resistance tactic appears to be succeeding. It can only be hoped that both sides recognise that there is no military solution to the on-going crisis. The pitiful Qassam rockets only mute the outrage when Israeli operations go wrong, such as that which killed 18 Palestinians in a shelling. A return to the negotiation table, where it has to be recognised that for any two state solution to work, the vast vast majority of Israeli settlements in the West Bank have to be removed, has to be encouraged. This could be brought forward by the forming of a coalition Palestinian government, and the announcement of a full, unilateral ceasefire by all the armed groups. That would put the onus on Israel to do the same. As usual, this dream scenario seems as far away as ever.

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Chris Bryant: Humourless ex-Blairite automaton.

Congratulations then to Chris Bryant, Labour MP for the Rhondda. The Grauniad, in an attempt to liven up the coverage of the Labour party conference, commissioned Ros Taylor to write spoof diaries, full of the kind of vacuous babble that is identifiable only as New Labour rhetoric, which often drips from the "ex-Blairite's" mouth like saliva from one of Pavlov's dogs. The Sun and the Daily Mail however failed to get the joke (a good sign of an excellent spoof), and reprinted some of the contents as Bryant's actual thoughts. Bryant subsequently sent in his lawyers, resulting in a clarification in today's Corrections column.

The correction reads:
Chris Bryant MP: on September 25 to 28 2006 Guardian Unlimited published four articles entitled Chris Bryant's Manchester Diary. They were spoof diaries and were meant to be light-hearted and humorous. We had believed that the content and line at the end of the articles, "Chris Bryant was speaking to Ros Taylor", were sufficient indicators. However Chris Bryant has informed us that some people took them seriously, which we regret. Mr Bryant himself had no involvement at all in writing the diaries and we accept that the content of the diaries was not an accurate reflection of his views. We apologise to Mr Bryant.

Obsolete would therefore like to send its own message to Mr Bryant: Well done on your victory, you humourless, Dr David Kelly smearing, self-important, ex-Blair toadying little turd.

Oh, and how could we possibly forget:

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Davide from the Nether-World has set-up a petition on the Downing Street website calling for an inquiry into the 7/7 bombings, which is well worth signing for obvious reasons:

Oh, and if you decided not to bother signing the one asking Blair to resign, maybe you'd like him to stand on his head and juggle ice cream instead, as suggested by Bloggerheads.

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Monday, November 20, 2006 

90 daze.

Remember, remember the Scum of November (2005).

Just over a year ago, Blair was facing down the possibility of a huge rebellion, and even defeat, on his plans to introduce 90 days detention without charge for terrorist suspects. He would lose the vote emphatically, but before then he put up another one of his fights to the death. Among the arguments he used was the following:
"If we are forced to compromise, it will be a compromise with the nation's security."

"We do not want to compromise on the 90 days at all," he said. "It is not the right
thing for the country. Be under no doubt about that at all."

12 months on, and we're facing the possibility of 90 days being reintroduced. We're told again by "Sir" Ian Blair that 90 days is needed. The MI5 chief Eliza Manningham-Buller didn't actually call for it, but there's little doubt that her speech was part of a campaign, even if it's a covert one, for the legislation. Gordon Brown and Tony Blair are both saying it's necessary. The Sun, the chief cheerleader for 90 days last year, which called the MPs' who last year voted against "traitors", said that it should be Blair's first action on returning from holiday in August.

Well, that's all academic now. Lord Goldsmith, speaking in a media briefing, said that he has seen no evidence to justify 90 days. His reasons for doing so ought to be examined. He has in the last few weeks come in heavily for criticism over his apparent refusal to stand aside from having a role as attorney general in the possible prosecution of those alleged to have broken the law over the loans for peerages scandal. The same people angered over this just also happen to be those who are opposed to the reintroduction of what amounts to internment.

There seems little other reason why he would have made his views perfectly clear over the matter. Goldsmith has to at least show signs of independence, even though he is directly appointed by the prime minister. His spinelessness showed through over the war in Iraq; his previously extended, nuanced arguments for why war would be illegal without a second resolution suddenly charged into a single page of why it would be legal under the previous resolutions when the army demanded that Blair make clear that the attack would be permissible under international law. Goldsmith's briefing seems to have been a strategy to buy off some of the opprobrium likely to head his way if he remains steadfast in his having the final say over what could be the prosecution of Blair himself, however unlikely that seems.

Unfortunately for Blair, it means that he's either a liar, a fool, a knave or all three. Blair made clear that he found the case made for 90 days last year "compelling", and his resolve doesn't appear to have changed. Either he's so desperately in bed with "Sir" Ian Blair that he'll listen to his most ridiculous ideas, and if he supports the banning of flag burning then he almost certainly is; or he's playing politics with the terrorist threat, attempting to make the opposition look indecisive and more interested in boring old habeas corpus than in protecting the public from suicide bombers, even if it means his government's defeat.

Whichever the answer, it's worth seeing what the Sun made of Goldsmith's comments. Last year, in their determination to support Blair they used the photograph of John Tulloch, the man horrifically burned by the 7/7 bombings to illustrate why 90 days should be supported. That Tulloch oppposed 90 days and that they hadn't bothered to actually ask his permission to use his image didn't matter; the complaints made to the toothless PCC were rejected.

To the Sun's search engine then:

Hmm, nothing for "Lord Goldsmith". That's odd. Let's try "attorney general":

Well, how very strange. I just can't imagine why the Sun wouldn't report the good news that 90 days detention without charge isn't needed after all.

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New Generation Network: a manifesto for our times.

Remember the Euston Manifesto? No, no one else does either. It was the Harry's Placers' and pro-war left's attempt to move on from the war they promoted and have since started to flee from like rats from a sinking ship, or those in Baghdad who've had to become refugees in order to escape the violence there which was helped along by their support. Unfortunately for them, it fell flatter than Tara-Palmer Tompkinson's breasts, and matters weren't helped when such renowned leftists as Michelle Malkin and Bill Kristol found common cause with their sentiments.

Let's hope then that the New Generation Network's manifesto doesn't go the same way. Calling for an entirely new discourse on race relations, ethnic minorities, religious intolerance and more or less everything in-between, the document is full to the brim with level-headed, simple and excellent analysis of where Britain currently is, and where it needs to go, urgently. Masterminded by Sunny Hurndal, who started the Pickled Politics blog and who is also one of the most refreshing and stimulating of those who have risen to a sort-of fame through political blogging, it's little short of excellent.

OK, I may be laying it on a little thickly. It does however echo many of the arguments which Obsolete has been trying to make for a number of months now, as have many other bloggers who have been watching the "debate" over Muslims descend into intolerant and inflammatory attacks from extremists on all sides. Without naming names, the manifesto makes clear that some of the media is playing a dangerous role in what is going on. Sunny, in his accompanying article, mentions the Sun front-page story about the home vandalised in Windsor, which was blamed on Muslim yobs, when the police came to the conclusion that it certainly wasn't, as the Ministry of Truth first exposed, (Obsolete also covered the story at the time with incredulity) and also should have mentioned the way the Express has been demanding a ban on the niqab, justifying its calls with horribly slanted reader-phone in polls. Editors and journalists need to recognise their role both in promoting inter-community relations and in making sure that inaccurate reports are corrected. There has yet to be any such correction to the Sun's story, and Unity didn't even receive a response when he attempted to put the record straight to the Sun journalist responsible for the story. Whether the toothless PCC will do anything about it, as it seems likely that complaints have been made, is another matter.

There is, and already has been some controversy, however. The manifesto makes clear its opposition to unrepresentative lobby groups which have sprung up only in the last decade or so, such as the Muslim Council of Britain, the Hindu Council UK and the Network of Sikh Organisations, to name but three. The Muslim representative groups in particular have come in for criticism of late; MCB and the Muslim Association of Britain were attacked by Martin Bright and some left-liberal commentators over their apparent support for and adherence to the beliefs of the Muslim Brotherhood. While some of this is to an extent true, it shouldn't be a reason on its own to ignore everything those groups say. The MCB especially in the last few months seems to have taken the concerns of some on board, and seems to have moved towards appearing more moderate, both when sought to comment and to appear on discussion panels. This could also be down to the new leadership at the top from Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari who took over from Iqbal Sacranie who had previously voiced his disgust as homosexuality in no uncertain terms. Such moves should be welcomed, while the organisations themselves should be increasingly encouraged to canvass actual opinion in their communities, both in order to make themselves more accountable and to gauge exactly the public thinks their role is or should be.

The six main principles of the New Generation Network are, in brief:

1) An end to communal politics, as dealt with above
2) Against prejudice, against all races and religions
3) For equality
4) We believe in freedom of speech, rightly, as incredibly close to being an absolute. This should not be in contradiction with our views on extremists of all kinds; the way forward is to expose such arguments for what they are: unrepresentative, unworkable, irresponsible and illogical.
5) We are for respecting people's multiple identities
6) A new national conversation about race

All those in mainstream politics should be able to support it. Now's the time to sign and then to build this network. You can add your support at the New Generation Network site, or by emailing with your name and title.

Related posts:
Ministry of Truth - Nice work, Sunny...
New Generation Network - Race and faith - a new agenda - the manifesto in full
Sunny Hurndal - This system of self-appointed leaders can hurt those it should be protecting

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Saturday, November 18, 2006 

When is a disaster not a disaster?

It's nice to be blamed for the potential downfall of democracy as we know it every once in a while. There has to be a great deal of irony involved when that blame comes from err, the outgoing chief strategy adviser of the Blair government, aka one of the legion of spin doctors and PR men that Labour has increasingly come to rely on over their 9 years in power, but it still leaves you with a warm, glowing feeling, a little like the point of orgasm before the self-loathing sets in.

Matthew Taylor then, leaving his job and speaking strictly as a "citizen" - not a government spokesman, said:
"What is the big breakthrough, in terms of politics, on the web in the last few years? It's basically blogs which are, generally speaking, hostile and, generally speaking, basically see their job as every day exposing how venal, stupid, mendacious politicians are.

As opposed to PR men employed by Labour, who, generally speaking, see their job as every day exposing how despicable, traitorous and vain those opposed to their political agenda are.

As it happens, Matthew Taylor may have something of a point. There's plenty of blogs out there that do centre entirely on hate; but they're generally not about domestic politics, instead focusing on what they see as more important: proving that Islam is a "wicked, vicious faith" and that the mainstream media such as the BBC are hopelessly biased. Little Green Soccerballs, Jihad Watch, Biased BBC and EU Referendum instantly come to mind. By contrast, most of the domestic politics bloggers are far more magnanimous and interested in triggering debate and discussion, rather than simply voicing their anger at whatever it is the government/opposition are doing. They might be based more for their own political groupings, or identities, but they're not the anti-establishment "libertarians" he paints them as either. Taylor also risks giving bloggers too much credit; while Guido and Iain Dale may be good bloggers, they are also prone to puffing themselves. Those who rely on, or indeed, even visit blogs, are far fewer than those who still read or visit the websites of the "dead tree press." We have far less power than some of us believe, or others would like to believe.

Taylor's comments do however completely ignore what the current situation in British politics is. While he was mainly talking about the power of the internet to drive politics, his only mentioning of the mainstream media was to suggest that it's all the same, all desperately trying to keep the population in a "perpetual state of self-righteous rage" as he called it, whether it's left or right. This is clearly nonsense. Can he honestly claim that the Guardian, which while critical of Labour, delivers its critiques in calm, careful and nuanced prose, is trying to fulfill the exact same role as that of the Sun and the Express? The Financial Times and Times itself don't occupy that template either. He also ignores Labour's own role in stirring this state of rage. Their response to the 24-hour news culture has been to try to cope with passing frenzies and moral panics by legislating and ordering ministers and MPs to obey the agreed upon line which 10 Downing Street has developed. The centralising of comment, the almost complete lack of discussion both in the parliamentary Labour party and within the cabinet, and Blair's reliance on challenging his party's own beliefs for the benefit of plaudits from those who have always hated Labour have all contributed to the current malaise both at grassroots level and among the electorate in general.

Nowhere in his keynote address for e-Democracy '06 does Taylor even mention the two things that have done the most to disenchant the public with politicians in recent years: the Iraq war and the loans for peerages scandal. It's little wonder that the average person is cynical about politicians when they know that not a single politician has resigned over the Iraq war since its beginning. Greg Dyke, Gavyn Davies, Andrew Gilligan and Piers "Morgan" Moron all did the decent thing for reasons related to Iraq, but as for the politicians who led us into an illegal war, they're all still there, or have moved for different reasons entirely. Instead of facing up to the fact that they led the country into a war on the basis that Iraq had weapons which it turned out didn't exist, they've spent the last three years doing everything to save their own hides. We have not had a proper apology from Blair, Straw or Hoon. Sure, they've made mealy-mouthed self-serving half-hearted murmurings that suggest they may regret some of the things that have happened, but they'll still defend to the death their right to do it all over again.

As for loans for peerages, the way that Downing Street has tried to portray the police as abusing their power as they've investigated the background to Lord Levy's glad-handing, when they've supported the police to the hilt in everything they've done elsewhere just sums up the way that some of our elected representatives only look out for themselves. It's right that compared to some countries, even in Europe, mainstream national politics here is remarkably free of corruption, so when a scandal such as this emerges, it's all the more potent. Labour and the Tories failed to have recognise this until it was too late. This isn't even to mention the sexual exploits of John Prescott and his refusal to resign, even when all around the country numerous people knew that if they had taken advantage of secretarial services like he had, they would be out of their job instantly once discovered.

Two examples of the above have occurred in the news yesterday/today. Margaret Hodge, speaking at a cosy Fabian shindig, said that "[Iraq was Blair's] big mistake in foreign affairs" and also suggested he could be guilty of "moral imperialism." No shit sherlock type comments, right? Welcome to years ago, etc. The way that the media has reported them is completely out of all proportion to their obviousness, but it's only like that because of how the Blair regime has ruthlessly crushed almost all independent thinking and criticisms of the Dear Leader by the party's own MPs', at least outside of designated "debates" anyway. The media also does have a role in this, it's true, as they try to make as much as possible out of any "rift" or "split", but if No 10 hadn't set up the modern day equivalent of the NKVD then the media wouldn't have done either.

The other example is Blair's interview with David Frost for al-Jazeera English's launch. When questioned over whether he thought the violence in Iraq since 2003 had been a disaster, Blair said "It has." The media inevitably pounced and soon the headlines were full of "IRAQ WAR DISASTER SAYS BLAIR", when that wasn't quite what he said. Downing Street has stated it was just Blair being loose with his language, which is probably true, for the simple reason that Blair would never be stupid enough to call it a disaster, even though that's it exactly what it is. The level of delusion evidenced from his following remarks though is all too clear:

"It's not difficult because of some accident in planning.

"It's difficult because there's a deliberate strategy - al-Qaeda with Sunni insurgents on one hand, Iranian-backed elements with Shia militias on the other - to create a situation in which the will of the majority for peace is displaced by the will of the minority for war."

As Curious Hamster notes, this is the new line, replacing the old one that things weren't as bad as the media were painting them. This is Blair refusing to take responsibility for the war he started and that the Pentagon failed to plan for, for Iraq turning out to be just one tragedy after another. He instead puts the blame on the Sunnis who were always going to be angered by the removal of Saddam, but who could have been placated by a quick reconciliation process. Instead the interim American puppet administration purged the Ba'athists before realising their mistake. It should also have been obvious that the Americans setting up shop in Iraq was always going to lure jihadis into the country, especially in the vacuum of power which emerged after Saddam was overthrown. That this wasn't seemingly planned for, despite them being warned both by the intelligence services and the anti-war movement is incredible. The other main mistake was disbanding the Iraqi army, leaving hundreds of thousands with no income, with weapons training and with their own guns. Blair's hubris that there were no planning mistakes is stunning - the occupation has been one long fuck-up from beginning to the end - but it's all the fault of al-Qaida and those who want to stifle democracy, see?

The above is the problem with today's politicians, or at least with the current incarnation of New Labour. We want them to take responsibility for their actions. We want them to admit to their mistakes. We want them to be human. Blair's government's arrogance has been in believing that they can get away with almost anything, and then they're surprised and hurt when the public doesn't like them, trust them or want to get involved. They've set up listening exercises only to ignore the conclusions they've come to. They pretend to hear what you're saying, but in actuality they're just waiting for their turn to talk. It's gone on too long now for this to be fixed by Blair and his acolytes; their time is over. If Brown is to succeed, he has to recognise the previous failings. That he shows little signs of doing so thus far could well be the death knell for New Labour as a whole.

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Friday, November 17, 2006 

One day, two different faces of American justice.

You may well have heard yesterday that Specialist James Barker, who pleaded guilty to conspiring to rape a 14-year-old Iraqi girl, and killing her and her family, the so-called Mahmudiyah incident (different to the on-going investigation of the alleged revenge attack at Haditha) was sentenced to life in prison, and has the heartening news that he won't have to serve longer than 90 years. He was spared the death penalty for agreeing to testify against the other soldiers involved.

What you probably won't have heard about was the sentencing of a US marine, which also happened yesterday. John Jodka III, who admitted to killing an unarmed, crippled Iraqi man, justified his actions by saying that it was "dark", then by mentioning that all those Iraqis look the same to me, guv. All right, I made that last bit up. You might question whether Jodka was telling the truth however, when you learn the full details of what actually happened. According to the account given by Iraqis from the village of Hamdania, and later confirmed by congressman John P. Murtha, Hashim Ibrahim Awad was abducted from his house, taken to where an IED had formerly been planted, shot at least once and then left there with a shovel and the spent cartridges.

What was Jodka's punishment, then? Well, like Barker, Jodka had also made a plea-bargaining deal and had agreed to testify against his former comrades. Unlike Barker, he was sentenced to just 18 months' in prison.

It's difficult to see the worthiness of either punishment. While Barker's crime was a vile and cold-blooded pre-planned rape and murder, sentencing someone to spend the rest of their life in prison for what is a first offence and in a war zone, with all the stresses associated with being inside one, is just as morally dubious. 10-15 years would surely be more appropriate. Jodka's punishment on the other hand is a complete insult to the Iraqi's memory and his family. The above sentence would again be justice served far better.

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Thursday, November 16, 2006 

Scum-watch: A disgusting exclusive.

I've cropped Jordan off the front page as seeing her makes me want to gouge out my eyeballs and feed them to the nearest passing cat.

Exclusives don't mean anything. Everyone knows that. The complete downfall of the term has become all too apparent in recent years - the term can't get much lower than being used to describe a Sunday Mirror gossip page story about Dannii Minogue buying a new car - yet it's still used all too frequently, especially by the tabloid press when there is absolutely nothing exclusive about the report at all.

Even with this in mind, today's Sun front page "exclusive" breaks new ground in tastelessness. SUN EXCLUSIVE screams the front page, before it nonchalantly reveals that a 13-year-old girl has been raped. There's something deeply unpleasant about regarding the news that anyone has been the victim of a sexual assault, let alone an underage girl, as an "exclusive," something to be used to sell newspapers. The word "tact" never seems to have occurred to the sub-editors involved.

This being the Sun though, that doesn't even plumb the depths of the base lack of journalistic morals at the centre of this story. As the salaciousness continues, the Sun reveals the girl was allegedly raped by one of the trainers working on the "reality" tv show Cirque De Celebrite. Only halfway through does the article mention that Cirque De Celebrite is a Sky One production.

Yep, that's right, this so-called exclusive is derived entirely from a television show made by BSkyB (Chairman: R. Murdoch), is about a teenage girl allegedly raped by a man employed by BSkyB (Chairman: R. Murdoch) and is being printed by a newspaper owned by News International, itself owned by News Corporation (CEO and Chairman: R. Murdoch). Only at the end of the article does the Sun actually seek a comment from Sky One itself, with the rest of the detail being given by an "insider" and a "source."

Still, I'm sure that the family of the girl are delighted that the Sun has seen fit to splash the misfortune of the teenager on its front page. Perhaps all those who for some reason decide to go see the hell on earth which is Cirque de Celebrite should be given a disclaimer before they enter the arena that if any unfortunate crime should happen to them while they're there that the Murdoch empire reserves all right to fill the Sun newspaper with it.

P.S. In other Murdoch related news, Fox News is giving O.J. Simpson the opportunity to explain how he would have killed his ex-wife and her friend, if he err, actually had. As well as being able to do so as a "two-part event", Regan Books, which is a division of HarperCollins, owned by News Corporation (see above) is paying Simpson $3.5m (£1.85m) for an accompanying book, titled "If I Did It, Here's How It Happened." It seems tastelessness is no barrier when it comes to making Murdoch money on either side of the Atlantic.

P.P.S. Via Curious Hamster:
The elections and Rumsfeld's resignation were a major event, but not the end of the world. The war on terror goes on without interruption.... [L]et's be on the lookout for any statements from the Iraq insurgents, who must be thrilled at the prospect of a Dem-controlled Congress.

The question of the day, and indeed for the rest of Bush's term, is: what is the Dem plan for Iraq?

That would be the fair and balanced briefing on the aftermath of the US mid-term elections, as detailed by Fox News's John Mooney in an internal memo.

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Wednesday, November 15, 2006 

Blair's miserable, fearful legacy.

The annual spectacle of the Queen's Speech, coupled with the state opening of parliament, is pretty much a summation of every single thing that is wrong with 21st century British politics. All pomp, all circumstance, all bloat, all inane, all backward rather than forward looking, all style, no substance. Led by a woman born into her role, surrounded by men appointed to theirs, some no doubt in exchange for a large donation, it's a handy way to judge just how little Blair has managed to achieve in comparison to his huge majorities. The Lords remains unreformed, with even (half) the hereditary peers and bishops still sitting; the ridiculous pageantry, kept for sentimental reasons rather than for any major historical purposes, continues to appeal only to the brainlessness of American tourists; the speech itself continues to be inscribed onto goatskin, even though Liz doesn't actually read from that version; and finally, it appears poor old Brenda gets more bored and annoyed by the event as each year goes by. Who could blame her? She must be getting deja-vu. As Nick Clegg on CiF comments, the speech today puts forward this government's sixth immigration bill, an eighth terrorism bill, and a 23rd(!) justice bill. Were it to be put to her that the ludicrous ceremony be abandoned, it's hard to imagine that she would disagree.

Rather than what the speech promises, it's more notable for what's not in it or what it introduces yet again. Foreign policy only gets a cursory mention towards the end, with what could be generously described as a continuation of the status quo. The supposed dedication to finding a settlement between Israel and the Palestinians is rather undermined by the last years' actions, in which the government involved itself in the boycott of the democratically elected Hamas government, as well as ignoring and defying calls for it to support an immediate ceasefire during the Israeli war with Lebanon. Energy, despite the white paper on it, is lumped in with the climate change bill. For a government that supposedly feels that nuclear power is the answer and urgently required, there's a surprising lack of movement there. As for the replacement of Trident, expected to either be announced or debated this coming year, there's nothing at all.

To be defeated yet again are the plans for judge-only trials in serious fraud cases, dispensing with juries that the patronising ministers think can't understand what's going on. The evidence from America, especially from the Enron trials, suggests that the onus should be on the prosecution to make a compelling, short and coherent case, rather than one which gets bogged down in the minutiae of business and legal jargon, which has led to cases in the past failing. Judges can also be the problem rather than the solution, not stopping the prosecution and defence from wasting time or drawing out the process. An amendment from the abandoned Mental Health Act is also set to be debated again, with the prospect of those diagnosed with psychopathic disorders being locked up even if they have never shown any sign of actually being dangerous. The law was created partially in response to the Michael Stone case, the man convicted of murdering Lyn and Megan Russell. That he continues to protest his innocence, in addition to the evidence given by a witnesses being discredited as he has been exposed as committing perjury, coupled with the lack of forensic evidence, doesn't seem to matter.

Apart from the climate change and pensions bill, which are tepid and unambitious and long expected and relatively uncontroversial respectively, the main focus is, as expected, on law 'n' order and terrorism. The Scum website's front page image (above) says it all: TOUGH ON CRIME: SEVEN crime fighting bills. That these are likely to be a hodge-podge of amendments to previous justice bills, in some cases which have only recently came into law, says it all about this government. It fails to think through thoroughly what it's setting out, rushing legislation only to make a political point, either against the opposition or to appease the petulant squeals of the tabloids. Apart from that, the government is setting out its plans to "rebalance" the criminal justice system in favour of the victim. Their answer appears to be not actually involve the system at all; instead giving police the power to abuse their position in as many ways as they see fit, such as being able to not just close "crack dens" but also houses where noisy parties are taking place, to ban individuals from city centres without having to go to court and fine the parents of children who break their "acceptable behaviour" contracts. It's a recipe for disaster. Every single extra power the police are given they abuse, and there appears to be little recourse available to those who these new powers are used against. Reid's talk of "swift, effective" justice is designed purely to annoy the legal establishment and appeal to those who loathe the idea of having to be as responsible for their actions as much as those suspected of breaking the law are.

On terrorism, there are no actual proposals put forward, only that the government will "address the threat" and that it will attempt to build "strong, secure and stable communities." The suspicion has to be that they'll attempt to bring in 90 days without the build up of last year that led to its downfall. Whether it will decide to be so deeply illiberal as to take Ian Blair's advice and ban the burning of flags and the wearing of masks at demonstrations is another matter. There also might be a renewed effort to ban Hizb-ut-Tahrir after last night's Newsnight investigation into radicalisation.

There was no mention of the banning of "violent" pornography, which is to be welcomed if isn't still to be introduced. Less celebratory is the welfare reform bill, which will bring forward the abolition of incapacity benefit to be replaced with the Employment and Support Allowance, bound to result in those who can't work being forced into further misery and deprivation. The government's plans seem to involve a lot more sticks than carrots, rather than taking the Pathways to Work scheme nationwide, which has helped, according to Polly Toynbee's notoriously unreliable statistics, 210,000 claimants back into work.

This then is Blair's legacy. At war abroad, helplessly adrift in Iraq, relying completely on the United States for what to do next there, which appears to be to do nothing and hope everything gets better on its own. Unilateral withdrawal, or God forbid, even setting a timetable for leaving are too much to even expect. At war at home, more concerned with keeping in with Murdoch, Wade and Dacre, as well as attacking the Tories for their alleged "softness" regardless of how his own supporters and party feels about it. Removing civil liberties without a second thought, as demonstration without permission becomes a thing of the past around Westminster, setting up hugely wasteful schemes on ID Cards, the NHS database and the DNA databank where everyone's a suspect. His hypocrisy continues unabated, as he has apparently sent lawyers to head off any potential prosecution over cash for honours, as the running commentary in the press has made it "impossible" for there to be a fair trial, forgetting about the conveniently leaked information which smeared Dr David Kelly and Jean Charles de Menezes. Hopelessly ineffective at constitutional reform, and at governing in general, Blair's legacy won't be his crime legislation. It'll be how a man in which there was once such hope has instead brought only rivers of blood and the politics of fear.

P.S. You can sign the petition on the 10 Downing Street website for Blair to resign immediately. 53 already have. Do it before it mysteriously vanishes.

Correction: The ban on "violent" pornography was mentioned, as part of the criminal justice bill. It seems highly likely to pass, which could potentially be a disaster for some with "deviant" sexual interests.

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Tuesday, November 14, 2006 

Scum-watch: Human wrongs over heroin payout.

You have to wonder at times about Rebekah Wade's journalistic instincts. Barley a day goes by in her newspaper without a horror story about a paedophile being printed, her long held favourite topic, for reasons known only to her. Today is no exception, but let's not focus on that. The leading article today is on Wade's other favourite subject: the "crazy, controversial, hated" Human Rights Act.

On the face of it, it looks like the Sun might for once have something of a point. Former prisoners suing the government over being forced to go "cold turkey" from their heroin while inside have been offered an out of court settlement, which will mean that each of the claimants will receive slightly less than £4,000 each.

So far, so outrageous. Surely prison is there for addicts who have committed crimes to be taken off the drugs that cause their behaviour, right? It's here that the government's and the Sun's case falls apart. Far from the claimants being hardened addicts, those bringing the test case had actually all already been receiving alternative treatment, including being given the heroin substitute methadone. When taken inside, rather than their current medical regime being continued, they were forced into going without their drugs either entirely, or within a couple of days at the most. They were given no choice in the matter - consent was not sought, and so they were forced into withdrawal. Not only that, but they was also given no other drugs at all to help with going "cold turkey." Wikipedia records the following symptoms for those suffering heroin withdrawal:

The withdrawal syndrome from heroin may begin starting from within 6 to 24 hours of discontinuation of sustained use of the drug; however, this time frame can fluctuate with the degree of tolerance as well as the amount of the last consumed dose. Symptoms may include: sweating, malaise, anxiety, depression, persistent and intense penile erection in males (priapism), extra sensitivity of the genitals in females, general feeling of heaviness, cramp-like pains in the limbs, yawning and lacrimation, sleep difficulties, cold sweats, chills, severe muscle and bone aches not precipitated by any physical trauma, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, goose bumps, cramps, and fever. Many addicts also complain of a painful condition, the so-called "itchy blood", which often results in compulsive scratching that causes bruises and sometimes ruptures the skin leaving scabs. Abrupt termination of heroin use causes muscle spasms in the legs of the user (restless leg syndrome). Users taking the "cold turkey" approach (withdrawal without using symptom-reducing or counteractive drugs) are more likely to experience the negative effects of withdrawal in a more pronounced manner.

Not only was the government therefore negligent in not providing proper medical care, its actions were also unlawful, as it has accepted. Those in prison are meant to be provided with the same medical care as that available outside, and in this the prison service clearly failed. Oh, and the coup de grace is this: while prisoners argued that their human rights were breached, the case was brought on the basis of medical negligence, not on the fact that their rights had also been additionally breached.

As you might expect, this doesn't get in the way of the Sun's reporting. They focus on one particular prisoner's story: a former bank robber, who they variously describe as "shaven-headed" and a "tattooed thug", who is going the spend the money, err, on setting up a business. Presumably the Sun would rather he spent it on drugs.

Variously adding their voices to the outrage at the state illegally not helping addicts get off their drugs on properly medical administered programs, we have David Davis who reckons that the compensation is:
letting down the taxpayers, the victims of these offenders and the drug addicts themselves”.
Wouldn't it have been better for the government to actually have a proper program for helping addicts once inside prison, rather than leaving them to cope with all the symptoms of withdrawal without any help whatsoever? Most victims of the offenders would not doubt rather have had their assailants properly weaned off their addictions rather than left to fend for themselves with little help from the prison authorities, with the result being that once outside prison they'd be just as likely to go straight back onto the drugs again. Also, isn't the Tory policy on prisons and drug addicts meant to be to drastically increase the withdrawal programs that the claimants were denied? No, it couldn't be.

Next we have Peter Stoker, which is an oddly appropriate name for a spokesman for the
National Drug Prevention Alliance, whose main agenda is to stop the addiction before it starts, and as a result seems to regard cannabis as a "gateway" drug. He says:
I find it disturbing that drug users can sue the Home Office for not looking after them comfortably enough.

“People who have had their money stolen or the faces bashed in to feed their addictions have no system of recourse at all.”

Not much compassion there for those who do unfortunately become addicted then. As for there being no system of recourse for "those having their faces bashed in", Stoker is uninformed, as the
Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority provides that role.

Then we have Ann Widdecombe, using the same logic which made her such a success as a shadow minister:

“It’s an insult to every victim and every law abiding person. As far as I’m concerned there is no human right to continue a drug habit when you go to prison.”

The real insult is that Widdecombe expects the average Sun-reader to believe the tripe she talks. Those who sued were doing so for illegaly not being provided with an adequate treatment program, not because their drugs were withdrawn.

Finally, we have the Sun using a recent victim of the Farepak bankruptcy for their own political agenda:
Sylvia Futcher, who lost £1,500, collapse (sic), said: “The Government seems to be rewarding criminals when it can’t be bothered to pull its finger out to help hard working honest folk.”

Sadly, the government doesn't have to help compensate those who have lost money as a result of private company going bust. While they could certainly be doing more to help those now facing a miserable Christmas, Futcher might be better off turning her anger on the Halifax Bank of Scotland and the fat cats that were running the company, or on the other retailers who could easily out of the goodness of their hearts contribute a tiny amount of their profits to help those who lost their savings. Tesco, which made half-year profits of more than £1bn for the first time earlier this year, has set up a scheme in partnership with the Daily Mirror for their customers to donate to those who lost money. Tesco itself has given a scrooge-like £250,000 to the fund.

The Sun goes on:
It will almost certainly mean thousands more junkie prisoners will now be entitled to receive the heroin substitute methadone.

Estimates suggest it costs £150 a day to keep an addict in methadone. That could mean a bill of around £11million a year.

How awful! £11 million is absolute peanuts, especially for a government dedicated to a new prison building program highly influenced by the Sun's continuing demands for more "yobs" and "bad lags" to be locked up. The government could of course go one better and actually prescribe heroin rather than methadone, a substance which can be much more dangerous than heroin itself, but no doubt that would also result in the Sun being duly outraged.

Wade makes her point in the leader:

GOING “cold turkey” is a distressing experience for hardened druggies.

But you don’t go to prison for being an addict.

You are sent down as a last resort, usually for a string of nasty crimes.

So why is the Home Office paying out big money to prisoners who claim their human rights have been abused?

We should not be heartless to those who need rehabilitation.

Nor should we be paying hefty cash sums to criminals who have robbed us . . .

And will undoubtedly blow it on even more drugs.

Or who could use it just as the breakthrough they need to put their lives back on track. As for being sent down as a last resort, judges tend to be a lot harsher on actual addicts than they are on celebrity junkies such as Pete Doherty. That's half the reason why the prison population is currently standing at close to 80,000. That addicts are badly served in prison, and would be better off in actual treatment programs rather than being banged up and forced to go cold turkey, as the claimants were, doesn't warrant a mention.

By coincidence, yesterday saw the joint human rights committee attack the government's reliance on blaming the Human Rights Act for their own mistakes, illegal actions and incompetence:

It found that in each case the government itself was responsible for creating the misleading impression that it was the Human Rights Act or its misinterpretation by officials that caused the problems. "In each case, senior ministers, from the prime minister down, made assertions that the Human Rights Act, or judges or officials interpreting it, were responsible for certain unpopular events when in each case those assertions were unfounded," says the report.

"Moreover, when those assertions were demonstrated to be unfounded, there was no acknowledgement of the error, or withdrawal of the comment, or any other attempt to inform the public of the mistake." The three cases were:

· The Afghan hijackers. The judgment by Mr Justice Sullivan was described at the time by the prime minister and the home secretary, John Reid, as "bizarre and inexplicable". Yet in the cold light of day the lord chancellor, Lord Falconer, had accepted "unequivocally" that it was right that human rights law should prevent the hijackers from being sent back to Afghanistan if there was a risk they faced death or torture.

· The failure to deport 1,000 foreign prisoners. The prime minister and Mr Reid both claimed that human rights legislation was allowing British court judgments to thwart the removal of foreign prisoners. But after the committee's inquiry, the lord chancellor accepted that the Human Rights Act was not responsible for the failure to deport the prisoners.

· The Anthony Rice case. The chief inspector of probation blamed the mistaken release of the convicted murder on licence on the fact that public protection considerations were undermined by human rights considerations. The MPs and peers, however, found that the official inquiry into the case fails to reveal any real evidence that public safety was prejudiced by the Human Rights Act.

Andrew Dismore, chairman of the joint human rights committee, said: "We are extremely concerned that the Human Rights Act has been getting the blame for ministerial or administrative failings when it has nothing to do with those failings. The government has now accepted that none of the issues we examined provided justification for amending or repealing the act. We are convinced that more needs to be done to explain that the act can be a force for good for the people of this country, as well as debunking negative myths about it."

Did the Sun report this devastating debunking of their demands for the Human Rights Act to be either repealed or amended? You decide.

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Monday, November 13, 2006 

Terror! Terror! Terror! Terror!

The sky sure is dark with that visor.

The incessant shrieking for 90 days continues. Britain currently seems to be stuck in an outbreak of deja-vu; we're at war in Iraq, again. We're at war in Afghanistan, again. According to the NME, we're being blessed with new-rave. And finally, only a year after 90 days detention without trial was emphatically rejected by the House of Commons, "Sir" Ian Blair wants it to be introduced again. Accompanying him was the previous speech by the head of MI5, and
Gordon Brown's sycophantic "complete agreement" with the Sun's favourite anti-terror policy. Those lining up to support further detention without charge resemble a bunch of cheerleaders, each wanting to be the cute, blonde one in the centre that gets all the attention, except in this case it's which one can be the "toughest". David Cameron is naturally the slightly dumpy girl that's just there to make up the numbers, being soft in the cheerleader terror stakes.

As well as giving his speech, Ian Blair has been appointed with selling 90 days to both the public and those nay-saying politicians. John "Dr Demento" Reid, perhaps knowing that the case is, as David Davis has stated, dreadful, appears to be ducking the fallout this time. That Ian Blair may be shortly out of a job, as the IPCC report on his role in the aftermath of the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes must be nearing completion, only serves to magnify the ridiculousness of this situation. Blair is not just a berk closely associated with this government and in particular this prime minister, he's the head of an organisation that enforces the laws of the land. He and his colleagues are not meant to be making them up as well. This doesn't mean that he shouldn't be advising ministers and the government on what might help; he should just be doing it in private, rather than in public.
His speech to the Urban Age summit in Berlin is mostly the tedious talk from a top cop you'd expect at such an event, but the main basis for it was undoubtedly to get his own views on terrorists, terrorism and the laws involving them out. The more interesting bits are summarised below, and he doesn't get off to a great start:
and now you may have seen this week the full horror of what Dhiren Barot was planning: a dirty bomb, for which he was sentenced to a minimum of 40 years imprisonment.
Oh yes, that plan to set smoke alarms on fire. Horrifying, quite.
Al Qaeda poses a global threat of mass casualty terrorism, without warning, without negotiating position, with constantly evolving tactics. They are active. This summer, Al Qaeda appears to have been directly involved, from the Indian sub-continent, in the alleged plot to blow up airlines, flying out of the United Kingdom to the United States.
Months before they're going to get to court then (which Blair covers later), we have the Metropolitan police commissioner saying that the "liquid explosives" plot was an al-Qaida operation. I'm sure this won't affect their trial in any way.
The people we are watching have compatriots here in Germany and in dozens of countries round the world. The sky is dark.
No, that's just your headgear being on too tight. The heavens it seems are teeming with so many suicide operatives that they're blacking out the sun. Looks like we really are in the shit.
Thirdly, there is a war of ideas going on, certainly in Britain. Again, Gambetta is interesting here. He has analysed suicide bombing in Iraq and has pointed out some early conclusions about bombings in Britain.

So these were thirteen. I can now tell you that there are nearly 100 people, either on or awaiting trial in the United Kingdom on terrorist related offences, including five of these thirteen. Of those, a significant majority are either British born or have spent most of their lives in Britain. Dhiren Barot came to Britain as a small child born to a Hindu family. He was educated in Britain and converted to Islam in Britain.
Gambetta's analysis and Blair's extrapolating from it are lengthy and too long to be dealt with in this post. Blair though, unlike Gambetta, seems to have decided to take his preliminary findings on a small sample, and then apply them to the 100 who have not yet been convicted of any crime. This is the sort of comment he ought to refrain from making until they have at least been tried.
The most concerning issue is support - in principle at least - for terrorist action. Three recent polls - one of Muslim students and two of Muslims generally - have suggested that four, six and two per cent respectively of those surveyed believed the July bombings to be justified. These figures extrapolate into 80,000, 120,000, and 40,000 people holding this opinion. I am not suggesting this means that there are this many terrorists. We should remember, for instance, that a 1971 poll showed significant tacit support for the Baader-Meinhoff group among young people in West Germany, which never translated into active support. It does, however, indicate the power of the ideology involved.
Or it could suggest that the opinion poll had leading, distorted questions. The opinion polls could be based on too small a sample for them to represent Muslim opinion as a whole. Or they just could be complete bollocks. Let's not beat around the bush. If the opinion polls had been right, Labour has been in the lead in vast majority of polls from 1987 until around this year. That didn't stop the Tories winning in 87 and 92.
In order to overcome this view of the world, I therefore absolutely back the United Kingdom Government's intent to build a clear narrative of "Britishness", based on values of tolerance, fairness, inclusivity and respect for the traditions and the faiths of others. This may well be, in fact, a statement adaptable to a Europe wide position.
Oh good, nice to have you on board Ian. The only problem with this is that, as Unity points out, none of the things suggested so far have actually been uniquely British, just what are now considered British values. It's far too easy to make light of British values - judging by today's tabloid hoorays for the possibility of being able to buy unlimited amounts of booze without having to pay duty, thanks to an expected European Court of Justice ruling, you'd think that all we do is drink. Take away habeas corpus, no problem. Dispense with cheap alcohol, and you've got a fight on your hands. Dr Demento's current "script" for what Britishness is, is perhaps typically British: it's two parts hot to two parts cold, a lot like the weather. He suggests that "respect for the law", "freedom of speech", "equality of opportunity" and "taking responsibility for others" should be what unites us. That Britain as a nation, despite never having a wholesale revolution in the true sense, has time and again risen up against the "law" as New Labour would like us to regard it, doesn't seem to be worth considering. Some in New Labour would also like freedom of speech to be curtailed in order for freedom itself to be maintained, a contradiction against our own supposed values if ever there was one.
Nonetheless, they [terrorists] are criminals and we should call them criminals and not dignify them with the name of soldiers, which Sadique Khan and others claim to be. They are not. They are murderers: murderers and those that help in murder by planning, by supply, by encouragement and by financing (usually through fraud).
At last, a decent point. He's not quite completely mad, see?
The risk of what these people are planning is so horrific that the police have to move in early, with the result that arrests provide huge amounts of information but not necessarily immediately available evidence. In just one recent case, the Met arrested a small number of people for terrorism offence, and seized evidence that appeared to represent 100,000 identities. At the time of these arrests, computers, hard drives and other data storage media were seized, which together amounted to three terabytes of data, much of which was encrypted. To put this into visual perspective, one terabyte can be described as 50,000 trees made into paper and then printed. Ten terabytes represents the contents of the US Library of Congress. It takes time to examine and to assess the nature of the evidence found and determine the varying degrees of culpability of those arrested.
I'm not a policeman, but I would have thought it would be a good idea to perhaps concentrate on the encrypted stuff first. Makes sense, right? As for a small number, Blair seems to be referring to the alleged "liquid bombs" plot again. 24 people were arrested, not exactly a small number. All this data being used as a justification though is nonsense: the police are just picking up every single thing that might conceivably have information helpful to them on it. A good amount of it is going to be superfluous, and obviously so once they actually come to examine it. The argument is false, and being used to blind the average layman with terms they most likely aren't familiar with. A gigabyte maybe, but a terabyte?
For other serious crimes, British police can but rarely do hold suspects for up to four days. After long and very heated parliamentary debates, that has currently been changed in Britain to 28 days in terrorist cases. Of course, whether it is 28, 4 or 1, suspects have access to full legal advice in custody. In the recent alleged airline plot, we needed all the 28 days in respect of some of the 24 suspects: if there had been more people, we would probably have run out of time. I believe that an extension to the 28 days time for detention will have to be examined again in the near future.
What Blair doesn't mention is that after holding two of those 24 for 28 days, they released them without charge. This inevitably didn't draw much media attention. As for having full legal advice in custody, the suspicion has to be that the longer the police have to continually question a suspect, even with the presence of a lawyer, they can be worn down. In the case that Blair brings up, one of the suspects alleged he was being repeatedly strip searched without reason. Others said they hadn't been interviewed by the police for the whole first week. Surely it isn't beyond the police to question and gather evidence they've seized at the same time? To arrest in the first place they need to have strong suspicions, and you'd have to imagine, intelligence. Why this isn't presented to them sooner is a question the police should have to answer. 28 days should be more than adequate for any investigation: it seems the police need more resources rather than actually time, in which case they should ask the government for more funding, officers and specialists. Blair's current case appears to be based purely on the failings of the police rather than the system itself.
Secondly, I am certain that we should introduce a procedure to question suspects after they have been charged with a terrorist offence, when new evidence emerges about that offence. This is currently not possible in Britain, except under very restricted circumstances.
I don't see why there should be any problem here.
Thirdly, I believe that the ban in Britain on the use as evidence in court of material obtained from telephone intercepts is simply not sustainable in the long term. Because of the very adversarial nature of British courtroom practice, there are difficulties here but they cannot be insuperable. In due course, we will have to seek different legal provisions to ensure that the best evidence becomes available.
Indeed. That the government hasn't already introduced wiretap intercepts as admissible evidence is a scandal in itself; that the security services are either so incompetent or just plain lazy to cover their tracks sufficiently, if their argument isn't just the smokescreen which it most likely is, shouldn't have held up such a "no-brainer."
Fourthly, we have benefited from new legislation about receiving and giving training in terrorist techniques and the glorification of terrorism. We must constantly keep legislation under review. For instance, I believe that we will have to consider anew some of our laws about some forms of public protest, including a ban on the burning of flags or effigies and the covering of faces in any demonstration whatsoever.
No, no and no, as expanded upon here.
Lastly, our own criminal justice system is creaking under the impact of these trials. One major conspiracy will have taken two years and eight months to reach its court date, if it starts then: a current trial is likely to last over twelve months. The contrast with the speed with which the Netherlands dealt with the murderer of Theo van Gogh is striking.
That's not exactly comparing like with like, is it? The actions of one man with an agenda, with an easily solvable case seeing as he was seen killing van Gogh and was captured shortly afterwards, as opposed to a plot which never met fruition and involves multiple men could not be more striking.
British contempt of court laws need to be changed: many terrorist trials are considered to be linked and the courts are reluctant to allow details of convictions in one trial to be published for fear of prejudicing others.
As opposed to the current police agenda, which is to leak any and all incriminating information to the media as and when they can. That Blair himself has already potentially tainted a trial by referring to it as al-Qaida backed when there has been no evidence presented to substantiate it makes his argument rather hypocritical.
This prevents the public - including communities from which the suspects come - from seeing justice done and we must trust juries more, in the broad public interest. The fact that we have now heard details of Barot's intentions only arose through media organisations taking judicial action to prize the information out of a reluctant court system.
This is nonsense. The details of his conviction would have come out after he was sentenced anyway. We instead got the information a couple of weeks earlier than we would have done, and now the most titillating or horrifying, but not fully explained parts of it are already being used, by, err, certain figures in their speeches.

The rest is pretty much Blair crowing about how wonderful his force is doing. His agenda though comes across loud and clear - the police need more powers, oh, and he supports the government's Britishness study.

It's then very apt that on the same day that terror debate is reignited with the debates of last year, that the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust reports with its findings in a report titled, with Blair's breezy bullshit of last year in mind, the Rules of the Game.
The report, worth reading in full, summarises while destroying numerous sacred cows in its wake:
Our basic conclusion is that the key to successfully combating terrorism lies in winning the trust and cooperation of the Muslim communities in the UK. However, the government’s counter terrorism legislation and rhetorical stance are between them creating serious losses in human rights and criminal justice protections; loosening the fabric of justice and civil liberties in the UK; and harming community relations and multiculturalism. Moreover, they are having a disproportionate effect on the Muslim communities in the UK and so are prejudicing the ability of the government and security forces to gain the very trust and cooperation from individuals in those communities that they require to combat terrorism. The impact of the legislation and its implementation has been self-defeating as well as harmful. Its boomerang effect is being made more damaging by government statements, in particular those of the Home Secretary, John Reid.
We also recognise that the government has to reassure the public that it is acting firmly to protect them. But the combination of tough laws and tough talk ministers have adopted is divisive and directed too much at the majority population. There is a strong suspicion that some pronouncements are inspired by electoral considerations.
The whole of the current debate seems centred, as already mentioned, on who's tough and who isn't. Labour has turned terror into a party political issue, which is completely unacceptable, and dangerous. David Davis doesn't escape from criticism either:
Ministers (and some opposition spokespersons) publicly demand too much from Muslim community leaders who are not representative enough to deliver in any case. The emphasis on ‘separateness’, and in some quarters ‘apartheid’, inspired in part by Jack Straw’s comments on the veil, is as damaging as it is misleading, since all the evidence available (which we examine in Chapter 2) suggests that the majority of Britain’s Muslims – by no means an homogenous group – wish to integrate and do not want to live parallel lives in self-chosen ghettos.
We strongly urge the government to abandon talk of a ‘War on Terror’. This terminology is misleading and disproportionate and leaves the Prime Minister open to the charge that he is exploiting a politics of fear. It allows terrorists to assume the dignity of being ‘soldiers’ or ‘combatants’ instead of the mere criminals that they are. In responding to the terrorist threat, it is essential to keep a sense of proportion for other dangers for a democracy like Britain lurk in the shadow of terrorism. But the rhetoric of war has encouraged an over-reaction in which human rights and the rule of law are among the more obvious casualties.
Perhaps, with this echoing Ian Blair's thoughts, the government will finally put this into practice.
We make a series of recommendations in Chapter 7, the most important of which are that the government should adopt a more open and inclusive counter terrorism strategy in place of its combative insistence that it alone knows the right course; that it should recognise that the participation of local communities, Muslim and non-Muslim, is vital; that the request of the government’s own Muslim working groups for a wide-ranging inquiry on the roots of terrorism should take place; and that the government’s strategy should be constructed and implemented within the framework of the rule of law and human rights, a recommendation with which the intelligence community agrees.
Finally, and possibly most likely to anger the government:
We are also convinced that the government should review its foreign policy in the light of British interests at home and abroad. We say so not out of a knee-jerk anti-Americanism but from a profound conviction that the Prime Minister’s close and publicly unquestioning stance alongside the United States is damaging to British influence in the world at large and in Europe; that it feeds extremism and violence at home and abroad; and that it casts severe doubt on this country’s commitment to democracy and human rights which must be the cornerstone of our struggle against extremism.
This passage gives the lie to the new Labour orthodoxy of it being al-Qaida who are being successful at propaganda and the West failing to match their rhetoric. Who needs propaganda from terrorist groups when the Israel-Palestine conflict is on the screen and when hundreds of thousands of Iraqis are dead? The failure of Labour to examine itself and recognise its own actions in the amount of radicalising that is going on is its greatest failing in the so-called war on terror. The Rowntree report provides a solid basis for the government to adapt its policies. That it has no intention to, when it still considers its "toughness" an electoral virtue, just damns it even further.

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Saturday, November 11, 2006 

One man's racist, another man's freedom fighter...

Nick Griffin, leader of the British National Party, aryanised.

Nick Griffin is a cunt.

Right, that's the ad hominem attack out of the way. Nick Griffin's acquittal yesterday on charges of inciting racial hatred was the entirely right decision by the jury at Leeds Crown Court. While Griffin is a vicious, distasteful jumped-up little racist, his remarks, especially when taken in the context of his speech as a whole, were not inciting hatred, nor were they particularly even that offensive, especially when compared to the benchmark set by the vast majority of BNP supporters who post on forums such as Stormfront. His description of Islam as a wicked, vicious faith is sadly a view that is becoming mainstream, helped on its way by the constant rantings of the mad Melanie Philips' of this world. As for Britain being a "multi-racial hell hole", that is again his opinion, a completely wrong one, but one that should never be criminalised.

More offensive and gratuitous than Griffin's comments were those by his partner in crime on the night on which he was being filmed by a undercover BBC journalist. Mark Collett, a former student at Leeds University, described asylum seekers as "cockroaches", but said that he hated this country's politicians more because they let them come in. He then ended his reactionary oratory by saying "let's show these ethnics the door in 2004." Again though, while describing those seeking shelter here from torture, death and repression as "cockroaches" is the politics of the sewer, it should not be illegal, nor should it be regarded as inciting racial hatred. His closing remarks are closer to that definition, and could potentially be regarded as a call to violence, but again this would have to be comprehensively proved, which the prosecution failed to do.

I find it sickening that I actually agree with the British National Party, but they are entirely right in calling the two trials a huge waste of taxpayer's money. It was enough in the first place that the BBC exposed the BNP for what it is: a degenerate, racist party of political opportunists, ex-criminals and skinheads, that despite its slick new PR and spin is still teetering on the edge of fascism. There was no reason at all for Nick Griffin and Collett to be put on trial, potentially martyring them in the process for speaking out against the imagined "politically correct" consensus, let alone for them to be prosecuted twice. All it has achieved, as Griffin has stated, is an increase in publicity for them. Whether it's true that they've had an increase in membership and donations is more questionable, as some have been suggestingthat the party could actually be close to bankruptcy.

Even more pathetic has been the response of New Labour to the failure to convict Griffin. Seemingly ignoring the jury's decision, Lord Falconer somehow convinced himself that speaking twaddle such as this was necessary:
What is being said to young Muslim people in this country is that we as a country are anti-Islam, and we have got to demonstrate without compromising freedom that we are not."

According to Falconer then, we have to restrict free speech in order to not compromise freedom. Can he honestly believe such stupidity, or are Labour trying to make up for their own Muslim bashing of late by now changing sides once again?

Some have naturally compared Griffin's acquittal with the conviction of Mizanur Rahman, one of those who took part in the Danish cartoons protest organised by al-Ghruaba in February, who said that soldiers should be brought back from Iraq in body bags, as well as calling for terrorist attacks against Europe. The difference is, as many have been pointing out on the Comment is Free thread, that Rahman openly called for violence. Neither Griffin or Collett did that. While Rahman may have apologised, as we all know, it's incredibly easy to regret something once you've been caught. Whether he genuinely does or not is another matter. As someone also remarks, Rahman might not be a terrorist, but he is an idiot. Griffin and Collett on the other hand, are not idiots. They know exactly what they're doing, and they frame their speeches so that they don't breach any of our highly restrictive laws.

Rather than coming up with yet more new laws, Labour should realise that they are as just as much of the problem as they are the solution. Reid's bullshitting over brainwashing, the constant linking of Muslims with terrorism and the demands that Muslims as a whole denounce the terrorism committed by 4 of those who professed to follow Islam have all been constants over the last few months. This is playing purely into the BNP's hands. Their shift towards attacking Muslims, while peppering their rhetoric with SWP-type working-class solidarity is already working in some areas. If Labour is to compete with this, it has to expose their arguments as false, opportunistic and deeply unpleasant. At the moment they are failing, and their own political bankruptcy is showing. Making their speeches illegal would only increase their totally false sense of grievance, to steal a statement of Blair's.

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Scum-watch: Reverse ferret on Connaught Barracks.

You might recall that earlier this summer the Sun came up with the solution to all the government's prison overcrowding problems. In one of their typically short-sighted campaigns, designed to motivate their readership into an orgy of anger while also bashing our "politically correct" politicians, they suggested that disused Ministry of Defence bases and land could quickly be converted into open prisons. Amazingly, John Reid agreed, and set about looking into how the Connaught Barracks in Dover could quickly come on stream as an open prison.

The Sun was ecstatic. PRISON CAMP WIN FOR SUN, the headline screamed on the 20th of September:

The scheme to convert Connaught Barracks in Dover is a victory for a campaign by The Sun to use old MoD sites to ease Britain’s jails overcrowding crisis.

We highlighted 16 disused sites, some covering vast areas of land, which could be turned into prisons.

The Home Secretary is determined to push through the change, though he may face stiff opposition from local residents trying to block planning permission.
That day's leader was also rejoicing:
WHILE we’re at it, let’s offer a couple of unreserved cheers for John Reid’s plan to use an old army barracks to provide desperately needed jail space.

Officials raised hell when The Sun first suggested this idea a few weeks ago. Today it is seen as plain common sense.

It’s only a start. But at least inmates will be locked up — instead of being freed early from overcrowded prisons, a threat to all law-abiding citizens.

Alas! While to the Sun the idea seemed plain common sense, as a commenter on one of this blog's original posts on the subject said:
As a resident of Dover I am appalled at the proposal to turn the barracks into a Cat D (open) prison. The site is close to 7 schools including the MoD open school (King of Yorks), a housing estate, MoD housing for 100 Gurkhas and their families and Dover Castle. The site also contains a listed historical building - Fort Burgoyne, which the prison service will struggle to maintain.
The lack of consultation and the total disregard for local people and the planning process beggar belief.

Those in the area quickly launched their campaign in opposition to the Home Office's hastily established plans. There was a well-attended march against the Sun's scheme, in Dover's Market Square, and the local Labour MP, Gwyn Prosser, asked those sending letters to the Home Office to give them to him instead so he could take them directly to John Reid.

Mauled, Reid was left with coming up with an excuse that would appease the Sun. He decided to go with the Sun-friendly reason that there are the Gurkhas living locally, with their children being taught at a nearby school. Hence today's mournful Sun leader:
IT’S a disappointment that John Reid has scrapped plans for an open prison at a disused barracks in Dover. But The Sun understands why.

The Home Secretary has heeded local fears about prisoners being housed so close to the families of servicemen away fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

He’s right. Those squaddies go through enough without worrying about the safety of their wives and kids back home.

Mr Reid is as keen as we are that new jail space be found — in other old barracks or on prison ships.

Back to the drawing board, John.

What happened to plain common sense?! What about the bad lags that may now go free as a result?! Rather, as William Higham of the Prison Reform Trust says:

It seems the home secretary is discovering that concreting over the country with jails is not going to be as popular with local residents as it is in the national tabloid press.
Quite. For a newspaper that always claims to have the interests of its readers at its heart, the Sun's desire to build prisons just about anywhere shows a casual arrogance and disdain both for those readers and for the local working people it seeks to represent.

P.S. For those uncertain of what a reverse ferret is, here's a decent definition:
"Kelvin McKenzie, probably the world's greatest tabloid editor (certainly the most obnoxious), used to stalk the newsroom [of Murdoch's British paper, The Sun] urging his reporters generally to annoy the powers that be, to 'put a ferret up their trousers.' He would do this until the moment it became clear that in the course of making up stories, inventing quotes, invading people's privacy, and stepping on toes, The Sun had committed some truly hideous solecism — like running the wrong lottery numbers — when he would rush back to the newsroom shouting, 'reverse ferret!' This is the survival moment, when a tabloid changes course in a blink without any reduction in speed, volume, or moral outrage."

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Friday, November 10, 2006 

Are you scared yet?

It's in the eyes.

I'll admit it. I'm an unreconstructed class warrior. It makes me want to spit to even have to type the name Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller, the current head of the Secret Intelligence Service, better known as MI5. Not only is she a "Dame", but the double-barrelled name just puts the saliva on a cake which has, shall we say, a surprise filling.

I'll also not bother to hide my contempt for another reason. Manningham-Buller was earlier this year asked to give evidence to the parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights. She refused, without explaining why. Perhaps her excuse is, as she says at the start of her speech, "that she prefers to avoid the limelight and get on with my job." And who could possibly disagree with that? Manningham-Buller has the starring role in protecting this country from exploding jihadists, keeping us safe from the mad mullahs which the Sun and others cannot stop talking about.

Then again, maybe we should examine what this woman who wishes to avoid the limelight really thinks. Back in 2003 she made a speech to the Royal United Services Institute, where she said she fully supported the war on an abstract noun (terror),
and told the salivating audience that "renegade scientists" had given terrorists the information needed to create what are usually described as weapons of mass destruction. Three years later, and those terrorist groups which don't usually hold back from showing us just how spectacular their attacks can be, haven't managed to move on from their usual tactic of suicide bombings. Last year, this shy, retiring, limelight avoiding woman made another public utterance, informing us that we may need to give up some civil liberties in order for others not to become smears on tube-train windows. Then there was the leaked evidence from her submission to the law lords, where she made clear that she couldn't give a fig if "evidence" is obtained from detainees who have been tortured.

Have you spotted a pattern? Yes, Ms Double-Barrelled Name is a spook almost made in Tony Blair's image. War on terror supporting; scaremongering about terrorists getting hold of WMD, which was one of the justifications made for the Iraq war; thinks that civil liberties need to be curtailed in order for the threat to be reduced; and yes, rendition, torture, and probably even Guantanamo Bay are all A-OK in her book. Why else would she refuse to give evidence to a parliamentary committee investigating human rights abuses?

Just to be fair to Ms Manningham-Buller, I wondered if her speech yesterday night at the Queen Mary University of London had been perhaps influenced by her finances, despite also her being invited by Peter Hennessey. The Queen Mary University website talks of a
communication office, which seems to go out of its way to be hospitable towards journalistic requests of seemingly any nature. Unless it seems, if you're either: A. a blogger or B: asking about whether the head of MI5 was paid for her appearance, even if just for expenses. As of writing this post at 23:43, having sent the email in the early hours of this morning, I haven't so much as got a reply telling me to piss off.

There were seemingly also no questions asked of Ms Manningham-Buller afterwards, or at least if they were, there are none recorded on either the MI5 website or on the Queen Mary's. This might, just might, be down to the fact that yes, any potentially unruly students or off-message journalists weren't in the audience, as it was invitation only.
The Guardian, which splashed the lecture on its front page, seems only to have been given a copy of actual speech. Later editions of the Sun, which as we have already seen this week are determined to keep their readers as scared of terrorism as humanly possible, also jumped on the talk.

As the news bulletins and reports have repeated throughout the day,
the numbers crunched out by Buller are, on the face of it, rather frightening. According to MI5's head, there are around 200 various terrorist groups or networks which are currently operating in the United Kingdom. Of these, there about 1600 individuals who are actively engaged in either plotting or facilitating attacks, either here or abroad. She says there are nearer 30 than 5 or 10 plots of which they know about, either designed to kill members of the public or "damage" the economy, which seems rather euphemistic.

And err, that's it. Almost everything else that Buller says is pretty much what has been said by politicians of various ilks before, as well as by supposed "security specialists" who usually have their own businesses to promote when they do so and by "well-informed" journalists. She claims that five "conspiracies" since 7/7 have been stopped, as John Reid has previously stated. Again, we don't know yet know anything about those plots, whether those involved have been arrested or just disrupted, as she provides no further background about them. We also don't know whether she's including the alleged liquid explosives plot in those 5, as she doesn't say, but she would doubtless claim, as she does, that she would prejudice cases to do so. The BBC also reported that the speech was specially scheduled so that it fell between two terrorist trials.

Of the 200 groupings she mentions, it's unclear whether all are extremist Islamist groupings, as again, she doesn't infer. She just simply goes on to explain what she feels the average radicalised Muslim is influenced by/and or angry about. All these numbers though seem utterly meaningless. Britain as a country has a population of around 60 million. Of that 60 million, about 1600 are engaged, according to Buller, in frontline terrorist activity. They don't seem to be just the type that posts on jihadist message boards, or goes on the al-Ghuraba affiliates protests. They're either actively planning attacks, or involved in crimes associated with funding terrorism, such as fraud or charities which are actually fronts for terrorist groups. The thing is, Buller doesn't make clear whether these 1600 are working for terrorist cells here, or even for groups such as Hizbullah, Hamas, etc. There have been allegations made repeatedly that charities here are funding Hamas's social work, for example. We don't know whether they would be included in that 1600.

Then there's whether these 1600, are, like Dhiren Barot, fantasists with no funding and no weapons/explosives or otherwise. As Buller says later on in her speech, once she's got the juicy stuff out of the way, the soundbites for the media to devour:
Who are merely talking big, and who have real ambitions? Who have genuine aspirations to commit terrorism, but lack the know-how or materials? Who are the skilled and trained ones, who the amateurs? Where should we and the police focus our finite resources?
All of which are good questions. Yet while Barot definitely had ambitions and aspirations to commit terrorism, he lacked the know-how. He's now destined to become known as the "smoke alarm bomber". He lacked the funding, despite the police desperately telling us that they're certain it was either coming or that he had gone to Pakistan to meet "al-Qaida" leaders to deliver his botched, laughable plans. Barot was however, skilled and trained, unlike Kamel Bourgass, who had just ambitions and aspirations. Not only did Bourgass not have the materials for the "ricin" plot, he also lacked the know-how, wanting to smear a substance he didn't have onto doorknobs, when it has to pierce the skin to be effective. Let's not even mention the Forest Gate raid. Naturally, none of the above is spoken of by Buller.

As part of her conclusion, she also wants to make clear just how unbiased or otherwise her speech has been, and says:
I do not speak in this way to alarm (nor as the cynics might claim to enhance the reputation of my organisation) but to give the most frank account I can of the Al-Qaida threat to the UK. That threat is serious, is growing and will, I believe, be with us for a generation. It is a sustained campaign, not a series of isolated incidents. It aims to wear down our will to resist.
Whether the latter point is true or not is debatable, but I think she is at least being honest in saying that the threat will be with us for a generation. The main problem though is that she, like so many journalists, falls into the simplistic trap of referring to all extremist Muslim terrorism as being the "al-Qaida" threat. This not only gives too much credit to Osama bin Laden, although it's obvious that he has been exceptionally successful in spreading the Salafist millenarian ideology quickly, but it also makes people think of al-Qaida as some monolithic organisation either headed by bin Laden or al-Zahawiri, running things from Pakistan. This is complete and utter rot, and she must know it is. Even though there is some truth to the fact that al-Qaida, removed mostly from Afghanistan, is now regrouping in Pakistan, the group is still mostly in flux, and will continue to be as Musharraf looks likely to crackdown even further shortly. There is no great head group in Pakistan which orders or gives the go-ahead for attacks; what there is, at the most, is sympathetic groups over there that are helping train potential jihadists. Most however, are from Pakistan or the Middle East itself, and are going at the moment, to Iraq. Dhiren Barot had some contact with such a group, having previously fought in Kashmir. Mohammed Sidique Khan and Shehzad Tanweer went to Pakistan, possibly to visit a madrasa, but also to find someone who could teach them how to prepare their explosives. They also recorded their martyrdom videos there, with them afterwards being shipped off to where al-Qaida got hold of them.

The true nature of the current mainstream extremist Islamist ideology, as Buller must know, is that it is autonomous. Various groupings across the globe are using it mainly in struggles which are nationalist in nature, seeking to liberate territory, or to establish an Islamic state. al-Qaida's variety is a mixture of doing this while also targeting the West for its support either for the governments which are oppressing, in their belief, Muslims, and just also generally for existing and being "
kafir". This is what is now generating the cells which are appearing across the Western world. Inspired by al-Qaida and other notorious firebrand preachers or scholars, such as Sayyid Qutb, yes, but actually al-Qaida, members of al-Qaida or being directed by al-Qaida? No. Buller's speech in sections comes close to admitting this, when she refers to the "powerful narrative" of this ideology, but instead carries on blaming al-Qaida as if it's the only game in town, so to speak.

Buller does at least in sections make some decent points. She admits that foreign policy has led to the radicalising of more Muslim youth than otherwise would have been. She recognises that intelligence needs to be assessed objectively, with integrity, and sceptically, although considering the fact that she doesn't seem bothered whether intelligence comes from tortured prisoners, this might be posturing for the press. Mentioning Iraq will also probably be moot.
Her best, and naturally, the least reported part of the speech, is left for towards the end:
We also need to understand some of the differences between non-Western and Western life-styles; and not treat people with suspicion because of their religion, or indeed to confuse fundamentalism with terrorism. We must realise that there are significant differences between faiths and communities within our society, and most people, from whatever origin, condemn all acts of terror in the UK. And we must focus on those values that we all share in this country regardless of our background: Equality, Freedom, Justice and Tolerance. Many people are working for and with us to address the threat precisely for those reasons. Because all of us, whatever our ethnicity and faith, are the targets of the terrorists.
Again, Buller can be regarded as something of a hypocrite, having been involved in the "ricin" case where those accused and found not guilty have since been re-arrested, which seems to be spite rather than justice, and she seems to regard freedom as expendable when it comes to fighting terror. This shouldn't take away though from what is a decent message, often drowned out in the hysteria and sensationalism which seems to grow like a cancer out of the threat.

The main basis for the speech however, despite Buller's protestations, does seem to be to add to the scare mongering and the politicisation of the threat which has been developed by Labour as an electoral asset. Margaret Beckett
also made a speech yesterday which had a decent amount in it about terrorism, ably mocked over on BlairWatch. The Sun won't let us forget for a second that we're all the targets for extremists. The Queen's speech seems likely to introduce yet more terrorism laws, and Gordon Brown appears sold on the idea of reintroducing 90 days once he becomes PM. This is the politics of fear, and if you're not scared yet, then in their eyes there must be something wrong with you.

Update: Only 5 days late, the communications office at Queen Mary responds:

No, she was not paid.
I'm not familiar with your website and have been unable to access it. Do you have another link you could send me please?

Worth every penny, I'm sure.

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Thursday, November 09, 2006 

Stuff happens.

The eventual humbling of the Republicans was always going to lead to an outbreak of optimism and gloating among the Bush administration's opponents. It has also led to some rather hyperbolic, ludicrous commenting by usually sane writers. Simon Jenkins, who is normally soberly realistic about the chances of victory in Afghanistan, reckons that this marks the end of belligerent interventionism. Juan Cole talks of the Democratic victory as the "fourth popular revolution of the twenty-first century", somehow equating the ballot-box changeover to the weeks of camping carried out by the orange revolutionaries in Ukraine. Daily Kos says that the conservative ascendancy has come to an end.

Oh, if it were true. First though, the good news. The Democrats likely have control of both houses of congress; George Allan, the Republican senate candidate for Missouri, is expected to concede defeat shortly. Donald Rumsfeld, the architect of the Iraq war, the signer of the memorandum that led to the abuse at Abu Ghraib, the pig ignorant, arrogant, reactionary cowardly toad, is gone, booted out just days after Bush pledged his full support to him. Katherine Harris, personally involved in the removal of black voters from the electoral rolls in Florida, which led to Bush stealing the 2000 election, was defeated in her attempt to enter the senate. In South Dakota, the referendum on banning abortion in all circumstances was defeated. Missouri voted to allow stem cell research. Arizona, Colorado, Missouri, Montana, Nevada and Ohio all voted to raise the poverty-level minimum wage. The Democrats are now free to hold the Bush administration to account over how the Iraq war was justified and conducted. Nancy Pelosi, the new Democrat speaker, has also pledged to introduce a number of remarkably sane, liberal bills to congress.

The bad news does rather take the gloss off the relief that has come from the Democrats finally getting their act together, however. Bush's nomination for new defence secretary, Robert Gates, is yet another Bush Snr crony, head of the CIA between 91 and 93, involved in Iran-Contra and was more than happy to sell Saddam Hussein's Iraq such delightful weapons as cluster bombs. The only bright side is that he doesn't have the neo-con heritage which so many of the men Bush surrounded himself in his first term had. Having moved on from racism, the new bigotry in America is against gay men and women. Colorado, Idaho, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia and Wisconsin all voted to ban same sex marriages, adding to the number of states which banned in it referendums in 2004. Of the Democrats elected to Congress, a frightening number are what are coyly referred to as "centrists", or as you or I would call them, hard right-wingers that are opposed to abortion, gun control and immigration. The only thing separating many of them from their Republican rivals was the fact that they were anti-war. The Democratic success is also only likely to further encourage Hillary Clinton to run for President in 2008, and if she manages to win, will mean that the world's greatest democracy will have been essentially run by two dynasties for the last 20 years. Apart from that rather disconcerting fact, Ms. Clinton is a hugely divisive figure, and in her shameless attempts to court a certain Mr Murdoch (sound familiar?) has become even more bellicose than many Republicans over Iran, as well as shifting her position on abortion. She also believes that Grand Theft Auto is a "major threat" to morality. Bless.

For the natural pessimist then, there seems little to get too excited about. Whatever the Iraq Study Group eventually reports and recommends, there is little to suggest that Bush is going to pull the troops out any time soon, meaning that the British troops won't be departing either. The Democrats, despite wearing their anti-war prospectus on their sleeves, are split over withdrawal. Rumsfeld may have gone, but Cheney remains, and as made clear by his pro-torture remarks last week, is unrestrained as ever. The secret prisons, rendition flights, and kidnappings are not going to come to an end. Guantanamo remains open, and in January will have been accepting detainees for five years. There's no reason to expect that there'll be any respite in the Iran nuclear dispute; the spectre of a surprise attack on the reactors remains. There's next to no difference between the Democrats and the Republicans over Israel-Palestine. Olmert will not be forced to the talks table, especially if Clinton takes the presidency in two years. Her support for the war crimes committed by Israel in Lebanon, killing over 1000 civilians and leaving a legacy of hundreds of thousands of unexploded cluster bomblets, marks her out as being no different to Condoleezza Rice's insultingly biased diplomacy. As Simon Tisdall reports Robert Kagan as saying, once the smoke has cleared, we will have much the same America to deal with.

All of that though is forgetting the millions of Americans who went to the polls determined to give Bush and the Republicans their first bloody nose for all the blood spilt in Iraq. As the Guardian and numerous others have already said, thank you. Within six months Blair should also be gone, and the awfulness of the first six years of the twenty-first century will hopefully slowly start to fade. Saddam may swing shortly, but his old friend Rumsfeld already has, politically at least.

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Wednesday, November 08, 2006 

Just another horrible, ugly massacre.

Scenes of the carnage caused by today's Israeli shelling of Beit Hanoun, which killed 19 Palestinians. The last image shows the aftermath of Israeli firing on unarmed Palestinian women residents of Beit Hanoun, who marched last week to a mosque where Palestinian militants were taking refuge.

It is completely impossible to describe the Israeli shell attack today on Beit Hanoun, which killed 19 Palestinians, including 9 children, as anything other than a massacre. Israel, as it always does when its soldiers kill civilians, has said that it "regrets" the "incident", and is investigating what went wrong. It's worth remembering that a previous inquiry into a similar attack, the shelling of the Gaza beach which killed 7 people, including all of Huda Ghalia's siblings, concluded that the deaths were actually caused by a Hamas land mine, even though every piece of evidence pointed to the carnage being caused either by an errant Israeli shell or by previous unexploded Israeli ordnance. While a cover-up along the same lines will be more difficult this time, it's highly unlikely any soldier will even be so much as disciplined for the latest tragedy in what is an increasingly bloody war of attrition.

As the weeks go by, it becomes more and more difficult to take any positives at all from the current situation, both in Gaza and the West Bank, as well as Israel itself. The week-long Israeli incursion into Beit Hanoun, a town of 35,000 on the border between the Strip and Israel, has resulted in the deaths of at least 50 Palestinians, some of whom were militants, but the toll also includes women, children and ambulance drivers. The Israeli justification for the incursion, the continuing firing of feeble Qassam rockets into Sderot (some have reached further inside Israel, hitting the city of Ashkelon), the majority of which either hit nothing or cause incredibly minor damage or injuries, only very rarely kill. 6 to 8 Israelis have so far been killed since the first Qassam hit Israeli territory in early 2002. 3 foreign workers and a number of Palestinians have also died as a result of their use. By the crude method of body count comparison, more died in today's shelling than have been killed in four years of Qassam firing. While the firing of such rockets is an act of simple resistance, their use is just as counter-productive and indefensible as sending suicide bombers to kill innocent Israeli civilians. While they may not kill, they are designed to terrorise, something which they amply do. Their continued usage only provides the Israelis with yet another excuse for their acts of collective punishment on the Palestinians of Gaza as a whole.

Last week's collective civil disobedience by the women of Beit Hanoun, who heeded the call of the radio to help defend suspected miltants who were seeking refuge from Israelis soldiers in a mosque, was an example of the kind of tactics that the Palestinians should employ more often. The bravery of the mass of hijab wearing women, marching towards what turned out to be the death of two of them, was one of the most humbling spectacles that has been broadcast on the news for a long time. The savagery of the Israeli response, which was to fire into the crowd of unarmed women underlined yet again the abyss that the IDF has dived into, from the moral high ground which it continues to claim that it operates from. Their justification was that armed militants were among them. While the militants in the mosque were later freed, disguised wearing spare hijabs brought by the women, there has been no evidence presented that any of the women were armed, or that militants were among them. Television pictures showed what appeared to be a young male Palestinian dressed in a hijab who had been shot, but there were no weapons to be seen.

While the use of violence by both sides leads to an impasse that renders both sides in the eyes of the world as little better than each other, the potential of civil disobedience to wring concessions from the Israelis has been little used. It has to be said that such potential protests could be foolhardy against a state which fires Hellfire missiles into the crowded, bustling streets of Gaza City, yet could Israel withstand the international condemnation which would arise from the deaths of unarmed men and women confronting Israeli soldiers when they make incursions into the Strip? At the moment the Israelis constantly hide behind the pretence of killing terrorists and stopping the Qassams from being fired, but how could it justify the summary execution of an unarmed massing of women and men which stops the soldiers and tanks from operating?

At the moment, all the Palestinians are left with is their anger and the thirst of elected politicians for revenge. Even though Israel has called a temporary halt to the shelling of Gaza while it investigates today's outrages, Hamas has responded predictably but irresponsibly by firing yet more Qassams. Any lulls in the launching of missiles should be reciprocal, however much one side is angered by what happens from one day to the next. The current mindset of Hamas, still negotiating with Fatah over attempts to bring them into the Palestinian Authority government, seems to be on the level of cutting off your nose to spite your face, calling for apparent action against America, although whether they intend their message to be taken as a call for violence or for a boycott is unclear. Ghazi Hamad, a Hamas spokesman, in a similar call to that alleged to have been made by Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said that "this state [Israel] should cease to exist." Despite the war of words, Hamas's sort of ceasefire, known as tahdiyah, a period of calm, continues to hold. No suicide bomber from Hamas has been sent into Israel itself since August 2004, while their final suicide bombing to date was carried out at the Gush Katif checkpoint in January 2005. Islamic Jihad and the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade have continued attacks, although only 2 suicide bombings have been directed against civilians in 2006.

There are apologists on all sides for the killing and maiming which continues unabated. Davide over at the Nether-World made a mild post linking the mid-term elections in the US to Israel's incursion into Beit Hanoun, and was targeted by the Israeli online pressure group for his trouble. Their purpose is to distort polls and shout down anyone who even so much as dares to speak out against the crimes committed by the Israelis. No one denies that the Palestinians are often their own worst enemy, yet Israel is by far the country most associated with state terrorism. To say so is not to deny that bloody massacres have been committed in the past by the party which now forms the Palestinian Authority, but neither does it justify the continuing boycott of the Hamas government, which is only contributing to more support for the group. Hamas has put forward plans for a ten-year ceasefire, which while not going far enough, should be a good starting point for negotiations with the West over the dropping of sanctions. The worst thing now would be a continuing of the status quo. With the bringing into the Israeli government of the openly racist Avigdor Lieberman, the Palestinians for once can stand on the moral high ground. Now would be a perfect time for genuine concessions. For our part, the British government should do as much as possible to further the cause of moderates on both sides. The return to peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians cannot come soon enough.

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Tuesday, November 07, 2006 

A short call to arms.

To any Americans reading this blog:

I know us Brits are not the best people to urge you to vote for anyone but George Bush. We failed miserably in cutting Blair down to size at the last election. The Grauniad's attempt at doing something similar in Clark County, Ohio, rather backfired. I also realise how utterly hopeless the Democrats are, how little difference they genuinely offer, with some of them even to the right of liberal Republicans. Nevertheless, a vote for the Democrats today will strike a blow against just a few of these things. In some states it might be a necessary evil. A less than resounding victory for the Democrats will mean Bush will be completely unrestrained for the last two years of his presidency, free to think only of his legacy and nothing else. You might have noticed this is the current situation in Britland, and it's not a fun place to be at the moment. A vote against Bush is a vote for a better world. Honestly.

Thanks for reading.

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Scum-watch: Stay scared.

All the opinions offered in today's Sun leader are utterly contemptible, from the argument that those who accidentally kill through dangerous or careless driving are guilty of a crime tantamount to murder, (Why say it's tantamount when it's obvious that the leader writer believes it is murder? I thought the Sun was meant to speak freely.) to the unmitigated support it gives to the DNA database (which they bizarrely call DNA tests) without bothering to consider the dangers the databases poses to the innocent citizens it campaigns for, whose information is kept whether they are ever charged with a crime or not. (Not to mention the danger of being accused of a crime you didn't commit as a result of leaving your DNA at what later becomes a crime scene.)

Let's concentrate on the main topic, which is headlined "Stay on guard":

EVERY month without a new 7/7 terror strike lulls us into dangerous false security.

Memories have faded so fast that some would rather condemn police for overkill than praise them for trying to protect us.

So the trial of terror plotter Dhiren Barot is a timely wake-up call.

Barot admits planning bombs big enough to puncture the River Thames and flood the capital’s Tube network.

His targets included mainline stations and top hotels.

And he aimed to paralyse London and New York with simultaneous nuclear dirty bombs.

Barot can’t be dismissed as a harmless fantasist.

He was trained to kill by al-Qaeda. His signed plans were found in Pakistan.

Barot’s confession saves us a long and costly trial.

But security chiefs warn there are hundreds more where he came from — and thousands willing to offer support. It is only a matter of time before some succeed.

We cannot afford to drop our guard for an instant.

The Sun tells us that Barot can't be dismissed as a harmless fantasist. Indeed, he apparently "aimed to paralyse London and New York with simultaneous nuclear dirty bombs", the leader tells us. You don't need Barot to be a fantasist when the Sun can play that role perfectly well. Where was the "nuclear" material for these bombs going to come from? Err, smoke alarms. Yes, that's right, Barot was planning to harvest americium-241, a man-made radioactive chemical, from smoke alarms for his nefarious plot. The BBC Horizon programme in 2003 ran a couple of scenarios which involved bombs containing a radiation source. It concluded that you would have to stand in the area where the bomb had been exploded for an extended amount of time, apparently without the area being quarantined and cleaned, and only then would the level of contamination lead to 1 in 7 developing cancer. Barot's plan was utterly ridiculous. It's little wonder that next to no reports are mentioning the reality of his dirty bomb idea; it falls apart with the slightest amount of scrutiny, but the "nuclear dirty bomb" message comes through loud and clear.

Also on Barot's terror shopping list was his desire to puncture the walls of a London underground tunnel, leading to water flooding in. He wrote:
" ... Imagine the chaos that would be caused if a powerful explosion were to rip through here and actually rupture the river itself," he wrote. "This would cause pandemonium, what with the explosions, flooding, drowning, etc that would occur/result."
One problem with this. Such a bomb would need to be so powerful that it would rip not just through the train carriage, but through the reinforced tunnel walls and at a point where the tube is very close indeed to the Thames. As the police have admitted, not only did Barot not have explosives, he didn't even have funding for his plans. They clarified this slightly by stating that they have also not found any of the weapons which they allege that Barot did have in his possession, which remains a rather tenuous justification to say the least.

The Sun is quite right however that he can't be dismissed as a harmless fantasist. He clearly attended terrorist training camps, although whether he was trained by "al-Qaida" in more arguable. It's alleged he was involved in mujahadein operations in Kashmir, where he wrote The Army of Madinah in Kashmir, detailing his experiences and ways in which to kill Indian soldiers. He was fully aware of counter-surveillance methods, which he used in an attempt to evade attention.

Barot though was caught, and without the need for 90 days detention. Not only that, but the police case was so compelling that he admitted to his plans for potential mass murder. Rather than the Sun using this as an example of the police getting things right for a change, it's an excuse to further scare the public of the terrorist threat. Apparently we're being lulled into a "false sense of security", only a few months after the anniversary of the 7/7 attacks, only 3 after the alleged "liquid explosives plot", and only a couple after John Reid's brainless speech advising Muslim parents to be suspicious of their children, as extremists are out to brainwash them. Instead of being concerned that between the 7th of July and now the police have killed one innocent man and injured another, we're meant to take everything they tell us about the terrorist threat at face value, even when they claim that the "liquid bombs plot" was meant to "kill on a unprecedented scale", despite scientists immediately calling into question the idea that such explosives could be mixed and detonated once on board a plane. We're meant to submit to whatever measures are necessary in order to fight this scourge. Rather than reassuring us that a man with such ominous and deadly plans is now starting a life sentence, the Sun wants us to stay scared. We can only speculate as to why.

Related post: Five Chinese Crackers - Super soaraway PROPAGANDA ARSEPAPER!

Update: I slightly misrepresented Barot's idea concerning radiation from smoke alarms. His actual plan, outlined in the prosecution's case against Barot by Edmund Lawson QC, was based on the concern caused in France when a truck carrying 900 smoke detectors crashed. Barot's plan was to use around 10,000 smoke detectors, and either set them on fire or put them on top of explosives. As Tom on BlairWatch explains:
15cm * 15cm * 4cm = volume of 900 cubic centimetres
10000 of those is 9000000 cubic cm or 9 cubic metres. So we're talking of someone spending £50,000 he didn't have piling up a stack of smoke alarms into a tower 1m square and 9m tall, then setting fire to it, in the middle of a city, without anyone noticing, releasing a total of 0.002 grams of a slightly radioactive substance which is only dangerous in gram quantities. Scared yet?

Yes. Terrified. Spy Blog also goes over the prosecution claims with a critical eye.

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Monday, November 06, 2006 

Blair's language abuse.

Of New Labour's crimes, their bastardisation and destruction of the English language is pretty well down the list, but every so often it still comes along and bites you on the ass. This is the government that talks of "stakeholders", "community action zones", "schools in special measures" and "city academies". John Prescott is deputy prime minister. The word dossier will never carry the same clout as it once did. The latest word to come under attack, this time from the prime minister himself, is "modernity."

What exactly do you think of when you hear modernity? Forget about the horrible vacuousness of post-modernism for a second, and just imagine modernity. It's a pleasant word, one which can variously elicit images of the best of society; freedom, open spaces, welcoming buildings, the finest of new technology. On the other hand, modernity can also be a faintly fascistic word, and it's in this sense which Blair uses it, whether he realises it or not. Blair's modernity, rather than being the best of a progressing society, is a fearful, vicious, ugly, deeply regressive, decaying state of affairs. In Blair's modernity, yobs are scattering glass on children's roundabouts, that man who lives at the end of the street is watching the school playground out of his window, and foreigners are scampering to enter Britain in order to defile our women and scrounge on the welfare state.

Underneath the facile exterior of Blair's cheeriness and "I'm your mate, I am!" smarmy attitude, lies a cynical, calculating politician who refuses to give up. His original clutching at straws was first properly witnessed in the run-up to the Iraq war; first we had to be fearful of Saddam's weapons of mass destruction, then it was his potential links to al-Qaida, before Blair sobbed for the citizens of the country who he was about to bomb, despite never showing any concern for them before in his whole time as an MP. He's now repeating a very similar cycle of defiance and absolutism in his attempts to convince the country that ID cards are a swell idea. All the arguments he set out today, both in a Telegraph article and at his press conference, have been gone over before and exposed as weak at best. That doesn't matter though, this is Blair we're talking about. Once he's convinced himself of the case for something, he won't rest until the country's under the same spell.

The first jab he leads with is that ID cards will make our borders more secure and help counter illegal immigration. This one is so flimsy that it's the type that can be brushed away like a fly; asylum seekers are already issued with ID cards. For those who don't go through the asylum system, the card isn't going to stop a gangmaster from paying his quarry with cash. As Henry Porter argues, those who make some money and want to trade up will get a fake ID card. Next up, this time a swing from the left, is the illusion that ID cards will somehow halt all those men who wish to do us harm by blowing themselves up. They didn't in Spain, where those who carried out the Madrid bombings had them. ID cards may even make the threat even worse; as soon as ID cards arrive they'll be a rush by the hackers and cloners to break the security, which they will. Potential terrorists then might be able to further evade the security services with their newly created false identity. It's the equivalent of Charles Clarke last week on Question Time: when an audience member made a point about the 7/7 terrorists not being identified as they went around their business, Clarke countered that actually CCTV had been instrumental in helping establish their movements. Once they were dead, that is, having taken 52 other people with them.

You know what else these little magic cards are going to do? They're only going to make crime drop even further! Yep, through the database, which the police will naturally have access to, along with numerous other pieces of information that PC Plod will be more than happy to leak to the press should you ever get in a spot of bother, they'll be able to check up even quicker on whether you are who you say you are. How this will help detection rates isn't properly explained, but that doesn't really matter. If Blair says these cards are going to be a panacea, you better believe it too.

Here then is the final argument. These cards aren't going to be an issue of civil liberties being restricted or breached, rather they're just "modernity" raising its head. There's nothing you can do about modernity, it just happens, a little like shit does. It's similar to how with next to no debate the police suddenly have the DNA and fingerprints of nearly 4 million people, 50,000 of them children, with god knows how many of that number never being charged with any crime. It's how Britain has been rated by Privacy International as being only slightly less repressive than China; they got a score of 1.3, we thrashed them with 1.5. In case you're not convinced that this modernity is a no-brainer, then Mr Blair wants to bombard you with good vibes by commissioning an "action plan", which will estimate just how great these cards will make your life in 10 years time. Whether by then we'll be able to beat China in the surveillance society stakes will doubtless not be considered.

Just to highlight the irony of Blair's claims of modernity, in the same press conference he was repeatedly questioned over Margaret Beckett's rather strong comments about Saddam being executed, with it being entirely right that he should face "Iraqi justice", which must mean that he's going to be tortured with a power drill, be snarled at by a dog and then be beaten to death by some CIA interrogators. Finally, he was forced into condemning the death penalty, then justifying himself by bringing up the brutality of Iraq under Mr Hussein, naturally as opposed to how the country is now. Death begats death, torture begats torture, modernity begats modernity. Get used to it.

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Saturday, November 04, 2006 

An eye for an eye.

In the trailer for Sacha Baron Cohen's film based around his Borat character, Cohen's alter-ego begs that people go see his movie, otherwise he will be "execute." While Borat advertises his Kazakhstani hertiage at every turn, he could just as easily be from Iraq, the basis of his act being the exposing of the ignorance and bigotry of his victims.

Meanwhile, in Iraq itself, another notorious and sadly not fictional character awaits his very own real execution. It's expected that Saddam Hussein will tomorrow be sentenced to death for his ordering of the killing of 148 Shia men in Dujail, after an assassination attempt against him failed in 1982.

Even for those of us who are vehemently against the death penalty in all circumstances, it's incredibly difficult to come up with any good, let alone compelling reasons for why such a tyrant should be spared the hangman's noose. Previously, the best argument for why Saddam's life should be saved was that imprisonment for the rest of his life would mean him having to suffer the humiliation of seeing a free, democratic and prosperous Iraq emerge from out of the blood-soaked ruins of his reign. That argument now seems laughable, as almost 50 bodies seem to turn up daily in Baghdad showing signs of torture.

The main opposition to a quick end to Saddam's life is now his defence lawyers, and some who are concerned that his death will lead to a further upsurge in violence from the Sunni community, whose home in the Anbar province is already the most restless in the country. Such claims are rather hollow, as while there is no chance that Saddam's impending doom will help unite the country as once hoped, it seems equally unlikely that the level of violence could honestly get much worse, unless there was a total uprising from those who still hold some allegiance either to Saddam himself or the Ba'athist regime.

The only remaining point to make then is the morally relativist one. Will Saddam's death honestly help the Iraqi people move on? Will it stop the violence? Will it solve anything? Or will it rather simply further enrage an already disenfranchised, seething community which has seen its privileges evaporate? Will it mark the new Iraqi regime as just as potentially bloodthirsty and believing in vengeance as Saddam himself was while in power? Will one execution mitigate for the deaths of hundreds of thousands? It won't, but as Iraq's new prime minister states that he hopes that Saddam gets what he deserves, it appears that the life of one of the 20th century's worst dictators is coming to a close.

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Friday, November 03, 2006 

Straw's speech, and some associated musings.

Jack Straw has slightly clarified his original article which triggered the at times hysterical debate earlier this month on Muslim women who wore the full veil. Speaking at the Three Faiths Forum, as reported by the BBC:
Commons leader Jack Straw says he wants to avoid a situation where "the Muslim community, or any of our communities, feel isolated and defensive".

A "stronger sense of shared British identity" was needed among all ethnic groups and religions, the Blackburn MP told an inter-faith conference.

Some groups have criticised him for saying he asked Muslim women if they would remove their veils in meetings.

But Mr Straw said a "frank debate" on the state of society was needed.

In a speech at University College London, he argued that during the last 50 years, people's "sense of class" had dissolved.

This had led to an "erosion of collective sense of community", he said.

Mr Straw claimed people had come to view themselves "more in terms of their cultural, ethnic, national, gender or religious affiliations".

"Britishness" could provide "common values", such as liberty, tolerance and the rule of law, he added.

This was "not about a nation - there are Scottish, English and Welsh nations".

But people should speak a "common language", as this was essential to communication between religions and ethnic groups, Mr Straw said.

He told the Three Faiths Forum: "Simply breathing the same air as other members of society isn't integration.

"Britishness is thus an identity available to Anglicans, Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus and those of other religions and none, and a central element of that identity is the principle that everyone has the freedom to practise their faith not as a matter of tolerance but of right."

He added: "There is no inevitability that our communities will splinter and divide.

"Nor is there any inevitability that our attempts to heal divides will succeed. Progress depends on our willingness to engage."

Much of Straw's original article was so uncontroversial, simply an account of his personal decision that he preferred that women who came to see him in his constituency office to remove the full veil if they wore one, that the debate it set off - which ended with the Daily Express using its front page to demand a ban on niqabs, and the Sun continuing its efforts to paint the entire Muslim community as potential collaborators and responsible for the actions of the few extremists in its midst, not to mention the numerous reports of physical and verbal abuse suffered by Muslims in its wake, some tenuously linked, some not, to Straw's article - must have seemed utterly grotesque to him. Straw was right to start the debate, and it's also right that he calls attempts to make him responsible for the attacks on Muslims "absurd" and "ridiculous"; those who deserve the blame are those who carried out such actions, with the reaction of some of the tabloids also deserving of at the very least scrutiny for their potential role.

Straw's most controversial comment was his belief that the wearing of the full veil is a visible sign of separation, a view since supported by both Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and the Sun, since it makes positive relations between communities more difficult. While he doesn't repeat this view in his speech, he does say that he'd write the same article again. Straw, saying that he wants to avoid a situation where communities feel isolated and defensive, shows that he has always had the best interests of the country at heart. What rankles though is that he should have realised that his article, written at a time when Muslims were feeling under siege,
following comments by John Reid that extremists in their midst are trying to brainwash their kids (complete nonsense soon showed as such by the concerns of the security services that those who are becoming radicalised are getting the majority of their bile from jihadists on the internet, not extremist imams or individual firebrands) and the Sun's overplaying of a Muslim police officer being excused from guarding the Israeli embassy, would have been used by both the far-right and the likes of Anjem Choudary to further their own intolerance.

Most of the rest of Straw's speech is close to the ideas of Gordon Brown, whose Scottishness has resulted in him trying to be all things to all men, with him deciding on promoting "Britishness" as to try to defend himself from the newspapers picking up on the "West Lothian question." Brown's idea of Britishness, which seems to share the same sort of ideals and principles as David Cameron's views on what teenagers should be aspiring towards, is the mixing of responsibilities and rights that indulges the view of the right that the country is going to hell in a handcart. As this blog has mentioned before, this idea the rights have to be earned rather than automatically acquired is a curious one, considering this is the time of year we remember and honour the men and women who gave their lives so that we could live in freedom. While Straw doesn't mention responsibilities, he's completely right that a common language is essential; it isn't too much to ask at all that English should be easily available to be learned and should be learned, although whether being able to speak the language fluently should be required before citizenship is given is another matter entirely.

He's also correct in stating that integration is not simply breathing the same air - far from it. Where his general thesis starts to crack though is his belief that people's sense of class has dissolved. While class and class
consciousness have certainly broken down since the 1970s, Britain is still undoubtedly a class-ridden society. The difference between now and then is that the working class, or the remnants of it, have next to no voice. The middle and upper classes retain all their networks, their benefits and their voice. You only have to look at the Tory A-list to see the same old snobs that have driven that party for generations. The Daily Mail and Express remain the "voice" of middle class outrage, more interested in class warfare than Labour has ever been. What's changed was the breaking of working class solidarity during the 80s, as Thatcher's individualism started to take root. New Labour did nothing to alter this; instead, despite its first two huge majorities it's continued to concentrate on the whims of a tiny amount of swing middle class voters, only now starting to realise that it's left its core support apathetic and angry, with the middle classes returning to Cameron's caring 'n' kinder Tories. As Straw nearly notes, the almost abolition of the working class influence on politics has left different cultural, ethnic and faith groups to form their own advocacy organisations, which aim to voice their communities' hopes and fears.

This has really what has turned out to be disastrous for Labour in the end. Despite some quiet, almost stealth attempts to be redistributive, in a number of communities the BNP has moved into the vacuum. As has been noted, a degree of their local rhetoric is actually closer to that of the SWP than to a white nationalist party. Their agenda is to bash Labour and further their own racist ideas, while affecting to listen to the worries that Labour has seemingly ignored. Whilst some areas have resisted, such as in the north, the BNP made their first major breakthrough in Dagenham, running a campaign claiming that asylum seekers, "ethnics" and immigrants had been given housing ahead of local people. Instead of Labour reassuring the public and making clear that such propaganda is a bunch of lies, they spent more time in the last local elections fighting Respect in Tower Hamlets. Having apparently seen the error of their ways, the last month's Muslim bashing has been the first wave of an attempt to win back those it seems to have neglected, giving into the BNP agenda that it could have stopped from flourishing. While I don't think Jack Straw's comments were a part of this, John Reid, Phil Woolas and Ruth Kelly's interventions almost certainly were.

The other major objection I have with Straw's analysis is that I don't honestly believe that there is that huge a gaping chasm between the different communities. There's a certain amount of naivety in Straw's claims that the veil is a barrier of separation when over the last month we've seen numerous confident, assertive young Muslim women coming forward to voice their opinion on the matter, showing no signs of wanting to hide themselves away or not have the discussion. As the BBC article goes on:
One veiled woman in the audience said to him afterwards: "I recognise that you feel uncomfortable.

"I sympathise in a way but I don't accept that these women who visited your surgery are less integrated.

"I don't fell any less British or feel any less common value with British society."

Mr Straw replied: "We will both go away from this. If we bumped into each other in the street, I would be able to say hello to you.

"You would not be able to do the same. The obvious reason is that I cannot see your face.

"Chance conversations make society stronger."
Straw doesn't seem to see the flaw in his argument: the simple fact that the woman would be perfectly capable of starting a conversation up. Doesn't it seem rather obvious that these women, despite wearing the veil, which we're told is meant to be a symbol of oppression, are capable of doing anything they want? We're making assumptions about them purely on the way they've decided to dress. Another telling moment was when the teaching assistant suspended for refusing to remove her veil in class said that she felt more integration also had to be carried out on "our" side, to the indignation of the Sun. Once we've got over questioning these women for their apparent level of religious devotion, maybe then we'll realise that we've got just as many potential prejudices which fall apart under investigation as we believe those who refuse to integrate have.

This seems to be the nub of the point. At the moment, the mainstream media seem to believe that Muslim communities need to do more to integrate themselves into society, become "British" as it were. Some appear to be demanding assimilation rather than more understanding and co-operation. At the same time, the Muslim community appears to be doing exactly what Straw doesn't want to it to, becoming isolated and defensive. As ever, there is going to have to be a compromise. When the Express demands that the veil be banned, and David Davis suggests that there's a type of voluntary apartheid occuring, it's little wonder that the community feels under attack. At the same time, there does need to be less general hostility shown towards light criticism, which is what Jack Straw's original article was, until it was taken by the right wing as confirming all their prejudices. The far-left has just as much a role in this as the far-right, with some members of Respect being more offended by Straw's article than many Muslim groups were. Only through greater reasoning and rational debate, which it appears that Straw's speech and the reaction to it was, will the gap that does exist be mended. Straw could help further this new beginning by telling his colleagues to lay off the rhetoric and to listen more. I'm not holding my breath.

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Thursday, November 02, 2006 

Scum-watch: "Faces of evil."

Another day, another rant in the Sun about the likes of Anjem Choudary and Abu Izzadeen, aka Omar Brooks, who were protesting outside the Old Bailey where a man was being tried for inciting racial hatred over the Danish Mohammad cartoons protest back in Feburary.

POLICE want demonstrators to be banned from burning the Union Jack – or any other national flag.

They should go further — and outlaw protesters who cover their faces.

Yesterday’s scenes outside the Old Bailey, where a defendant is accused of soliciting murder, were an outrage.

Belligerent extremists like these, masquerading as the voice of Islam, must surely offend any moderate Muslim.

The ugly mug of troublemaker Abu Izzadeen was clearly visible as he held a bullhorn for ranting Anjem Choudary.

But they were surrounded by thuggish figures in headscarves who scuffled with police.

Their headgear is a sinister reminder of the throat-slitting execution gangs who feature on al-Jazeera TV.

The violent image and their rabble-rousing words are an unacceptable challenge to British justice.

If the veil is a social barrier, as Jack Straw rightly argues, this terrorist-style headgear is downright intimidating.
The protest was actually the complete opposite of an outrage. It was amusing for all the wrong reasons. It showed the stinking hypocrisy of everything Choudary and his acolytes stand for. Their demands for sharia law, especially the kind of sharia law favoured by fundamentalists, would mean that the freedom of speech which allows Choudary to protest would be effectively destroyed. Choudary's denial of the Pope's freedom of expression, saying that under sharia law he could be executed for insulting the prophet, highlights the irony at the heart of their demands. They want to be free to incite murder against those who "insult Islam", yet favour destroying that very freedom for everyone but themselves.

Nothing that Choudary said at the demonstration, or the placards of those taking part, broke any laws. Choudary's claim that:

"We should not be surprised at people doing something like 7/7. How else do you expect Muslims to express themselves?"
while potentially offensive, is actually a slur on Muslims as a whole. It's not gloryifying terrorism, it's just a stupid remark from a man with a one track mind. The political climate of the last month, with hostility towards Muslims rising by the day after Jack Straw's comments on the veil, has been calmed down, partially because the media have moved on, but also because of the inclusiveness of those from the Muslim community who have moved to reassure the public, such as Salma Yaqoob, a woman who was targeted by the extremists herself. Choudary's remarks though are not the only problem; would it not be better to let Choudary and Izzadeen get on with what they're doing, rather than constantly giving them the publicity they so obviously desire for their cause? The answer should be obvious, but despite the Sun's constant refrain that Choudary offends "moderate" Muslims (note how you're either a moderate or an extremist, not just a Muslim), this is the same newspaper that constantly demands the Muslim community as a whole to unequivocally condemn terrorism, as if they every single one of them is in some way responsible. Their constant coverage of Choudary gives the impression that they view all the Muslims of Britain as a potential threat, rather than accepting that there are extremists within all communities, all faiths and all ideologies.

Choudary and Izzadeen with "evil" face covering fellow demonstrators; members of Jama'at al-Tawhid wal Jihad, Iraq based terrorist group, with hostages Eugene Armstrong, Kim Sun-il, Jack Hensley and Shosei Koda (RIP) -- only the group with Sun-il are wearing anything close to the head coverings of the protestors; an Iraqi Kurdish militiaman wearing a Keffiyeh.

More offensive than anything that Choudary said though is the casual way that the Sun not only calls those demonstrating evil, but links the protesters covering of their faces to the likes of groups such as al-Qaida in Iraq, the alleged perpetrators of the beheadings of hostages such as Ken Bigley. As can be seen from the photograph on the Sun's report page, it looks as if maybe one of them is wearing something similar to the scarves used by the terrorists in Iraq. These scarves are similar to the Arab Keffiyeh, worn by some men throughout the Middle East, and made famous by Yasser Arafat's fondness for them. In other shots from such videos, the masked men are wearing balaclavas, not scarves. The Sun's allegation that Choudary and Izzadeen were surrounded by those wearing them is thus rather hollow, as is the claim that all of them "scuffled" with the police. The Telegraph reports that 4 men were arrested, after one of them allegedly assaulted a photographer (probably one of the Sun's), with 3 of them attempting to help the one who had been grabbed by the police. On a demonstration that was attended by all of around 100 people, 4 having a minor scuffle with the police is not exactly a major news story, except when it's hyped up to be one.

The Sun's simplistic and inflammatory linking of the demonstrators to murderers when what they're clearly doing is hiding their faces is just another part of their unending support for whatever powers the police want, whether it's to be able to hold terrorists suspects without charge for 90 days or to ban flag burning. They seem to accept such chilling restrictions on the right to freedom of expression without thinking for a second about the consequences on other demonstrations, where those who wear fancy dress to make a point, such as Blair and Bush masks, or dressing up as the Grim Reaper for instance, would as a result of such legislation be effectively banned. Would the Sun also ban the wearing of hooded tops, if they were used by such protesters? We should be told. The Sun's rhetoric that such demonstrations are an unacceptable challenge to British justice is laughable. On the contrary, it makes clear that in this country we regard the right to protest as far higher up the list of things to protect, despite the dilution of it under Labour, than the right not to be offended by one issue campaigning hypocrites.

Oh, and if you want a comparison with the faces of evil, then there's this "news" article dedicated to Prince William being trained to "kill", complete with mocked-up photograph of Wills charging with a bayonet while grinning. Demonstrating with your face covered is unacceptable, but being trained by the army to end the life of another human being, rather than being a sad reality of today's world, is instead something worth actively celebrating.

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Wednesday, November 01, 2006 

Data rape.

Of all this government's attacks on civil liberties, the most dangerous appears to be yet to come. The horrendously expensive, ridiculously unnecessary central NHS database being supplied by iSoft (who have had to be bailed out by the government already, after their accounts were exposed as being imaginative to say the least) is finally getting ready to start up. As the Grauniad reports, it seems likely that cradle-to-grave medical records are going to be uploaded to it, which up to 250,000 NHS staff will have access to. The police and security services are already itching to get at this information.

Millions of personal medical records are to be uploaded regardless of patients' wishes to a central national database from where information can be made available to police and security services, the Guardian has learned.

Details of mental illnesses, abortions, pregnancy, HIV status, drug-taking, or alcoholism may also be included, and there are no laws to prevent DNA profiles being added. The uploading is planned under Whitehall's bedevilled £12bn scheme to computerise the health service.

The health department's IT agency has made it clear that the public will not be able to object to information being loaded on to the database: "Patients will have data uploaded ... Patients do not have the right to say the information cannot be held."

Once the data is uploaded, the onus is on patients to speak out if they do not want their records seen by other people. If they do object, an on-screen "flag" will be added to their records. But any objection can be overridden "in the public interest".

Harry Cayton, a key ministerial adviser, warned last month of "considerable pressure to obtain access to [the] data from ... police and immigration services", but he is confident that these demands can be resisted by his department.

Although data protection laws supposedly ban unnecessary build-ups of computer information, patients will get no right to choose whether their history is put on the Spine. Once uploading has taken place, a government PR blitz will follow. This will be said to bring about "implied consent" to allow others view the data. Those objecting will be told that their medical care could suffer.

The government claims that computerised "sealed envelopes" will allow patients selectively to protect sensitive parts of their uploaded history from being widely accessed. But no such software is yet in existence. It is being promised for an unspecified date. Some doctors say "sealed envelopes" may be too complex to be workable. The design also allows NHS staff to "break the seal" under some circumstances. Police will be able to seek data, including on grounds of national security. Government agencies can get at records, according to the health department, if "the interests of the general public are thought to be of greater importance than your confidentiality". Examples given of such cases include "serious crime and national security".


An American PR firm, Porter Novelli, has been awarded £1m contract and has already drafted publicity to persuade patients not to object to the new plans. But the health department refuses to disclose the text of these leaflets.

It has, however, drawn up a public care records guarantee. This states: "The new system will hold records about your care in a national computer system." It warns: "Preventing us from sharing information may make diagnosis difficult and treatment dangerous and could prevent research." The guarantee does not detail exactly what information could end up on the Spine.

This is of course the same government that is getting ready to greatly curtail the Freedom of Information Act, only introduced at the beginning of last year. While they're trying to reduce the annual costs of that bill, which amounts to around £34 million, they're going to give a cool £1 million to a PR firm to persuade you not to give your private medical information to a wide-open database.

Most frightening of all though is what we've already seen happening in the tabloid press of late. The leaks from the police, especially in terrorist cases, have smeared the suspects before they've even been charged with anything. The News of the Screws' royal editor was arrested earlier in the year after he allegedly had been hacking into the voice mail of Prince William, with stories appearing in the paper that could only have been obtained through surveillance. A previous report by Richard Thomas, the information commissioner, titled What Price Privacy? exposed how private investigators, used as middlemen for tabloid journalists, had been bugging targets and selling information from the police database as intermediaries for the police themselves. The "Spine" database is going to give hundreds of thousands more people access to highly sensitive information that tabloid journalists will love to have; we can certainly not just rely on the integrity and honesty of staff, especially those on relatively poor wages. This could result not just in a brisk trade in information on celebrities, but on anyone who suddenly enters the public eye. Simple personal snooping is also inevitable.

Doubtless the government line will once again be that if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear, parroted by the same tabloids who will hugely benefit from such a gaping database. Anyone that has lived an even slightly interesting life has something they are deeply embarrassed about, which they endlessly regret and would like to change if they could do so. This is the exact sort of information that would be stored on the "Spine". The irony is that as mentioned above, the government deeply fears what might be exposed via the FoI act, the real reason behind the expected draconian limitations to be placed on it. With ID cards meant to be introduced within years, government committees recommending the placing of thousands more cameras to catch "reckless" drivers, and the crackdowns on the right to protest, Britain increasingly seems to be a society where you're guilty until proved innocent and a suspect, not a citizen.

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