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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