Saturday, March 31, 2007 

Don't come asylum-seekin' with us.

This government regularly finds itself being strongly criticised for its myriad failings. The right-wing press tend to lap these up, whether they themselves or those they support have any solutions of their own.

It's therefore only when you consider how the tabloids have been so successful in demonising immigrants of all kinds that it becomes apparent why not a single right-wing newspaper seems to have bothered reporting the findings of the Joint Committee of Human Rights on how Home Office legislation has affected asylum seekers over the last 10 years (PDF). One paragraph especially is worth reproducing in full:

120. We consider that by refusing permission for most asylum seekers to work and operating a system of support which results in widespread destitution, the treatment of asylum seekers in a number of cases reaches the Article 3 ECHR (European Convention of Human Rights) threshold of inhuman and degrading treatment. This applies at all stages of the asylum claim process: when an individual is attempting to claim asylum, during the period of consideration of their claim and during the period after their claim is refused if they are unable to return to their country of origin. Many witnesses have told us that they are convinced that destitution is a deliberate tool in the operation of immigration policy. We have been persuaded by the evidence that the Government has indeed been practising a deliberate policy of destitution of this highly vulnerable group. We believe that the deliberate use of inhumane treatment is unacceptable. We have seen instances in all cases where the Government’s treatment of asylum seekers and refused asylum seekers falls below the requirements of the common law of humanity and of international human rights law.

In the section on treatment by the media (dealt with in more detail by FCC) the report makes this recommendation:

We recommend that Ministers recognise their responsibility to use measured language so as not to give ammunition to those who seek to build up resentment against asylum seekers, nor to give the media the excuse to write inflammatory or misleading articles.

At the beginning of March, our beloved home secretary made the following statement:

"It is unfair that foreigners come to this country illegitimately and steal our benefits, steal our services like the NHS and undermine the minimum wage by working."

Who needs the BNP when you have John Reid? Not that there is any evidence that "foreigners" are coming here to "steal" our benefits: only 3% of the foreign nationals (662,000) who came here in 2005 were claiming them last year.

Will the report make any difference? When so little of the media seems to have noticed it, or rather bothered to report it (the Independent has a report, the Grauniad bases a leader around it, and the Mirror has a Reuters article although probably nothing in the actual paper; the Mail did earlier in the week report on a Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust paper which covered similar ground) it's hard to be enthusiastic. FCC again probably has it right: asylum seekers are so passé. The new target for irrational hatred is Muslims or east European migrants. When no one cares about you enough to even hate you, you may as well not exist, which seems to be what the government would prefer.

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Friday, March 30, 2007 

Guido and his sock-puppets.



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Peaches and scream.

Peaches Geldof. Peaches fucking Geldof. Or, to give her full name, Peaches Honeyblossom Michelle Charlotte Angel Vanessa Geldof. The name itself could stop a suicide bomber in his tracks. Why blow yourself up on the public transportation system when just a epithet can inspire similar dread of the downfall of civilised society?

For some reason known only to the editors at the Grauniad, they love every so often to wind the readers' up. The latest example of this is giving over the G2 column slot usually filled by Alexander Chancellor to the aforementioned fruit/plant/celestial being.

It gets worse. She's here to tell us all about her obsession with MurdochSpace:

One night, after watching Hollyoaks (the king of soaps), I browsed other people's comments. Logging on to my friend Jessica's profile (slyly noting that my profile picture was way better than hers in terms of creativity - I was dressed as a clown for a fancy-dress party), I noticed that another of my friends had been cyber-galactically conversing with her. But wait . . . they were talking about me! "Peaches is so annoying," Chloe had written. "She's uploaded about seven pictures of herself posing, then about 10 of Fred [my beloved boyfriend] and then all the rest are of her stupid rat-dog and her dressed as some kind of scary clown. She really needs to stop being such an exhibitionist all the time." WHAT?

How then does our intrepid MurdochSpace user respond to this insult against her honour?

I furiously left a scathing comment about privacy, integrity, respect, etc and then added some abusive picture comments on Chloe's page. Ah, sweet revenge.

Oh, so you're a cunt. Well, that's not exactly much of a surprise, is it? Your father's a cunt who urged the poor to give all their money to charity while he takes all the credit and your mother was a worthless, talentless cunt right up until she finally she did the one thing she'll be remembered for, i.e. killing herself. You couldn't help being given that horrendous name, but you could have at least tried not to live up to it. Instead you and all your vapid, attention-seeking, fame-loving, brain-dead but rich buddies fill up the pages of the newspapers with your miserable, banal and boring antics and then expect that people will care about your fatuous MurdochSpace addiction.

One night, while staring at the flickering screen, surfing my only link to the outside world, I realised I was trapped in a cyber-microcosm of isolation. It was time to come clean or be trapped for ever. I cut myself off MySpace. Cold turkey. I occasionally go back on, just to check messages and show my old haunt I'm still there, in spirit. But for all those starting on MySpace, or Bebo or Facebook, or any of these other so-called "communities" - be warned. Once you log in, you might never log off.

Why couldn't you stay forever logged in? Why is God punishing us by giving you space to write this trite crap? Why can't you just be another MurdochSpace whore, involved in your own little circle-jerk without bothering the rest of humankind and hopefully dying in a somewhat entertaining manner? Why can someone with nothing to say be given a column in a national newspaper? Can't you take Russell Brand and fuck off and die in a corner?

Still it goes on:

I recently turned 18, and instead of feeling a huge change as the tide of adulthood washed over me, cleansing me of my youth and dirtying me with (gasp!) old age, I felt nothing. I had been led to believe that when I reached adulthood, all of sudden I would have to take responsibility for all my actions, that grey hairs would appear, that I would acquire an innate sense of self I had previously lacked. Instead I acquired a dog.

You didn't "acquire" this dog though did you? You didn't just find one in an alley and take pity on it. No, being 18, infatuated with becoming famous yet loaded with money, you had to copy the biggest, most-well known and least talented person on the planet:

Snowy is a teacup chihuahua (insert Paris Hilton jokes here)

Jesus tap-dancing fucking Christ. First we hear about your squabbles with your lame friends, now we're treated to a story about your exclusive, pedigree excuse for a dog.

How can such a tiny dog make such a huge muck?

How can one witless daughter of a half-wit make you lose so much faith in humanity? How can such a tiny woman leave such a great big printed turd in the middle of a newspaper? Why have I not shot myself yet? Still, I have to hand it to her: she's managed in 947 words to mention her boyfriend 5 times, and even plug his fucking atrocious band, which manages to out-pseud even the most pretentious post-rock/prog-rock group:

Every generation has a legend.

Every saga has a beginning.

Every journey has a first step.

Yeah, it's called the saga of the journey to the Jobcentre. Enjoy it. Hopefully Peaches will eventually join you there.

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Thursday, March 29, 2007 

First extract the rafter from your own eye.

What it is about former home secretaries that causes them to go slowly but inexorably mad? David Blunkett now spends his days when he's not advising companies on the ID card scheme that he helped create firing off numerous letters courtesy of his lawyers to newspaper editors, who've dared to make some tiny mistake or perceived slight about his ministerial career. Charles Clarke, somewhat understandably embittered by his sacking by Blair, has since spent his time doing everything possible not to undermine the prime minister, but instead his perceived successor.

Even more puzzling is the Grauniad's role in all this. It not only reports Clarke's latest missive, but reprints it in the comment section. The sad thing is that Clarke does identify some genuine problems that Labour has to face: it's created a media monster through spin which will now be close to impossible to put down; Labour does have to be renewed, and urgently and a leadership contest would be welcome.

Then he blots it all by reminding us of his hypocrisy:

It is certainly right that there are divisions caused by those candidates for leader and deputy leader who have entered the contest before there's a vacancy, who have publicly appointed their campaign managers, and who prefer backroom conspiracy to open discussion of the policy challenges we face.

These actions weaken the party. But they also undermine the authority of the prime minister when authority is important, as in relation to Iran today. These matters have to be dealt with by a strong prime minister. They cannot be addressed by a leader-in-waiting, and divisions in the ruling party do not help.

While Clarke has simply preferred, along with Alan Milburn, to start a fully out in the open conspiracy designed to flush out a New Labour/Blairite candidate to oppose Brown for the leadership. These actions have weakened the party by making it even less likely that there will be a challenger, as none of them want to have the millstone around their necks that is two men implacably opposed to Brown who are dedicated to continuing the dead New Labour project, even if it's in a lighter form.

It's time for Labour politicians to stand up and address the only question which matters, both for us and the country: how can Labour win again?

As David Clark identifies, Blair's refusal to stand-down, coupled with the anger and denial of reality by the ultra-Blairites has made it close to impossible for anyone to emerge out of the 10 years of power unscathed. In short, Labour can't, thanks in part to the in-fighting. The Tories have caught on, as Mr Eugenides notes, bigging up the threat from David Miliband when there is none, all as part of a ploy to try to further damage Brown. Along with Turnball's attack on Brown's "Stalinism", it's working.

As little sympathy as I have for New Labour, it's still dismaying to watch the party tear itself to pieces over a leader that has never loved it and has only used it for his own gain. If there is to be life after Blair, the party has to realise that almost everything associated with the Blair era has to go. Trying desperately to cling on to parts of it, as Charles Clarke and the others like him are attempting to do will only help to further destroy it.

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The world was a mess but at least her hair was covered.

If there is one thing the British media can't be accused of, it's being predictable. You'd think that the fact that the 15 sailors being paraded on television is a potential breach of the Geneva convention would be enough, along with the fact that Faye Turney, who was predictably picked on, was given an obviously false statement to read, while a letter containing strange turns of phrase was presented that was intended to further cause humiliation and worry to her family. No, apparently the biggest insult is that she was "forced" to wear a headscarf:

There's this reactionary, ridiculous pile of crap from the Sun as well:

Then there is the personal degradation of making Faye wear a headscarf. As a woman excelling in a man’s world, she will be furious to have been belittled.

Oh, the inhumanity!

All of which only underlines the complete ignorance of Iran in general. All post-pubescent women, including foreigners in Iran are required, or if you prefer, forced, to wear the hijab, hence why female journalists wear headscarves in their reports. It was unlikely those holding Turney were going to make an exception for her, especially when the footage was broadcast on one of the most conservative satellite stations. If anything Turney actually got off lightly - her head-covering was loose, something that Ahmadinejad has tried to crackdown on.

The Scum's Tom Newton Dunn continues:

But worst of all, they have exploited the terror of Faye’s daughter Molly and her mum’s deep feelings for her.

Which the Sun clearly cannot be accused of doing themselves. For the simple reason that she's a woman, Turney has been the one sailor who's been focused on. The Sun has printed details about her family and her nickname, emphasising that she's a mother with a young daughter. Her family had asked the media to kindly stick their mock concern where the sun doesn't shine, which only encouraged them to dig even deeper. Anne Perkins develops this further. Who can blame the Iranians for doing the exact same thing when the tabloid media in this country is only too happy to play with emotions in such a way?

Parading captured troops in public is a war crime. Britain would never do it.

No, our brave boys would never do something so dastardly. They'd close ranks and suffer collective amnesia instead.

We could additionally argue all day and all night about whether the sailors were in Iraqi or Iranian waters. It doesn't matter. Even if a breach had taken place, the issue could have been easily resolved without the Iranians taking the sailors captive. The manner of their capture suggests that this was planned in advance, either as a response to the looming tightening of sanctions over Iran's nuclear program or to try to use them as a bargaining chip to free the five Iranians seized by the Americans in Irbil.

The criticism on the Daily Mail's front page is similarly disingenuous. Just what else do they suggest should be done? The diplomatic avenue is the only avenue, even when everyone's favourite gung-ho writer of shitty espionage fiction suggests that the appearance of the sailors helps because it gives "our troops clues where they are", as if we're going to storm a raid without the Iranians noticing the infringing of their airspace. As the Guardian leader argues, this whole incident has only helped to show how difficult it is to trust Tehran. They now have to find a way to free the soldiers without losing further face, and at the moment seem to be floundering, making excuses for not releasing Turney as promised. Tehran is of course not only playing for the international community, but for its own population, who for the moment due to the extended Iranian new year holiday are reported to be largely ignorant of the current situation. The liberal opposition in Iran can only be strengthened by the eventual release of the hostages, showing the revolutionary guard, closely aligned to the hard-line taken by Ahmadinejad, as weak. This might be one of the few pluses to come out of a regrettable and thoroughly avoidable crisis.

P.S. The Sun continues to reprint the lies of Ian Huntley today, without bothering to mention that Carr's evidence at the trial makes clear that she did not know that Huntley was responsible for the murders until he himself gave his side of the story. His entire "confession" tape is tainted by the fact that he still refuses to own up to how he murdered the two girls in cold blood -- he repeats his wholly unbelievable and laughable story that he gave in court, that one of the girls died after falling in the bath, while he unintentionally smothered the other by accident, trying to keep her quiet. The Sun's behaviour in bringing all this back up purely in an attempt to smear Carr is indefensible - it would rather believe and print the lies of a murderer than accept that Carr's acquittal was sound.

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Wednesday, March 28, 2007 

Building on years of knee-jerking.

A weary sense of deja-vu washes over you, reading yet another outburst of reforms to be made, or at least proposed to be eventually made to the criminal justice system. It was billed by some as the government preparing to admit that less offenders have to be sent to prison, and Nick Clegg has claimed that this may turn out to be "a significant victory for liberalism", but back down here on planet Earth it looks anything but.

It's true that the document behind Blair's speech, Building on progress: Security, crime and justice (PDF), does contain some measures that could be considered liberal. It doesn't risk mentioning cutting the record numbers in prison for risk of offending the tabloids, but does use a euphemism, "stabilising sentencing" which might well mean that the great prison building program, the seeing of no ships and the converting of old army bases into gulags might be put on hold. Non-custodial sentences are going to be made more "effective", meaning tougher or harsher, and drug rehabilitation in prison is going to be strengthened.

The problem is that we've heard it all before. Year after year we've been told that alongside the ever harsher sentencing regimes that community service sentencing is going to be encouraged and tightened. It hasn't happened. Judges have jumped at the chance of using the new indeterminate sentence, but the message hasn't got through that community service was meant to be promoted alongside accordingly to keep the balance right. Why should we be surprised, expect otherwise or blame the judges when all we and they ever hear about is Home Office scandals and that "soft" sentences are being axed?

The same thing applies with drug rehabilitation. It's been a problem for years, nay decades, the solution is relatively obvious, but it just hasn't happened. Prisons aren't the best places to try to treat drug addiction to begin with, but with it being unlikely that it would be acceptable for those who are convicted of crimes that are related to drug problems to instead being sentenced to specialised units, they're probably the least worst option. Again, making heroin available on the NHS would also probably help, but it's a decision that a politician would flinch at making when drugs which help those suffering from Alzheimer's are considered too expensive. Millions can be wasted on a IT system which few people within the service want and which is being "delivered" by the incompetent and the greedy, but making a genuine difference to the lives of people throughout the country is a step too far.

The next bright idea is that in the long-term (i.e. never) "hybrid-prisons" will be set-up to treat mentally ill offenders. This seems to miss the entire point that the mentally ill shouldn't be dumped in the prison system in the first place. The current system, with the mass closure of mental health wards has meant that the current situation is only likely to get worse.

And, err, that's it. That's pretty much all the liberal reforms suggested. The rest range from the unspeakable and the irredeemable to the impossible. Children are going to be subjected to further poking, proding and testing, lest they show any sign of criminal tendencies. These include low attainment at school, bunking off and the abusing of illegal substances. Seeing as the last is definitely a crime and the second can be, excuse me not being too enthusiastic. Again, how is this going to be done effectively in the first place and why is this in any way acceptable in the second? When social workers can't apparently tell that a girl being forced to wear a sign informing those around her that she's evil is at risk of being abused, how is it going to work?

This isn't even the worst of it. Anyone who so much as comes into contact with the police from now on is likely to have their particulars taken, as in their fingerprints and DNA. The "hated" "human rights laws" are to be "reviewed" to make sure that they're not restricting implementation of asylum and immigration policies, which means in short that they're looking to make it easier to deport people but will most likely leave things rightly as they are. Not Saussure notices that the document praises the fact that the police can now use helicopters equipped with infrared cameras that can detect cannabis farms through the heat generated by the growing lamps, which seems like a brilliant use of both time and money. Oh, and it turns out that all those CCTV cameras aren't actually that good are producing clear evidence: more is going to be spent on upgrading them.

The government has driven itself into a hole. Forever wanting to appease the tabloids, it long ago gave up any attempt to fight the causes of crime as well as crime itself. As Simon Jenkins argues, the solutions are relatively simple. They just need a minister and a government that's prepared to fight, and this one, which has been so ready and willing to do it overseas, simply can't face doing it at home.

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Scum-watch: Reprinting the lies of a murderer.

Ian Huntley is a liar. He has told blatant untruths on multiple occasions, made up an utterly unbelievable story about how he came to murder Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman, and is quite clearly still in denial about his own role in their deaths. We already knew all of this. Indeed, last August the News of the Screws printed details from the apparent very same audio cassette which the Sun today reports in more detail.

Why has it decided to apparently reprint this sensationalist, sordid, mendacious garbage today? I have no idea. The Sun however makes far more of Huntley pointing the finger at Maxine Carr than the Screws did last summer. Out of all the Sun editorials I've subjected myself to, I think today's is the most vile that I have ever read:

But in confessing, he has done us all one favour.

He has destroyed any lingering suggestion that girlfriend Maxine Carr was an innocent bystander.

If his version is accurate, she was a cold and calculating accomplice in covering up this hideous crime.

Let's get this into perspective. Carr was charged with perverting the course of justice, which she was found guilty of. She was cleared of two counts of assisting an offender, with the jury believing her claims that she lied because she believed Huntley when he told her that they had been in the house but that he had not killed them.
Carr was cross-examined intensely during the trial, with her barrister pointing out in his summing up that some of it was fiercer than that which Huntley faced.

Carr claimed during her evidence that her relationship with Huntley was one which involved abuse. This claim is given credence by the fact
that Huntley had been in a number of relationships with under-age, impressionable girls. The family of the woman who he was briefly married to claimed that he had beaten her so badly that she miscarried the baby she was carrying. Neighbours from where they first lived reported that he used to bark orders at Carr while he did nothing to help around the house. Carr later mentioned in her evidence that his washing of the duvet which the girls' had bled on was the first time he had ever apparently cleaned or washed anything. This ought to have been the first sign that told her Huntley was lying. She apparently, whether because she genuinely believed that he was not involved, or because she was scared of what might happen if she did accuse him or if she told the police her true concerns, both of which she mentioned in her evidence, decided to ignore this. She may well have believed his denials for another reason: Huntley had twice before been accused of raping other women, with Carr both times giving him an alibi. In one of the cases the victim now believes that Huntley was not the man who raped her.

The picture that Huntley tries to paint of Carr is one of a manipulating, scheming woman, more concerned for herself rather than the girls who had gone missing. This seems utterly at odds with the facts:
Carr was turned down for a permanent job at the Soham school because of how close she had apparently become to the children, especially Holly and Jessica. They were so dismayed that she was leaving that they made her a card and sent her chocolates. It was likely their close relationship to Carr that inadvertently led to their deaths; their stop at Huntley and Carr's home, where they asked for her, was Huntley's opportunity. It's true that Carr had been cheating the benefits system and had lied on job application forms, but this seems to have been an exception. She was seen by those around her as being an ordinary and mostly unremarkable young woman. This, combined with her vulnerability and apparent anorexia was what Huntley homed in on.

I could go on, pointing out how Huntley in the tape claims that Carr supposedly took charge out of fear for losing her job when she had already apparently lost it, how he claims that there was no sexual motive to the deaths despite his predatory history, and how he still maintains that he didn't intentionally kill the girls. The public should make their decision about how involved Carr was in the cover-up keeping in mind the fact that a jury, having heard her give extensive evidence, cleared her of helping an offender, while Huntley is a habitual liar who is still in denial about what really happened that fateful day.

This isn't just about Maxine Carr being disgracefully libeled however. While she herself is being put in further flux by the Sun's republishing of these risible claims, those who are unfortunate enough to bear a resemblance to Carr, however slight, are also being put in danger.
Last September I wrote of the tragedy being inflicted both on her and those who have been accused of being her. Since then, according to Wikipedia, Falmouth police have had to issue a statement that she is not living in the Penryn area.

We can expect a further ramping up of the witch hunt against Carr and those who might be Carr given today's front page treatment of Huntley's trite tape. One of the biggest ironies of the obsession with Huntley and Carr is that every front page splash, every small article, every mention of them only serves to remind the families of Holly and Jessica of their dreadful loss. For a tabloid that claims to want justice, it seems remarkable how they're prepared to put the families of victims through their pain time and time again purely out of their own selfish interest, the very thing that Huntley and the Sun are today accusing Carr of thinking only of. The Sun's editorial concludes:

Her involvement, as described, raises grave doubts about her release and her protection at taxpayers’ expense.

Huntley’s prediction that he will go to Hell will come true one day.

If there is any justice, Carr will eventually join him there.

And if Carr or someone mistaken for her is lynched as a result of the vilification campaign led by the Sun, then Rebekah Wade will already have created a hell here on this septic isle.

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Tuesday, March 27, 2007 

Scum-watch: Privacy? Us?

"Now, my dears," said old Mrs. Rabbit one morning, "you may go into the marshes of Iraq or down by Umm Qasr, but don't go into Mr Ahmadinejad's waters."

5 days after being captured, and with no sign that they're going to be released quickly, the media has started to run out of things to say about the 15 seized British sailors who were most definitely in Iraqi waters at the time. Into this void, the inevitability of looking deeper into the background of those who've been "kidnapped" has edged ever closer.

It was probably with this in mind that the family of the only woman to be seized, Faye Turney,
politely asked the media to respect their privacy. Hence the breathless, vomit-inducing twee rubbish which appeared in the Sun this morning, in a display of revolting mock concern:

Iran kidnaps: Let mummy go

THE brave Royal Navy woman sailor being held hostage by Iran has a three-year-old daughter.

And I would suppose that some of the men captured have children as well. What's your point caller?

Leading Seaman Faye Turney, 26, was one of the drivers of the two boats swooped on by Tehran’s Revolutionary Guards on Friday.

Her little daughter Molly and husband Adam were at home last night desperately waiting for news of her plight.

Wonderful! Now we know their names. Got any more dirt or rather background on this woman currently being held in trying circumstances?

A friend of NCO Faye, called Topsy by pals, revealed: “She is a great girl, with a warm sense of humour. Everyone knows her because there are not many Wrens who do what she does — it is quite an achievement.

“Topsy loves being a mum and her greatest concern right now will be for her little girl and how badly she is being affected by this.

“But like the rest of the boarding party, she is tough and used to confrontation.”

The so-called friend emerges, pocketing a nice little cheque from everyone's favourite tabloid newspaper. The little girl might well not know that anything is going on at all -- until of course the media start focusing on her for no other reason than the fact she's a woman in uniform. I'm sure she'll also love finding out once she's released that "a friend" has informed a national newspaper that her nickname is "Topsy"; now all we need to know is whether Flopsy, Mopsy, Cotton-tail and Peter were with her when she was captured.

Faye is one of only a dozen women who carry out the tough driving role — her husband is also qualified to do the same job.

Petty Officer Adam has been given special leave to stay at home in Plymouth to look after Molly.

He currently works as an instructor at nearby HMS Raleigh, the Navy’s main training base.

Excellent, now we even know where they live. Next thing to do is to show that you really honestly do respect their privacy by reproducing the MoD's statement on their behalf:

A statement issued by the Ministry of Defence on behalf of the family said: “While we understand the media interest in the ongoing incident involving Faye, this remains a very distressing time for us and our family. We are grateful for the support shown to us by all personnel involved and appreciate it, but would request that our privacy is respected.”

On then to the Sun's leader:

Not that Britain alone can take military action, despite our Trident nukes. The real risk for Tehran is that others, like Israel, will see this as another act of provocation.

And justification for attacking Iran’s nuclear plants.

With huge consequences for the Middle East and the entire world.

A load of utter rot. Israel couldn't care less about 15 British soldiers. The only thing Israel has ever cared about and ever will care about is herself. It won't be Israel that might see this as further justification for an attack on Iran, but rather the propagandists for war like Melanie Philips who'll be more than happy to use it as an excuse. Philips' has surprisingly not yet commented on the snatching of the 15, but she did however write this recent rant piece against Iran:

Meanwhile, Iran speeds towards genocide, with people still scoffing that it’s ‘only rhetoric’.


We have been under attack by Iran since 1979, when Khomeini came to power and declared war upon the west and his intention to wipe out Israel and Islamise the world. Throughout three subsequent decades of Iranian attacks on western interests, we did virtually nothing. Now, with the clock at five minutes to nuclear midnight, we are still in disarray. Washington is mired in vicious internal in-fighting. Our elites continue to demonise America and Israel, thus paralysing our politicians and paving the way for a second holocaust.

Iran is preparing a second holocaust. Climate change is a either a con-trick, a witch-hunt or a fraud. Dr David Kelly was murdered. And somehow we're the ones that are crazy.

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Monday, March 26, 2007 

The journalists have taken over the asylum.

At times, I'd like to be a fly on the wall in the editorial offices of the Daily Mail. Just to get a slight insight into how insidious the actual desire to wind the good burghers of Middle England into unrighteous outrage is. Does Dacre, when he's not calling someone a vagina twice in one sentence, honestly set out to distort a story as much as humanly possible, in order to cause a storm, however little reality there is to the report in question? How can the hacks write such utter bollocks and not want to rise up and throw the right-wing toad in the editor's chair out of the window?

Today's front page splash is a classic. CONVICTS HANDED KEYS TO CELLS, screams the headline, taking up so much of the page that the story is constricted into a tiny rectangle at the bottom. This latest politically correct insult to common sense means that nearly 6,000 out of 9,577 offenders in Yorkshire prisons have "privacy" locks to protect themselves and their belongings.

And that's the story. Note that they don't have the actual keys to the cells themselves. Usually only those in open prisons who are coming to the end of their sentence and who have jobs are given those so they can let themselves out early in the morning in order to get to work. No, these are privacy locks. And they do, to take the quote from the Ronseal ad, exactly what they say on the tin, or rather the key. As jailhouselawyer says, and seeing as he's been in prison and ought to know, these keys aren't a new thing. They've been in the system since the late 70s, and they're designed so that prisoners can lock their cells so that other inmates can't just walk in and help themselves to things, because, believe it or not, there tend to be thieves in prisons. Indeed, they can also be used by inmates to protect themselves: locking themselves in so no one other than the screws can get to them.

Guess what? According to the Daily Mail, this entirely acceptable trend, and I think most would agree that even criminals should be allowed to secure their belongings once they've been locked away, is further proof that the HUMAN-RIGHTS CULTURE IS OUT OF CONTROL. OK, I admit, I've put that all in caps when it isn't in the article, but what other conclusion is the casual reader meant to draw from the Mail's spin on this non-story?

Naturally, they've also got some outraged people in positions of almost power who can shout as loud as they can at this appalling injustice. First up we've got Philip Davies (who incidentally was the MP who had to retract his plea for the non-existent Windsor Muslim yobs to fuck off), the Shipley Tory MP:

Shipley Tory MP Philip Davies accused the Government of "turning prisons into hotels".

He said: "People will be horrified to know so many prisons give inmates their own keys. It will reinforce their views that the regime is far too lax and cushy.

"These people are banged up for a reason. But the Government seems more concerned about the human rights of criminals than those of their victims, who are footing the bill to keep them in increasingly pleasant surroundings."

Every time someone suggests that prisons are turning into hotels, I have to wonder just how much that person would like to spend just a night, not a whole sentence in one of these superb and welcoming lodges. Maybe Phil would like to consult either Jonathan Aitken or Jeffrey Archer, his ex-political colleagues, for their views on the current state of the nation's premier hostels. Neither, as far as I'm aware, were much enamoured with their temporary accommodation.

Next soundbite:

Blair Gibbs, director of the Tax-Payers' Alliance, said: "It is hard to believe we live in a serious country any more when you hear lunacy like this. Our politicians are clearly not capable of running anything that resembles an effective criminal justice system."

Ah yes, the Taxpayers' Alliance. These people really stick in my throat. There's one thing trying to represent a single interest group - I'm a proud member of the extremist Liberty, for instance - but it's quite another attempting to represent the whole nation, because that's what this group is pretending to do. Believe it or not, as elections tend to show, not every taxpayer agrees that taxes should always be moving lower, or as the Taxpayers' Alliance wants, a flat tax. You would also have thought that being a supposed alliance for taxpayers, they should perhaps stick to only commenting on taxes rather than the current banging up policies in the nation's jails. Obviously not. According to Mr Blair Gibbs, which is an interesting name to say the least, this is "lunacy". Personally, I find it lunacy that a group such as the Taxpayers' Alliance can be taken seriously and not told to go forth and multiply whenever they appear. Then again, this is the Daily Mail.

The next step in the article is to bring up a load of totally irrelevant other cases currently afflicting the prison system. Unsurprisingly, overcrowding due to the continuing crackdowns on crime isn't mentioned.

The revelation will still reinforce concern that prisoners' 'rights' are increasingly being pandered to.

In the financial year that ended last March, £8.8million in compensation was paid out to prisoners - almost 15 times as much as just two years earlier.

What the Daily Mail doesn't want you to know is that this figure includes compensation still being paid out to those who were abused during the reign of terror at Wormwood Scrubs in the 1990s, of which more than 160 prison officers were involved in, with 56 prisoners being beaten and psychologically tortured, told that they would be hung with sheets so that it looked like they'd committed suicide. Surprised that you perhaps haven't heard more about this? It's amazing what can be excused when prisons are full of people who are inherently evil or who deserve everything they get. There was incredibly little coverage of the scandal - only the Guardian dedicated much space to reporting it. The Daily Mail dedicated a whole 151 words to their story about the report by Peter Quinn.

Earlier this year, Derbyshire chief constable David Coleman was accused of 'madness' after refusing to release pictures of two escaped murderers amid fears it might breach their human rights. He claimed they posed 'no risk' to local people.

Which was his pathetic, ridiculous excuse for not getting the photographs out soon enough, which the tabloids of course jumped on because it meant they could bash the Human Rights Act again, even when it was comprehensively not at fault.

So there you have it. In prison, much stays the same, as it does in Daily Mail land. The next scheme to enrage Middle England should be starting to hit doorsteps in around 6 hours time.

Related post:
Five Chinese Crackers - Can we have some over-reaction please?

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Scum-watch: Pornography? Us?

You have to feel sorry for the poor hacks enslaved in Wapping. They can surely see the incredible chutzpah in putting up news stories like the following on the Sun's website, but they have to do it anyway:

ONE in five searches on the internet serve up offensive, illegal or unsafe content, a web study has found.

Pornography, viruses and pirated software were found after millions of popular searches were carried out on Yahoo, Google and MSN and other sites.

Imagine for a moment that you didn't know the Sun was the most moronic, dumbed-down newspaper on the face of the planet. Pretend that you didn't know how the Sun and soft pornography go hand in repetitive strain injured hand. There you are, searching naively for the latest on what's happening with the captured sailors in Iran for instance, and you come across the Sun's hysterical jingoistic coverage (The current discussion on MyScum is Iran seizes our boys: Will war get them back?). At the top of the page you're informed that you can vote for the best Easter bunny girl (nudity, obviously). You click, and what do you find? Five talentless butter-faced women, so lacking in self-confidence that they have to get their disgusting flabs of flesh out for leering ex-pats and a media mogul with the morals of a exceptionally lecherous stag. To be fair to them, I shouldn't be so harsh. Kelly, especially, bears much more of a resemblance to an actual rabbit than even she realises - she looks completely fucking terrified, frozen in horror in the headlight of the camera flash, apparently uncertain of what she's doing, or rather scared witless that once she's uploaded her pictorial that no one will care about the two orbs attached to her chest. Her worst fears were confirmed: they did.

No, it's not their fault. It's the fault of a soft pornographic celebrity magazine that pretends to be a newspaper in order to wield a despicable amount of leverage over the government of the day. It's the fault of the politicians that kowtow to this jumped-up peddler of low-brow, mind-numbing, soul-crushing tripe.

Ahem, where was I? Oh yeah, bashing the Sun rather than the man. Here's some more clearly non-offensive or unsafe content from the Sun's current news page:

Who's the sexiest ad babe?

CHECK out sex-tacular babes and vote every day this week for the foxiest one

Cor, it's Tina head turner
CURVY Christina Aguilera snapped hanging out on a street corner in a tight white dress

Is 10 inches too short for you?

CHECK out our celeb mini marvels and decide which skirt is a mite too far in our poll

Paris parties with Amy and Kel
PARIS Hilton pays homage to Brit rock royal Amy Winehouse, watched by Kelly Osbourne

Back to the article:

Searches for celebrities such as Paris Hilton and free wallpapers can produce dozens of links to sites which could contain potentially damaging computer worms and viruses.

Well, it could be worse. You could actually get pictures of Paris Hilton.

Elsewhere today in the Scum, there's an advert article on the fascinating news that "Princess" Eugenie has set herself up on MurdochSpace:

PRINCESS Eugenie has revealed a string of personal details on an internet blog.

The 17-year-old, chatting on website MySpace, says hotdogs and doughnuts are her favourite food.

She praises parents Sarah and Andrew as “wonderful and supportive” and calls the Queen “Super Gran”.

Eugenie, studying for A-levels at Marlborough College, says her most prized possession is her mobile, adding: “Sorry Dad, ha ha!”

She loves sport and TV show Lost, favourite bands include the Stereophonics and the person she wants to meet most is Superman Returns hunk Brandon Routh.

In other words, she's a very ordinary 17-year-old girl. How insightful. Still, I have to hand it to the one commenter on the article:

Doesn't it just thrill you to know that your tax money will finance this deserving and clearly talented young woman to live in luxury for the rest of her life?

Yep, just like those deserving and clearly talented young men who got tanked up at the weekend and then filled the tabloids with their tedious, predictable antics. Harry can't go to Iraq soon enough.

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Saturday, March 24, 2007 

A fascination for penance.

There are acts of contrition, and then there are gestures that are well-meaning but ultimately end up seeming shallow. Slavery was an abomination, on that everyone agrees. We can feel remorse that our ancestors were complicit in this most disgraceful of injustices, we can commemorate the abolition of it, but can we honestly say we're sorry for something which no one now alive was directly involved in?

This is why the whole "apology" debate to me seems utterly perverse. At a time when the far-right is gaining in strength across Europe, when Iran hosts a conference dedicating to "investigating" what "really happened" in the Nazi death camps, when in Turkey talking about the Armenian genocide can result in you being murdered, and when Japan continues to deny or play down the reality of what occurred during their incursions into Manchuria, we don't need to be sorry about slavery, we have to learn the lessons of it and make sure that it never happens again.

The Home Office finally did something about modern day slavery yesterday. After months of arguing, completely outrageously, that signing the Council of Europe Convention on Action Against Trafficking would encourage illegal immigrants to claim that they were in fact trafficked sex slaves, John Reid signed the convention. While it's a welcome start, the government is now only allowing women who have been trafficked in and forced to work as prostitutes 30-days leave to remain before being deported back to their country of origin. As was shown when a brothel was raided in late 2005, women who often know little English and who have been terrorised by those they're sold to take a while to open up to anyone, let alone those they don't know and who are more than eager to deport rather than comprehend what they've been through.

Amnesty is instead proposing the "reflection" period be extended to at least 90 days, with up to six months being available if they need further time to recover. This is vital for many reasons: the first purely on the grounds of compassion, and secondly as women who have been deported sometimes find themselves straight back in the hands of those who originally sold them. If these women need sanctuary, then they should be given it rather than simply dumped back home for the sake of the immigration figures.

Modern day slavery is actually probably less of problem than has been made out; as ever, it's been exaggerated by the media, when sometimes eastern European women and others have come here to work as prostitutes purely because of the money that can be earned. This though isn't an excuse for not signing up, and for once the Home Office can be proud that it has done something that honestly will help, rather than hinder.

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Friday, March 23, 2007 

Brilliant ideas pt. 94

The whole point of carrot and stick diplomacy is that as well as feeding those you are trying to persuade, you have to be prepared to potentially give them a few taps in order to steer them towards the right decision. Generally, even if the carrots aren't working, you're not meant to then whack the person so hard that you fracture their skull. Alan Johnson hasn't apparently learned this lesson.

On the face of it,
his proposals for extending the school leaving age to 18 are at least worth considering. There are many teenagers who leave school at 16 with few if any qualifications who then spend the next few years of their lives in the cycle of employment in poor-paying unrewarding jobs, going on and off job-seekers allowance when they either get bored or when the work dries up, where further training and education would be a far better option.

However, that's about as far as it goes. For although Alan Johnson accepts that only a "hardcore" would be likely to not go along with his plans, he's already putting into place far-reaching sanctions for those who petulantly decide that school no longer has anything to offer them:

The government wants to introduce “education Asbos” and fixed penalty fines for teenagers who refuse to stay in education or training until the age of 18, the education secretary, Alan Johnson, announced today.
A teenager who persistently refuses to follow an education or training path would be issued with an attendance order, similar to an antisocial behaviour order, or Asbo, compelling them to attend a specific training or education programme.

If an order is broken, the teenager would face a criminal prosecution that could end in a £50 fine or community sentence.

To say this is a bit harsh would be akin to suggesting that Little Britain is a bit unfunny. This wouldn't only apply to those who are simply leaving education, but also to those who already have jobs in family businesses, as well as teenage mothers, who would have to spend at least 16 hours a week in either education or training.

Many would additionally argue that once someone has reached 16 it might already be too late. The whole reason why so many become disillusioned with education during their GCSE years is that they feel what they're learning is going to be little help in the wider world, or that they're being taught to the exam.
The Tomlinson report on secondary education may well have been the solution to this: it would have combined the vocational education which many currently miss out on with the more academic education which currently holds out. The biggest change in recent years is that the bog-standard or close to failing comprehensives have started to split the year groups into the brighter, academic sets which take the GCSEs, while those with the poorer SAT results go on to do GNVQs, which count for a number of GCSEs, but which few employers recognize as such. It means that their results therefore look better than they actually are.

This was the situation when I was in the sixth-form. A number of our teachers regularly complained, or even despaired at the behaviour of some of their classes of 14 or 15-year-olds, realising they were fighting a lost cause when they had already turned off. At 16 currently, a lot of those who disrupt lessons or who don't want to learn leave, with those staying on often coming out of their shells as a result. Johnson's reforms potentially mean that this situation carries on for a further two years for no real purpose, when the changes have to be made at 14 rather than 16. Johnson himself argues:

"There is a risk that it is those young people with lower aspirations, who perhaps come from families and communities that have themselves had a poor experience of schooling, who miss out as participation increases. Within this group are often the young people who would have most to gain from longer participation and higher attainment. We cannot allow the most disadvantaged to miss out."

He may have a point, as some at 16, having realised that they should have studied harder during their GCSEs are faced with few enticing options other than going back to the classroom. Whether dropping the current education maintenance allowance, which rewards those from low income families with £10-£30 a week for staying on is a good idea when these are the exact young people he's hoping to help the most seems to sum up the contradictory nature of Johnson's plans, and
as Not Saussure notes, New Labour itself. It provides all these carrots, then it knocks your head off just in case.

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Scum-watch: They come over here, convert our women....

In the on-going Sun campaign to alert the nation to the foibles of "our Muslim community", today we're informed of the amazing decision of a young woman who's converted from Catholicism to Islam:

A PRETTY blonde teen has stunned her mates by converting to Islam and covering up with a full veil.

Catholic Danielle Jones — now Safiyah — ditched her mini-skirts and crop tops and now wears the full face niqab of Muslim women.

Duh-duh-duh! Would it have made any difference if she was butt ugly, ginger and had previously worn clothes made out of bin bags? Is this the Sun purely being bitter about not getting her to get them out for MySun before she decided to change religions? Does anyone really care? Am I still typing these daft rhetorical questions? Oh, and "full face niqab of Muslim women" has to be the most clunking sentence I've read in a while. Surely now wears the full face niqab style of Islamic dress?

The 19-year-old made her shock decision after her step-dad died of a brain tumour. She said it was her Muslim pals and their faith who helped cope with the loss.

And she revealed the decision to convert made her feel “a million times” stronger.

Safiyah, of Bolton, Lancs, said: “I couldn’t stand the way men stared as I walked down the street. Now I feel a million times more empowered wearing my full-face niqab. Nobody is judging me on how my body looks.

“More and more, the Muslim faith seemed to make a lot of sense to me.

“It’s as if I have found the missing piece of a jigsaw.”

While they won't be judging her on her body, they will of course now be judging her by the decision to wear the niqab. According to the MyScum community, she should have traveled to Saudi Arabia or Pakistan first, and despite taking what seems to be a rather radical step which requires major soul-searching, she's just a silly weak-minded girl.

Safiyah, who hopes to act as a mediator between the Muslim and British communities, added: “I don’t miss drinking. I’m happy.”

Which surely is all that matters, whatever your own views on religion. Oh, and this:

Could have been worse.She could have got a tattoo

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Thursday, March 22, 2007 


Unity has been kind enough to tag me as a thinking blogger. Only problem is I now have to tag a further five who haven't already been (at least as far as I'm aware). Taking them unashamedly from my blog roll:

Five Chinese Crackers
Mask of Anarchy
Blood & Treasure


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Iraq: four years on.

A mother and child walk past the body of an alleged failed suicide bomber.

It somehow doesn't seem possible that it's four years on from the beginning of the Iraq war. Or, indeed, that the war itself has probably claimed casualties every day since March the 20th 2003. Even those of us opposed to the invasion didn't even in our worst nightmares come close to predicting the hell that has engulfed the country since then. I thought that a quick war, followed by the US quickly putting into position some minor figure from the Ba'ath party as a puppet president, or one of its favoured exiles, while elections were planned was the most likely outcome, with some groups possibly continuing to fight the Americans until they left. Instead, a quick victory was followed by unfathomable incompetence at every turn, mass corruption, gross human rights abuses by both the coalition, jihadists and the new Iraqi government, and the slow but steady eruption of an internal conflict that looks very much like a civil war, even if some Iraqis reject that description.

To sort of answer Tim's question about what you were doing on that day, I, being a puffed-up idiotic 18-year-old who was big on daft political gestures, bunked off from sixth-form and err, did nothing. I don't remember whether I used the internet that day - I might well have done, although I also went through a period during 2003 of trying to keep off it, but I do recall watching the more brave members of my age group perform sit-in protests in the road across from the Houses of Parliament, occasionally being lifted away by the police, who were struggling to deal with something that the clearly hadn't bargained on happening. I wish I'd had the guts to do something like that.

Where are we then, four years into this war without apparent end? Our leaders themselves remain in office, despite all the justifications for the war being destroyed one by one. True, some of the most egregious of the warmongers have either resigned, moved on or been sacked, but Blair still occupies 10 Downing Street and George Bush was re-elected, only for his ratings to plummet and for the Democrats to at last win back both the House of Representatives and the Senate. Here, despite endless debate, we still have to put up with the utterly shameless activities of some in the Labour party, like Ann Clywd, who on Monday appeared on Newsnight to again triumph how wonderful everything in Iraq was, or at least in Kurdistan, which had been semi-autonomous for years before the invasion and had already had its own army and security force which wasn't disbanded in the aftermath by the idiots put in charge of the Transitional Authority. Even then, there are regularly attacks in the main cities of Mosul and Kirkuk, which Ms Clywd, having given up her previous status as a sometime member of the awkward squad to support Blair's war would rather you didn't know about.

Despite mounting evidence to the contrary, Labour continues to dismiss any links between the Iraq war and the growing terrorist threat not just Britain, but to the entire world. 7/7 did not occur in a vacuum, whether those who took part were genuinely radicalised by the war or not. Those soldiers who went out to fight the war have returned to find themselves scorned and forgotten by the government that did so much to make sure that their completely unnecessary addition to the US "coalition" took place. The army itself sees the reality on the ground in Iraq, that the presence of British troops in Basra is only making the situation worse rather than helping improve the security situation and that it's time to get out, but the government would rather ignore this astute analysis and instead draw down the number of troops slowly in deference to their ultimate masters in Washington.

For the Iraqis themselves, after suffering almost incomparably since Saddam launched the war against Iran in 1980, (with Western backing) many did indeed welcome the overthrow of the hated dictator, but their gratitude for their "liberation" was soured by the years of sanctions that had resulted in the deaths of at least 500,000 children (PDF), infamously referred to by Madeline Albright as being "worth it", and by the humiliation of not personally being responsible for their leader's downfall. The first signs that some of the Iraqi people were becoming restive were suppressed by the Americans with lethal force; 17 protesters in Fallujah were shot dead on April the 28th of 2003, with two more killed in another protest two days later. This can now be seen four years on as the catalyst for the beginning of the insurgency, which resulted in the tribes north of Baghdad aligning themselves with the emerging jihadist groups.

The death toll, from the occupation, the indiscriminate tactics of the insurgents and the sectarian conflict sparked by the destruction of the Al-Askari
mosque in February of 2006 is impossible to know for certain. At the very, very least, 100,000 have died since March 2003. The Lancet study of last year estimated that the most likely figure was 655,000, although the margin of error was between 350,000 and 900,000, and as that study is now six months old, the total would now again be even higher. The everyday horror of life, especially in Baghdad and Anbar province, although despite claims to the contrary there are attacks throughout the country almost daily, is also close to being impossible to imagine. For the last year or so dozens of bodies, many showing signs of torture, others with heads either missing or separated from their bodies, have been dumped on the streets in the dead of night. Photographs routinely show men, women and children walking past dead bodies as if they weren't there, or rather wishing they weren't there. A blogger on McClatchy's Baghdad Bureau site describes in excruciating detail how a friend's brother was kidnapped, with them eventually having to search the morgues for his body after he wasn't released despite a ransom being paid. The burying of unidentified bodies is contracted out, with the contractor taking photographs of every body before burial in case the family does eventually come looking. In this case, he had a photograph of the friend's brother, his body bruised and with a hole drilled in his forehead, but when they went to where he was meant to have been buried, his grave was nowhere to be found.

With all this in mind, the results of the BBC polling of 2,000 Iraqis (PDF) were nowhere near as pessimistic as you might imagine. While 2 million have been displaced inside Iraq itself, and a similar amount have fled to surrounding countries, 42% at least believe that their children will have a better life, with 37% thinking the opposite, and 58% still believe the country should remain unified, with 43% supporting democracy. While 35% believe that the coalition forces should leave immediately, 69% think the presence of the US forces is making the security situation worse. Support for attacks on coalition forces is almost split right down the middle: 51% deeming them acceptable with 49% against.

There are also some developments that are worth being cautiously optimistic about. There does finally appear to be a schism opening between the jihadists and the Sunni tribes in Anbar; Sheikh Abdul Sattar has turned against the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq, and according to this Channel 4 News report, has succeeded where the Americans have failed in arresting and flushing out some of the mujahadeen. The surge, after six weeks, has succeeded in bringing down sectarian violence and the number of deaths, although this may simply be a repeat of what happened in Fallujah, with the insurgents and others getting out only to return later once the troops have left. The ISI, which incidentally on its press release blog never claims responsibility for attacks on civilians which its affiliated groups are almost certainly behind, has become more desperate in its tactics in response to this, using chlorine alongside the more conventional explosives in its truck/car suicide bombings. Another report, unconfirmed, was that two children were used in a car bombing at the weekend as decoys.

For if Iraq is going to emerge from this disaster inflicted by the West, the solution is within its own borders. There is little more that we or anyone else can do. It would be naive to think that our immediate withdrawal would result in the violence ending, but it would also be daft to imagine that the sectarian violence would spiral out of control, or that the insurgents would quickly overthrow the government. If anything, the current al-Maliki coalition is weak because it has to justify itself more to Washington than it does to the Iraqi people. As Simon Jenkins argued yesterday, Iraq has had to put up with over a decade of interference from outside. It has to be hoped that in another four years Iraq will be standing on its own, foreign troops long gone, a still unified country gaining in confidence. If this is to happen, we have to get out, and if not right now, very soon.


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Wednesday, March 21, 2007 

Stalin Hood.

picture by Beau Bo D'Or for Channel 4

Well, the least that can be said is that this might put Polly's back up. Rather than lifting the tax threshold that currently means the poor pay more tax as a percentage than the rich do, Stalin Hood instead decided to rob from the poor to try and get the ever disgruntled middle classes and Rupert Murdoch (a suitably sycophantic Sun leader this morning was richly rewarded) off his back. Judging by the front pages of the Murdoch media just featured on Newsnight, it looks like it's worked on the latter. Whether it'll work with the former is much harder to predict.

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Drugs! Blades! Death!

The brutal murders of Steven Bayliss and Nuttawut Nadauld by Tom Palmer were almost a wet dream come true for the tabloids (and other media). Obsessed with knives! Addicted to skunk! Watched a movie about a serial killer stabbing his victims to death repeatedly in the days before the murders!

How much any of those things actually influenced the murders is open to question. Sentencing Palmer, the judge told him the most likely explanation for his behaviour was "a sudden and lethal explosion of anger, although what caused it remains something of a mystery". The whole addiction to skunk and developing schizophrenia defense was the one actively pursued by Palmer's lawyers. The psychiatrist who has been treating Palmer since his arrest himself said that cannabis had exacerbated Palmer's descent into mental illness, but that it was not the cause.

Indeed, Palmer's family background itself may hold just as much light for why he eventually came to murder two of his friends for no apparent reason. Even the Daily Mail is forced to admit that:

[But] they did report that the 20-year-old has a family history of breakdowns, nervous disorders and even schizophrenia

This isn't to dismiss out of hand the effects of strong cannabis and the links between those who smoke it and go on to develop psychosis. Those who already have a family background of mental illness, or who have in the past suffered from mental ill-health are those most at risk from habitually smoking the drug. As with any other drug, teenagers, with their minds still developing, are better off leaving well alone at least until they're 18. The risk posed however is far more slight than that which the media has tried to present. At the weekend, the Independent on Sunday claimed it had got it wrong in campaigning for the decriminalisation of cannabis, leading Transform to fisk the arguments of the Sindie into oblivion.

One friend, giving evidence, gave further insight into his mindset just before the murders. He had carved swastikas into his stomach, which ought to be enough for anyone to realise that he needed to talk to someone, and urgently. We're not told of his relationship with his family, but it seems bitterly ironic that his father is apparently a nurse at Broadmoor.

His so-called obsession with knives is also open to question. The Daily Mail's article does its best to hype this up, then's forced into admitting:

He had access to weapons and knives through his interest in outdoor activities and sport - hobbies which appear to have begun innocently enough, but by the time of the killings he was proficient in several martial arts and kept stocks of practice equipment in his bedroom.

It appears then that he good excuses for having knives, and that it was only with his mental health apparently in decline, with paranoia levels rising, that he started carrying them.

Which leaves us with his other "obsession", horror films. His favourite, according to both the Sun and the Daily Mail, or at least the one he watched in the days leading up to the murders, was the Last Horror Movie. Here's the Sun's take:

The court had heard Palmer was obsessed with violent horror films. His favourite was The Last Horror Movie, in which a serial killer videos himself slitting throats.

The 1982 movie also features a gory beheading.

Just a slight problem with this. The Last Horror Movie was made in 2003, and as far as I'm aware, as I own the DVD and have just flicked through it to be reasonably sure, there's no beheading. Sure, there is at least one throat being slit, someone's set on fire while tied to a chair, and he feeds the cooked flesh of his victims to his friends and family amongst other things, but there's no beheading.

The Last Horror Movie is in fact more a pitch-black comedy than it is a horror film. Taking its lead from Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer and Man Bites Dog, it's one of those films on the edge of the genre that make the viewer question their own complicity in watching the carnage associated with stalk and slash. The whole plot itself is ridiculous, as the protagonist, despite leaving mountains of evidence, is never caught. The conceit is that this is a slasher film that's been taped over by some lunatic (or rather not a lunatic, as he claims convincingly that he isn't mad) with his own graphic home video, and that his next victim is in fact you for not turning it off. Compared to the glut in gory horror now coming from America, exemplified by the likes of the Saw series, the Devil's Rejects and Hostel, it's on a whole different intellectual plane, and I would of thought not been too appealing to someone more interested in blood and guts than in the whole debate about what role horror films play in the modern consciousness.

The case sparked warnings about the dangers of gruesome DVDs and using skunk. Labour MP Martin Salter said some horror films were “practically snuff movies”.

Would this possibly be the same Sun newspaper that was last week giving away a free horror film DVD every day? Indeed, one of the films it gave away (Evil Dead, banned in the aftermath of the video nasties moral panic, was only classified by the BBFC on video in 1990, and then with nearly 2 minutes cut) was one it along with the Daily Mail lambasted in the 80s and early 90s as being responsible for general moral decay and for warping the minds of children. As for Mr Salter's daft comments, there are films that are practically snuff movies, but they're the ones currently being produced by jihadist groups as propaganda, not the ones that Hollywood and independent film makers in this country are making.

We may well never find out exactly what caused Palmer to kill his two friends on that day. All the evidence however suggests that he had suffered a slow descent into depression and psychosis, even if neither had became fully developed. Skunk may indeed have exacerbated this, as the psychiatrist said, but it seems unlikely that it was the sole cause. More does need to be done to teach youngsters that cannabis is not risk-free, as the head of Rethink states, but then neither are cigarettes or alcohol, with some evidence suggesting that it poses far less of a risk than either. As ever, an apparently unexplainable act of murderous violence has been blamed variously on drugs, horror films and obsession with knives, when none of these in actual fact come close to making clear what actually happened. It's easier to do than instead realise that the warning signs may well have been there, and simply weren't noticed.

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Tuesday, March 20, 2007 

Scum-watch: Veiled exclusives.

Light blogging today as I've just had a thoroughly enjoyable visit to the dentist, but I can't pass up highlighting the Sun's sheer joy at seeing that Alan Johnson, the education secretary, has laid out the potential banning of the wearing of niqabs by pupils in school. Of course, it's even better when they're given the news as an exclusive and splash it all over the front page:
VEILS will be banned in schools to help pupils learn and to keep them safe, Education Secretary Alan Johnson has ruled.

His decision will affect thousands of Muslim girls who wear clothing like the full niqab.

He will publish details of his guidance to headteachers in the Commons today. The wearing of full-length robes may also be affected.

Thousands? Really? This is what has always been so perplexing about the whole debate on full veils - the numbers of women who wear them in this country is incredibly low. Only towards the end of the article does the Sun give a ball-park figure:

The ruling will be used to scupper any counter-bid by Muslim parents. It is estimated that 2,500 girls wear full-length Islamic dress in class in England and Wales.

Even here it's not clear whether this figure refers to girls who wear the niqab or who the wear the jilbab, as the Sun willfully conflates the two by bringing
Shabina Begum into the equation.

I actually think that the decision is a good one - some girls may indeed be troubled by the implications of the ban on their own interpretation of their religion, but they can still wear the hijab in school and the niqab outside of it if those are their wishes. I would rather that no one felt the need to cover their hair or body because of what any religion teaches, but the problems posed by the niqab are such that their limited banning in schools is justified. What I don't agree with is the condescending tone taken by the Sun leader, which seems to know better than Muslims themselves about the teachings of the religion:

WHATEVER arguments there may be for the veil, schools are not the place for them.

So we welcome Education Secretary Alan Johnson’s classroom ban.

He cites security, safety and the need for teachers to see a response on the faces of their pupils.

But he could equally have argued veils are divisive, provocative and have no justification under the teachings of Islam.

Divisive? Possibly, but the aftermath of Straw's comments on the niqab showed that it's more the tabloid press and Express readers that find them provocative and divisive. Actual women who wore them and spoke out showed that the casual assumptions made about veil wearers were far from the actual truth. As for no justification, that's a question that ought to be left for the Muslim community itself to debate, not for a tabloid newspaper which has done so much for community relations to state unequivocally.

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Monday, March 19, 2007 

Scum-watch: Knife crime? The Sun has the solution!

Let's start out with some caveats. There is undoubtedly a problem, especially in inner cities, with youths carrying knives and not being afraid to use them. They might be carrying them out of fear that they themselves may be attacked, mugged for their iPod or mobile phone; they might be doing so as a status symbol; and they might have them in their possession to rob others. Whichever reason it is, and gang culture and youth culture itself play a part as well, there are ways in which the problem can be tackled. Jackie Ashley in the Grauniad today puts forward a few good ideas on how it can be done.

One of the bitterest ironies of the death of Kodjo Yenga is that he had been featured on a MTV programme about knife crime, where he mentioned that although it was a problem, he thought the media were exaggerating it. Even though Yenga himself has now become the latest tragic victim of something he spoke out against, he was in fact probably right. When someone is murdered, we like to think that there's a motive behind the slaying, looking for meaning in the meaningless, anything to distract us from the at times cold-blooded reality. Yenga's murder, and that of Adam Regis, both appear from what we currently know to be utterly senseless crimes; the motive may not have been in the case of Regis's assailants to kill him, and the apparent chanting of "kill him" by the mob who chased Yenga was likely typical bravado, similar to how schoolchildren will quickly gather around a fight in a playground cheering on the writhing combatants, but neither death fits the narrative which we like to think is always behind violence. It's when this insulation from the fear and horror we associate with murder is removed that we then start looking for other explanations and for answers that we might otherwise ignore or dismiss.

The Sun is not perhaps the greatest example of this in action. By nature, the Sun takes the banal and routine and tries to turn it into something it's not. The sensationalism it relies on, especially as sales inexorably decline, means that a single crime or murder necessitates a radical or over the top response. When a few come along in a cluster, as they recently did with a number of shootings, which were as usual quickly forgotten once the story had moved on, then the Sun becomes even more certain and hysterical in its editorial outpourings.

IT is a sick society where children murder children with such apparent glee.

Saturday night’s stabbing of 15-year-old Adam Regis in London was just the latest in a series of five teenage killings in the capital.

It is not only areas of London where this madness reigns. There have been young victims in Manchester, Nottingham and Birmingham.

Right, so society's sick. This slaughter is not confined to one area, but to other big cities as well. So far, so typically Sun. Next step: bash a minister.

Instead of Communities Minister Ruth Kelly dismissing these nightmare murders as “isolated incidents” she should be urging her fellow cabinet ministers into action.

Kelly's statement that these were "isolated incidents" was indeed crass, although her point in general was that we shouldn't rush to all jerk our knees in unison and delve straight into "why oh why" type dramatics. John Reid however, who wants to ingratiate himself so much with the Sun that he perhaps ought to move in on Wade now that she's available, has heeded the Sun's advice:

"We need to take action before, as well after, the awful headlines we have seen," he told Parliament during a debate on the subject.

Here's where the Sun comes up with the solution(s):

Like ending the crazy situation where only ONE in every 58 policemen is on the beat at any given time. Too many of the rest are struggling with red tape and form-filling.

OK, that fills the quotient for a statistic which makes absolutely no sense because we don't know how many police officers actually are "on the beat" at any given time, although apparently it's only one in 58. Still, it looks like it means something. That's the attack on bureaucracy done, next, come out with that completely bat shit crazy idea that can be easily knocked back but is an typical right-wing point to make:

Like introducing ‘zero tolerance’ even for the smallest crimes — a policing strategy that turned New York into one of America’s safest cities.

Presumably not the type of zero tolerance which resulted in Tyrone Brown, who mugged a man of $2 dollars with a gun, and in the same year tested positive for marijuana who spent 17 years in prison in Dallas as a result. Is the Sun prepared to build the thousands more prison spaces that would be required were "zero tolerance" to be imposed, especially at a time when prison overcrowding is resulting in re-offending rates spiraling? Will the smallest crimes involve smacking your now ex-husband? Does it include motoring offences? Doesn't zero tolerance just inspire further resentment and grievances from those who are harshly punished for relatively minor crimes?

Then there's the whole issue of just how safe New York has been made by zero tolerance. There's firstly the question of whether it was zero tolerance that has made it safe, as others point to the CompStat crime analysis system. New York is indeed safe - by American standards. A quick look at the crime statistics, especially the the number of murders, shows there were 889 in New York in 2004. By comparison, London had 221. Even taking into account the population difference, with New York having 19 million and London having around 13 million, that's a huge difference. The 889 figure is in fact higher than the number for the whole of Britain in 2004 - the British Crime Survey reporting there were 820. Rape is a much less authoritative figure, but again shows the difference: 3,636 in New York, 576 in London. Burglary - New York 70,696, London 6,950.

Like having drugs-testing and automatic knife searches in schools.

Not that any of the recent murders have occurred in schools, and recent figures showed that although teachers were concerned about weapons being brought in, only 1% had been in a situation in which they were involved. Making school even more unpleasant is a tough job, but the Sun seems to want to step up to the plate.

Like ignoring the human rights lawyers and INCREASING police stop-and-search operations.

Which are generally a waste of time and only increase tensions.

The kid glove approach has failed us all. But no one more than the children whose lives ended almost before they began. Kids like Adam Regis.

Quite right. Bring on the American "solution" when we don't have an American problem.

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Saturday, March 17, 2007 

Crying a phony river.

Much shedding of crocodile tears in the Street of Shame over the tragic death of Sally Clark, victim of one of the worst recent miscarriages of justice in this country. The Daily Mail, which has since been conducting a witch-hunt against paediatricians who have diagnosed women as suffering from the controversial Munchausen's syndrome by proxy (the killing or harming of children by a mother in a bid to draw attention/sympathy to themselves, the most (in)famous sufferer of which is probably Beverley Allitt) cleared the front page for the news. As Postman Patel points out in an outstanding post, this is somewhat different coverage to that which followed her conviction, when the report in the Mail was headlined "Driven by drink and despair, the solicitor who killed her babies".

The sad death of a woman apparently broken by her time in prison for a crime she did not commit comes in the same week as the previously posted on failure of the Hickeys' to get back the compensation deducted from their payouts for living expenses. Additionally, a study by Baroness Corston into how women are treated by the criminal justice system recommended that existing women's prisons should be shut down (converted into prisons for men), with small local secure units being set-up in their place. If any further evidence was needed of the dire conditions in some sections of the prison system, especially those dedicated to women, the Guardian's a day inside series of interviews makes for depressing reading:

Gina Westaway, 51
Senior prison officer in the care, support and reintegration unit, HMP Styal, Cheshire

Checking our list of self-harmers was one of my first duties, and I noticed that there was a "code blue" on a female prisoner yesterday evening. She had tied a ligature round her neck, and an officer went into her room and cut it off. Self-harming is an issue in our unit - in February we had 140 incidents. The women break the plastic cutlery to cut themselves, or rip up the sheets to tie ligatures.

Incidentally, the government recently announced that the compensation paid to those who suffer miscarriages of justice will be capped at a maximum of £500,000. Apparently you can set an arbitrary, central, state dictated price on a life ruined by a false conviction. When you consider that Labour is more than happy to spend £9bn on the Olympics, which lasts for two weeks and at least £20bn on replacing a weapons system we neither need nor will use, the money paid out to those who suffer so terribly through the fault of the state seems an insult.

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Friday, March 16, 2007 

Ron Jeremy tells all.

We know that he spent at least 3 years in CIA "black" sites. It's incredibly likely that he was tortured. Craig Murray, former ambassador to Uzbekistan, suggests that he may well have been handed over to the security services in that god-forsaken country, notorious for raping both men and women with glass bottles and boiling at least one person to death. During his enemy combatant tribunal, he had no access to a lawyer. Parts of the transcript are predictably blocked out, including those where he refers to the fact that he was tortured. Keeping all of this in mind, is Khalid Sheikh Mohammad a man broken by torture, a master terrorist or a lying bragger?

The answer is probably a bit of all three. His confession to more or less every terrorist attack ever linked to al-Qaida, at least prior to his capture, and every plot that might have as much been mentioned in passing during communication within the group may itself be a tactic to inspire fear. It's been well established that he was likely involved in 9/11. Along with Ramzi Yousef, he was involved in the original plot to bomb the World Trade Center, and the planning for Bojinka, which might have been the basis for last year's August liquid bombs plot, or if you're more conspiracy-minded, resurrected to convince the public that a ramshackle plot which would have been simply impossible to actually pull off was far more serious than the police and government were letting on. He might well have been involved in the death of Daniel Pearl; he was captured in Karachi, where Pearl's body was found. Whether he personally decapitated Pearl, like Zarqawi is alleged to have beheaded hostages in Iraq, is simply impossible to know for certain.

As for the rest of the things he confessed to, he may well have been involved at the margins, or with the funding, but that would likely be as far as it went. While one counter-terrorism official alleged that KSM funded the Bali bombs, they were almost certainly carried out by Jemaah Islamiyah, and may well have been an independently funded attack. Likewise with the attacks in Mombasa. How far he was involved with Richard Reid's shoe-bomb plot is open to question, as is whether Reid was an actual member of al-Qaida.

Even the Sun's "terror expert" Neil Doyle doesn't think much of KSM's "confession" to plotting to fly 12 planes into nuclear power plants, except that he suggests that bin Laden played down the idea. The reality is that such a plot has never come up before because err, it's bollocks. Try searching Google and see how many hits you get examining such a nefarious plot. It's worth wondering whether those torturing KSM dropped many of these ideas liberally into his sessions, based on news reports however untrustworthy, and stopped zapping his balls when he agreed he was involved. His years spent in CIA black sites, probably in solitary confinement, might well have made him believe he actually was involved in all this nonsense.

Alternatively, he could just be a big show off. He was one of those jihadists who was influenced by the ideas of Takfir wal-Hijra, and not just so that he blended more into Western society. A number of sources suggest that while he and Yousef were in the Phillipines they took full advantage of the local tourist facilities. Indeed, like Yousef, it's difficult to know where Islam came into any of this. It may be, despite his denials and seeming sorrow, that he just liked blowing things up and taking lives in the process.

KSM's confession has if anything made the whole enemy combatant tribunal process look even more ridiculous and completely analogous to the American justice system. Everyone knows he's been tortured, his confession to everything except driving the white Fiat Uno that crossed the path of Princess Diana's car in the tunnel in France only looks feasible to rabid neo-conservatives, with even officials from the Bush adminstration suggesting he might have "exaggerated" a little, and with him only being the first to go through this kangaroo court system, it looks like we've got a whole spring of laughs to look forward too.

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Scum-watch: Lady Mucca returns.

I loathe celebrities. I detest the way the countless magazines devoted to them stare out at me when I walk in the newsagent. I wonder how those who work on them justify their continuing existence when they head into the office every morning. They probably went to university with the intention of becoming a investigative journalist, exposing corruption, lying politicians and helping in some way to make the world a better place. Their whole life has been one long shallow lie, but in order to pay off the rent and maintain their cocaine habit at the weekend they have to keep pumping out the insipid, turgid, witless prose about whichever starlet is currently too thin/fat, who's the hunkiest male star, and who's been captured daring to walk outside their house by the salivating one-handed public, who forward their blurry mobile phone photographs in the hope that their handiwork will appear in a magazine destined to be read only by pond life with the attention span of an monkey addicted to crack and by those unfortunate people who've forgot to bring something to read to the doctor or dentist's surgery.

You'd probably then think that I don't much care for Heather Mills, or give two shits what she thinks about anything. And you'd been right. She does however have a point about media harassment. The Sun, as you might guess, doesn't think she does:

SPARE us the crocodile tears, Heather.

Lady Mucca pops up on every TV and radio station she can find.

Only to moan she’s the victim of media harassment.

Police chiefs are so fed up with her they say she’s crying wolf.

They complain she can’t stop reaching for the panic button.

Excuse us while we reach for the off-switch.

For those of you not in the know about how Mills' has come to be known as "Lady Mucca", this new epithet came about when the Sun bought an ancient porn book/sex guide which featured Mills and some bloke in a number of risque positions, along with whipped cream, etc.

As you might well know, this derogatory nickname, coming from the Sun newspaper, which prints a topless young lady on its third page every day, runs the page 3 idol competition in which women across the country are encouraged to get their breasts out for the grand prize of £5,000, and which now operates MySun, the most barrel-scraping social-networking site on the face of the planet, which is today urging women to get them out to win a Sun photoshoot for Easter, is just slightly hypocritical.

As the Sun reaches for the off switch, it seems unlikely that Wade herself will be telling her hacks to stop writing about her. After all, since exposing Mills last June, the term Lady Mucca has appeared in the Sun at least 75 times. Among these amazing stories, which clearly prove Mills isn't being harassed, are such vitally important journalism as:

LADY Mucca spotted buying hi-fi from London's Portobello SECOND-HAND market

LADY Mucca slopes off on cheapie skiing holiday despite being offered £30m payout

A MUM says Heather Mills booted her in the bottom with her false leg in a coffee shop

HEATHER Mills shared intimate moments with her hunky personal trainer at station

HEATHER Mills booted out of supermarket — because she was once a teenage shoplifter

43% Biggest bitch? Nutta or Mucca
VOTE on our e-poll for either Lady Mucca Heather Mills or Nasty Naomi Campbell

Clearly, Mills is just a crybaby gold digger.

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Thursday, March 15, 2007 

Injustice multiplied.

Imagine, if you will, that you've been wrongly convicted of murder. That your conviction itself was the result of the police fabricating evidence and beating you and the others convicted alongside yourself. That during your 18 years in prison, you were regarded as amongst the lowest of the low as a result of the fact that you were convicted of killing a child, enduring assault and having your food tampered with on numerous occasions, including being tainted with glass and urine.

After those 18 years you're finally free, and cleared of any involvement in the now unsolved murder. In the compensation paid out to you however, the Home Office deducts what it regards as a suitable amount for your board and lodging. Somehow, the fact that even outside prison you still have to pay for the time you wrongly spent inside, eating tampered with food, every day wondering whether you'd ever escape from what one judge would eventually describe as a "prolonged kidnapping" adds insult on to over a decade of injury.

This is what the Hickeys, two of those convicted of murdering the newspaper boy Carl Bridgewater, have now had to face up to. Appealing to the highest court in the land against this obvious and disgraceful injustice, they lost by a majority decision of 4-1. The judges, trying to justify the unjustifiable, suggested the deductions should be seen as "expenses" they would have had to pay if they had in fact been able to work. That's all right then.

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This is a dead parrot.

In those all too rare moments of optimism, I have like tygerland, who has just rejoined, thought about becoming a member of the Labour party. It's partly out of the naive belief that somehow my thoughts and my voice could help in some way to turn around the direction that New Labour has headed in, and also more recently out of the desire to make sure that the left-wing alternatives to Brown get as much support as possible, even if I don't particularly want either Meacher or McDonnell to lead the party, just to show how much grassroots support there is for a more radical government program, much like the one which tygerland sets out.

It's only later, or rather within minutes, that the much more familiar disillusion sets it. It'd be nice to think that Brown will be a more inclusive leader to Blair, someone prepared to listen to the activists and supporters on the ground rather than do exactly the opposite of what the vast majority of them would do, but all the evidence suggests that he'll be just as much as a control freak as Blair, if not more. Secondly, Brown has made more than apparent that he's not prepared to back down an inch on security and foreign policy matters. He supports an extension to the 28-days without charge detention limit for "terrorist suspects"; he supports the retention of Trident; he failed to stand up to Blair over Iraq; and he's showed no sign of being about to end Blair's Faustian pact with the Murdoch media.

Of course, it can be argued that ending the alliance with the Downing Street Echo would be tantamount to political suicide, that putting off a decision on renewing Trident would allow the Tories to take the initiative over security and claim that Labour is putting the security of the nation at risk, however ludicrous such a position would be, and that if he had opposed Blair over Iraq then he would have been sacked, but these are the exact sort of issues where decisions taken from on high have left the grassroots feeling angry, betrayed and disenfranchised.

The problem with Labour though is not just any longer with the leaders. It's with the whole package of policies which are currently being pursued. Take yesterday's announcement from the Home Office which outlines proposals given to it from a review of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act. Ignore the gimmicky decision to put short-term jails in the local branch of Tesco, and instead focus on the vast expansion of the power to take DNA and fingerprints from anyone who so much as farts out of turn. From wanting to be tough on crime and the causes of crime, the current solution to all our problems seems to be to take everyone's biometric information and put it on every database the government can put out to tender. This is a huge change in the very nature of the relationship between citizen and state - if you manage to avoid being forced to get an ID card, then they'll get your fingerprints through catching you dropping litter, not cleaning up after a dog or not wearing a seatbelt. Those over 10 who commit non-recordable offences would also no longer be immune from having their fingerprints and DNA taken. From a database that was originally meant to be used only to help solve serious crimes, we've come to the point where it's now the largest in the world.

It's obvious to everyone what the police and some politicians want. They want the database to have everyone's data on it, but they can't come out and say that they want children to have their fingerprints taken at a certain age just in case they ever commit a crime. It would spark outrage, probably even in the Downing Street Echo. Instead, they're going about creating it by stealth, coming up with ever more weak excuses for taking personal information. Also worth noting is how plans originally mooted as being used to question "terrorist suspects" after they've been charged are now suggested to be used universally.

This is I think what makes most people so increasingly queasy about political parties in general, not just Labour. It's that you simply can't trust them, and that even if you did, they sure as hell don't trust you. Some have suggested that they're going to vote for the Tories at the next election simply because they've promised to scrap ID cards. After however much Labour has or is going to spend on the scheme, even if the Tories got in, I just can't imagine them ripping the whole thing apart.

Simply put, after 9 years of Labour government, putting up with numerous lies and so many unforgivable policies, to believe that re/joining the party now will make any genuine difference is laughable. The only way I can see relations between the political parties and the general public being repaired is for proportional representation to be introduced, forcing them to listen. Otherwise, I think we're headed for another generation of minority conservative government, whether through New New Labour or the Tories themselves, with ever reducing electoral turnout.

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Wednesday, March 14, 2007 

Britain's Abu Ghraib.

Daoud Mousa with photographs of his son and grandchildren.

Last night's Panorama, which was moved forward as a result of the last two soldiers on trial over the abuse of Iraqi prisoners being cleared, was as depressing as it was damning. It made clear that there had been an obvious closing of ranks amounting to a cover-up over the death of Baha Mousa while he was in British custody in Basra, having suffered 93 separate injuries within 36 hours of being arrested.

As Not Saussure notes, the reason for Colonel Jorge Mendonca's acquittal has now been made public. It seems the evidence of Major Antony Royce was crucial: he contradicted the prosecution's claim that "conditioning" - the use of stress positions, forcing prisoners to stand for long periods with their arms outstretched and hands cuffed, hooding and sleep deprivation, had not been cleared by the "chain of command". Royce told Mendonca that it had been, and it seems he was very much relieved. The judge notes that Mendonca seems to have been a fall guy: he did not do anything that he should have done, and he did not do anything which he shouldn't have done.

Panorama alleged that those other than Corporal Payne, who was forced to admit to being involved in the beatings and other mistreatment which lead to Mousa dying, had not been brought to justice due to both failings in the investigation by the SIB, and through a systematic failure of memory suffered by other soldiers called as witnesses. Payne's lawyer, who sat through this joke of a court martial, confirmed that the words "I don't remember" were used over 600 times during the trial, and commented that he had never seen anything on that scale in a court room.

Mousa and 6 other men were arrested at a Basra hotel in September 2003, a number of weeks after Captain Di Jones, a popular young soldier from the Queen's Lancashire regiment had been killed by an IED. Following a tip-off that weapons were being stored in the hotel, British troops stormed in at 6am, only to find the man who they were really looking for, the hotel's owner, had already fled. Having apparently being informed that those arrested were involved in the death of their comrade, and finding weapons stored (All of the men arrested were later cleared of any involvement in the insurgency, simply being hotel workers. Mousa was the receptionist.), their treatment was from the beginning little short of brutal. This continued throughout their detention: evidence was given that Corporal Payne had "played" the detainees like a choir, kicking and punching them one at a time, relishing the cries and groans his blows brought from the captives. Video footage of Payne shouting and forcing detainees into stress positions was shown to the court. What is not in dispute is that Payne was not the only soldier who took part in the abuse; we know the regiments that were in Iraq at the time, and even some of the soldiers who were involved. That they have not been brought to trial, and now seem unlikely to be is just one of the major injustices of this case.

The other main question is just who did authorise the "conditioning" of detainees. With Abu Ghraib, it went all the way to the top, to Rumsfeld, although his signing off of certain techniques didn't involve the sexual humiliation which was routinely inflicted on those who passed through the American-run jail; that was likely implemented by the CIA officers who were also involved. Brigadier Euan Duncan gave evidence that US commanders had criticised British forces for failing to "extract sufficient intelligence" from those arrested, which presumably led to someone up the chain of command authorising the conditioning practices which had been banned since 1972. Whether this was at the army level or the political level we simply don't know. In relation to the death of Baha Mousa, Antony Royce was told by Major Mark Robinson, a brigade "intelligence adviser" to condition prisoners. Royce, worried this contradicted the firm and clear prisoner-handling training given back in Britain, consulted the brigade's legal adviser, Major Russel Clifton, who assured him that conditioning was permitted.

As Jeremy Vine states at the opening of the programme, from some of the reporting you'd think that no one had died, that beatings had not taken place and that the soldiers involved, whether they were those who were tried or not, had been wrongly maligned. The arrogance and refusal to admit that crimes had been committed was exemplified by the behaviour of Colonel David Black, who emerged from the court to deliver a statement which was brimming with pompous unrighteous anger, eyes flashing beneath spectacles, his every word underlined by a sharp flick of his head. He was in effect suggesting that soldiers shouldn't be held to account, even when the evidence of abuse is as strong as it was in this case. The Scum quotes him as saying:
[Our Boys needed to be able to work] “without looking over their shoulders inhibited by the fear of such actions by over-zealous and remote officialdom”.

The Sun's leader is even worse:

COMMON sense prevailed when two British soldiers were cleared of abusing Iraqi prisoners.

Major Michael Peebles and Warrant Officer Mark Davies served with courage and bravery in the most difficult conditions.

This ludicrous show trial — which has already seen four other soldiers cleared on the judge’s orders — has been a waste of time and money.

These men risked their lives in Iraq but were repaid by being hung out to dry.

Every aspect of investigating so-called crimes within the military needs to be re-examined.

Our servicemen and women deserve nothing less.

No mention that the Iraqis who were the victims of these "so-called crimes" too deserve nothing less than those responsible being brought to justice.

If anything, this farce is worse than the treatment meted out to those responsible for the abuses at Abu Ghraib. While they were the scapegoats for the decisions made higher up the command chain, in this case it appears that the army itself has gone completely into denial. No one apparently saw anything, or it's strangely slipped their mind. No one knows who authorised the outlawed techniques in the first place. Only Payne, who was unfortunate enough to be the only one who could not escape from justice due to the evidence presented, has so much as admitted that abuses even took place. Hopefully this will be taken into account when he is eventually sentenced. As for the rest of those involved, they can take pride in the way their actions have brought the British army down to the same level as their coalition partner.

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Scum-watch: Take one hijab or two into the sauna?

Via BlairWatch, here's today's obligatory Sun-story on the foibles of members of "our Muslim community", as the Dear Leader referred to them:

A MUSLIM woman in full hijab robes was allowed to swelter in a SAUNA because worried staff did not want to offend her.

She then jumped into the sports centre’s swimming pool to cool off while still wearing the black top-to-toe Islamic dress.

Straight off, the basic ignorance of the whole article is more than apparent. The hijab is not a robe: the hijab is a headscarf, nothing more, and in Islamic scholarship, as Wikipedia states, has a wider meaning of modesty, etc. Surely the sub-editor could have sorted this out in seconds?

Due to this misunderstanding, it's difficult to work out exactly what she was wearing. I'm assuming it was either a jilbab or a chador.

After ten minutes in the sauna and ten minutes in the pool the mystery woman changed out of her wet hijab into a dry one in the changing rooms and left alone.

Yesterday members of the David Lloyd Leisure centre in Oxford said they were baffled by the women’s actions.

A woman then acts rather bizarrely for an incredibly short time, and just happens to be wearing religious dress. Huge news story. Oh, wait, don't tell me, this is actually a case of POLITICAL CORRECTNESS GONE MAD:

Club member Ian Caldwell, 46, was sitting in the sauna when the fully-dressed woman walked in.

He said: “I pointed out that it was a sauna and asked her if it was appropriate. All the other women in there were all in bathing costumes.

“When I saw her in the pool later, she was still wearing the Islamic outfit.

“The pool attendant said she was allowed to wear this due to her religious customs. It was just political correctness gone completely barmy. I told the manager that it was my custom to attend saunas naked, as they do in Sweden, and said I trusted he would find that equally acceptable.

“But to be serious, this is a question of hygiene, not religious rights.”

It seems odd that Caldwell doesn't explain what the woman's response was to his questioning of her clothing, and it also appears that the pool attendant just let her get on with it rather than bothering to ask her why she was acting in that way. She doesn't appear to have been hurting anyone, and arguably, bringing up the whole question of hygiene when everything suggests that she changed into a clean robe when she arrived and then back into the clothes she wore beforehand is just as politically correct. The whole article is leaping to conclusions: that staff didn't interrupt her because they were worried about "offending" her etc, when they might have just been following the usual British way of letting weirdos and the more eccentric among us get on with it.

Then we have Taj Hargey, who appeared seemingly out of nowhere to previously criticise the MCB on the also widely criticised Panorama programme, and who also offered to fund the school which was taken to court after a 12-year-old girl was banned from wearing the niqab (it has to be said I fully support the school in that case) mouthing off:

“How can you swim properly if you wear a hijab?”

Err, pretty easily I would have thought if it was tied up correctly. Does Hargey not realise that olympic swimmers themselves tend to cover their hair for rather obvious reasons? Surely the whole point of this is that it would be a lot more difficult to swim in a robe, is it not?

“Wearing a veil is nothing to do with Islam, it is a cultural tradition.

It's true that this is an on-going debate within the Muslim community, and that a good few would disagree with Hargey, so we'll let him get away with this. It's his next statement I have more of a problem with:

“They think this is their way of making a statement, but this is the worst possible statement. They are shooting themselves in the foot.”

Personally, if I wanted to make a statement the last thing I would do is wear a robe while in a sauna. That's not making a statement, it's being pretty daft. As is making a big deal out of the bizarre actions of one woman. If the Sun truly wanted to be fair, it would have perhaps also got a quote from someone who doesn't have such similar views to that of the approved Murdoch line. Instead, we've got another article to add the Muslim baiting pile that have appeared in the Scum of late.

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Tuesday, March 13, 2007 

Have we found a use for Trident so soon?

Tony Blair compared the fight against climate change to the battle against fascism and the cold war today, as the government pledged to cut carbon emissions by 60% by 2050 with the publication of the UK's first ever climate change bill.

Right, so when do we start bombing? Where do we bomb? Where do we point our independent nuclear deterrent? Do we start with Heathrow before moving on to Chelsea, or do we first commit acts of sabotage against Didcot power station? How about having the police storm houses where the negligent selfish bastards leave the TV on standby, with orders to shoot to kill in case there's Islamic fascists with bomb belts seeking refuge inside?

The Dear Leader's comparison isn't just lazy, it's utterly meaningless. Climate change cannot be an enemy unless we ourselves are the enemy; we've created it. It's not a battle that can be won either through military means or through the threat of military action. It can be argued that climate change does potentially pose a threat through forcing mass migration or creating natural disasters, but the worst ravages of climate change are only likely to be felt once the vast majority of us now alive are long dead, and that's if not enough is done now to tackle the problem at the source through reducing carbon emissions.

Blair does have something of a point in suggesting that different generations of politicians face different challenges, but he certainly isn't going to be around to deal with this supposed new challenge, unless there's something he hasn't told us. The other main problem is that Blair and others have already tried to build up an new bogeyman to take the place of the cold war in the threat posed by al-Qaida et al. At least this somewhat resembles what could be an existential threat, but it's one which has been heavily exaggerated for political purposes, and powerful ideology though it is, is not one which directly threatens the life of the nation, as it were. Add into this Blair's recent rhetoric about failed states and the continuing impasse over Iran's nuclear ambitions and this is the main realistic threat posed. Unfortunately for Blair and co, this doesn't in any way resemble or exude the same menace as the Soviet Union did, let alone Nazism, and it's doubtful that any amount of attempts to convince the wider public as a whole into believing this will wash, however much help friendly propagandists and others give.

I can only surmise that the real reasons every new "threat" is bigged up to being the end of life as we know it is that politicians believe that unless you're suitably dramatic and over-the-top no one will listen to you, which has some merit in the age when Al Gore claims that Current TV is going to change the world as we know it through user-generated content, the most successful pieces of which so far are Loose Change, the propaganda videos produced by jihadists, and whichever video is currently top of the YouTube charts. The second is that it seems to be every politician's deepest desire to be Churchill: leading the nation out of its darkest hour, bringing everyone together and coming out victorious. The by-product of the Churchill act is that it frightens people, which is always a good way of achieving acquiescence. Who cares if it just makes you look like an imbecile who can't think up a new way to address a new problem without conjuring up images of instantaneous doom? It'll at least go down well with someone. Probably.

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Monday, March 12, 2007 

The power of nightmares.

Last night I woke in a damp sweat. The vision I had, one of a Britain broken, enforced into feudalism as the sky turned dark, with children rapidly resorting to scavenging and feeding on vermin, was the most horrific and vivid that I had ever experienced. It had all started the day, in a delusion of good vibes and liberal limp-wristedness that we had abandoned our independent nuclear deterrent. Politicians and newspapers said it was lunacy, that we couldn't predict what enemy would emerge in the next few decades, and that most of all, it finally broke our reputation as a great country. The ever traitorous left-wingers, delighted by finally destroying the weapons they had always loathed, crowed and said it sent a message to the world.

It did. Within hours of the last missile being dismantled and the final submarine being broken apart, there were reports that there had been a huge explosion over Manchester. Eyewitnesses from outlying towns quickly flooded radio stations with their terrifying last phone calls, saying that what seemed to be a mushroom cloud had briefly appeared above what had been Manchester. It was in fact only the first attack; within hours, all the major cities had been hit. With a brisk northerly wind blowing, the fallout was spread alarmingly quickly. Looting broke out almost immediately, and with a single nuclear attack itself enough to overwhelm the NHS, health care crumbled within a matter of days. Most died without knowing where the attack had came from; those who survived didn't care, infused only with a rage against those who had abolished the weapons which kept the nation safe.

It was the image of the bleak, desolate landscape of the countryside which I had fled to on hearing of the first attack that I awoke with, my final surroundings seared on my brain. With the water poisoned and the animals which had inhabited the woodland themselves dying, there was no way I could have survived. Instead, using a rope taken from a nearby abandoned farm, I tied a ligature from a tree and hung myself, my neck snapping like one of the twigs which covered the forest floor.

How I breathed a sigh of relief as I realised that it had only been a night terror! I remembered the words of the defence secretary Des Browne, who had been so completely right when he stated that Trident made people feel more secure in their beds. I settled back down, soothed, and slept soundly, dreaming only of being blown apart on the tube as an unfortunate result of a young man detonating his backpack of explosives, having been radicalised by the war in Iraq. Still, these things happen.


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Scum-watch: We need Sarah's law. And the comments prove it.

Is Rebekah Wade reflecting the concerns of society or is she exploiting the population's most base fears? That's the conundrum I always mull over when reading the latest hysterical report on why we need Sarah's law and now. Is the campaign motivated out of sales, genuine belief there's a problem that's being underreported or out of some own demon from Wade's past which she's getting her galley slaves to constantly write about?

This isn't to trivialise child abuse. It is a serious problem, but as one of the more sensible commenters on the report mentions, it's far more likely to occur within a close circle of family and friends than from a random stranger. The next question that has to be asked is whether "exposing" these "monsters" is actually scaring the public or making them more secure. It's not one that I have an answer to. I do however remember the hysteria created by Wade's previous campaign at the News of the Screws, which inspired the kind of mob justice, especially in protests in Portsmouth, that you more associate with fiction than with modern Britain.

Today's report focuses on court rooms across the country and the sex offenders passing through, with the courts only being monitored for three eight-hour days. As you might expect, there's the usual variety of people who've downloaded child pornography, as well as those who are actual abusers. There's also a few anomalies which I don't think have any right to be presented in such a sensationalist manner. This, however, is the Sun. It's the only way it knows.

Here's the introduction, complete with scarily-staged (correction: it seems to have been photoshopped now I look at it) photograph of the stereotypical image of a paedophile: someone most likely with a body odour problem, wearing dark clothes, hat, glasses and unshaven, stalking a playground while a child swings, oblivious to the danger that's right in front of her. The reality, as painted by the actual cases in the courts, is often very different.

PAEDOPHILES and child sex offenders are the scourge of modern life. There have always been perverts preying on children, but the arrival of the internet has opened up new channels of depravity for sick individuals.

As well as those who physically assault youngsters from a position of trust and those who lure kids into danger, many download obscene images of children – ensuring all too real abuse.

Every day our justice system is battling to catch and punish these vermin. Often the sheer number of cases is such that only the most shocking make the Press.

We watched courts around the country for three eight-hour days last week to get a 24-hour snapshot of life in Paedo UK.

Below we outline just some of the cases.

Of the 12 cases the Sun presents, 5 of them involved actual abuse. Of those, only 3 involved assaults/abuse/rape with children which falls strictly under the definition of paedophilia, and one was a case 20 years old. The other two involved teenagers likely to be pubescent. This of course doesn't downgrade the crime, and this might seem pedantic, but labeling anyone who has sex with girls under the age of consent as a paedophile is lazy at best and at worst is ignoring the facts of the case.

For instance, one of the cases highlighted is of a 20-year-old soldier who invited a 14-year-old girl back to his house and had sex with her. The sex was presumably consensual, as it doesn't state otherwise. The sentence handed down was a 12-month jail term suspended for two years, a course for sex offenders for two years, and placement on the sex offenders register. The Sun doesn't go into the case in full, and the judge is quoted as saying that he took advantage of the girl. It's worth wondering why the case has come to court, as similar cases are often not pursued, which might mean there are other factors involved, but such a sentence for what was presumably consensual sexual activity, especially as the judge describes the man as highly immature seems harsh, and the Sun's exposure of the case is more so. He broke the law, but in the apparent circumstances does his exposure serve any purpose? Does the sentence serve any purpose when the judge concludes that the soldier is not a predatory paedophile?

I can't pretend to answer the questions raised. Most of the sentences passed however seem to me about right - neither too harsh or too lenient. The cases from Belfast and Newcastle are the most troubling; in those I think the sentences are definitely on the lenient side, especially as both had previous. This suggests though that the judges are on the whole getting it right.

The Sun's leader is particularly venomous:

IT’S like turning over a stone and watching the creepy-crawlies rush out from underneath.

And there are two especially frightening things about the paedophiles we uncover today.

First, the sheer number of them. These are just the vermin who happened to appear in court during our 24-hour watch.

12 cases over 3 days all across the country doesn't seem particularly excessive in my mind, but I might be being too relaxed or casual about the whole thing. After all, I'm a young adult male. I'm about the least likely person to be the victim of a sex crime. Is that affecting my judgment or not?

Second, how many of them have normal, responsible jobs — bus driver, soldier, foster carer and even a policeman. They cloak their evil with respectability.

These people are our enemy and they are a silent, secret enemy.

The Sun can’t be in every court in the land, every day, to haul these wretches into the limelight.

Are they our enemy or are they damaged individuals themselves? Are they predatory or have they themselves been preyed upon at some time? Instead of calling them the enemy, shouldn't we be recognising that they are just like everyone else going through the court system? Isn't calling them the enemy giving them a war-like status when they are certainly not soldiers and who can't be merely brushed aside using weapons? Isn't demonising them rather than trying to understand their urges and developing strategies from that part of the very problem?

We need a law that forces the authorities to turn a spotlight on the perverts in our midst.

A law that means the name and address of every paedophile is known to local parents whose children might become their victims.

We need Sarah’s Law. And soon.

Sarah's Law may have helped in only 3 of the cases, and that is by no means certain. The other problems involved with a naming law are the vigilante aspect, and the fact that it may further encourage potential predators to go even more underground, or simply go AWOL. While American states name sex offenders on websites, there is by no means the same moral panic there as there is here, thanks partly to the lack of populist mass-sale country-wide tabloids, and evidence suggests that those convicted who subsequently disappear instead of "signing on" the register are far more numerous to those who go missing here.

If we perhaps needed any more evidence of the potential for vigilantism, we can look at the comments on the Sun article. Of course, such a subject is always go to raise passions, and what people say online is often bravado in situations like this, but it's still an indicator for the type of feeling aroused by articles such as these.

I know what sort of punishment I and many others would dish out to these *******. It would last much longer than 12 months and they certainly could not be around a child again. But we live in a pathetic country whose pathetic laws do nothing but protect the guilty.

i would cut all the bits from them .that way they can never hurt another child fof the rest of there life ,even thats to good for them .bring back the death buy hanging or let them loose wiyh 50 mums debby

How can we expect anything to be done when the so called back bone of this country cannot even given these sick and twisted individuals a sentence worth while! These inhumanly animals should never be allowed to walk the streets! I think hanging should be brought back they do not deserve to breathe the same air as us!!!

Crime now, but let the special interest groups have their way, and child molesters will be a protected class of persons. What was considered anti-social in years past is now front and center as "normal" behaviour. The Sun does well to highlight the plight of the victimized. This abhorant perversion shuold always spark a heartfelt moral outrage among civilized people. Let us not forget that certain sub-cultures practice underage sex on a regular basis. They should not be exempted from child protection laws simply because they fled a barbaric country. If they want to live in a civilized country, then they should adjust to civilized laws, not bring their tribal mumbo jumbo with them.

None of the men featured appear to be from an ethnic minority, and it's perhaps worth mentioning here the efforts of the BNP in trying to suggest that Asian men in Keighley were responsible for the grooming of teenage girls, when the truth was much more complicated.

JUDGES get your act together and punish these amoeba's properly, never mind 6months and 2 yrs sentences, get them down for life! They're ruined countless kids lives!!! And a good dose of bromide in their tea!

Not the greatest justification here for a Sarah's law based on Megan's law:

Here in the usa we have a web site that you can go on, You can put in your address and it will fetch up a page with a local map showing all the addresses of pedo's in you area,You then click on each address and it will show you a picture of the scumbucket along with what his of her actual crime was. Now you would think with this that our kids would be safe but no..These things still get to grab our kids just the same and if they don't register their new addresses as they move around(what they are not supposed to do without police permission by the way)the police have no way of tracking them.Maybe we should start thinking about chipping these things(I cant call them people)or maybe putting those ankle braclets on them for the rest of their life,Better still put them in jail for longer periods,I don't three months, six months, or one year is good enough This is our children were taking about here and has anyone stopped to think of the life sentence these poor little things get to serve for 10min of a pedos fun.

The Sun's website, supposedly dedicated to seeking "justice for you", may well have the opposite effect. Its modus operandi, which seems to be to lock up ever more people for even longer, is the exact thing that is helping to drive re-offending rates up. Its demanding of "Sarah's law" could make children even more vulnerable. It distorts Lord Phillips' nuanced speech into suggesting that he wants killers released early. Oh, and in wonderfully good taste, it celebrates a woman who may well have hounded her husband's "killer" (he caused a pile-up through driving on the wrong side of the road) to death. It appears that Sun justice is in fact no justice.

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Saturday, March 10, 2007 

Scum-watch: Lies, damned lies, and "soft" judges.

Do the tabloids ever properly report "controversial" speeches or reports? I only ask because in the reasonably short time I've been writing this blog, I've noticed that so-called journalists in the popular press are addicted to at best distorting what has been said/written and at worst printing out right lies about the arguments being put forward. The previous Audit Commission report on immigration was a case in point: taking slight concerns and magnifying them to such a point that it looks as if the sky's about to fall.

Thursday's speech by Lord Phillips at the University of Birmingham, simply titled Issues in Criminal Justice - Murder, is mostly a discussion about the difficulties in sentencing those convicted of homicide. In it, Phillips' is critical of the mandatory sentences which the 2003 Criminal Justice Act brought in, and analyses the recommendations of the Law Commission (PDF) which suggested introducing first and second degree homicide, similar in some ways to the system in America. The full speech is available here (PDF), clocking in at over 9000 words of scholarly discussion, examining different cases involving murder and how they've been dealt with.

From these 9000 words, the Sun has managed to come out with a story headlined:

Top judge: Let killers out of jail

Let's get the pedantic points out of the way first. Not once in the whole speech does Phillips use the word killers. Nor does he say jail. In fact, nowhere in the entire speech does Phillips so much as suggest that those found guilty should be let out of prison early.

KILLERS should be let out of jail early to ease the prisons crisis, says Britain’s top judge.

No he didn't.

Lord Chief Justice Lord Phillips warned that jails would be stuffed with “geriatric” inmates if no action was taken.

Here's what Phillips' actually says about geriatric lifers:

Most ‘lifers’ are released on licence after they have served a period of imprisonment on the recommendation of the Parole Board. They are, however, subject to recall to serve the rest of their sentence if they breach the terms of their licence. How long they serve before being considered for release is now determined by the judge who sentences them. He has to specify a minimum term which the defendant must serve before being considered for release. In fixing the minimum term the judges have to apply guidance laid down in the Criminal Justice Act 2003. The effect of that Act has been in many cases almost to double the length of time that those
convicted of murder will stay in prison. In thirty years’ time the prisons will be full of geriatric lifers.

Nothing about taking action. Simply a statement that is likely to be proved accurate.

He suggested the country would look back in shame in 100 years time at the length of sentences for killers and rapists — and claimed it was “barbaric” to cage them for so long.

Nowhere in the speech does Phillips use the word barbaric. Here's what he does say about the length of sentences, coming at the conclusion of his speech:

Sentencing is a major topic, and it is too late in the day to embark on it. Let me simply say that I have reservations about the current guidelines. The gap between the 15 year starting point and the thirty year starting point is immense. It is the difference between a determinate sentence of thirty years and one of sixty years. If sentences are to be just, then the effect of mitigating and aggravating factors should be very significant, so that sentences fill the spectrum between these two starting points. I am not sure that in practice they do, and I believe that the starting points are having the effect of ratchetting up sentences in a manner that will be regretted many years hence.

In other words, a highly nuanced and detailed argument which lists Phillips' concerns about how sentences, thanks to this government's kowtowing to the tabloids especially, are getting longer and longer. With a prison population of 80,000, with no sign that it's causing crime to drop, and with evidence suggesting that the overcrowding is causing re-offending rates to soar, it's right to be concerned that we may well be on the wrong track. The introduction of indeterminate sentencing, where someone can be kept in prison for the rest of their life even once they have finished their minimum term if they're considered a danger to the public, is one of the reasons for this leap. The latest statistics released on those currently in prison, from January of this year, makes this point in the summary (another PDF):

The largest proportionate increases since January 2006 were for those sentenced to indeterminate sentences (Life sentences and Indeterminate sentences for Public Protection) which increased by 31 per cent.

There were then 8,750 prisoners serving indeterminate sentences. For a sentence that has only been recently introduced, its use is both worrying and gives the lie to the belief that judges are too soft.

The Sun goes on to quote everyone's favourite rent-a-cop on crime, Norman Brennan:

“Lord Phillips has taken leave of his senses if he believes that releasing murderers early will help alleviate the prison population.

If he had actually said that, he might well have done. He didn't.

He also makes the comment that prisons risk becoming full of geriatric lifers, but that has to be the case if necessary. At least they still have their lives.

Quite right. Keeping men who can't go to the toilet by themselves in prison and who are by that fact no threat to anyone makes perfect sense. At least they have their lives - until they die in their cells, anyway.

The Sun does at least go on to quote Phillips somewhat accurately:

“I’m not in favour of mandatory sentences, full stop. If sentences are to be just, then the effect of mitigating and aggravating factors should be very significant, so that sentences fill the spectrum between these two starting points.

All Phillips is really calling for is for judges to be given the power to once again decide a case by what happened - for every single one is different. With mandatory sentences, this is made much more difficult. Not Saussure goes into this in much more detail.

On then to the Sun's leader:

YOU might think our judges would at least be good at listening.

We should be so lucky.

If you want proof that they are deaf to public opinion just hear what our top man-in-a-wig has been saying.

Lord Chief Justice Lord Phillips believes prison sentences should be shorter. Murderers spend too long behind bars. Parliament should not be able to fix minimum terms.


All he said was he thought we would look back with regret at some of the lengthy sentences now handed down, not that any should be shorter. He didn't say murderers spend too long behind bars. He also didn't say parliament shouldn't be able to fix minimum terms, just that he isn't in favour of mandatory terms. Even then he doesn't say that parliament shouldn't be allowed to set minimum or mandatory terms. Here's what he actually said:

I said that murder is a political hot potato and this is why altering the mandatory life sentence is not on the agenda.

He doesn't like it, but he realises that in the current climate, helped along by the ever increasing shrieks of the Sun, nothing can be done about it.

Lord Phillips should get two things into his skull.

That he is a servant of people who are much more likely than he is to be victims of the very criminals he wants to go soft on.

And that no one elected him.

If this the response that judges get for floating ideas and so much as slightly stepping out of line, it's little wonder that they get fed up with the way they're dictated to both by the media and politicians. Incidentally, no one elected Rebekah Wade. No one voted for Rupert Murdoch. We have to put up with them, just as the Scum has to put with judges daring to suggest that in years to come we might regret our draconian approach to crime.

P.S. Here's the Telegraph on Phillips' speech, which proves that reporting these speeches can be achieved without slipping into faux-outrage, not to mention making things up. The Express, on the other hand, similarly distorted the judge's lecture.

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Friday, March 09, 2007 

Tinker, tailor, Mercer, sailor...

You black and white bastard! Get moving!

It's pretty obvious that Patrick Mercer is not a racist. If he was, then it seems doubtful that so many soldiers who were in his ranks would have jumped almost immediately to his defense. There was also no problem with his comments that during training would-be soldiers would be insulted over their distinguishing features. I'd be a lot more surprised if they weren't; we were shouted at enough by teachers when doing cross-country at school. He could have perhaps made clearer that such comments are only out of encouragement rather than malice, but I suspect many weren't really shocked by that aspect of his interview with the Times.

Where Mercer's remarks came into difficulty is the contemptuous and arrogant way in which he out of hand dismissed the concerns of Marlon Clancy, a Commonwealth soldier from Belize. Clancy is setting up a trade-union of sorts for those who think they've been victims of either unfair treatment or racism in the army. Clancy himself, who joined the army in 1999, the same year as Mercer left, alleges that in one case he was attacked by soldiers dressed as members of the Ku Klux Klan.

Mercer's response to this was not exactly understanding. "Absolute nonsense. Complete and utter rot," was what he said. He then followed this up by stating:

"I came across a lot of ethnic minority soldiers who were idle and useless, but who used racism as cover for their misdemeanours."

He may well have done, and I'm sure that ethnic minority soldiers can be just as idle as some white recruits who coast rather than stretch themselves, but in response to Clancy's experiences this was too far of a generalisation. He may not have been suggesting that Clancy was lazy, or that all ethnic minority soldiers who claimed they've been racially abused are useless, it might have been honest and what he believes, but he must have expected he'd be challenged over it, and that many would find such comments risible at best.

Things may well have changed since Mercer left the army. In 2000, the year after he left, there were only 430 soldiers from Commonwealth countries. Since then, with British recruits white or otherwise drying up once it became clear that joining the army was no longer going to involve just peacekeeping, the army has had to resort to recruiting abroad. There are now over 6,000 from the Commonwealth in the ranks.

Clancy's other allegation was that there is now a racial hierarchy in the army. At the top there are the British white-born soldiers, then the black British born soldiers, and then there are the Commonwealth black soldiers. While this not may be the whole story, it's not to difficult to imagine that he may have something of a point. How far his example goes we simply don't know. As Sunny points out, up until recently the Gurkhas had far less benefits than their British-born comrades.

Should he have been sacked? In the current climate, especially after the Celebrity Big Brother debacle, with even the Sun raving about racial abuse, Cameron may well have had no other option. I personally don't think he should, that he should have been allowed to clarify exactly what he said and perhaps put in the caveats that he should have done at the time. I don't however think that Mercer's comments are by any means the end of his political career. He'll most likely be back after a length of time, and probably the wiser for it.

Related posts:
Big Stick Small Carrot - PR, not principles
Recess Monkey - Some of my best friends are ginger (with amusing comments)
Ministry of Truth - Oh Mercer, Mercy Me
Rachel North - Patrick Mercer, who resigned today
Bread and Circuses - That Mercer interview re-edited

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Scum-watch: The Scum fights cyber abuse!

THE Sun today became the first newspaper in the UK to officially join the fight to protect the country's internet surfers and help combat abusive images of children found in cyberspace.

It follows the launch of our fantastic MySun community service where readers can publish their own stories and pictures as well as having their say on the big news of the day.

And just what sort of pictures are readers being encouraged to post on the fantastic MySun community service?

PAGE 3 idol might be long gone but wannabe models are still posting sexy snaps on The Sun website.

Dozens have been showing off their hottest pics in blogs on our discussions section MySun.

Thousands of fellas log on every day to see the latest shots and chat about them.

Over on MyScum itself, 3 of the 4 popular blogs are of women in various stages of undress. The top discussion is "CCTV mother changes epilepsy story" (she hasn't), the first post of which is an all-caps diatribe against council estate scum, while the third story down is "Confessions of real desperate housewives".

The Sun might be against cyber abuse, but it certainly isn't against mental or self abuse.

Elsewhere, today's Scum leader predictably attacks the "PC-inspired witch-hunt" against PC Mulhall:

Footage of Ms Comer wrestled to the ground lasts just a few seconds.

Moments earlier she’d left a nightclub drunk and vandalised cars.

When PC Anthony Mulhall arrived, she resisted arrest and attacked him.

Err, she resisted arrest, but attacking him is a bit strong. Attacking someone is launching into them, which she did not.

He wasn’t to know if Ms Comer had a knife or anything worse.

But she didn't, and one would expect that if she had a weapon of some sort she would have produced it before he tried to arrest her, no? Please keep up Rebekah.

Punching the top of her flailing arm so she could be handcuffed, was perfectly reasonable.

Those quick to criticise the police have never faced the terror of confronting and detaining a violent drunk in the middle of the night.

PC Mulhall’s job is to protect the public. By detaining Ms Comer safely and quickly he was doing his duty to the best of his ability.

She suffered no injuries and needed no medical attention as a result of the arrest.

Comer was hardly the atypical burly drunk whom the police usually have to subdue on Saturday night. As for suffering no injuries, today's Grauniad shows at least one gash on her back. Notice that there's no reference to the fact that Comer may have suffered an epileptic fit anywhere in this leader.

How depressing a copper has been taken off front-line duty and put in charge of paperclips because of a few inconclusive seconds of video.

South Yorkshire Police should not bow to a PC-inspired witch-hunt which has rushed to judgment and played the race card.

Police Constable Mulhall should be put back where he belongs.

On the beat protecting the public.

The Sun obviously hasn't bothered actually reviewing the whole of the Guardian tape. It lasts a lot longer than a few seconds.

As I wrote yesterday, my own feelings are mixed, and Mulhall probably doesn't deserve having this being blown up into a national news story, but the IPCC should still investigate. Mulhall will most likely be completely exonerated, and be able to put all of this behind him. Sometimes "PC-inspired witch-hunts", if they start a national debate help show what is and what is not acceptable. If it leads to better police training, that can only be a good thing.

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Quote of the week.

I am not a chair, because no one has ever sat on me.

We already know, Ann.

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That forthcoming revelation.

I'm not anywhere close to being in the know about the big story meant to break shortly, as hinted at by other blogs. Seeing as the trial involving those arrested under Operation Crevice is still on-going (I'm unsure of whether the jury has been sent out, but the judge appears to have begun his summing up) sub-judice comes into play, which is why comments are off on this post. All I can link to is this Scotsman article from shortly after the 7/7 bombings, and leave you to make up your own minds about what's going to come out in a little while.

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Thursday, March 08, 2007 

The house of dead men walking.

Last night's vote on the reform of the House of Lords was one of those rare occasions that makes you believe in democracy again. For the first time ever, even with some MPs who oppose election voting tactically, the Lords will have to heed the message that their days are numbered, so overwhelming was the majority in favour of patronage being thrown into the dustbin of history. What made it so surprising was the numbers involved: last time round the 80% elected and 20% appointed option was defeated by 3 votes. This time it succeeded by 38.

The reasons dreamt up by some of the dinosaurs for voting against were comical. Frank Dobson, who ought to know better, claimed that two elected chambers would be in perpetual combat with each other, even though this government's legislation first and thought later approach has meant that the Lords has never been so rebellious. The example of other countries shows that two elected chambers are more than capable of working together. Lord Lipsey, who previously argued against Helena Kennedy on Newsnight on the subject in the most pompous fashion imaginable, made up some figures which claimed that changes to House of Lords would mean it would cost £1bn, ten times the current cost. Even if his figures are correct, it's small change when it comes to establishing once and for all the democratic principle in our legislature. Gerald Howarth was at least honest in his opposition: he noted how the removal of the hereditary peers would undermine the monarchy, leaving it the only post in modern Britain filled in such a way. Personally I can think of nothing more uplifting than finally moving close to getting rid of the whole worthless, inbred lot of them.

There is of course yet a lot to be to decided about just how an elected Lords would work. The last thing that must be allowed to happen is for it to continue as it is, with those who have grown too old for the Commons being putting on lists which make certain their return to a position of power, reformed chamber or not. Straw's original plans were an utter dog's breakfast, and he's going to have to come up with something far removed from that if it's going to get even close to being implemented. If the bishops think they're still going to be able to continue to vote on approving legislation for no good reason, they should have to stand for election like everyone else. In fact, that should be the ultimate challenge to all those members of the Lords who oppose the changes: if you're so certain that you're providing a good service doing what you currently are, then you should present your case to the electorate and let them decide on it.

For now though, the majority of MPs can for once feel proud of themselves. If nothing else, we can take delight in the fact that Blair's favoured option, Straw's 50-50 proposal, was the one that was most heavily defeated, and deservedly so. Not only that, but no longer will governments be able to appoint their ennobled house-pets from the Lords to be government ministers. Lord Drayson, the most egregious example in recent memory, will be rightfully kicked out, and hopefully not before too long.


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Taking on all Comers?

It's difficult to know on the surface just entirely what to make of the CCTV footage of Toni Comer apparently being punched five times by a police officer, with a boot being placed against her throat while three other men hold her down.

We have to keep in mind that Comer, after being ejected from a nightclub for being what the police would describe as drunk and disorderly, took it upon herself to damage the bouncer's car. What's more, she was quite clearly resisting arrest, and endangered both herself and the police officer by the way she was acting on the metal staircase. Whether she was responsible for the two of them falling down the lower section is unclear, but she certainly wasn't helping.

What certainly isn't clear is whether Comer was continuing to resist arrest when the punches were thrown. We also don't know where she was hit; it could have been the arm, in line with police procedure for those on the ground who are continuing to resist arrest and who can't be handcuffed, or it could have been her face. The fact that this has only come to light nearly 9 months on from the incident means that the bruising and cuts resulting from the arrest have long healed, making getting to the truth far more difficult that it could and perhaps should have been.

There are other things we have to consider. Anthony Mulhall, the officer in question, in his statement seems to make clear that there were considerable gaps between the blows he delivered. This is contradicted by the video, which shows Mulhall striking her five times in very quick succession. He admits to using brute force and striking her as hard as he physically could. Comer herself believes that she suffered an epileptic fit: Mulhall admits that he saw her foaming at the mouth, and that she was spitting at him, which is consistent with someone having a fit. It would also explain how she was spasming, and seemingly, resisting arrest. The question is whether Mulhall simply thought that she was continuing to resist arrest, which appears on the surface to be the case.

As Lenin points out
, when someone is having a fit, it's a bad idea to punch them and restrict their breathing, as placing a boot against their throat would. Whether the officer should have recognised that she was having a fit rather than resisting may turn out to be the defining point of the investigation that the IPCC has now announced.

I have very mixed feelings about the whole thing. From my own experience, and that of my friends and family, the police are certainly not always above reproach. The method of handcuffing someone with their arms behind their back can be incredibly painful on its own. My brother, who was minding his own business in his car late one night, found two police officers shining a light in, who then demanded to search the car. On finding a miniscule amount of cannabis, they proceeded to kick his shins (leaving bruises that took weeks to heal), later excusing their behaviour by saying he was resisting arrest, when all he was doing was complaining about the fact that they'd be better spending their time on real criminals than on someone alone who just happened to have a tiny amount of a Class C drug in their possession.

On the surface, it appears that Comer has at the least been roughly treated, and that the officers should perhaps have recognised that she was having a fit rather than continuing to resist. Beneath that however, you can't help but have sympathy for officers who are spending their own weekend having to deal with idiots who get drunk and then can't control themselves. Mulhall's statement does appear to be at odds with the footage, but he seems also to have been following standard police procedure, whether Comer was nine stone or otherwise. It appears that he may well have made a mistake, but it's worth remembering exactly what these officers do sometimes have to put up with, facing leering pissheads making comments and having to break them apart when they start fighting. Even though she was struck five times, no lasting damage has been done to Comer. Indeed, she can't remember what happened, and was only made aware of what exactly did occur when she herself saw the tape.

Then there's the Guardian's leader on the tape, which for an unfathomable reason brings Rodney King into the equation. There is no suggestion that racism was in any way responsible for the treatment dealt out to Comer, and I much suspect that anyone else who had been resisting in the same way would have experienced the same reaction from the officers. The beating which Comer took was also far removed from that meted out to King. The other sentiments in the leader are decent, suggesting that what happened needs to be investigated, and it now will be.

I estimate however that Mulhall will at most be given a talking to, or a warning, which is probably all the incident really merited. The police do probably need better training to recognise the symptoms of someone suffering from a fit, and that will also now hopefully happen. Whether all of this would have been better settled within the force itself, without the need for Mulhall's actions to be splashed all over the TV and papers is a question worth asking, but it's also worth wondering whether without said coverage if any good would have come out of an incident that all involved would most likely just want to forget.

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Wednesday, March 07, 2007 

I label this site officially "shit".

Britain suffers from a very peculiar disease. For most of the 20th century, despite being a nation that is increasingly secular and God-mocking rather than God-fearing, we put up with the so-called moralists and those in power who were in behest to them and their friends in the media deciding what we could or could not watch or see. From Lady Chatterley's Lover to the video nasties moral panic, and the redux of that whole ridiculous scare in the aftermath of the murder of James Bulger, censorship was the norm and something that was accepted rather than challenged. It's only been with the advent of the internet, and with the public finally deciding that those in their ivory towers don't know best that this tyrannical situation has finally been somewhat eroded.

It's with this in mind that we ought to approach Gordon Brown's surprise announcement that Ofcom is introduce a "labelling" system for new media content:

The chancellor said that Ofcom, the industry regulator, has agreed to introduce a media content rating scheme to provide better information about websites, TV programmes, computer games and other media.

An Ofcom spokesman said the labeling system will cover all media content in a "text-based" form. This will spell out the level of nudity involved in the content, for example.

"We have not set in stone yet is what these labels will look like but it won't be like age related labelling you get in cinema classifications."

How Ofcom are going to be able to classify or "rate" every web site, or how they're going to get websites to provide this labelling isn't made clear. How on earth can they rate YouTube and other so-called Web 2.0 sites, anyway? As for TV programmes, while a labeling system could potentially be helpful, those programmes which are likely to cause offense are already introduced with warnings that they contain strong language, violence, nudity, sex, etc. Most computer games which feature such content are now submitted to the BBFC, while those that aren't feature the PEGI ratings.

Mr Brown drew on his own experiences as a father to expose the new challenges faced by parents trying to teach their children right from wrong as sensationalist images of violence, drugs, and sex proliferated on the internet and other new media outlets.

"How we counteract this is a central concern for me as a parent and for all parents I know, and this is an issue we must address with practical proposals to address the challenges we face," said Mr Brown.

"We want to promote a culture which favours responsibility and establishes boundaries: limits of what is acceptable and unacceptable.

"We can't and shouldn't seek to turn the clock back on technology and change. Rather we need to harness new technology and use it to enable parents to exercise the control they want over the new influences on their children."

As long as this culture is only one in which parents decide what is acceptable and unacceptable for their children to watch or play, then I don't have much problem with what's being suggested, as long as it is purely voluntary and Ofcom comes up with an accountable system that can be challenged and which is far more fleshed out from the back of the fag packet drafting which seems to have gone on so far.

The regulator will also conduct an information campaign to let parents know about the software available for computers and TV set-top boxes to control what their children see.

This ought to be first priority for Ofcom, rather than developing a system when they've yet to show how it'll work, especially online. Those concerned about their children's computer use first stop ought to be install a NetNanny type program, especially if they're under say, 12. They provide a far better service than anything the government or Ofcom will come up with.

It wouldn't be this government though if there wasn't the faint whiff of velvet fascism, and it comes in this paragraph:

Other measures will include persuading technology manufacturers to give better information on blocking software and investigating new ways of restricting access to violent and obscene material sent over the internet.

For those of us who've progressed past the stage of having our nappies changed, with a few obvious exceptions (child pornography) the last thing that's needed or wanted is further methods of blocking content which we can decide on whether we want to see or not. Besides, the Chinese, Iranians and Turks seem pretty adept at being able to block certain content, but I suppose it might look bad if we started asking them for help on how to stop our own citizens for looking at that particular beyond the pale website.

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Levy still stinks.

Much continuing comment over the Guardian's sort of breaking of the injunction handed to the BBC to prevent Friday's story on the loans for peerages story from being broadcast.

To recap, the BBC, which claims to have more than one source for its report, attempted on Friday to broadcast their story that stated that Ruth Turner, Downing Street's director of external relations, was worried that Lord Levy, Labour's chief fundraiser, had provided a inaccurate account of his role in drawing up the Honours list. On approaching the police for comment, they informed the BBC that they felt this was information that should remain outside the public domain, as it could potentially affect the bringing of charges or the possibility of getting a conviction. They then contacted the attorney general, Lord Goldsmith, who applied for an injunction and was successful. All this resulted in was a mass of speculation over the report, with most of those guessing about its contents doing so correctly. The injunction was loosened on Monday when it became clear that the pretence of withholding those named in the report was no barrier to their names becoming public.

This is where the Grauniad comes in. Their account of events is that Patrick Wintour, their political editor, was informed of more or less the exact same story as the BBC had tried to broadcast. The police again attempted to seek an injunction, but both they and the attorney general refused to say whether the injunction which was already in effect was over the same story. As a result, the attorney general was left only with relying on the Contempt of Court act, which the Guardian's lawyers argued, successfully, was highly unusual as no charges have yet been brought. In any case, the paper had already been printed, with the judge deciding that the case was highly balanced, and so the story came out.

As it turned out, the stories were almost entirely the same. The only major difference was that the Grauniad's alleges that Levy tried to influence Turner's account of events, rather than simply presenting one which Turner thought was inaccurate.

The main allegation made is that the leak came from Downing Street: firstly to the BBC, and then once that was stopped in its tracks, to the Grauniad. Behind this is the way that the story is being interpreted as clearing Turner and incriminating Levy, taking the suspicion away from Number 10 and towards a rogue, somewhat independent figure. Levy, perhaps fearing that he's been cut loose in the same way as Des Smith was, has come out fighting, accusing the media of a "smear campaign" with his lawyers condemning the reporting of the latest developments as "partial, contradictory, confused and inaccurate".

I personally am suspicious over this view of events. While the leaks certainly take some of the heat off Downing Street, there had in recent weeks been something of a break in reporting on the whole police investigation. The last time that the leaks/news of the inquiry had reached fever pitch, with Blair being questioned for a second time, some commentators thought that Blair might be forced out early as a result. Instead, everything died down. Downing Street has very little to gain from leaking the story, even if it clears them, as all it does is bring the whole sordid affair back into consciousness that it had otherwise left. The BBC has also made it clear that their story has multiple sources, and in the aftermath of Hutton, it's unlikely to lie about it. Nick Robinson and Michael Crick, the two reporters who have most concentrated on the affair, are also far from Downing Street's favourite hacks. While some have been describing Wintour as the No.10 House Pet, it's worth noting that Martin Kettle, someone far more favourable to Blair than the Guardian's leaders usually are, was opposed to the injunction being broken. The other unintended effect of the whole mess has also been to once again focus attention on Lord Goldsmith, and his decisions which have been seen as being far from independent, something which Downing Street would want to avoid at all costs. Would Goldsmith have been so vociferous in attempting to get injunctions if this was information that Number 10 wanted out?

The second allegation being thrown about is that the reports could potentially prejudice a trial, or lead to charges not being brought, or that it's allowed Lord Levy to blame everything on the media and the police being beastly towards him. This is helped along by the statement from the police condemning the Guardian's breaking of the injunction: they maintain that the reporting of Turner's concern over Levy could undermine their investigation, but they've provided no evidence of this, and the Yates' inquiry is still expected to last a few weeks more. The police's distaste at this leak being reported however though seems odd when you consider that the whole inquiry has been defined by leak after leak, with the police and Downing Street accusing each other in turn. One side has to be lying, and while this leak may well have came from No 10, that all the others came from the same place seems wholly unlikely.

The report itself is hardly earth-shattering. When something stinks, there's only so much you can do to counter the smell; you can try and smother it with air freshener, but eventually you're going to have to remove the offending article or person. We all know that Levy stinks, that the honours list ponged like a frightened skunk, and this report only furthers the belief that he was at the centre of a possible cover-up. This doesn't by any means acquit Turner from also being involved, or indeed Blair and the few other people who were involved in the loans loophole in the first place. Levy himself is so desperate to try and spin himself that he was last night resorting to getting his Rabbi to go on Newsnight to suggest that somehow all the speculation and flying accusations are anti-semitic, as if the fact that Levy happens to be Jewish has had any influence on the reports at all. What does he and his "supporters" expect when he's at the centre of a government which isn't noted for its openness?

For those who honestly believe that the Grauniad has been played by Downing Street, or that Wintour is either repaying a favour or otherwise, it's worth looking at Downing Street's favourite pet when it's come to leaks: the Sun, whose coverage of the whole scandal has been so light and so sycophantic that it's laughable. The Sun's political editor gives over most of the only report on the developments to Levy's arguments, and then in conclusion comes up with this brilliant explanation for why Levy asked Turner to support his version of events:

In Miss Turner’s document, she explains she is uncomfortable at being asked to support Lord Levy’s recollection of how the honours list was drawn up.

One explanation could be that she simply misunderstood his request.

Ah, that must be it! The day's other article is given over to Ruth Turner's mother, who's also complaining about how her poor daughter is being put through the wringer:

THE mother of No10 aide Ruth Turner spoke out today over the “heavy stress” on her daughter caused by the cash-for-honours probe.

Marie Turner said: “It is unimaginable to think what she must be going through. She has nobody to talk to at all. As far as we know this must be one of the stresses for her.”

Mrs Turner, who lives in Connecticut, told a newspaper: “We are at a great distance and she cannot talk to either of us - that leaves her to carry a heavy stress on her shoulders alone.”

In her interview Mrs Turner also said her daughter was “above board, honest and her integrity is beyond reproach”.

Quite right. She's clearly just an angel with a face dirtied by the irresponsible media.

Whatever the truth or the source of the leak, Rusbridger's defence, being to say damn us if you will and prosecute us if we have done what you accuse us of, is at least honest. That is something that cannot be said for Blair. The longer the police investigation goes on, the less likely it seems that any charges will be brought, but it will be this, along with Iraq that will remain his legacy, however much they try to pass the buck, or no matter how many times Levy brings his background into it.

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Scum-watch: Ripping the readers off.

Today's Scum leads on the "TV rip-off" phone-lines, which are meant to have overcharged or cheated viewers through their votes on reality shows or on competitions on others.

Fair enough, it's a worthy subject to be investigating. Just one thing worth pointing out: 5 of the shows the Sun features on the front page are ITV programmes, the network that BSkyB (39% of the shares in which are owned by News Corp) has just bought 17.9% of the shares in. The Scum's TV editor is apoplectic:

THE one key factor that lumps all of Britain’s top TV firms together in this sorry scandal is TRUST.

Whether you are voting for your X Factor favourite or trying to win cash on Richard and Judy’s quiz, you TRUST that your money is not going straight down the drain.

Or indeed into TV companies’ coffers.

You TRUST that your phone call is making a difference.

Lifting the lid on our favourite shows has revealed a massive swizz.

It’s almost as bad as the US scandals of the 1950s, when top quiz shows were rigged.

Our trust has well and truly been breached.

The fact that ITV have come out with their hands up and suspended all their phoneline and interactive services is commendable.

But their in-depth probe is only going back TWO years. Is that far enough?

Seeing as the Sun doesn't seem to think so, shouldn't it be using the influence its owners now have over ITV to make sure that it does go back further? Or would the Sun rather that its new association with ITV goes without comment?

The Scum's leader is on much the same tact:

ITV’s quiz operator Eckoh is said to have carried on charging callers even when computer breakdowns prevented votes from registering.

The TV networks, meanwhile, are merrily giving their phone-in shows a clean bill of health.

We suggest they look more closely.

Then again, seeing as Wade and Kemp have now broken up and she no longer has to get the galley slaves to plug her husband's dire programmes on ITV, it may be that she's just past caring, at least until the Dirty Digger tells her to start the brown-nosing features.

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Tuesday, March 06, 2007 

What's the point of the Liberal Democrats?

Honest, it is.

Confusion still reins over Menzies Campbell's less than impressive speech to the spring conference, with its talk of "five tests" which Gordon Brown has to meet in order for him to have risen to the challenge of believing in "liberal democracy".

The real debate has been over whether the initial briefings, which appeared to suggest that in the event of a hung parliament the Lib Dems would not insist on a form of proportional representation being introduced in return for them forming a coalition with Labour reflected the party's true priorities or not. For the last God knows how long, the two Lib Dem policies which almost anyone could name and knew about were a 50p top rate of tax on those earning more than £100,000 a year, and the electoral system being reformed from the first past the post system to one in which every vote counts. In the past year, the former has been abandoned in favour of "green taxes" and now PR itself has quite possibly been rejected in favour of power for power's sake.

While there were questions over how the 50p top rate would affect key workers, Labour raising the point of nurses in particular, and over whether it would further encourage the rich to squirrel away their earnings in tax havens, it was one of those key redistributive measures which genuinely made the Liberal Democrats different to both Labour and the Tories. Likewise PR, especially when
you consider only 22% of the electorate voted for Labour at the last election, yet it still managed to win a majority of over 60 seats. Something is quite clearly rotten, and the electoral system is part of the problem. First past the post is at least one of the reasons why the oxymoron of "radical centrism" is preached by Clarke and Milburn: a voting system which meant there was no such thing as a "wasted vote" or a need to vote tactically would radically alter the political landscape, meaning the parties would no longer have to pander only to the wants of the "aspirational" voters who make up the difference in the "ultra-marginals" which the Blairites have been crowing of. This might be frightening to how both Labour and the Tories have become comfortable in listening only to those who care about no else apart from their self, but it would be liberating for the rest of us.

It's true that
Ed Davey, Menzies' chief of staff, stated that PR remained "critically important" to the party, but the woeful lack of any mention of the policy in Ming's speech may well have spoke volumes. When you have a decent, noble and urgently needed policy, you shouldn't be afraid either of mentioning it or preaching about it. If the Lib Dems wanted to gain the support of a substantial part of the population, they'd make perfectly clear that in the event of a hung parliament, they would join a Labour government, but only if PR was introduced in return. While this would be open to the criticism of propping up a Labour government that had run out of steam, it would at least mean that the next election would be fought under completely different conditions, with a new set of policies likely from each party as a result. It would be a significant boon for democracy, and one which the Lib Dems may well be remembered for long after all our brains have turned to mush.

Instead, Campbell's speech to the conference was disheartening at best and woeful at worst. The Liberal Democrats are meant to be the party which comes up with the fairly radical policies which are then pinched without thanks by the Tories and Labour. Ming's five tests, by comparison, weren't potentially bad assessments of how Brown intends to govern, but they were far from being individual to the party itself. The Tories pledge to scrap ID cards, have moved opportunistically but reasonably credibly towards taking on climate change, and have made clear they would advocate a more distant foreign policy from that of Washington, three of the tests which Campbell set out. It's true that the Tories are about as likely to act on poverty, the third test, as Labour is to neuter Murdoch, and we've yet to learn properly about Cameron's views on where the Tories stand on devolving power, but it's not exactly a clean break either, is it?

The whole thing smacks of the Lib Dems drifting rather than leading.
Opinion polls have showed there's a large amount of support for scrapping Trident, and while there's at least something prudent about waiting a few more years before making a decision, the decision to do just that instead of setting out now the reasonably compelling arguments for disarmament, in the face of a Labour and Tory axis which means that Blair's replacement plans are going to be passed whatever the Lib Dem policy suggests that Ming may well not be up to making the difficult but important policy stands. We already knew about his hesitation over Charles Kennedy's decision to go on the anti-war march back in 2003, fearing that he/they might be painted as anti-American, but it was instead one of the party's finest hours.

The question for Campbell, with the Tories surging, is just how he justifies the party's continued existence. The country is crying out for a decent centre-left alternative to Labour, and there's plenty out there who'll either never vote for the Tories again after Thatcher/Major or because they don't trust "spliffy" Cameron's Blair impression. At the moment, instead of pushing ahead and challenging the Tories to make clear how far their newly re-found social libertarianism goes, Campbell seems content with coasting. His leadership ethos isn't being discussed yet, but if the current situation continues for a few more months, it certainly will be.

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That navel-gazing news in full...

Late on Sunday night, semi-popular Labour blogger Recess Monkey receives a text message informing him that Margaret Thatcher has died. He posts on it and goes to bed.

He wakes up, and finds out that he's been hoaxed. And Tory supporters have been going ballistic in the comments, for reasons known only to themselves. As someone in the comments mentions:

Says the man looking for news on a blog rather than a respected international news service.

Praguetory, who previously made as much as possible out of Unity's blacked-up image of David Cameron, which was reposted on Bob Piper's blog, noticed that Thatcher's photograph was tagged with "Milk Snatcher". This crime against the dignity of the noble Margaret Thatcher, who would never have dreamed of depriving school-children of their free milk, was enough for said Praguetory to call Recess Monkey a "despicable piece of shit".

Either way, Recess then apologised for his mistake, but also made some mild comments about how some are going to view Thatcher's legacy when she does actually pop her clogs, rather well summed up by Mr Eugenides as being graceless, but Unity also identified how Thatcher is loathed. Again, nothing particularly controversial. Then again, this is the "blogosphere".

Which, in turn, led to this beloved member of the "blogosphere" writing Recess's obituary. I'm not much of a fan of swear blogging, although it most certainly has its place and when used against a particularly vapid comment piece it can be incredibly effective. Eshotgun's post however just tends to show someone with a vocabulary that hasn't far expanded past the school playground.

Oh, and now Praguetory has "outed" Unity, taking the bait. Expect the sparks to continue to fly.


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Monday, March 05, 2007 

Scum-watch: Think you know al-Qaida? Think again.

al-Qaida is in general, pretty easy to identify. It's a semi-autonomous terrorist organisation that has greatly inspired and spawned other jihadist militant groups, each with their own aims, but mostly using the same methods of suicide bombing, improvised explosive devices and recording the former for distribution to radical websites. What al-Qaida is not is websites dedicated to supporting "exiled hate cleric Omar Bakri" Muhammad. Somehow, helped along by internet terror "expert", Neil Doyle, a few braindead idiots discussing Prince Harry's dispatch to Iraq are morphed from armchair warriors who'd probably have their arms wrenched out their sockets if they fired a gun into al-Qaida foot soldiers.

The threats to Harry were exposed by a Sun investigation into extremists’ websites. Last night internet terror expert Neil Doyle said the website messages “represent clear incitement”.

Harry — third in line to the throne — and his troop of 12 men will receive the training after the websites supporting exiled hate cleric Omar Bakri posted threats against him. One message crowed: “Prince Harry will be sent to Iraq to be killed by Muslims.”

Another said: “May Allah give him what he deserves — like his fellow crusaders.” And a fanatic calling himself “Resistance4Islam” added: “He must be wishing for his death.”

Terror expert Mr Doyle said: “Harry would be the ultimate prize for one of these insurgent groups. He would be worth his weight in gold in propaganda terms if killed or captured.

“These website exchanges indicate a head of steam is starting to build up around his posting to Iraq.”

Right, so some mild and fairly ambiguous statements, only two of which refer to him being killed, neither of which refer to any armed grouping carrying out the killing, but instead to Allah, and these somehow add up to "al-Qaida target Harry". Why bother reporting the news when you can just make it up and advertise your services as a "terror expert" at the same time?

The whole report is laughable, mainly being a ploy to come up with a flashy idiotic graphic of Harry being kidnapped, which is about as likely to happen as a rocking horse winning the Grand National. If Harry is either injured or killed, it's far more likely to be as a result of an IED, something which is placed in the hope of killing anyone rather than an actual target. You only have to browse LiveLeak to see that the Sunni jihadist groups are out to kill anyone who gets in their way. Harry would simply be an added bonus; a major propaganda coup, and one which might finally bring home to our dear leaders the true nature of their war, but not one which would either change anything or mean anything in the long run. Five Chinese Crackers thinks much the same.

This is the reality of life in Iraq. Meaningless, mindless, tit for tat violence, carried out by groups which have no scruples. This is the real story of the war, but the Sun would rather that you didn't know much about it, other than it's getting better in Basra thanks to our brave boys. Compare the amount of words devoted to the Harry non-story, with that given over to reporting the cowardly murders by the "Islamic State of Iraq", a coalition of Sunni jihadists, including al-Qaida in Iraq (Evan Kohlmann, a genuine terrorism expert, has an excellent breakdown of the various insurgent groups active here (PDF)), of 18 men seized from the Interior Ministry (accused on innumerable occasions of having a large number of Shia militiamen among its number), with the spurious justification of taking revenge for a rape allegedly committed by Shia police. Sometimes it's worth reminding yourself of the true nature of some sections of the "resistance", exemplified by the cold, heartless manner of the executions in this case. Some might call it a war crime, a crime against humanity, but what it really is is murder, plain and simple, committed by fanatics who weren't in Iraq until we liberated it. The video is on LiveLeak, and unless you want to see for yourself for the above reasons, I advise you don't click.

That the Sun report is based on the ignoramuses that follow Bakri Muhammad is further evidence that he should of been arrested and charged with offences similar to those that resulted in the conviction of Abu Hamza while still in this country, instead of being simply stopped from re-entering the country once he had left for Lebanon. Now that he's broadcasting his hate across the internet, it at least means that he can be kept an eye on, but it doesn't stop the problem at the source. The government would rather be rid of these people than go through the more difficult but far more favourable process of prosecution.

Elsewhere in today's Scum, for reasons known only to itself, it's started something of a campaign against cocaine. That cocaine, despite its recent drop in price is most definitely a drug consumed mainly by middle class wankers rather than by the working class traditional Sun readership makes the whole thing seem redundant, but this naturally doesn't stop them from coming up with more ludicrous claims, including that Farc has links to al-Qaida:

The Sun tracked ex-FARC guerrilla Jose Arley Escobar, 21, who fought with the rebels for three years, to a safe house in Colombia’s capital, Bogota. He revealed for the first time that his terror group had been trained by al-Qaeda fighters. He exclusively told The Sun: “Two Arab strangers came to our camp in late 2001. They stayed for six weeks and taught survival techniques and jungle fighting.”

Rrright. Taking his word for it, it seems odd that al-Qaida fighters would know about jungle fighting. Seeing as Afghanistan, Bosnia, Kashmir and Chechnya, the main wars in which Arab mujahideen had been involved in prior to 9/11 aren't exactly noted for their jungles, this doesn't seem to make much sense (unless they were adapting what they'd learned from woodland battles, but let's not stretch this too far). Sudan, where al-Qaida were based for a few years in the early 90s isn't overflowing with thick bushland either. The only potential place where they could have taken part in jungle fighting which comes to mind is Indonesia. It's also worth remembering the case of the Colombia Three - three IRA members who went to train FARC rebels, which shows it's not just Arab fighters that have potentially been training Colombian militias. This is without mentioning the obvious ideological differences between FARC and al-Qaida - Marxists and Salafists don't tend to get along. Saddam, who was far from being a Marxist, was condemned by bin Laden for his "socialism".

The rest of the report is the usual tabloid article on Colombia, ignoring entirely the role of right-wing paramilitaries which themselves use the profits from cocaine for their own war against FARC, etc.

The leader takes on a pompous self-righteous tone, which was to be expected. As Bloggerheads makes clear, journalists themselves ought to make sure they're not in a glass house before they start throwing stones. Lord Ashcroft, in his book on the smear jobs orchestrated against him by the Times and New Labour, found out that a number of hacks from Wapping had habits that would make Kate Moss blush.

It is an horrific description of the devastation being wreaked on the people of Colombia, the country that supplies 80 per cent of our cocaine.

The devastation being wreaked on the people of Colombia is slight compared to the hell that has been unleashed in Iraq, supported to the hilt by propaganda from the Sun, as well as every other News Corp publication. It's alright though, as long as Harry isn't killed by al-Qaida operatives based on websites devoted Omar Bakri Muhammad, he'll sort out the mess in double quick time.

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Saturday, March 03, 2007 

It's a fair cop.

Understandably, the rumour mill went into overdrive last night following Lord Goldsmith's application for an injunction to stop the BBC reporting a supposed major development in the Yates' inquiry into loans for peerages. More amusing was the way a certain Tory blogger (despite being in America) jumped the gun and started asking whether it should have been the Labour party rather than the government that sought the injunction. As it turns out, it was the police themselves who approached the attorney general as they felt it was possible that the BBC's reporting might effect their investigation, or even possibly prejudice any eventual prosecution.

Seeing as it's a Saturday, we're treated to Martin Kettle's column in the Grauniad, and as usual, it's full of the atypical Blair sycophancy we've come to expect:

It is strange, drifting time, in some ways more like the final days of a long-reigning medieval monarch than the playing out of a democratic political process. Nothing can happen until he goes. But no one is pushing him to leave. The Brownite passions of 2004 and 2006 have abated. The government is segueing into post-Blair mode. You were the future, once, David Cameron taunted him a year ago. Now he is very nearly not the present either.

No one is pushing for him to leave? It was only a month ago that a fair number of people honestly thought we were at last going to see the back of the bastard. The reason that no one's been openly pushing for his exit is that he's the one who's going to carry the can for the drubbing of the May elections, and rightfully so. More or less the whole country is crying out for Blair to put every single one of us out of our collective misery and finally sod off to spend more time with his soon to be vastly inflated salary. While his departure may once have heralded dancing in the streets, we've become so used to the idea that he's going to go, just not yet, that the anticipation has been replaced with boredom and indifference. This is the real reason why Blair's cronies and most devoted supporters are still desperately trying to find an anyone but Gordon candidate; they're entering the last days, and don't be surprised if there's still a lot of plotting and skullduggery to go on yet. Machinations in the Blair camp have been most certainly going on behind the scenes this week.

Oh, and I know it's a Saturday and everything, but the very last thing I give a shit about or expect to find on the front page of the Grauniad is a report about Liz Hurley getting married. I almost thought I'd picked up the Torygraph by mistake. Please sort it out, Saturday Grauniad editor.

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Friday, March 02, 2007 

Scum-watch: "Sleazeball" judges and TV hits.

Today's Sun, in one of its fits of occasional pique about morals, exposes a judge as a "serial family wrecker", twice having left women who he had made pregnant. A fairly typical News of the Screws type story, the bigger picture is that the judge himself attempted to stop the Sun from splashing on his exploits, claiming that his exposure was not in the public interest. He apparently abandoned his attempt to get an injunction against the newspaper half-way through the case, much like how the Screws last year was humiliated in its attempt to stop George Galloway and blogs from distributing Mazher Mahmood's photograph.

Cases of sexual impropriety involving officials in the public eye are always going to be difficult to err, judge. The disclosure of sexual escapades is only justified, or in my view, worth pointing out, if the person involved can be proved to be either a hypocrite, has broken the law or if it's affecting that person's ability to do their job.

The Sun's report on the judge is then most definitely on shaky ground. While the newspaper claims that the mere fact that he is a judge means that the disclosure in the public interest, we ought to consider the "Blunkett" test. When he was first reported as shagging Kimberley Quinn, (whom he, like the judge in today's report, had impregnated) the publisher of the Spectator, both the Grauniad and the Independent, unlike the rest of Fleet Street, ignored the story. At the time this was justified on the grounds that none of the three above justifications for printing such a story were found to be strong enough to merit following up the News of the Screws' exposure. This changed dramatically once it became clear that it was both affecting his job (as detailed in his execrable, interminable, deluded and self-pitying diaries) and that he had intervened in the case of Quinn's nanny applying for a visa.

The judge in this case has not broken the law. The Sun has provided no evidence that it's affecting his ability to do his job, as the entire story, accompanied by a furiously moralistic leader, only provides the sordid details involved in his private life. It mentions no cases in which he might be a hypocrite in presiding over. The one justification it has, and it's at least a semi-decent argument, is that judges, like politicians, ought to maintain the highest moral standards. My own view is that we shouldn't expect those in positions of power to be "purer" than us; we should just expect them to be human, and honest. It's when these things go out the window that the trouble begins.

By this logic, the judge is at least partially in the wrong. In attempting to stop the Sun from publishing this sleazy little tale, his honesty and quite possibly his integrity was found lacking. This is not to suggest that the story should have been published, nor should it mean that he should be sacked, as the Sun demands. It does however suggest that the judge should take a long hard look at himself and consider whether his actions are bringing both himself and his profession into disrepute.

Which brings us back to Blunkett. Could the same Sun that's raging against the judge be the same newspaper which currently (as far as I'm aware) employs Blunkett to write a piss-poor column? Blunkett, as noted, breached at least two of the criteria for exposing a politician as a philander, often talking about how he believed stable families were the best way to bring up children while having sex with a married woman and impregnating her at the same time, not to mention how their eventual split led to Blunkett having something approaching a nervous breakdown, although he continued to remain Home Secretary regardless. Still, seeing as Rebekah Wade has recently split from her own husband, and had Les Hinton phone round other newspapers kindly asking them not to report that fact, she doesn't exactly come out of this smelling of roses either.

Elsewhere in the Scum, they do report the fact that due to BSkyB's demands for a doubling in payment for their 5 piss-poor own channels, Virgin Media customers are no longer able to receive them:

MILLIONS of families can no longer watch TV hits like 24, Lost and the Simpsons due to a row between two of Britain’s top broadcasters.

24, which for the first couple of seasons was a genuinely innovative and compelling series, has been turned into a laughably right-wing torture wank fest, so lacking in any believability or subtlety that its continued existence is hugely perplexing, is hardly the hit it once was. Lost is similar; a reasonably praised first series which rapidly turned into a massively convoluted pile of irredeemable nonsense. While the Simpsons is still worth watching, the new episodes shown on Sky are a world away from the brilliance of the early seasons. None of these shows are made by Sky itself; it's never managed to create anything close to a hit.

Sky One, Sky Two, Sky Three, Sky News and Sky Sports News vanished yesterday from the 3.3million homes who buy their TV service from Virgin Media.

There are three Sky channels? They don't even have enough decent programmes for one. As for Sky News, it shows all the signs of gradually but surely becoming the equivalent of the Sun on Digital.

Oh, and it turns out the Sun did report on Darling's decision to refer Sky's purchase of nearly 18% of ITV's shares; it printed this whole line at the bottom of a "story" about those "TV hits" that Virgin Media customers were going to be deprived of thanks to Virgin's stubbornness:

TRADE Secretary Alistair Darling yesterday asked media watchdog Ofcom to probe BSkyB’s recent purchase of a 17.9 per cent stake in ITV.

Coverage in full!

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Hazel Blears shares a joke.

Courtesy of the Ministry of Truth - and not in the slightest bit safe for work, or life in general.

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Thursday, March 01, 2007 

The Iraq dossier: Well and truly exposed.

Chris Ames has done a wonderful public service in putting together Not only does it demolish Hutton's whitewashing of the government's highly manipulated case for war, it also proves once and for all that we were not just misled, with our politicians guilty of relying on intelligence which turned out to be wrong, but instead lied to by a group of mendacious, shameless and warmongering cunts who are unfit to govern us and whom should resign immediately.

The one real remaining mystery is just where the 45 minute claim came from. As Ames writes, it wasn't in the original draft dossier, the one written by John Scarlett, head of the Joint Intelligence Committee, now head of MI6. Ames believes that it instead emerged in a secret other draft of the dossier, this one drawn up by John Williams, the Foreign Office press secretary. The government however didn't submit this draft to the Hutton inquiry, and it has refused to release it under the Freedom of Information Act. The Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas, is now finalising his ruling on whether the draft should be released, following an appeal by Ames.

Best of all is the painstakingly put together table (PDF) which compares each successive draft of the dossier, showing how it was sexed up by the spin doctors, the very claim which Andrew Gilligan made in the now infamous report on the Today programme. As a commenter on BlairWatch notes, there is a huge injustice in all of this. While Dr David Kelly's death cannot be blamed solely on the government, it was the petulant outbursts of Alastair Campbell, demanding an apology and that the BBC identify its source when he knew full well that their lies and editing of the dossier were finally coming to light that meant that the story became the defining moment of New Labour's obsession with news management, and helped a man further along the road to taking his own life.

Nearly four years on from the beginning of the Iraq war, at the lowest possible reasonable estimate 100,000 Iraqis are dead, over 100 British servicemen have lost their lives, and politics has been permanently affected by a prime minister who had already decided to go to war, and who had to manipulate the intelligence to justify it. That he is still somehow in office is both the biggest outrage and biggest indictment of the failure of us (yes, all of us) to rebuild politics from this, its absolute lowest ebb.

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Scum-watch: Dumb and dumber sneered at.

If New Labour's gruesome twosome were hoping that the Scum would support them in their hardly veiled attempt to flush out a Blairite candidate, then they thought wrong. Today's leader certainly isn't the ringing endorsement they might have expected for their attempt to continue the Blairite/Murdoch legacy:

TWO failed Cabinet Ministers looked like Dumb and Dumber yesterday as they tried to put a spoke in the wheels of Gordon Brown’s smooth ride to 10 Downing Street.

Despite their denials, Alan Milburn and Charles Clarke are clearly hoping their website “debate” about Labour’s future policies will flush out a challenger to the Chancellor as Tony Blair’s successor. But they were right about one thing.

Mr Brown needs to spell out more clearly his plans for Britain when he does take over.

We shouldn't take too much from a single leader, as there hasn't been much in the way of overt support for Brown from the Sun, but this does suggest that Murdoch/Wade no longer think there's an alternative candidate to the Brown express. They bigged up John Reid's appalling speech to last autumn's conference, but the prison crisis has highly devalued his stock. Miliband appears to be rejecting the attempts to force his hand, at least if you believe Tom Watson, and judging by his belief in Milburn's pure motives, I'd suggest you don't.

Milburn 'n' Clarke's venture got a trifling mention in the actual news stakes, having to make do with an un-bylined piece:
LABOUR heavyweights Alan Milburn and Charles Clarke launched a website yesterday in an apparent attempt to get other politicians to challenge Gordon Brown.

The ex-Cabinet ministers said the site was intended to promote “debate” about policies.

But it was seen as a bid to unsettle Mr Brown — and to get Blairites to compete with him for the Prime Minister’s job.

So far only lefties Michael Meacher and John McDonnell have said they will also stand.

Not much comfort there either. If even the Sun is accepting Brown's sleepwalk to Labour leadership, and as it continues to mock David Cameron, it looks as if all bets may as well be off.

P.S. Is this banner the most tasteless ever? Even by the Sun's standards this is vomit inducing (the story is even worse, and says something about the levels of bourgeois superficiality we've reached.):

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Zoe Williams-watch: Those Wikipedia edits in full.

The latest issue of Private Eye (1179) mentions the sterling work that Zoe Williams gets up to when she isn't writing articles for the Grauniad that make you want to hunt her down and force-feed the printed prose back to her. While the Eye only mentions the edits Williams made to her own entry, she's also been a busy little beaver over the last month, making a number of edits to other entries, ones which might suggest just what's going through her head.

First off, she was defending the honour of that particularly hard done by young man Ashley Cole, adding the following lines to his entry:

Sued the [[News of the World]] over alledgedly false claims that he was [[gay]][[]]. Both the News of the World and its sister paper [[The Sun]] later retracted the allegations. Lawyers for Ashley Cole have been criticsed for their over the top response to the allegations which included attempting to sue the search engine [[Google]] [] for linking the word gay to Ashley Cole in searches. This turned out to be a effect of the algorithms Google use and was not the result of malicious intent by a individual.

After scratching her ass for twenty minutes, a couple more additions were made:

Both Ashley and [[Cheryl Cole]] have been falsely slurred in the mainstream press. Cheryl was charged with racially aggravated assault, see [[Cheryl Cole]], but found not guilty of that particular charge. Ashley was insinuated to be a [[homosexual]] by the [[News of the World]].

As Ashley is of ethnic origin and Cheryl is female accusations of homosexuality and racisms are misplaced.

Quite right. It's been comprehensively proved that men who get married can't possibly be gay, and that women also never marry men that they secretly hate but can't escape from.

Next on the to do list for Zoe is some shit eating, or rather, editing the Coprophilia entry, by adding Gillian McKeith to the list of famous coprophiliacs. To prove her thesis, she sets about editing McKeith's own entry:

McKeith believes examining and smelling faeces can give clues to bodily misfunction. She frequently engages in this [[coprophilia]] like activity during her television shows. Specific contentions include:

She also on the same day puts Mark Oaten back on the list of famous coprophiliacs, and adds a photograph to his own entry.

After a break of 6 days, Williams is back to her old tricks, this time editing Fiona Jones's entry, adding in the rumours which re-emerged after her recent untimely death:

Alledged a cabinet minister propositioned her for sex at a party conference. The cabinet minister is alledged to have been [[Jack Straw]] []

There is of course no way to prove this, but then Williams doesn't generally let details like that get in the way of her own comment pieces.

Two days later, and Zoe's editing Cole's entry again:

}} even though Cole was not specifically named in any of the stories; however, a pixellated photograph of Cole with his likeness removed was printed. Both the ''News of the World'' and ''The Sun'' later retracted the allegations after legal pressure and paid an undisclosed amount of damages to Cole.{{cite news |

And also bizarrely adds back in the useless fact that Cole was in the beard of the year competition:

Ashley Cole was also nominated in the 2006 Beard of the Year competition [].

A NME journalist named Tim Jonze was the next to suffer Zoe's wrath. Despite flairing up her own entry with flowery, glowing praise, she doesn't much approve of Jonze apparently using his entry as a CV. With a terse "Wikipedia is not a CV hosting facility." as her justification for the edit, she chops the 228 words down to a single line:

'''Tim Jonze''', born 4th Feb 1980, is a writer for the weekly British music magazine ''[[NME]]''.


Zoe's obsession with shit then re-emerges, adding Oaten once again to the coprophilia entry, ironically using Private Eye as a source for his fetish:

[[Mark Oaten]]"Street of Shame", Private Eye, No. 1151, 3rd February - 16 February 2006

Finally, Zoe's rampage has for now come to an end with the following edit to Germaine Greer's entry, over her comments on the Big Brother racism row:

In January 2007 Greer offended many Guardian readers {{Fact|date=February 2007}} by defending the description of Indian people as "Pakis", a highly perjorative term identified strongly with racism in the UK, claiming it was not different to calling Australians "Aussies".[,,1992029,00.html] She also was awarded Honorary Membership of [[The Coterie]] in the [[2007]] membership list.

Will someone please stop this dangerous woman before she edits again?

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