Saturday, June 30, 2007 

Abu Beavis and Abu Butthead do jihad.

Wow, these fuckers really are deadly, aren't they? First they leave two bombs apparently containing no explosives in central London, almost hoping that they'd go off of their own accord; next they succeed in setting fire to the vehicle they're in before they'd even managed to get anywhere near Glasgow airport, with some reports suggesting that after they'd escaped from the jeep, at least one of them already on fire, another pouring petrol around himself and the car, leaving those witnessing this idiocy with the conundrum of whether they should piss on them or not.

Despite it being apparent that those behind these attacks appear to be a bomb short of a timer, the brown trousers-o-meter has now been raised to its highest level, up from shit-speckled to bathing in excrement. This seems just ever so slightly belated, but it never hurts to make the public panic just that little bit more.

The reporting on the car bombs discovered in the early hours of yesterday morning is still confused over exactly what they were made up of, but the consensus appears to be that there was at least 60 litres of petrol, along with gas cylinders most likely containing propane, with a substantial amount of nails included. Whether there were any actual explosives or not is the real question: on Newsnight last night Mark Urban appeared to suggest that there weren't, and others have seized upon this. If there were none present, those responsible may well have been counting on opening one or more of the cylinders, letting the gas build up, then detonating it by ringing the mobile phone, creating the spark needed to ignite it. If this was the case, then either it was discovered too soon and the simple removing of the mobile phone made the whole thing relatively safe, or it failed to work altogether. The failure of the second bomb to explode might mean that the first was also doomed to fail, intervention by the quick thinking of an ambulance crew and the bomb squad or not.

The police themselves seemed to be moving towards the idea that the bombs were not as deadly as some initially made out last night, by changing their description of the devices subtly from "viable" to "potentially viable", as in they could have exploded, but probably without the "carnage" which we were initially informed they would have caused. The Register, which previously cast doubt on the viability of the alleged liquid bomb plot of last year is also already on the case, suggesting that those responsible had forgotten to include an oxidiser which would have turned the result from a fireball into an actually damaging and lethal explosion. This is why it seems so daft to instantly point the finger directly at al-Qaida: yes, those behind these attacks might be highly influenced by the Salafi, takfirist ideology, but if this is al-Qaida then they've got really, really sloppy and inept, compared to the ruthless amounts of planning which went into 9/11 and even 7/7 by comparison.

If the "attack" on Glasgow airport hadn't been carried out with such apparent incompetence, it would have been deeply worrying. One of the things we have yet to see in the west is the tactic perfected, especially in Iraq, of ramming vehicles laden with explosives into buildings with the driver then rapidly fleeing or "martyring" himself by setting off the bomb. At the moment we don't even know if the jeep contained anything other than the petrol which one may have still been trying to spread as he attempted to escape. Of course, it may be possible yet that this was an intended suicide bombing where like with the previous bombs, the materials failed to explode. No doubt we shall find out more shortly.

As could be expected, the Scum is already talking about "brainwashing imams" when there's little to no evidence to suggest that any imams are involved in indoctrinating, most of those who become radicalised either having started off in groups such as Hizb-ut-Tahrir, or through doing their own research online and meeting like-minded people off of it. 90 days is also inevitably mentioned. One of the bright spots so far has been that both Jacqui Smith and Gordon Brown have been calm, measured and eloquent in their statements, with no signs of there being a return to the bad old days of the Reid/Blair scaremongering partnership. Rachel perhaps says it best in remarking on the deaths so far from the flooding and continuing rain: that seems more of a threat right now than the blundering jihadist wannabes and their plague of burning cars.

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Friday, June 29, 2007 

Cabinet resnore part 2.

There's only thought which comes to mind when examining Brown's full reshuffle. Christ, if this is a government of all talents, then what would a government of no talents look like?

Let's begin with the elevation of a true cunt of capitalism, "Sir" Digby Jones, former head of the Confederation of British Industry, as well as a former director of
iSoft, the company which has so comprehensively failed to deliver the National Programme for IT either on time or on budget. It's not his fault though, and neither should he have known about the accounting irregularities at the company, because "there is a limit to what independent directors can know." He'd also rather that no one had ever found out about those problems in the first place: he dispatched legal letters to the Grauniad suggesting that the paper's enquiries were damaging the company. More recently, despite being the supposed skills envoy, he proposed the rewriting of the dictionary definition of a McJob, because McDonalds argue that err, a McJob isn't a McJob and it's also "insulting". Certainly a noble cause.

Still, he'll doubtless be a revelation as trade minister. According to the BBC:

He said Labour would "increasingly" become less "in thrall" of the unions, who he hoped would "get into a 21st century agenda".

As in roll over and die. Those expecting even the slightest improvement of the relationship between the government and the workers can therefore go hang.

Next up we have Lord Stevens, who's going to become Brown's adviser on international security matters.
Judging by his fine body of work as a News of the Screws columnist, this will mostly involve blaming the Muslims and saying they've got to sort it out rather than anyone else. David Davis seems to be highly optimistic in suggesting that his appointment will somehow result in a "more measured" response.

Of the other "outside" appointments, two Liberal Democrats have ignored Campbell's eventual decision to deny any of his actual MPs joining the cabinet, with Baroness Neuberger (who?) advising on volunteering (why?) and Lord Lester giving his thoughts on constitutional reform. Mark Malloch Brown has been talked up as an Iraq-war critic,
and the Scum has denounced him as anti-American, but as his profile on the Grauniad notes, he counted such quite wonderful people as Paul Wolfowitz and Elliot Abrams as friends, even at the time as that other delightful personality John Bolton was condemning him. A surgeon you've never heard of, Prof Sir Ara Darzi, has become a health minister dealing with patient care, and another heavily titled military man, Admiral Sir Alan West, has become a Home Office minister for security.

The rest of the junior ministerial appointments have been delayed by the discovery of the car bombs, with only a few other jobs announced, but with
Jim Murphy, another execrable Blairite keeping his job, there seems to be little to get excited about. Jon Cruddas may additionally disappoint some people by apparently turning down a job, but he may well have more of an influence campaigning outside the ministerial tent rather than having to compromise inside it.

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Terror! returns.

Now get this, this is insider information, so don't go spreading it to widely, but you know that car bomb that was dealt with by a controlled explosion? Definitely the work of those Islamics. You know the sort? Beards, veils, beheadings, allah akbar, all that. Who else could it possibly be than al-Qaida? Alright guv, you got it all down?

That was presumably what "Whitehall" and "police sources" have been briefing to the thirsty hacks demanding information about the attempted attack outside the Tiger Tiger nightclub in Haymarket. This is despite us being similarly reliably informed that like 7/7, this was another attack that has come completely out of the blue, with no intelligence suggesting that any attempt at mass murder was forthcoming.

The only instant link to similar plots by Islamic extremists was that our old friend Dhiren Barot examined the possibility of using gas cylinders in packed limos in attempts to bring down buildings, and that those arrested under Operation Crevice had discussed the possibility of attacking the Ministry of Sound, although they hadn't seemed to have settled on any particular target. It doesn't fit with any of the other foiled alleged plots, including last summer's "liquid bombs" or the Birmingham beheading conspiracy. We're already being told that it's similar to car bombs used in Iraq, but up until recently most of the explosives used in suicide bombings were taken from left over Ba'athist stockpiles, or those created by the insurgent groups' own well-trained explosives makers. Neither does it appear to have been a suicide attack, unless the "martyr" chickened out at the last minute, the most favoured method of demolishing markets, checkpoints and police quarters in that poor, benighted country, with cars being dumped while full of explosives being preferred for attacking US troops or where security is of a higher level.

All of the above was written before it was confirmed that that a second device had been found, in the other Mercedes in Park Lane, where it had apparently been impounded following being given a ticket in the early hours of the morning in Cockspur Street. The existence of a second device instantly evokes the tactics previously used by jihadists in striking multiple targets at the same time, but it should also be remembered that the IRA used to plant multiple devices.

The point I was going to go on to make was that we shouldn't immediately rule out the possibility that this could be the work of a republican splinter group, either the Continuity IRA or the Real IRA, who planted bombs in London as recently as 2001, although they seem deadlier devices than are usually their handiwork, or the work of a lone, disgruntled individual such as Timothy McVeigh or David Copeland, but as this shows, speculating and guessing at such an early stage of an investigation when we don't know by any means the full facts is fraught with the danger of getting it horribly wrong.

The existence of a second device almost certainly rules out the possibility of these being suicide attacks where the bombers had second thoughts about going through with their mission, instead seemingly planted to either detonate at kicking out time or shortly after it was dumped, with the second then either exploded at the same time or to target the emergency services which would have arrived to treat the victims of the first bombing.

To speculate once again, the second bomb appears to have failed to explode, if the first itself was noticed and defused in time as it might well have been. The very nature of dumping cars in such a way leaves those doing so highly exposed, and you'd expect that we'll shortly have CCTV pictures of those doing so, although if they've got half a brain in their head you'd expect them to be suitably hooded or covered. Creating such improvised explosive devices which then fail to explode is also going to leave a large amount of fingerprints or DNA behind, which should be helpful to the police.

Again, as just mentioned on Newsnight, we should perhaps take comfort from the fact that there seems to have been no actual explosives found, at least in the first car; this seems to have been the work of amateurs, without the training of the 7/7 and 21/7 bombers for instance, hoping that the combination of gas and petrol would almost explode of its own accord. Whomever's responsible, we shouldn't be scared of these people, if anything we ought to be mocking them for their abject failure. What we can expect is that the usual suspects will be ramping up the fear, and pointing towards the need for further new anti-terror laws. They need to be resisted with the same vigour as if this hadn't taken place.

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Thursday, June 28, 2007 

Cabinet resnore.

Around the only real surprise appointment in Brown's new cabinet was Jacqui Smith as Home Secretary, which resulted in both the nation and hacks asking "who she"?

In line with the last three home secretaries, Smith is both a bruiser and a Blairite, coming from her previous job as chief whip, itself previously occupied by that other aggravating Blairite, Hilary Armstrong. Her only real interaction with the public at large has been on Question Time, where she proved herself just as bad as her predecessor and fellow minister Hazel Blears at actually answering questions, instead of just spouting New Labour rhetoric. Her last appearance was noted for her egregious support of the Iraq war, using both the worthless if we hadn't acted Saddam would still be in power argument, followed up by the chestnut about everyone believing that Iraq had WMD, despite Robin Cook for one mentioning in his resignation speech that he didn't believe Iraq had WMD which was actually usable, as well as others such as Scott Ritter, a former weapons inspector who said that Iraq had been effectively disarmed. Doubtless she'll be expected to follow the hard line set out by Blunkett, Clarke and Reid, appeasing the Sun first and thinking about the consequences second, although with the creation of the Ministry of Justice, handed over to Jack Straw, she'll have a lot less to do than they did.

Speaking of Jack Straw, a former Blair ally who saw the way the wind was blowing and swiftly ingratiated himself with Brown, his appointment is despite his blatant lies over what he and the government knew about extraordinary rendition, denying that the government had been involved in the programme whatsoever, something subsequently proven by the EU report into rendition as completely untrue.

Keeping with liars and links with extraordinary rendition, Geoff Hoon has been made chief whip, despite his execrable performance both at the Hutton inquiry, which proved that while he was defence minister the MoD left David Kelly out to dry, contributing to his subsequent taking of his own life, and when he gave evidence to the EU investigation into rendition, which subsequently described him as distinctly unhelpful and evasive. More recently he gave an interview to the Grauniad which was notable only for its ignorance and belated conclusion that he and the rest of the government ministers had no influence over US policy on Iraq whatsoever. It only took them 4 years to admit it.

The Tory turncoat Shaun Woodward has been made Northern Ireland secretary, which should be a nice reward for 6 years of complete loyalty to the Blair regime. Hazel Blears, quite possibly the worst politician to ever hold a government post of any sort, despite her well-deserved drubbing in the Labour deputy leadership election, moves from party chair to communities and local government secretary, which must have mayors and councillors across the country groaning/reaching for the cyanide pills. Everyone's favourite member of Opus Dei, Ruth Kelly, moves from that job to transport secretary, where her religious beliefs shouldn't interfere too much, at least compared to when she was disgracefully given the equality brief.

For some reason known only to Brown, Tessa "I've never met my husband" Jowell, despite being removed from the culture secretary job, keeps her role in cocking up and increasing the cost of the Olympics, where she'll hopefully be more inquisitive about the figures involved than she was with the paying off and taking out of mortgages on her home.

About the only really welcome addition was John Denham's return from the wilderness after he resigned over Iraq, no doubt frozen out by Blair for daring to disagree with him in such a manner. He becomes secretary of state for the new department of Innovation, Universities and Skills, when he would have been much better suited to be either home secretary or justice minister, considering his well-respected chairing of the home affairs committee. As expected, Brown promoted the most obsequious hangers-on/friends of his, Ed Miliband the new Duchy of Lancaster, Nick Brown becoming deputy chief whip and minister for the north, Ed Balls to schools, Douglas Alexander taking over from Hilary Benn at international development, with Alastair Darling the new chancellor, while Des Browne stays defence secretary.

Despite the spin about Brown's government being one of all talents, so far only that wonderfully successful businessman "Sir" Alan Sugar has been appointed as "business adviser", which the Scum has already capitalised on with its quite brilliant witty take on the cabinet appointments, with Brown saying "you're hired!". I wonder how long it took them to think that one up?

Like yesterday, the whole thing was a predictable let down, which has left the BBC sexing it up by screaming "biggest cabinet change since second world war!" and "surprise changes!". Some of the Blairite deadwood might have been removed, but some has inexplicably escaped the chop, probably only not to cause immediate ructions between the warring factions.

As for that invisible member of the cabinet, the Sun has already told Brown what his immediate priority should be. Schools? The NHS? Pensions? Iraq? Immigration? Housing? Err, no.

In the first days of his Premiership, Gordon Brown must decide how to deal with the controversial treaty.

How so?

And if the new Prime Minister means what he says, he will trust the British people he so admires.

In a referendum on Britain’s future role in Europe.

Ah yes, with the people reliably informed by the nation's favourite and most truthful newspaper. Heel, Gordon!

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Life goes on.

A member of the Anbar Salvation Council summarily executes a leading fighter in the "Islamic State of Iraq", named Katiba Daher, according to a forum post.

3 British soldiers killed by a roadside bomb. At least 25 Iraqis murdered by a car bomb in the al-Bayaa neighbourhood of southern Baghdad. 20 beheaded corpses found in the Salman Pak region, south of Baghdad. 21 bodies found on the streets of Baghdad on Wednesday, with another 21 dumped on Tuesday. Dozens of corpses outside the hospital in Baquba, where the US military has launched a major assault on "al-Qaida", i.e. Salafi jihadists and other members of the insurgency. 2000 refugees entering Syria every day, with major consequences for both the economy and the social fabric.

And still the war continues.

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Wednesday, June 27, 2007 

One gone, another moving in?

Rejoice? That ought to have been the primary emotion now that Blair's long goodbye is finally over, only for the fact that it's gone on for such an interminable period that the only one I feel is a weariness, with regret that the bastard's leaving with his head held high, going into a job where he's meant to be bringing peace to a region where he has only delivered war and empty promises.

Should we rejoice however now that Brown is finally in the job that he has coveted for so long, a real Labour prime minister after ten years of a phony one? Last night's Newsnight did a good job of showing just how open Brown really has been to the public and to questioning during his tour of the country - shut out at every opportunity by press officers modeled on Alastair Campbell and by security men and police influenced by the same behaviour meted out to Walter Wolfgang. If that's the changes which Brown's promising, then we're getting out of the fat and heading into the fire.

It's probably worth a slight cheer that the dross is getting cleaned out, although we won't have the full details of Brown's new cabinet until tomorrow. Patricia Hewitt and Margaret Beckett, united in being completely out of their depth in their respective jobs, are at least finally put out of their misery. John "not a single shot" Reid has already announced his departure, as has Lord Goldsmith and another Blairite apparatchik, Hilary Armstrong. If Hazel Blears, Tessa Jowell, Lord Falconer, Lord Drayson and Liam Byrne follow suit then Brown might just mean a certain amount of what he says.

He should be similarly judged on just how far his familiar talk of a new politics is. It needs to involve a full, independent inquiry into the Iraq war - involving both how the intelligence was presented by the government in the build up to war, how apparently the planning for after the invasion was either ripped up and ignored or how there was none in the first place, and as Lord Goldsmith has already suggested, how the mistreatment and torture of detainees came to be both accepted and even encouraged, with predictable results. A similar inquiry into the 7/7 attacks wouldn't go amiss either.

Next Brown needs to set out just how soon the troops in Iraq are to be brought back - they are, as General Dannatt said, simply making the security situation in the south worse. Enough blood has been spilt, both Iraqi and British. Handover in the other provinces formerly controlled by the British has already taken place with only minor problems. The majority of troops could be back home within 3 months, with a complete withdrawal within a year easily being achievable.

Reid and Brown have already hinted at a new attempt at reaching cross-party consensus over anti-terror legislation. The introduction of intercept evidence, rejected so far, needs to be reconsidered, despite the concerns of the security services. The disappearance of those being held under control orders has only proved what the critics said they would be: both illiberal and ineffective. Rather than derogating from the article 5 of the ECHR, those being held under them should be either prosecuted or set free, it's that simple. Brown is meant to support up to 90 days detention without trial: he could signal a new approach to civil liberties by deciding that 28 days is in fact more than enough, especially combined with offences not yet used that make it illegal to withhold encryption keys. Putting into action the leak at the weekend of the possibility of the lifting of the protest ban within a mile of parliament should also be one of his first acts in office. Scrapping ID cards and reexamining the need for both the children's database and "the Spine" medical records database, indeed the whole National Programme for IT would also be more than welcome.

Columnists have talked of Brown wanting to make considerable constitutional changes, even as potentially radical as either a bill of rights or an actual constitution. If we're to have either, then the bollocks about "rights and responsibilities" has to be dropped. We have rights: we don't need to be reminded of our responsibilities while exercising them, especially in any document, which is the way the ludicrous debate has been going. Potential electoral reform, also hinted at, would also be welcome. Almost every other election going is now under a form of proportional representation, whether it be for the European parliament or the Scottish/Welsh votes, so let's at the very least have the alternative vote system at Westminster, if not full PR.

This is without even going into the NHS or further education reform, on which Brown's ideas/plans have also not looked particularly promising. If he means what he says, then full consultation, rather than top-down enforced for the sake of it change must be the order of the day. There's next to no chance that he'll reconsider the huge wastefulness of his pet PFI projects, especially considering how they've helped keep him from breaking his so-called "golden rule" by keeping the costs off the public balance sheet, but it's a scandal waiting to happen, and he ought to act first.

There's much much more, on criminal justice, immigration and the environment which could be discussed, but this ought to be a more than adequate basis on which his promises to be different should be eventually considered. An election sooner rather than later would also be a welcome step, if he's to firmly cement his mandate which not even Labour party members were called on to confirm. A year should be more than enough time to consider whether he's been true to his word. If so, rejoicing then might be in order. I'm not holding my breath.

Related post:
Chicken Yoghurt - Bye then

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Scum-watch: "Prophets are rarely honoured in their own land".

Gorgeous, pouting Rebekah meets the President. "So when do you get your tits out?," asks the leader of the free world.

Even in Blair's most hopeful moments and dreams about his eventual departure, he surely couldn't have even come close to expecting the send-off which the Sun's bestowing on him. Sycophancy doesn't even begin to cover it; this is brown-nosing on a level where both Murdoch and Wade have inserted their heads so far up his backside that they'll be able to tell what he had for lunch.

Wade herself plays an even bigger role than usual.
She was lucky enough to conduct the interview with President Bush herself - and she has both a photograph with him and a signed mocked-up Scum for her scrapbook, both reproduced for reasons known only to herself. The interview itself isn't exactly Paxman-esque - it's more of the roll over and play dead, David Frost variety, or in this case, roll over and Dubya will find a bone left over from one of Blair's visits as a reward. We discover that Tony is more articulate than Bush - who would have known? - and that Blair isn't a poodle, he's bigger than that; a border collie, heeding every whistle made by his master, perhaps?

Wade does succeed in getting one quite brilliant quote from Bush however, which really does sum up their "special relationship":

Somehow our relationship has been seen as Bush saying to Blair ‘Jump’ and Blair saying, ‘How high?’ But that’s just not the way it works. It’s a relationship where we say we’re both going to jump together.

Well, exactly. The Iraq war was a suicidal act that only two men completely certain in their own righteousness would still be defending 4 years and so many lives later. It's only a shame that their jumping together was not literally carried out while flying over Iraq, without parachutes.

Oh, but that's just the beginning to the Scum's Blair tribute.
They've devoted a whole special section to him, with dedications from such luminaries as Bob Geldof, Bono and Arnold Schwarzenegger, and from some local people who've benefited from the minimum wage. Considering the Scum's usual stance on potentially inflationary measures, it'd be interesting to note exactly what their position on it originally was. Just to try and keep things balanced, the ex-political editor Trevor Kavanagh sort of sticks the boot in on some of his domestic record, but it's the equivalent of the paper accidentally sticking its toe in Blair's eye while they 69, the gulping and licking carrying on as if it hadn't happened.

It's the leader that's completely and utterly craven:

TONY Blair is one of those rare politicians who make their own weather.

And this remarkable Prime Minister will take away a little sunshine when he drives out of Downing Street for the last time today.

Ah yes, we're going from the sunny warmonger to the dour man who did nothing to stop him. Two cheeks of the same arse.

This country is more tolerant and at ease with itself than at any time in its post-war history.

No thanks to the Scum and its incessant Muslim-bashing, immigrant hatred, gypsy baiting and asylum seeker demonising, not to mention the homophobia which was much more present during the late 90s and has only recently dropped in ferocity.

We’ve enjoyed unprecedented prosperity and social stability.

Well, quite, Blair has done nothing to harm Murdoch and done much to help him further his strangehold over the British media. It's only been in the dying days that his attempt to acquire ITV has ran into something approaching trouble.
Here come the things they've disagreed upon before the lavish praise is turned on once again:

Despite recriminations over Iraq, immigration and rising crime, he can rightly claim that as a remarkable achievement.

Mr Blair himself will admit to disappointments — especially over the billions spent on the unreformed NHS and other public services.

The Sun has been critical over plenty of issues, from welfare reform and MRSA superbugs to pensions and the sell-out on Europe.

All of which ought to point just how far Blair has taken Labour to the right, not the left as his hagiographers like to claim. The Sun has never been Blairite; it's still an unreformed Thatcherite paper, and Blair was never going to be good enough for them on the above, but he's still been performed adequately enough and the Tories badly enough for Murdoch to prefer his Thatcherism-lite over theirs.

But that is only one side of the balance sheet.

Tony Blair has plenty to be proud of in his years at the helm — and not just a record three election victories for Labour.

He has transformed the political landscape and forced the Tories to up their game.

He was right on Northern Ireland. He showed immense courage over Kosovo, over Sierra Leone and over Afghanistan.

He was right to support America to the hilt after 9/11.

And despite all the problems in Iraq he was absolutely right to identify fanatical Islam as this century’s greatest threat to global stability.

He's transformed the political landscape by taking a centre-right position which left the Tories with nowhere to go, and with Cameron now if anything to the left of many Blairite policies. As for fanatical Islam being this century's greatest threat to stability, nothing could be further from the truth. The real threat is from global warning, not a rag tag mob of radical Islamists often more involved in their own internal struggles than in attacking the west.

As our international ambassador, Mr Blair has enhanced Britain’s role as a respected voice on the world stage.

Two words. You know them.

But for Iraq it is entirely possible that Tony Blair could have won a fourth term in power.

But prophets are rarely honoured in their own land.

See, he's no longer just a vicar, he's now a prophet. Perhaps once his conversion to Catholicism is complete he can start on the path to sainthood?

Sometimes it takes a friendly outsider to appreciate the qualities we at home ignore or take for granted.

In an exclusive interview for The Sun, President George Bush explains why Tony Blair is America’s staunchest ally.

In a genuine tribute, he says the PM is the man he’d pick to go into the jungle with.

“History will judge him kindly,” he adds.

This newspaper is happy to agree with the verdict from the White House.

If we consider how Anthony Eden is remembered for Suez and little else, and
that conflict only cost the lives of 56 British servicemen and around 900 overall, then the omens don't look particularly good for Blair, with good reason. 153 dead British soldiers, over 3,500 Americans and somewhere in the region of between 200,000 and up to 1 million Iraqis, the median being 650,000. Blair isn't just covered in blood, he's drowning in it. If history doesn't judge him harshly for his distortions, lies and for what "he believed was right", then history is just as worthless as the Sun.

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Tuesday, June 26, 2007 

Everyone's a winner baby!

What a brilliant coup for Brown! Labour gains another desperately needed right-winger without a real Labour bone in his body, the Tories lose a desperately needed moderate pro-European, and Quentin Davies's constituents get shafted good and proper. Everyone's a winner!

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Writing bollocks to the Grauniad.

Like many others who have commented on this topic, I've never read any of Salman Rushdie's novels and have little intention of doing so. I also believe that the honours system should be abolished, and that so many blatantly undeserving people have been rewarded with useless gongs that the whole institution was brought into disrepute long ago.

Both of those things aside, the reaction to Rushdie being knighted has been used by those with the same old grievances to further allege that the West or Britain is intent on insulting or denigrating both Islam and Muslims. My blood didn't really boil though until I read today's Grauniad letters page:

We strongly deplore the recent conferring of a knighthood to Salman Rushdie (Letters, June 21). We see this as a deliberate provocation and insult to the 1.5 billion Muslims around the world. The "honouring" of Rushdie at a time when the British government claims to be trying to build bridges with the Muslim community can only be seen as duplicitous. We regard this as a conscious effort not only to offend Muslim sensibilities but also to sow seeds of division. In honouring Rushdie, the prime minister has demonstrated how little regard he has for Islam.

Ali al-Hadithi
Federation Of Student Islamic Societies, Bashir Mann Muslim Council of Scotland, Dr Abdul Wahid Hizb ut-Tahrir, Dr Ahmad ar-Rawi Muslim Association of Britain, Dr Mamoun Mobayad Northern Ireland Muslim Family Association, Dr Muhammad Abdul-Bari Muslim Council of Britain, Massoud Shadjareh Islamic Human Rights Commission, Maulana Faiz Siddiqui Muslim Action Committee, Muhammad Sawalha British Muslim Initiative, Saleem Qidwai Muslim Council of Wales, Sheikh Abdulhossein Moezi Islamic Centre of England, Sheikh Shafiq-ur-Rahman United Kingdom Islamic Mission

Really? Did the panel, not the prime minister, which dealt with the suggestion that Rushdie being knighted think "this'll stick two fingers up at those ever complaining 1.5 billion Muslims"? I very, very much doubt it. It could be argued that they should have foreseen that some would be angered by it, but why on earth should the feelings of any special interest group interfere with giving a writer who is widely regarded as one of the finest literary talents of his generation an honour? To suggest that those behind the offering of the knighthood did so as a "conscious effort" to offend Muslim sensibilities is the same kind of conspiratorial view which reinforces the spurious beliefs held by some Muslims that 9/11 and 7/7 were somehow not carried out by terrorists but by the security services as "black ops". Rather than giving succour to such views, these leaders ought to be helping the communities they profess to represent come to terms with the fact that some in their midst have become radicalised: it's not their fault, but they have to recognise it all the same.

The final letter is even more egregious:

It has become fashionable to associate Islam with acts of destruction and terror. Through this prism, it is understandable why such a divisive figure has been awarded a knighthood. Salman Rushdie did not contribute any constructive work to interfaith dialogue, and those who justify his work, under the false guise of freedom of expression, should ask themselves whether they would accept the idea of a knighthood being bestowed upon David Irving or the Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for their tireless attempts to deny the systematic extermination of the Jews during the Nazi era. Isn't it hypocritical to apply different sets of rules?

Dr Munjed Farid Al Qutob

You'd think that a doctor would know the fucking difference between a work of fiction written by Rushdie and a Nazi apologist revisionist historian specialising in Holocaust denial, but obviously not. It's not that difficult: Rushdie is a novelist, specialising in weaving together stories; Irving is a historian, supposedly dealing in truthful accounts of events in the past; Ahmadinejad is an idiot who hates Israel and thinks that putting the biggest lie of them all back into the public domain will take the attention away from his abject political failure. If Rushdie alleged that Mohammad was a paedophile, in a written history of Islam, as many on the far-right do to bate Muslims, then yes that would be hypocritical. As he has yet to do so, it isn't.

You might like to sign
this petition, via Justin, even if it has been started by Daniel Finkelstein, if you feel the same way.

Related post:
Mr Eugenides - Big Mouth strikes again

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Scum-watch: A constitution which isn't and cooking the figures.

Ignoring the highly suspicious nature of the Scum's story about the Iranian Revolutionary Guard supposedly crossing into Iraq to plant roadside bombs, no longer apparently simply supplying them to the various militias operating in Basra, today's Scum leader is typically filled with crap.

IF anyone can make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, it’s Tony Blair.

But even his verbal brilliance cannot conceal the deceit behind the latest EU con-trick.

The document he signed in Brussels is the EU Constitution in all but name.

No it isn't. If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck it probably is a duck, but this is quite simply not a constitution. If it was a constitution then all of its parts would be binding and applicable across the entirety of the EU - as Blair's success in defending his so-called "red lines" shows. He managed to gain an opt-out from the charter of fundamental rights, which is incidentally a fine extension to the convention of human rights, which any decent democratic country should have no problem signing up to. It's reproduced in full here, but choice parts of it include the complete prohibition of capital punishment, the prohibition of torture, the protection of personal data, the right to asylum, the prohibition of collective expulsion and protection against being deported to any country where the person is likely to be tortured or suffer inhumane or degrading treatment, which ought to explain quite why the Labour party refused to sign up to it.

Bertie Ahern might have said that it's 90% the same - but he also said that was one of the good things. It's hardly been a plot to push through the constitution by the back door, as Angela Merkel and others have long said that they wanted substantial parts of it to remain. You don't throw the baby out with the bathwater just because the baby's voted that the water is too cold; the no votes of the French and Dutch were for specific reasons, concerns over the imposition of Anglo-Saxon neo-liberalism and the eventual ascension of Turkey, amongst others. It wasn't that they wanted out of the EU altogether, which is quite clearly what both the Sun and most of the Eurosceptics want. Kenneth Clarke, long the only remaining sane Tory on Europe, pointed out that the new treaty is far less important than Maastricht, which John Major declined to offer a referendum on.

Back to the Scum:

Mr Blair promised us a referendum — in order to win the 2005 election.

He went so far as to denounce any proposal to smuggle it back in disguise.

Now he — and Gordon Brown — have the gall to deny voters a say before turning Britain into a muted voice on the sidelines of a European superstate.

Mr Blair’s flimsy “red lines” won’t save our status as an independent nation.

To suggest that promising a referendum on any EU constitution helped in any measure Labour's victory is bunkum. The only reason Blair said they'd be a referendum was because it's widely alleged that Murdoch gave him an ultimatum: either promise one or the News International titles go back to the Tories. Blair duly announced there would be one, although he probably knew quite well that either the French or Dutch were in the mood to reject it, negating the need to hold one. Rather than the British public demanding one, or it being a defining issue in the 2005 election, it was in fact only occupying the loonies who think of nothing else - like Australian-Americans who think they deserve more say in the politics of this nation than the actual electorate does.

We have signed this over to an EU President and a preposterous “High Representative” who will dictate foreign policy.

Britain will no longer be able to negotiate independent ties with other countries.

In particular, we will have to ditch our special relationship with America.

More complete and utter rot. Does the Scum really expect us to believe that not just us, but that also the countries Rumsfeld called "New Europe" that went along with the Iraq invasion will just hand over all their foreign policy concerns to a "high representative"? As Nosemonkey points out, the footnote to Annex I.ii.12 of the treaty explains just how member states will continue to be able to exercise their own individual foreign policies:

“The Conference underlines that the provisions in the Treaty on European Union covering the Common Foreign and Security Policy, including the creation of the office of High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and the establishment of an External Action Service, do not affect the responsibilities of the Member States, as they currently exist, for the formulation and conduct of their foreign policy nor of their national representation in third countries and international organisations. The Conference also recalls that the provisions governing the Common Security and Defence Policy do not prejudice the specific character of the security and defence policy of the Member States”

The Scum again:

Those obsessed with Iraq may welcome such abject surrender.

But the time will come when we bitterly regret losing historic links with the staunch ally who saved Britain — and Europe — in two World Wars.

And such historic links, thanks to our current relationship, have destroyed our standing throughout the world and helped to massively increase terrorism, which has actually made us less safe as a result. This isn't to suggest that we abandon all links with America: that would be equally disastrous. It does however mean a reexamination of how the relationship works - one based around consistent, well-intentioned advice, dissent, and knowing when to firmly say no - not one entirely made up of uncritical sycophancy, which has resulted in us having no influence over Washington whatsoever. We could additionally argue until the cows come home about how it whether it was the Americans, the Russians or Hitler's own folly which saved us in WW2, but that's for a different debate.

The next leader is equally badly constructed and full of misinformation:

MINISTERS insist violent crime is falling.

Yet millions of muggings go unrecorded because police fiddle the figures.

They won’t count more than five acts of violence if they involve the same victim.

Firstly this is nothing whatsoever to do with the police fiddling the figures, this is based on research done by Graham Farrell, professor of criminology at Loughborough University, and Ken Pease, visiting professor at Loughborough and former acting head of the Police Research Group at the Home Office, who've discovered that British Crime Survey, not anything to do with either the police, or as we'll see, ministers, only counts repeated offences against the same person for instance, 5 times, so if they've in fact been assaulted 10 times, it still only goes down as 5. The BCS does this so as not to let extreme cases distort the overall rate (how many people do get assaulted more than 5 times in a year?) but Farrell and Pease claim that this in fact distorts its just as much, removing up to 3 million crimes from the figures.

I'm not going to question their research, and the BCS will probably look into exactly what their findings are, but the BCS is still by far the most authoritative indicator of true crime levels, and it shows crime is at a historic low. This isn't a new thing either; the BCS has been using the same method since it began in 1981, so it isn't a sudden change that's brought the figures down accordingly.

Back to the Scum one last time:

Why? Because ministers fear extreme cases “distort” the rosy picture they wish to convey.

There are lies, damned lies . . . and government statistics.

Yes, quite, it's all the fault of ministers who have absolutely nothing to do with the collection of the statistics. It's quite true that the Home Office needs to make the release of statistics on crime wholly independent, so as to prove that they are not being spun, but in this case it is completely blameless. There are lies, damned lies, and then there's the Sun.

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Monday, June 25, 2007 

Won't get fooled again.

Well, could Harriet Harman have got off to a more auspicious start as deputy Labour party leader? Her victory was most definitely a surprise, but it seemed to be one which wasn't that bad, considering at least two of the other candidates on offer.

Could a day have ever have made more of a difference? It was assumed that Harman, having seen the success that Jon Cruddas was having through doing nothing more than stating the obvious, decided to tack just ever slightly further left, but could her performance on today's Today programme be any more shameless? With her bum firmly in the deputy leadership seat, it's already time for the rewriting of history and the dropping of unpalatable old views to Gordon down the memory hole, as evidenced by Justin.

The actual results of the contest were much more encouraging, as Unity argues in his in-depth breakdown. Best of all was the absolute thrashing administered to Blears, who was eliminated in the first round in embarrassing fashion, a rebuff to both the inanity and insanity of 10 years of Blair worship. It will hopefully be the first blow against the remaining ultra-Blairites, many of whom, such as Reid, Hilary Armstrong and Lord Goldsmith have already seen the writing on the wall. Almost equally promising was how Cruddas came out on top in the first round, meaning that if the contest had been held under first pass the post he would have most likely now be occupying Harman's chair. As Unity additionally argues, it's also difficult to genuinely paint this as a "shift to the left" as Blears and other right-wingers have been attempting to do, more than it reflects the reality on the ground after 10 years and the difference in what the main concerns are now. It would be nice to think that Brown would recognise that Cruddas' showing means he deserves a fairly decent ministerial post, and housing would seem made for him, but that might be too much to expect.

As for Brown's ascension after six weeks of insipid navel-gazing, some seem to be getting carried away, especially seeing the long-predicted bounce in the polls for Labour that appears to have occurred. The Brown spin machine though is in complete overdrive: witness the hagiography he gets in today's Mirror, the sycophantic interview with the BBC's Nick Robinson where they go over his schooling and yesterday's leak to the Sunday Times dropping a very heavy hint that he's going to ditch the ban on protests outside parliament itself. Thanks to Brown's control freaks success' in making certain that there wasn't going to be a contest, we've had to next to no real discussion about what he's actually going to do when Blair pisses off on Wednesday, apart from the musical chairs last week over trying to put together a "cabinet of all talents", supposedly including such heavyweights as Lord Stevens, who delivered last year's sectarian rant about how Muslims need to take to the streets to condemn what some allegedly within their religion decide to carry out, as well as being to the right of the Sun on crime and punishment, due to his wife once having to suffer the indignity of discovering a burglar had gone through her knicker drawer. Also mentioned was Sir Digby Jones, the previous head of the CBI, that organisation which holds Labour values so dear to its heart that it opposed the minimum wage. With talents like that, who needs Hazel Blears?

No doubt we are soon to suffer a blitz of just how different Brown is going to be from the man who many wags have long called the domestic prime minister, but nothing could be less heartening than the way that the Scum and Brown are engaged in the same bear hug which Blair decided upon all those years ago. The rage-inducing way the Scum has reported the Labour deputy leadership continues apace, all about how Gordon will not allow the Leftie dinosaurs destroy him, and how Harman embarrassed poor little blushing Gordie by daring to suggest that Iraq was a disaster and that maybe we don't need to replace Trident, both things that the Scum has supported to the hilt, being just as covered in blood in my eyes as Blair himself is. If Pascoe-Watson is right about Blears being rewarded for her loyalty with a promotion, then we may as well give up now. Notice too how the Scum was carefully selected as the paper to leak Brown's intentions for an election within a year to, just as the paper was given first dibs both in 2001 and 2005 to the date on which voting would take place, all signs of just how far Brown is going to be up the arse of Murdoch/Wade, a non-change if ever there was one.

Polly Toynbee often likes to point out how the left regards any Labour government other than Attlee's to be betrayal, and she does for once have something of a point. It isn't though that Labour is never going to be good enough for some of us, it's that they could do and could have done so much more if Blair had pursued redistribution of wealth, increased child care and help with housing with the same vigour as he did Iraq, tuition fees, foundation hospitals and trust schools and all those other things that he deliberately riled the party with, we'd be in a much different position now. The truth is though that we were tricked; we thought that New Labour itself was a front for a much more radical programme that would be really instigated once they'd gained office. We couldn't have been more wrong, and as Polly herself eventually admitted, this is a party which is far, far to the right of the SDP. Unless Brown means what he says, and all the signs suggest that it's froth rather than the real thing, he's going to be found out incredibly quickly. We won't be fooled again.

Related posts:
Bloggerheads - Brownie points
BlairWatch - The new boss

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Saturday, June 23, 2007 

Get off your fucking cross.

Why are so many people increasingly insistent on martyring themselves? Apart from our friends seeking those elusive 72 virgins, we have of late increasingly witnessed those of faith trying to nail themselves up on their own makeshift, poorly constructed crucifixies, in the case of Nadia Eweida almost literally so.

At least Eweida had something approaching a legitimate grievance, barred from wearing a tiny cross for little to no real reason.
Shabina Begum, who wanted to wear the jilbab rather than the the hijab to school, rightly eventually lost her case against the uniform policy, although she carried with her a certain dignity, even if there were allegations of Hizb ut-Tahrir being involved.

None of this applies to Lydia Playfoot, the latest in a probably yet to end line of Christians, encouraged by some sections of the media, to cry about the great unfairness of alleged secularisation and how they're being discriminated against while the Sikhs and Muslims and other faiths can wear their religious clothing without being challenged. It makes no difference to them that Sikhs are required by the "Five Ks" to wear bracelets/turbans, or that a good number of Muslims regard the wearing of the hijab, for reasons of modesty, as similarly sacrosanct to their faith.

Miss Playfoot's father just happens to be a pastor, while her mother is part of the team that runs the UK branch of the "Silver Ring Thing", a deeply sinister organisation which seems to take the worst traits of evangelical Christian doctrine and put them into something which greatly appeals to the easily influenced teenager who feels like an outsider because of their faith. In case you think this might have something to do with her taking the case of not being allowed to wear such a vital part of her beliefs in the classroom, her parents assure us that it doesn't. How dare you think such a thing?

Initially, it does seem that the school is being rather petty. It's a small ring, and unless one of those hormone timebombs known as teenagers decided to feel her up, most of her fellow students were unlikely to take much notice of another whining, angsty 16-year-old with bizarre ideas about sex wandering around the corridors.

It's pretty obvious though that this is a vendetta of the Playfoot's own making out of their wider view of society, at the same time promoting the Silver Ring Thing, with their daughter either being a willing accomplice or unusually comfortable for a teenager with following her parents' wishes. This isn't about having the right to wear a small piece of jewelery in school, it's about nailing themselves up for the entire country to see, at the same time draining a school's resources for their own rather than the greater good. If it also wasn't such a stupid, regressive, worthless pledge that will be broken by thousands of those who make it, things might be different. As it stands, there are fewer dafter, juvenile ideas than saving your "purity" for marriage, as if your first sex won't be just as disappointing, bloody, embarrassing and potentially painful than it would otherwise be if it wasn't someone you supposedly loved. Best to get it out the way than be let down by the reality. It also ignores the obvious: that Miss Playfoot won't already be frigging herself silly whenever she feels like it. Purity is both hypocritical and overrated.

Perhaps in a couple of years she'll have realised this. Most 16-year-olds don't have a clue; I'm far past that age and I still don't. The stigmata look is even less attractive.

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Please sir, can we have some more?

There's a few things I think we could all agree we need more of. Social networking sites, for instance. Indie-rock bands basing themselves around the Libertines. Valedictory TV programmes and newspaper articles looking back over Blair's 10 years. Lawyers. No win no fee firms. Hideously tattooed, mouthy female singers. Adverts where those who've sold their soul to appear in them suddenly break into song for no apparent reason. Blogs. Hollywood sequels. Suicide bombings. Books on how all religion is evil.

Out of all of those, there's one I missed out that is perhaps a little too obvious. Ten years after her death, there just simply haven't been enough books written about Princess Diana. No one has so much as charted her short, tragic, some would say holy life in complete, minute detail. We haven't found out which vibrator she used, that she sometimes went naked except for a fur coat, how she struggled with bulimia or that she hated that disfigured horse-faced cunt Camilla.

Thank Enya then for Tina Brown, who not only had the brilliant, original idea of writing such a book, but who has also produced one of the finest social histories, not just of this generation, but of any generation. The Diana Chronicles is a tour de force, a magnum opus, a truly wonderful achievement from a modest, beautiful, stunningly witty woman which will soon being taught on the Diana bachelor degree courses as the foremost set text. A wonderful example of just how fresh, exciting and completely honest Brown's portrayal of the undead Princess is has been provided by the current issue of Private Eye:

Brown's book is of course not just another vulture picking the very last, tiny scraps of pink flesh from Diana's corpse. It's a sexed-up, all revelatory biography to end all biographies, as Catherine Bennett's review of it shows.

With the princes' celebratory commemoration in the form of a music concert fast approaching, it's hard not to come to the conclusion that rather than being dead, Diana, like Elvis, Tupac, James Dean, Kurt Cobain and Marilyn, and perhaps Pete Doherty when he inevitably takes that one dose of skag too many, is going to be with us until the end of time. She's a license to print money, to pretend that you know what you're talking about when you're called on to comment on the celebrity culture, and like Marilyn, she's never going to get old. Her tits are never going to sag, her forehead isn't going to get wrinkled, her hair isn't going to turn to the colour which most resembled her existence that has since been painted any colour but, gray. She will be forever beautiful and young, while the rest of us will decay, wilt and shrink.

Andrew Roberts, when talking about Brown's book on Newsnight Review, was adulatory in praise, describing it as perhaps the first revisionist account of her life, but that's probably because he gets mentioned and because he quite obviously fancies her. He raised the all important point though: like those incessant books about Hitler and whether he really did authorise the Holocaust or just went along with it once it had been decided upon by others, we've got the rest of our lifetimes to look forward to this modern-day celebrity dictator being written about and eulogised and condemned over and over and over again. Or at least until someone assassinates Paris Hilton.

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Friday, June 22, 2007 

Scum-watch: Standing in the way of control.

(Note: This was written on Friday but is only being posted now (Saturday: 16:05) because my modem decided to die)

After spending most of the week whining witlessly about how Blair and Brown are going to sell our sovereignty to the bureaucrats in Brussels yet again, the Sun's leader today takes aim at control orders instead. To start with though, here's their article on the 7th man to disappear:

AN al-Qaeda terror suspect was on the run in Britain last night after vanishing while on a control order.

Is there absolutely any evidence whatsoever that this man was in any way linked to al-Qaida? Err, no. The evidence against him was so damning that he was released without charge in 2005 after being arrested along with five others under the Terrorism Act. It was only after he and the others were passed on to immigration that all were placed under control orders.

The suspect came to the UK as an asylum seeker but was one of six Iraqis allegedly plotting bomb attacks.


The unnamed suspect was linked to Osama Bin Laden’s Iraqi henchman Abu Musab al-Zarqawi — killed last June.

Firstly, al-Zarqawi was very much his own man and only probably pledged allegiance to bin Laden, if he even did that, so that the could take on the "al-Qaida" brand. He was also Jordanian, not Iraqi, to nitpick even more. As previously stated, if there had been any solid evidence that they had been plotting bomb attacks, they'd have been charged. Instead it seems that yet again the intelligence against them was of the variety that was either too vague, slight or inadmissible without changes that the government still appears to be holding out against.

The suspect had been on the order since November 2005 before scarpering on Monday. He was tagged and had a 14-hour curfew and travel restrictions.

Tighter controls had been overturned by judges in June last year — on human rights grounds.

The orders were actually quashed by Mr Justice Sullivan, not by judges. He had previously been on an 18-hour curfew.

And yesterday police minister Tony McNulty said human rights had left cops hamstrung in dealing with terror suspects.

This is nonsense, because the control orders are issued by the Home Office, not the police. The police have more than enough powers to deal with "terrorist suspects", it seems that in the case of these men that the evidence wasn't there.

Control orders were introduced in 2005 to counter objections to jailing terror suspects without trial.

By objections the Sun means the 8-1 verdict of the law lords who rightly ruled that indefinite detention without charge was a breach of the European Convention of Human Rights.

None of the fugitives have been found. Mr McNulty said Labour are considering a Human Rights bill opt-out to allow stricter restrictions.

Probably because they're thought to have left the country, at least according to the Grauniad.

Anyway, to the leader:

YET another terror suspect has done a runner while under useless “control orders”.

That means seven out of 17 potential suicide bombers are now on the loose.

This is more errant nonsense. Some of them might have wanted to be suicide bombers, but the simple fact is that we don't know what most are accused of doing or wanting to do, and neither do they themselves. The BBC recently posted a diary of one of those on a control order who escaped from a mental hospital after he had been sectioned, and while it's full of the typical jihadi thinking, there's nothing in it to suggest he was interested in becoming a suicide bomber, or even where his initial training was leading. Mental ill-health is unsurprisingly a running theme among those being held with little definite details of why. One man previously being held under a control order (I don't know whether he still is) was Mahmoud Suliman Ahmed Abu Rideh, who had repeatedly self-harmed and attempted suicide while being held in custody, whom even the police admitted was no danger to anyone except himself. This isn't to suggest that these aren't dangerous men; some of them undoubtedly are, but to suggest that they're all potential suicide bombers is just disingenuous garbage.

These are not misguided youths who fell into bad company.

They were supporters of Iraqi al-Qaeda leader Abu al-Zarqawi who allegedly sent them to Britain to carry out terror attacks.

See above passim ad nauseum.

Yet they have been allowed to disappear because judges rate their human rights as superior to our national safety.

They refused to put them behind bars where they belong.

Ah yes, it's all the fault of the judges, isn't it? As Mr Justice Sullivan pointed out when he declared the control order on this man illegal, John Reid himself said that the courts could quash the orders, then when they did he fiercely objected. The real fault lies with the government that refuses to respect our international conventions and which has comprehensively declined to legislate so that the evidence held against these men can be actually used against them in the courts, rather than arbitrarily imposing both ineffective and illiberal orders. Their human rights are not superior to our national safety; judges did not refuse to have them behind bars, as their decision was not binding. The government could have ignored it, but instead came up with yet another flawed proposal. Their human rights are the same rights that every single one of us enjoys, seeing as any one of us could be in their position. The talk of suspects not deserving rights is dangerous talk which is giving in to those who threaten us rather than holding up our values in the face of their barbarism.

Instead they were free to come and go, monitored only by futile electronic tags.

Which is rather the point here. For this man to have gone missing, he presumably would have had to remove his tag, which would have set off an alarm. This is as much the fault of putting faith in these piss-poor private monitoring firms as it is anything else.

The truth is that ministers are scared of offending libertarians who would rather put fellow citizens at risk than lock up someone who would blow us to pieces.

Obviously, because this government hasn't spent the last 10 years offending libertarians of every stripe. The rule of law, habeas corpus, the right to be innocent until proved guilty mean nothing to Rebekah Wade, Rupert Murdoch and their minions.

We can only pray they do not use their illicit freedom to do just that.

Or that if they do that they target Wapping.

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Thursday, June 21, 2007 

Is Brown as smart as he thinks he is?

There doesn't seem to be much to add to the discussion about what Brown's motives are in attempting to draw in some Lib Dems to his first cabinet - it screams of him trying to show just how non-Stalinist and pragmatic he's prepared to be, while Ming Campbell is left with egg on his face over his closeness to the party leader he's meant to opposing. The main question is will the public see it as an attempt by Brown to build a new politics, or a cynical move that's only likely to benefit the Tories as the Libs and Labour are condemned for being one and the same. In the current climate, the latter seems more likely.

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Giving al-Qaida credit they don't deserve.

Soumaya Ghannoushi regularly takes a battering on CiF for the more vapid of her warblings, but her latest piece in today's Grauniad probably gets more right than it does wrong. Her description of al-Qaida and how its ideology has spawned autonomous cells that have no real contact with the real leadership of the organisation and that act without hierarchy or a chain of command is probably one of the most accurate I've read in a while, in complete difference to how other commentators and reports often tend to suggest, sometimes for their own reasons, that al-Qaida is some sort of monolithic monster that threatens life as we know it.

Where she gets it wrong is in claiming that al-Qaida has gained a foothold in Palestine, and just how much it cares about what goes on there. She cites the Army of Islam, the organisation holding Alan Johnston, as proof of this.

It's certainly true that some would like al-Qaida to infiltrate the Palestinian territories or even attempt to build some kind of group there that could challenge the hegemony of Hamas and Fatah, as evidenced by an Islamic State of Iraq fighter from Palestine who recently gave an extensive interview on the Paltalk network, where he hoped that a Salafist jihadi alternative would emerge, and that the Army of Islam would be that alternative (PDF). The facts however about the group seem to speak for themselves: it appears to be made up entirely of one criminal family in Gaza, the Dogmush, who seem to have taken up the Salafi ideology more out of convenience and for effect rather than out of any real religious affiliation. They may have previously helped or worked with Hamas when the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was kidnapped last year, but the abduction of Johnston has certainly not gone down well with Hamas, who made clear that they want him freed immediately and would use force to do so if necessary. It's long been assumed that they were haggling with Fatah prior to Hamas's takeover in Gaza over exactly how much Johnston was worth. To suggest that such a weak group with no support whatsoever is the first signs of al-Qaida gaining a presence in the occupied territories is disingenuous at best and downright wrong at worst.

The reality is that despite all of al-Qaida's rhetoric about Palestine since its founding statement that Ghannoushi mentions, it, much like a lot of the Arab governments, doesn't really care that much about what happens there. Indeed, if the Israel-Palestine conflict were to be solved overnight, one of the main Salafi grievances/excuses would disappear. It makes for good propaganda, how the Palestinians are being oppressed by the Zionists, but the attacks that it's launched since its "official" establishment have almost all been directed against anyone other than Israel. The only assault directly against Israelis were the 2002 Mombasa attacks - and they've never been comprehensively linked to al-Qaida in any case.

The Palestinians themselves would virulently resist any attempts by genuine al-Qaida elements to set themselves up in either the West Bank or Gaza, for obvious reasons, which half explains why they have so far failed to do so. Hamas and Islamic Jihad have also proved suitably radical for those sympathetic to the Salafist ideology; as Ghannoushi mentions, al-Zawahiri recently condemned Hamas for joining the political process, even if it refuses to recognise Israel, something met with complete indifference if not contempt by those who actually have been involved with either group while Zawahiri continues to sit comfortably wherever it is he's hiding out.

Ghannoushi also mentions the emergence of Fatah al-Islam and the other groups in the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon as further proof of the growth of al-Qaida, but this again seems flawed. There's been reports suggesting that Fatah al-Islam had been funded by the US as part of an attempt to curb Hizbullah's influence, but it again seems that the group is more of a criminal nature, like the Army of Islam, taking up the Salafi ideology for its own ends. The conditions in the camps are also likely to be a factor in some in them becoming radicalised, and like the Army of Islam, the others in the camp who were shelled and killed in the crossfire were by no means of supportive of their actions.

Her conclusion however is accurate: the blatant idiocy of ignoring the democratic choice of the Palestinian people, while deciding to recognise the use of violence as an opportunity to ditch the boycott does nothing to encourage further steps towards the end of violence as a means of resisting. Sticking it to Hamas for being too radical, as Jonathan Freedland argued yesterday, could have consequences which might result in the rise of a group that does have mass support and genuinely does share al-Qaida's ideology.

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Scum-watch: Ban this sick site, on err, our network.

The Scum (proprietor: R. Murdoch) has in the past shamelessly plugged MySpace, (proprietor: R. Murdoch) but its latest article on the social networking site from hell is curious to say the least.

A MYSPACE page claiming to be the work of Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliffe has been labelled "sick" by an MP.

The site includes the tagline "Well, it's me", as well as pictures of Sutcliffe and a report which claims to be his police confession, set against a background of hammers, knives and saws.

Well, call me a sick bastard but I have to say I find this particular joker's spoof Sutcliffe page (there are at least another 10) very faintly amusing, if only because of the links to other pranksters' pages on Kilroy-Silk and Roy Walker. Which MP did the Scum ring up to get a quote from?

Philip Davies, Conservative MP for Shipley, West Yorkshire, has also called for the page to be taken down.

Well, that fucking figures. This would be the same rent-a-gob MP who previously urged the non-existent Muslim yobs to fuck off, who claimed that the fact that prisoners who had been given the keys to their cells so that they could lock their possessions or themselves in was evidence that the government was turning jails into hotels, who said that he wouldn't have chosen bright pink as a colour to represent the United Kingdom because it was apparently a capitulation to the politically-correct world that this government appears to inhabit, and most humourously, had a round of handbags with the Labour MP Stephen Pound. Davies additionally supports the Campaign Against Political Correctness in parliament.

Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't wanting to censor potentially offensive internet sites just ever so slightly politically correct? Let's not beat around the bush, Davies is clearly an idiot, but even idiots tend to try not to contradict themselves.

Anyway, the Scum continues:

Olive Smelt, 78, of Halifax, who survived after Sutcliffe attacked her with a hammer, said the perpetrator should be locked up.

She said: “It is disgusting. For someone to actually pretend to be that man.

“It’s absolutely terrible, you wouldn’t think anyone would be sick enough to do that.

“I just can’t believe it, they should be locked up and I think any of his other victims would feel the same.”

Sutcliffe’s younger brother, Mick Sutcliffe, said the person responsible for the “sad and sick” site should be dealt with by the authorities.

“Whoever has set up this site must be mentally ill," he added. "They can’t be normal. It must be a very sick person.”

He said whoever was responsible needed to be found and put in front of a psychiatrist because they could be capable of doing something much worse.

Have any of these people ever even been on the internet? It was bad enough back in the Geocities days, but now you have to wade through torrents of shit, plenty of it far more offensive than anything on the Sutcliffe spoof page to find the ever decreasing pearls amongst the grunting, constantly-defecating swine. YouTube and MySpace are altars to the inane, idiotic and short-attention spans of this generation, with Rupert Murdoch and his fellow sensation purveyors chiefly responsible for this inexorable decline, coupled with the rise and rise of the moronic. You get the feeling that if any of these people saw goatse, let alone one of the pain series of images they'd call the police and complain that they'd been raped by their computer.

In any case, if the Scum feels this strongly about such pages on a website which err, its parent organisation additionally owns, why doesn't it get them taken down rather than bleat about them in a fashion which seems incredibly close to advertisement? Strangely, no one at MurdochSpace was available to comment, which perhaps ought to indicate just what the point of this article was.

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Wednesday, June 20, 2007 

Overcrowded with the same old nonsense.

It's incredibly rare that I feel even slightly sorry for this government, for the simple reason that it has brought nearly all of the problems it faces now down directly on its own head. The prison overcrowding crisis is most certainly of New Labour's own making, but it definitely isn't the fault of Lord Falconer, the hapless minister now taking the flak. He's been made to look idiotic because of his promise that there would be no early releases only a month ago, but this is a mess of John Reid's creation, with him handily being outside the frame due to the creation of the new Ministry of Justice. In any case, both he and Falconer are likely to be out of a job by next week - Reid already having announced his return to the backbenches, and Falconer unlikely to keep his position in Brown's reshuffle.

To treat New Labour with a fairness they don't deserve, they weren't the architects of the "prison works" mantra which has become gospel to the tabloids and right-wingers and is the true root cause of this latest stupidity; Michael Howard was. The murder of James Bulger almost certainly also had a similar chilling effect on penal policy, even though his death was a macabre, disturbing, freak crime which only tends to occur once in a generation. It did however make people question how two ten-year-olds could possibly do such a thing, with a sick society being one of the easy things to point the finger at. At the heart of this was the belief that criminality in general was being treated with too light a touch, something reprised today when the Scum blames judges for being soft when the prison statistics bear out the fact that they are anything but.

Even so, New Labour has not just continued with Howard's stated aims, it's accelerated them, and with every passing year a new criminal justice bill has brought ever tougher penalties and the creation of new imprisonable offences. When Labour came to power the prison population stood at just over 60,000; within 10 years it's increased by 20,000. Labour additionally, despite the claims of the Scum, has also in that time built 9 new prisons, creating those 20,000 places which have been filled as soon as they were available.

By the reaction which both the Scum and the Tories have opted to go for, you'd imagine that the ministers had suddenly decided to throw the doors of the prisons wide open and let anyone and everyone walk out. Instead, the plans for early release are so timid that within months we'll have the same problem again, with the Home Office admitting that by October crisis point will have been hit. Only those serving sentences of 4 years or less, and not imprisoned for violent or sexual offences will be considered for early release, and even then they'll have to go before a parole board which will consider if they pose a danger to the public or not. Those released will in effect spend the last 18 days of their sentence out on license with a tag, not just let out scot free. Around 1,500 to 1,800 will be immediately eligible for early reason, which will free up places for those currently being held in police and magistrates cells at an obscene cost of up to £1million a week, where facilities consist of a bare cell, toilet and a hard bed, which is not exactly conducive to rehabilitation.

This is why the howls of anguish and outrage from the Scum and Tories are so self-serving and pathetic. They've never had it so good: a party with a prime minister who cares more what the Scum thinks about criminals and prisons than it does what criminologists and reformists do, which has gone along completely with their ever tougher stance on even minor crime, even while crime itself has been shown to have fallen to a historic low, completely ignoring the fact that overcrowding itself is the main cause of re-offending, as it means that rehabilitation is nigh on impossible when prisoners find themselves banged up for increasingly longer periods, unable to get access to education, schemes to ween themselves off drug addictions, or to the health care that many with mental health problems so desperately need. To read the Scum's George Pascoe-Watson with a straight face write how wonderful today's prisons are, with a choice of seven different meals and a television in the cell, ignoring completely how you don't happen to be on your own but instead with other highly dangerous people who you can't trust for a second, not to mention the mind-numbing boredom involved in being banged up is to look into a world where highly-paid hacks who've never so much as been questioned by police except when they're asked how much they'll be paid for providing information about what murder victims were wearing when they were killed spit on their own readers.

The government, having been aware that this was going to happen, has had two options. It either continues on the path it's taken, continues to build more prisons or make places available, or it about turns, emphasises that prison does not work except to keep the public safe from the truly dangerous, makes community sentences for lesser offences more attractive to judges and takes on the newspapers that argue otherwise. It has instead done neither, and Reid didn't help himself by telling the Scum that he'd turn old MoD bases into makeshift open prisons, something that local communities would have rightly opposed, as they are completely unsuitable for such use, as well as look into buying "prison ships", when none of the ports want them and when the only one that was in use
was condemned by the inspector of prisons.

It's difficult to stomach a newspaper that has been instrumental in creating this fiasco, with New Labour almost in effect making Rebekah Wade the home secretary, having the balls to criticise ministers for their failings, but then nothing will ever be good enough for Murdoch's minions, a trap which Blair has repeatedly fell into.

THE prisons crisis is a stinking national scandal.

Much like this very newspaper.

And the Labour government has only itself to blame.

True, for indulging your fuckwitted arguments and petty prejudices for 10 years.

Ministers have known for years that we need more jails — but wilfully refused to build them.

And just where pray are they meant to? Has the Scum ever offered a single sensible proposal for a prison other than pie-in-the-sky nonsense about camps and ships?

While they dithered, the jail population has hit a record 81,000 — double the number 15 years ago.

As a direct result of the Scum's ceaseless campaigns and own sheer lack of backbone.

That record will be broken again next month, with lags crammed three to a cell — fertile ground for riots.

Really? I thought prisons were idyllic, happy places where you get your meals brought to you and where Sky Digital is plentiful?

How does the government respond?

Laughable Justice Minister Charlie Falconer is setting 25,500 drug peddlers and burglars loose early.

This is a nonsense figure which the Scum and Tories have arrived at by looking at the projections for the number of prison places that are going to be needed by the end of next year, then ignoring that those serving sentences longer than 4 years are still going to be getting out in the meantime, freeing up places, coming to the wrong conclusion that 25,500 prisoners are going to have be released to cover those newly sentenced. Surprisingly, it doesn't work like that.

This crisis did not come out of a clear blue sky.

The Sun has been campaigning for years for prison ships.

We called for thousands of foreign criminals to be sent home.

Neither of which offers are real kind of solution, as those countries unsurprisingly don't want them back, at least until they've finished the sentences.

Yet a succession of Home Secretaries failed in their most important duty — protecting the public. They’d rather see hundreds of murderers, rapists and terrorists walk through open prison gates.

I'd say that they've succeeded - crime has fallen dramatically, although it was already doing so before they came to power, and now only those who are no danger to the public will be released; the Sun's hyperbole only underlines the lack of rigour in its argument.

Villains in jail cannot commit crime.

And without those prisons, we are all more likely to become victims of crime.

Because everyone in jail is a villain, as we know, and the fact that the prisons are going to be hopelessly overcrowded whatever the government does, unless it completely changes course, means that those who are released are ever more likely to re-offend as a result. Whatever the government does it loses, all as a result of its initial mistake in even attempting to ride the Murdoch and Rothermere tigers.
P.S. The following comment on the reports into Iran capturing the 15 sailors is a complete joke:

NOBODY would say the 15 sailors captured by Iran in Gulf waters covered themselves with glory.

Nor did the hostages improve matters by selling their stories when they were freed.

This would be the same Sun newspaper which contributed towards the £100,000 paid to Faye Turney for selling her story to the err, Sun.

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Quote of the week.

Likewise, air force pilots are urged to bomb sensitively.

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Tuesday, June 19, 2007 

Hunting for witches in Manhunt.

Before getting into why the BBFC have decided to ban Manhunt 2, it's worth mentioning just how an organisation that was previously the most draconian censorship body, most likely in the Western world (Germany is probably now even more strict than the BBFC is) has managed, without legislation and with the ever scandalising and moral panic purveyors in the tabloids watching their every move, to reform itself. The great turning point was the retirement of James Ferman as director - ironically enough, being the chief butcher of the organisation and more feminist than his female colleagues were in his views on films' portrayal of sexual violence - over his realisation that in order to stop the real hardcore pornographic material becoming legal, he had to give into the slightly softer variety, which nevertheless sparked the tabloids into mass outrage.

To be fair to Ferman, there is probably now a revisionist account to be written of his years at the helm of the BBFC which takes into consideration the fact that he probably did the best he could, faced with the "video nasties" moral panic and later the Bulger killing, erroneously linked by the judge in the case to films which there is no evidence to suggest the boys ever saw, in helping to stop both politicians and the media from demanding even more chilling intrusion into what adults decided to watch in their own homes. He was one of those who lobbied furiously against the opportunist attempts by David Alton to effectively ban all 18-rated films from being released on video in the aftermath of the Bulger trial, something which looking back, only 13 years on, seems almost beyond belief, considering how close it came to fruition.

Even so, within a year of Ferman leaving, films that had previously never been available since their original theatrical release, purely because of his own views on them, such as the Exorcist and the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, were passed uncut. This was swiftly followed in 2000 by the BBFC's failure to overturn a decision by the Video Appeals Committee which gave an R18 certificate to 7 hardcore titles, which it decided not to appeal against, finally leading to the full legalisation of hardcore pornography, if only available from licensed sex shops. The same year also brought a step-change in its guidelines for films as a whole, after research commissioned by the BBFC overwhelmingly showed that adults unsurprisingly didn't want to be limited in what they could watch. No longer was extreme violence or gore liable to be cut, unless it was either of a sexual nature, which has always troubled the organisation for good reason, or involving the breaking of the law as it stands, such as animal cruelty. Since then only a few mainstream films have been cut, with Ichi the Killer and Baise-Moi falling foul of the sexual violence guidelines, for instance, while a decent number of the former "video nasties" have been passed entirely uncut, some even with a 15 certificate. The organisation now mainly finds itself cutting R18s for some of their more dubious content, even though it's completely consensual, something which understandably irks its distributors.

All of which makes it all the more surprising the Manhunt 2 has been refused a certificate. The only recent titles to have been entirely refused a certificate instead of being cut have been prurient, real-death displaying documentaries, such as Terrorists, Killers and other Wackos and Traces of Death, extreme bondage/S&M material like Severe Punishment, and "Women in Prison" exploitation flicks, Jess Franco's "Women in Cellblock 9" being the last to be banned. Objectionable as all those decisions are, none comes close to the lack of legitimate reasons, or at least lack of honest reasons for why Manhunt 2 has been rejected.

Despite all the BBFC's carefully considered and detailed arguments for rejecting the game, it's almost impossible to believe that they weren't at least slightly influenced by the case of Stefan Pakeerah. Pakeerah was murdered by Warren Leblanc, according to the police, judge, and the evidence presented at his trial out of a motive of robbery. It was only after Leblanc pleaded guilty that Pakeerah's family, especially his mother, Giselle alleged that rather than Leblanc, Manhunt was to blame. There has never been any even circumstantial evidence presented that Leblanc was influenced by the game, let alone that he was obsessed with it. The game, rather than being found in Leblanc's possession, was in fact found in Pakeerah's bedroom. His mother says that Leblanc lent it to him, which rather undermines her argument that young people shouldn't have access to such games, seeing as she wasn't able to impose her own authority over her own son, let alone those of others. Predictably, despite some retailers removing it from their shelves, those that refused to do so reported a rise in sales.

The damage however had already been done, with the tabloids, long since having moved on from attacking films, now turning their sights on video games. Keith Vaz, another opportunist, attempted to resurrect his long dead political career by campaigning against such games, without showing even the slightest knowledge of what he was talking about. The furore, along with that directed towards Grand Theft Auto and the publicity surrounding its Hot Coffee mini-game which had been discarded in the code only to be rediscovered, inspired the BBFC to commission its own research into them, which very recently released.

The research is hardly a ringing endorsement of the BBFC's subsequent decision to reject Manhunt. Among its key findings were:

younger games players are influenced to play particular games by peer pressure and word of mouth, but negative press coverage for a game will significantly increase its take up;

violence in games, in the sense of eliminating obstacles, is built into the structure of some games and is necessary to progress through the game. It contributes to the tension because gamers are not just shooting, they are vulnerable to being shot and most gamers are concentrating on their own survival rather than the damage they are inflicting on the characters in the game. While there is an appeal in being able to be violent without being vulnerable to the consequences which similar actions in real life would create, gamers are aware that they are playing a game and that it is not real life;

gamers are aware that violence in games is an issue and younger players find some of the violence upsetting, particularly in games rated for adults. There is also concern that in some games wickedness prevails over innocence. However, most gamers are not seriously concerned about violence in games because they think that the violence on television and in films is more upsetting and more real;

gamers are virtually unanimous in rejecting the suggestion that video games encourage people to be violent in real life or that they have become desensitised. They see no evidence in themselves or their friends who play games that they have become more violent in real life. As one participant said: “I no more feel that I have actually scored a goal than I do that I have actually killed someone. I know it’s not real. The emphasis is on achievement.”;

non-games playing parents are concerned about the amount of time their children, particularly boys, spend playing games and would prefer that they were outside in the fresh air. However, they are more concerned about the ‘stranger-danger’ of internet chat rooms. While the violence in games surprises them and concerns some of them, they are confident that their children are well balanced enough to not be influenced by playing violent games;

All of which they probably well knew before they bothered to commission proper research, but it identifies just how video game violence, despite the player being the one perpetrating it, is viewed differently from that in films, which is both far more realistic and troubling than anything yet to be portrayed in any game.

Manhunt is undoubtedly a violent, unpleasant game which as the BBFC describe in their justification, has few of the relenting or redeeming qualities which the likes of Grand Theft Auto have, where senseless, wanton violence quickly results in you getting arrested and failing certain missions, while the non-linear content of the game means that it's not all kill, rob and sex. The graphics have probably been improved considerably since the original was released, but a video on YouTube shows the type of violence which it contains, and there's very little that's overly gory, detailed or glorifies the content; if anything it just looks silly. The decision to reject it has to be put into the context of how the undercurrent, especially in recent horror films, is to be completely unrelenting and grueling in their depiction of violence, with the emphasis on nihilism, even giving the killers in films such as the Devil's Rejects anti-hero status, all with the films being passed uncut at 18 and with few critics other than the Daily Mail's hack Tookey getting out of their pram about them. Why should adults who can make their own decisions to watch those films not be allowed to play similar games? The original Manhunt was 18, and if parents did their jobs properly and didn't give in to their kids' demands to buy them such age-restricted games, there wouldn't have been any panic in the first place.

The saddest thing is that as the BBFC's own research pointed out, gamers are now more likely to be intrigued and delight in its banned status, importing copies from Europe where it will be easily available, as I'm reliably informed that the first one wasn't up to much. Why martyr such a unsatisfying game because of the well-intentioned but utterly wrong cries of the tabloids and a grieving mother? The BBFC should let us know.

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The economics of omission.

In common with the previous report from the National Audit Office that immigration is in fact not destroying the country, overwhelming public services or undermining wages, a new report from the TUC, the economics of migration (PDF), has come to similar conclusions:

Contrary to far right accusations that immigrants are a drain on the welfare state, TUC research shows that migrant workers are paying more in taxes than the value of the public services they receive. Across the economy the arrival of migrant workers has not depressed jobs or wages, and although there is limited evidence of some local effect on wages and employment for low-skilled workers, so far low-skilled workers have not lost out thanks to the vibrant economy.

The report doesn't pretend that everything is fine though, as none of us should. It argues that workers, both indigenous and from abroad are still far too easily exploitated, something that Jon Cruddas has been unafraid to tackle during his deputy prime minister campaign. It also rightly points out that the extra prosperity and tax revenues which migrants are contributing to should be focused on ensuring that local areas which have experienced an influx of foreign workers are able to cope, nipping any potential tensions that could arise between communities as a result in the bud.

Seeing as the report is challenging the image which the right-wing tabloids have repeatedly tried to paint of migration, it's instructive to note that neither the Sun or the Express found the space to cover the TUC's findings in any form. The Daily Mail does have a report up on its site, but it's not bylined, and the comment section is also missing. Then again, they don't want their readers' to think that their favourite rag has got it wrong, do they?

Update: The Express did in fact report on it, as FCC points out in the comments, although it seems to have entirely lifted the report from the TUC's press release. Not sure why it didn't come up in the search when I searched for both TUC and Trades Union Congress, but never mind. Apologies.

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Monday, June 18, 2007 

If there's one thing we need, it's more databases.

If there's one thing that can be said about this government, it's that it's so bloody-minded that it will just not recognise that it simply cannot do anything to do with IT right. You've got to admire that sort of obnoxious stubbornness.

After disasters involving the IT system which junior doctors submitted their application for jobs to, which it transpired was so insecure that anyone who had access to it could look at anyone's information simply by tapping in their profile number, the continuing debacle of the new IT system for the NHS, currently coming in at a cost of around £12.4bn, and the criminal records bureau fiasco, any government other than this one would probably think twice about going ahead with any other highly ambitious IT programmes involving incredibly sensitive information. This though is New Labour, and there is no reverse gear.

It at least has to be said that the motives behind the "ContactPoint" database are honourable, something which can't be said about the ID card scheme which is being cooked (cocked?) up as we speak. The shocking nature of the Victoria Climbié case, and the failings of the local social services to act is a good an impetus as any.

The report in today's Guardian then makes for ominous reading. Not only are 330,000 people going to have access to it, but it's going to be open from the internet. Sound like a recipe for disaster? Well, it's OK, because they're asking people not to access it from internet cafes or public reception areas. Additionally, it will have a two-part security authentication system, which I sure hope doesn't mean login and password plus captcha.

It doesn't take a genius to realise, putting aside the concerns about snooping, that this is likely to be a hot target for identity thieves. The tax credits scheme has already been infiltrated by such people, and with the whole thing being wide open rather than internal network-based, it's only going to further encourage such attempts to break in. All in all, it's shaping up to make the NHS IT scheme look like a storm in a teacup.

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How do they make the effigies so quickly?

Fat, racist cunt dies
  • Pakistan announces official day of mourning
  • Muslim Council of Britain pays tribute to legendary equal opportunity xenophobe

Bernard Manning, known universally for his carefully considered, subtle japery has died aged 76 stone.

Manning shot to fame in the 70s on the back of his premier performances for the ITV show the Comedians, reducing audiences to tears with his spirited repertoire, especially his "those darkies, eh?" gags, which won him a special place in the heart of the immigrant communities, who have never stopped exploding with laughter since.

On hearing of the sad news, the Pakistani parliament immediately adjourned the session and called for a motion on declaring an official day of mourning, which was passed unanimously. The Pakistan religious affairs minister, Mohammed Ijaz ul-Haq, was one of the first to eulogise about Manning's demise:

He may have been politically incorrect, but at least he didn't BLASPHEME like that bastard Rushdie. I call for any suicide bombers who might have thought of targeting Manning's funeral to instead hold their laughter.

The Muslim Council of Britain also issued its condolences, with Mohammad Abdul Bari confessing to how he was first smitten with the Manning bug:

It all started so innocently, with a few jokes about the mother-in-law and that charming tale about the Aristocrats. Then he launched into his fusillade about the blacks and Jews, and I just couldn't help it, I wet myself. His death is a final contemptuous parting gift from Tony Blair to the Muslim world, which he'll most likely blame on terrorists instead of his own actions in invading the Embassy club. I hope Rushdie is pleased with himself.

Other tributes are starting to flood in, much like the blacks, with Wikipedia identifying Manning as one of the top-100 knob-jockeys of all time.

Sir Salman Rushdie is burning.

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Saturday, June 16, 2007 

Losing even while they're winning.

There are shocking acts of cynicism, and then there's the United States, delighting in the slaughter that's taken place this week in the Gaza Strip, brazenly announcing that since Fatah has now been wiped out despite the US's efforts in arming them, that they'll lift the boycott imposed since Hamas was elected last year, as Mahmoud Abbas has kicked them out of government. When Hamas won what were the most free and fair elections in the Middle East outside of Israel itself, the Palestinian people suffered for their impertinence in voting for terrorists. When Hamas wins through armed struggle, the Palestinian people are rewarded for dying and the civil war which might be yet to come.

Another week of violence, summary executions and inhumane brutality has in reality changed very little. Despite the Guardian claiming in its leader today how very unexpected this was, like Hamas's overwhelming electoral victory last year, neither was that much of a surprise. After years of corruption under Fatah, helmed by Yasser Arafat whom Israel refused to negotiate with, imprisoned all the while in his compound up until he left to die in Paris, the Palestinians voted for change. Rather than recognising that the very tactics of non-negotiation, the gradual colonisation of the West Bank by settlements and checkpoints and the open-air imprisonment imposed on Gaza were fueling radicalism, the status quo continued, and Hamas were duly elected. Instead of realising that the people had voted for an end to corruption and for peace rather than Hamas and its rejectionism, the international community went along with Israel and imposed the boycott. Everything that has happened since then can be directly linked back to that decision.

This isn't without Hamas and Fatah trying to build bridges between each other, and with Israel. The agreement which led to the coalition between the two in February was meant to break the boycott, while acknowledging that Hamas had the right to continue to refuse to recognise Israel. This however wasn't good enough for Israel and the US, who continued to enforce it. There was never going to be a better settlement reached between Hamas and Fatah without new elections being called which would have only likely resulted in Hamas winning again, yet this least worst option was boycotted just the same.

As Alvaro de Soto, the outgoing UN envoy wrote in his leaked valedictory report, this refusal to countenance Hamas in any way is "systematically pushing along the violence/repression cycle to the point where it is self-propelling." With no sign of any change, Hamas saw the opportunity to take full control in Gaza where it has long been in the ascendant. Why not, when whatever they do won't make any difference to their overall situation? The fighting has mercifully appeared to end; yesterday calm seemed to return to Gaza, and while the warring factions both carried out what can easily be described as atrocities against one another, Hamas has now released those that were briefly held, and is making overtures towards talks and reconciliation. Whether this will last or not is the key question: as was reported this week, this was no longer about which faction ruled Gaza, this was about taking revenge for brothers and family members killed in the ructions. The simmering anger may not be boiling over yet, but it could easily erupt again, especially if Fatah, now ever more likely to be getting open US backing, carries out more revenge attacks in the West Bank.

The indifference to Palestinian suffering, especially considering how attacks on Israel apart from the rockets fired at Sderot have collapsed, is just as influential in this latest catastrophe as Hamas and Fatah are. We've just commemorated 40 years since the six-day-war, and bit by bit the West Bank is broken up, settled in by extreme right-wing religious Jews and those who enjoy the subsidies, vast areas of it occupied only by the IDF, checkpoints making traveling around the territories next to impossible for ordinary civilians, all while the security wall swallows up yet more land, not to mention how all these factors make it next to impossible for those unlucky enough to live there to actually work in any meaningful sense. This isn't about protecting Israel any longer, it's about making life as uncomfortable as possible, about systematically destroying any hope that there will be any kind of viable Palestinian state left once Israel's decided which parts it wants to keep and inflicting collective punishment on a people who have been waiting for over half a century for justice for having the cheek to continue resisting. The world it seems is more than prepared to let this happen, more concerned with boycotts other than the only one which matters(ed) and with stopping one of the few critical academics from continuing in his job. Israel has already triumphed.

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Terrorists are gay!

Reading the reports on the sentencing of the 7 men found guilty of plotting with Dhiren Barot, whom was individually going to bring the world to an end with his evil Islamic trickery, it's far more instructive what they don't say than what they do.

Of all the reports in the "quality" press (Telegraph) (Times) (Indie), only the Guardian's points out that err, no explosives and no bomb-making equipment were ever found. Barot, alleged to be an "al-Qaida general" by the prosecution, was the one who came up with the plans, which he is supposed to have presented to superiors further up the al-Qaida chain in command in Pakistan, only to be arrested on his return. The judge, when passing sentence, additionally mentioned that it was quite possible that the plans put together by Barot would never have been carried out.

Put simply, we're never going to find out in full what Barot's plans were, for obvious reasons. The ones we have learned of, however, suggest that like many other jihadists, Barot was more interested in the spectacular and incredibly difficult to pull off than he was in the practicality of attacks that really would have "killed hundreds if not thousands".

Take for instance his plans for a so-called "dirty" bomb, of which not a single newspaper bothered to explain in full apart from playing up the notion. According to the Telegraph on the day previously, he wrote that:

A few grams of cobalt 60 with several pounds of explosives are enough to close an area the size of Manhattan.

And he's right, it probably would. Interestingly, it seems quite possible that he might have plagiarised some of his ideas and research on "dirty bombs" from the testimony of Dr Henry Kelly to the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs, which examined the threat that radiological attacks would pose to the United States. The evidence to me, especially considering the way the threat posed by dirty bombs has since been played down, and how other investigations have come to very different conclusions, seems rather over-the-top and close to hysterical in claiming that even if a tiny amount of a radiological substance was exploded it might mean demolishing much of the surrounding area. The reality is that Barot had no chance of obtaining cobalt 60, and he knew it. He was far more interested in Americium.

Americium, as Kelly's evidence also states, is found in smoke detectors. Barot's plan was to somehow either harvest the minute quantities of it from smoke alarms, or if that proved too difficult, to somehow acquire 10,000 of them, then either set them alight, or place all 10,000 of them on top of an "explosive device", all without anyone noticing this tottering tower of beeping annoyances. He worked out that it would cost around £50,000 to obtain the smoke alarms, and another £20,000 to store them, all money which he didn't have. As Tom on BlairWatch wrote at the time:

15cm * 15cm * 4cm = volume of 900 cubic centimetres
10000 of those is 9000000 cubic cm or 9 cubic metres. So we're talking of someone spending £50,000 he didn't have piling up a stack of smoke alarms into a tower 1m square and 9m tall, then setting fire to it, in the middle of a city, without anyone noticing, releasing a total of 0.002 grams of a slightly radioactive substance which is only dangerous in gram quantities. Scared yet?

Fucking petrified. This is the so-called dirty bomb which Peter Clarke described would:

have caused fear, panic and widespread disruption

but only as a result of the police themselves panicking, not because of what Barot might have been able to do.

Barot's other plans were similarly doomed to failure. The stretch limos which were to be filled with gas cylinders were meant to be used in attempts to bring down buildings with underground car parks, which as any architect will tell you, would be incredibly difficult to achieve. His other idea in the same vein was to blast a hole through the incredibly thick walls of the Underground where it's near to the Thames in order to flood the tube, which would have required a bomb far, far more powerful than those which were detonated by the suicide bombers on 7/7, something which Barot himself acknowledged would be difficult to obtain, which was why he had suggested using gas cylinders in the limo attacks.

None of this is to deny that Barot was a clearly dedicated and intelligent terrorist, far more versed and interested in exact planning and research than many of his ilk, but it still stands that his conclusions, rather than just one sentence references to his overall aims ought to have been disseminated in order to show just how (un)likely his plans were to succeed.

Still, why bother doing any of that when you can just call him gay? The Sun's set their "chief investigative reporter", aka "chief embellisher and bullshitter" on the case:

SEVEN terrorists were caged for a total of 136 years – as it was revealed their al-Qaeda ringleader is suspected of being a closet GAY.

The suspicions about Prince fan Dhiren Barot were harboured by at least one trusted lieutenant and a woman who knew him.

Conclusive proof then.

And homosexuality carries the DEATH PENALTY in strict Muslim countries such as Saudi Arabia.

Err, and your point is? Barot isn't from Saudi Arabia: he originated from India then came to live here, and if he was closeted rather than "practicing" it wouldn't have made any difference.

As his cell members were jailed over their role in his plot, suspicions of Barot’s sexuality emerged.

A barrister for Nadeem Tarmohamed said during their trial at Woolwich Crown Court in London: “It became apparent that Barot decided to surround himself with younger, impressionable men.”

Christ, really? That wouldn't be anything to do with him attempting to indoctrinate or mold them in his image, would it?

Lawyer Matthew Ryder said one woman who knew Barot had said: “He was always asking questions about beards and music like Prince, so much so that she questioned his sexuality. There were many others who did.”

About beards?! Clearly this shows the working of the homosexual mind; what heterosexual person would care about their beard? As for Prince, well, who doesn't like Purple Rain? In any case, Prince is supposedly a Jehovah's Witness, something which Barot would likely look down on.

Terrorist mastermind and queer, the British press has spoken.

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Friday, June 15, 2007 

Fascists and Islamists rise against each other's oppression.

The rally against "British Oppression" seems to have been a huge success, if the account on Pickled Politics by the Grauniad's Riazat Butt is anything to go by.

Apparently around 200 Ahlus Sunnah wal Jamaah (descendant organisation of Al-Muhajiroun) supporters bothered to turn up, despite the claims on the BO website that coaches from "Brimingham, Manchester, Bradford, Leeds, Leicester, Wolverhampton, Derby, Stocke-on-Trent (sic), Bedford, Luton, London East and London West" would be ferrying protesters to Downing Street. A similar number of fascists turned up to counter-protest, with around 300 police joining the party. Naturally, Anjem Choudary, the extremist idiot, was there to provide some quotes which will probably turn up in the tabloids tomorrow. It seems to have passed off peacefully and without a repeat of the idiocy of last year's Motoons protest, which can only be a relief.

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What's that smell? Oh, it's Richard Desmond's bullshit.

Earlier this week, Tony Blair lambasted parts of the media for being feral, in particular picking on the Independent for so much as daring to put what its editorial pages say on occasion on the front page, something that the tabloids have been doing for decades. The real feral media of course didn't get a mention.

At last they admit: immigration has damaged Britain, claims today's Express front page. As if you couldn't already guess, not once in the actual report Our shared future by the Commission on Integration and Cohesion, is the word damaged used. Nor does it say that immigration has in any way real terms made Britain a worse place. It does however make clear that the level of immigration, especially since the ascent of the former Soviet states in 2004 to the EU, has unsettled places across the country. The report, like the one which the Express last week tried to make out was predicting race riots, is instead an attempt to deal with the problems and concerns that some localised communities have, before they develop any further.

Here we go then:

MINISTERS finally admitted yesterday that opening Britain’s borders to mass immigration has fuelled racial tension.
A Government-backed report confirmed that chronic divisions were “bubbling under the surface” in many parts of the country.

Here's the paragraph (6.41) from the report where the Express has got its "bubbling under the surface" quote from:

Against the tide of expectation, far right parties failed to make the gains many were expecting in this year’s local council elections. This will be taken as a welcome sign by some that the acute tensions caused by concern around immigration have failed to materialise at a local level. However, we would draw attention to the number of places where far right parties came second – indicating that there are still chronic tensions bubbling under the surface of some local areas.

The Express has taken then a statement which is mainly of good news - and then sexed it up further still by replacing "some local areas" with "many parts of the country".

It showed that nearly two thirds of people now believe too many immigrants have been allowed into the UK.

Communities Secretary Ruth Kelly confessed: “This is a wake-up call.”

It's not until 300 words later that the Express bothers to mention that although 68% of those surveyed thought that there were too many migrants, on average 79% agreed that people of different backgrounds got on well in their local area (paragraph 2.3). It only fell below 60% in 10 out of 387 local areas polled - which by any standards suggests that in the vast majority of the country "cohesion", or concerns about tensions between races is a non-issue. Despite many thinking that there are too many migrants here, something dealt with by Stumbling and Mumbling, the report also mentions that a MORI poll from 2005 found that 62% thought multiculturalism, that concept which the tabloids and even some Labour politicians are now blaming for the rise of both Islamic and far-right extremism, made Britain a better place to live (p. 2.40), while back in January of this year another MORI poll 58% agreed that immigrants made Britain more open to new ideas and culture. Strangely, nowhere in the article does the Express mention that 56% also felt that some groups in Britain get unfair priority over others in the public services (p. 2.46), probably because they know full well that they have more than a hand in encouraging such a view even though they know it's completely untrue.

Last night the report was being seen as vindication at last of the warnings repeatedly raised against relaxing border controls by the Daily Express and other campaigners.

How very modest!

Critics of Labour’s decision to relax immigration controls were vilified and decried as “racist” by ministers. But after record numbers of newcomers have swelled the population and put crippling pressure on public services and housing, ministers are now in retreat.

Really? Could we have some direct quoting evidence of this please, especially seeing as of late both John Reid and Ruth Kelly have been at pains to make clear just how unwelcome "political correctness" and allegations of racism are in the debate over integration. Additionally, Michael Howard at the last election said it wasn't racist to put limits on immigration, and everyone mocked him for suggesting that anyone had ever said it was. Again, where's the evidence that there is crippling pressure on public services and housing? The Audit Commission found that there was very little to suggest that migrants were to blame for any such pressure, and while it found that migrant workers were in some areas adding to the demand for affordable rented property, they have very little to no rights to council housing, and as the debate over Margaret Hodge's comments showed, the real problem has long been the mass-selling of council stock that simply hasn't been replaced.

Much as I often find myself disagreeing with Polly Toynbee, and the attacks in her article today on the internet for being full mainly of right-wing cynics and haters are far from the full truth, she couldn't be more right in her opening gambit:

It's a fleet of runaway JCB diggers without driver or brakes, beyond accountability or control even by those who nominally run them.

And they'll do whatever they can to prove themselves right, as today's Express article shows.

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Thursday, June 14, 2007 

One step closer to the truth.

Yesterday's landmark ruling by the House of Lords that the Human Rights Act does apply in detention centres abroad over which British soldiers have effective control brings a full public inquiry into how Baha Mousa came to die while in UK captivity in Iraq one step closer.

This is a grim prospect indeed for the government. Lord Goldsmith, the supposedly independent attorney general, is once again caught up in the mire. He advised that British troops were not bound by the Human Rights Act, which explicitly bans inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. The question is whether he knew at the time that the army had apparently decided to completely disregard the 1972 commitment by Ted Heath to prohibit the use of the "five techniques", and if he did, how the man could possibly believe that something that was considered illegal in 1971 could suddenly be acceptable again in 2003 in Iraq?

The treatment meted out to Mousa and the men detained with him went far further than the "five techniques". Mousa suffered 93 separate injuries; another of the men nearly died from renal failure after being beaten so badly. Both the military, as well as the soldiers present that day except for Donald Payne, who had the decency to admit to being involved in the mistreatment, conspired in a cover-up, with the judge at the court martial making clear that he had been unable to get to the truth because of a "closing of ranks". The questions that need answering are obvious: who in the army/MoD authorised such brutal tactics in obvious breach of the Geneva conventions, let alone the Human Rights Act, and why? Were government ministers involved in the decision? If not, did they know what was going on at the time? If they didn't, when did they find out?

Rather than forcing those representing Mr Mousa's family to go back to the high court to argue that the current investigations into what happened were inadequate, which they clearly were, the government ought to have the decency to order an immediate independent inquiry, with those summoned to give evidence having to do so under oath, so that anyone who tries pulling the same "I can't remember" trick can be prosecuted for trying to pervert the course of justice. As it seems increasingly likely that the government itself will be found complicit in either ignoring or actively being involved in authorising ill-treatment tantamount to torture, that's about as realistic as this generation of politicians ever admitting they lied about weapons of mass destruction.

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And now for something completely different...

Let it never be said that the Sun doesn't sometimes do good deeds. After being contacted by the Scum, the housing association People 1st in Slough has discarded its deeply racist 'whites only' policy it had imposed on a tower block because of perceived 'racial tensions', allowing a mum with mixed race children the opportunity to move in. Perhaps more interesting is that the article is by a certain Julie Moult - one of the Sun hacks responsible for last year's "Windsor Muslim yobs" abortion, who never got around to responding to Unity about the numerous inaccuracies in the report. Is this possibly her way of making amends? I very much doubt it, but it'd be nice to think so.

Elsewhere in the Scum, the front page article, claiming that
Rekha Kumari-Baker killed her two teenage daughters because of their behaviour, is almost entirely based on the fact that hacks' quickly found their Bebo (I'm not expert on social networking sites, but Bebo seems most popular amongst kids under 16) profiles which unsurprisingly detail some of their rather typical teenage antics, all of which seems rather at odds with neighbours' statements that the family was quiet and that they mostly kept themselves to themselves. It underlines that it's not the greatest idea to go into a complete breakdown of your life on social networking sites - the first thing that hacks do now is search Friends Reunited, MurdochSpace, Facebook, Bebo etc etc whenever someone is either killed, injured or arrested for a fairly serious crime, looking for anything even slightly salacious which they can use to spice up an otherwise tedious article. In this case, the Scum has had a field day - and it's hard not to find it somewhat ghoulish and insensitive in the way it's presented such personal details before the mother has even been charged in connection with their deaths.

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Wednesday, June 13, 2007 

String 'em up by the goolies.

Despite the misleading banner headlines promoting Reid's proposals for changes to how sex offenders are managed in the community - paedophiles are not going to get the "chop", as the Scum for one put it; they'll be increasingly offered chemical castration, with the key-word being chemical, as those that agree to it will be injected with the libido-limiting drug Leuprorelin, also known as a gonadotropin-releasing hormone agonist, at least according to the Scum, with others mentioning anti-depressants potentially being used as well - they were mostly reasonably sane, considered and not wildly populist, despite warnings earlier in the year that Reid was leaning towards tabloid pleasing measures.

Most controversial, apart from the proposed expansion of "chemical castration", which has yet to be fully detailed and explained in any case, will be the introduction of a sort of "Sarah's law", and the decision to make lie-detector tests compulsory.

More or less unchanged since it was publicised earlier in the year, the changes will especially allow single parents to request whether their new partner has an entry on the sex offenders' register, or any past convictions of a similar nature. This is mainly to deal with the perception and fear that predatory paedophiles are moving in on vulnerable single mothers in order to get to their children. The biggest concern over this has to be that the mother then, quite legitimately, it has to be said, then informs the whole local community of what's happened, or what she thinks might have been about to happen, and the problem is either simply shifted, with the man then forced into moving away, or with the ugliness of vigilantism then coming into play. The great difficult will be in proving that the man actually had any ill intentions, making a prosecution unlikely. It also poses the exact problem which Sarah's law has threatened: predatory paedophiles forced even further underground, made more likely to snatch and abuse, or rape on the spur of the moment, exacerbating the danger to children. Reid mentions that those who did disclose information given them could be charged with a public order offence, but it doesn't seem much of a deterrent, and a prosecution is hardly likely to be popular. It is a far better, more careful proposal than a blanket Sarah's law based on Megan's law would be, but it's still potentially counterproductive.

Compulsory lie-detector tests are objectionable on an entirely different point, being that while they can be a good indicator of someone lying, that they can also be notoriously inaccurate. provides a number of excellent, sourced rebuttals and details behind the tests which show that they can and often have got it horribly wrong. Even if they are right 90% of the time, that still means that 10% are going to suffer further restrictions after being released for no good reason; embittering someone isn't the best way to reintroduce them into a community. Chemical castration is also by no means a panacea,as David Wilson on CiF vividly describes.

The proposals for a campaign to be launched fighting some of the myths around child abuse is much more welcome. The hysteria and fear of paedophiles, which used to be known more quaintly when I was a child as "stranger danger", continues to grow. The evidence of this could not be more epitomised than by the treatment meted out to Timothy Martin, variously described as a "pervert" and a "paedophile", even by the BBC. He didn't help his case by refusing to move out of a house in the grounds of a primary school, where he had been appointed as a caretaker, but the facts behind the case have been rather more buried. He was charged and convicted of sexual assault: while drunk, he had made a pass at and kissed a 14-year-old girl, the step-daughter of a friend. The judge in the case said:

You made a pass at an underage girl. To be kissed by a man she hardly knew was something she was not ready for and it has worried her.

"I think you were just drunk and being extremely badly behaved."

His sentence was a two-year community order, a 12-month supervision order, banned from contacting the victim, disqualified from working with children indefinitely and must sign the sex offenders register for five years. Maybe I'm a liberal bleeding heart, and there was more to it than that, but that seems ever so slightly harsh for what seems to have been little more than someone drunk behaving lecherously.

The danger is that we're overreacting. The figure earlier in the week of 8,000 sex offenders being given cautions didn't breakdown the reasons why a caution was given; it seemed like an attempt at scaremongering about wicked people getting off scot free, which as the police had to point out, was not the case at all. Some of the cases no doubt involved teenagers having sex with girlfriends/boyfriends slightly below the age of consent, and other minor offences, which as Jim Gamble pointed out, are best dealt with without automatically locking every single person found guilty up.

I also don't like calling campaigners, however well-intentioned but potentially misguided names, especially those who have suffered so terribly through crimes committed against those in their family, but this comment from Sara Payne, mother of the murdered Sarah, needs challenging:

“We never asked for Megan’s Law in this country. We never believed that Megan’s Law would work in this country. We only ever asked for access to information about predatory paedophiles in our areas."

This is a fucking lie. Ever since the News of the Screws, under the helm of now Sun editor Rebekah Wade launched their campaign for "Sarah's law", Sara Payne has supported it. Both the Screws and Scum have demanded an exact copy of Megan's law, the Scum going to the trouble earlier in the year to put together a leading questionnaire for its readers to demand "Sarah's law" in full, rather than the limited scheme which the Home Office was putting forward. I have nothing but sympathy for Mrs Payne, but to willfully distort exactly what she has campaigned for over the last 7 years is unacceptable.

The Scum's leader is just as forthright as ever, too:

Punish pervs

THE thought of castration sends a shiver down the spine of normal men.

But child killers and rapists are not normal. They are incorrigible and dangerous perverts.

Some might argue castration is too good for them.

The Sun of course rejects the idea that such perverts can be rehabilitated. Some argue that once a man has hit a woman in anger that he'll always be a domestic abuser, and that the woman should leave him as a result: a decision it took Ross Kemp a while to make.

Cheap shots aside, Reid has at least recognised that even these measures need to be put to trial first: 3 such schemes are to operate before any legislation is put forward, which is welcome. If the proposals are shown to work, then fears like that expressed in this post will be willingly dropped. Such blanket demands as that voiced earlier in the year though should not be rushed through on the basis of these limited ones working; trying to help too much can be just as dangerous as doing too little.

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He's not talking about us, is he?

I can't resist taking a look at today's Scum leader on Blair's media speech (the Scum's article, written by political editor George Pascoe-Watson, is equally piss-poor):

BRITAIN is blessed with the richest variety of media in the world.

It can be belligerent, biased and sometimes blatantly unfair.

And that's just the Sun! Badum-badum tisk!

To be serious, Britain is indeed blessed with the richest variety of media in the world. We undoubtedly have one of the finest broadsheet, or quality newspaper selections of any coountry. The Telegraph, despite the efforts of the Barclays, is still one of the finest in actual news reporting; the Times, despite Murdoch, and its Blair-obeisance, stands in equal stead, and you'd be unlikely to find a wider selection of comment and different viewpoints anywhere outside of Europe than in the Grauniad and Independent, whatever some might feel about some of it.

Unfortunately, we also have a tabloid media which rivals America in terms of how awful it is. The Sun may be the worst of the worst, but the Express and Mail do on occasions give it an equal run for its money. That's why it so breathtakingly hypocritical to be lectured about the rest of the media by the likes of Paul Dacre and now, whichever hack put together this Sun editorial.

But for all our imperfections, we play a vital role in the political life of this nation.

We keep the powerful on edge, looking over their shoulders, and shed light in the hidden corners of our public life. Yes, the media enrages politicians — it’s part of our job.

Except the Scum hasn't kept Blair on edge, has it? That what was inexplicably missing from yesterday's speech, the fact that in this country Rupert Murdoch seems to count for a lot more than what the voters themselves do. It's easy to overstate just what effect that tabloids have in making a nation even more cynical and miserable, but the Sun's right that they play a vital role in the political life of the nation - an almost entirely negative one.

Here's the really hilarious bit:

He denounced journalists for hunting like “feral beasts, tearing people and reputations to bits”.

His sights were on the Daily Mail and the BBC — but the only newspaper he named was the tiny, defenceless Independent.

Ah, definitely not the Sun then! Very little of the speech actually seemed applicable, or directed at the BBC, but it's little wonder that the Scum thinks it was, its hatred for the corporation never far beneath the surface of Murdoch's Rottweiler.

Labour cannot hail 9/11 as a “good day to bury bad news” and then accuse the media of manipulation.

This is ever so slightly unfair - only one special adviser did that, hardly representative of Labour as a whole, even though Labour most definitely has attempted to bury bad news since then.

But what worries us about the PM’s speech was his threat to shackle the media.

It should worry everyone who believes true democracy cannot exist without a free Press.

Except Blair didn't suggest anything like "shackling" the media. He actually said:

regulatory framework at some point will need revision

and explained why, which has been taken out of all proportion, not just by the Sun. The truth is that the Sun is not a part of a free press - the only person it's accountable to is Rupert Murdoch. It, along with the other tabloids and their respective owners, can smear, lie and distort and they get away with it day after day. One has to wonder whether true democracy would come a step closer if they were to just disappear overnight.

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Destruction of a country (and shrine) in stages.

It's been a dreadful day for news in general from the Middle East, so much so that the repeated desecration of al-Askaria shrine, one of Shia Islam's most holy sites, has been knocked down the news. The mosque was previously bombed in February of last year, with al-Qaida in Iraq (then known as the Mujahideen Shura Council, now the "Islamic State of Iraq") being widely blamed for the destruction of its shrine.

Today the two remaining minarets of the shrine were destroyed, although it's unclear as of yet whether they were mortared, bombed or otherwise. CNN has reported that they were blasted after a gunfight, with the insurgents planting explosives around the minarets before detonating them. The ISI is again being widely blamed.

Whoever is to blame, it's incredibly bad news. It was the attack on the shrine which triggered the sharp decline into civil war, with dozens of bodies being found on the streets of the capital every day. Both al-Sadr and al-Sistani have called for calm, but such requests went unheeded last time. The Iraqi government responded by ordering a curfew after 3pm in Baghdad, but IraqSlogger is reporting that the reprisal attacks may well have already started, with up to three Sunni mosques targeted. It's difficult to believe that things could get much worse in Iraq, but this might do just that.

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Tuesday, June 12, 2007 

The worst, most sensationalist newspaper? Why, the Independent, of course!

Chutzpah seems to be a word increasingly en-vogue, but how else could you possibly describe the great obsfucator himself having the guts to stand up in front of an audience of hacks in Canary Wharf and tell them, after 10 years of leaving it variously to Alastair Campbell and Dave Hill, how to do their jobs?

To be fair to Blair, and Martin Kettle, one of his chief sycophants or sympathisers, there is a certain amount of decent analysis in his speech. I wouldn't go so far, as Kettle does, to call it pretty sobering and pretty truthful. There are elements of both in there; but that has always been the appeal and strength of Blair. His analysis, both of public opinion and his belief in being able to contain the media, alongside the help of Campbell, meant that he was never troubled by either until 2003, when he got it so horribly, disastrously wrong, and his own vanity, hubris and delusions took over.

It's no surprise therefore, that neither the words "spin" or "Campbell" appear anywhere in his whole lecture. He does at least set out at the beginning that this is part of his valedictory series of speeches, and that it's not a whinge, although it certainly looks like it in places. His best entire point is made in the opening paragraphs, and it's one which can be used against his entire thesis: that despite the media, he has won 3 elections and is still standing, able to leave office more or less on his own choosing. This is in fact the biggest indictment of it at large; the reasons why he was not brought down over Iraq are partially because of the supine nature of most Labour backbenchers, the failure of the inquiries, which he mentions, to draw blood, and probably most significantly, the support of the Murdoch press, which of course is also never mentioned.

It's far too long to fisk entirely, and others have already made some salient points, but here's some highlights, or lowlights.

In the analysis I am about to make, I first acknowledge my own complicity. We paid inordinate attention in the early days of New Labour to courting, assuaging, and persuading the media. In our own defence, after 18 years of Opposition and the, at times, ferocious hostility of parts of the media, it was hard to see any alternative. But such an attitude ran the risk of fuelling the trends in communications that I am about to question.

This exemplifies the whole conflicting emotions I have towards this speech. Blair's right that the treatment which Neil Kinnock experienced at the hands of, you guessed it, the Murdoch press, was instrumental in destroying Labour's chances up until 1992. The Sun may not have won it, but it was certainly one of the decisive, corroding, festering boils which Kinnock couldn't lance. The solution came upon, assiduous courting, manipulation, bullying, threatening and with the Murdoch press, a Faustian pact, has though turned out to have been far worse than the status quo was, turning attitudes towards politicians as a whole, not just Labour, increasingly cynical, apathetic, dismissive and miserable. The ends, as Michael Howard identified when he confronted Alastair Campbell, have never justified the means.

I would only point out that the Hutton Inquiry (along with 3 other inquiries) was a six month investigation in which I as Prime Minister and other senior Ministers and officials faced unprecedented public questioning and scrutiny. The verdict was disparaged because it was not the one the critics wanted. But it was an example of being held to account, not avoiding it. But leave that to one side.

This is true, but the press, again, except for the Murdoch empire, looked at the evidence presented at that inquiry, and rightly came up with the verdict: guilty as hell. Only Lord Hutton, apart from Rebekah Wade, decided that the government was innocent of all charges and that the BBC was the one at fault. The passing of time has only accentuated just how egregious the government was in 2002/3, and the dire consequences both for our own forces and for the Iraqi people. Lord Butler has claimed that he was dismissed far too easily, but he again compiled a non-dodgy dossier of government making policy on the hoof, handing all power over to Blair and ignoring cabinet, only to not bother to actually criticise too heavily in his conclusion. It's only now, with Brown ascending to the throne as it were that we're again discussing accountability and ways to reinvent trust, when this should have happened 3 years ago.

Blair next goes off, enthusing like many other politicos blinded by the interweb about the changing face of media, mentioning that mythical 70 million blogs figure without bothering to point out that approximately 1% of that total are updated everyday and are about politics. He also overestimates how the new media is supposedly taking over from old, when increasingly the "old" is becoming "new". His main point, about the 24 hour news culture, is mostly sound.

We devote reams of space to debating why there is so much cynicism about politics and public life. In this, the politicians are obliged to go into self-flagellation, admitting it is all our fault. Actually not to have a proper press operation nowadays is like asking a batsman to face bodyline bowling without pads or headgear. And, believe it or not, most politicians come into public life with a desire to serve and by and large, try to do the right thing not the wrong thing.

Apart from appropriating Geoffrey Howe's famous joke during his resignation, Blair is again probably mostly right. Most politicians do come into public life to serve: it's just when we're faced by their faces day in day out, and when all they've done for the last ten years is talk like a robot about how great everything the government's done has been, the public just might be entitled to get cynical. So many politicians seem to be irksome jobsworths, who never consider for a moment even the slightest hint of disloyalty, or as it used to be known, disagreeing with your peers, that it's quite easy to dismiss them all as more of the same. This is the reason why Hazel Blears, Oona King, Hilary Armstrong, Patricia Hewitt, David Blunkett and others are so widely loathed and ridiculed, especially online. This is most definitely Blair's fault: his demand for total loyalty from his ministers, even backbenchers, was pounced on by the media who shrieked "split!" and "rebellion!" over the slightest little squeak of independent thinking. That's why the Labour deputy leadership election, despite the presence of Blears and Hain, has been such a breath of fresh air: politicians from the same party with different opinions! Who would have thought it? And how did the Sun react? "Leftie dinosaurs hate Blair!", to paraphrase slightly.

My view is that the real reason for the cynicism is precisely the way politics and the media today interact. We, in the world of politics, because we are worried about saying this, play along with the notion it is all our fault. So I introduced: first, lobby briefings on the record; then published the minutes; then gave monthly press conferences; then Freedom of Information; then became the first Prime Minister to go to the Select Committee's Chairman's session; and so on. None of it to any avail, not because these things aren't right, but because they don't deal with the central issue: how politics is reported.

This is just simply bollocks. As numerous hacks have reported, the press conferences are hopeless, mainly because Blair doesn't answer the sodding question. It's like Prime Minister's Question Time without the Punch and Judy, and unsurprisingly, no one's interested. He also tries to bore the journalists into submission: producing endless powerpoint presentations of how the latest target in the NHS has been reached, which actually explain very little to nothing at all, and if that fails, then he turns on the foreign media present who'll throw a softer ball about something of little interest to the domestic press. Freedom of Information has been brought in, and again, surprise surprise, the government has enjoyed it so much that it wants to curtail it, something which Blair curiously decides not to mention.

Blair finally gets to his point and hits the nail squarely on the head here, then instead of going after the ones actually responsible for exactly what he's described, he heads in completely the opposite direction:

The reality is that as a result of the changing context in which 21 Century communications operates, the media are facing a hugely more intense form of competition than anything they have ever experienced before. They are not the masters of this change but its victims. The result is a media that increasingly and to a dangerous degree is driven by "impact". Impact is what matters. It is all that can distinguish, can rise above the clamour, can get noticed. Impact gives competitive edge. Of course the accuracy of a story counts. But it is secondary to impact. It is this necessary devotion to impact that is unravelling standards, driving them down, making the diversity of the media not the strength it should be but an impulsion towards sensation above all else.

Who could disagree? In one of his rare moments of clarity, he's got the main problem with Britain's media dead right. Today is incidentally a perfect day for Blair to making such a point: the death of Bob Woolmer, revealed to be of natural causes after all. How did the media respond? They went straight for the jugular and smeared, accused and slurred the Pakistani cricket team. Woolmer was variously killed because of match fixing, out of a personal argument with aggrieved Pakistani players, poisoned with whichever outlandish substance you could think of, and even maybe murdered by al-Qaida. Not a single one of any of those allegations were true, and it didn't just infect the tabloids, although they were the chief culprits; Panorama was among those suggesting that Woolmer had definitely been poisoned. The BBC has at least today in its reports owned up to its acute failures, and how it got it wrong. Somehow you doubt the tabloids will be doing the same thing tomorrow. This isn't to suggest that the media were wrong to print such speculation, but rather that they should have known better, especially considering the various impacts, both on the case and those under suspicion, as well as the grieving. This isn't an exception though: this is what the tabloids do every day, day after day, and have done for years. The Scum's mea culpa about Janet Hossain was notable not so much for how badly it got it wrong, but how familiar it seemed because of how it's happened so often in the past.
Third, the fear of missing out means today's media, more than ever before, hunts in a pack. In these modes it is like a feral beast, just tearing people and reputations to bits. But no-one dares miss out.

Again, pretty accurate. This is more often done to celebrities and suspects in crimes than politicians, but there's little that's off otherwise.

Fourth, rather than just report news, even if sensational or controversial, the new technique is commentary on the news being as, if not more important than the news itself. So - for example - there will often be as much interpretation of what a politician is saying as there is coverage of them actually saying it. In the interpretation, what matters is not what they mean; but what they could be taken to mean. This leads to the incredibly frustrating pastime of expending a large amount of energy rebutting claims about the significance of things said, that bears little or no relation to what was intended.

This is where it falls apart. Blair is trying to suggest that this is new: it isn't. The tabloids have again been doing this for years, completely blurring the line between news and commentary, for their own political and commercial gain.

The metaphor for this genre of modern journalism is the Independent newspaper. Let me state at the outset it is a well-edited lively paper and is absolutely entitled to print what it wants, how it wants, on the Middle East or anything else. But it was started as an antidote to the idea of journalism as views not news. That was why it was called the Independent. Today it is avowedly a viewspaper not merely a newspaper.

There you are: rather than taking on the real purveyors of cynicism, sensationalism and "impact", for the obvious reason that very shortly Rupert Murdoch is likely to be offering him a vast wad of cash for his memoirs, and because of that pact we're often talking about, he's instead picked on the tiniest, smallest, lowest punching target of the lot, the Independent. Again, this clearly has nothing to do with its continued, avowed and exemplary opposition to the war in Iraq, this is instead all to do with the fact it has campaigning front pages and opinion on the cover. Completely unlike the Daily Mail, Express, Sun or Mirror then. The difference between the Independent and the tabloids is that the Independent has never insulted its readership or patronised them by suggesting the front page is now anything other than opinion rather than news: Simon Kelner was more than open in how, with the change from broadsheet to tabloid that he wanted it to become a "viewspaper", a horrible neologism. The tabloids pretend completely otherwise, even if no one's falling for it.

The rest is more or less more of the same, complete with a suggestion that the already hopeless self-regulatory framework will need revising, which won't happen because parliament won't push through a privacy law because of the tabloids' opposition. The whole speech is perhaps indicative of the Blair years: decent analysis of what the problems are, followed by hypocrisy, stagnation and then picking on the opposite of what needed fixing. Just without the bloodshed.

Sort of update: The Grauniad's leader gets it partially right, mentioning how good the British press can be, just without the necessary attack on its worst excesses as well. Simon Jenkins is also in his usual irascible form over BAe and how it's been uncovered by the muck-raking press, although I'm not sure how the BBC and Grauniad quite come under that description.

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Boycotting and bullying.

The decision by the president of DePaul university to deny Norman Finkelstein his application for continued tenure highlights the yawning chasm between campus politics on both sides of the Atlantic. A little less than two weeks ago the University and College Union passed a motion by 158 to 99 for a "a comprehensive and consistent boycott" of all Israeli academic institutions, in solidarity with a call made by Palestinian trade unions for such measures. In one country, the anti-occupation argument wins, while on the other the accusations of antisemitism against those who are critical of Israeli government policy appear to have prevailed.

The background to Finkelstein being put out of a job is part of the wider argument, increasingly conducted outside Israel itself, about the differences between antisemitism and anti-Zionist expansion, about the rights of the Palestinians to resist and organise in the face of both a 40-year occupation and how the peace process can be moved on from outside. Finkelstein, a widely acknowledged brilliant analytical academic, the son of Holocaust survivors, has long been a thorn in the side of unapologetic pro-Israelis, most notoriously writing an attack on what he calls the "Holocaust industry", which he regards as both exploiting the shame and guilt felt about the failure to stop the Holocaust into treating Israel with kid gloves, ignoring its own abundant abuses of human rights and failure to make peace with the Palestinians.

Finkelstein's undoing appears to have been taking on Alan Dershowitz, an equally vehement defender of Israel to Finkelstein's ardent criticism. You might know Dershowitz more for one of his other ideas: proposing, despite his own opposition to torture, that authorities could gain a warrant which would allow them to engage a "suspect" with non-lethal forms of interrogation in a "ticking bomb" scenario. He more recently toured studios in effect defending rendition, making much the same argument, slightly altered by saying that since torture was already evidently taking place, that there should be set guidelines on what is and what is not allowed. Another similarly enlightened argument he made was that Israel should declare a unilateral ceasefire in responding to Palestinian terrorism, and that if militants didn't similarly declare an end to operations, that a village or town identified as being an operations base for the militants would be given a ultimatum, after which all the houses and buildings in the village would be destroyed. Even by the Israeli standards of inflicting collective punishment on the Palestinians, such a measure is terrifying in its base inhumanity.

Ignoring the more tedious elements of Finkelstein and Dershowitz's conflict, Dershowitz was one of the first to write to DePaul university calling for Finkelstein's request for further tenure to be denied. While Finkelstein's methods of responding and arguing are by his own admission polemical, and he strays occasionally into ad hominem attacks, with him making mistakes in his claims against Dershowitz's book The Case for Israel, there are few who regard him, as Dershowitz does, as an anti-Semite or a bigot. Ignoring perhaps the usual suspects who support and defend him in Noam Chomsky and Alexander Cockburn, highly respected historian of the Holocaust Raul Hilberg and Avi Shlaim, formerly of Haifa university, both went on Democracy Now! to support his continued tenure.

The whole dispute perhaps tells us more about how academia is being increasingly divided and ruled in Europe and America than it does about anything else. The biggest difference is how almost all political opinion in America is amazingly pro-Israeli, especially considering the relatively small Jewish population, which in any case overwhelming votes Democrat. Various reasons for this, differing between a highly successful Israeli lobby, itself the subject of high controversy involving Alan Dershowitz last year after a highly notable paper attempted to show how the Israeli lobby and US foreign policy intertwined, neo-con ideology which itself is highly caught up in the Likudist outlook on the Middle East, the support of Christian far-righters, for their own various selfish reasons, and just general sympathy for a people which without the intervention of the Americans may well have been close to being wiped out, all play a part, as does the continued concern about the intentions of Iran, at least now that Saddam Hussein has been removed from the equation. The "war on terror" has also thrown the two nations together in something of a common cause, despite the obvious differences between the various motives behind the attacks which both have suffered.

The movement towards boycotting Israel in Europe suggest that the opposite is true here, but this is almost certainly not the case. Prior to the removal of Conrad Black, the Telegraph was one of the strongest defenders of Israel policy in all areas, and while perhaps slightly less strident now that it's under the Barclay brothers, it remains mostly the same. It's not just the Melanie Philips' of this world that are shrill in their speaking out on Israel's behalf, but other organisations like Independent Jewish Voices, which while critical would by no means support a boycott of academia. The attempts to portray some of this legitimate criticism, as Deborah Lipstadt has, as soft-core denial, or even as Philips did, as Jews somehow being for Genocide, often shows just what those who are critical of the occupation have to face for speaking out. This is partly down to the defenders of Israel both using hyperbole and over-selling themselves at the same time, and while pro-Palestinians do fall into this trap as well, there is no other debate which so often descends purely into mud-slinging, with accusations of bigotry, self-hatred and racism never being far from surfacing.

As is so often the case, the middle road again seems to be the best course. I've never seen it adequately or lucidly explained exactly what an academic boycott of Israel is meant to achieve: it seems, despite the no doubt honourable intentions of the Palestinian trade unions and universities in calling for one, that it's meant to more send a far too easily misconstrued message to the world, with predictable results in backlash terms. It smacks all too much of intellectual circle-jerking, doing nothing to help the Palestinians on the ground while the great debate swirls round and round. The only boycott that really matters at the moment is the one which continues to cause economic devastation in the occupied territories, and which has more than a hand in the descent in Gaza into all-out civil war. That is the one which needs lifting, but it seems to have been almost forgotten. Finkelstein should be at DePaul, while universities ought to petitioning the government and the EU to lift the reckless and irresponsible boycotting of Hamas which is only penalising the people who had the audacity to use their democratic vote.

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Bits and pieces.

Various scraps of news which don't deserve their own individual post.

Via D-Notice, a very hopeful petition calling for the repeal of the Obscene Publications Act:

The Obscene Publications Act 1959 is an out of date, virtually useless piece of legislation. Its definition of "obscenity" as something which "depraves and corrupts" is an uncertain, unclear and completely subjective test, dependent solely on alternate attitudes and opinions and feelings of particular judges and juries. Obscenity is a moral attitude which every individual perceives differently; some are offended easily and some are rarely offended at all. Individuals should be able to make up their own minds about what they deem to be obscene, and avoid such material if they do, and embrace it if they do not. A law against such material, except where it protects children, violates individual liberty.

All of which is very true, but with this latest bunch of illiberals I wouldn't put it past them to repeal it and replace it with something far, far worse, like the original proposals to make viewing "violent" pornography a criminal offense, thankfully toned down but still highly objectionable. I've signed anyway.

Via Ten Percent and the Mail on Sunday, which has rather belatedly but still welcomely decided to take the government on over rendition comes further evidence that planes (see image) linked to rendition flights are still landing here, quite contrary to the claims made by APCO:

The row over CIA ‘torture flights’ using British airports has deepened following fresh evidence that a plane repeatedly linked to the controversial programme landed in the UK just days ago.

The plane was logged arriving at RAF Mildenhall in Suffolk last weekend, and watching aviation experts said the aircraft, piloted by crew clad in desert fatigues, was immediately surrounded on the runway by armed American security forces.

Its registration number, clearly visible on the fuselage, identifies it as a plane which the European Parliament says has been involved in ‘ghost flights’ to smuggle terrorist suspects to shadowy interrogation centres abroad.

Shami also soon got to the bottom of the so-called ACPO investigation:

"ACPO have admitted to me in a private letter that their investigation amounted to little more than a cursory review of reports on the issue – which they issued, 18 months after I requested it, to coincide with the Council of Europe’s report."

The voting is hotting up, or rather, getting about as exciting as a Labour deputy leadership contest is likely to get, and other blogs have been listing their preferences in order, so here's mine, despite the fact I have no way of influencing the vote whatsoever:

1. Cruddas
2. Benn
3. Harman
4. Johnson
5. Hain
6. Blears

I would probably have put Harman second if it wasn't for the endless repetition, both from her and other Grauniad columnists that the party needs a male/female leadership, and that only dear Harriet can rebuild Labour's support among the fairer sex. It's bollocks, we know it's bollocks, and Harman is taking advantage of the fact she doesn't have any for her own purposes rather than that of Labour. Blears is last for obvious reasons, and there's hardly a Rizla to put between Johnson and Hain, Hain being the slightly more opportunistic and hubristic in his finding his moral compass act once Blair's finally shuffling off.

Finally, the omnipresent carnage in Iraq continues, with the third bridge in as many days to be bombed. This seems to be an attempt, most likely by the "Islamic State" to hinder military movements, with the knock-on effect that it further inhibits movement by the general population, who according to IraqSlogger are resorting to ferries. It probably constitutes some sort of a war crime: we condemned it when it was Israel doing it to Lebanon, we should condemn it equally virulently now. It additionally makes it far, far harder for any families that are fleeing to take almost any belongings at all: latest reports estimate that 2.2 million Iraqis have become refugees, mostly going to either Syria or Jordan, with a similar number likely to be displaced within Iraq itself. The "Islamic State" has also once again succeeded in capturing a large number of Ministry of Interior/Defence employees (some have suggested that they could be civilians dressed up, as the Iraqis have previously denied having any men missing, although this seems incredibly unlikely to me), inevitably to face the same fate as the previous groupings; a bullet to the back of the head, all filmed for the one-handed hordes on the jihadist forums to explode and salivate over. Justice for those murdered in such a fashion will eventually prevail.

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Monday, June 11, 2007 

My enemy's enemy is my enemy.

The Jihad and Reformation Front's logo.

It's a well-known quote, or cliche, depending on which you prefer, that those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it. The United States, which has never done irony or history well, seems to have ignored the proverb. Why else would it be embarking on such a palpably suicidal tactic as once again arming the enemy of the enemy?

The driving force behind the thinking of arming groups such as the Anbar Salvation Council has to be both a mixture of desperation and stone-cold realpolitik. The "coalition" cannot possibly defeat the insurgency militarily, without using the kind of overwhelming force that will drive even more ordinary Iraqis into the arms of the resistance groups, but neither can it live with the consequences of the possibility of the "Islamic State of Iraq" gradually enforcing its brutal rule over the areas it has declared as part of their new theocracy. The in-between measure they've decided upon is supplying those who have finally grown weary of the despicable tactics employed by the radical Salafis, themselves rising up and fighting back against the groups which until recently enjoyed an uneasy truce with the tribal Sunni clans.

Recent memory ought to show the high risks involved in a such a strategy. The training and funding of the mujahideen in Afghanistan against the Soviets has had consequences which very few could have possibly imagined at the time. The arming of both sides during the Iran/Iraq war only encouraged Saddam Hussein and further embittered Iran. Israel's covert decision to help the fledgling Hamas as a bulwark against the secular, nationalist Fatah must be one of the most regretted decisions ever made by an Israeli government.

One of the simple, sad realities of life in Iraq is that the security situation, and with it, living conditions, have deteriorated to such an extent that even supplying arms over sectarian lines when the seller knows full well what they'll be used for is something that's become acceptable. The fear has to be that supplying arms to groups as potentially fracturous as the Anbar Salvation Council appears to be is that they'll simply be sold on for a profit, or even supplied straight back to the insurgent groups.

The rising of some tribal Sunnis might well turn out to be a lesser factor compared to the apparent turning of other insurgent groups against the "Islamic State". Just last week it appeared that the 20th Revolution Brigades and the Islamic Army in Iraq, both far more nationalistic and Sunni in their outlooks and ideology than Salafi, were fighting running battles in the streets of Amiriyah against al-Qaida in Iraq, having been provoked by attacks on their own members by the State. The Islamic Army has now like al-Qaida formed its own umbrella group, the Jihad and Reformation Front, which includes the Mujahideen Army and at least two of the former highest members of the Sharia council of Ansar al-Sunnah, and with the 20th Revolution Brigades apparently fighting side by side with the IAI, it's a possibility that they too could eventually join. How this new alliance and its opposition to the Islamic State should be judged is for now hard to tell: any grouping which opposes the indiscriminate violence which al-Qaida and its allies are unleashing throughout the country ought to be supported, but it may well yet turn out that this is simply Iraq going the way of Algeria, the armed groupings turning on each other rather than fighting the "enemy".

Providing arms and support to such groups may for now look like the least worst option, but the chances for it coming back and biting the suppliers' in the ass are great. It may well be though that the luxury of making such choices has long gone.

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Saturday, June 09, 2007 

I never knew the sky was a prison.

How very strange and convenient that Michael Todd and ACPO chose the day after Dick Marty conclusively documented the complicity of European governments in the CIA's rendition program to claim with a straight face that Britain "did not allow CIA 'torture flights' to use its airports.

It's little wonder that Liberty have questioned whether Todd actually did any investigating at all. The government has itself admitted that CIA planes and chartered jets linked to the rendition program have landed in the UK - the question has always been whether their business here was innocent, or if their cargo had included "terrorist suspects" on their way to friendly countries willing to carry out torture on America's behalf, or to one of the CIA's own "legal black holes" which we now know to have existed in those new European countries of Poland and Romania. Seeing as the planes' landed here on over a hundred occasions, with reports suggesting they could have passed through as many as 210 times, it would be foolish to completely rule out the likelihood of at least one of them containing a rendered prisoner. In any case, that's to ignore the abundant hypocrisy of lecturing numerous countries across the world on human rights, while completely ignoring the blatant disregard which the Americans have shown for all vestiges of international law while conducting the "war against terror".

The ACPO itself seems to be confused. Liberty has stated that it received a letter from ACPO saying that it had "refused" to investigate, yet it's also issued a press release in which it's stated that after investigating there's no evidence to substantiate Liberty's original complaint. It might well be this sentence from the ACPO which is key:

"There was nothing to substantiate the claims in the evidence supplied by Liberty."

Which tends to suggest that ACPO's investigation went so far as relying purely on the evidence supplied at the time back in 2005, and not on the new facts which have emerged last year and this, including the Americans themselves owning up to having run a secret network of prisons, which it now claims to have closed down.

Marty's latest report itself (PDF) is intuitive in how the whole program of rendition was set-up in the immediate aftermath of September the 11th. While rendition had occurred before, in a number of cases during the Clinton years, the US government had always sought permission from the countries through which its planes would be traveling. Rather the potentially embarrassing its allies, the US instead approached NATO, which according to the report agreed on the authorisations for the rendition program on October the 4th 2001. This essentially allowed the CIA to act with complete impunity, passing through numerous European airports and in some cases even using detention centres such as those now thought to have existed in Romania and Poland to mistreat and torture those unlucky enough to have deemed been deemed as a threat to America. We additionally know that in some cases our own security services were wholly complicit in the program: MI5 providing the Americans with false information which led to Bisher al-Rawi and Jamil el-Banna eventually being transported to Guantanamo Bay. Nato, like some of the governments involved, completely refused to cooperate with the EU's investigation: the organisation's chief executive refused to give evidence, while the alliance as a whole has never replied to any of the correspondence sent to it.

Apart from the government's own disregard for telling the truth over what it knew about rendition, the other scandal was just how silent most of the media apart from the broadsheets has been about the revelations. Today's Daily Mail then deserves for once to be congratulated for having the guts to splash on the report, even if the comments on the article show just how the "war on terror" rhetoric has debased that old principle of being innocent until proved guilty. As I've mentioned before, the really shocking thing has been just how quickly such counterproductive measures have become accepted - and while we can blame others, we're just as responsible for not raising our voices loud enough.

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Friday, June 08, 2007 

Scum-watch: Getting it horrendously wrong.

The Sun has a reputation for getting key facts about crime stories, often involving murder, fundamentally wrong. As far as I'm aware, it's never apologised to the Holness family over its pornographically wrong account of how their daughter, Rochelle, died, and the article remains uncorrected on its website.

The latest family to suffer from the Scum's inability to get their facts right is that of Janet Hossain. Hossain was found dead in the boot of her own car on April the 25th. In a report two days later, the Sun claimed that:

A MUM of four found murdered in her car boot was wearing rubber bondage gear, cops revealed yesterday. Last night they were investigating whether Muslim divorcée Janet Hossain, 32, was killed in a kinky sex session which got out of hand. She was wearing just the fetish outfit, which included belts and chains, and there were no obvious signs of injury.

Just one problem with this: wherever the Scum got its information from, it was entirely inaccurate.

Further to our article Bondage Killing of Muslim Mum of April 27 we would like to make clear the body of Ms Janet Hossain, of Manor Park, East London, was not discovered wearing bondage clothes as we stated. We apologise to her family for any distress caused.

Quite how it could get something so comprehensively wrong is quite difficult to fathom; let alone how the family must feel about the biggest selling newspaper in the country making the murder look like something it most certainly was not. Most readers' will have by now long forgotten about the case, except probably for the single detail that she was found dead wearing "kinky sex" gear.

Still, at least the article's disappeared from the Sun's archive. As for the correction, well, it's so important that it currently occupies the fourth slot from bottom of the news page. Where it appeared in the newspaper itself is anyone's guess.

Elsewhere, today's Scum is quite reasonably getting angry about a loophole in the control orders legislation which has meant that none of those placed under the orders haven't had their DNA or fingerprints taken, although I find it very difficult to believe that the police don't have such details on those who were originally held in Belmarsh and are still under control orders. It also predictably calls them "suspected al-Qaida terrorists" when it's doubtful there was any evidence whatsoever to link any of them to al-Qaida, more than they may have been sympathetic to a similar Salafi ideology. The other obvious point is that only those on the weakest control orders have succeeded in fleeing, making control orders both illiberal and ineffective in equal measure. It seems odd that this has only come to light now in any case: surely the police would have been up in arms as soon as they realised they couldn't do to "terrorist suspects" what they can to do anyone they arrest as a matter of course?

It's the leader column which I take more issue with:

WHAT a farce!

Nobody can stop police building a database of fingerprints and DNA from innocent children.

Yet they can’t keep the same tabs on suspected terrorists — even if they are already on control orders.

This is bollocks, because as we know, those on the tougher orders haven't been able to flee. It's only the light touch ones, where the men were not considered a direct threat to this country that were able to - and in any case, as has long been argued, the evidence against them should be used to prosecute, not put them under useless conditions which didn't even involve them having to wear electronic tags.

Not surprisingly, six al-Qaeda suspects are now on the run — with little chance of being recaptured.

The only reason we know about this legal loophole is that John Reid has been forced to plug it before waving goodbye as Home Secretary this month.

Yes, the same John Reid who promised tough new stop-and-search powers for terrorists — only to dump them at the first whiff of leftie outrage.

For the al-Qaida bit, see above. Giving stop-and-search powers for terrorists?! Has Reid finally gone completely mad? Apart from the unfortunate wording, here's an example of the leftie outrage that scuppered Reid's attempt to reintroduce the sus laws:

But the seemingly random questioning of young Asians, backed by the threat of £5,000 fines, will drive a dangerous wedge between them and the authorities. It could therefore sabotage a key weapon in our war on terror: Intelligence from within the Muslim community.

In a few extreme cases, the disaffection it will breed could even drive youths into the clutches of the brainwashing extremists looking to recruit suicide bombers.

The principle that police must have reasonable suspicion to question anyone must be upheld.

Most UK Muslims detest the bombers. It would be disastrous if a new law threatened the unity of all Britain’s communities against terror.

Yes, you've guessed it, that spartacist outrage was courtesy of that well-known left-wing journal... the Sun. Inconsistent, much?

Back to today:

But when it comes to stopping terror fanatics before they can kill and maim, the only thing that counts is their human rights.

Obviously, as Forest Gate and the death of Jean Charles de Menezes have clearly demonstrated.

One last thing, the Scum comments on the Big Brother racism:

If they’re not careful, they risk being seen as shameless opportunists who stop at nothing in pursuit of ratings.

Completely unlike a newspaper which prints such horrible inaccuracies in pursuit of sales.

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More!, cry the salivating hordes.

Big Brother bosses were today forced to defend the show yet again after thousands of new complaints were made to Ofcom about the lack of racism in the last 24 hours.

"It's disgraceful," one caller said. "Millions of people across the country watch Big Brother. What kind of example is it setting to the young when minorities on the show aren't being abused based on the colour of their skin? This is an incredibly slippery slope. What's next? The Express claiming that Princess Diana died in a car accident and not as a result of a conspiracy between MI5 and the Duke of Edinburgh? It's political correctness gone mad."

Another was equally angry. "How is it possible that in a house filled with moronic, ignorant, squabbling idiots there hasn't been a single unfinished limerick or someone trying to defend their use of an incredibly offensive racial epithet by saying they have black friends? Big Brother needs to sort this mess out once and for all."

A spokesman for Channel 4 was unrepentant however. "We know that people expect racism, but it's not something that's going to happen everyday. Viewers will just have to make do with the usual amount of gratuitous swearing, flesh-bearing and narcissistic aggrandisment they've come to expect from Britain's most famous house."

Jade Goody was unavailable for comment.

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Thursday, June 07, 2007 

Money, oil and planes. (But don't mention the corruption.)

December the 14th 2006 will rightly go down as one of the most shameful days in Britain's recent political history. Not only was the prime minister of this country questioned by the police, which 10 Downing Street did everything in its power to knock down the news agenda, but it was also the day chosen by the Attorney General to announce to the Lords that he was ordering the dropping of the Serious Fraud Office's investigation into allegations that BAE Systems had been keeping a slush fund through which it paid for Saudi officials' Rolls-Royces, Californian holidays and prostitutes.

That, it seems, may well have been the tip of the iceberg. Both the Guardian and Panorama are now alleging that the SFO investigation had discovered that one of the Saudi princes involved in signing the initial Al-Yamamah deal has since then been paid somewhere in the region of a staggering £1bn by BAe in quarterly payments to Prince Bandar bin Sultan bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud's account at Riggs bank in Washington.

Every single thing that the Saudi royal family stands for and imposes on the country it despotically reigns over ought to be completely inimical to the Labour party. This is a nation which still carries out beheadings in public, discriminates against women in a way highly similar to that which was given as one of the reasons for why removing the Taliban from Afghanistan was justified, and carries out torture as a matter of course against anyone suspected of more or less anything, something which four British men experienced firsthand. Speaking after their failed attempt to hold the House of Saud to account over their treatment, Les Walker commented:

"It's all down to money and oil and planes. Don't upset the Saudis. That's the British government's view."

He couldn't have got it more right. When it comes to the possibility of causing offense to the notoriously easily upset Saudi royal family, that's something that we obviously just can't afford. This isn't you see, about a disgusting autocratic regime profiting from a British company paying huge amounts into the accounts of already stinking rich royals, let alone about interfering with the rule of law in this country, but about hurting the feelings of one of the most despicable governments on the planet. While we routinely rile the Iranian government, making numerous allegations about its closeness to militants in Iraq and Afghanistan which are completely impossible to prove, suggesting that Saudi Arabia, which we know for a fact does all in its power to export the Wahhabist ideology that highly influences the Islamic fundamentalism preached by al-Qaida, is something that we would never ever do.

Hence why Tony Blair, rather than couching his reason for why the SFO investigation was dropped in terms of the damage which the Saudis had threatened to do to the war against terror, an empty threat if there ever was one in the first place, he instead made clear that this was more to down to the fact that probing into the financial dealings of the Saudis was just something you couldn't do:

"This investigation, if it had it gone ahead, would have involved the most serious allegations in investigations being made into the Saudi royal family."

Well, you don't say. That was rather the point, was it not? In actual fact, we ought to treasure this Blair comment, for the simple reason that he's for once telling the whole truth. This wasn't anything to do with the Saudis saying they weren't going to fill us in on all the hot gossip they'd got from torturing the latest extremist it's arrested, which they would have continued providing to the CIA which would have in turn passed it on to us, it was all to do with the SFO getting far, far too close to the truth. The Saudis were in a panic back in December, sparking a hysterical campaign by those with vested issues in keeping the full details of the original dove deal coming out,
fearing that the Swiss were about to give the SFO access to details of bank accounts that would have showed the corruption going all the way to the crown prince himself.

While the SFO did have evidence that the payments from the BAe slush fund had continued past the date when Labour had finally got around to making such corruption illegal in 2002, we didn't until yesterday know that the government itself was in danger of being found complicit, with Lord Goldsmith apparently panicked that all the dirty washing was about to be hung out in public, the Ministry of Defence and the government's arms sale department, the Defence Export Services Organisation, knowing full well what had been going on for nearly 20 years.

The rule of law then, let alone this government's execrable record on tackling corruption, was always going to come second. The only way that the Saudi royals are ever likely to be held accountable, at least until the oil runs out, is by their own people, and it's difficult to disagree with Ken Livingstone when he said he longed for the day when they're swinging from the lamp-posts. This government has instead done everything in its power to stop even the slightest possibility of cracks emerging in the House of Saud's facade of invulnerability.

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Sickening stunts from the paper that brought you Hillsborough, Gotcha!, etc...

According to the Scum, it was a "sickening stunt", "a cheap stunt to boost her career", and "it beggars belief that anyone could suspect Kate and Gerry McCann of complicity in the disappearance of their beloved daughter". It does however seem to believe that its readers could; the article on Sabina Mueller's question to the McCanns oddly has comments turned off. The only other articles on the Scum's whole "For Maddie" index which have comments turned off are those on Robert Murat, on the McCanns visiting the pope, and on the revelation that the McCanns in fact didn't check on their children for 50 minutes the night that Madeleine disappeared. They didn't take the same precaution on the leader page, and what do you know, both of the readers who responded think it was perfectly legitimate for Mueller to ask the question.

The Mirror, as well as additionally splashing on Mueller's "disgraceful" question, ramped up the hyperbole as much as the Scum decided to. It was a cruel slur, unforgivably callous, sickening and unwarranted and insensitive to the point of disbelief. The Express also splashed, but seeing as there were no "ethnics" involved, it kept the insults to a minimum.

Only the Mirror gave Sabina Mueller the space to give her full justification for the question:

"I knew it was a difficult question but I felt it had to be asked. I didn't think it improper.

"I didn't want to hurt and I don't suspect the McCanns of being involved.

"Gerry McCann was very calm and I was completely convinced by his reply. Either they're very good actors or they're telling the truth.

"They're putting themselves out there a lot. They've got to expect uncomfortable questions. I was doing my job."

Something that the tabloid journalists seem to have forgotten to do properly in their rush to over-emote with banner coverage of no developments.

One has to wonder if they're angrier more because none of them had the guts to ask such an obvious question than over the perceived slight to the dignity of the McCanns. As far as I'm aware, despite some whispering and criticism directed at the couple, more over their decision to visit the Pope and their apparent coolness at becoming the centre of attention, no one has suggested that their continuous campaign of publicity will have driven any abductor with an ounce of sense to lock her away and never let her out again, making it ever more likely that they'll never discover what has happened to their beloved daughter. It's obviously an incredibly difficult choice to make, one where you either let the police do their work or go all out with a media blitz in the hope that someone somewhere will either know or have seen something, but it seems after a month that their decision may well have been the wrong one. This don't seem to be worrying them though, or even raising the slightest amount of inner doubt: their latest plan is to launch wristbands that will, I quote, raise cash and awareness, as if they need more of either.

Interestingly, what made the front page of three newspapers only made page 18 of the Guardian. You have to think that once again, what Kelvin McKenzie calls the "unpopular" press have got it far more right than their mass-selling rivals.

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BlogPower awards again.

The actual voting has now gotten under way at the Blogpower awards. I'm highly honoured to have been nominated for best fisker, especially alongside such intimidating heavyweights as Unity, Mr Eugenides and Devil's Kitchen, but if I may I suggest throwing your votes behind Five Chinese Crackers, who I don't think gets anywhere near the attention he deserves for his patience in completely decimating the figures and statistics behind many Mail and Express articles on immigration, who coincidentally follows up yesterday's disgusting Express article with getting Sheffield council's own take on it. Not Saussure additionally has some advice on who should win the most unintentionally humourous post award.


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In good news...

Lowde has been arrested, which is hopefully excellent news for all concerned (including Lowde herself).

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Wednesday, June 06, 2007 

Britain's most racist newspaper.

Keeping an eye on the tabloids, you get rather jaded with the general sensationalism, lack of critical voices and downright lies and distortions which are routinely printed. Even I however was shocked by an article in today's Express, so blatantly scaremongering and blunt in its terminology, that I think like 5cc, who also covers the item and picks holes in it, it's the most overtly racist article I've seen in the British press.


RACE trouble is being predicted because of an ethnic baby boom in one of Britain’s major cities.

A third of babies being born in Sheffield are to ethnic minority families, an official report has revealed.

This is creating a major population shift in the South Yorkshire city, raising concern among community leaders that simmering tensions could erupt in riots similar to those that have blighted Bradford and Oldham.

Just to rub it even further in, the photograph chosen to illustrate the report is of two young Muslim women wearing the niqab.

Let's just take a look at the words used. It shorthands ethnic minorities for the simple pejorative, "ethnic". As many will no doubt be aware, this is the exact word that has become the favourite of the British National Party to describe the non-white population of this country, having moved on from being openly racist to covering its rhetoric in slightly less abusive and offensive terms. It then suggests that because a third of all babies being born in the city are now from an ethnic minority background, that this constitutes a "crisis", with race trouble being feared because of this baby "boom". It's openly playing on the politics of fear and far-right propaganda, that a mass increase in the non-white population will lead to inevitable rioting and unrest.

As is often the case with articles based on such regional developments, the Express article is heavily influenced by a similar one in Sheffield's own Star newspaper. Spot the difference:

Race relations action call

RAPID changes in Sheffield's population are revealed in a city council report published today - with almost a third of all babies currently being born to ethnic minority families.

Urgent action is being recommended by the city's leaders to avert community tensions which have blighted Lancashire towns like Oldham and Blackburn.

Latest figures show 13 per cent of Sheffield's population is made up of minorities from all races and backgrounds - including migrants from new European Community countries like Poland and Romania.

See what they've done? The Express has taken concerns that tensions between communities might arise, that's might, and sexed it up into race trouble. Nowhere in the Star article does it use such a blunt term as "ethnic", it doesn't refer to the rise of births within ethnic minority families as a "boom" nor is there any suggestion that riots might occur, simply that the council has noted that problems could happen in the future, which is why it's now encouraging an open debate on how to improve cohesion, as well as on the values which people in Sheffield share. More subtly, while the Star article refers to problems in Oldham - where there were riots in 2001 - and Blackburn, where there have not, the Express substitutes Blackburn for Bradford, where there were also riots in 2001.

It should be noted that the Star report also uses a photograph of a woman wearing a niqab, but rather than using it in a sensationalist, frightening, almost sinister way like the Express has done, it's presented it as the changing face of the city, with another (white) woman talking to her.

Both the Express and Star articles are additionally based on a report to Sheffield council's cabinet, entitled Community Cohesion: Developing a new Strategy (.doc), which as you'd expect is the usual staid local government document. Race isn't used once in the whole thing, let alone is there any reference to riots. The whole strategy is reacting to a hypothetical problem which might occur, and stresses that Sheffield has in actual fact a strong identity, and that communities already have a sense of pride and place. The consultation and debate, entitled Our Sheffield, is designed to build on that; the Express, it seems, wants to turn it into something which it most definitely is not.

The whole issue is one of both tone and language. The Star and Express articles are almost identical in places, yet the first few paragraphs of the Express report change it from one which is about a city undergoing changes which are happening around the country, to one where a city is facing a crisis that requires immediate action to prevent riots from taking place, putting the blame squarely on "ethnics" and their "booming" birthrate.

As I rather glibly stated on a previous post, while Margaret Hodge helps the BNP once a year, the right-wing tabloids tend to do it day after day. Of the 6 comments that the Express report has attracted, one suggests that the "white english man" is becoming an endangered species; another to send "them" back; Gary1 thinks that it's all about Muslims and Christians; byteback talks of ethnics in much the same way as the article does; spaniel_lover calls for all immigrants from the last 15 years to be repatriated, or failing that, the sterilisation of women from ethnic "minorities" after their second child, something that even the BNP would blanch at, while finally The_Way_I_See_It goes off on a tangent about those of loose morals.

The Sheffield Star, commenting on the plans the council has set out, says:

However, one of the most important features which makes people 'British' is our deep-grained live-and-let-live attitude towards others.

One of the very attitudes which the Express is doing its utmost to do away with. Not bad from a newspaper that claims, in its advertising, to stand for "traditional values".

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Asking the difficult questions.

The media in this country often love to inform of us of how free, fair and indefatigable they are, when the reality is that they're indulgently self-censoring and hindered by a lack of editorial independence from their individual proprietors. Not that you'd know that by their incessant propaganda.

Isn't it strange then that it's taken a German radio reporter to finally ask the McCanns what many will have wanted them to rule out from the very beginning: that they themselves have played no part in Madeleine's disappearance? I personally don't think it very likely that they are involved, but with there being no other seeming leads, other than Murat and a hazy description of a man only one person apparently saw, it's something that they needed to be asked. This isn't to criticise them, or belittle their grief, but rather covering all ends of the story. They've put themselves almost uniquely into the spotlight, taken a decision to run a campaign which could quite easily be described as counterproductive, and the vast majority of the media has been almost entirely obsequious in their behaviour towards them. Put into the equation the fact that the Madeleine fund has now reached a staggering £673,000, and it was certainly in the public interest for them to be asked such a question. The shame was that rather coming from a British reporter willing to asking difficult questions, it came from a brave German journalist who will now likely find herself come under withering condemnation.

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Can we have some more death, please?

If there's one thing I'm sure we can all agree on, it's that there just aren't enough soldiers in Iraq already. What with there being around 150,000 US troops, the Iraqi army, British soldiers in the south and those who make up the various terrorist/resistance groups, who could possibly blame Turkey for wanting a piece of the action?

Although reports are currently sketchy, two security officials briefed MSNBC that several thousand Turkish troops have entered the Kurdish north, ostensibly to go after PKK guerillas, aka the Kurdistan Workers' Party, blamed for a suicide bombing which killed 6 people in Ankara. AP is additionally reporting, according to IraqSlogger, that the Turkish military has requested permission for more extensive operations.

If accurate, such an incursion threatens to throw the relatively stable, at least by comparison to the rest of the country, semi-autonomous Kurdish region into the chaos and the recriminations that it has largely avoided since the US/UK invasion. In a country already the most dangerous on the planet, it seems the poor, benighted Iraqi people just can't get a break. Lenin has more.

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Tuesday, June 05, 2007 

Tough on terrorism, tough on the causes of terrorism?

For the second weekend running, the papers were full of just what our glorious government is going to do to tackle the "ever growing" terrorist threat. While a week previously Tony Blair went out of his way to prove just how little he cares or even understands civil liberties, with John Reid continuing to do his "we're all doomed" act, alongside the irredeemable suggestion that the "sus" laws could be reintroduced, Gordon Brown tried his best to position himself both as a defender of our current rights, while still being "tough" on terrorism. You could almost call it his tough on terror, tough on the causes of terror moment.

Regardless of his pledge to defend our ancient liberties, which should be welcomed when Blair, Reid and Blunkett all repeatedly rode roughshod over them in their pusillanimity in the face of the tabloid shrieks, his plans need close analysis.

Top of the list was the Sun-appeasing measure to increase the maximum detention period for "terrorist suspects" to 90 days. This wasn't much of a surprise;
Brown has long supported the idea, mentioning a number of times how he thinks it's needed. The difference is that Brown has promised that he will increase the judicial oversight involved, although how this would work in practice hasn't been set out. The police already have to go to a judge every week and set out where they are in their investigation so that the continued detention of a suspect is rubber stamped, and the concern has to be that although judges have so far held the police to account well, ordering at least one suspect to be released because it was clear they had no evidence which justified his continued incarceration, that they can't always be depended on to do so, increasing the chances that if the legislation was OK'ed that we could have the prospect of innocent men or women being locked up for three months, something guaranteed to breed alienation, cynicism and further mistrust in the police and security services.

It may well be true that a majority of the public supports such a lengthy time period, as polls suggested last time round. Despite the failures of Forest Gate and the ricin plot that never was trial, most are still prepared to give the police and government the benefit of the doubt when they make clear they believe such legislation is needed. 90 days has however rightly became a civil liberties cause célèbre; it's the defining mark of a government that has already treated civil liberties as something to be abandoned rather than strengthened, ridiculed and undermined rather than respected, going too far. The reality is that 28 days has only been needed in its entirety once since it becoming law, and many of us suspected the police may have being doing so only to make a point. The argument is that it's either needed because of the information coming from abroad involved in building a case, or that encrypted documents on hard drives take time to be broken. As Liberty has pointed out, there already exists a law where you can be charged and prosecuted for refusing to disclose a decryption key, something which is yet to be used. As for the abroad argument, this seems more like a delaying tactic for the police's own lack of resources to deal with such cases: that should never be used as an excuse to hold someone for longer than necessary. 90 days needs to vigorously resisted.

Many of us have long been calling for intercept evidence to be made admissible, and Brown does genuinely seems to have listened. While Reid may have been toying with the idea, only to reject it, Brown has at least suggested that the privy council should hold a review into how it could be introduced. While this is an excellent step forward, Craig Murray provides some sobering inside knowledge which might yet spoil the party:
So the proposal being considered by the Home Office is this – that the defence should not be allowed access to all the material from wiretaps of the accused. The prosecution would have to disclose in full only the conversation, or conversations, being directly quoted from. The security services are prepared to go along with that, and the Home Office believe that the public demand for wiretap evidence to be admissible will drown out any protests from lawyers. We will be told the Security Services are not staffed to cope with fuller disclosure.

You read it here first. As my friend put it: "You see, in the minds of the Home Office, justice equals more convictions."

If accurate, this could well be the equivalent of legions of dodgy dossiers being produced in court as evidence against "terrorist suspects". Intelligence is nuanced, frayed and often inaccurate; it's when you start taking out the caveats, Alastair Campbell-style, and present it as definitive that the problems start, as we know all too well. The one benefit, even if such a discriminatory measure went ahead, would be that we'd at least finally find out exactly what those currently held under control orders are accused of, something which even they have never been informed of. Certainly a case of hoping Brown gives the go-ahead for the review, and then waiting to see what they come up with.

The other high-profile proposal is for the police to be given the power to continue to question and interrogate suspects after they have been charged, something which is at the moment strictly verboten. The attraction is that this might well negate the need for a further extension to 28 days detention without charge, but at the moment it seems to be positioned as another addition rather than a substitution. The exact details of what would be permitted, how long a suspect could be additionally questioned, and other relevant safeguards against potential abuse need to clearly defined and set out, as otherwise this could be far more dangerous than even 90 days without charge would be. Brown is again apparently setting out judicial oversight for the measure, which would need to be even more rigorous than that reviewing the continued detention of a suspect. The possibilities of a suspect being browbeaten into confessions by constant questioning and otherwise are stark: without a clear set of guidelines and like the 90 day proposal, a yearly review by an independent parliamentary committee or individual, it should be rejected.

"Lesser" new initiatives announced by Brown were a suggestion to make terrorism an "aggravating" factor in sentencing, like crimes that are racially motivated are. The obvious problem with that is the very definition of "terrorism", and whether legitimate protests could again be stigmatised as result, as they have been under Section 44 and the protection from harassment legislation,
and as Rachel points out, conspiracy should already be able to cover it. It seems more an attempt to lengthen sentences of those who might be prosecuted for being on the outer edges of plots, involved in fraud or funding, when the law should be enough as it is, with judges' being able to use their discretion.

Brown also apparently wants to give MPs and peers greater powers to scrutinise the work of the security services, toughening up the Intelligence and Security Committee by letting MPs rather than the prime minister elect its members and ensuring that the heads of MI5 and 6 have to give evidence in public, ending the disgrace of
Eliza Manningham-Buller refusing to appear before the Human Rights Committee without a reason why, even though its meeting would have been in secret. This is a decent first step, but it really doesn't go far enough: on July the 6th 2005, Manningham-Buller apparently told MPs that the terror threat was under control. Within a year and six months, the threat that had been under control had ballooned into 30 plots, 200 active terrorist groups or networks, and 1600 individuals either plotting or facilitating attacks, here or abroad. The obvious question then is, was MI5 hopeless prior to 7/7, or have they been burnt by downplaying and instead decided to exaggerate as a better option? We'll most likely never know for sure, but this just proves the need for either a watchdog similar to the Independent Police Complaints Commission for 5 and 6, or for an independent commissioner modeled on something like the information commissioner, whom would have full access to both agencies. This would likely be heavily resisted, but as the poll of 500 Muslims commissioned for Channel 4 demonstrates, we may well need such a measure for trust and faith to be restored.

There's plenty there that's easy to disagree with, but with the exception of the insistence of 90 days needing to be reintroduced, there's nothing that should be rejected out of hand. The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats now need to as much as those of us dedicated to defending civil liberties hold Brown to what he says, and thoroughly overview any new anti-terror proposals. We need to hope that Brown is able to resist the worst excesses of the Scum in demanding ever tougher new laws, as it was instrumental in scuppering any chance that Charles Clarke had of reaching a consensus over his original plans in the aftermath of 7/7. Blair then declared that the rules of the game had changed. Brown can prove they have by remembering that it's governments and draconian, illiberal laws that are the real threat to the public, not murdering terrorists who can be effectively contained by the legislation we already have.

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Between wanting and making.

The Guardian's headline says it all: Rules to make migrates integrate. As always with this government, they don't want people to do something of their own accord, they're going to make them do something, by dropping in threats.

Liam Bryne and Ruth Kelly, both having established themselves as being bloody useless, have written a Fabian pamphlet on integration and "cohesion". As well as introducing a points system for immigration, they propose setting up another one for those seeking citizenship. Those seeking to become British would have to accrue "credits", through time spent here, bringing investment to the country, passing English tests, demonstrating knowledge of the UK, undertaking civic work AND living in a law abiding way. Points would be deducted for that old favourite, anti-social behaviour, fly-tipping or other more serious criminal behaviour.

All of this would make up a "contract", which would be providing to all migrants, setting out what's acceptable and what's not, because they clearly won't understand as they're from foreign countries where they take a shit in the middle of the road and bite the heads off chickens. It's so typically New Labour, so earnestly belittling and patronising that you can almost think they're doing it on purpose. The idea of contracts is clearly one which appeals endlessly to New Labour, as we've previously seen with the proposals from Blair that a citizen, rather than just paying their taxes, needs to make certain agreements with the NHS, schools and the police for services to be provided. It likely started off with the acceptable behaviour contracts that schools themselves often have with unruly pupils, which have since been extended outside the classroom by councils and police who have used them rather than ASBOs and have apparently been a far greater success. The implication though is that New Labour thinks it's perfectly OK to treat us all as naughty children, who need constant clips round the ear to keep them in order.

Migrants are however far easier to bash and talk down to than the actual British population are. The general idea isn't a bad one, it just seems to be making attaining citizenship as onerous as possible for all the wrong reasons, doing something likely to appeal to the tabloids who want the door slammed shut rather than to help make those who want to come and live and work here actually feel welcome.

Similarly twisted is the idea for a "British Values Day". Does anyone know what they are? It's clearly based on the notion that the American sense of patriotism and pride is something worth aspiring towards, when a lot of us quite rightly are sniffy about gratuitous flag-waving and the general belief that any country can be the greatest in the world, with a healthy dose of Christianity seeming to go hand in hand with it. In a nation which is increasingly godless, and which only gets bleary-eyed about the state of the nation when we get knocked out of the football, that seems something to be suspicious about rather than do out of natural joy at the quality of life. The same main problem applies with this at it does with the migrants' credit scheme; it's something that New Labour wants to enforce from above, and if you don't want to celebrate, then they'll make you, like it or not. People have to want to get out the bunting. By all means, give us an extra bank holiday. But don't make us do something in order to deserve it.

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Monday, June 04, 2007 

Where's Naomi Klein when you need her?

Let's face it: the British public at times has utterly appalling taste. We've been putting up with soaps for the last 50 years, Heartbeat still exists and somehow the sixties are still continuing, Little Britain and Catherine Tate are the most popular comedies, a third movie based on a theme park ride which was panned by the critics is number one at the box office, and to cap it all, Rihanna with her UMBRELLA ELLA ELLA ELLA EH EH EH is sitting on top of the singles chart.

To remind us then that we can still tell shit on a stick when we see it, the logo for the 2012 Olympics has been universally pilloried. Tory stuck-up shagger extraordinaire Seb Coe, who has a face so punchable it's a wonder that he doesn't have a permanent black eye, solemnly informed us:

It's not a logo, it's a brand that will take us forward for the next five years.

And then Tessa "I've never met my husband" Jowell opined that:

"This is an iconic brand that sums up what London 2012 is all about - an inclusive, welcoming and diverse Games that involves the whole country.

"It takes our values to the world beyond our shores, acting both as an invitation and an inspiration.

"This is not just a marketing logo, but a symbol that will become familiar, instantly recognisable and associated with our Games in so many ways during the next five years."

Great. Just one problem: what the fuck is it meant to be, look like, or do, other than be hideously garish and look like it was shat out by a jaded marketing employee just before he went home on a Friday to jerk himself into oblivion and cry himself to sleep?

Maybe I'm a little slow, but it took me a couple of hours to realise that these crudely cut out shapes are meant to somehow look like 2012. Is it also meant to sort of look like a runner on his marks, or is that just my imagination? The first thing I thought of when I saw it was it sort of looks like someone "walking like an Egyptian". Skewed at an angle. Or someone scratch mixing on some invisible decks. Other suggestions for what it looks like have come thick and fast. Mr Eugenides thinks it looks like Lisa Simpson giving someone head, which if you're so inclined, the internet can provide comparison with. Others have identified that it looks a little like a swastika cut up, which would be fitting with the kind of approach the government have taken to anyone criticising the planning for the Olympics: to quote Tessa Jowell responding to a Tory, that was a vote for Paris!

The ministers, it seems, have fallen hook line and sinker for the whole Wolff Olins manifesto of managerial corporate bollocks. Their website is so offensively awful, complete with huge BRAND = pages, that it seems like the kind of satire that Chris Morris would subject the world of advertising agencies devising brand strategies to. No one seems to have informed them that the very reason why brands have had to become so insidious, so ingratiatingly offensive and in your face is because all subtlety has been removed because they think people can't handle it any more. From the people who brought you FCUK, that hilarious and brilliant two-fingered salute to the squares who think a word that looks much like fuck being emblazoned across t-shirts and billboards isn't very clever or amusing, now comes RED, which Olins worships, meaning that you can go on consuming the same as before, but now a certain amount of profits go to Aids victims in Africa, which makes it all better. It of course had to be the work of Bono, whom alongside Bob Geledof has spent the last God knows how many years telling the poor to give all their money to charity, while never seeming to do much to redistribute their own vast wealth. Some would call it ironic that companies such as Gap, which have long used sweatshop labour and paid their suppliers an absolute pittance, and Motorola, one of the very companies that is currently bleeding the Democratic Republic of Congo dry through grabbing its reserves of coltan in order to produce tantalum, which makes up the essential parts of mobile phones amongst other things, are paid up members of RED: I would call it the ever tightening grasp of capitalism pretending to compassionate while still spitting in everyone's face.

How could New Labour not fall hopelessly in love with such a vacuous, self-serving ideology? It perfectly reflects everything they've ever stood for. The logo itself is, as others have already identified, is a perfect metaphor for what the games themselves will inevitably become - a ingloriously expensive failure that we'll be cursing for decades.

Still, at least someone managed to get the BBC to put this delightful parody up on their alternative logos page, before it was hastily pulled:

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BlogPower awards.

Yes, it's another set of blogging awards, but don't groan, because these are an attempt to redress the balance between the "big guns" and the more moderate successes out there. The categories are:

  • Best Britblog or Column
  • Best North American Blog or Column
  • Best Blog or Column outside North America and the U.K.
  • Best Fisker
  • Best Ranter
  • Best Political Blog or Column
  • Best Blogpower Blog or Column
  • Best Layout and Style
  • Best Blog Name
  • Best Little Blogger [i.e. under 100 uniques a day]
  • Most Articulate Wordsmith
  • Most Under-rated Blog or Column
  • Most Over-rated Blog or Column
  • Most Politically Incorrect Blog or Column
  • Most Sadly Missed Blog or Column
  • Most Consistently Entertaining Blog or Column
  • Prettiest or Tastiest Blog or Column [refers to food or domestic bloggers]
  • Award for Services to Blogging
  • Best Post of All Time
  • Most Unintentionally Humorous post

Nominations are open until 21:00 tomorrow, so there's still plenty of time for any that have missed out so far.

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Tabloids in printing bullshit yet again shocker.

Another two essential reads over on Five Chinese Crackers. Firstly the Mail and Sun get taken apart over their embellishment of a non-story about a crematorium replacing their benches, which they exaggerated into benches across the country needing replacing at the cost of hundreds of thousands of pounds. He called the council and spoke to the press office, something that neither of them did, and got a unsurprisingly different account of events. Then there's the Scum's lame "APC" feature about alleged political correctness in schools, which I started to fisk on Saturday, only to give up because it rapidly made me lose the will to live. Someone is thankfully made of stronger stuff.

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Saturday, June 02, 2007 

10 weeks of absolute fucking hell.

Living on the edge of a city in a village surrounded by farms, you still never get used to the smell that often emanates from the surrounding fields after a healthy dose of spraying. You know it's going to happen, that there's going to be a smell which permeates almost everything, and will slowly but surely drive you crazy, but there's nothing you can do about it, save turning arsonist and burning down the shit-loving masochist's living quarters.

Much of which could be said about Big Brother. It's the stinking putrescence of vanity, greed and idiocy that blares at you from the television, occupies the front pages of those excrement purveyors, the tabloids, and tries to infiltrate its way inside your skull, infecting your brain and turning it inexorably to a maggot-ridden decaying reeking orb, being eaten away as the very oxygen you breathe itself seems to have become stale as a result of the demoralising, blanketing vacuity of it all. It's the nose-wrinkling decomposition of all that terrestrial television once stood for, laid bare, eviscerated for all to see, completely inescapable unless you decided to board up your windows, smash the goggle-box, throw the radio out the window and stay in bed living on tinned food for the best part of 3 months.

Yep, It's back. Despite being forced to issue 3 groveling apologies over its handling of the racism row in the celebrity version, the seeming opiate of the young masses has returned, as if its return had ever been in doubt. When it comes down to it, it's all about cash: Channel 4 probably simply can't afford not to keep Big Brother going, as according to MediaGrauniad it makes £50 million a year.

Both Endemol and Channel 4 have of course learned nothing from the controversy surrounding Shilpa and Jade, or rather, they have learned everything. Why else would they have purposefully chosen a house entirely populated by women otherwise? The biggest ructions of the last two series' have all surrounded the female housemates and their ability to bitch about and loathe each other, so why not go the whole way and centre the whole pointless exercise around just that? The other factor informing such a decision has to be pure cynicism: nearly all the young women featured in the show of late have sold both their souls and their bodies to the teenage wank mags, whether they originally intended to or not. This depressing development was almost certainly taken with such a prior knowledge that this series will doubtless turn out much the same. The Scum has already acknowledged this in a nasty, misogynistic tone: calling the younger housemates beauties while those older or not as good looking are "beasts". The MurdochSpace/Facebook profiles have all been inevitably raided, with the photographs splashed across the front pages.

It could all be so different. Channel 4 can still produce fantastic programmes when it wants to, as Peep Show could not more exemplify, the 4th series recently coming to an end with the writing as fresh, inventive, reflective and hilarious as it was during the first. It occupied the 10:30 slot on a Friday, which Big Brother will now miserably fill. While that show bases itself around the thoughts of its two main characters, Big Brother only viscerally identifies the emptiness going on inside the brains of both the contestants, producers and commissioners. It worships at the throne of all that is wrong in the world, combining naivety with exploitation, emphasising that you too can become rich and famous, at least for 15 minutes, as long as you debase yourself enough in front of millions of people. It's masturbation for the mind without the fleeting moment of pleasure, the self-hatred and misery which swiftly follow instead becoming the enduring feeling and emotion.

The one relief is that at least it's 3 weeks shorter than last year's effort, as even its most ardent fans admitted that fatigue set in long before the end. As for the tabloids' obsession, for reasons known only to myself the Big Brother paper-watch will again be operating, with likely ever diminishing returns. It might take a death before it finally gets pulled, although it'll be too late for the girl who committed suicide because she wasn't allowed to watch.

Related posts:
13 weeks of absolute fucking hell.
Stockholm syndrome.

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Friday, June 01, 2007 

The heartless inhumanity of Cardinal Keith O'Brien.

Where to even begin with the latest religious cunt to decide that he has the moral authority to tell women what they can and can't do with their own versions of him? Luckily, or unluckily, depending on your view, the Scottish Catholic Media Office have been kind enough to put his full rant disguised as a sermon up on their website:

Skipping some tedious nonsense about God placing himself in Mary's womb:

The joy of that meeting holds out to us the message of delight that should accompany every pregnancy. With every life conceived God acts directly to create a new and unique human being, a person destined to life everlasting. Sadly, joy is not always the dominant emotion evoked by news of pregnancy in the world we live in today.

No, because you see, friends don't throw baby showers, we don't have welcome our new citizens sections in the local newspapers, and everyone doesn't whip round to provide support once the baby arrives, nor are businesses obliged to give both maternity and paternity leave. Ignoring the specious idiocy of a God somehow being behind the creation of a new human being (do we really have to go through the birds and the bees with a fucking middle-aged man?), joy isn't always the first emotion because not every woman who becomes pregnant can either cope with having a child or properly care for it. The problem with the Catholic church has always been that it can't cope with the modern world, where pain and poverty are realities that can't be solved by believing in a spiritual being; these are always put to the side when it comes to "innocent" life being ended for the greater good, or even when those with terminal illnesses in unbearable agony desperately want to die. In fact, this to some of them is the whole point: we have to suffer, or go through these challenges. That we can escape them through our own decision making is an offense to the great creator, who according to them gave us that very ability in the first place, then was greatly miffed when the first two decided to exercise them.

Today as we remember the Visitation we mark the “Day for Life” in Scotland, with a mixture of emotions, celebrating the gift of life but remembering also the tragic loss of life. Abortion is the theme for this year’s “Day for Life” which significantly is the 40th anniversary of the passing of the abortion act. In those 40 years the loss of life has been staggering. Around 7 million lives have been ended as a consequence of that one piece of legislation.

Except they never existed outside of the womb in the first place. They were never really lives in the sense that we associate life; trying to impose the belief that a sentient being that can feel pain exists from the second of conception is not only wrong, it's against all scientific evidence.

We were told that backstreet abortions were killing women and had to be decriminalised. We were told abortion would only be used in extreme cases. We were told medical scrutiny would be rigorous. We were told a – lies and misinformation masquerading as compassion and truth.

Here come the lies. Backstreet abortions did kill women, and continue to kill women in countries where abortion is unavailable and they can't travel to somewhere where it is legal. Only a few weeks back a young woman from Ireland had to go to court to be allowed to travel to the UK for an abortion, in a case where the baby had no head and would have only lived for a couple of days outside the womb. Under the kind of laws which O'Brien would prefer, she would have been expected to go through the trauma of taking such a child to full term, only for it to die much likely in far more pain than had it been aborted as soon as the abnormality was discovered. Abortion is still used only in extreme cases, as the number carried out each year still suggests. Medical scrutiny is rigorous, as two doctors as still required to give their permission for an abortion to go ahead. The only one lying here is the cunt claiming to be speaking the truth, but is instead spreading the same old misinformation he assaults.

The scale of the killing is beyond our grasp. In Scotland we kill the equivalent of a classroom full of school children every day.
For many women abortion has become an alternative form of birth control. The lives of the babies involved are not at risk any more than the lives of their mothers are threatened by pregnancy. Abortions to save the life of a woman are almost unheard of. As a society we wilfully ignore these realities.

More lies. There were 13,081 abortions in Scotland last year, and considering the population is around 5 million, that hardly suggests that it has become an alternative form of birth control, which incidentally the Catholic church also continues to campaign against, with far more horrific results in Africa through Aids. The whole of O'Brien's pitiful argument completely ignores the mental anguish which all of those 13,000 women will have gone through before they seek an abortion, treating them as if they have no minds of their own. He is willfully ignoring that reality.

We need to build, once again, a society, which joyfully accepts new life. The abortion industry has impacted massively on the values of our society as its proponents continue to spread their culture of death. There is acceptance of a philosophy, which permits the destruction of children in the haven of their mother’s womb.

Pathetic, disingenuous, plain wrong rhetoric. There is no such thing as an "abortion industry", rather a health service that provides the compassion, counseling and support which O'Brien has none of. The only place a culture of death exists is within armies that proclaim that they don't do bodycounts, and in the minds of the salafist revivalists who like to suggest they love death more than life, people who coincidentally would more than likely share the same views on abortion as the cardinal. There's an acceptance of "a philosophy" because modern society has came to the conclusion that women can make their own choices about their bodies and their life, something which authoritarian figures who claim to speak out of love of life would like to deny out of their own selfish imposed from above doctrines.

We must remain witnesses to the truth and be unambiguous in defending life in all that we do. I have campaigned on behalf of the developing world, urging the G8 nations to act in defence of life. I have campaigned against the indiscriminate killing power of nuclear weapons and in defence of innocent life; I speak out today in defence of life at its most vulnerable and defenceless.

Which is your prerogative, but ignores the fact that you have no idea of the situation of every single woman who seeks an abortion, and that the consequences can often be worse than if one was not taken.

It is not easy to turn societies against the natural urge to protect young life. Yet care and concern for children is still very much alive. We are gripped with concern when news coverage of a child snatched or harmed appears on our television screens. We have ached over the disappearance of young Madeleine McCann in Portugal; together with her parents we know the inestimable worth of one precious life. Yes life is precious and precious also are those lives that are snuffed out in darkness hidden from the world.

The difference being that Madeleine is a living thinking being that can feel pain and has been taken against the will of her parents, something that cannot be compared to the decision of a woman to end the life growing inside her before the time limits set out under the Abortion Act.

Let us build up within our society a generation of medical professionals who are unwilling to cooperate in the slaughter. I call on our universities and medical schools to teach that all human life deserves protection. I call on our hospitals to end testing procedures designed only for targeting and killing the weak and infirm. I call on all politicians to answer one simple question: will you protect the right to life of all persons in our society from conception until natural death? And I call on you to hold these elected representatives to account.

I call on you to fuck off and let all those people decide for themselves, instead of trying to impose your own unpopular, illogical and dangerous views on the public that has been shown to support the right of women to choose. I call on you to look at the rafter in your own eye, as the Bible you supposedly adhere to teaches. What gives you the right to decide that people should not seek an end to unbearable pain? This disgusting arrogance condemns those who plead for their misery to be ended to a death which no one other than a masochistic cunt would wish for. The example of Mario Riccio recently in Italy, who thanked the doctor who helped him to die, shows that those who demand human treatment for those who are not yet human only leads to inhumanity at the other end of the scale.

For those unwilling to give this support we must be unwilling to give our vote. History will judge us on where we stood in this crucial issue. But there is a judgement more important than history. We shall all stand before the judgment seat of God.

Sounds good to me. All those who oppose the right to choose can be left with their own tiny, reactionary hateful party, never getting anywhere near power. History will judge the damage done by such irrational beliefs harshly, of that we can be certain.

I urge politicians to have no truck with the evil trade of abortion. For those at Westminster this means finding means of overthrowing the legislation, which makes the killing possible. For those at Holyrood that means refusing to allow our health services to participate in the wanton killing of the innocent. Peace cannot be built in the shadow of the abortion rooms.

What the fuck are you talking about you oleaginous cunt? The only evil here is those who demand that others adhere to their views out of their sordid, warped beliefs. Wanton killing is going on in Darfur and Iraq, not in the abortion rooms where it is only carried out with the greatest of reluctance. Peace already exists; only those who twist themselves in knots over things outside of their control are up in arms.

In making this call, I speak most especially to those who claim to be Catholic. I ask them to examine their consciences and discern if they are playing any part in sustaining this social evil. I remind them to avoid cooperating in the unspeakable crime of abortion and the barrier such cooperation erects to receiving Holy Communion. As St. Paul warns us “whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup.”

There you are then, Catholics; if you too don't deny women the right to choose, then you may as well not believe in the same God at all. The same sort of ignorant, wrong thinking that puts up walls and starts wars rather than builds bridges.

I would be failing as a pastor not to highlight the gravity of this situation not just to law makers but to anyone: mother; father; boyfriend; counsellor who in any way leads a mother to abortion.

All of whom know far, far better than you what the mother goes through.

There is much we can do. We can urge support for legislation which may not be perfect but improves the situation, legislation aimed at reducing abortion limits or bills ensuring that parents be informed if their children seek an abortion, can be supported as long as it is made clear that one is in principle against all abortions. Proposals to ensure women contemplating abortion are given full details about the physical and emotional risks to themselves and about foetal development should be backed.

So parents should be informed if their child is seeking an abortion, but a mature adult should still be denied the right in the first place. Makes as much sense as much the rest of Catholic doctrine. All this is about making abortion more difficult, not about actually helping women to make their choice, which is what it's usually dressed up as. In any case, to suggest that women don't know what they're what they're about to go through shows the chauvinistic, heartless, almost misogynistic nature of O'Brien's views.

We can work to ensure that the more light, which is shone on this terrible procedure the less acceptable it will be to our society. Signs of hope are appearing, earlier this month it was reported that many doctors are no longer willing to cooperate in abortion. They know, better than most, the humanity of the unborn. We need to support anyone who takes the same line believing always that truth will eventually triumph.

The truth, being as we know, a very loose concept.

In returning to the scene of the visitation we see that in bringing our Lord to the house of Elizabeth, Mary brought great joy, even to inspiring joy in the unborn John the Baptist. As we carry Christ to the rest of society may our voices be a cause of joy for the unborn in our society."

And may those voices fall upon the heavy, stony ground, where they belong.

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Same old Tories, always spinning.

Coulson with former star hack, Mazher Mahmood.

Remember how David Cameron claimed that he wanted to put an end to "Punch and Judy" politics? How the Tories have decried spin for years? We knew only too well that it was mood music, designed mainly to point out the difference between how the new caring, sharing, happy shining Conservative party would listen to the public while the mean old nasty Labour party would continue to govern by decree, legislate on the back of a fag packet and change its mind with the swing of each Sun leader, but just how vacuous and lacking in substance those messages were is confirmed by Cameron's appointment of Andy Coulson, ex-News of the Screws editor and a Murdoch protege as "director of communications", the latest euphemism for spin doctor.

The instant comparison has been with Alastair Campbell, who before he became Blair's liar-in-chief was the Daily Mirror's political editor, as well as having a stint in the same slot at Murdoch's doomed attempt at a "left" tabloid, Today. The difference however is that Campbell never had the full reins over either paper, something that Coulson most certainly did. After taking over at the Screws from Rebekah Wade, he plowed much the same furrow as she did; hysterical campaigns against paedophiles, alarmingly right-wing commentary from the likes of Lord Stevens, and the occasional investigative entrapment dispatch from a man described in court as "dangerously deceitful, ruthless, exploitative and corrupt", namely one Mazher Mahmood. The Grauniad's Diary provides a brief summary of some of Coulson's greatest hits:

How very reassuring that the chap charged with making sure the Broon gets a good press is a career civil servant and top Treasury policy wonk, while the one doing exactly the same job for the boy Cameron is an ex-editor of Britain's biggest-selling newspaper who exposed Becks's affair with Becca and Mark Oaten's adventures with rent boys, accused Wayne of slapping Coleen and Ashley of enjoying "gay orgies", paid witnesses at Posh's kidnap trial, and finally resigned after one of his correspondents was found guilty of bugging mobile phones belonging to members of the royal family.

Coulson was additionally fully behind the attempts by Mazher Mahmood to gag blogs such as this one which had republished his photograph after his failed attempt to entrap George Galloway, enlisting the royal family's favoured solicitors, Farrer & Co, to gain an injunction, which ultimately failed due to their own incompetence and flagrant hypocrisy. Also worth mentioning is his publishing of the smear job perpetuated against the Koyair brothers - accusing one of them of shooting the other, something proven by the IPCC report to be completely untrue, then publishing the additional lies about one having child pornography; the failure of the "red mercury" trial, another Mahmood special; and finally, although it appeared in the Scottish Screws, the smears on Tommy Sheridan after he won his case against the paper.

Coulson was recently cleared by the toothless PCC of having any involvement in Clive Goodman and Glenn Mulcaire's conspiracy to hack or bug mobile phones, including those of Prince William, which raised a number of eyebrows. Coulson himself, because he resigned on the day the two were sentenced, was not called to give evidence: instead his replacement, Colin Myler did. Mulcaire was being paid over £100,000 a year by the Screws, a vast sum within the Murdoch empire for someone outside the top rungs. The paper claimed to the PCC that it was unaware of the work that Mulcaire was additionally doing for Goodman, and that his wage was based on the "legal and legitimate" work he did, mainly lower level searches and investigation through databases, and certainly not anything to do with the underhand methods which he also practiced, which involved hacking into the phones of Simon Hughes, Rebekah Wade and possibly even Max Clifford and David Blunkett. Mulcaire's work was in fact just the tip of the iceberg when it came to the Screws' and other Sunday newspapers reliance on private investigators for the dirt they print week after week; figures released by the Information Commissioner showed that 19 journalists from the paper had used the services of one who had his property raided. Coulson of course knew nothing of any of this.

Not that Coulson is even on that friendly terms with some within the Tory party. During the heat of the argument about Cameron's alleged drug use, the paper splashed with allegations that George Osbourne, Cameron's best mate and fellow Etonian, had used cocaine in the company of prostitutes, something he decried as "completely untrue" and "a smear campaign".

We shouldn't really be all that surprised though. Cameron is no longer being subtle about where he wants to take the party: as the grammar school rebel Graham Brady alleged, he's obsessed with Blairism, the route that he's decided will win them the next election, modelling themselves as the true heirs to 10 years of wars and spin by err, putting the country through God knows how many more years of much the same. In order to bring such a miserable future ever nearer, Cameron has to win over the Scum, which has been highly sniffy of Cameron's efforts so far. Who better to do that than Coulson, someone formerly on a direct line to Murdoch and a friend of Rebekah Wade? As noted yesterday, the Scum's still clearly in love with Blair, but unsure of just how Brown's going to govern, despite his attempts at gaining Wade's undying affection by regularly lunching with her. With Coulson at the helm for the Tories, Murdoch might just be persuaded to change sides. As for the rest of us, fed up with Blairism and of a Tory party which offers nothing other than more of the same, we may as well go swing.

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