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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