Saturday, July 14, 2007 

Scum-watch: Finally apologising to the Kalam family, and other stories.

In the early hours of the 2nd of June 2006, the home of the Kalam family in Forest Gate was raided by anti-terrorist police. Acting on intelligence which had more holes in it than Abdul Kahar's shoulder shortly would, searching for what was variously described as a chemical device, an explosive device designed to spray out cyanide, or a suicide vest with a similar function, they broke down the door, shot one of the brothers and beat Hanif, a next-door neighbour, around the head with the butt of a gun. Their ordeal however was from far over. Not only were they entirely innocent and the victims of a heavy-handed police operation, but they were shortly to find themselves at the centre of some of the most dishonest, sensationalised and disgraceful reporting to have appeared in the tabloid media for quite some time.

Today the Sun finally apologised to the Kalam family.

IN articles last summer following the arrest in Forest Gate of the Kalam brothers, we incorrectly reported that Abul Koyair had criminal convictions, that the brothers did not tell police where substantial cash found at their home had come from and that charges were brought over paedophile images found on Abdulkahar’s computer.

We also reported that there was an inquiry into allegations that the brothers had insulted and spat at soldiers outside their barracks.

In fact, no charges were brought over the computer, which was second hand, police were immediately informed of the cash savings and no evidence was found by the inquiry that the brothers had insulted or spat at soldiers.

We accept that the brothers are not involved in terrorism and apologise for the embarrassment caused.

Just to underline how important this apology is, here's where it's featured on the Sun's website:

All too late for the suffering the family went through not just because of a police mistake, but because the media, no doubt helpfully briefed by the police themselves, set out to smear them guilty. Victoria Brittain wrote this back in November:

Mr Kahar today is traumatised, struggling with lost confidence, sleeplessness, flashbacks and guilt for his mother's distress. Until June he was a cheerful young man working for Royal Mail, where he had been through a vetting procedure and signed the Official Secrets Act as a driver/collector of material from such places as banks and police stations. He was able to manage this workload despite being dyslexic.

To me, this is far more serious than the BBC making a mistake about the Queen which it almost instantly apologised for once they discovered it was wrong. As a result of the Sun's willingness to help counter the police's acute embarrassment, sell newspapers and believe the worst about anyone who either happens to have a long beard or brown skin, a family could quite easily have been broken apart. For it take over a year for them to accept that they were even in the slightest bit wrong about any of their stories concerning the brothers is not just unacceptable, it's the perfect example of how distant the media actually is from the people it's meant to represent, of how its power can be so easily abused. A liar recently described the Independent as "feral"; by that standard, the Sun is rabid.

Speaking of the Queen, there's no let up in the Sun's anger over the BBC's insult to our glorious monarch:

Dame Helen’s comments came as it emerged that the BBC KNEW clips apparently showing the Queen storming out of a picture session were wrong within hours of them being shown to journalists.

But it apologised only at noon on Thursday — 17 HOURS after learning the truth the evening before.

In a typical piece of Scum disinformation, it doesn't explain why the BBC took 17 hours to apologise. As the Guardian states:

It was agreed with the palace that a statement would not be put out until the following morning, but that left the BBC open to accusations it was milking the publicity before putting the record straight. Corporation insiders now admit they should have been quicker to alert newspapers and try to kill the story.

Lastly, the Scum saves its unrighteous anger for the speech delivered by Douglas Alexander, given in America, which touched on foreign policy:

Mr Brown insists he values the Special Relationship — yet actions speak louder than words.

Few are as close to him as his Trade Secretary Douglas Alexander. So why is this pipsqueak allowed to lecture the U.S. on its foreign policy?

There could barely be a more provocative act.

Here are some excerpts from Alexander's provocative lecture:

"In the 20th century a country's might was too often measured in what they could destroy. In the 21st century strength should be measured by what we can build together. And so we must form new alliances, based on common values, ones not just to protect us from the world, but ones which reach out to the world." He described this as "a new alliance of opportunity".

We need to demonstrate by our deeds, words and our actions that we are internationalist, not isolationist, multilateralist, not unilateralist, active and not passive, and driven by core values, consistently applied, not special interests."

"Given the interconnected nature of the challenges we face, I would argue that we have to simultaneously be fighting to end poverty, to secure trade justice and to tackle conflict and climate change, as well as working to defeat terrorism and ensure the preservation of our security."

Have you ever read such a stinging rebuke? I know I haven't. The Scum continues:

Especially so soon after the PM’s appalling decision to appoint Lord Malloch Brown as his minister for Africa, Asia and the UN.

This is a man who delighted in savaging America in his last job at the UN and who has no place in the British Government.

Just why is the Sun so disgusted by Lord Malloch Brown's appointment? Could it possibly be because in his "savaging" of America at the UN he stated that:

"Today on a very wide number of areas, from Lebanon and Afghanistan to Syria, Iran and the Palestinian issue, the US is constructively engaged with the UN," he said.

"But that is not well known or understood in part because much of the public discourse that reaches the US heartland has been largely abandoned to the UN's loudest detractors such as Rush Limbaugh and Fox News. The UN's role is in effect a secret in Middle America."

Dare to suggest that a Murdoch-owned subsidiary might just be responsible for the way the United Nations is viewed in the US, and you can expect to have opprobrium heaped on top of you for the rest of your natural life.

The Scum in fact isn't advocating a special relationship - a relationship involves criticism, talking to each other, working out problems and coming to compromises - what the Sun wants amounts to a relationship beset by violence and intimidation, where we're forced to blindly follow everything that America ever does, no matter what the consequences are, either for us, or the world itself. It didn't used to be like this. Thatcher and Reagan used to have blazing rows and disagreed on a number of issues, but it didn't affect the partnership. It's only been under the neo-conservatism which Murdoch has embraced, which accepts no criticism and expects only loyalty, whatever the cost, that our influence over America has completely disappeared. After all that's happened in the last four years, you'd expect that we at the very least ought to take stock of what's gone wrong and why, but instead the Scum demands that nothing change. While Wade no longer has Kemp to bash, she's still got a Labour prime minister to bitch slap.

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Friday, July 13, 2007 

Storm in one's teacup.

Has there ever been such a relative non-issue blown out of all distinguishable proportion? The BBC, while presenting a preview of its autumn schedule to a room of hacks, shows a tape of a forthcoming programme, following the Queen around for a year, which features the celebrity photographer Annie Leibovitz taking Liz's portrait. Suggesting she remove the tiara, because it's too "dressy", Brenda replies, quite reasonably, dressed up in the regalia which she must loathe, what Leibovitz's thinks the rest of it is.

So far, all quite reasonable. Amazing news story - a woman in her 80s is a little grouchy about having to go through the rigmarole that she's lived with her whole life. The problem was that the next scene shows the Queen appear to have stormed out, when in fact the shot shows her going in for the sitting. It's only after the media hacks had wrote up the story, with both the Scum and Guardian featuring it on their front pages that the palace appears to have got in touch with the fact that it wasn't what actually happened.

The BBC, having been informed of the mistake, made not by them but the company responsible for the film, immediately apologises, both to the Queen and Leibovitz. You'd think that would be the end of the matter, but oh no, not when so many others have their own bones to pick with the BBC.

The Times, with Murdoch being no fan of the monarchy but hating the BBC far more, splashed on it. Crisis of trust, it screams, coming in the same week that it was fined after deceiving watchers of Blue Peter when it faked the winner of a competition. That itself was a far less serious willful piece of deception than that which the makers of Channel 4's Richard and Judy were fined £150,000 over - with allegations made about similar practices on GMTV which might involve millions of pounds be defrauded from viewers, but it was enough for the Scum to write a blistering leader comment about, never missing a chance to smack the Beeb.

The Times' article though is nothing compared to the Scum's own take on this latest embarrassing mistake. BBC lied about Queen's strop, it shrieks, in an article only written by an "Online reporter", which also claims that the BBC admitted that they had lied, something they have most certainly not. They themselves were mislead by the footage they had been provided with, which they have now said should never have been broadcast.

As followers of this blog probably know, the Scum accusing anyone of lying is akin to George Bush suggesting that the those who oppose him are in denial. Where do we even begin with the mistakes that it's made in the last couple of years? The most recent sufferers of the Scum's insistence on sensationalising its crime coverage were the family of Janet Hossain, informed by the newspaper that she was wearing "bondage" clothing and died as a result of "a kinky sex session which got out of hand". 2 weeks later it was forced to admit that neither of those things were true. Rochelle Holness's family have never received an apology for the article stating that she had been dismembered by her murderer while she was still alive, and the article still exists on the Sun's website. The Sun has told so many lies about the Human Rights Act, and yes, they are definitely lies rather than simple mistakes, that's it been difficult to keep count. Add to this how late last year it scaremongered about the amount of Eastern Europeans who had HIV/AIDS and TB, based on figures that just happened to be wholly inaccurate, and how the non-existent Muslim yobs were never fully apologised for, and you have the picture of an unaccountable newspaper that only says sorry when forced to and which plays fast and loose with the emotions of families that have just lost loved ones.

Compared to how the BBC "groveled" to the Queen yesterday about the mistake, correcting it as soon as it came to light and dressing themselves in sackcloth and ashes for good measure, you'd think that the Sun would show some humility, and there is at least no leader comment, as I have to admit I expected. Instead we'll have to make do with the reader comments, one of which just has to be featured:
Why the hell are we forced to pay for this tabloid corporation ...

Oh, my aching sides. Irony continues to smother everything. To be fair, there is one lone voice of reason on the Sun's comment page (The Times' is just as filled with BBC bashing zealots, two of whom don't happen to live here):

Who really cares? If someone was forced to resign every time there was a bit of bad judgement, there would be a lot of unemployed people.

And not just the Sun, but every single newspaper in the land wouldn't be getting put together tonight.

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Good riddance to Black rubbish.

Shed a tear then for poor, misunderstood clearly innocent Conrad Black. He faces a likely sentence of between 15 and 20 years in prison, after being convicted on three counts of mail fraud and one of obstructing justice. He was acquitted of nine other charges, among them wire fraud and racketeering.

The rise and fall of such haughty, arrogant and at times seemingly invincible public figures is always something to behold. While Black's denouement has nothing on when
Cap'n Bob went for a unplanned dip in the Atlantic, to see him brought to account for his crimes while Maxwell's were only discovered after his death ought to gladden the hearts of all those who've previously found themselves defrauded by the uncaring corporate face of capitalism.

Unlike Maxwell however, the establishment chose to ennoble, recognise and salute Black. While Maxwell won the support of the electorate of his constituency for the duration of his six-year stay in parliament, it was that paragon of virtue Tony Blair that saw fit to elevate Black into the Lords. Black jumped through hoops, renouncing his Canadian citizenship, in order to sit in that most regal and outdated of chambers and become Baron Black of Crossharbour in Tower Hamlets. It was a cruel irony, and typical of the contempt that both New Labour and the Telegraph group which he once owned have for the poor that this most opulent, extravagant and decadent of press barons was in effect representing the most economically deprived borough in the country.

Questions will now again be raised of whether those within the Telegraph during Black's ignoble reign either knew what he was doing, or if they were over protective and unwilling to question their quick to anger and dismissive boss. Even now under Barclay brothers, the paper has still gone out of its way to be accommodating to its former owner, allowing him to write a riposte to
Tom Bower's biography, the prose marked by the Telegraph's own description as in Black's "characteristically pugnacious manner". Others might call it his narcissistic unwillingness to accept any criticism of either himself or his gorgeous, pouting wife, Barbara Amiel, who once boasted that her own extravagance knew no bounds, since passed off as "self-satire". Even if she was being self-deprecating, that doesn't alter the fact that in a profile of her in Vogue the reporter drooled about her belongings:

"a fur closet, a sweater closet, a closet for shirts and T-shirts and a closet so crammed with evening gowns that the overflow has to be kept in yet more closets downstairs".

And there was more - a dozen Hermès Birkin bags, 30 or 40 handbags made by Renaud Pellegrino, and more than 100 pairs of Manolo Blahnik shoes.

Additionally, unlike Maxwell, who despite being a disastrous businessman, union basher and in the 60s declared unfit to head a public company was still a Labour supporter, Black turned the Telegraph and its titles even further to the right, introducing such calm and measured minds as Mark Steyn, currently convinced that Europe is about to be taken over by the Muslim hordes, and err, Barbara Amiel, given a whole page of broadsheet to pen her diatribes about how evil the BBC's coverage of Israel/Palestine is and why Ariel Sharon should have hit the Palestinians even harder than he dared. The editorial line on the same issue was almost as harsh, while support for war in Iraq was enthusiastic, although in mitigation the Tories' themselves were if anything more gung-ho in 2003 than Labour was.

His conviction ought to give us hope that more of the unaccountable, greedy and misleading purveyors of pure shit morning, noon and night can be brought down to size.
Roy Greenslade, in a piece of apologism for Black which the lying, stealing bastard doesn't in the slightest deserve points out that he was not the worst of newspaper owners. True. Many of us can't wait for the day that Rupert Murdoch finds himself in the cell next to Black. Who will complain to us in print that they're like holiday camps then?

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Thursday, July 12, 2007 

The other war.

Lenin has an excellent overview of a similarly brilliant piece of research and reporting on the experiences of 50 US Iraq war veterans, almost uniformly depressing. A taster:

We heard a few reports, in one case corroborated by photo­graphs, that some soldiers had so lost their moral compass that they'd mocked or desecrated Iraqi corpses. One photo, among dozens turned over to The Nation during the investigation, shows an American soldier acting as if he is about to eat the spilled brains of a dead Iraqi man with his brown plastic Army-issue spoon.

"Take a picture of me and this motherfucker," a soldier who had been in Sergeant Mejía's squad said as he put his arm around the corpse. Sergeant Mejía recalls that the shroud covering the body fell away, revealing that the young man was wearing only his pants. There was a bullet hole in his chest.

"Damn, they really fucked you up, didn't they?" the soldier laughed.

The scene, Sergeant Mejía said, was witnessed by the dead man's brothers and cousins.

It's not that men are bad people, or that they don't feel guilt, which usually kicks in once they eventually finish their extended tours of duty. Rather, it's that the situation is both so bad, and that the punishments for ill-treatment or "accidental" killing are either non-existent or so unlikely that the incidents aren't worth writing up, as well that the Iraqis themselves have been dehumanised by the officers in charge, routinely referred to as either "hajis" or by other pejoratives, that so many innocents have died as a result. It's both the colonial mindset, along with the absolute power that these almost uniquely young men have over those they're meant to be protecting that corrupts them, at least while they're there and trying to stay alive that does the most damage, and there seems to be very little that can be done to stop it from continuing, without a complete step-change in policy which we all know isn't going to happen.

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Scum-watch: Continuing to bleat about terror.

We shall no doubt be treated tomorrow to a rant on how evil and insidious the BBC's mistake about the Queen walking out of a photoshoot was, especially considering the Scum splashed on it, but today we've instead got yet another leader on the terror threat:

GORDON Brown promises a new crackdown on terror.

He rightly insists Islamic terror began long before 9/11 and has little to do with Iraq.

But if that’s right, why didn’t we start defending ourselves sooner?

The problem is that it isn't right. While the government has previously claimed that it foiled an al-Qaida plot here around 2000, but has never bothered to release hardly any details, the threat we face now has been greatly exacerbated by the Iraq war. When the so-called "ricin" plot was foiled, it was claimed that it was an al-Qaida plot, with even Colin Powell using it in his presentation on Iraq's elusive weapons of mass destruction to the United Nations. The only problem with this is that there was no ricin, and Bourgass had no links to al-Qaida whatsoever.

It's widely acknowledged that there was something of a truce with the Islamic extremists present here in the late 90s, where MI5 either kept an eye on them, actively collaborated with some of them, with the deal being that as long as they weren't planning to do anything against Britain itself they would be somewhat tolerated. With the introduction of detention without charge in the anti-terror measures rushed through in the aftermath of 9/11, and later the wars on Afghanistan and Iraq, the truce ended. Whereas those who previously might have gone to Afghanistan/Pakistan to train would have gone on to Chechnya or elsewhere, we now know that both Mohammad Sidique Khan and likely Muktar Ibrahim were instead either sent back here or decided to come back of their own accord. Around the same time, the Crevice plot was being foiled, which again came to its fruition after the Iraq war. We shouldn't be so naive to believe that Iraq is the only motivating cause: it isn't, there a myriad of them, and in any case, such murderous assaults against civilians can never be justified. To ignore however that the Iraq war, a illegal invasion which has resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians hasn't resulted in its own inevitable blowback is to be just as naive. It's also not as though our leaders weren't warned: the joint intelligence committee did just that, as did both MI5 and MI6.

The Sun is also suffering from a major loss of memory. Anti-terror legislation, either tightening the laws or expanding the range of offences has been a mainstay almost every year since 2001. 2001 also saw one of the most draconian pieces of legislation ever introduced: the permanent detention without charge or trial of foreign "terrorist suspects", rightly ruled as a breach of the Human Rights Act in 2004 by the House of Lords. In 2003 we witnessed tanks outside Heathrow airport, which just happened to coincide with the over a million strong anti-war march, itself nearly cancelled by ministers concerned about the state of the grass in Hyde Park. To try to pretend that we haven't tightened things up massively already, and at the expense of our own freedom and civil liberties is to imitate the ostrich and shove our heads into the sand.

Why did we tolerate extremists like Abu Hamza who mesmerised young Muslims, including 21/7 ringleader Muktar Ibrahim.

The Sun does have something of a point here. Hamza has certainly had influence over some of those who have gone on to attempt terrorist attacks, and he certainly should have been shut down much sooner than he was. If anything, as much to blame is the fact that we've tried to tolerate almost anyone, even hot-heads preaching doom, in the long held British tradition of freedom of speech. It's only been recently that we've abandoned such a noble ideal. It's easy to see these things with hindsight, but this is something that has now be dealt with. All the evidence now points to the radicalisation process taking place online, with young men doing research themselves and finding like-minded others, rather than anyone coming under the influence of extremist imams in mosques.

If the threat was known, why didn’t Mr Brown as Chancellor provide funds earlier to boost national security?

Uh, he has. MI5 has expanded rapidly thanks to those funds. In any case, we have still yet to get an explanation to why on the 6th of July 2005 the former head of MI5, Eliza Manningham-Buller told MPs that the terrorist threat was under control. Within a year and six months, from being under control she spoke of there being up to 30 plots, and 200 terrorist groups or networks active in the UK. Had MI5 cocked up, or was there a massive swelling in those plotting, which might well undermine the argument that Iraq has had little to do with the increased threat? We simply haven't been told.

The Sun bows to no one in support for our police and intelligence services.

But who can feel reassured by their handling of the 21/7 bomb plot?

Yes, the bombers were caught, charged and each jailed for an exemplary 40 years.

But it was all by accident.

If we're to believe what we've read, then since then they've foiled at least two plots, the so-called liquid bombs from last summer, and the beheading in Birmingham from earlier this year. It's strange that in all of this, the only person who died as a result of 21/7 seems to have been forgotten. Jean Charles de Menezes ought to be the defining image of how it was handled; yet he's disappeared from view. Additionally, it seems that the public themselves are mostly reassured: in a poll conducted by the Scum itself, 62% felt safe, with 29.9% saying they didn't.

Had ringleader Muktar Ibrahim got his sums right, hundreds of victims would have been slaughtered by a man who should have been behind bars.

Where these hundreds are coming from is anyone's guess. The judge said at least 50, which seems a much more likely figure, especially considering how the attacks were not conducted during rush hour like 7/7 was, with tubes and buses being crowded. As for him being behind bars, that's also doubtful. He was charged with a public order offence for distributing extremist literature in Oxford Street, but even if he had turned up for his court appearance or the police had tracked him down, it seems unlikely that the sentence would have been that harsh, or would have necessarily stopped him from going later.

Ibrahim was known as a violent criminal and an associate of an al-Qaeda operative.

Yet he was given a British passport which allowed him to fly to Pakistan for terrorist training.

When a new UK passport is issued every five minutes, who knows how many more like him are at large?

Of more concern than the fact he was given a UK passport is that when he attempt to fly Pakistan he was stopped by Special Branch officers at Heathrow, only to be let board a later flight despite having a large amount of money in cash and suspicious documents in his possession. At the very least they ought to have discovered that he was due up in front of court and so should not have been leaving the country, or indeed that he been photographed at what was considered a "terrorist holiday camp" in the Lake District with his fellow-bombers, but there was no follow-up investigation.

It is worth asking because Britain has stopped cross-checking with Interpol.

Now we are to get a new computer — but it will take four years to build.

We must just hope that al-Qaeda keeps making mistakes.

Yes, because as we know, al-Qaida is definitely behind all these attacks. If anything, the sheer amount of times that al-Zawahiri has treated us with his sermons of late, 3 having been issued by al-Qaida's media organisation, as-Sahab in the last two weeks, shows the desperation that appears to be growing. The real danger now is not from what was al-Qaida in 2001, but rather from its ideology which we have done much to spread through our own counterproductive methods. Groups with their own agendas in different countries, including both Iraq and Algeria have pledged allegiance to bin Laden more than anything so they can join the al-Qaida brand, such as it is. We openly play into this by describing nearly all terrorism linked to extremist Islam as either al-Qaida or al-Qaida-inspired, giving credit where it is most certainly not due. The insurgency in Iraq, made up of dozens of disparate groups, not just limited to Sunni Islamists, but also including Sunni nationalists and even Shia groups which additionally plant IEDs targeting the American forces, each with their own aims and motives, is nearly always referred to as al-Qaida simply because the most dangerous and despicably brutal group happens to have taken that group's name on. Tackling the grievances without giving into them is what will slowly but surely calm the threat.

Until then, the Scum will no doubt be trying its best to scare the average Briton into thinking how desperately we need more than 28 days detention without charge, something that is given a big write-up, despite it being well down the order of priorities set out by Brown in yesterday's announcement prior to the Queen's speech in the autumn. If the extremists are so woefully funded and additionally ignorant or insistent on attempting spectacular attacks they could never realistically pull off and that they believe they can cause mass casualties using containers filled with petrol and garden gas canisters, then that already shows just how pathetic the threat currently really is. I think we can live with those kind of mistakes.

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Two more years.

Today is this blog's second birthday. Coincidentally, and appropriately, this is also the 1000th post. I continue to be amazed by the fact that some people actually return to read my vapid, badly written and convoluted murmurings every day; a thank you to everyone who visits, and here's to another two years.

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Wednesday, July 11, 2007 

When all else fails, bribe the middle classes.

If there's one thing you can say for the Social Justice Policy Group, chaired by Iain Duncan Smith's report on social breakdown, titled Breakthrough Britain, it's that it hasn't done things by half measures. The sheer length of the whole document rivals Alastair Campbell's diaries, with one significant difference: while Campbell's diaries are going to be pored over for years to come, no matter how much many of us dislike the idea, it's doubtful that this report is going to be subject to the same degree of scrutiny.

Even reading the 190 recommendations the report makes, which itself runs to 16 pages (PDF), is enough of a challenge, let alone getting through the 275,000 words that the 6 volumes run to in full. The 12 page Overview (PDF) though perhaps is a bigger insight into what has gone on behind the scenes: it contains no less than 6 photographs featuring Duncan Smith himself. It'd be nice to think that the former Tory leader had found his niche, having discovered the true nature of relative poverty on the most bleak housing estates, but although he's met no doubt hundreds of people who he wants to help, or help to help, he doesn't seem to have actually understood them.

At the very heart of both Cameron and Duncan Smith's discussions of the paper has been the proposition that we live in a broken society. If you're going to put such a definitive statement of fact at the centre of your proposals, you ought to at least be certain it's right. The trouble is, as much as the doom-mongers on both the left and the right like to think that we're either going to the dogs or arrived there sometime ago, society, despite the efforts of both Thatcher and New Labour, is still alive. We might treat our children worse than animals, we might have betrayed them, the underclass may be burgeoning and ignored, but the ties that bind us together are still there. We're a dysfunctional, fucked-up, overly materialistic society, but broken? Not yet.

The headline-grabbing policy recommendation concerns the reintroduction of tax breaks and other benefits to encourage marriage, more of which later, but it's some of the other proposals which either stick in the throat just as much, or considering how muddled and confused some of it appears to be, how promising some sound. Take for instance the proposal for an increase in carer's allowance, which many across the country struggling to care for their loved ones and relatives desperately need. Then compare it against the recommendations on benefit reform, which are so rigidly structured that you'd think that a New Labour bureaucrat had written them. People on Jobseekers Allowance must be actively seeking or preparing for work full-time, and this must be enforced? How exactly? People with "disabilities or long-term health condition but capable of work" must seek or prepare for it for between either 5 or 20 hours a week? It goes even further than the Freud report in attempting to get lone parents back to work: they must either prepare or actively seek work for 20 hours a week when their child reaches school age, and full time once they reach 11. That this somewhat jars with the fact that the report contends that family relationships are crucial in halting social breakdown doesn't warrant a mention.

Then we get on to the proposals for schools, another hodge-podge, which in typical Cameroon style is obsessed with the "third-sector" and with other charity/religious groups picking up the slack from the state itself. We've had specialists, academies, trusts and now Duncan Smith proposes "Pioneer Schools", which groups of parents and "alternative" providers will be given the right to setup if they think their current one is either inadequate or failing, free from the tyranny of local authority control and with charitable status, and parents from other schools can demand to be moved to them if their school has been "failing" for three years. This is all under the banner of "every parent matters" a vacuous slogan to match Labour's own effort, "every child matters". Interestingly, it seems that the views of the teachers themselves aren't welcome. That few headteachers and parents seem much enamored with Blair's plans for trusts doesn't seem to bode well for these "pioneers" either.

It's a similar story with the recommendations for dealing with drug and alcohol addiction. On the face of it there's some excellent proposals: getting rid of Labour's targets and replacing them with one measured in terms of real outcomes, families to be prioritised for obvious reasons and a review of the Misuse of Drugs Act. Then it spoils it by recommending the introduction of "treatment vouchers" (why does the right so fetishise these loathsome degrading pieces of paper?), Methadone to be prescribed in the context of change programmes, when almost all experts agree that prescribing heroin itself rather than the substitute is far preferable, support for "faith based communities", which hopefully doesn't include such faith based communities as the Scientologists who are increasingly trying to gain access to prisons with their own addiction programmes, and a new commitment to controlling the supply of drugs. The policy group doesn't seem to have taken into account that if supplies of Class A drugs dry up (no chance of that with heroin considering the Afghanistan poppy crop) the problem is greatly exacerbated, with desperate people becoming even more desperate, while if there's a glut the situation is completely different. On top of all of this, the group has already decided on one change to the Misuse of Drugs Act before any review: cannabis is to be put back in Class B because of the spread and effects of "skunk", something which has been much exaggerated and will only result in the criminalisation of yet more young people and involve even more police time being wasted. Oh, and school drugs testing, an incredibly bad idea if there ever was one, should be trialled.

The recommendations concerning alcohol and gambling are just as mistaken. Rather than examining why our streets happen to be full of drunkards at the weekends, it only wants to deal with the actual consumption, not the cause. 7p on a pint of beer in any case is hardly going to make someone think twice: even if you drink ten pints that's only 70 pence, which in some pubs will only get you 25% of one in the first place. Why is it that we, rather than our European partners who in some cases have far cheaper booze don't share our same habits? Is it because they have a better quality of life, and don't feel the need to get lashed every weekend to forget about their miserable lot? One could argue that it's our mental health and attitude, just as much as it is our family background and substance abuse that's to do with social breakdown, yet that's something that this report doesn't really cover.

Coming back to the headlines, and it's the tax incentives for married couples which rankle most. The assumption that they make for the best environment for bringing up children is squarely aimed at the natural conservative, and surprise surprise, both the Daily Mail and Sun have been applauding it. There's nothing wrong with thinking that; it's just that it's not necessarily true. While cohabiting couples are much more likely to split up, the report doesn't consider that this is probably because it's a lot easier to do so before the couple have properly committed themselves to each other: how many families do you know where the parents are sticking together because of the children? Ripping up a marriage is far more difficult and costly than a cohabitation is. Where it most fails though is that it believes that such measures would actually encourage couples to get married, when the last thing that anyone cares about at the time is whether they'll be better off money-wise if they do. Instead, it's obvious who such breaks at aimed at: the already married middle-classes, who've never been better off but are still disappointed, even angry with their perceived lack of influence.

And who could blame the Tories for attempting such a bribe? Almost everything else has failed, so why not go straight for the jugular? Cameron might dump the rest, but it's clear he's already settled on the propaganda for the family. When it comes down it, they're still about sodding (not literally, hopefully) the single mum and subsidising the bourgeois. Some things never change.

Related posts:
Stumbling and Mumbling - Against tax breaks
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Tuesday, July 10, 2007 

Scum-watch: A strange choice of idiots.

Today's Sun take on the conviction of the 21/7 bombers is nothing if not intriguing. After spending the years since 9/11 endlessly scaremongering about the threat posed by jihadists and their progressively diminishing skills in constructing bombs, it seems that the paper's just as confused as ever in what stance to take after last week's comprehensive failure, moving from defiance to jingoism without knowing on which to settle.

Why then choose now to ridicule and mock these bombers? Rather than doing so at the time of their snap, crackling and popping, the first thing the Sun demanded was that politicians return from their recess in order to do something, with Blair hearing the cry and heeding their noble cause of 90 day detention, control orders and changing the rules of the game. The Scum had a use for these amateurs then; they don't now.

Hence the banner boosting splash "MORON TERROR", which I have to admit is at least a decent pun. Why then is the "
Buck-toothed fanatic Muktah Ibrahim" both a moron and an imbecile? Err, he got the recipe for the detonators wrong, with the initial explosion not being strong enough to set-off the tupperware bowls that were filled with the main charge mixture of hydrogen peroxide and chappati flour. Oh, and he failed his Maths GCSE.

We could spend weeks debating just who's the biggest idiot out of the recent Islamist attempts at murdering innocents: is it Ibrahim and his cock-up with the detonators, Dhiren "Borat" Barot and his quite brilliant smoke alarm dirty bomb, or how about those attempts at Tiger Tiger and Glasgow, seemingly following the plans drawn up by Barot for the limo gas canisters project? The difference between the lot is that the Scum continues to pretends that hundreds could have been killed by the failed attacks of June 30th and 31st, and adores to dwell on just what could have happened if Barot had succeeded in his smoke alarm outrage. Out of all these, Ibrahim and his gang of backpackers came by far the closest to succeeding, yet they're the ones getting made fun of. Confused? You should be.

It's quite true that it does take a very special kind of idiot to continue to claim what was obviously an attempt to bomb the tube for the second time in two weeks was in actual fact a protest against the Iraq war, but even that staggering inanity doesn't explain why these guys are idiots and the rest are soldiers who we're at war against.

Perhaps the leader explains it. Or rather, explains that there is no real explanation:

THE four 21/7 terrorists are despicable thugs who deserve no mercy.

They plotted the biggest civilian slaughter in this country since World War Two.

Really? Even worse than 7/7? It wasn't plotted here, but worse than Lockerbie? Worse than the supposed liquid bombs plot of last year?

Hundreds of lives were saved solely because evil gang leader Muktah Ibrahim couldn’t add up.

But that was pure luck.

Hallelujah! Praise the luck!

Coming two weeks after 7/7, a second attack would have paralysed London and devastated the economy.

Nonsense. Things would have continued much the same as they did after 7/7. Stop giving these laughable idiots so much credit.

The jury had to decide if it was a publicity stunt or an attempt at mass murder. They reached the only possible verdict . . . guilty as hell.

Yet all we seem able to do is lock them away for a few years. These depraved plotters came here from Somalia, Eritrea and Ethiopia.

Presumably by a few years the Scum means for the rest of their lives, which is the sentence they are likely to receive.
Why can’t we drop them back where they came from...with or without a parachute?

Firstly, I somehow doubt that either Eritrea or Ethiopia want them. As for Somalia, seeing as there's no central government and that there's currently an Islamist insurgency raging against the transitional federal government, I don't think it's the greatest idea to deport them back there.

Elsewhere, although Tim makes an excellent point about telling Campbell where to go, I can't really ignore the glaring ass-kissing going on in the leader column:

ALASTAIR Campbell’s diaries are as good as a front-row seat through the chaos and black comedy of the Blair years.

Campbell reveals moments of high drama and near-hysteria between Tony and Gordon Brown.

Cherie Blair complains her husband was unable to sleep for worrying about their brooding neighbour. Tony was once even ready to quit and let Two Jags run the country instead.

We learn about Peter Mandelson’s hissy fits, Cherie’s oddball relationship with Carole Caplin . . . and her decision to pack carrots for an overseas holiday.

This book was billed as a sanitised account of the Blair decade.

If so, we can’t wait for the full uncensored version.

The reason for the Scum's sycophancy is most likely identified by Martin Kettle. Out of 763 pages, Trevor Kavanagh, the Scum's former political editor, with whom Campbell would have conspired on hundreds if not thousands of occasions, is mentioned just 4 times. Similarly, Tom Baldwin, ex of the Times, is only referred to once throughout the entire diaries. Campbell hasn't just sanitised the TB/GBs, he's also self-censored his incestuous relationship with the Murdoch press, much to their delight.

Finally, it wouldn't be the Scum if it also wasn't desperately plugging its sister organisations. In the face of the apparent flight to Facebook, it's bigging up just how many people are using MurdochSpace regularly. It's ten million apparently.

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Monday, July 09, 2007 

The liar years.

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls! Welcome to the greatest journalistic spectacle of the year! Gasp as the cynical hacks fellate Alastair Campbell's limp cock! Marvel at their technique in licking his shit-speckled asshole! Swoon as they abandon all their critical faculties and instead delight in their collective indiscretion! Vomit as the biggest liar of them all earns wads of cash from his sordid little book!

Yep, the scramble to speed-read Campbell's heavily expurgated diaries is underway. Despite Campbell admitting to being highly censorious when it comes both to Blair's own foul language and to the eternal conflict with Gordon Brown, they're still desperately hoping there's going to be something in there that they'll be able to claim as a sort of exclusive come tomorrow morning. So far, thanks to both Campbell releasing some of the more juicy bits and to skimming through the thousands of self-indulgent words, we've learned that:

Quite why anyone is taking a single word of it seriously is a conundrum in itself. Here we have the most congenital liar that's ever pulled on a pair of trousers describing his wiping of Blair's bottom on a daily basis. As any psychologist will tell you, a pathological liar not only lies to everyone around him, they lie the most to themselves. Like when Michael Howard confronted him recently on Newsnight, he can't just accept that he is single-handedly responsible for the destruction of any remaining faith there was in politicians in this country, he actually still believes, like Blair, that everything he did was not just justified, but the right thing to do.

Hence Campbell somehow thinking that he deserves sympathy for his own depression as a result of Dr David Kelly's suicide, and amazingly, some even fall for it. Both Stuart Prebble, tasked with converting this mass of verbiage into three hour-long television documentaries and Michael White, chief Grauniad Blair sycophant describe him as "vulnerable". It's a shame that someone who did apparently have moments of self-doubt, instead of going along with such thoughts and wondering whether the fact that he was day after day misleading numerous people, and with the dossiers, potentially condemning thousands of civilians to death, kept going and even now thinks that he was right to do so. Indeed, he even still believes it was right to go to war, despite the intelligence he had a part in sexing up being proved so catastrophically inaccurate.

For all his efforts in protecting Blair, shamelessly manipulating the media and reacting to the slightest negative headline, all we're going to remember of Campbell in decades to come are those scenes of him in front of the intelligence and security committee, repeatedly hitting the table with his finger, demanding that the BBC apologise for the allegations made by Andrew Gilligan, all with the air of a man who knew that the end was drawing close but was going to do everything he could to try to stop the inevitable. The extracts from his diary revealed at the Hutton inquiry showed he wanted to "fuck Gilligan", and he succeeded.

With the release of his diaries, we ought to be turning a corner, but Campbell and Blair's shadow is still cast over British politics. We're still trapped in Iraq, the only people ever to resign over the disaster being those with the principles to do so beforehand and those who were forced to do so over a whitewashed report; the public has never been so cynical about politicians; the axis between the Murdoch press and Downing Street remains sacrosanct; and Brown, rather than being able to concentrate on policy, is having to dedicate precious time to proving just how spin is a thing of the past, and how different the relationship with the media is going to be. The bastard ought to be an outcast: instead, as he's always planned, the hundreds of pages are going to ensure he'll have a very pleasant retirement. They say cheats never prosper, but liars it seems will inherit the earth.

Related post:
Chicken Yoghurt - A period of silence would be welcome

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Scum-watch: Scraping the very bottom of the barrel.

It's true there wasn't that much in the way of news this weekend, but today's Scum front-page really is scraping the very bottom of the barrel marked "pathetic irrelevant dredging-up of the past":

LOTTO jackpot winner Neil Murray is a convicted mugger who robbed an 88-year-old woman, The Sun can reveal.

Did the person who discovered this amazing exclusive yell "HOLD THE FRONT PAGE"? A convicted mugger wins the lottery? What next? A Catholic becoming the Pope?

His shameful past was exposed weeks after he scooped a £4million prize.

Murray snatched the purse, containing just £6, and pumped it into arcade fruit machines.

Eight years later he was still gambling — and last month won £4million on the Lottery.

We're talking about something 8 years ago, when the guy was 19. He received his sentence, which for a mugging seems reasonably harsh, has served it, and probably everyone including the 88-year-old has forgotten about it. More interesting is that he's refusing to share his winners with his family because of a tiff about his cannabis habit, which probably proves that he's a petty, not particularly nice person, but believe it or not that's not a barrier to winning the lottery.

The Scum seems to have forgotten what the meaning of "lottery" itself is. Amazingly, it means that anyone can win, no matter how nasty or friendly someone happens to be. Not that the Scum doesn't have past form in this area -
it previously stalked the "Lotto rapist" Iorworth Hoare, who just happened to decide to live on the same estate as the Scum's Scottish editor, instantly necessitating a front page super splash.

In fact, it's not just the meaning of lottery the Scum's forgotten, it's the meaning of life itself. Life, as any teenager will happily remind you in case it's slipped your mind, isn't fair. Rapists win the lottery. Pop stars contributing more than anyone else to climate change while making vast sums of money pretend that we can solve global warming by planting a tree and changing our light bulbs. Only those without morals and ethics but infected with greed, tenacity and ruthlessness tend to get right to the top, and a few billionaires turned philanthropist doesn't change that. What could be a better example than the private equity bosses paying less tax than their cleaners? The only comfort is that while they rise to the top, shit additionally tends to float. A few get their comeuppance; the rest of us, flawed and corrupt as we are, depend upon lady luck to get anywhere.

The old cliche is that only two things are certain in life, death and taxes, or if you happen to be Rupert Murdoch, just the reaper. The other one ought to be that if you happen to be working-class and win something, you can depend on the tabloids' rooting around in your past for dirt and then sticking it on their grubby little front page if there's a absence of any real news. It's how journalism works.

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Rebekah Wade: Fascinating, powerful, strong and fitted, but not pleasant.

As Tim notes, there was some fascinating cross-promotion going on in yesterday's Sunday Times. In an interview with Courteney Cox, who just happens to be starring as a "sex-mad tabloid editor" in a new TV series, we learn of Cox's meetings with everyone's favourite ginger ninja, Rebekah Wade herself:

“She’s a fascinating woman,” says Cox. “She is a very powerful, strong woman. I learnt a lot from her, and I like the way she dresses. She was very fitted.”

Well, we all know that Wade's ex-husband, Ross Kemp, can personally attest to how powerful and strong she is. As for her dress sense, who could possibly forget what she recently wore to meet the only person more powerful than her boss (incidentally, where's Bush placed his hand?):

Wade though has nothing on Cox's character, Lucy Spiller, when it comes to dispatching lovers:

In another, she is seen indulging in a one-night stand with a barman, whom she subsequently ejects from her apartment with the help of a Taser stun gun.

Pow! Obviously the next accessory for a "very fitted" editor.

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