Saturday, December 08, 2007 

The doctrine of pseudo-strength.

It was most certainly get tough week in Whitehall, or at least, get tough on everything other than party funding. One of the very first things that Brown promised, perhaps not in so many words, but in actions, was that there would be an end to the habit of the Blair government of announcing things to anywhere other than to parliament itself. When you're getting assailed from some many different angles, it's always the "little" things that get broken first, hence Jacqui Smith, the third home secretary in a row attempting to convince the public at large that the terrorist threat is so severe that anything shorter than a month detention without charge is insane and potentially cataclysmic liberalism, forgoing the tedious ritual of presenting the latest twist to parliament, choosing elsewhere to proclaim the latest number of days to be pulled out of the Home Office policy hat.

42, it seems then is no longer not just the meaning of life but also the magic number that terrorists need to be held to. The seeking a consensus sessions, which according to Private Eye amounted to the swivel-eyed Smith haranguing David Davis for daring to be a "28 day-denier" have been abruptly canceled, and so has any possibility of dialogue with the Home Affairs Select Committee, a leak of whom's report Smith seemed to be responding to. The committee had come to the not unreasonable conclusion that there was no evidence whatsoever to support any further extension, having only heard support for such a measure from the suitably plied Lord Carlile, butcher of the yard "Sir" Ian Blair and from Smith herself, who previously didn't know how many more days were needed. As for Ken Macdonald, who had so dared to give evidence to the committee that in his capacity as head of the director for public prosecutions he didn't see the need for more time, his treachery was such that Smith's new plans require him to sign off his agreement in any instance where longer than 28 days is needed. Revenge is indeed a dish best served cold. Shami Chakrabati has denounced Smith's plans as constitutionally illiterate, in that although parliament is required to vote on the continuation of the extra time, it doesn't need to do so until err, after the extra time has itself expired. The safeguards add up to Smith agreeing and the same as before, a judge having to reauthorise the continued detention every seven days. What kind of judge would have the balls to free someone after the police had demanded extra time and the home secretary had agreed is not an easy question to answer.

Almost any other government than this current one would be embarrassed by how ridiculous they look, continually having to dilute their plans little by little, without realising (or perhaps they do, they're just that stubborn and petty) that they simply cannot get this through in any form. The obsession with extra time, one kept only by hopeless police officers that can't fuck off when they know they're no longer wanted and by politicians determined to look endlessly tough and at the same time attempt to make the Tories haplessly weak would be easier to take if anyone other than the Scum, the Express and Melanie Phillips was falling for it, but they're not. The opposition against is almost everyone except the Labour front bench and the most vile of the press. I personally hope it does come to a vote - just so that the government can be thrashed again and the Sun can call all the rest of us traitors.

Similar thinking has been going on over prisons. The most disingenuous moment of the week has to have been over the need for "titan jails" - not because they're better than smaller ones, quite the contrary, but rather as Lord Carter openly admits in his report, they can than be referred straight to the secretary of state for planning permission, negating to go into such needless debates over consultation. After all, look where that's got them over the above. They're also a developers' dream, almost certain to be built under the private finance initiative, and then also likely to be ran by private security firms, meaning even more cash to be milked off from the public purse to the unscrupulous who'll then either demand even more or sell on their interest for a huge profit, as has occurred numerous times before. The job's a good 'un - except for those who'll find themselves behind the bars. Jack Straw has tried to sweeten the deal slightly by also investigating the possibility of linking sentences to the capacity available, but expect that to be dropped once the clamour from the Mail and the Sun grows too loud. The statistics for the prison population growth show that we can't build ourselves out of the overcrowding crisis, but by God Labour will try anyway. You can't have the tabloids screaming about soft sentences and the streets being full of drug addicts, the mentally ill and baby molesters; that will never do leading up to an election.

So it also is on immigration, where the points based system will ensure that the unskilled darkies will be kept out while the unskilled from the EU will still be able to come as they are. Add in some clearly unworkable and prejudiced thinking on whether or not to allow in spouses who can't speak English, and then also cut back on translation while not increasing and eventually cutting the funding for those who want to learn and you have a potent mixture to add to the hubris and carelessness which has led to Brown being in the same situation as before Blair had even left.

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There be gold in them thar canoes...

I might just be the only person on the planet not to give two shits about the vanishing canoeist and his subsequent reappearance while his wife went to live in Panama, but what is intriguing is just what sort of deal the Daily Mirror and Mail have done in order to get Anne Darwin's exclusive story.

The toothless Press Complaints Commission has been so concerned that it apparently sought meetings with both the Mail and Mirror in order to ascertain whether Darwin has been paid - something that may potentially breach the PCC's code if Darwin is subsequently charged, as her husband now has been. The PCC seems to have been satisfied that no money has changed hands between the two papers and Darwin, but the Grauniad reported this morning that the legwork in tracking down Darwin was by the Splash news agency, with the Mail and Mirror just behind, subsequently doing a deal to share the scoop. Whether Splash, not bound by the PCC's code, has paid Darwin is another matter entirely, and as the Mail and Mirror have relied on Splash one is entitled to wonder whether the cash has been funneled through.

In any case, the Mirror and Mail's scoop has already led its first inevitable conclusion: the Scum running a less than flattering front page "story" describing Darwin as a witch. The Sun's failure to get the story has also likely enraged Rebekah Wade, who earlier in the year went on the warpath after Pete Doherty gave an exclusive interview to the Mirror following his split from Kate Moss, lambasting her hacks as "having all lost any journalistic ability you ever had". With Les Hinton gone to the Wall Street Journal, having previously acted as her shield from unpleasantness over her own split from Ross Kemp, Wade herself is looking increasingly isolated.

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Friday, December 07, 2007 


No, he doesn't look sinister at all.

It is of course terribly easy to look on in horror at the various political vagaries surrounding the American presidential campaign, but that doesn't stop it from being similarly amusing. As long as those it involves then don't become president.

What then are Mitt Romney's, emerging as a Republican front-runner alongside Rudy Giuliani, favourite books?

“What’s your favorite novel?” is a perennial campaign question, the answer to which presumably gives insight into leadership.

When asked his favorite novel in an interview shown yesterday on the Fox News Channel, Mitt Romney pointed to “Battlefield Earth,” a novel by L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology. That book was turned into a film by John Travolta, a Scientologist.

A spokesman said later it was one of Mr. Romney’s favorite novels.
Asked about his favorite book, Mr. Romney cited the Bible.

That would be Romney, a Mormon, selecting as his favourite novel a book by the founder of Scientology and general fraud L. Ron Hubbard, he who formed his own religion in order to get stinkingly rich. Still, that's at least more honest than Joseph Smith and his "visitations" by the Angel Moroni, which just happened to lead to him being able to keep more than one wife. He also seems to be somewhat hedging his bets in selecting the good book as his favourite work of strictly non-fiction, over the less inspired Book of Mormon. Even if you were being charitable towards the more lucid moments of say, Job or Revelation, and decided to ignore that Job is essentially an almost meaningless parable which just showcases how useless belief in God essentially is, and that Revelation has some stunning imagery and elements of allegory as long as you dismiss the interpretations of it as any sort of prophecy, you'd be hard pressed to consider it as any great work of literature. It is however a masterpiece compared to Battlefield Earth, or indeed any of dear L Ron's output.

As well as choice of books, Romney made a lacklustre attempt to channel the spirit of JFK in delivering a speech on how his faith would in no way influence his decisions were he to be elected, the irony being that he was forced into making it because of the Christian right's views on Mormonism. In doing so he actually inferred that the current interpretation of the division of church and state was too rigid, which in a nation where politicised religion has never been more powerful ought to start alarm bells ringing. It also gave birth to this staggering quote:

"Freedom requires religion, just as religion requires freedom."

Even if we accept that some of our ideals or norms and values originate in Christian theology, it is laughable to claim that freedom requires faith to continue, while it is willfully blind to ignore the tyrannies which have been imposed through the ages of the basis of religion. The current ones might be more associated with Islam, but even the briefest knowledge of history gives examples of the past atrocities carried out in the name of Christianity.

Speaking of which, it's not much of a surprise to learn that the CIA decided to disobey orders to hand over all related evidence to the 9/11 commission, instead deciding to destroy two taped sessions of state-sanctioned torture:

"The tapes posed a serious security risk," the CIA's director, Michael Hayden, told agency employees in a statement yesterday. "Were they ever to leak, they would permit identification of your CIA colleagues who had served in the programme, exposing them and their families to retaliation from al-Qaida and its sympathisers."

And not of course allow for prima facie evidence of the legally questionable practice of water-boarding to emerge, nor for the men responsible to be brought to account, who have now been helpfully pardoned and given protection from prosecution. The United States remember, does not torture. It just doesn't get caught doing it, or it lets its sub-ordinates do it instead. Whilst all the Democrat presidential candidates have condemned the use of torture in the "war on terror", the only Republican front-runner to do so is John McCain, who was himself tortured during his captivity in Vietnam. Two others with no chance of winning, the libertarian Ron Paul who has strongly denounced it, and Alan Keyes, who has tied himself in rhetorical knots, have been the others to join him. Our friendly Bible thumper Mitt Romney, meanwhile, called instead for Guantanamo to be doubled in size.

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Not a relinquishing of control.

Nick Robinson surmises that today's game of musical chairs in the Murdoch empire means even more bad news for poor old Gordon. According to Robinson, son of the Dirty Digger James doesn't hold the same level of apathy towards Cameron as his father does, meaning that with his ascension it becomes ever more likely that the 40% of the newspaper market that News International controls will be supporting the Tories.

Not so. Anyone who believes that Murdoch's standing aside means that he's taking himself out of the situation entirely in favour of his son hasn't been paying much attention to how Murdoch runs his newspapers. For decades his stance has long been to stay in the shadows, claiming that he doesn't interfere, while doing just that and also levering such control over his editors that they don't have to be corrected: they know instinctively what their boss expects. Installing James Murdoch as the new head of News Corp in Europe and Asia is a logical move by Murdoch as he seeks to swiftly impose his values upon the Wall Street Journal, which is why his most trusted lieutenants in the shape of Times editor Robert Thomson and executive chairman of News International Les Hinton are going with him, to ensure that the resistance shown by some of the hacks on the American paper will be swiftly crushed. The only real surprise is that he hasn't gone even further with his nepotism and swiftly promoted his gorgeous pouting wife Wendi Deng, currently head of MySpace China, to head News Corp in Asia, instead conservatively giving James both jobs.

Murdoch's concentration on America certainly won't stop him from personally deciding who to support at the next election. In the words of Andrew Neil, who knows a thing or two about how Murdoch operates, all that he's done is change the monkey. The organ grinder is still firmly in place.

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Thursday, December 06, 2007 

Scum-watch: Glorious hypocrisy over Maxine Carr.

The opening word of the second paragraph of today's Scum article on 3 women who were accused of being Maxine Carr is "evil". Rather than the mobs of people who have targeted the women being the ones in the wrong, the tone of the article makes it quite clear that it isn't their fault, nor is it the responsibility of the tabloids who whipped up hate against Carr, of which the Sun was at the forefront, but Carr herself. It's her lies, and her lies only, which have led to the campaigns of hate against the innocent women.

The Sun of course doesn't give the whole background of what Carr was found guilty of or the circumstances surrounding it. The court found her guilty of perverting the course of justice because she gave a false alibi for Huntley, not of the more serious charge of assisting an offender, which she was cleared of. The jury accepted that Carr had been in an abusive relationship, frightened of Huntley and that she had twice provided previous alibis for Huntley because in at least one of those cases he was later found to be innocent. She lied out of self-preservation.

Back in March of this year, the Sun published the contents of a audio cassette featuring Huntley making various claims, including that Carr had far more of a role in the cover-up than the court heard. These claims were nothing new: they were first featured in the News of the Screws in August last year. The Scum however unlike the Screws ran a editorial on it, lambasting Carr and claiming that Huntley had "destroyed any lingering suggestion that girlfriend Maxine Carr was an innocent bystander," and that "Carr will eventually join him there," the there being hell. This was despite the tape also featuring Huntley's continuing fantasy that the deaths of the girls was an accident, never mind that Huntley has been proved to have lied on far more occasions than Carr ever has.

Every time that such claims are made against Carr, those like the three women featured in the Sun's article find themselves under further suspicion and abuse. The irony is that the article will probably do nothing to help them, while if the Sun and others had not printed such vile accusations against Carr and attempted to turn her into the neo-Myra Hindley, they would likely never have to had endure such treatment. Such is the British media. Such is the sheer tabloid chutzpah. Such is the complete refusal to accept they might in some way have a case to answer themselves. If one were being glib, the real evil might be more associated with the press than with the women caught in a continuing tragedy.

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From lyrical to physical.

The already infamous "lyrical terrorist" has quite sensibly been given a relatively light sentence of nine months suspended. Some might see that as lenient, but considering the ridiculous sentences given to some, such as Atif Siddique who received 8 years whilst Abu Hamza got 7, she appears to be lucky to have been tried in the court of a judge who justifiably described her as an "enigma".

On the face of it, especially if you consider some parts of the prosecution case, that Malik was arrested after it was found she had been in contact with Sohail Qureshi (not apparently the man of Canadian descent also linked to terrorism), a man who it seems was preparing to travel to Pakistan with nefarious intentions, that she had been a member of "Jihad Way" an online group dedicated to spreading the word about the glorious nature of holy war and that she had in her possession a number of manuals, one called the "The Mujaheddin (sic) Poisoner's Handbook", as well as the "Encyclopaedia Jihad", you'd come to the conclusion that the way she's been defended by some is, like she might well be, naive.

Some of the reporting certainly has been. Despite the Grauniad report, Malik was not convicted on the basis of her doggerel, although that was a major part of the prosecution case which attempted to show she was, in the prosecution's words, "a committed Islamic extremist", but on her possession of the above mentioned manuals. She was convicted under section 58 of the Terrorism Act 2000, for possessing material "likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism".

All well and good you might think. When though does simply possessing something which cannot in itself be used to commit an act of terrorism become a criminal offence? Does simply searching Google for the documents, as I just have, suggest that I'm looking for something that might be useful if I so wish to commit an act of terrorism? Does it matter if the documents themselves are laughable in the extreme, as these collated works often are? The Mujahideen Poisons Handbook, for instance, to give it its proper name, takes its recipes from the Poisoner's Handbook, and as Dick Destiny describes, that particular book was published in the 80s and originates from the neo-Nazi right in America, where many of the other bomb and poison recipes now available in "jihad" manuals first came from. The Encyclopedia Jihad, presuming the one Malik had was the manual and not the scholary text, is in Arabic and has as far as I can see, not been translated into English, except in brief excerpts by writers on jihad by Evan Kohlmann and the SITE Institute. How she was supposed to use it when she couldn't understand it doesn't seem to have been questioned. As for two of the other manuals she had, such as how to win in hand to hand combat, there's been nothing to suggest that isn't just a bone-headed general document rather than one about taking part in holy war, although I did find this useful guide to how to kill zombies when your only weapons are your fists, while How to Make Bombs is a similarly general term and could be related to numerous laughable tomes. According to this one article, that phrase is one of the most popular search terms in New Zealand, not known for its Islamic zealots. Other things she may have had possession of were a manual on how to operate a rifle, which should be handy when you don't have one, and the text of the bin Laden "fatwa" declaring war on the Americans in Saudi Arabia, also freely available as well as for sale in a collection of his pronouncements.

What we're left with after all that is Malik's verse about the infidels, her declaration on a social networking site that she wanted to help the "mujahideen" in every way she could, and that she watched the taped executions carried out in Iraq. There doesn't seem to have been any actual videos found on her computer, otherwise they would have been mentioned, but to go by her verse on beheading it seems likely she probably has seen them. Then again, so have I, as have doubtless hundreds of thousands of others on the internet who have an interest in the gruesome or who are just inquisitive. Malik was found not guilty of possessing the material she had with the intention of personally carrying out a terrorist act, and she was never accused of inciting terrorism itself.

In my view she is, as the judge described her, an enigma. Was she genuinely involved and in contact with those were interested in jihad? It seems likely. Was she though despite this a Walter Mitty character, a fantasist who despite working at WHSmiths in Heathrow was just writing out her thoughts on the back of receipts while bored, influenced by a passing craze? The court heard that she had previously written poetry about American rappers, showing she had gone from one extreme to the other, the all encompassing celebration of materialism and wealth to the almost nihilistic hatred espoused by the knife-wielding beheaders of Iraq. Had she simply found somewhere she thought that she belonged, never likely to act out what some of those she may have had contact with were themselves considering? We simply don't know.

I do however think that the sentence given to her is the best of all worlds. A lengthy prison sentence for simply possessing documents, whatever happens to be written in them, is an insult to both liberalism and liberty. It's not far from there to the burning of books themselves. Malik has instead been caught, has shown apparent remorse, and will now likely be strictly monitored in what she does. The overwhelming impression of her is of an immature woman, easily influenced, who searched for something to help define herself. She chose extremist Islam, and has been rebuked for it. David T from Harry's Place has played the card that if she had been white and interested in neo-Nazism or child pornography we wouldn't be tying ourselves in knots defending her, but I'd like to think that most of those who have, excepting the Muslim Council of Britain, would have done. Holding extremist views and writing about them is not a crime, even if you have documents that just might be useful to terrorists. Acting on them is. Losing sight of that is the sign of a shift from a liberal democracy to an authoritarian one.

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Wednesday, December 05, 2007 

Scum-watch: More thieving migrants and an eulogy for Andy Hayman.

It's been a few months since the last figures showed that immigrants from eastern Europe were supposedly bleeding the exchequer dry with benefit claims, so it must surely be time to resurrect them once again. After all, the Sun has to find non-news stories to fill the paper when it can't be bothered to report on small things like Iran being declared not to have a nuclear weapons program:

MIGRANTS claim £1.4million a month in child benefit for kids living ABROAD, shocking new figures show.

The cash is given to 18,000 workers from new EU countries, without any checks on if the children actually exist. The number of East Europeans pocketing the handout soared by almost a third in just three months, the latest figures show.

Happily, when the Sun last flagged up this heinous outrage, I emailed the child benefit office and despite them taking the best part of two months to reply, I did finally get a very helpful explanatory response. Here it is in full:

Thank you for your e-mail of 17 September about Child Benefit. Your e-mail has been forwarded to HM Revenue & Customs and I have been asked to reply. I apologise for the delay in doing so.

You ask if foreign workers are entitled to claim Child Benefit for their children, even if they do not reside with them in this country.

The main purpose of Child Benefit is to support families living in the United Kingdom. In this regard, the general rules for this benefit do not provide for them to be paid in respect of children who reside outside the United Kingdom. However, these general rules are supplemented by the co-ordinating rules in European Community Regulations which the United Kingdom has applied since it joined the European Economic Community (now the European Union) in 1973.

The Regulations protect the acquired social security rights of European Economic Area (EEA) workers and their families moving within the Community.
The Regulations have detailed rules that determine which social security scheme a worker should contribute to, and which State has responsibility for the payment of family benefits. In general, it provides that the worker pays into the social security scheme where the work takes place and that State is responsible for the payment of family benefits. If entitlement to family benefits arises in more than one Member State, the Regulations contain priority rules to determine who has responsibility for paying. More detailed information relating to these Community rules can be found in leaflet SA 29 “Your social security insurance, benefits and healthcare rights in the European Economic Area”, published by the Department for Work and Pensions and available from its website at Similarly, the thousands of UK nationals who live in another EEA country also benefit from these rules in a wide number of areas.

The vast majority of Eastern European migrants, who were the subject of recent media publications, are in employment, paying UK taxes and National Insurance contributions and in many cases in hard-to-fill jobs in sectors with high levels of vacancies.

When a claim is made under the EC Regulations, there are long-standing checks in place to prevent fraud. For example, the relevant authorities in the family’s country of residence are required to confirm the identity and address of the children in the claim. In addition, the person claiming can be required to provide the original birth or adoption certificate of the child in support of their claim.

I hope that you will find this helpful.

This immediately demolishes the Scum's spurious claim that there are no checks that the children actually exist. Secondly, it makes clear that anyone living in any current EU member state while their children live in their "home" country can claim that country's equivalent of child benefit on the exact same basis, similarly without the children actually being present.

The Sun article accordingly doesn't deign to mention that only those paying national insurance are entitled to claim child benefit. They're contributing to the economy and are just as entitled to claim the benefits available to "us" as anyone else. The simple fact they're foreign automatically means this is "shocking".

Last time round the Sun introduced the notion that the fact that 200,000 more British children are living in poverty is somehow related in any way whatsoever to the fact that 14,000 migrants are claiming child benefit, with the disingenuous Tory Philip Hammond following up. This time Hammond just jumps straight in:

Shadow Treasury Chief Secretary Philip Hammond said: “About 3.8million British children are living in poverty yet Gordon Brown is siphoning off more than £320,000 per week to children abroad.”

Shall we do some elementary maths? £320,000 x 52 weeks = £16,640,000. Divide £16,640,000 by 3,800,000 and you get 4.3789473684210526315789473684211. In other words, if we took all the money back from the Poles which they are legitimately claiming, and redistributed it between those children, each could look forward to having an early Christmas present of £4.37p. Don't spend it all at once kids!

Going on:

HM Revenues and Customs said: “Under EU rules, an EU national working and paying compulsory contributions in one EU country can claim child benefits for their family resident in another.”

Which is a more concise and dumbed-down version for the Sun readership of the email I received.

Naturally, the good burghers of MyScum are enraged by this insult to the English working man, although one or two do dare to suggest that this is actually only fair. JanJud is representative:

It's an absolute disgrace, the working man is being taxed to death to pay for children that have no right to anything from the British Taxpayer. This Government are totally incompetent & corrupt, this throwing money down the drain must stop. British families can't even get housing, yet immigrants can!!!!!

And where does JanJud hail from? Err, South Africa.

I read a far more interesting fact in one of today's Grauniad articles on the Nimrod crash. The cost of operations in Iraq, despite the draw down in troops, is estimated to come to £995m, a rise of 2%. You decide which is more of a burden on the humble British taxpayer.

Elsewhere, the Sun is mourning the loss of Andy Hayman. Says crime editor Mike Sullivan, previously featured here, here and here:

THE resignation of Andy Hayman is a sad day for British policing.


Unlike others, Hayman fell on his sword and for that he must be praised.

I obviously cannot condone any wrong doing but he was respected and admired by grassroots police officers.

Andy Hayman was one of the good guys and our police force is a weaker force without him.

One has to wonder if Sullivan's sadness might be related to the "unique" relationship between the Sun and the police. Rebekah Wade has previously admitted to paying officers for information, while the stories which were so horribly wrong about Rochelle Holness and Janet Hossain were likely sourced on information from the police. Last week, when Harry Redknapp was arrested, the photographers from a certain newspaper had turned up at the same time as the police did, which might just suggest the two were in cahoots. The newspaper? The Sun.

Finally, this. Fucking this:

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Tuesday, December 04, 2007 

No nukes? Oh, time to invade then.

Fwwippp, followed by an almighty crash. Heard that sequence of sounds? It's been echoing around the globe, ever since the combined work of the 16(!) American intelligence agencies in the form of the national intelligence estimate was declassified and published yesterday. That fwwippp was the noise of a thousand rugs being pulled from under the feet of a thousand different people, politicians, commentators, bloggers, saloon bar bores, all made to look like fools at best and warmongering loons at worst. Iran not only isn't pursuing a nuclear weapons programme, it hasn't been doing so for four years.

Those who found themselves in a heap on the floor have come up with different ways of adjusting to the new, we're a bunch of liars and chumps, world. For the Sun, which recently informed us that the only thing worse than Iran getting nukes was another cakewalk with 650,000 dead and that anyone who believed Iran wanted nuclear power for peaceful purposes was "hopelessly deluded", the easiest thing to do is to stick your fingers in your ears and pretend nothing has changed, helped along by not reporting on the NIE assessment at all. If you're Oliver Kamm, and the unfortunate author of a piece for the Grauniad which calls for "concerted diplomatic pressure, sanctions and luck" when dealing with Iran published on the same night as the report, then you quickly rehash your bullshit and present it to the hordes on CiF as if it was fresh roast beef, rather than warmed up vomit. If you're Melanie Phillips, then this "this report provokes a high degree of scepticism". Scepticism which Mel naturally didn't show towards the intelligence claims that Saddam was going to murder us all in our beds within 45 minutes, or indeed, towards the claims by one Dave Gaubatz that Iraq's WMD was transported post-war from Iraq to Syria with the help of the Russians. Incredibly, President Bush has been the most magnanimous since the report was unveiled: he's gone from talking of nuclear holocaust and world war three to saying little more than Iran remains "dangerous".

Mad Mel does though have something of a point. We should indeed be sceptical. Why should we believe the intelligence services which got it so completely wrong over Iraq that Iran has abandoned any plans for a nuclear weapons? It's perfectly rational to be concerned over the motives of those delivering the intelligence this time round: they found themselves manipulated and used on both sides of the Atlantic to make the case for a war which has proved to be far more disastrous than their worst predictions suggested. We don't know how much of an impact this has had on their thinking and briefings; intelligence has always been nuanced and uncertain, things which Blair and Bush had no time for. Who's to say that they haven't tried to stop this happening again by being even more timid and diplomatic when considering what they know or even a pre-emptive attempt to stop in Marx's famous quote history being repeated for a second time as a farce after the tragedy of Iraq?

With Iraq however there always were informed voices that struggled to make themselves heard that more or less got it right, such as Scott Ritter, the former weapons inspector who was convinced Iraq had been 90-95% disarmed. He was 5% out. Robin Cook, who had been party to the intelligence as foreign secretary, stated in his resignation speech that he didn't believe Iraq had weapons of mass destruction as in those that could be quickly used in a military situation. Although intelligence agencies the world over were convinced that Iraq had some WMD, contrary to popular belief most didn't believe that it was an imminent, let alone an existential threat. As Richard Dearlove wrote, the "intelligence and facts were fixed around the policy". The ravings of men like "Curveball" were believed.

With Iran, it's different. As Oliver Kamm admits, Iran is not a totalitarian society, even if it is an autocratic and repressive one. Juan Cole speculates over whether the new information about Iran's nuclear program has come from a recent defector, having changed its mind from 2005 when the NIE estimated Iran was pursuing weapons, with now, two years' later, more convinced than before that it isn't and hasn't been for four years.

Wherever it's come from, it has already and will only do one thing: stop, or at least postpone any attack at least for some time to come. It also highlights the irony and inequity of the UN Security Council imposing sanctions on Iran for doing only, according to this latest assessment, what it is entitled to do under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which allows for the peaceful use of nuclear energy. The UN has been breaking international law, not Iran. This shouldn't negate from the fact that Iran has as yet no reactor where the uranium it has been enriching can be used for such purposes; but there is also nothing now to suggest, apart from the predictable and expected dissension from Israel, that the fuel, only being enriched to fuel grade, is for anything other than an energy program.

It also shouldn't stop the search for a complete solution. Still worth pursuing is the deal Russia has offered, where it would enrich the fuel while providing Iran with the reactors, taking away any reason for doubt. More intriguing still will be where this leaves Mahmoud Ahmadinejad himself: he has been hiding behind Iran's nuclear program to negate from the criticism he has faced over the rising cost of living and his broken promise to redistribute Iran's oil wealth. With the nuclear shield taken away, and faced with accusations of endangering the nation for no good reason, his short reign could be brought to an end at the first opportunity. Those also facing defenestration should be those who have so recklessly scaremongered and demanded action: Mad Mel and her second Holocaust have never looked so laughable.

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One down, one to go.

Good riddance then to Andy Hayman, the man who in the Sun's words "is feared by the terrorist scum determined to destroy our way of life." I'm sure that those willing to "martyr" themselves were terrified of him, while anyone unfortunate enough to get in the way of the anti-terrorist operations he was responsible for had plenty of reasons to be frightened, as the death of Jean Charles de Menezes and the Forest Gate fiasco more than demonstrated.

Like Ian Blair, Hayman should have resigned after the second IPCC report into the Met's operation on the 22nd of July found that he had failed to inform Blair that an innocent man had been shot dead. According to multiple accounts, Hayman informed the Crime Reporters Association that an innocent man had been shot dead at around 4pm. When questioned about what he told the CRA by the IPCC, he said he couldn't remember what he had. At 5pm he attended a sub-meeting of the Met's management board, where he said the following:

AC HAYMAN: There is press running that the person shot is not one of the four bombers. We need to present this that he is believed to be. This is different to confirming that he is. On the balance of probabilities, it isn’t. To have this for offer would be low risk.

Having started the press running that the man shot was not one of the four bombers, he then commenced the squall of lies and smears which wouldn't be fully corrected until the IPCC's preliminary investigatory findings were leaked.

Rather than going with something approaching dignity, Hayman has now "retired" after allegations were made that he had ran up credit card expenses of £15,000 and that he took a female officer on foreign trips with him, which he has described as "unfounded accusations". Accurate or not, it's difficult not to see them as poetic justice.

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Monday, December 03, 2007 

Hubris, carelessness and the second death.

Depending on who you believe, Alastair Campbell had a formula concerning the life of a scandal and whether those embroiled within it could survive in their jobs. Again, depending on who you believe, Campbell decided that most could carry on if by either the tenth or fourteenth day since it was first exposed the coverage had almost disappeared. We're now a week and a day into the Abrahams funding scandal, and it shows no signs whatsoever of being about to drop off the front pages.

The Brown camp must have been dreading the Sundays, where the weekly hacks had far more time than their daily counterparts to uncover further intricacies of Labour's dubious funding over the past few years. Things could have been a lot worse, one would think, even though the Mail on Sunday splashed on how Mahmoud Khayami donated to the party a whole day after he been entered on the electoral register, and Abrahams, who seems to be doing his best to be mischievous, noted that there are more senior figures within the party who knew that he was the source of the money coming from at least four different fronts. The situation has also been helped slightly by the whole Gillian Gibbons affair, although the embarrassment that David Miliband himself wasn't able to garner her early release while two Lords were able to might yet bite too. If politics hadn't become so separated in Scotland and England, the scandal which has also engulfed Wendy Alexander, the Scottish Labour leader, best summed up by Mr Eugenides, would also have hit far harder than it has south of the border.

The one thing that is still beyond belief is that Labour had the best part of two whole days to get its entire story about what happened completely straight, yet it failed comprehensively. The first they heard of what was going to be in the Mail on Sunday was on Saturday evening, and according to Patrick Wintour's Grauniad account it wasn't seen as too serious, but the involvement and resignation of Peter Watt still should have brought home just how damaging the fallout from the latest breach of party funding law was going to be. Yet even by Brown's press conference on Tuesday morning the full account of what occurred had not been constructed, nor has it even been now. To best disarm the ensuing storm, what should have been put into the public domain was a narrative of what had happened, how the party had got it wrong and how it was going to be put right. At the very best it can be said that Labour was leaving the details out so that Lord Whitty could establish them, while at worst the party was and is being blatantly dishonest, a view I more than lean towards.

For instance, how did a man such as Peter Hain just completely forget to register a donation (or indeed, most of his donations, as it now turns out) from none other than Jon Mendelsohn towards his deputy leadership campaign? The inference must be that it was a very convenient transgression. This itself distracts from the real question, which ought to by why and how some of the candidates thought it was necessary to raise such vast sums, in Hain's case £77,000, for what was an internal leadership campaign. Even more startling is that Harriet Harman, the eventual winner, was to hold a Christmas party a final fundraiser this Wednesday to cover the full costs of her campaign, having overspent by a huge margin, despite being told to go begging to Janet Kidd, one of Abrahams' fronts by Chris Leslie, the man who had rejected a donation from the very same Kidd in his role as Brown's leadership campaign co-ordinator.

Brown's last resort to try to regain the initiative has been to dangle the carrot to the Tories of severing the link with the unions once and for all. Perhaps the only major surprise is that it has taken both this long to happen and that the unions have put up with Labour for so many years, through so many broken promises whilst still funding the party up to the hilt. The details of how the political levy will be made "transparent" in Brown's words are unclear: will this mean a limit of £50,000 a year or every member being required to OK the money donated by the union? If it's the former, it will mark the final, full transition of Labour from the party representing the ordinary worker to that of one totally funded by the same corporate, rich individuals as the Tories. This occurred long ago in policy, but the death of Labour in spirit in exchange for the dishonesty of its apparatchiks is fitting, if only as a reminder of the last ten years.

As both Dave and Chris have said, this wasn't supposed to happen, but this can't purely be blamed on the Blair era. Brown might not have known about the donations, but he did appoint Mendelsohn who will famously be known for being "concerned" about Abrahams' funding, but not enough to do anything about it prior to the story being exposed. He has completely failed to make good on his promise for "change" while the mendacity of Blair was never punctured. We do need as Chris argues the resurrection of mass politics, but who with? Labour has never been more of a busted flush. Do we help build the Greens or go somewhere else? Fact is, we simply don't know, and what's more, we won't. Being disaffected is much easier than starting again.

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Tabloid-watch: Intruding on distress and failing to own up to their own role in the lack of self-esteem.

I'm of the opinion that most celebrities and the press attitude towards them is usually reciprocal - they sell their souls, the media has the power to either crush them or beatify them, and decides on which according to their whims - and although the tabloids often overstep the mark, they usually don't do so in such a manner as to become a matter of open concern. It's only in the rare cases, such of that of Heather Mills, who has certainly brought some of it upon herself but certainly doesn't deserve the vitriol heaped upon her daily, not to mention the numerous lies told about her, even if she has ideas that make Melanie Phillips look sane by comparison. Being called "Mucca" for doing glamour modeling 20 years ago, especially by the Scum, currently encouraging women across the nation to "whip 'em out" for a cash prize of £5,000 is clearly vile. Also completely unacceptable is the similarly disgusting Heat magazine printing stickers making fun of a disabled child - even if that child was unfortunate enough to be born to Jordan.

Today's front pages of both the Mirror and the Scum featuring a photograph of Amy Winehouse in a obvious state of both distress and undress are, by the same yardstick, intrusive, voyeuristic, demeaning and motivated by a state of clear faux-concern, as shown by the Sun's article on the matter. It also raises questions - just what is an apparent paparazzi photographer doing in a street in London at 5:40 except stalking a woman in the hope of getting such a shot which he/she will able to sell for more than most of us will likely make in a year? I'm no fan of Winehouse and the spawn which she and Lily Allen have given succour to over the last year, but to put such photographs on the front page of a newspaper must rank as far lower behaviour than that which she recently displayed at a gig where she was booed for her poor peformance. If the editors of the respective newspapers were photographed in a similar tearful, upset state, they would move heaven and earth to ensure that such pictures were not replicated in rival publications. In fact, the no-aggression pact between most editors in Fleet Street would mean that most newspapers would never even dream of printing them at all, let alone on the front page. Rebekah Wade for instance, had her divorce from Ross Kemp almost entirely concealed from view due to frantic ringing-round by Les Hinton. Amy Winehouse, to whom being described as "troubled" has almost become a reflex reaction, has no such protection.

There are also no protections in the Press Complaints Commission code against such invasive photographers, and that's for the reason that editors are rightly expected to exercise discretion over what they publish. In a world in which the newspapers are now competing with online gossip columns and celebrity magazines which clearly have almost no qualms about what they print, however, to miss such an opportunity is now seen as to pass it on to your rivals. As always, journalists ought to put themselves into the position of the person they're covering: how would they feel to see themselves on the front page of the two biggest selling red top tabloids in such a state? Is the use of the photographs more likely to cause the person to seek help if they need it, or cause them further unnecessary distress? In this case, it seems more likely to me to be the latter. If Winehouse was now to be found dead, or to be admitted to hospital after an act of self-harm or attempted suicide, the media would rightly stand accused of documenting a descent while only profiting from it. It's something that will eventually happen, but until it does newspapers will continue to push the boundaries of what is seen as fair game.

Elsewhere in the Scum, the leader is concerned about a poll showing that girls as young as 6 are worried about their appearance, yet as usual identifies every other suspect for why that is except for themselves:

GIRLS are dangerously obsessed with their image.

A survey says nearly half of girls aged between six and 12 hate the way they look.

It’s shocking — and wrong — that girls as young as six care so much.

They should be enjoying themselves in innocent play at that age.


Parents, teachers and the fashion industry all have a role to play.

Easily-manipulated kids must not be targeted by advertisers.

It’s dangerously simple to hook a girl for life with worries about her looks.

It’s their health and happiness that counts.

Unlike most Sun editorials, there's little there to disagree with. The media itself, however, rather than just advertisers, has just as big a role to play. As alluded to above, the Sun is currently running page 3 idol, the very sort of competition where the "male fantasy" image of a woman as being something to aspire to is inherently promoted. It's run endless articles on cosmetic surgery, especially breast augmentations, and is as mired in the celebrity culture, where looks are everything, as any of the weeklies. This is partly the reason the paper targets the working class male above everyone else, but when you're the biggest selling newspaper other responsibilities undoubtedly come with that.

Another worry is surely the lack of role models, especially for young girls - am I the only one depressed by the survey's findings that only one percent less than those who aspire to becoming a teacher are satisfied in the hope of becoming a hairdresser or a beautician? Some might say that's being realistic, but it's also aiming incredibly low. The paucity of young female role models who aren't either Big Brother contestants or soap stars that after leaving their respective original role spend the rest of their days in the little boy wank mags with their plastic breasts on display, at least when not showcasing their lack of intelligence on other reality shows, is shocking. Radical feminism is rightly dead, but the more moderate variety is also gasping for breath in an age where the unchallenged cynicism of men's magazines and sexism is still rife. The marketisation of life itself though certainly has the most to answer for, and even fewer are willing to stand up to that. Only when true individuality is encouraged, rather than adopting a phony version to be sold, will self-esteem and happiness with and within the own body start to become something natural.

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