Saturday, December 27, 2008 

Weekend links.

An utterly piss-poor weekend in the papers, so thankfully there's been some truly excellent blogging over the last couple of days. Daily Quail doesn't just skewer the Mail's article on Falinge, Jamie Sport completely tears it to shreds in fine comic style. Back Towards the Locus also launches a superb assault on Michael Gove's staggering claim that the Iraq war has been a British foreign policy success, fisking it into oblivion.

Elsewhere, Andrew Hickey on Lib Con states why he isn't a libertarian, Paul Linford and Flying Rodent provide some of the first reviews of the year, Craig Murray recounts his own encounters with Harold Pinter, as does Anthony Barnett, while the Guardian republishes a Pinter comment piece from 1996, while also saluting him in a leader. Anton Vowl attacks the completely ignorant comments by Andy Burnham regarding prospective internet age ratings, Ben Goldacre summarises all his columns this year in one handy place and Juan Cole delivers his yearly top 10 myths about Iraq. Finally, there's the Shiraz Socialist Tin-Foil Hat of the Year award to vote early and often in.

And that's your lot. No worst tabloid comment piece this weekend, and hopefully I will get onto those long-awaited best/worst lists next week.

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The cynicism of a terrorist state.

Founded on guilt and terror, Israel is a state that continues to present itself as the perennial victim, surrounded by hostile nations that would like nothing more than it to be pushed into the sea, inhabited by a people they refused to even acknowledged existed for decades who habitually launch murderous attacks against the innocent civilians of what was once the only democracy in the Middle East. When it strikes back, as it always does, never having started the miniature conflicts which break out every so often, it is always doing so to defend itself and its citizens; it even gave the Palestinians the Gaza Strip all to themselves, and what was their reward for their generosity? To have thousands of rudimentary rockets fired into their country! What nation would put up with such threats to their people?

Every so often however, the mask slips. The last time was the Israel-Hizbullah-Lebanon war. No one disputed that it was Hizbullah that had invited some sort of response with their attack which killed a number of Israeli soldiers while kidnapping others; it was however the staggeringly disproportionate response, resulting in the deaths of over a thousand Lebanese civilians, while Israel fired in hundreds of thousands if not millions of cluster bombs, killing and injuring hundreds more over time, which showed to many for the first time that Israel was not the one forever wronged, but also an aggressor, a bully that cared just as little for the lives of the innocent as the terrorists it was ostensibly fighting against.

The mask has again slipped today. After a six-month ceasefire in which Hamas and the other Palestinian miltant groups mostly sat by as Israel attempted to starve Gaza into submission, almost achieving the former but completely failing to destroy the spirit of resistance which has long characterised the Palestianian people, Israel has unleashed what can only be described as mass slaughter. Israel's supposed justification is that since the ceasefire was ended, Hamas and other groups have massively stepped up the shelling of the towns close to the Gaza border; while true, the home-made rockets and mortars smuggled into the Strip rarely hit their targets, and even when they do, they even more rarely injure, let alone kill. Their main function is fear, as the Israelis themselves even acknowledge. Knowing that they cannot get away with claiming that such rockets pose an existential threat to the Israeli state, the Israelis instead focus on the mental harm which they cause: 33% of children in Sderot apparently suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. They are however less inclined to discuss not just the mental health of children in Gaza, but also their physical health, which the International Committee of the Red Cross in November said was approaching chronic malnutrition as a direct result of the Israeli blockade.

We perhaps ought to have seen this coming: yesterday Israel allowed at least 40 trucks of food and humanitarian supplies to enter Gaza. A security official told that this was because "
there are segments of the Palestinian population in Gaza which do not support terror, and we cannot neglect them." Instead it was to allow the Gazans to stock up for the siege, so that Israel would not be criticised quite as much by the so-called international community when it began its air strikes, which have killed at least 205 Palestinians and injured over 700. Hospitals have been overwhelmed, mosques have appealed for blood to be donated, and doubtless some of those "who do not support terror" have been killed as well as the Hamas policemen that seem to have been the main target. If this is an attempt by Israel to try to overthrow Hamas, then it seems doomed to failure; Fatah has been routed in Gaza, and however much Israel tries to blame Hamas, its words are completely and utterly hollow to overseas observers, let alone Gaza residents. Increasingly, Gaza residents are instead turning their anger on the Arab nations, which they regard as doing worse than nothing. Egypt, which has also been involved in the blockading of Gaza through refusing to open its entry into the Strip, is coming in for the most criticism, especially after Egypt's first minister was photographed hand-in-hand with Israel's equivalent, Tzipi Lvini.

There has been one apparent Israeli casualty, a 58-year-old man killed when rockets struck a synagogue. Since the end of the ceasefire, there had been no deaths on the Israeli side from the rocket attacks, attacks which were nonetheless described by Israeli politicians and officials as "unbearable". The futility and idiocy of the Qassam attacks was mercilessly shown when a rocket fell short of its target yesterday and instead struck a house in Gaza, killing two schoolgirls, yet for many Palestinians, even those critical of Hamas and the other militant groups, they are the only way of striking back against Israel. Why should they roll over and play dead when that is exactly what the Israelis want them to do? Why should they stop the rocket fire, even if they could, while Israel refuses to lift the siege, when it is only interested in the overthrow of Hamas, despite its legitimate election victory?

Even if those involved are primarily Jewish and Islamic, this is still meant to be a time of peace on earth, of goodwill to all men. In fact, that seems to have almost certainly entered Israel's military calculus: hit the Palestinians when the West is more interested in the sales and themselves, and you're less likely to have to face down such bitter criticism.
Increase the idea that they've brung it on themselves, that they're the ones truly responsible, and that Israel, as ever, is the only one capable of defending itself from those that are determined to bring about her destruction Also influential was doubtless the approaching Israeli election, with Likud ahead in the polls; after all, when has a little war ever harmed anyone's electoral chances, especially one where it's unlikely that many on your own side will be killed? One can but hope that the mask has once again truly slipped, that such killing can never be justified, and that all sides back down. But as we saw on Christmas Day, both Faith and Hope have now died.

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Wednesday, December 24, 2008 

Christmas Eve miscellany.

Just a few words and links today. Here's what I left on the Grauniad article regarding Zavvi's entering administration:

Can I be so bold as to put in a defence of Zavvi? Perhaps it's just my local store, but the prices in there, at least on the new releases are usually competitive or better than HMV's, the staff are far friendlier and helpful, and you actually felt like they cared about you. It's all well and good saying support your local independent, but the sad fact is that they hardly exist any more: it's either Zavvi and HMV or the utter hell of a supermarket. Music is no longer an art to these people; it's become a commodity. If Zavvi and eventually HMV goes then we'll have genuinely lost something for good.

David Semple writes of the best Marxist analysis of the financial crisis he's come across so far.

Aaron puts in a superb rant on the bailiffs issue, and my post was also cross-posted over on Lib Con, sans the description of Green as "fat and greasy", should you feel the need to read a load more comments.

Anton Vowl rips into the Sun and its fetish over "Our Boys", while the paper itself complains about the MoD refusing to pay for gifts from the public to be sent over to them, which is quite obviously what public money should be spent on rather than anything else.

Finally, if you want to read something cracked from err, someone cracked, these thoughts on Pope Benedict's speech from our old friend Johanna Kaschke are rather unique.

Anyway, have a good Christmas, and I'll be back in a couple of days with some tedious best and worst of 2008 lists that we all love so much.

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Tuesday, December 23, 2008 

Flagrant injustice.

On the 19th of December the prison population stood at 82,918 (DOC), 1,807 places from "Usable Operational Capacity". Operation Safeguard, which involves the use of police and court cells to hold prisoners, "remains activated", and the early release of prisoners to help with overcrowding is also still in operation. This time last year the prison population was 80,707, showing that although the massive rise in prison population since Labour came to power has slowed, it still continues to grow.

It would be nice to imagine that all of those 82,918 individuals spending Christmas in their cells thoroughly deserve to be there, but two thoroughly different cases over the last couple of days show the vagaries of the court system.

How many, honestly, would genuinely argue that a custodial sentence for Robert Holding is either appropriate or likely to protect the public? Holding, a milkman aged 72, rather than also selling orange juice and yoghurts to his customers ran a more exotic sideline, supplying cannabis resin to fellow pensioners. Whether they were genuinely using it as Holding argued for "aches and pains" is open to question, but even if they weren't, who exactly in this scheme was losing out or being harmed? Furthermore, Holding pleaded guilty at the earliest opportunity, and although the article doesn't mention it, it seems likely to be his first offence. Either a fine or at the most a community service order would surely suffice and have seen justice being done; yet Judge Lunt warned Holding that when he passes judgement the "likely outcome is an immediate custodial sentence". This is taking the so-called "drug war" and indeed our laws regarding Class C drugs, as cannabis will remain until the government reclassifies it and as result increases the likelihood of not just the "dealers" like Holding going to prison but also his customers, to ludicrous extremes.

If such apparent injustice doesn't bring the law and the courts into disrepute, then surely injustice piled upon injustice does. The Cardiff Three were convicted after police techniques which were subsequently described by the lord chief justice as "almost passing belief". Not in question was that three witnesses who gave evidence against them were treated in a similar fashion - but yet 20 years after the murder of Lynette White, all of them found themselves being sentenced to 18 months in prison after they were convicted of perjury. Two of them, Leanne Vilday and Angela Psaila, who at the time had been working as prostitutes, pleaded guilty, possibly misguidedly but presumably because they expected that doing so would lessen any custodial sentence. The third defendant, Mark Grommek, pleaded not guilty on the grounds that he had committed perjury under duress, again, something not contested by the court. They were however all convicted on the grounds that the duress they had suffered was not of the kind which was likely to make them either fear for their lives or believe that they were likely to suffer serious injury, making their testimony voluntary rather than involuntary. The judge in the case, Mr Justice Maddison, ruled that despite Grommek's testimony that he was on the verge of a nervous breakdown due to the police's actions, he still had "ample opportunity" to tell the truth. Maddison even accepted that the police's conduct had been "unacceptable in a civilised society", yet he decided that 20 years on, when those really in the dock should be the police themselves, sentences of a year and a half were the best course of redress.

How exactly is the public by served by all 4 individuals spending time in prison? We certainly aren't by the cost, which averages out, according to a written answer given in parliament in April 2006, at a staggering £40,992 a year. Ultimately responsible are not the judges and police that enforce the law but instead our politicians, who are completely hooked on punitive measures and increasing the prison population, which has risen by 25,000 since 1996. Both Labour and the Tories seem to imagine that despite all the evidence to the contrary, they can build their way out of overcrowding. The Tories even want to cancel the early release scheme, which would swiftly result in the police cells being filled again, at further exorbitant cost to the taxpayer. By the same token, it's been noted repeatedly that when judges believe there to be a punitive mood, either in the public or in politicians, or indeed both, they pass harsher sentences. Often whipped up by the tabloid press, the evidence in fact suggests that such punitive prison policies are dropping in popularity: a recent poll gave an almost equal split between those who thought prison worked and those who wanted alternatives.

On the whole, the courts do a decent job, and mainly get the balance right. It sometimes takes cases like those of Robert Holding and the second Cardiff Three to force reform through, to show that such expense and waste is not the answer. We shouldn't expect however that those so wedded to authoritarian crime polices will have their minds changed, regardless of the evidence of such flagrant injustice.

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Monday, December 22, 2008 

Quick, slow, Quick, Quick, slow.

(Not Cap'n) Bob's Interceptor.

It's a fitting tribute to the investigatory skills of our finest anti-terrorism officers that Bob Quick should be so, err, quick in pointing the finger at the Tories for "planting" a story in the Mail on Sunday regarding his wife's car hire business, which he then complained was potentially putting his family at risk, despite the family's home address being advertised on a far from inaccessible website.

This is after all meant to be the man who'll be in charge should there be another terrorist attack, someone with qualities such as remaining calm in a crisis, unflappable, not liable to send in CO19 after another Brazilian wearing a denim jacket. Even if we accept that the Tories have indeed being trying their hardest to gain politically from the utterly foolish raid on Damian Green's office, something which judging by the polls they've failed to do, and have also been putting pressure on the Met to drop the inquiry, the level of paranoia Quick is apparently suffering from to immediately pin the blame on the Conservatives - and not just to do it privately, but to brief the Press Association with your suspicions, accusing the party of acting in a "corrupt way" - shows a fairly shocking lack of judgement for again, someone in his position.

Being in the limelight can obviously do very strange things to you, especially when you have been thrust into it unceremoniously and found yourself at the centre of a furore over breaching the very heart of democracy, as can being concerned for the safety of your family. It does make you wonder whether, as well almost being able to act with something approaching impunity, the police also seem to imagine that they can also say anything, regardless of evidence, and also get away with it. Surely the most ill-advised notion of all on Quick's part was that rather than letting the simmering row over Green's arrest die down over Christmas, as it was always going to, followed by the quiet dropping of the inquiry, he has instead brought all the more attention towards himself and invited the accusations that this just overwhelming proves the closeness of the current crop of senior police officers to the incumbent party of government.

The allegations that Sir Ian Blair presided over a politically correct police force were always ridiculous - chance would be a fine thing - but far more dangerous is the idea that Labour and the police are in cahoots, one not helped by the disgraceful initial lobbying by the police for 90 and then 42 days, which only succeeded in turning ever more of those who might have been sympathetic against it. In reality both the Conservatives and Labour have increasingly kow-towed to police demands for new powers or laws, mainly because they turned the prevention of crime into a battle over who could be the toughest. Having failed to provide total job or economic security, governments have instead turned to the idea that they can provide total personal security as a failsafe, when they can of course do neither. Labour's authoritarianism, especially under Brown and Smith, although how quickly we forget past home secretaries and their own excesses, has been more noticeable because Brown cannot defend it as well as Blair could or simply doesn't have the inclination to, and because Smith, like John Reid, actually seems to relish playing the hard (wo)man, an ultra-Blairite thug when being a Blairite has become deeply unfashionable. Combined with her apparent inability to suffer shame when she blames Boris Johnson of all people for politicising the police, you can hardly blame those who have taken to calling her "Jackboots Jacqui". Thing is, if she knew she'd probably wouldn't mind in the slightest.

Similarly, it would be nice to think that Labour's decision to step back from direct elections to police authorities was because it had realised that was unlikely to increase accountability and instead only increase the politicisation of the police - instead it's hard not to imagine it was because they knew it was hardly likely any of their representatives would be the ones to win the popular vote. All sides, Labour, Conservative and the police need to find a way to retreat from their current positions and realise that this is doing none of them any good, but doing that after all consider themselves to be unfairly slurred is easier said than done.

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Paying your debts.

This is an incredibly late April Fool, surely:

The government has been accused of trampling on individual liberties by proposing wide-ranging new powers for bailiffs to break into homes and to use “reasonable force” against householders who try to protect their valuables.

Under the regulations, bailiffs for private firms would for the first time be given permission to restrain or pin down householders. They would also be able to force their way into homes to seize property to pay off debts, such as unpaid credit card bills and loans.

The government, which wants to crack down on people who evade debts, says the new powers would be overseen by a robust industry watchdog. However, the laws are being criticised as the latest erosion of the rights of the householder in his own home.

The government, which wants to crack down on people who evade debts. I can think of a few individuals and companies which have been known to evade their debts, or as they are sometimes also known, taxes. How about sending the bailiffs after the likes of that fat greasy fucker Philip Green, who paid his wife £1bn into a Monaco account to avoid having to hand over any of his quite legitimately owned moolah? Why don't we hire the goons when Rupert Murdoch is next in town to loot his office, all the while pinning him down so tightly that he can't breathe?

Or perhaps we could set them on probably the biggest debtor in the country, or as he's otherwise known, the prime minister. I can just imagine the burly bastards shoulder charging Number 10's door, gathering all the Brown's belongings, including his children's toys, and putting them outside while the heavens open, Brown unfortunately being winded after getting obstreperous and asking them whether they know he is and then pleading with them that he will eventually be paying back that £645bn, honest. Fair is fair, after all.

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