Tuesday, October 31, 2006 

War all the time.

One of the curious things that war does to politicians and the media is the way that it imbues them with the absolute certainty that they, and only they, know what the troops need and or/want, what demoralises them and what builds them up. Hence we have the worst possible politician (Margaret Beckett) to lead the debate on the need for an inquiry into the Iraq war since Neville Chamberlain returned from Munich with "peace for our time", claiming that to vote for an inquiry now "would lead to very real consequences" for British troops. The Tories aren't any better. Liam Fox, never missing a chance to show what a opportunist right wing fundamentalist he is, spent the latter part of last week bashing the BBC wherever and whenever he could for screening an interview with a Taliban commander. That the reporter had risked his life to do so meant nothing to Fox, who seemed to regard it as close to treasonous when our troops are being murdered by Taliban supporters, an emotional piece of doublethink which must mean that when NATO air strikes kill numerous civilians, it isn't a mistake but an act of mass murder.

Those conceits however don't even come close to the man of the week's fantastical claims about the Iraqi insurgency. Dick Cheney, fresh from advocating the use of torture against terrorist suspects, says that the "insurgents" are stepping up attacks in order to influence the mid-term elections in America. Either that, or the simple fact that the redeploying of thousands more troops into Baghdad has made them more of a target, or simply that the horrible truth is that the violence is getting even worse. It no longer seems as if the politicians on both sides of the Atlantic are lying through their teeth to the media in order to hold their position; they genuinely seem to believe the bullshit which emerges from their mouths like a flood of verbal dysentery.

All the parties seem to ignore what the troops actually do seem to believe. The response to Richard Dannatt's interview with the Daily Mail showed how many of them believe that they are sitting ducks in Iraq, making the situation worse, not better, and only still there because of Tony Blair's undying allegiance to the Bush administration, for to withdraw them now would only just emphasise what a complete disaster the war has been, with the US army left surrounded by the sectarian violence that they have stirred up and created. It's obvious how the generals regard the war in Afghanistan as still winnable and worth doing, only for our politicians to have made that task next to impossible by moving on to Baghdad. Only a close to immediate exit from Iraq can turn the situation around, and no mainstream party has yet come to that conclusion, although the Lib Dems finally seem to be seeing the light.

The failure of the motion for an inquiry, by 25 votes, shows that the Labour whips can still do their job, however distasteful it is for anti-war Labour MPs to support a government that led us into war on lies and misconceptions, which has still not been held properly to account. That it was the first debate on Iraq since 2004 is even more of a disgrace. Once again Blair has got away with a let-off, whether the inquiry would have been another whitewash or not.

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Dave's raves pt. 94

Say what you like about David Cameron, and the fact that he's an old Etonian who's encouraging a lot more ex-public schoolboys and girls to join his already toffee-nosed party means that there's plenty to go on, but he does on occasion manage to at least promote vaguely different and interesting policies.

Take his rave yesterday. Stealing a huge amount of Lib Dem thinking which has been going on for years, he suggested that the current plethora of age limits should made more uniformly. Using the curious fact that you can buy a gun at 17 but not fireworks until you're 18, he certainly has a point. The ludicrous legal distinction that means you can consent to sex at 16 but not watch others doing so until you're 18 is one of things that rankled the Lib Dems most, although whether it was one of Mark Oaten's main concerns or not is unclear. When this was one of the discussions points a couple of years back at the conference, the Tories and Labour universally mocked this woolly liberal thinking. Like the emerging consensus on climate change, what was once sneered at is gradually coming into vogue.

Even such a seemingly minor thing as this though is a potential minefield. There would be little public or political support for lowering the legal age to drink alcohol to 16; giving the franchise to 16-year-olds seems likely to only further lower the turnout at elections. At the same time, raising the smoking age to 18 seems just as daft. Learning to drive at 17 seems just the right age, and there seems no reason why you should have to be 21 to be allowed to stand for parliament.

Naturally though, being a member of the Conservative party, Cameron's plans don't mean that the young are just going to be given a free lunch of new rights. They have to be "responsible" at the same time. In order to prove that the they're fine upstanding potential Tory voters, to gain some of these new rights they have to first volunteer to take part in "community work and personal development projects" which is in other words a euphemism for the bringing back of a distant relative of national service. Britain's youth might be either hoodies or emos, trendies or grebos, but they'd unite over not having to prove themselves yet again to be anything other than feckless. Today's youth are expected to keep their mouths shut, not go outside for fear of paedophiles, while at the same time being told that they musn't become couch-potatoes either. They shouldn't hang around on corners in case they scare the old, even though there's often little else for them to do. They face exam after exam and test after test, and even then around 50% of them won't reach the government's target of 5 "good" A to C GCSE results. Being a teenager is pretty bad as it is; you're confused, angry, sad, hyperactive and moody and sitting through dismal citizenship lessons isn't going to infuse them with the impetus to go and volunteer to clean graffiti off bus shelters.

Then there's the sheer unworkable nature of it. Cameron proposes that those who do decide to give up some of their time for instance be given the right to drink or go to pubs and clubs at an earlier age, but doesn't explain how on earth that's going to work. Bouncers and bar workers aren't going to give a fig about some certificate that some little urchin has; they want proper ID. Besides all this, most schools already have their own local schemes for working with communities, and there's also programmes like the Duke of Edinburgh awards, which are worth working towards thanks to the fact it impresses employers and looks good on any application, even if you do have to go and meet the bald, racist, lecherous fucker.

As often with Cameron, he seems to have his heart in the right place. There's nothing wrong at all with wanting to give 16-year-olds "a sense of purpose, optimism and belonging", something which a lot of adults certainly don't have. It's just that there's the same old Tory hiding in the background - the whole programme smacks of wanting to turn out conforming, easily to control young people, making them do something purely because the blue rinse, authoritarian brigade doesn't approve of them being given the rights they've enjoyed all their lives just because they've reached a certain age. Perhaps the last word should be left to a young person who does know what he's talking about - the one that heckled Cameron:
"You do not know your arse from your elbow, you bastard."

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Monday, October 30, 2006 

So burn the flag if you must...

A flag-burning everyone should be able to applaud.

The rule used to be that there was a few years between laws being made in the United States and similar legislation being passed over here in America's satellite. Perhaps similarly to how Alastair Campbell was subconsciously influenced, in Lord Hutton's words, to sex up the Iraq WMD dossier, Tarique Ghaffur might while have got the idea to ban flag burning from a manufactured hoo-hah earlier in the year in America, where suddenly the rights and wrongs of burning the flag became a distraction from the coffins coming back wrapped in it.

The police openly demanding more powers always has the whiff of the dictatorship about it. Last year we had local chiefs of police phoning up their MPs, urging them to vote for the 90 day detention without charge legislation for suspected terrorists. If anything, such direct lobbying backfired, with MPs rebelling against such openly political grandstanding from the police, led by Sir Ian Blair, fresh from his denials about the death of Jean Charles de Menezes, saying that he'd prefer even longer than 90 days. 12 months on, and while there have been no further terrorist attacks, there have been a couple of scares, one of which had the police lifting for their telephones to sell their smears to the Murdoch press, the other of which we still know little about the true threat posed.

The main uproars of the year though have been the protest in February by the remnants of Al-Muhajiroun, then known as al-Ghuraba, and now likely known by yet another name, and the more recent protest in the aftermath of the Pope's quoted comments of a Byzantine emperor on Mohammad. Both protests involved in some way the extremist idiot and former womaniser Anjem Choudrary, who while he isn't demanding the execution of God's messenger on earth, is supposedly a lawyer. The demonstration in February, when protesters carried placards with such delightful statements as "BEHEAD THOSE WHO INSULT ISLAM" was seen to some as the last straw, with the police doing very little other than photographing those who were taking part and keeping others away from them. Incitement to murder was very clearly taking place. While some charges have since brought, these have typically been well down the news agenda. The second protest was much more calm by comparison, with no such inflammatory placards, just the rantings of Choudrary, who only suggested that the Pope could be subject to capital punishment, rather than saying he should be executed.

At the heart of the recommendations is something eminently sensible, which is making a level playing field for all such protests. It's quite true that the BNP has recently been banned from carrying out potentially confrontational protests; one such march planned for Luton was stopped. If the BNP can't protest outside mosques, than neither should extremist Islamists be allowed to protest outside churches. As it happens, I'd rather that neither were stopped from doing so, but things being as they are, that's an unrealistic pipe dream. There are going to have to be some concessions on both sides.

On the flag burning front however, and with the wearing of masks, there must and should not be any such compromise. Tarique Ghaffur may have his heart in the right place, as Sunny believes, but the banning of the burning of flags would be a reactionary, completely unnecessary limitation on freedom of expression. Does anyone really care about the burning of a piece of cloth with the emblem of a nation on it, other than the cripplingly idiotic patriot fringe? Is it really that potentially offensive? More than anything, the burning of flags just often shows a protest going too far, labouring on the point of whatever the demonstration is about. Those doing the immolation often provide an image for the opposing side with their actions, as the burning of the Israeli flag by some Hizbullah supporters did on the Ceasefire Now demonstration at the beginning for August for the right wing Sunday broadsheets. On the other hand, would there be a more fitting image for the reduction of civil liberties under Blair than for someone to set fire to a Union Jack at the Cenotaph when he leaves Downing Street for the last time?

There is something even deeper here though. As anyone who has been on a reasonably well attended demonstration in the last few years will tell you, especially in London, the police increasingly are taking video and photographs of every single person. Everyone of you, by virtue of deciding to exercise your democratic right to lobby parliament or complain about whatever it is you're upset about it, appears to be a potential criminal. Even on good natured, entirely peaceful marches, where there is absolutely no chance of violence breaking out where video or photographic evidence might be necessary for a court case, this still happens and goes on. It's the same kind of logic which underpins the DNA database, which our Dear Leader last week advocated should contain every single person's genetic makeup. Everyone now arrested has their fingerprints and a mouth swab taken. Even if you're not charged, you're still a potential criminal, there on the computer for the rest of your life, just in case. You can't be too careful, after all.

This is the true reason behind wanting to ban the wearing of masks. The police and the government want to have complete, total, undeniable control over anyone who disagrees with them. They want to know who they are, where they are, and what they think. The information commissioner, Richard Thomas, warned yesterday in the Sunday Times that we, the poor, benighted so-called free citizens of Britain, are now spied upon more than any other population in the free world. That's a really special one to add the best/worst in Europe list, along with having the most teenage pregnancies and the most obese.

It's not as if the police don't have enough powers already. You can't demonstrate with a mile of parliament without first getting permission. You're liable to be stopped and searched for so much as farting out of turn, thanks to section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000. You can be detained for up to 28 days without charge for terrorism offences, as long as the police can feed a line to a judge after every seven days. You can be arrested, or at least questioned, for saying virtually anything potentially offensive in public, as such varied figures as Stephen Green, the former head of the Muslim Council of Britain, Anne Robinson and many others have found. The police can now arrest you for any piffling break of the law, when previously they would have dealt you an on the spot caution, told you to move on or given you a verbal warning. Now they want to be able to arrest and charge you with spraying a piece of cloth in deodorant and then sparking a flame near it.

Naturally, the proposed legislation would not catch women wearing the veil. In practice, the police might be a little less discretionary. The emergency protest in Manchester in the aftermath of Jack Straw's comments about the niqab might well have left police in a quandary if they had such powers. A few women on the march in August, who coincidentally appeared to be Hizbullah supporters, wore the full veil. Would the police have objected if this proposed law was in force? Who knows?

That there is the root problem with all the new powers given to our superb crime fighters. Every single new law or power they have, and remember, according to the Liberal Democrats, the Dear Leader has created 3,000 new criminal offences, the police abuse. They've used the 1997 act targeting stalkers to crackdown on those pesky repeat protestors. They've used section 44 of the Terrorism Act to stop just about anyone they feel like. They boarded a pair of buses going to a protest at an RAF base 2 days after the Iraq began and forced them to turn around, on the specious argument that they believed they were going to cause a "breach of the peace". Henry Porter, in another eloquently argued, quietly fuming article, brings up other such instances.

All of which makes you yearn for the protections of the US constitution. One of the main reasons why a flag burning ban would never reach the statute book in the US is because it would almost certainly be struck down by a court as breaching the right to free expression. Over here, we have to make do with the "hated" Human Rights Act, which some politicians want to dilute and which the Sun wants abolished. The ever continuing urges of the powerful in society to dilute the rights of the common man are going on unabated, and will continue to. It's only by standing up, if necessary, for the small things, and that means the right to burn the flag and to wear a mask while doing it, that we'll stop it from happening.

P.S. If you needed any more evidence that it's a bad idea, the Sun thinks, to quote Dick Cheney, that it's a no-brainer.

Related post:
Ministry of Truth - Burning the flag doesn’t make freedom go away, it’s kinda like Free-dom ok?

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Saturday, October 28, 2006 

Scum-watch: Police-supporting tosh.

Add another stack of lies to the already toppling tower that is the continued smearing of the Koyair brothers. You might remember that back in July, after it had been comprehensively proved that the most deadly poison the brothers and their family had in their home in Forest Gate was a bottle of aspirin, that searches of Mohammed Abdul Kahar's computer and phone had found child pornography. Rather than the police announcing this development themselves, it was, naturally, leaked to the News of the World, which along with the Sun had dedicated itself to defending our brave boys in blue from the accusations that the terror raid was an unjustified fiasco from beginning to end.

ANTI-TERROR cops were stunned when their massive raid on suspect bombers in Forest Gate turned into a chilling child porn probe, we can reveal.

Their week-long search of the house uncovered no explosives or chemical weapons—but officers unearthed a haul of vile kiddie sex pictures on the family's computer.

After forensic investigation they now plan to arrest and quiz 23-year-old Mohammed Abdul Kahar, who was shot in the shoulder during the police swoop on his east London home.

The News of the World can reveal that Scotland Yard has already consulted lawyers from the Crown Prosecution Service who have recommended charges be brought.

A CPS source said: "This isn't what officers expected to find when they were searching the computer files.

"The child pornography has been graded ‘high level' and the images are extremely disturbing.

"These are very serious offences and will be treated like any other case of its kind."

...

Meanwhile the seized computer was being examined by IT experts and forensic teams.

They found the horrifying collection of kiddie porn pictures which have now been handed over to specialists at Scotland Yard's Child Abuse Investigation Command SCD5.


Whoops!
Three months later, hoping that everyone had forgotten and helpfully released late on a Friday night, the CPS announced the following:

Prosecutors have advised police not to bring child pornography charges against the man who was shot by police during a counter-terrorist raid earlier this year, it was announced tonight.

A Crown Prosecution Service spokesman said Mohammed Abdul Kahar would face no charges over allegations that 44 indecent images had been found on electronic equipment at his home.


Oh, but it doesn't end there. It gets even better:

Forensic examination of a Dell computer, an external computer hard-drive and various mobile phones found 44 indecent images of children in the memories, he added. The images included indecent "movies", he said.

Of the total, 23 were "embedded" images - which could have been inadvertently downloaded on the back of other computer files - and 21 were "deleted". These 21 were all on the external hard drive and a Nokia 3G mobile.

"To transfer to the phone, the suspect would have to have specialist knowledge," the spokesman added. "There was no evidence that Mr Kahar had possession of, or access to, equipment or the technical knowledge to do so."

There was no certain creation or deletion date for 15 of the 21 deleted images, he added.

"Technical evidence showed that the remaining six had a purported creation date of the May 28, 2006, but no deletion dates," the spokesman said.

"The forensic report suggested that the last usage before seizure was the day following creation - May 29 2006. This meant any possession would have been for a very short period of time.

"Depending on the circumstances, it can be a recognised defence to making an image if a person comes into possession of material that is unsolicited and/or unwanted and quickly deletes that material."


Cut through the bullshit, and what quickly becomes apparent is that something very strange is going on here. Kahar doesn't have the knowledge to transfer the images to the phone, so who did, and how did they get there? It's quite easy to manufacture fake creation dates for files - all you have to do is set the computer's internal clock back to the date you want. As for transferring the images to the phone, it wouldn't be that difficult; you'd only need a USB cable or Bluetooth connection, or you could email them to yourself. It's therefore worth wondering whether the CPS's claim of needing special knowledge is cover for something else.

Far be it from me to besmirch the good name of the officers who carried out the inquiry by suggesting that they might be behind this, but let's examine the evidence. Constant leaks to the press, especially the Murdoch tabloids, damn the brothers before they'd even been in custody for a couple of days. After the officers have completed taking the house apart, finding only a large sum of money which was explained by the families' religious beliefs on bank accounts which give interest, there's nothing for them to fall back on except their shoddy intelligence. With the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes still causing anger, wrongly fragging a man for no reason doesn't improve the image of the Met. Enter a bright spark who comes up with the wonderful idea of both smearing the brothers and earning some money at the same time. Bright spark possibly enlists the help of the special child pornography team at Scotland Yard (or possibly doesn't, judging by the crucial screw-ups), who plant images on Kahar's computer and phone, but make the mistake of using "embedded images" and not realising that the brother isn't the technical whizz they perhaps take him to be, of putting some of the files on the phone. (Or the CPS uses this as an excuse for not charging him.) Having done the deed, bright spark phones the News of the Screws, feeds them the details, earns a wad of cash for his trouble and the raid is justified by the "chilling and horrifying" images found. Job's a good un.

Too bad then, that it all fell apart when the CPS took a proper look rather than just going along with what was reported by the News of the Screws and the evidence on the face of it given to them by the police. The Sun naturally followed up the story, and the Daily Star, which when the raid actually happened didn't even cover it on their front page, splashed on the find. Terrorist suspect turns out to be evil paedophile, news at 11.

Update:
The Sun did in fact report the decision not to charge Kahar, which I missed previously through a dud search. Apologies, and thanks to Not Saussure. They do however quote one "frustrated cop" who says:
"The images were there and it should have been left to a jury to decide who put them there.”

Yes, although the police would be rather in the shit if a jury decided that someone other Kahar had put them there, which is why the CPS didn't take the risk.

The Scum also dedicates its leader to the subject, frantically trying to persuade its readers with longer memories that they weren't so certain that something was to be found, as well as justifying their "smear and think of the consequences later" attitude:
But imagine the outcry if they’d stood by and the threat had proved real. And remember, at least four terror plots against Britain have been foiled since 7/7, according to the Home Secretary.

The successes are less spectacular than the failures. But they may have saved hundreds of people.

Perhaps some of the very people quick to jump on the police-bashing bandwagon.

By the same logic, one of the police-supporters to the death, such as Rebekah Wade, could have been shot dead by CO19 like Jean Charles de Menezes was, with her instead of him then being smeared in the press as a rapist and overstaying his visa, while the police told lie after lie in public. How then would her family have felt about the "police-bashers"? The Sun also willfully forgets its involvement in the hysteria after the 21st of July failed bombings, which undoubtedly contributed to the pressure on police to find the perpetrators. Still, at least they can depend on the support of a national newspaper whatever they do. For those caught in the fallout from that dodgy intelligence, with lies being printed daily about them, there is no hiding place.

(P.S. There has been no apology or article in the News of the World about charges being brought, as far as I can tell.)

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Friday, October 27, 2006 

The silent nightmare.

Bob Piper had a nightmare, and it's a terrifying one. He dreamed that the Tories were denouncing the PFI schemes that they introduced, which have been accelerated and used throughout the public sector since 1997. His brain created the illusion that a Thatcherite had gone on the Today programme to denounce the government's caving-in to the religious schools lobby after just over a week, with the Catholic church being at the forefront of the campaign to stop their schools having to admit 25% of their intake from either a different religion or of no religion.

Piper's nightmare isn't just a bad dream for Labour supporters, it's also deeply angering a lot of the Tory grassroots. The political spectrum has become so distorted over the last year with Cameron's attempts to move his party towards the centre, that Labour has moved into the void left by his party's vacation. Peter Oborne, although something of a partisan figure, identifies how the debate on the veil and on Islam in general has been used by Labour to push themselves even further towards the centre-right. A certain amount of their thinking behind doing this is to try to outrank the BNP in their intolerance towards Muslim communities, as they've come to the conclusion that they've lost their support due to the Iraq war for a generation. Cameron's failure to use immigration in the same way as Michael Howard did has also left a hole for Labour to move into, with their Sun-pleasing remarks about how "political correctness" should be no bar to debate.

This move towards the centre-right is even infecting some of Labour's otherwise reasonably sane members of parliament. John Denham, who resigned over the Iraq war, has floated the idea that the unemployed should be given tougher sentences when found guilty of any crime, as well as making those on community punishments wear easily identifiable clothing, something which the Blairite robot Hazel Blears had previously brought up. Patricia Hewitt's laughable wheeze about taxing "alcopops", which are usually only drank in clubs and pubs where it's more difficult to get served in the first place, misses the point that the vast majority of youths who hang around in parks drinking are usually quaffing the likes of cheap, strong cider and beer than the expensive sugary, brightly-coloured vodka mixes. It also completely ignores the actual reasons behind the British binge-drinking culture - the fact that we are a greatly unhappy nation which uses alcohol to escape from the bleakness of work isn't something that the government can either do anything about or want to talk about.

We're constantly reminded by the likes of Polly Toynbee and the more hand-wringing Labour members that the redistribution of wealth has been Labour's greatest silent success, something never mentioned for fear that it may anger the middle classes taxes which pay for it. The reality is that it just isn't good enough when Labour goes all out time and again to seemingly annoy its core support. While they were winning, with two huge landslides, this worked for a while. Now, with Iraq the "elephant" in the room, Blair's agenda on crime, education and the health service just rankles. When once we would have forgiven Blair and his ministers' complete seeming indifference to mainstream opinion, instead riding the Murdoch tiger for all its worth, now it simply makes us seethe. Instead of realising that things can't go on like this, John Reid and others seem even more determined to seek the Sun's approval.

At least in America politics hasn't turned upside down - yet. Dick Cheney's comments that a "dunk in the water" is a no-brainer, even though he and America would never ever even consider authorising torture, was a shameless playing to the right-wing gallery. The nastiness of the campaigning going on for the mid-terms, with Rush Limbaugh alleging that Michael J. Fox was "acting" in an advert calling for support for a politician who supports stem cell research, seems to know no bounds. We haven't quite reached those levels in Britain, for now at least.

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Thursday, October 26, 2006 

Lifestyles of the rich and the famous.

There's a streak of hypocrisy that often runs an inch thick through the charitable ambitions of some of our most famous celebrities. We witness Bono, a prat of the highest order, who has in the past urged the working class to give to charity, go to court to get a hat back off a former worker who he alleges stole it. There's Paul McCartney, who already has a never ending flow of cash, going to court to get another £12 million he claims was stolen from him by his record companies. He previously sued Apple alleging that he had been promised there would not be two Apples' involved in the music business. Today the Guardian reports that Starbucks, the ubiquitous coffee hell holes that seem to suddenly appear on the high street out of nowhere, has in effect blocked attempts by Ethiopian farmers to trademark their most famous bean types, a move that would have earned them £47 million. That Starbucks has a turnover of £7.8bn annually, and that the money would have helped the farmers escape from abject poverty doesn't mean shit when profits come into the equation.

It's therefore not much of a surprise to find that the CIA agents involved in the rendition of terror suspects were living it up when they weren't transporting their captives to dungeons throughout the globe, or torturing them themselves.
A book by Stephen Grey, the investigative journalist who was one of the first to uncover the rendition scandal, and who was recently one of the runners-up to the Paul Foot investigative journalism award, alleges that agents involved with the rendition of Abu Omar, a Muslim cleric based in Italy, spent £80,000accommodationtion while they were in Milan.

One stop over for the agents was the
Gran Melia Victoria hotel in Majorca. A five-star, it's within 20 miles of 5 golf courses, and at the hotel itself they could enjoy massages or saunas. The sauna would no doubt make a welcome difference from the "Cold Cell", one of the CIA's interrogation methods, where the unfortunate suspect is made to stand naked in a cell kept near to 50 degrees, with the occasional bucket of ice cold water being flung over him. In their rooms they could enjoy the security of a locked safe, perfect for keeping those documents which if lost could cause a political storm.

Even relations with nations that are regarded as state sponsors of terrorism are acceptable when it comes to making sure that suspected jihadists are given the once over properly. Syria, which the United States refuses to talk to regarding the disaster in Iraq, and which has been blamed for the bombing which killed the former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri, was used to torture seven men. One of them only escaped after he falsely confessed to have trained at a camp in Afghanistan.

While torturers and those behind war crimes have in the past been caught, tried and sentenced, the CIA agents involved in the rendition program need have no fear of ever being held accountable for their actions. The recently passed so-called compromise over the rights of detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, as well as denying them the right to challenge their detention through the court system,
puts into law a retroactive amnesty to anyone who might have so much as punched a detainee in anger. Unlike the grunts in Abu Ghraib, who were the scapegoats for the orders signed right at the top of the Bush administration authorising mistreatment of prisoners, no member of the CIA will ever have to face the ignominy of have their face splashed across newspapers worldwide grinning next to a corpse, or face time in jail.

If five years ago you were told that the United States was using proxies to torture suspected terrorists, with CIA agents also taking part in the mistreatment of detainees, you'd probably have been laughed at or called a conspiracy nut. Today, we don't just know about it, we accept it. Britain supposedly regards Guantanamo Bay as a shocking affront to justice, yet everything suggests that our politicians and intelligence services have known about and even been involved in far more shocking acts than have gone on at the world's most notorious prison camp. Rather than just seeing no evil and speaking no evil,
Geoff Hoon has been described as being distinctly unhelpful and evasive with the EU's own investigations into rendition, and Elizabeth Manningham Buller, the head of MI5, who yesterday happily briefed G6 ministers on the terrorist threat, refused to even attend a meeting of the joint committee on human rights, let alone answer any of their questions. Marie Antoinette may not have said let them eat cake, but that attitude is the default mechanism for our politicians when it comes to the abuse of detainees going on in our midst.

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Wednesday, October 25, 2006 

Send 'em all back, guv...

At times, it must be incredibly frustrating being a government minister. You announce what is a completely craven act of political cowardice, in this case the restrictions on Bulgarian and Romanian workers from coming here when the two countries join the EU, a measure purely introduced because of the fury generated by the tabloids, and then none of them even lead with their victory on their front page. The Times and the Telegraph are the only newspapers that even mention it in some way on their covers.

True, there had been decent discussion from some within the Labour party, including John Denham and Jon Cruddas, who erred on the side of caution, fearing that a further influx of migrants on a similar scale to the mostly Polish workers that have came here since the last few countries joined the EU could force down the average casual wage packets of their working-class constituents. Most of the evidence that there has been a drop in wages since the borders were opened though is purely anecdotal, with almost certainly untrue stories of Polish workers being paid £2 an hour, a sum which they could make back at home, even with the current rate of 15.5% unemployment.

The government's argument, if you can even call it that, was laid bare on Newsnight. Paxman didn't just rip the minister to shreds, he did the equivalent of tearing his leg off and then beating him with the soggy end. Asked why the government had apparently changed its mind from two years ago when the government considers the influx of workers from the East as a great success, all he could whimper was that we risked having too much of a good thing, all while still trumpeting how prescient the government had been in the first place, being only one of three countries to allow true freedom of movement and work. Such a feeble argument was put up against the 10 O'Clock News's almost blatantly xenophobic first report, featuring every single anti-immigration opponent they could find, with UKIP's leader telling blatant lies about the EU, before a much more realistic and sad report from Romania and Bulgaria itself, where those asked for their opinions seemed rightly and reasonably affronted by the venom which has dripped through the tabloids and even some of the TV reports.

The main reason why the papers haven't concentrated on Reid's capitulation is that his laid down rules are so utterly piss-poor. 20,000 unskilled workers will be allowed to apply to come and work here from January the 1st - half the total number which a poll for the Ministry of Bulgaria estimated were likely to leave, and most of them had Spain, Germany, Italy and Greece in their sights, not the UK. Earlier research by the Institute of Public Policy Research concluded that at most, 50,000 Romanians and 18,000 Bulgarians could have applied to work here, numbers far off the tabloid fantasies of another 500,000. If anything, the IPPR's study seems to have overestimated the numbers likely to leave. 20,000 may well be close to the number that would have came had restrictions not been announced. The other main new policy associated with the restrictions is that £1000 on the spot fines will be introduced for those found to be working illegally, although none of the reports I've read make it clear whether this will be imposed on the actual worker or the employer, or both. Reid's plans don't include limits on the self-employed, and he hasn't explained how Romanians or Bulgarians will actually be stopped from coming here despite the restrictions. It's a complete and utter shambles, a truly ridiculous policy made up on the hoof to appease the tabloids, showing no signs of being fully thought through in the true style of Blair's sofa government reacting to headlines.

As the Guardian leader notes, Reid's policy has "added rather than subtracted from the exploitation and complexity surrounding migration," but it should have gone further and said it has also added to the hostility and fear of foreigners. Today's latest rent-a-rant from mad Melanie Philips, aka Very Scary Spice, is a prime example. While attempting to rationalise the attacks on Muslims which only a sentence ago she called reprehensible, she raves (hat-tip to Mask of Anarchy):

In any event, such attacks are just as likely to be the result of frustration with the failure to address the problem; or (as Phillips himself also observed) the entirely separate influx into the country of East Europeans who are — dismayingly — deeply prejudiced against black or Asian people, and would be so whatever may or may not be said in public about them.


Right, so if it isn't British people attacking Muslims because of their refusal to tackle their own "problems", then it's those nasty East Europeans, who are prejudiced against black or Asian people, completely unlike saintly Mel P or those who've carried out the numerous incidents of verbal abuse and physical violence which have occurred since Jack Straw started the debate on the veil.

The problem for Labour is that all this populist posturing just isn't working. For all the kow-towing it's done to the Sun and the Mail over the last few months, its support isn't coming back or even stabilising, it's continuing to drop. Today's Guardian/ICM poll puts Labour 10 points behind the Tories on 29%, which would result in either a hung parliament or a slight Tory majority if a general election happened tomorrow. That this is occurring against a Conservative party led by a Blair clone with no policies is absolutely disastrous. It just confirms that if Labour is to regain its support, Blair needs to be jettisoned as soon as possible, with his acolytes and their failed policies going with him. Only that may result in Labour returning for a fourth term, and at the moment, the hung parliament looks much more inviting, especially with the possibility of the Liberal Democrats forming a coalition with one of the parties and demanding the proportional representation be introduced in return.

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Tuesday, October 24, 2006 

Spooks: Daring, incisive, brilliant television.

British television, once feted as the best in the world, has in the last few years not so much gone downhill as taken part in a bungee jump without waiting for the rope to be attached. As the number of channels has risen by the dozens every year, thanks mainly to a certain Mr Murdoch, quantity rather than quality has been the order of the day. Endless reality shows feature the absolute dregs of society, and that's just the ones with "celebrity" in the title, makeover programmes, property shows and banal, depressingly exploitative phone-in quizzes have all become part of the televisual landscape.

There are a few exceptions to the rule. Peep Show, Nighty Night, Nathan Barley, The Thick of It and Extras have shown that inventive, rule-breaking comedy can still be done, while for drama, Life on Mars and Spooks have been the main triumphs.

Now into its fifth series, Spooks has if anything become even more daring. Following the lives of MI5 agents at the very heart of the fight against terrorism, espionage and corrupt government, it's evolved into an almost subversive reaction to the current world situation. Back in its third series, in the aftermath of the Hutton report's chilling effect on the BBC, the programme went full throttle against imaginary government ministers who wanted to crush dissent within the service to what it was being used to justify. At the beginning of the current series, MI5 found itself not having to prevent attacks by al-Qaida, but instead a right-wing coup plot reminiscent of that which some claim threatened Harold Wilson in the Seventies. Under the banner of protecting the country from further suicide bombings, business leaders, reactionary politicians and renegade spooks teamed up to install the current prime minister as a de-facto dictator, removing habeas corpus and dissolving parliament. The situation was only saved after protests organised by bloggers, and with the prime minister's own son, being protected by one of the agents, taking part in the march himself.

Last night's episode, the conclusion of a two-parter, went even further into conspiracy and the murky world of other nations' security services. The premise of the episode, MI5 being called in to make sure that a deal between Saudi Arabia and Britain went through, with Britain selling the Arab nation nuclear technology in exchange for cut price oil, quickly morphed into something quite different. Thinking that those opposed to the deal were jihadis wanting to stop the deal to undermine the Saudi royal family, the agents were led into following suicide bombers. The first episode ended with one bomber being shot, only for it to be discovered that his bomb belt was filled with putty, not explosive. At the same time, the Saudi world trade centre where the deal was being finalised was raided by terrorists, taking the diplomats hostage.

The reality quickly became clear. Rather than being jihadists, the hostage takers were actually Mossad agents, who wanted to stop the deal from going through for obvious reasons. Helped by an sympathetic mole within MI5, they had the perfect cover story: who else would take Saudis hostage but those who want to overthrow the monarchy?

Few programmes, especially ones by the BBC, would dare to invite the wrath of the powerful Israeli lobby, which as far as I've noticed seems to have missed the show, as otherwise I'm sure they would have been verbose about such a plot device. Showing the Israelis as anything other than the victims of Palestinian terrorism and Blair's totally false sense of grievance is usually asking for trouble. That Spooks not only did so, but did it without falling into the wacko world of those who think that 9/11 was a similar plot between Mossad and the CIA, makes it all the more praiseworthy. Next week's show, reflecting the current debate over the veil, but obviously not around when it was filmed, is about fundamentalist Christians plotting an attack on a Muslim community.

Spooks proves that TV can be entertaining, exhilarating and still make you think, and much like 24 but without the overly right-wing tone which that show has taken on, Spooks manages it with ease.

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Monday, October 23, 2006 

Covered in blood and shit.

The news that the police are searching for a man who has been performing numerous dirty protests on trains is an apt metaphor for the entire British role in Iraq. Ever since we "kicked in the door", our presence has only resulted in an ever growing tide of effluent, mixed in torrents of blood last seen in Stanley Kubrick's film version of the Shining. Not content with just crapping on the pavement and then getting out, we've had to smear it everywhere. There's no cutting and running for us, just a never-ending stink that won't go away, no matter how much mopping up is done.

At least it seems, until around a week or so ago. All of a sudden, after 3 years of crisis followed by crisis, of supposed breakthrough followed by breakthrough, after the deaths of at the very very lowest realistic estimate of 100,000 Iraqis, there seems to be the realisation that "something must be done." More than anything, this is to do with the American mid-term elections, with the Democrats looking as though they're about to decimate the Republicans, as more and more of the population turns against the increasingly deadly occupation which has come to define both Blair and Bush's political careers. It seems the constant macho posturing of Bush, Cheney and all the other neo-cons is finally turning the public off, seeing through the veneer of victory, the cod-Churchillian "never surrender" stance that has become so wearisome. The state department's chief foreign affairs spin doctor, probably thinking that no one in the West would pay any attention to what he said to the Arab audience of al-Jazeera, admitted that America had been "arrogant and stupid." Richard Dannatt tells the truth to the Daily Mail, that British soldiers are only making the situation in southern Iraq worse, and finds that while he's praised by the rank and file on the ground who are willing to risk their lives for the folly of our leaders, that the leaders themselves and their alcoytes are in private demanding his head.

Political life has become so twisted that when a man from the army speaks from the heart, cutting through the layers and layers of Newspeak that has so defined this execrable debacle, that even the Guardian wonders whether his straight talk sets a dangerous precedent. On the contrary, if our military leaders had stood up to Blair, and had rejected Goldsmith's mendacious advice that war was legal after he was told to change his opinion, we would now not be in this mess.

Thankfully, the Guardian still does make the odd decent point in its leaders. While we all gaze at our navels and wonder what this means for our political masters, we've all forgotten about the Iraqis who are suffering so badly right now. The Independent reports that 1.6 million have fled Iraq. We witness the laughable appearance of Iraq's deputy prime minister, Barham Saleh, in Downing Street, talking in the exact same language that has become so tedious and self-serving, telling us that we must not "cut and run." The fact that opinion polls from Iraq show ever mounting numbers not just opposed but strongly opposed to the continued presence of troops isn't even whispered. The most distasteful thing about the Iraqi politicians is that most of them seem to be more concerned with their own political survival, just like they are here, than with actually reducing the violence which has killed around 43 Iraqis every single day this month. Saleh has been on-message to such an extent that it almost makes you wonder if someone has been coaching him in what to say, so as not to further embarrass the Dear Leader.

There does, however, finally, to be something approaching a proper debate of when and how we should get out. Kim Howells let slip that enough Iraqi security forces could be trained and operational within a year that we could finally get out. We shouldn't get overly optimistic about such estimates; the real arbiters in all of this are the Americans. As long as Blair remains, there is no chance of us leaving, his messianic fervour so strong and seemingly growing, that he would never turn his back on his brother Bush. Gordon Brown shows no signs of being any different, although there is always the suspicion that he is simply feathering his basket by paying lip service to the Blair line, rather than anger his opponents who will defend the legacy of their hero to the grave. Blunkett's revelations that Brown would have been sacked had he not came out in public in favour of the war, when it's well known that Brown did everything possible in cabinet to ignore all the talk on Iraq and not get drawn into either side of the debate, still reveal relatively little about his own beliefs on foreign policy.

The Liberal Democrats, after playing the game of being against the war yet still supporting the presence of UK troops, have decided it's time for a debate in parliament. Whether they're honest about the intentions of proper parliamentary procedure or just want to try and getting a few more points on their score in the polls by deciding to align themselves with what the public have long been in favour of is open to debate. What is obvious is the cowardice of the vast majority of politicians in not demanding the removal of troops far earlier. Their fear of Blair and the Scum calling them defeatists is exaggerated. Both are a busted flush over Iraq, if not domestically.

The British policy on Iraq is pretty much summed up by the head smashing inanity of Margaret Beckett, a woman so utterly out of her depth as foreign secretary that she makes Robin Cook and Jack Straw look like colossuses by comparison. Asked on the Today programme if she thought future historians would regard the Iraq invasion as a disaster she said:
"Yes, they may. Then again, they may not."

We can keep up the false pretence that our troops are actually helping to any extent in Iraq, watch the slaughter continue until it eventually reaches fever pitch, or we can get out if not now, then very very soon. Then again, we may not.

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Saturday, October 21, 2006 

Ban it!

There is a very British disease which afflicts mostly the tabloid press, but which also infects politicians and sections of the public from time to time. This illness, which at times appears to come out of nowhere, tends to hang around like a bad smell for a few months, then disappears, lying dormant, waiting for an opportunity to strike again. This ailment, closely related to the moral panic, is the ever-growing chorus for a certain thing to be outlawed.

The Daily Express, which previously ran a campaign it called a "crusade" against the injustices of inheritance tax, has been at the forefront of the current demands from a tiny minority for the niqab, the full face veil, to be banned. You can guess why it's chosen not to present its current jihad in those terms. In just over two weeks it's dedicated its front page to the subject four times, twice leading on the views of Express readers who have rang Richard Desmond's poll lines, who seemingly overwhelmingly support the right for women to wear less in public, by margins which are creeping up to an apparent 100% of calls. The first poll said 97%. The second 98%. Today the Express's article says 99%. The goalposts, however, appear to be shifting.

The Express's original front page, demanding the veil be criminalised, wanted Muslim women to show their faces in public whether they felt able to in line with their religious beliefs or not. Today's article instead focuses on the aftermath of the tribunal ruling of the case involving Aishah Azmi, who lost her discrimination case, but was awarded £1,100 on the grounds of victimisation.

Desperately trying to come up with some justification for such a restriction on liberty and freedom of expression, the Express does its best but fails miserably in its attempts to convince that such a ban would be a good thing:


A ban would see Britain following many of its European
neighbours, along with predominantly Muslim countries like Turkey and Tunisia in outlawing traditional Islamic headscarves in public schools and buildings.



The only European countries that have some sort of ban on niqabs or hijabs are France and Germany, the former of which covers all religious symbols, including crosses, in state schools and buildings, the latter being individual decisions by federal states. Switzerland, which is not a member of the EU, had the hijab banned in schools by a court ruling in 1997. Turkey, which aspires to EU membership (something which the Express no doubt opposes) has a ban on the wearing of religious clothing outside times of worship and in government buildings, which reflects its internal conflict between secularism and political Islam. Tunisia, which doesn't even feature in UEFA's expansion of Europe's borders (Israeli football teams compete in European club competitions, as do Russian based sides) also only bans the hijab in government buildings.

That none of these countries would dare to actually outlaw the wearing of the niqab doesn't seem to make the Express wonder about its dubious argument, but then again, when they're backed up by David Davis, why do they need to? Not content with writing an article for the Sunday Torygraph that suggested that Muslims were living in voluntary apartheid, he puts the boot in once again, even agreeing with Tony Blair's remarkably inarticulate view that the niqab is a "mark of separation" despite evidence to the contrary now beginning to stack up. That women wearing the full veil seem unconcerned to visit their MPs, which started this debate in the first place, or to work in Christian schools in the first place doesn't warrant a mention.

Just to equal up the parties in intolerance, the Express also asks the views of Ann Cryer, the Labour MP for Keighley. While Cryer is one of the bravest MPs there is, taking on the BNP in her constituency over their lies, claiming that young Muslim men had been grooming under-age teenage girls for sex, the fact that the BNP has been so active in her own community means that she has had to shift to the right in some of her views in order to retain some of her support. Her claims that Mrs Azmi's decision to pursue her case if necessary right up to the European court of justice could result in more similar actions is rather daft, considering that the decision of the employment tribunal has now set a precedent for other similar cases; unless they too wish to go through numerous appeals, then there's no way that they could win, and lawyers would advise their clients against doing so.

The only thing the Express has to counter claims that its series of articles is bigoted, if not to say incendiary, is that the wearing of the full veil, not the hijab, by teachers in schools is completely indefensible. While children would get used to being taught by someone with whom they can only have eye contact with, the limitations it would impose on the quality of the teaching make it obvious as to why teachers should be discouraged from doing so. Whether a ban is necessary in order for this to be accomplished is now much less compelling, considering the ruling of the tribunal. It would be next to impossible for a Muslim woman to find a job in which the school would accept the wearing of a full veil, outside of the private and religious sector.

Coincidentally, the release of a study which shows that white pupils at a predominantly white only school were far more likely to have intolerant views than those attending a mostly Asian Muslim school or a mixed school, shows where the real problem may well lie. While it would be interesting for the study to be conducted at schools around the country rather than just in the north, it rather gives the lie to the claims of politicians that the Muslim population needs to demonstrate its allegiance to what they term British values. It seems they have far more in common with Gordon Brown's view of Britishness than those currently growing up in isolation do.

The banning reflex has infected other spheres of public life as well. Jack Straw says he supports the banning of videos showing alleged incidents of "happy slapping"
which have been uploaded to sites such as YouTube. Rather than relying on those who moderate the site to remove such content, the urge to legislate kicks in yet again. That those behind the site can easily see who's uploading the videos, with the possibility that their IPs could be traced and given over to the police to investigate any breaking of law doesn't seem to occur, when politicians can instead get their names in the papers attacking the latest outrage. One such politician, Keith Vaz, previously known only for the Hinduja passport scandal, has been leading a one man campaign against the Bully video game, which has yet to be even released in Britain. Most of the initial controversy surrounding the game was the impression that the player would control a bully inside a school. The player actually assumes the role of a teenager dealing with school life in general, rather than as a one-dimensional hell raiser. The game has been given a 15 certificate by the BBFC, which is light considering its alleged content, and the fact that the board tends to be harsher on video games than it is on films, giving the original Grand Theft Auto an 18 certificate. Other recent demands for action have involved violent pornography, a campaign set in motion by the death of Jane Longhurst. The man convicted of her murder, Graham Coutts, was this week granted a retrial after the appeal court judges ruled that the jury should have been given the option of convicting him of manslaughter rather than murder, as Coutts has always maintained that Longhurst died as a result of consensual sex involving asphyxiation. Despite the lesson from the past in the Dangerous Dogs Act, which proved unenforceable and farcical, the News of the World has launched a campaign against “devil dogs” after a number of high profile cases involving children being savaged.

The reliance on the long arm of the law to save us from the outside and the unknown is based primarily on the the fact that gesture politics is at the heart of British parliamentary life. It's so much easier to focus on one seemingly insignificant but important issue to the public than try to make radical, long-term changes to either the constitution or employment, say, which effects everyone rather than a distinct but vocal minority. The media, who demand something new every day, have their own poisonous role in this discourse. Coupled with the tabloid reliance on distortion, sensation and outrage, an issue such as "video nasties" one of the most ludicrous and unfathomable moral panics of the 80s, becomes irresistible to the average unknown MP and suddenly makes the front pages. John Reid's decision to see no ships, a completely craven and ridiculous sop to Rebekah "Red Mist" Wade, is a case in point. Sadly, there is no sign that sanity is waiting to emerge, and with circulation of the tabloids apart from the Daily Mail plummeting, the worst could if anything be yet to come.


P.S. The Scum's chief slapper, err, I mean Britian's favourite page 3 girl, goes, um, undercover, wearing a niqab. Unsurprisingly, she concludes that her way of life “feels more free and empowering”. It also involves her being paid a huge amount of money just to take her clothes off, which doubtless has no influence on her point of view.

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Scum-watch: Well, who would have thought it?

A couple of weeks ago, at the beginning of the row over the niqab, the Sun did its bit for community cohesion by publishing on its front page claims that "MUSLIM yobs" had vandalised a house which 4 soldiers had intended to move into.

The police at the time said that they were considering the possibility that it had been racially aggravated. They've since retracted those claims
(hat-tip to Unity):

Oct 13 2006

REPORTS that soldiers were driven out of a Berkshire village by racists have been disputed by Thames Valley Police.

In last week’s Express we reported that four soldiers returning from
active service in Afghanistan had decided not to move into a house in Datchet.

Their decision followed the discovery of obscenities painted on the
front of the house that they were due to move into in Montagu Road, Datchet, last week.

The soldiers also discovered that several of the windows had
been broken.

An MoD source told the Express last week there had been
phone calls made to Combermere Barracks in Windsor where the soldiers were stationed.

The caller said that the soldiers were not welcome because houses in the road are expensive - around £600,000 - and that the soldiers presence might lower property values.

Newspaper reports claimed that the obscenities and vandalism were the work of Muslims.

The report claimed this was the view of detectives investigating the incident.

Thames Valley Police have now said they are not pursing this line of inquiry. Detective Chief Inspector Stephen Reschwamm said: "This incident was reported in a national newspaper reports, alleging that Muslim youths were responsible for causing the damage to stop four soldiers moving in.

"I would like to emphasise that, although one of our initial lines of inquiry was to consider possible racially aggravated circumstances, we never labelled any particular faith or religion as being responsible."

He added: "Inquiries carried out to date conclude that there is no evidence to suggest that this was racially motivated. The MoD has also informed me that Combermere Barracks did not receive any threatening calls from Muslims or people claiming to be Muslims in relation to this incident."

As Unity also suggests, it seems much more plausible, that with the disturbances surrounding the Dairy in Windsor at the time, that the Sun's source for its story was either someone disgruntled with the possibility of soldiers lowering the tone in the area, or just an individual who wanted to stir up yet more hate towards the local Muslim population. It does however seem strange that the Sun claimed to have had sources at Combermere Barracks who confirmed that the threatening calls were the work of Muslims, when they seem to have told the police the exact opposite.

Whatever the truth, the least the Sun should do is correct such a potentially inflammatory story. It has yet to do so. An apology from those who provided soundbites for the Sun's article, such as Philip Davies, Damien Green and "Sir" Andrew Green would also be welcome.

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Friday, October 20, 2006 

EXPRESS SHOULD BE BANNED SAY 100%

Britons gave overwhelming backing last night to a call for a ban on the Daily Express.

100 per cent of Obsolete writers agreed that a ban would help to safeguard racial harmony and improve literacy.

Our exclusive poll came as the tabloid media, in particular the Daily Express and the Sun, attempted to stir up yet more hate against Muslims, voicing their prejudices and intolerance with outraged front pages and disgracefully distorted phone-in votes.

One writer registered his alarm amid mounting concern that Muslim Britons, whether wearers of traditional dress or not, are increasingly being demonised by editors and media moguls who wish to stoke fires created by politicians who should know better than to comment on such individual cases as that of Aishah Azmi, whether her taking her employer to a tribunal was justified or not.

Obsolete said: "That Richard Desmond, owner of the Daily Express has apparently suddenly become concerned with the racial harmony of the nation is rather strange. Considering he has in the past stated that "all Germans are Nazis" while singing "Deutschland Uber Alles" and performing Nazi salutes, not to mention previously publishing such enlightening and inclusive magazines as Asian Babes, his opinons are rather tainted as a result. One must be suspicious that rather than allowing women to wear what they like, regardless of religion or culture, he'd prefer that they walked around wearing niqabs with convienently cut holes. After all, one of his websites once had the following, advertising its wares:
"It's hard to believe that we found Shaheeda in the slums of Bombay in India. She was begging in the streets so we offered her $100 to strip for us."

"Oh, these clothes are so soft. These panties feel so good and I find myself becoming sexually aroused. I have never done this before."

"As a beggar, men never ask you for sex," she says. "If I could earn money having sex, I would. It is not easy to appear sexy when you are dressed in rags and cannot wash. I don't know how to thank you for this day."

"We gave Shaheeda an extra $100, because she let all of us fuck her. We are trying to arrange for her to go to America and become a major porno movie star. Watch this space."

Obsolete continued: "My exclusive poll shows that a remarkable number of Britons (1) believe the Express should be banned. The government should accept that Britain has spoken, and introduce legislation to ban the "WORLD'S GREATEST NEWSPAPER" immediately."

(Obsolete will return, without weak satire, tomorrow.)

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Monday, October 16, 2006 

Hiatus.

Obsolete will return on Friday/Saturday. Hopefully.

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Friday, October 13, 2006 

Err....

Obsolete is currently suffering from the computer blues, meaning that something has gone tits up.

Normal service should hopefully be resumed shortly.

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Wednesday, October 11, 2006 

There are (or should be) no words.


You might remember the Lancet report of 2004, which suggested that 100,000 Iraqis had died as a result of military intervention. At the time the survey, conducted by going from house to house in randomly-chosen areas of the country, was soon buried under an avalanche of opprobrium, not just from the usual suspects on the right, but also from those on the supposed left, such as the Observer, which misreported the study. The government similarly dumped on it from a great height, horrified that the public might turn against them in righteous anger if they believed the study's main finding.

It appears like the debate that followed the publishing of the study of the Lancet is going to happen all over again. Today a second study has been published which suggests that at the very least just less than 400,000 have died as a result of the invasion. The most probable figure however, is 654,965 dead.

It's worth putting that figure into context. According to a study conducted by UNICEF in 1999, between 400 and 500,000 died in Iraq between 1991 and 1999 as a result of the sanctions regime, which as we now know, succeeded in containing Saddam, but only at an intolerable cost to the civilian population. The Iran-Iraq war, with Saddam being encouraged from Washington, although the United States helped to arm both sides as revealed by the Iran-Contra affair, resulted in the deaths of a million. The number of Iraqi civilians that Saddam himself is estimated to be responsible for is more difficult to come to. Taking the numbers estimated to have died from the repression of the Kurds in 1988, and the repercussions that occurred against the Shia and Kurds after the failure of the 1991 rising, brings his toll to at least 150,000, although it could be as high as 330,000. Even if you then round that number up to 500,000, taking into account others that died throughout his reign, it still only brings the total to be equal to that of the sanctions. By comparison, the number of deaths estimated to have occurred in the Darfur region of Sudan since the beginning of the conflict is 400,000, which has been described by some as genocide.

The soul-crushing thing about calculating the number of deaths is that you become desensitised to just what each of the figures means to the family and friends of those involved. Stalin was right when he said that one death is a tragedy and that a million is a statistic. Already accusations are being made that the timing of the release of the study is meant to embarrass the Republicans as they face their mid-term elections. That there are those who are so completely shameless in their politics that they're prepared to climb on top of a pile of bodies and then shout that they're a politically motivated illusion shows just how far from reality we in the west have gone, thanks to our unprecedented safety and comfort. Thomas Friedman summed it up best (although he had no idea how gleefully his honesty would be seized on by the left) when he wrote:

The hidden hand of the market will never work without the hidden fist—McDonald's cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas, the designer of the F-15. And the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley's technologies is called the United States Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps.

Some of us have still not woken up to this truth. We need to. For now however, in relation to Iraq, there are, or should be, no words.

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A crisis entirely of their own making.

Connaught barracks.

Pity poor John Reid. Selected by a Newsnight focus group as the best man to challenge Gordon Brown for the Labour leadership, buoyed by making what was seen by the Scum as an impressive speech to the Labour conference, and brought into the public's living rooms by the alleged liquid explosives terror plot, things were looking up and up. Like a stroppy teenager, he must now be thinking that it's just so unfair that the prisons overcrowding crisis just had to come along and bite him up the arse.

The current prison population stands at 79,819 (or at least it did on Monday), which is around 300 places off full capacity. Step forward Reid, announcing that "Operation Safeguard" (the Home Office sure can pick some corny names) is coming into operation. Police cells, which cost the taxpayer around £350 per prisoner per night, will be used to house low risk "lags". Connaught Barracks, as previously highlighted by this blog, is to be converted by December into an open prison, completely ignoring the reservations of the local people who are rather concerned and unhappy that the government hadn't bothered to consult them about it. Still, no doubt they'll come round to the view of Rebekah Wade, which is that it's "common sense". Most controversially, Reid stated that foreign prisoners, of which there are around 8,000 in British jails, will be given "support" up to the equivalent of £2,500 to enable them to go home. Cue the Express screaming on its front page that we're now giving dirty foreigners money to go home, which we're not. Other newspapers have taken the line that it's a bribe, which is closer to the truth, but since when did a bribe involve education or assistance with starting a business?

Did John Reid have the honesty to admit that the government's complete sycophancy towards the tabloids is the reason why the prisons are now full to bursting? Of course he didn't. Instead, while mentioning that judges are making full use of "indeterminate" sentences introduced in the 2003 Criminal Justice Bill, (of which, according to the NOMS statistics for August, there are already an incredible 7,628 now facing the possibility of facing the rest of their life in prison) the dastardly briefs have been less keen on the emphasis put on community punishments and tagging in the same laws. That it's been well documented that when politicians and the media are concentrating on draconian punishments, whether for serious offenders or not, judges tend to opt for more punitive sentences doesn't warrant a mention. Then again, this is the same John Reid which effectively handed over the keys to the Home Office to Rebekah Wade, like a rabbit caught in the headlights of the Sun's full fury.

Reid's comments on community punishments were pure window-dressing. There is to be no rethinking of the current orthodoxy regarding crime and punishment; how could there be when the slightest squeak from judges or prison reform groups that all we're doing is perpetuating a vicious cycle of reoffending is met by screams of outrage from the media which New Labour has done so much to court? The failing starts early, in the education system, where half of children leave school without the qualifications necessary for life. Rehabilitation in prison itself is impossible when they are so over-stretched; research from the Prison Reform Trust concluded that re-offending upon release increases by 10% in the currently full to bursting jails. Even if the government did own up to the fact that the current situation cannot continue, it's stuck in the bind of being unable to fund two major criminal justice programs at once. Prison building inevitably gets the cash.

What needs to happen is a complete step change in thinking. We have to admit that locking up over 80,000 men and women is not making us any safer in the long term. It removes the most dangerous from society for good, but leaves us with the vast majority no better off, or indeed, actually made worse from their time inside. Why can the £37,000 need to lock a person up be put to a far better use? No one is suggesting that violent offenders should not be locked up for own safety, far from it. If anything, those convicted of those crimes still get off too lightly. The two boys who killed Damilola Taylor were sentenced to just eight years in prison, even if there were extenuating circumstances regarding the case, with them being tried for manslaughter rather than murder. They should have received at the very least 12 years in custody for such a heinous and shocking act of inhumanity. Our system for dealing with drug offences, those addicted to substances, the mentally ill and the vast majority of women prisoners should reflect the fact that their crimes are less serious. Community punishment does not just need to be that; while to appease the tabloids it needs to have a harsh element, rehabilitation should still be the key. The scheme set-up to help foreign prisoners leave is exactly the sort of thing that should be available to them.

Instead, what we're faced with a system that by current trends will be holding 100,000 men and women by the time of the next election, although God knows how. The statement that a society can be judged by the way it treats those it imprisons is still very apt. At the moment, we're completely guilty of throwing away the key and forgetting about those locked up. A truly honest and radical government would recognise this. It may hurt to begin with, but society can only gain from such optimism. At the moment, the cynicism and pessimism which surrounds the criminal justice system is a harsh reflection on us all.

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Tuesday, October 10, 2006 

Pass the sick bags.

Bloggerheads has dived deep into the gutter and dissected the already decaying corpse of the Mark Foley scandal. An essential, if mind-meltingly horrible read.

Oh, and by the way, the Sun has still to even mention the growing fallout from the affair.

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Monday, October 09, 2006 

Did the earth move for you?

They might be impoverished, starving and ruled by a Stalinist midget, but hey, at least they've got a cool flag.

Lordy lordy lordy. The world is a much more dangerous place than it was when we went to bed last night, according to John Williams over on Comment is Free. Rather than referring to the fact that the Murdoch press are doing everything possible in their power to whip up concern over Muslim women dressed in niqabs, as both papers splash on two unrelated security stories, he is in fact talking about North Korea's attempt at testing a nuclear weapon, if it was in fact an atomic bomb.

Russian sources have suggested that the bomb itself was in the region of between 5 and 15 kilotons.
Janes Defence have said it could have been between 2 to 12 kilotons. For comparison, the bomb dropped on Hiroshima had a blast equivalent to around 13 kilotons. The trident nuclear warheads that our own Dear Leaders' have their trigger-finger on, have a payload ranging in strength from 100 kilotons to 475 kilotons. North Korea's test is then, in rather bleak terms, similar to the country itself - 60 years behind.

That N Korea appears to have carried out a nuclear test also doesn't alter the fact that it appears incredibly unlikely that they can actually attach the bomb to a missile. The last test of their long-range weaponry, the appropriately named Taepodong-2 (because let's face it, missiles are a Freudian's best friend - what else are missiles if they're not explosive penis extensions?), meant to be able to reach Alaska or Hawaii, was a rather embarrassing display for Kim-jung Il, as he only managed to keep it up for around 43 seconds before it crashed back into the sea of flaccidity.

Inevitably, every politician who likes the opportunity of either being quoted or appearing on the news for 10 seconds has rushed to condemn North Korea's insolence. Blair called it irresponsible, Bush called it provocative, and it all went downhill from there. Both Pakistan and India, hilariously and ironically felt that it was a good time for them to be hypocritical on a world stage, both making statements about the dangers of destabilising the peninsula, completely unlike their rush to the bomb led to proliferation. Israel, it has to be said, appears to have kept quiet for now, and as for Iran, according to the Washington Post state radio has apparently said the test "was a reaction to America's threats and humiliation."

The typical response from said politicians has been to demand more sanctions on North Korea, with the UN Security Council immediately calling an urgent meeting. It seems doubtful that the sanctions will do anything to actually stop the Korean programme from continuing. The lesson of Iraq tells us that sanctions tend to only hurt the people rather than the leader. The other lesson is that along with sanctions inspections are needed. There appears next to no chance of that happening, North Korea having expelled the IAEA a few years back. John Howard, the Australian prat who masquerades as the prime minister, suggested that he would be pushing for "targeted financial and travel sanctions, other trade restrictions and/or aviation restrictions." That the North Koreans themselves don't tend to go anywhere (leaving the glorious socialist paradise might make them not want to return), nor that Kim Jong-il himself only tends to make the odd highly secretive trip into China, doesn't seem to matter. As for trade, recent experiments with markets in the country were either abandoned or scaled down dramatically. How much there is to restrict is open for debate.

It's worth remembering that America was prepared to go to war with North Korea back in 1994 after original suspicions that the country was building up a covert nuclear weapons programme. A deal called the "Agreed Framework"brought the two countries back from the brink. In exchange for North Korea dismantling its graphite-moderated plants, the United States would help fund and build two light-water nuclear reactors, which could only be used for civilian purposes. The reactors remain unfinished.

Whether North Korea would have actually dismantled its programme if the deal had gone as planned is impossible to tell. What must be achingly apparent to almost everyone though is that President Bush's axis of evil speech must have woken up Kim Jong-il to the threat of regime change, which was inexorably heading Iraq's way. Iraq didn't have weapons of mass destruction, and at that stage North Korea didn't have a nuclear weapon, even if its programme had been in operation for years. Four years down the line, and the country now claims to have around 8 bombs.

North Korea appears to definitively and finally possess the most powerful bargaining chip of them all. We're often told of how the seemingly petulant and impetuous acts of Kim Jong-il are pleas both for help and attention, but despite all the attempts at deals, they've all been ignored or batted away. The only solution now is diplomacy, and that diplomacy appears to be of the most limp kind imaginable, if sanctions are to be both the first and seeming last resort. We're left then with Bush and Blair once again appearing to be a modern day political incarnation of Laurel and Hardy: this certainly is a mess, and they've got themselves into it.

Related post:
Big Stick Small Carrot - Welcome to our Club

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