Tuesday, January 31, 2006 

Sun-watch: homophobia and Huntley's mother.

The Sun isn't homophobic, oh no, remember, two of its best friends are lesbians. They just happen to be Page 3 girls.

Gay MP hangs around loos

GAY MP Simon Hughes has his name on a plaque at public toilets he opened in his constituency.

He performed the official ribbon-cutting ceremony at the lavs in Elephant and Castle, South London.

Bachelor Hughes, 54, — who revealed he was gay this week — was honoured with the polished plaque on the loos in July 1994.

The “facilities” are even painted in Lib-Dem yellow.

In no way is the Sun insinuating that gay men all hang around toilets, aka 'cottaging'. Neither are they calling Lib Dems gay, no, that would be a step too far. Of course, this is a breaking news story, as it happened in, err, 1994.

Never mind that though, there's also another news story in the Sun which it obviously has nothing to do with:

That the Sun refer to Ian Huntley as "evil" on their website, that they in conjunction with all the other tabloids have vilified Maxine Carr and printed blatant falsehoods about her, has nothing to do with the fact that Huntley's mother, unfortunate enough only to give birth to him, is seemingly being stalked and has had all her windows smashed by some idiot. No, in no way is our tabloid media partly to blame for this.
Perhaps I should leave the commenting to Lucy Daw (probably a Sun employee), who was kind enough to leave the following on the Sun's website:

Yes it's a shame that she bred such evil - no mother wants that.

However does this not prove that these people should not be given these "new identities" at huge cost to the taxpayer in case they get a bit "roughed up"?

They should be shipped to an island far away, and left to fend for themselves along with all the evil and sadistic criminals in Great Britain.

Only then may they have some slight understanding of the pain and suffering that the loved ones of those murdered and tortured experience.

The fact that she still visits her son turns my stomach.

Lucy Daw

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A century of deaths.

The media has been somewhat morbidly building up to it, but it still doesn't take away from the anger that should be directed at this government. The number of deaths of British soldiers in Iraq today reached 100.

That the soldiers are still there, in a area in which is only being destabilised because of our presence is unforgivable. The British soldiers, based in Basra and around Umm Qasr long since stopped being of any worth to the Iraqis on the ground. Instead their failures have increased the danger to the citizens. Basra has become a more intolerant place, and Shia militias now seem to be in charge, having also infiltrated the police. We should have left when we destroyed the Iraqi prison where two British SAS soldiers were held because of their suspicious behaviour. Instead we stayed behind and became even more detested. Why are we still there? A spokesman is now left to inexplicably explaining that our presence will be required for as long as necessary because since we arrived there have been three democratic elections.

Perhaps though we should contrast the remarks of "Dr" John Reid, the most despicable member of the cabinet, with those of Reg Keys, who lost his son in Iraq and who stood against Blair at the general election:

"The morale among our troops is fantastic," he said.

"I only wish some of the commentators at home had the same moral courage and morale."

Reg Keys, whose son Thomas was one of six military policemen killed in an ambush in Iraq more than two years ago, said the milestone figure was "absolutely dreadful".

"We have had 100 chances to learn our lesson. It just goes on and on," he said.

"These deaths were 100% preventable. These lads are dying for a falsehood. Their oath of allegiance has been betrayed. This was not what they went to war for. They are not the world's police."

Does Reg Keys not have moral courage, whatever that is, Dr Reid? How is that nearly three years on you are still defending an illegitimate war which has killed thousands of innocent Iraqis, over 2000 American troops and now 100 British servicemen? There were no weapons of mass destruction. Sure, we've freed the Iraqis from a murderous and wicked dictatorship, but in the process we've helped turn Baghdad into the most dangerous place on the face of the planet. Electricity supply is worse than before the war. Sewage runs in the streets. Oil production, which I'm sure is more important to you than me, has dropped below pre-war levels due to both lack of workers, privatisation threats and sabotage. At the moment it still doesn't look the situation is going to get any better soon. As for the morale of the troops, if they're so pleased and content, why is that they wish to set up a 'trade' federation?

Now as well as keeping troops in Iraq, you're sending more troops back into Afghanistan, the true forgotten war. This is due to the fact that the US has lost any interest it once had, as it can just use drones to assassinate anyone it feels like instead of using men who might die in the process. With the US not really affected by the opium economy, as the heroin reaches our streets and not theirs, it's left to us to go in and clear up yet another mess, just as the situation is getting even more deadly as the Taliban seem to have managed to regroup, and having learned from the insurgency in Iraq, are adopting the same suicidal tactics. Why have you shown such little interest in the welfare of the troops and their families, apart from platitudes commenting on their morale? You only bothered to visit those who have been injured to make yourself look slightly better before announcing a new mission on which more troops will die needlessly.

Geoff Hoon was a piss-poor defence minister, but even he seems talented compared to "Dr" Reid, who only knows how to do one thing: insult people and shout at them. Why can this government not face up to its biggest mistakes? Actually, I know the answer to that one; if it had, it would have been booted out of power at the last election. How strange that it was a Labour government which took us into an illegal war and yet it managed to survive. If it had been the Tories, Labour would have never stopped attacking them and would have hounded them out. The situation is same in America. If it had been the Democrats, the Republicans would have annihilated them in the 2004 election. Instead it has been the opposite. Politics may be changing, but war certainly doesn't, and nothing this government says is going to bring back those who have died needlessly in our foreign adventures.

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Monday, January 30, 2006 

Front page-watch: Yesterday's news, today.

All today's tabloids (except for the Moron) seem to be reporting old news or on yesterday's heroes.

So let's start with the Daily Star aka the OFFICIAL BIG BROTHER PAPER (today only 30p!), which has the amazing exclusive that Celebrity Big Brother winner Chantelle has declared that fellow housemate Preston is the one for her and they're going to stay together. Thank goodness for knowing that you're in love with someone only after three weeks. I'm sure that their careers (Chantelle will doubtless spend the rest of her days of fame (approx 20) getting her tits out as she already has done, Preston on the other hand will probably make some money out of people who buy the Ordinary Boys album, only for them to discover how terrible it is and then hate him for it) will last just as long as their "love".

Moving on to the Diana Express, as it's a Monday we're treated to yet another non-news story about Diana. At least where Diana is she doesn't have to suffer like the rest of the living population in seeing the Express yet again report about a dead woman most normal people never cared about in the first place.

The Daily Mail reports in its usual hysterical style about possible proposals on euthanasia. Unfortunately it doesn't actually provide a space to tick, so even though I lost the will to live when I saw the front page I can't end my life in a humane fashion.

Finally then to the Sun, and to the meeting which we've all been dying to happen. Yes, it's between Michael Barrymore and the father of the man who died in his swimming pool. While he forgives Barrymore, the Sun and the rest of the tabloids certainly haven't. They've spent the couple of years since he fled the country accusing him of everything under the Sun (geddit?!?!?!?). Still, when it comes to an opportunity to get a front page that is bound to shift papers, you jump at the chance, right, hypocrisy or not? However the whole thing seems a publicity stunt, for all parties concerned. The private prosecution by Tony Bennett has not been withdrawn, and he said nothing in the Sun will stop him from pursuing it. You can smell the whiff of Max Clifford around this from a mile off.

Congratulations to all the newspapers featured! (Apologies about the unusual image sizes, one of the blogger servers seems to be refusing to work tonight.)

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de Menezes: The 'complete and utter fuck-up' gets even more sinister.

Extraordinary allegations that Special Branch officers deliberately falsified vital evidence to hide mistakes which led to the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes at a south London Underground station were made last night.

According to claims in the News of the World, police altered the contents of a logbook, which detailed the Brazilian electrician's final movements, in a bid to cover up their blunders.

Specific words were understood to have been changed to cover up the fact that surveillance officers had wrongly identified Mr de Menezes as terror suspect Hussein Osman.

Alterations were hastily made to amend the wording of the official log once the shocking truth emerged that the dead man was not, in fact, the extremist wanted in connection with the failed 21 July Tube bombings.

This was in a bid to pass the blame for the shooting on to the firearms officers who actually shot the electrician and on to senior officers at Scotland Yard who were in charge of the operation.

These revelations are reportedly contained in the report of the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC).

However, sources quoted by the News of the World allege that the IPCC report reveals that the log was altered from "it was Osman" to read instead "and it was not Osman".

The alteration should have been signed but was not. This was regarded as a clumsy error by the IPCC investigators. Their report says: "This looks like an attempt to try to distance Special Branch from the decision [to shoot de Menezes].

Bit by bit, the truth is coming out. With this leak, hopefully it won't be too long before the whole report is obtained by a newspaper so we can read its conclusions in full. This revelation however is damning: Special Branch wrongly identified de Menezes as the suspect they were meant to be monitoring, then an officer or officers changed the log once the mistake had been noticed. This still doesn't discount the theory that de Menezes was shot to show that the police were brutally cracking down, and to prove to the tabloids and to the government that they were doing something about the apparent security threat. Why else would they let a man they regarded as a suicide bomber get on a bus, then get off and get back on without apprehending him? Why did they let him enter a tube station when only the day before this man apparently tried to blow himself up on a tube train/bus? The whole operation was an absolute shambles. When they realised their horrible mistake, they either planted witnesses which lied to the media, or paid them off.

Which brings us, once again, to Sir Ian Blair. The above does somewhat clear him of being involved in what now appears to be a cover-up, and a source has told the Guardian that the IPCC does not believe there was a cover-up instigated from up high. That seems increasingly unlikely, as it appears it was the lower-level officers themselves that did, and didn't bother informing the Met's chief. The highest ranking officer involved could therefore be Cressida Dick, who was in charge of the whole operation. However, "Sir" Ian Blair is by no means out of the dock yet. His explanation, given to the Guardian, that the Met was "transfixed" on finding the four failed suicide bombers stopped them from correcting the lies told to the media is bullshit:

"Clearly the Met could have taken the decision on the Saturday when we recognised that we had killed an innocent man, we could have put the record straight," Sir Ian said in one of a series of interviews with the Guardian during his first year as commissioner. "In a terrible way, the Met was transfixed on other things. It was transfixed on: where are these bombers? And therefore, in a dreadful way, we did not see the significance of that."

Yet the Met was able to announce that it had made a terrible mistake on the Saturday. It would have obviously have known then that de Menezes neither had a bomb belt, nor was he wearing a heavy jacket. It can be excused knowing that it was an actually an officer jumping the barrier and not de Menezes, but for not correcting the first two mistakes at the same time is inexcusable, fixated on catching the suicide bombs suspects or not. It would have taken exactly a minute extra. When apologising for making a terrible mistake which cost a life and correcting misinformation which would have taken a minute extra is stopped by a fixation that other officers were handling, something is badly wrong.

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Saturday, January 28, 2006 

File-sharing shame.

I hope that Mr Justice Lawrence Collins is thoroughly ashamed of himself. Imposing ridiculous fines on file sharers who would not have bought the music in the first place and giving over money to the record companies who have fleeced fans and musicians for decades seems to sum up our plutocratic society:

A high court ruling has forced two men to stop sharing pirated songs on the internet, with a judge warning that ignorance of the law is no defence. The men were ordered to pay thousands of pounds in damages and costs after refusing to settle their civil cases with the trade body the British Phonographic Industry. Cases against three other people are pending.

The first defendant, from Kings Lynn in Norfolk, argued the BPI had no direct evidence of any infringement. His defence was rejected and he was ordered to pay £5,000 immediately, with his total bill likely to top £13,500.

A Brighton postman's argument that he was unaware that what he was doing was illegal and that he did not seek to gain financially was dismissed by Mr Justice Lawrence Collins who said: "Ignorance is not a defence." He was ordered to make a immediate payment of £1,500, pending a decision on costs and damages.

The majority of the 139 cases launched against illegal filesharers since October 2004 have been settled before reaching court, with those accused paying fines of up to £6,500 and promising to stop sharing songs over the internet.

Those on the receiving end of the latest tranche of 51 cases, launched in December, have until the end of the month to settle. A number have had to settle on behalf of their children, despite being unaware that they were breaking the law.

The record industry only points to the collapse in singles sales, as it knows full well that album sales at least in the UK have grown over the last couple of years. The decline of the single can be linked to the imposition of rules on how long they could be in order to qualify for the singles chart. As a result, companies often issue two CDs for just one song to cover b-sides and remixes, charging twice for what they would have once charged for just once. Along with the rise of crap manufactured pop, and records only ever staying on top for one week, people lost their interest in singles and instead focused on albums. Only now are singles starting to come out of their decline, thanks to the rise of new UK indie rock and amazingly, the 7" vinyl making a come back.

The BPI also ignores how many bands and artists have themselves encouraged file sharing or have admitted to using it. Obviously their own stars are excused. The last straw in the BPI's argument should be the rise of Arctic Monkeys, who established themselves through file-sharing of their demo and their online presence. The only thing motivating the BPI is pure greed, and for a Judge to impose such uneccesary fines will only encourage them further.

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Friday, January 27, 2006 

Hamas election victory: The revenge of Sheikh Yassin.

When two years ago, as Chris McGreal opens his Guardian report, Ariel Sharon ordered an Israeli F16 to fire a hellfire missile at Hamas's spiritual leader, a man who was disabled, blind and in a wheelchair, he described it as the beginning of the end of Hamas. How very wrong he was, and how ironic it must be as Sharon lies on his own death bed that the cowardly murder of Yassin was just one of the many things that helped Hamas win an astonishing election for the Palestinian legislature, winning 76 seats to Fatah's 43.

Such a victory has been an understandable shock to many people, as the only Hamas they know of is the one that sent suicide bombers into Israel, targeting civilians with the bodies of the young and impressionable. At the same time many forget that nearly every attack by the Palestinian armed wings was either in retaliation for an Israeli attack or action. That does not excuse them, nor does it excuse their ideology which is to create a theocratic state, and which does also not recognise Israel's right to exist. However, it's worth looking into what created Hamas itself.

During the 70s, when Israel was desperate to both stop the Palestinians from becoming the supposed victims of the conflict, it was also desperate to marginalise the PLO, headed by Arafat. Their idea? Allow Islamists to set up their own presence in the occupied territories, allow them to receive donations from abroad and to set up their own centres to deal with life under occupation. Israel even allowed Sheikh Yassin to serve only a year of his 14 year sentence for smuggling and hiding weapons, as they thought that he and his supporters would be a useful bulwark against the nationalist Fatah, which has always had a much more liberal social outlook. It was in 1987, with the launch of the first intifada against Israel that Yassin created Hamas as we know it today.

As a result, Hamas has always had more social funding from its partners in the Middle East and from other charities. This has enabled it to operate its renowned social centres and hospital, and create close to what is a minor welfare state. Arafat on the other hand had to rely on funding from the US and EU, after his funds were cut off from most other Arab leaders following his support for Saddam Hussein in the first Gulf war. (Saddam returned the favour not to Arafat so much as to the families of suicide bombers, who he infamously rewarded.)

Of course, Hamas is by no means the first terrorist organisation to grace the land of Palestine. Israel itself was founded on terror, as is well known. Israeli right-wing extremists repeatedly threatened Sharon following the pullout from Gaza, and Yitzak Rabin paid with his life for daring to try reach peace with the Oslo accords. For a long time Israel itself did not recognise that the Palestinians even existed, and has recently itself decided upon a two-state solution, although not one based on the 1967 agreed borders.

And it's there where Hamas's real power has come from. Sharon's insistence that there was no partner for peace to deal with has propelled Hamas into the Palestinian conciousness as the real freedom fighters. They stood by and watched as Sharon invaded the West Bank in 2001/2002, devastating Jenin and bombing Arafat's headquarters. He was kept there until his death, a broken man who could only speak to the media in person when the Israelis let him. They watched as Fatah became more and more moribund and corrupt, with its leaders being arrested and imprisoned. Then came the final realisation that it was the armed resistance, not peace talks, that was what was freeing them from the occupation. The withdrawal from Gaza, where Hamas had taken over and where most of its leaders were stationed seemed to have been directly due to their shooting of Qassam rockets into Israeli border towns. While the real reason was undoubtedly the innate stupidity of protecting the homes of a few crazy Jewish settlers from hundreds of thousands of Palestinians surrounding them, mired in poverty, with Israeli lives being lost as the two clashed, it seemed as if Hamas had delivered the victory against the Zionists. Little wonder that along with all the other factors, as well as the media themselves constantly reporting about Hamas's rise, that the people voted for them in their droves. It became almost something of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Hamas now has to demonstrate that it can govern, and govern well. Since the Israeli withdrawl from Gaza, the enclave has become mired in kidnappings, shoot-outs and clan warfare. That must not happen in the West Bank. Hamas must make entirely clear that it recognises Israel's right to exist within the 1967 borders. It does not yet have to give up armed resistance by any means, but once you've turned to the ballot box it's increasingly difficult then to once more turn to the bullets. Once this has happened, the EU and the US must put pressure on Israel to come and talk to Hamas, whether it wishes to deal with "terrorists" or not. What must not be allowed to happen is further unilateral disengagements, with the excuse that there is no partner for peace. If further settlement withdrawals happen, Israel must not enforce the security wall as its new de facto border. All that will do is stir up the hatred for the next generation. Unless both Hamas and Israel makes some big compromises, the bloodshed will continue as it has done for 50 years. And with Hamas and the Palestinian demographic in the ascendent, it may be Israel this time that has the more to lose.

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Sir Ian Blair: "Media is institutionally racist".

It hurts to defend Sir Ian Blair, when he has spent most of his time as head of the Met either scaremongering or spreading lies/misinformation, but I'm going to do it.

He is entirely right to highlight that the media is in some cases incredibly selective in the stories they choose to highlight and get angry about. Notably, there have been a few exceptions. Stephen Lawrence, Damilola Taylor, Anthony Walker and the girls who were shot on New Year's Eve in Birmingham a couple of years ago come to mind, but compared to the number of white middle class victims of crime that have been obsessed over, they're hardly a blip on the radar. Ian Blair's main comparison, that of the white middle class city lawyer who was murdered on his way home, compared to that of the death of an Asian man, Balbir Matharu who was dragged to his death trying to shop thieves from stealing his van's stereo, shows up the tabloid press especially. The difference between the amount of words that the cases prompted in the press was just less than 1,000, but the real difference was when just examining the tabloids. According to the Guardian, the ap Rhys Price story was mentioned 98 times, while that of Matharu was mentioned just 18 times. The difference could be put down to the fact that ap Rhys Price's attackers have apparently been arrested, while Matharu's are still at large, but even then it's quite a huge gap.

Unfortunately, Sir Ian Blair commented about the case of the Soham school girls, which is what the media who should be embarrassed about the above have focused on to take the glare off them. He said:
"If you look at the murders in Soham, almost nobody can understand why that dreadful story became the biggest story in Britain,"

Well, it's quite obvious why it did. It happened during the silly season in August, it involved two pretty young white middle class girls, and the media was provided with a photo of them taken just that day in their Manchester United football shirts. The rolling news channels came into their own, with constant coverage of every little detail reported. It highlighted one of the main parental worries; their children either going missing or being abducted by strangers. As it turned out, they were murdered by someone they knew, which is much more likely than the above. Can the media honestly say that if it had been two boys, say from up in Newcastle or Scotland rather than Cambridgeshire, that they would have given it the same amount of coverage? It seems doubtful. Nevertheless, Soham has become a sacred cow in the media world, much like the killing of James Bulger or Diana, and any criticism or outspokenness about it is dealt with severely, as Ian Blair has found out today. It's worth pointing out however that www.sohamtragedy.org.uk now points to the Cambridgeshire police website.

Veronica Wadley, editor of the Evening Standard doesn't seem to think that the media is institutionally racist, and she also doesn't find it somewhat odd that she's set-up an appeal for Mr ap Rhys Price's family, even though he was a city lawyer and most likely making a decent wage. Then again, she knows which way her bread's buttered, and it was the Daily Mail (sister paper of the Evening Standard) which led the outrage towards Blair's remarks about Soham with a front page splash. They know that they and the Express are the papers that Blair was really commenting on, and they weren't going to take it lying down.

I've commented many times here on the front pages of news papers and made fun of their lack of news values, so it's nice to see that some in the upper echelons of life feel the same way. If "Sir" Ian Blair now would only stop the scaremongering about terrorism and tell the truth about what happened to Jean Charles de Menezes, I'm sure he would instantly rise back up a lot of people's estimations.

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Thursday, January 26, 2006 

Sun-watch: Outting by force.

Congratulations then to the Sun, who managed to blackmail Simon Hughes into admitting he has had homosexual relationships. Apparently having proof either of Hughes' activity on gay web sites or chat lines, they most likely phoned him up and said, "we'll go easy on if you give us the exclusive etc". So Hughes and the Lib Dems become another victim of a press scoop, and the sense of crisis becomes even more apparent.

To quote:

The MP for Bermondsey in South London said: “It is not just me. There are lots of people who have tried to keep their private lives private.

“I wasn’t just doing it for me but for many others who are in the same boat.”

Apparently because he's came out as having both homosexual and heterosexual relationships, that makes him a hypocrite and a liar, except:

Asked by the Independent last week whether he was gay, he said: "The answer is no, as it happens. But if it was the case, which it isn't, I hope that would not become an issue."

Asked again by the Guardian for an article on Tuesday whether he was homosexual, he said: "I'm a single guy, which is why I guess it's easy for people to speculate."

"I'm not going to go into details of relationships but I made a statement, made it clearly and it hasn't changed since last week."

Neither of which was a lie, nor were they particularly misleading. He isn't gay, he's bisexual, if anything. The other claim that he was a hypocrite is that he lead a previous campaign against Peter Tatchell, when he was running for Labour. Tatchell is openly gay and runs the outspoken gay-rights group OutRage! Hughes was described as the "straight choice", which does have very overt homophobic overtones. However, Tatchell doesn't seem particularly bothered, and Hughes publicly apologised about it only this week:

He told BBC2's Newsnight that he accepted some elements of his party's campaign to defeat gay rights activist Peter Tatchell had been "unacceptable", although he pointed out that Mr Tatchell blamed the media and Labour colleagues more.

"I have never been comfortable about the whole of that campaign as Peter knows, and I said that to him in the past privately and publicly," he said.


"Simon benefited from these dirty tricks, but that was 23 years ago - I don't hold a grudge," said Mr Tatchell.

"Based on information [my campaign] received we had a very strong suspicion that Simon was gay despite the homophobic campaign against me."

Mr Tatchell said he welcomed Mr Hughes' belated admission: "Although it is a pity Simon was, even recently, denying being gay, it is great that he has now come out."

"I don't support the Lib Dems, but if I was a member I would vote for Simon as leader."

So err, not exactly damning testimony.

The Sun being the Sun, it couldn't resist referring to the Lib Dems as the "Limp-Dems" (geddit?!?!?!) and along the bottom linking to the pages with "another one bites the pillow", which seems a rather tasteless joke to say the least. It also says that "another confesses", somehow trying to link Mark Oaten into the story. Except Simon Hughes wasn't "living a lie" and hasn't tried to conceal his sexuality from anyone, least of all his own family.

Hughes is perfectly entitled to a private life, and though he has now done the honourable thing, it's a shame that he was forced into doing this by a newspaper which has been virulently homophobic throughout its history. It's also likely that following his statement that others are secretly gay that they'll be a scrum now to try to attempt to uncover them. However, even some Sun readers seem to not give a damn about any politicians sexuality, as the comments at the bottom of their story show:

What is wrong with this country? Since when did the sexuality of a politician affect their ability to do the job? I don’t care whether Simon Hughes is homosexual, heterosexual or bisexual – since he’s never persecuted others for their sexual orientation.

This isn’t a matter about being truthful. All of us lie about some things in life. How many of us would be prepared to admit publicly the full details of our sex lives?

We shouldn’t expect more of our politicians than we do of ourselves.

If it doesn’t affect the way they do their jobs, it shouldn’t be an issue.

Patrick Mahon

It's a shame he had to lie about it for so long especially when the majority of us (who even care) guessed he was gay anyway.

Peter Atkinson

It does not matter on iota whether Simon Hughes is gay, bisexual or heterosexual.

We we are living in the 21st century and questions of this kind are irrelevant and quite frankly a waste of time.

What is important is whether Simon Hughes can do the job of leading the Liberal Democrats or not.

It is a pity that someone in this day and age has to hide their sexuality. Mr. Hughes was right to try and keep it.

I have no reservations about his ability to do the job of leading the Lib Dems. His bedtime habits are of no interest to me.

David Markham-Dorney

The British public has nothing to do with Hughes’ sexual preferences, nor with any individual’s sexual preferences, for that matter – as long as they don’t hurt other people.


Let's hope this signals the final nail in the coffin for those who think that politician's private lives when they're hurting no one except themselves are a cause for public dissemination. Gay or not, like Tatchell, if I was a Lib Dem, Hughes would have my vote.

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Wednesday, January 25, 2006 

Don't be ethical.

And so Google commits the ultimate carnal sin. Like the previous post about Jodie Marsh, the search engine has jumped into bed with someone without thinking of the consequences. Or rather, they have, but have come up with the wrong answer.

Yes, Google is launching a search engine in China which will be self-censored. It's following in the footsteps of Microsoft and Yahoo!, which even gave details to the Chinese authorities about a dissident which led to his arrest, but Google supposedly has ethics at its heart. It's motto is "don't be evil." Yet apparently working with a kleptocratic state which gives its citizens hardly any human rights and stops free speech at the grassroots is a-ok. What makes it even worse is that compared to its business in the US and other free countries, the Chinese market would be worth a rather paltry $151 million.

Google also justifies itself by saying that Chinese users can use google.com instead of google.cn. Except that, err, google.com is blocked by the Chinese firewalls, along with a huge number of other sites. What makes this even more silly is that while Google launches in China, it seems to be stalling in the US, where it is remarkably and rightly holding out against a US government request regarding an investigation into pornography.

Google sadly seems to be slipping from its original stated aims. Like most businesses, it values money over principles. Some say that this is what the market forces companies into doing. This is patently false. You only to look to examples such as the Co-operative network, and especially their bank, which refuses custom from those it considers either breach human rights or otherwise are damaging. In short, there are no justifications for Google's actions. Sure, we need to reach out to the Chinese and start a dialogue, but that does not involve self-censoring just for a quick dollar.

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Jodie Marsh: Of Guardians and girls.

The Guardian seems to have developed something of a worrying obsession of caring for vacuous young greedy women. Since the start of Celebrity Big Brother, the Guardian has carried a larger number than usual of stories about programme, mainly because of George Galloway's involvement, but also because the entire series seems to have been the nastiest, and involving the most dysfunctional set of "celebrities" they could actually bring together.

To start with, I haven't been watching the show, and have only either seen the little adverts on Channel 4 with snippets of the upcoming programme or seen some goings-on when flicking through the channels. I was unfortunate enough to do this last night during what seemed to have been a huge set-to between Galloway and Barrymore, over which one of them was actually the most self-obsessed. Pete Burns, a man who if they were ever to be someone who should be sectioned just for what they look like, fits the bill, stuck his oar in, while Chantelle and Preston, two non-entities who seem to share the personality and brains of a soggy cardboard box, also clamoured and shouted. The only ones who seemed to be disgusted with what was going on, were amazingly Dennis Rodman, who seemed sickened with the argument, and Maggot, the rapper in Goldie Looking Chain, who seemed concerned for Barrymore's well-being. Maybe I'm just getting old, but is the whole show like that? I switched it over and felt dirty just by watching about 5 minutes of it.

But I digress. Jodie Marsh was the first to be evicted from the show. She was apparently bullied somewhat by Galloway, Barrymore and Burns, to the extent that Germaine Greer wrote a comment piece defending her. Greer also alleges that the producers of Big Brother edited the show as to make Marsh look vain, miserable and envious. Today's Guardian features an interview with Marsh by Laura Barton, in which she is given a very sympathetic benefit of the doubt, but which ignores both her own hypocrisy and her startling greed.

The piece starts by mentioning a brief history of her "celebrity". She first appeared on another reality show, and has built herself up to be a rival to Jordan, the blow-up glamour model. Laura Barton seems to consider that she's superior, because, err, her breasts are real. I'm not sure how that matters in the world of things, as Jordan's were originally quite big before she had numerous augmentations, but hell, apparently that makes her better. Nevermind though, because Marsh is clearly on a different intellectual plane to those who she rivals. She has 11 A and A+ GCSEs, along with 3 A A-Levels, apparently. Why when she had such good results she decided to use her body instead of her brain is explained quite easily: money.

But I've taken the quickest and easiest route to making as much money as I can, and having as much fun as I can, and I don't regret that." She has, she points out, recently bought herself a splendid new home, she has worked in Australia and Cyprus and Barbados, she has made a lot of money and written a book. "You can't knock that."

In other words, she's taking the incredibly easy route to greed. After all, if you've got the assets, flaunt them, right? But then she wonders why she's been knocked by the tabloids and called a slag in the streets. Could it be that, as the beginning of the article states, she went out in an outfit involving 3 belts? Could it be that she's told the tabloids about numerous relationships with other men? Could it be that the book she's supposedly written (I'm willing to bet it was ghosted) is full, apart from her memories of childhood, with numerous tales of orgies and her sexual antics? Marsh grins in the article about being paid the most amount ever for a page 3 shot. Nevermind that though, her final thought is about why men who sleep with a lot of women are called studs while women who do the same are slags:

It's like that old thing, if a man has slept with loads and loads of women, he's a stud. But if a woman has slept with loads of boys, she's a slag. Well, why? Why? What makes a man a stud 'cos he's pulled loads of women? And what makes me a slag 'cos I've slept with more than 10 men? It's ridiculous!" She rumples her tanned brow in despair, and blows out an angry stream of smoke. Jodie Marsh: unlikely feminist bitch.

Could it be that those that do don't tell the newspapers and write books about it? Could it be because that those few men that do probably have some idea of personal privacy? Irony to Jodie Marsh seems to be something she also doesn't understand:

Big Brother, Marsh says through drags on a cigarette, was full of "the most fake, hideous people I've ever met"

Well, congratulations on realising that years after everyone else did. Except that she fits the bill perfectly as well. She goes on tell about how she's gone back to brunette after being blonde. She spent most of the show coarsening and talking about sex, exactly as she did in her book and the tabloids before-hand. She thinks she knows why this is though:

She talks about "feminist bitch women" in the press "who don't like glamorous girls who don't like intelligent women - they want to be the one and only intelligent powerful woman, and they don't like anyone who can challenge that or rival that."

Except that, err, the most famous "feminist bitch woman" in the country, Germaine Greer wrote an article defending her, even if she said that eventually Marsh would drop the pretence and wash off the fake tan and realise that's she been very silly. I'm sorry Germaine, but this article shows that's she nowhere near that stage yet, and it seems to show that's she's an incredibly stubborn woman who can't face up to what her own individual actions have brought on her. Charlie Brooker, in his often very funny piece on television in the saturday Guardian Guide said exactly the same thing.

Jodie Marsh obviously does have some intelligence. Perhaps one day she will grow up, get her hideous lower back tattoo removed (having one of these seems to have become a ritual for girls, especially in America, when they turn 18, and horrifically seems to be catching on over here) perhaps go to university and get a decent job and be ashamed of her past. At the moment, she is doing herself no favours. The Guardian should know better than to give space to people who so obviously need help, especially when it seems to be encouraging her to carry on in her ways. Still, perhaps she could replace Zoe Williams as a comment page writer, as I'm sure she could still manage to do a better job.

Oh, and it was almost impossible to find a picture of her in which she isn't either in a state of undress, her underwear, or completely topless.

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Tuesday, January 24, 2006 


The above is the search queries answered yesterday. A lot of people seem desperate to know if Mark Oaten was also indulging in activities involving "scat" with his male prostitute friend. Scat, for those of you who might not be aware, is the fetish involving, err, faeces. The News of the Screws did allude to a sexual activity it said was too vile to print, and there have been rumours circulating that scat was what it was, with Popbitch apparently originally spreading the rumours. You're all a bunch of inquisitive voyeurs, but it seems to sell both papers and this blog.

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More surveillance, more restrictions.

Britain already has the unenviable accolade of having the most CCTV cameras in operation in the entire world, and with ID cards still set to be introduced, you'd think that the government would be satisfied for a while with the huge amounts of data is collecting on its own people. Obviously not though, as it sets about keeping even more information and obtaining more under the auspices of counter-terrorism and organised crime:

The police and security services are to be given access to advanced travel details on more than 40 million passengers a year who travel on domestic flights and ferries within Britain under legislation to be announced tomorrow.

The new power in the police and justice bill will give the authorities the ability to screen and track the movements of suspected terrorists and serious criminals within Britain for the first time.

It is expected that airlines will have to provide the personal online details of all passengers as they book seats and subsequently check in at the airport. There are discussions with the travel industry over what documents passengers will have to show before they can board a flight in Britain.

The new system will enable them to check names against watchlists for terror suspects and wanted criminals and to develop a "profiling system" of those worthy of further scrutiny. It is hoped that the system will help the security services develop a picture of terror and crime suspects' travel patterns and networks.

On specified routes where there is considered to be a major threat, the police will be able to demand the provision of "bulk data" - blanket passenger and crew lists - on all flights travelling on that route before departure. The Liberal Democrats said last night that they were extremely concerned about the routine surveillance of domestic passengers and claimed that Britain was now building a surveillance infrastructure unparalleled in the free world.

The home secretary, Charles Clarke, is to announce that he intends to extend these powers to all domestic passengers travelling on flights and ferries. Airlines such as Ryanair and Easyjet already insist on photo-ID before a passenger boards a domestic flight. Some airlines have expressed concerns that the demand for online information will extend existing check-in times.

One operator has estimated that the process will add 40 seconds to the 60-second average check-in time, but that included manually typing in the home address and place of birth of each passenger. It is anticipated that identity documents will contain, sooner rather than later, such information on a machine readable strip.

The police say that a combination of operational experience, specific intelligence and historical analysis will be used to build up pictures of suspect passengers and patterns of travel behaviour. They claim this will enable them to develop a more targeted approach which will reduce the likelihood of innocent travellers being stopped and incorrect intelligence reports being filed. But such "profiling" of passengers has proved highly controversial in the United States.

I find it rather amusing that the airlines only seeming objection to these plans seem to be that they'll add 40 seconds to check in time. Privacy isn't one of their main concerns it seems, although it has to be said that they wouldn't be keen on one of their planes being used to crash into some tall building, however unlikely that is. The whole thing seems to be based on the US system, where numerous passengers have been ordered off planes, planes have been diverted to other airports to remove passengers who are unfortunate enough to have a name matching one on a terrorist watch-list, where children have been refused access to air travel because of their name, and where Cat Stevens (Yusuf Islam) was briefly arrested for suspected terrorist sympathies/funding terrorist groups. In short, there will no doubt be a number of monumental fuck-ups, to quote an unconnected police source.

The most worrying thing though is the amount of information and data that the government now is able to hold on the individual. This law will increase the government's capability to follow anyone nearly wherever they go - and there is already such a system in place in Bradford, which can track car number plates throughout the city. All of this has gone on with hardly any public consultation. Maybe it's because CCTV has been credited with making people feel safer, and the opposition to it has tapered off remarkably in recent years. Maybe it's because people are now prepared to sacrifice their privacy for their "safety". Or maybe it's because the government, local councils and businesses have not listened to the public when they have stated they have wanted privacy. As it is, it seems to hard disagree with the Lib Dems when they say the government is building a surveillance infrastructure - watching what the citizens are doing while ignoring what the CIA is doing in the skies.

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Sophristy from the government of the highest order; report says "a great deal" of evidence points to "outsourcing" of torture.

Blair in his press conference yesterday made a rather shocking but unsurprising statement when asked about rendition. You might not have read it or heard about it, as the Guardian in their report on rendition didn't bother to mention it. (Thanks to Curious Hamster for this.)

Question: You have not made enquiries as to whether people have been illegally transported through this country from Place A to B?

Prime Minister: No.

So, err, just what has the UK being investigating about rendition all this time? It seems all they've done is make sure that the United States hasn't actually asked permission to use UK airports and airspace when they have been transporting those they've kidnapped. That has never been the issue. The issue was that the US is using our airspace and airports to break international law, while the UK has either been complicit in not asking any questions, or wasn't informed by the security services. This explains why the foreign office secretary was so desperate in trying to get the politicians to "move the issue" on. Too much dwelling on the topic and the reality might actually come out. The need for an inquiry is now greater than ever.

And that inquiry has become more necessary after the EU report by Dick Marty found that "a great deal" of evidence had led him to believe that the US has been operating a system of outsourcing torture.

"It has been proved that individuals have been abducted, deprived of their liberty and all rights and transported to different destinations in Europe, to be handed over to countries in which they have suffered degrading treatment and torture," he told the council's assembly in Strasbourg.

"The entire continent is involved. It is highly unlikely that European governments, or at least their intelligence services, were unaware."

His report said that "there is a great deal of coherent, convergent evidence pointing to the existence of a system of 'relocation' or 'outsourcing' of torture".

It also said that extraordinary rendition - the transfer of terror suspects to countries where they may face torture or ill treatment - "seems to have concerned more than a hundred persons in recent years".

Mr Marty also expressed his frustration that in the face of enormous pressure to come up with evidence of secret CIA prisons, he had received little help from the Council of Europe or governments.

"I am not a judicial authority, I have no means of investigation, the logistical support available to me is very limited," he said.

In other words, they've set up an inquiry and then not bothered to actually help him. Is it possible that all the countries in Europe were not aware, or were aware that this has been going on? Seeing as the CIA and MI6 pool a lot of their intelligence, and other European intelligence agencies do the same, it seems unlikely that every single country is in the dark on this. What is more likely is that either the intelligence agencies have not bothered informing their governments, or that those who are afraid of snubbing America just rolled over and played dead, hence the alleged but not proved prisons in both Poland and Romania. All the while, most countries can also claim that they were not aware through the conceit of plausible deniability, so as both not to offend the US by condemning what they have been doing and also fooling the majority into thinking that either nothing has been going on, or that they really didn't know.

Are we ever going to get to the bottom of this? It really does seem entirely unlikely. Blair's spokesman in response to today's report said that "there are no new facts". Of course, and they're going to do their damndest to make sure that it stays that way.

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Monday, January 23, 2006 

Mark Oaten: You stupid boy.

Mark Oaten was an excellent Home Affairs spokesman for the Lib Dems. He spoke out for many of us when along with his party he opposed ID cards, further "anti-terrorist" legislation and the imposition of the heavily abused anti-social behaviour orders. He was perhaps a little too much like Icarus when he tried to run for Lib Dem leader, as it soon became apparent that he did not have the support of the parliamentary party, although his stance and performance on the Lib Dem front bench had won him many admirers among the grassroots and around the country. It's all such a shame that such a promising MP has had his career finished thanks in part to his own stupidity and to the gutter journalism of the News of the Screws.

Mark Oaten did not do anything that countless men and yes, women, do on a regular basis. While we obviously don't know what was going through his head and whether he is actually gay or not or just curious, he surely should have known better than to go through the Gaydar website in finding a partner. Chris Bryant, a New Labour loyalist to the extent that he'd probably take a bullet for Blair, was himself under the spotlight when a picture of him in just his underpants was found on that website. That should have been enough to warn Oaten off his urges, but obviously not. Whether he was having marital problems or not, such a revelation, especially one forced by a tabloid newspaper of the lowest calibre, will have caused huge pain to his family. What they didn't need was such a vile frontpage from the Daily Mail today, a typical piece of low blow journalism from the paper aimed at women but written by women-haters.

The fact that Oaten's infidelity was with both a prostitute and a man makes it even more of a scandal, even in these times when taboos are thankfully being broken and when really such details shouldn't make any difference. It comes as a surprise that a sex scandal has once again effectively ended a politician's career, especially after the twin sex-scandals of the Spectator, neither of which directly cost David Blunkett or Boris Johnson their jobs. While it still isn't on the level of
Alan Clark's infamous coven, in which he had his way with both the mother and her two daughters (again exposed by the News of the Screws) it still is a pretty high ranking but puerile expose.

Which brings us to the main questions. Does the whole thing really matter, is such a story in the public interest, and does it really sell papers? The answer to the first two questions is no. The answer to the third sadly appears to be yes. While no doubt many of the News of the Screws readers would have had little idea of who Mark Oaten is, I would say it's likely that it would have added to yesterday's circulation thanks to its prior publicity. When David Blunkett's affair was first exposed, the Guardian along with some of the other serious papers at first published no details of it at all, citing that it was not in the public interest. Once it became clear that Blunkett's judgment, conduct and work were being undermined by the affair and its subsequent break-up, it did become a public interest story. That seems a pretty good measure of when a story does actually become newsworthy. Despite what some other blogs and newspapers have said, Oaten was not being hypocritical on prostitution, nor was he really being dishonest by starting his leadership campaign by sitting down with his family. How many other politicians have used the same tactic regardless? David Cameron emphasised his family and especially his wife, despite his obvious previous experience with drugs, which some thought questioned his morals.

Sadly then, the News of the Screws has claimed another scalp, another scoop, and another politician's life most likely lays in ruins. While I feel a lot of sympathy for him, to quote a certain captain's catchphrase, "you stupid boy!".

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Saturday, January 21, 2006 

Jean Charles de Menezes: Will we actually even get the report?

The Independent Police Complaints Commission has finished its report into the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes, and has sent it to the Crown Prosecution Service, who will consider whether charges are to be brought into what happened on the morning of July the 22nd 2005. The report has been additionally sent to the Met, and to the Home Secretary Charles Clarke. A copy has not been sent to the de Menezes family, I would guess out of pure fear on the police and politicians behalf that they would either leak it or "misinterpret" it.

As it is, we do not know how damning or lenient the report is, whether it lays the blame on the shoot-to-kill policy itself, the poor communication between the officers on that morning or on other factors. We don't know whether it mentions the lies which the media reported as truth in the following few hours and days, and whether the supposed witnesses were actually either members of the Met or paid off by them for their incredibly wrong and misleading information. We don't know whether it was decided on a split-second identification that he should be killed because he fit the description, as an offering to the tabloids and government that the Met were actually doing something. We don't know whether Sir Ian Blair either lied to the News of the World when he said he didn't know that an innocent man had been killed for over 24 hours after the shooting, or whether it was down to incompetence in his organisation, or even that he was being kept out the loop.

Sir Ian Blair's role after the shooting is however additionally being investigated in another inquiry by the IPCC. A senior source close to the Met told the Grauniad that that investigation could be even more damaging than the one into the de Menezes shooting.

The real cause for concern is that we may never even get to see the report, or at least not possibly for years. The CPS is likely to take months to assess whether any police officers will be prosecuted, and even then it is unlikely to be made public for reasons of contempt of court. Charles Clarke has said he would like to see it made public, but it is unlikely until all the proceedings are complete. In other words: years away, if we're lucky. As it is, we're left with the same questions we've been mulling over since the shooting. Why was Jean Charles not stopped before he entered the tube station, or even the bus he boarded? Was he at any point told to stop? Why when he was already being restrained was he then shot 7 times in the head and once in the shoulder, and with 11 bullets in total being fired? To quote the Guardian's source, it "was a complete and utter fuck-up", but was it a sinister fuck-up or one that was down to human error?

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Friday, January 20, 2006 

Straw's statement: same nonsense.

Straw's statement on rendition has added absolutely nothing, but has left him open to the same questions as before. The memo still shows that Straw lied to the Foreign Affairs committee, when he already knew about requests by the Clinton government to use UK airspace for rendition in 1998.

"We have found no evidence of detainees being rendered through the UK or overseas territory since 11 September 2001," said Mr Straw.

"We have found no evidence of detainees being rendered through the UK or overseas territory since 1997 where there were substantial grounds to believe there was a real risk of torture."

"We will grant permission only if we are satisfied that the rendition would accord with UK law and our international obligations, and how we understand our obligations under the UN Convention Against Torture."

He added: "We are also clear that the US would not render a detainee through UK territory or airspace (including overseas territory) without our permission."

The memo also makes clear that the US has a lower threshold on what they believe is torture (cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment is fine!), so technically if the UK received any request to comply with a rendition, it should be refused.

But all this is academic. Straw and the government still deny that they have any knowledge of CIA flights which have landed at airports across the country. A report issued by the Scottish National Party shows almost undeniably that airplanes associated and known to have been involved in rendition have landed at Prestwick, Glasgow and Edinburgh airports. It also names both front and real companies set up by the CIA to help with the rendition process. The plane numbers correspond with those previously published by the Guardian (see here and here). If they don't know about these flights, why don't they? Do the security services know, and if they do, why haven't they informed the government that the law is being broken by the CIA? If they don't, why don't they? These questions have so far failed to be answered by the government, who have pleaded ignorance but at the same time have issued internal memos saying that the debate should be moved on. Straw speaks of conspiracy theories, but the government's insistence that it knows nothing but at the same time is desperate to move on the debate smacks of its desperation.

At the very least, we need to have an inquiry into what flights have entered the UK that have been shown to be associated with so-called "extraordinary rendition". It is not good enough for the government to say it has no knowledge and therefore it has nothing to have an inquiry into. These airports must have records of the flights requesting permission to land, or at the very least contact with the control tower. The United States did not request permission to abduct those citizens it felt were worth interrogating from their respective countries, so why would they seek permission from the countries they may just be entering to refuel? This does not mean that the government does not have knowledge of what was going on; it may simply have been turning a blind eye. This is exactly why an inquiry is now needed, if only to restore confidence that this country is not complicit in torture which breaks UN conventions and shows the world that we are no better than those we are supposedly at war against.

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Thursday, January 19, 2006 

Jack Straw lied to the Foreign Affairs committee over "extraordinary rendition".

Late last year Obsolete accused Jack Straw of lying. Now we have the complete evidence that proves he lied when giving evidence to the Foreign Affairs committee on the 13th of December.

The evidence comes from the leaked memo written by Irfan Siddiq, a private secretary at the foreign office, in response to a request from Downing Street for a briefing document ahead of Blair's appearance in the commons to answer questions about British involvement in the practice of "extraordinary rendition", or kidnapping, to give it a jargonless name. The memo in full can be downloaded from the New Statesman website which it was leaked to here. I've also mirrored it in case the Statesman takes it down at some point.

While the entire memo is explosive and worth reading and comparing with government statements, the most important piece is contained in the 17th point:

Pretty straight forward then. No longer could the government reasonably deny that
they had no such requests from the US to help them with their practice of kidnapping terrorist suspects. So what then, other than a bare-faced lie, is this porker which Jack Straw told to the Foreign Affairs committee 6 days after this memo had been written?

Q 23. Unless we all start to believe in conspiracy theories and that the officials are lying, that I am lying, that behind this there is some kind of secret state which is in league with some dark forces in the United States, and also let me say, we believe that Secretary Rice is lying, there simply is no truth in the claims that the United Kingdom has been involved in rendition full stop, because we have not been, and so what on earth a judicial inquiry would start to do I have no idea.

I do not think it would be justified. While we are on this point, Chairman, can I say this? Some of the reports which are given credibility, including one this morning on the Today programme, are in the realms of the fantastic.

A full transcript of the committee evidence on rendition is available here.

It would seem that the government has been telling the truth that it is not aware of the US using UK territory for the purposes of rendition. But this is what is called plausible deniability. The UK government has been operating a policy of "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil". The memo also makes clear that many government departments were frantically searching to see if they had been made aware by the US of what they have been carrying out. It also states that such practices are almost certainly illegal. The "smoking gun" though is the document's attempts to spin the whole debate and focus on moving it onto the realm from which not many people will be able to criticise it: saving innocents from being attacked by terrorists, and accepting Condi Rice's word that the US does not practice torture. The memo itself then undermines her statement, as it makes clear though that the US does not consider "cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment" torture, so in other words, "torture-lite" is A-OK anywhere in the world.

Both Blair and Straw have a lot of explaining to do. What is now clear is that Jack Straw definitely lied to the Foreign Affairs committee. Deliberately misleading the House of Commons is a serious offence, and if he does not consider this a resigning issue, then he should be investigated by the speaker of the house, who should decide what penalty he should face.

Thanks to BlairWatch, the New Statesman and Guardian for the sources for this piece.

Update: Straw is to give a written statement to the commons on this. Unfortunately, the memo has come out on the same day as Ruth Kelly's statement on sex offenders working in schools, the decision to keep cannabis in drug classification c, and a new audio tape from bin Laden. As such, it has been thrust down the news agenda. What parliament and the so-called opposition must do is tell Straw to stick his written statement and at least give a statement with questions allowed in the house, if not announce a full inquiry. Whether that happens or not should be a useful measure to how far Cameron's "new" Conservatives and the leaderless Lib Dems are willing to challenge this government's obfuscations and downright lies. Thanks to Curious Hamster.

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Wednesday, January 18, 2006 

More on ID cards: Poor old Blair just can't get a break.

Now he's even got his mirror image attacking him over the scheme. Granted, David Davis had enough intelligence to originally oppose the highly-illiberal, huge costing and unnecessary pieces of plastic, but it must hurt to be attacked by someone who's so clearly in love with nearly everything about you:

Plans to introduce identity cards risk ending up as a "monument to the failure of big government", Conservative leader David Cameron has warned.

His comments, during prime minister's questions, follow a report which estimates they will cost £14.5bn.

The prime minister said they were needed to fight identity fraud and illegal immigration.

Mr Cameron asked: "With rising deficits in the NHS, huge costs of pension reform and tighter pressures on public spending, how can you claim that spending at least £600m a year on your ID cards scheme is a good use of public money?"

Identity cards are already known to be hopeless in tackling illegal immigration, as has been shown in Spain. As for identity fraud, once the cards are forged, and they will be, it will be even more difficult for those who find themselves victims to put things right. Still, at least Blair is no longer pretending that they will prevent terrorism.

It doesn't stop with Cameron. More bad news for the government as yet another report savages the government's plans and points out that those bidding to run the IT scheme behind the cards have been involved in previous fiascoes:

Corporate Watch, a Quaker-funded research group in Oxford, says that some of the companies now being consulted by the government about possible involvement "have previously overseen disasters in public sector IT work". They included the US giant EDS, BT Global Services and PA Consulting. "While companies involved in these projects must take some of the blame it would be a mistake to ignore the role of poor planning and mismanagement by government departments," the group's report states.

It blames huge, over-complex schemes that fail to deliver promised benefits. Acknowledging months of controversy over the civil liberty and cost implications of the scheme, due to start in 2008, Corporate Watch says "relatively little attention seems to have been paid to the significant practical problems of implementing ID cards and the National Identity Register", which will eventually hold data on all 60 million UK biometric identities.

Ministers are adamant that their critics have mixed motives, including a gut hostility to ID cards, which they say are inevitable in an era of identity fraud, global crime and terrorism - not least because biometric passports will be introduced this year.

In other words, ministers are tarring the opposition with the same brush: the same people who are always against everything. It's the same tactic they used when trying to push through the 90-days legislation, and when trying to get support for the Iraq war. The reality is that the government has failed to explain how they will help in the fight against all three of those things mentioned in the report, and their case isn't helped when the former head of MI5 says they would be useless in the fight against terrorism. Again, they return to the false argument that because biometric passports are being introduced ID cards also should be - despite the EU leaving the decision to individual nation states. As the Guardian leader points out, the government has to make its case that they are needed on the grounds of necessity and practicality; and neither case has been made.

This government has shown time and again that civil liberties are not there to be respected, but to be tampered with and restricted, and ID cards will do exactly that. That's why they are so desperate to pass them onto the statute book. Expect before long to hear Blair arguing that the police say that they are needed as justification.

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Tuesday, January 17, 2006 

ID Cards: This government just doesn't know when to quit.

Once again, the plan for identity cards and for a furthering of the database behind it has been mauled by its opponents. Once again, the government is back up on its feet swinging blindly before it gets knocked back to the canvas again.

The proposals for identity cards had been originally intended to be rushed through as quickly as possible. Thanks to a strong and growing opposition, they have been repeatedly delayed so far. The latest setback to the government's plans has been in the House of Lords, where peers voted to demand that ministers reveal the full estimate of the cost of the entire scheme. They also insisted that cards should not become compulsory through the backdoor, and that only details of external physical characteristics should be held on the database, not internal characteristics, i.e. DNA structures.

The whole scheme itself is full of holes. Ministers have tried to defend it on numerous grounds since it was first muted by dear old Dave Blunkett, and has since been supported by Blair as part of his respect agenda. First they said it was vital in the war against terror, until it was pointed out that the Spanish bombers had ID cards and that it didn't stop the Madrid attacks. Clarke was also forced to admit they would not have stopped the London attacks. To add insult to injury, Stella Rimington, former head of MI5 said they would not make the country safer and that the possibility of forgery could make the completely useless. Ministers then resulted to in effect blaming the EU, saying that biometric passports were to be made compulsory so that the public may as well get 2 for the price of 1. This then fell apart when it was revealed that it was up to individual states to make their own decisions on the matter. Another fallback to defend the scheme was that it would help stop "bogus" asylum seekers. One problem: asylum seekers in the country already have ID cards, issued by the government in previous reforms of the system. Introducing them for the general population would actually likely confuse the issue. And then finally, there are the problems of cost. The government maintains that cards will only cost £93, and that those on lower income will pay lower. Then the London School of Economics issued their report claiming the scheme could cost up to £19bn (that's £7bn more than the annual cost of Incapacity Benefit, fact fans) and that to cover the cost the cards could well cost up to £300. The government rejects these figures, but refuses to release their full estimates and costing because if the IT firms knew how big the budget was, none would bid any less. Of course, it may also be because the government knows who it's handing the scheme to and doesn't want any upstarts to underbid them.

This is without even commenting on the civil liberties implications, the huge database behind the cards which will likely be maintained privately with the possibility of leaks of information, and the horrible thought of returning to the war years with police demanding to see "your papers". Perhaps the best criticism though came from Lord Philips, who quoted a Labour politician who attacked the then Tory plans for ID cards by saying the money should be used on more police instead. That Labour politician? Tony Blair.

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Monday, January 16, 2006 

Death by drone.

The bombing of 3 houses on the edge of a Pakistani village in the north west frontier of the country was, by definition, a terrorist attack. It occurred in a sovereign state, at a time of peace and was directed against civilians. There was no warning. There was no provocation. So why has the moral outrage against this attack only been voiced in Pakistan and the middle east? Because it was an attack by a CIA drone.

The justification given, mainly actually by the media as the White House has been almost silent on the matter, was that Ayman al-Zawahiri was at the house at the time. As the apparent second in command of al-Qaida, and also the "brains" behind the operation, he has a 14 million pound bounty on his head. It just so happens to turn out that the intelligence was either dead wrong, or wrong enough in timing for Zawahiri not to be at the house at the time. As a result, 18 people died, including women and children, with conflicting reports about whether there were "militants" killed as well.

Can you imagine the reaction a similar attack by Iran on Israel would cause? Say for instance that Iran decided to assassinate a far-right Jewish settler leader, and actually missed him and killed 18 innocent Israelis. What would the reaction be? You would expect that at the very least Israel would plot revenge, even if it did not carry it out. There would be worldwide condemnation, and in the current climate would almost certainly push the security council into placing sanctions on the regime. In fact, we have an even closer example than Iran or Israel. The UN is still currently conducting its report into the assassination of Rafik Hariri, the former Lebanese prime minister, with Syria as the accused. Sanctions are a possibility if it rules that Syria did carry out the assassination.

Of course, there is no chance that sanctions or anything that would damage America will happen as a result of this incident. After all, it was directed against one of the leaders of a suicidal-cult which wants to destroy America and freedom worldwide. But what was stopping the Americans from informing Pakistan of its intentions? The security services obviously knew. Why did the Americans not quickly summon special forces to be dropped and surround the village, instead of just bombing it better? If he was actually there they could have seized their prize alive. Instead, they now have 18 dead bodies, and a whole country rightfully angered by the actions of what America would call a rogue state.

Rather than apologise for what has happened, at least one American poltician did nothing of the sort. John McCain, a possible presidental candidate for 2008 and thought of as a more "liberal" Republican, said this:

"We have to go where these people are, and we have to take them out,"


"I can't tell you that we wouldn't do the same thing again."

He can't for one good reason. He knows full well it will happen again, as it has happened before. The US started the Iraq war by trying to kill Saddam Hussein. It failed that time, also. Before that CIA predator drones have been used to kill supposed militants travelling through Afghanistan.

Still, maybe this will give Tony Blair some ideas for his respect agenda. Perhaps he should give police the option of using the ultimate in "summary justice" - launching a hellfire missile at teenagers daring to congregate outside the shops in the evening.

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Saturday, January 14, 2006 

Patriotism: the politics of the desperate.

The first example that Brown has few ideas about where to take Labour, except for continuing Blair's legacy.

Gordon Brown will propose today that Remembrance Sunday should be developed into a national day of patriotism to celebrate British history, achievements and culture. The chancellor envisages a "British Day", equivalent to the Fourth of July independence celebrations in the United States.

In his speech Mr Brown will embrace the patriotism of the US, saying: "In any survey our most popular institutions range from the monarchy to the army to the NHS. But think: what is our Fourth of July? What is our Independence Day? Where is our declaration of rights? What is our equivalent of a flag in every garden? Perhaps Remembrance Day and Remembrance Sunday are the nearest we have come to a British day - unifying, commemorative, dignified and an expression of British ideas of standing firm for the world in the name of liberty."

Either way, he believes the British flag needs to be recaptured from the far right. "The union flag should be a British symbol of unity around our values ... and we should assert that the union flag is for tolerance and inclusion."

The chancellor's aides believe that a renewed patriotism, celebrating all the elements of modern Britain, is an agenda that the Conservatives cannot readily follow because in their hands it would look backward-looking and even chauvinistic.

He will say the centre and the left have failed to understand that the values on which Britishness is based - fairness, liberty and responsibility - owe more to progressive ideas than to rightwing ones.

It's all very well to look to America and admire the seeming instinctive patriotism which seems to flourish there, but it's also worth examining what that patriotism means to their culture. Critics of the Iraq war and Bush have constantly been accused of being either un-American or unpatriotic. It's been a brush to tar criticism of any sort. The other thing that makes Americans patriotic is the dream - both imagined and real - and the constitution itself. Britain has never had a written constitution, and the attacks on liberty by the government of which Brown is a part of has shown the need for one. As for a dream, has there ever been a British one? The empire has long gone, and was acquired and controlled brutally. Our finest hour and most admired part of history now seems to be WW2 - standing up to Hitler, albeit too late, the blitz spirit and of course, the old warmonger himself, Winston Churchill.

If anything though, that time is starting to look like the ancient history it is - if it only really was 60 years ago since the allies were victorious. The intervening years are already starting to blur. Instead of admiring and learning from the lessons of the cold war, we started to believe Francis Fukuyama when he said that it was the end of history. Since September the 11th, the world seems to have become more fragile again, and the politicians have realised this. They have since turned to using fear to keep in power, and turning to patriotism to make the people feel both good and to keep them from being too critical.

This is not to say that Brown's intentions are purely malign. A celebration of our lives and values should be welcomed - but only if it is purely progressive and forward looking. Brown's suggestion that the monarchy is one of our most popular institutions seem to be very much at odds with this. A group of inbred dsyfunctional people, thrust into the limelight as a result of being born is just such an example of backwards thinking and how far this country has to go. How can Britain be equal when we have a monstrosity of a woman sitting as head of state purely because of whom she was born to?

Britain should celebrate that it is a democracy and that we ourselves are reasonably free. But why should we celebrate it when we have a government that seems to be at odds with a lot of our values? Blair is trying to introduce summary justice, has tried to lock up terror suspects indefinitely without charge, wants to introduce ID cards and has had his previous home secretary repeatedly attack judges. It's a sad fact that many of our basic freedoms are being upheld either by the unelected House of Lords, or by the European Court of Human Rights. It doesn't really inspire you to be proud of who you are, does it?

If we are to have a celebration of being British day, it does need to be separated from Remembrance Sunday. That day still shows the humility and respectful nature of Britain, as we remember our dead who fought for our freedom in the only truly justified war of the 20th century. It is not militaristic or jingoistic, rather a day to reflect on what may have happened and to say thank you for the sacrifice of a previous generation. Any British day should not have that almost somnambulistic atmosphere, but should also not be jingoistic. We have much to celebrate, but the way that Brown has brought it up in this way shows his lack of ideas, and how quickly the New Labour project is running out of steam. When you turn to relying on the electorate's love of their country to lift your poll ratings, it's time to realise that everything else is certainly not going well.

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