Tuesday, February 28, 2006 

David Cameron: The new king of spin.

The media is still being incredibly soft on David Cameron, and exactly at the same time as he's stepping up a gear in his spin campaign to show that he and his party have really changed. Last night they managed to get top billing on both the 10 O'Clock News on BBC1 and on Newsnight half an hour later. How? Cameron and his associates have come up with a wicked wheeze purely designed to emulate Blair and his challenge to the constitution of the Labour party, which he decisively won. He's put forward an eight point plan to be voted on by the Tory party membership, all of which is designed to antagonise the right-wingers as little as possible. He therefore hopes that he will be accepted as prime minister in waiting, his party united and the country shown that the Tories are once again ready for power. Too bad that it's all smoke and mirrors.

Let's look at his eight point plan then. (Click on the image above to see it bigger, taken from the Tories' released PDF.) First point is about taxes, namely putting "economic stability and fiscal responsibility" ahead of cuts. The Tories pledge to share proceeds of growth between tax cuts and public services. Anything new here? No, not really. While the pledge at the general election was to lower taxes at some point, they also pledged to put stability and responsibility first then as well. It also mentions the same old rubbish about government swallowing ever more national income, when what they mean is that they think this government is still thinking up more and more "stealth" taxes, which they've been banging on about for years now. Next!

Ah, Cameron repudiates Thatcher's saying that there is no such thing as a society. Being a sharing, caring, compassionate Conservative, Cameron believes that there is, just that it isn't the same as the state. The test for their policies is how they will affect the disadvantaged, not the rich. Somehow that doesn't really sit properly with the claim just above it. Tax cuts affect the rich a hell of a lot more than they will the poor, unless the tax threshold is changed, such as the Lib Dems suggest, as the poorest in society often still pay more tax by percentage than the rich do. Nothing in this Tory statement suggests a similar move. The rest is yet another attack on the state - the only real mantra of this document and the Conservatives, who are intent on attacking Gordon Brown as being centralising and a "road-block to reform", despite that being utter tosh. Next!

The quality of life matters as much as the quantity of money, apparently. A statement of the bleeding obvious to the average man in the street, it's took this long for the Conservatives to work it out. What's the Tory view then on expanding airports, for instance? How about nuclear power? Would they be steps towards sustainable development? We need answers Mr Cameron, otherwise this is just empty sloganeering. Also the Tories will support the choices that women make, which will annoy the likes of the Daily Mail which thinks the woman's place is at home looking after the kids and making dinner. Another statement of the obvious which should have been adopted long ago.

The fourth point is one which marks how little difference there now is between Labour and the Tories. Both believe that choice is the new watchword - despite hardly anyone other than the politicians being enthusiastic about it and just wanting a good local hospital and school. These services also don't need to be run by the state - the private sector is just as good! Such fine examples of this are the railways, the private finance initiative which is locking hospitals into debt for decades and the specialist private surgery and check-up centres which aren't performing the work they were supposed to but are being paid for it anyway. We can't blame the Tories for this though - Labour hasn't looked back since gaining power.

The fifth point states that it's our moral obligation to make poverty history. They're only a year late with this one, but again, it shows no difference between Labour and the Tories. The argument has been won, and the right argument was the victor, but it still leaves a bad taste in the mouth that the Tories think they need to actually state this.

Security and freedom must go hand in hand. Really? To be fair to the Tories, they have opposed the most draconian measures of this government on terrorist legislation. Whether this is out of opportunism or genuine conviction is hard to tell. Ineffective authoritarianism - doesn't the Conservative party support anti-socal behaviour orders, naming and shaming and all the other manifestations of Labour's crackdown on "social ills"? ASBOs have been used on the most vulnerable, have become a badge of honour in certain places and are often unbacked up with other measures. Notice that nowhere in this document are asylum seekers mentioned, nor immigration. Are we meant to forget that the Tories still believe that the refugee and asylum system is in chaos? What happened to the fantasy island where all claimants would be processed? What do the Tories now really believe about the Iraq war? Again, that isn't mentioned here. Does Cameron really believe what the Lib Dems do, as he said in the leaflet in the Dunfermline by-election? This 8-point plan sure doesn't tell us.

The 7th point tell us absolutely nothing that the Tories haven't stood for since their very beginning. No changes, but it does give one thing away. Not limited in our aspirations for government - does this show that the party is now so desperate for power that it'll do anything to beat Labour, or is this whole document just empty showboating from a party that long ceased to have any major differences with the party opposite?

The final point then again shows the lack of a difference with Labour. Localism along with choice is the other great big new idea. Apparently they want to see more local democracy - so why didn't they support the northern assembly which was defeated in the referendum? That seems very odd. They also want the devolved institutions in Scotland and Wales to work, which is rather strange because I thought they were already working. Perhaps what the Tories really mean is that they'll only work when they are in power in the respective parliaments - something which there is little hope of them achieving. Communities should have more say over their own futures, again, a statement of the obvious and which no one will disagree with.

On the whole then, an absolutely worthless document with few changes on policy, statements of the obvious and few details on policies which would be actually really controversial with the grassroots. That this is being hyped both by the Tories and the media as a clause 4 moment shows how much the Tories have already achieved in seducing a pliant media which doesn't seem to be bothered with what is really happening. This is nothing like a Clause 4 moment - that was a genuine debate which still has not been conclusively answered. Both state ownership and private ownership of the public services have their own problems, and both have failed in the past. Blair won that argument, and Cameron will win this argument, but they can't be compared.

Cameron then continues on in the vein of his work for a PR firm; spinning and spinning away, given an extended honeymoon by the press while still not telling the full truth or not even being asked to. The document also shows that politics has reached an impasse - both the Tories and Labour agree on so much that there's so little to choose between them. What the Tories are fighting for is a lost cause. If nothing changes between now and the next election, then alienation and apathy will get worse. Politics is dead - long live politics.

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Guardian-watch: Practicing what you preach.

George Monbiot's excellent piece today, showing how unsustainable and dangerous uncontrolled expansion of air travel is and will be shows the incredible damage which the airlines and the government are prepared to accept in response to the permanently growing economy. Imagine my surprise then to find the following adverts, all within the main berliner section of the newspaper:

Yes, that's 5, with 3 of them being actual Guardian reader offers. Sort it out Guardian, otherwise you make both yourselves and the columnist look stupid.

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Monday, February 27, 2006 

George Michael-watch: Predictably bad tabloids.

Remember, no tabloid journalist has ever done drugs. No tabloid journalist has ever got drunk and hit their significant others. No, what the real issue here is about is to make appallingly bad front pages and puns:

The Daily Star (which along with the Sport I don't think any longer merits being referred to as a newspaper) goes with the hilarious "dope me up before you go-go" in reference to the Wham song with a similar lyric. Not that it makes any sense - he most likely doped himself up. Still, never let that get in the way of a great pun. Oh, wait.

Both the Sun and Mirror decide on printing the same headline as each other for the second time in two weeks. They choose the side-splitting "CARELESS SPLIFFER" which is a pun on a Careless Whisper, for those of you not familiar with George Michael's back catalogue. Not that he actually was being careless - being asleep in your car isn't a crime, he was just unfortunate enough to have raised concern in someone who rang for an ambulance, who in turn contacted the police. He had Class C drugs on him, which isn't even really an arrestable offence, but being George Michael the plod had to arrest him. On a day when the press could have covered the continuing anarchy in Iraq, the Tessa Jowell husband "scandal" or what I covered below, it's good to know the tabloids priorities are a washed-up pop star caught with drugs, and in the Mirror's case, yet another dossier on a dead woman. Thank you so much God, for Fleet Street. Also, I'm not exactly sure how the man who starved himself to death in jail committed revenge, or even who against, but the Sun loves a tale of death and misery. If only such plagues would strike Wapping

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Power to the People: naive, half-baked and vague, but populist and a worthy start.

It's rather a shame that the Power to the People report by the Power Commission, chaired by the frighteningly sane Helena Kennedy, has come up with a range of proposals which on the whole are either seemingly unworkable or woefully lacking in detail. It's no surprise that Gordon Brown has quickly taken up supporting a number of the main pledges, rather cynically to make the impression that there is still some difference between him and Blair. The main proposals are:

· Individual donations to parties to be capped at £10,000, and those from organisations at £100 a member
· First past the post to be replaced with a voting system boosting the chances of small parties and independent candidates
· 70% of members in the House of Lords to be elected. Only over-40s eligible, to ensure they have experience of life outside politics
· Each voter to allocate £3 of public money to a party
· Citizens to gain the right to initiate new laws and public inquiries
· Ministerial meetings with lobbyists and representatives of business to be logged and listed monthly

Let's start with the good stuff. The ideas on donation are excellent, and have been a long time in coming. £10,000 is, if anything, still a little too high. It will most importantly however stop the hideous spectacle of Blair elevating to the Lords huge donors to the Labour party, and the diabolical rise of Lord Smallpox, aka Drayson. The logging and listing of lobbyists and business is a great idea - it's about time that such meetings were exposed, although again the number of ministers who upon leaving the job go straight into directorships and vice versa still makes something of a mockery of principles and independence.

On to the not so good stuff. First past the post to be replaced - fantastic, but to boost the chances of small parties and independents is so vague as to be worthless. The system of proportional representation to be adopted needs to be discussed and then put forward to be changed to, possibly by a referendum. Just saying that first past the post needs to be abolished isn't good enough. Are we going to have the transferrable vote system - putting the candidates in order of preference and then adding once they are knocked out, or a different system? The commission should have come up with some ideas.

On Lords reform they propose a magical figure of 70% to be elected - how? Do we go with Billy Bragg's proposal of distributing votes on a regional basis at the same time as a general election? Would it be a separate vote? Should MPs vote on who to elect? Coming up with a percentage to be elected is fine, but it needs to have backbone and explanation behind it. Lords reform also doesn't seem as urgent as it once did, as it now seems to be the Lords which is the biggest check on this government. Rather ominously, Blair has apparently now come round to the idea, having opposed it before. I wonder why?

Each voter to allocate £3 of public money to a party - this is going to sound undemocratic and snobbish, but do we really want more money, out of the public purse, going to the likes of the BNP? Would the Tories, indeed even Labour, want a decent amount of money going to the "traitorous" George Galloway in Respect? Such a proposal also seems likely to have to deal with voter apathy and people who just can't be bothered, i.e. "they're all the same". It sounds very good on paper, but in practice it sounds the kind of thing which would lead to an outcry when it becomes reality.

Citizens to gain the right to initiate new laws and inquiries - I know we often complain of feeling powerless, but isn't this what we have MPs for? You can also bet that such a proposal would lead to the loudest voices drowning out the reasonable majority. Before you know it, as demonstrated by the recent Today vote on the most powerful man in the country you have one-issue people voting in their thousands on something which either doesn't need changing or is such a small issue as not to worry about. As above, it sounds good when discussed but once a healthy dose of cynicism is added you find the democratic system itself being undermined by citizens outraged by an issue banged on about day after day in the Daily Mail. A better proposal would be to have a trial period, see what actually happens and obviously to give a committee a certain level of veto on those issues which are brought forward. The power to the people proposal is far too sweeping.

Finally then to voting at 16 - again, sounds great on paper. Then you think about it - are 16 year olds ready for party politics? Do they understand the issues? Yes, that sounds patronising and half the population at times doesn't properly understand the "issues", but 18 still to me seems a fair age. My political awakening didn't really take place until 16, and I'm sure that I wouldn't have voted then. It comes across as being an attempt to move the number of the electorate who voted up, which it likely would because of the novelty of the 16-year-olds at the time being able to. After those guinea pigs, it doesn't seem likely that it would infuse the youth population as much. I think the electoral commission had it right when it poo-pooed the idea, as populist and seemingly reformist as it is. 16 year olds are free to fight me for their right to vote, as after all, they're free to marry with parent permission, have gang bangs and poison their bodies with nicotine at that age. Whether it would lead to more of the younger population actually becoming more involved with politics, and not just with a single issue, is more questionable.

The power to the people report is a good start, but it is just that. Its ideas need to be fully fleshed out before almost anything in it should actually be put forward to become law. Either that, or I'm actually a closet Tory when it comes to constitutional reform after all.

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Saturday, February 25, 2006 

Livingstone suspended: Knowing when to say sorry.

From the very beginning of this storm in a teacup, Ken Livingstone could have defused the whole situation just by simply saying sorry to the reporter he offended. He didn't need to apologise to the newspaper itself, or its parent company, just the reporter. Instead he chose to take the matter up against the newspaper itself, and that is half the reason why he is now faced with being suspended from his job as London mayor for a month.

One thing that seems to have been completely forgotten by all parties is that Ken Livingstone was emerging from a party for one of his friends, celebrating 20 years since Chris Smith had been "out of the closet" as the first openly gay MP. Ken was most likely the worst for wear if not entirely drunk. Emerging as he did to find himself accosted by a journalist, he was obviously not very pleased, and the drink set him off on a rant as soon it emerged that Oliver Finegold worked for the London Evening Standard, a paper that was opposed to him to start with and then downright hostile. No one seems to have acknowledged that we all say stupid things and do stupid things when we're drunk, things we don't mean or things that might be unnecessarily hurtful in the heat of the moment. This is what happened.

It should also be noted that Ken himself was not reported to the Adjucation Panel by the London Evening Standard or the journalist, Oliver Finegold, but rather by the Board of Deputies of British Jews, an organisation that continues to scream anti-semitism whenever Zionism is criticisied and which also had to pay costs to a Palestinian charity it accused of funding terrorists. It and the London Jewish Forum still don't seem satisfied by the decision of the board however, and said the following:

Adrian Cohen, said: "It should never have reached this point when a simple apology could have avoided all the pain caused to so many Jewish Londoners who have been affected by the Holocaust."

The chief executive of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, Jon Benjamin, said they still require an apology from Mr Livingstone but added: "There is no suggestion that the mayor has shown any contrition or understanding of the hurt he has caused."

Pain, hurt? Let's take a look at what Ken actually said:

Oliver Finegold: "Mr Livingstone, Evening Standard. How did it ..."

Ken Livingstone: "Oh, how awful for you."

Finegold: "How did tonight go?"

Livingstone: "Have you thought of having treatment?"

Finegold: "How did tonight go?"

Livingstone: "Have you thought of having treatment?"

Finegold: "Was it a good party? What does it mean for you?"

Livingstone: "What did you do before? Were you a German war criminal?"

Finegold: "No, I'm Jewish. I wasn't a German war criminal."

Livingstone: "Ah ... right."

Finegold: "I'm actually quite offended by that. So, how did tonight go?"

Livingstone: "Well you might be, but actually you are just like a concentration camp guard. You're just doing it 'cause you're paid to, aren't you?"

Finegold: "Great. I've you on record for that. So how did tonight go?"

I don't see how what Ken said to Finegold, which was clearly a personal attack influenced by drink and annoyance at the press not leaving him alone even at a private party caused hurt or pain to the Jewish community in London. While as both the London Jewish Forum and Board of Deputies of British Jews are right in saying that a simple apology would have defused the whole thing, nothing which Ken said was directed against the Jewish community as a whole. He wasn't, as David Irving repeatedly did, denying the holocaust. He didn't say make a stereotypical or generalised statement about Jews as a whole. It was comments directed at a journalist, and him only. It's worth noting that the Board of Deputies of British Jews were very unhappy about Ken inviting Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who defended suicide bombings in Israel as being legitimate as they were targeting an occupying power, while condemning them elsewhere. Ken is a fierce pro-Palestinian figure, and the Board of Deputies leaps on anyone who so much as speaks out against the militarist policies of Israel. In short, they had other reasons to complain about him.

Which brings us to the decision by the Adjudication Panel themselves. It's been said that the panel could be spending its time better elsewhere, and is used to hearing of more serious offenders - as anyone reading Private Eye's Rotten Boroughs column will be able to tell you. The panel was therefore ruling on whether Livingstone had brought his office into disrepute by making comments which were neither illegal, nor sweeping but directed at a journalist who himself did not make the complaint. They decided he had, and that he had also acted in a "unnecessarily insensitive way". No one could disagree with that - but you can certainly disagree with their sentence; banned from office for a month and landed with £80,000 costs.

That it took a year for the matter to come before the panel was bad enough. Then that they ignored the recommendations of the Standards Council, which had stated he should only be giving a reprimand and a dressing down was adding insult to injury. It's rather a sad state of affairs that a quango can suspend London's chief elected representative, something which has been rightly noted should only be available to his peers in the London Assembly, or to the electorate. Nicky Gavron, the deputy who will take over during Ken's suspension, if it is not annulled by the courts, is entirely right to say the issue was blown out of all proportion. While Ken should have said sorry and apologised for behaviour influenced by drink from the beginning, he has been attacked by those opposed to him and his political views for a moment of weakness. When a prime minister can go to war on a tissue of misinformation and turn a country that, while it was suffering was peaceful into a powder keg and not be reprimanded by the Commons or the electorate, the London mayor finds himself removed from office for saying something stupid which he no doubt regrets but for which he refuses to apologise to a newspaper he hates about it. Welcome to Britain.

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Friday, February 24, 2006 

A dangerous imbalance.

Ministers should make "loud and public" the government's objections to Guantánamo Bay rather than discuss the detention camp with the US behind the scenes, the Commons foreign affairs committee said yesterday.

The MPs also said ministers had not told them the truth about what the government knew about the CIA's extraordinary rendition flights. They felt their questions on the issue had not been taken seriously.

The use of the camp in Cuba as a "detention centre outside all legal regimes diminishes the USA's moral authority and is a hindrance to the effective pursuit of the war against terrorism", the committee said in its 2005 human rights report.

Not told them the truth? Jack Straw and Tony Blair have repeatedly lied about rendition flights, whether to protect the so-called "special relationship" or their embarrassment at not being informed by the security services that such flights were taking place. The former is more likely, but on the day that the security services finally agreed to pay compensation to servicemen on which mind control experiments with LSD were conducted in the 50s, who knows?

The committee may as well piss in the wind as ask Blair to publicly condemn Guantanamo Bay, who has never to my knowledge made any loud criticisms of US foreign policy, even that which New Labour nearly disagrees with. This government still refuses to repatriate British residents from the camp, instead leaving them to rot and face at least "torture-lite" courtesy of the US military. If you also feel like being sick, you can read Jack Straw's defense of Guantanamo Bay on the Today programme. Here's a small extract:

Well, look, I'd like to see the situation different, I wish September the 11th had never happened. i'm quite clear, I'm absolutely clear that the US has no intention of maintaining a Gulag in Guantanamo Bay. They want to see the situation resolved, and they would like it other than it is.
However, that's the situation they have, and let me also say that the, as I understand it, the International Committee of the Red Cross has continued to visit Guantanamo Way, Bay. I think that it is, in addition the case that conditions were not satisfactory whan Guantanamo Bay was first established as a camp, conditions have significantly improved since then. And as I say, a large number of people have been released or taken to trial. the problem is what to do with those who are left, and that as John Reid has said is a matter which the US administration are going to have to make their own decisions on and frankly, I'm not going to second guess decisions which they make.

And finally, here's Amnesty International's thoughts on the current position of the UK's anti-terrorist legislation and security policy:
" There is now a dangerous imbalance between draconian actions the UK is taking in the name of security and its obligation to protect human rights. These measures tarnish the UK's image and its ability to promote human rights abroad."

The whole report is here.

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Thursday, February 23, 2006 

The destruction of everything is the beginning of something new.

Yesterday's attack on the Al-Askari Mosque in Samarra was an attack not just on Shia Islam, but all of Islam. Most likely carried out by Wahabbis, probably the so-called al-Qaida in Iraq, it was the equivalent of pouring petrol onto a bonfire. Sectarian tensions in Iraq have been festering for years, with the Shia overcoming their suppression under Saddam to come out on top in the elections carried out under occupation. While the majority of the insurgency is carried out by disenfranchised Sunnis and ex-Baathists, there is also a significant minority of jihadists out to martyr themselves. It is likely the latter which carried out the attack, not Sunnis. Those who claim to be acting in the name of Islam should now be exposed for their almost unbelievable act of vandalism.

From an aesthetic point of view, the destruction of the mosque is horrifying. While we can admire the architecture of many of the churches in west, there are very few which you could describe as beautiful. The Al-Askari mosque was undoubtedly a thing of beauty, and also of hope for many. For it to be destroyed by terrorists whose wish is to provoke a civil war is a crime against every person in Iraq.

While Moqtada al-Sadr and Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani have both called for calm and peaceful demonstration, both have ulterior motives with al-Sadr's militia most likely to blame for many of the revenge attacks which have already taken place. al-Sistani has also mentioned that he will gather and use a militia to protect holy sites if the government cannot do it. The last thing that Iraq needs is more militias, but such a move by Sistani would reinforce his power which has been ebbing slightly to the upstart and more radical al-Sadr.

Looking at the situation from the west, the most sad thing about this is that it will likely result in British and American troops having to stay even longer in a country which is turning increasingly more hostile to them as the days pass. While now is not the time to blame the US and UK for invading and causing the whole mess, that we broke a land that was mostly secular and turned it into a country where it seems sectarian warfare is moments away from breaking must rank up there with some of the biggest mistakes and tragedies of our time. What now needs to be done is for the religious leaders on both sides to come together and stop the revenge from spiraling out of control. If they don't, Iraq could become the equivalent of Somalia.

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Wednesday, February 22, 2006 

Prince Charles: About as much of a dissident as a sausage sandwich is.

There was absolutely nothing surprising that came out of yesterday's hearing of Prince Charles vs Associated Newspapers. Prince Charles thinks of himself as a "political dissident", which is a rather pretentious and egotistical way for someone who also spends his time talking to plants to imagine themselves. We've also known for a long time that he writes plenty of letters both to the government and to other organisations. I can't understand why people are getting upset or are surprised by this; he's not the head the state like the Queen is, nor should he have to seek permission from his mummy like some seem to have suggested to make his views known. He's more than 50 years old for crying out loud.

In the hubbub over Charles's political views, the reality of the situation has been ignored. The Mail on Sunday published items from the man's private diary without permission, when asked by Charles's advisers at Clarence House not to. The contents of the diary, that Charles didn't much like the Chinese and felt they were bunch of dinosaurs wasn't exactly explosive or reveal anything new. Indeed, as other coverage of the hearing has made clear, Charles himself made sure that his snub to the Chinese president when he visited the UK was made public, and he was said to be "delighted" with the coverage. In other words, none of the contents of this diary were not already in the public domain. Charles has applied under the law to stop the Mail on Sunday from printing any more of his private thoughts. He is entirely right to. While Associated Newspapers pretends to be defending the public interest, all it is really doing is attempting to increase the sales of its turgid newspapers and make even larger profits. Just as if a newspaper decided to print my posts on here verbatim I would expect to be paid for it or at the very least given credit for what I had written, (by coincedence, the Mail on Sunday took the entirety of one blogger's posts and printed it without any credit being given to the writer or paying him for his effort) so does Prince Charles have the right not to have his thoughts published for public consumption.

As much as I hate the royal family and wish for the monarchy to be abolished, in this case the Mail on Sunday is being entirely hypocritical and deceitful about its true motives. The judge should rule in Charles's favour.

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Jack Straw continues to lie through his teeth over rendition.

The foreign secretary, Jack Straw, today again denied the government had any knowledge of CIA "extraordinary rendition" flights, after it was revealed last night that the suspected planes involved had flown through UK airspace around 200 times in the past five years.

The row over possible British government collusion in the controversial US practice re-erupted last night after Channel Four news revealed new figures from the National Air Traffic Service relating to the aircraft thought to be involved.

Questioned about the figures today, Mr Straw insisted Britain had no knowledge of any such flights. And he said he had no reason to believe they were taking place without the government's knowledge.

Speaking at the Foreign Office, Mr Straw said: "We know of no occasion where there has been a rendition through UK territory, or indeed over UK territory, nor do we have any reason to believe that such flights have taken place without our knowledge."

Really Jack? Have we already forgotten about the leaked memo to the New Statesman?

How can a government minister continue to deny that any flights have gone through British territory when there have now been investigations by the Guardian, Scottish National Party, Channel 4 News and the EU which have all shown that both CIA-chartered jets and planes with numbers known to be involved in rendition have flown through UK airspace?

Then of course there's the standard response that ministers and government departments give to those who wish to find out unhelpful information that such information can only be provided at "disproportionate cost".

Now the Liberal Democrats are pressing for the parliamentary watchdog, the parliamentary ombudsman, to force government ministers to give more details about the flights.

That threat comes after the acting Lib Dem leader, Sir Menzies Campbell, was told that a written question to the armed forces minister, Adam Ingram, requesting to know how many times planes had used UK military bases en route to or from countries suspected of using torture had been rejected, because "the information is not recorded centrally and could be provided only at a disproportionate cost".

In other words, the military, air traffic control and the security services know full well that rendition flights have used UK airspace and most likely have refueled here, whether the government was aware at the time or not It certainly is now, and has been for a long time, which makes Straw's denials completely disingenuous. What now needs to be revealed is whether the security services are complicit in rendition, or if they are not, why they don't seemingly know about what was happening. The latter seems highly unlikely, as the most of the western intelligence agencies are now pooling their information. Whatever the case is, Jack Straw has continously lied, as has Tony Blair. If any further proof was needed that both should resign immediately, then we now have it.

You can see previous posts on rendition on Obsolete here.

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Tuesday, February 21, 2006 

Torygraph-watch: Unmarried couples panic!

Being resistant to almost any change, the frontpage shock headline on the Telegraph isn't much of a surprise. Also being a headline, it doesn't of course go into any of the actual details, but is designed purely to outrage the majors and disgusted of Tunbridge Wells. Rather than all these children being born to that scourge of the tax-payer and handy tabloid hate target, the single mother, they're actually more likely to be born to cohabiting couples who haven't took the step to getting married.

Still, let's not get the facts get in the way of a good headline. It's a shame that the Telegraph is being taken in the direction of front-page editoralising of the type used by the Mail and Express by the Barclay brothers, as even when under the to the right of Attila the Hun Conrad Black it was imparital in its news and ultra-right in its comment. If you are going to front-page editoralise, at least do it the way of the Independent.

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Monday, February 20, 2006 

Free David Irving.

As much as I dislike David Irving, there is no way that he deserves three years in jail for denying the holocaust in remarks that he made 17 years ago. Even in Austria, a country annexed by the Nazis, we should treat such talk as Irving's as naive and idiotic, and which should be challenged. Irving now admits that the holocaust happened and that millions of Jews died. Whether he really means it or not is not relevant.

There are no laws (yet) against being a moron, and that is how he should be treated. He should be released from jail immediately.

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"Dr" John Reid: An insult to intelligence.

Whenever New Labour is in trouble, Blair calls on his most pugnacious and hard-nosed cabinet member. Say hello to "Dr" John Reid, Labour's useful idiot.

The defence secretary, John Reid, today warned the media and legal professions not to undermine the morale of the armed forces, in the wake of the row over footage of British soldiers allegedly beating unarmed Iraqis.

In a combative speech Dr Reid said soldiers were now operating under an "uneven playing field of scrutiny", with actions liable to be caught on "one mobile phone" on one hand, and a perception there was a "legal culture" back home ready to sue them.

Right, it's the media and the legal professions who are undermining the morale of the army. Keep reminding yourself that this isn't the army which had serious misgivings about the war in the first place and demanded that the Attorney General give his opinion that the war was legal. He did, after Blair made him. This same army which is being undermined by the media is the same army in which thousands of soldiers have had to buy their own equipment and body armour because the army's is either crap or they don't even have any. This is the same army which is being amalgamated into bigger regiments by the defence secretary ("Dr" John Reid) to the great opposition of current servicemen and past soldiers. This is the same army which is now being deployed in huge numbers back to Afghanistan because the Americans no longer want anything to do with the place, and because the troops need to back home in time for the mid-term elections. This is the same army which is increasingly facing more threats in the south of Iraq as a result of the US/UK invasion, local anger and threats from jihadists. "Dr" John Reid wants you to forget all that, what is causing the real drop in morale in the army is the media and a tiny number of lawyers who have only acted when men have either been unlawfully killed (of which only 3 cases have been brought) and when prisoners have been abused (simulated sodomy photographs, beatings.)

One mobile phone on one hand? Maybe so, but that mobile phone was taking pictures of prisoners being beaten with a commentary laughing about it and egging on those who were doing the beating. This was recorded by Iraqis, this was recorded by a UK soldier himself. Yes, they were facing rioters at the time. This still doesn't excuse the beating they gave to their captives, in the same way that a police officer over here who beats up someone who had broken a law, repeatedly kicking them or otherwise would be excused. Yes, the footage may have been oversold and hyped, mainly thanks to the fact it appeared in a Murdoch rag which needs to exaggerate all of its stories. The soldiers still need to at least apologise. It's also been reported that some of the rioters are now facing attempted murder charges.

Dr Reid said terrorists were now using the media in attempt to undermine national morale, in remarks immediately backed up by Downing Street.

Mr Blair's official spokesman told reporters: "We need to be aware that the terrorists we are up against do use the media to manipulate public opinion, not just in Iraq but also in this country.

"It is quite right and proper for John Reid to paint in that whole picture."

As billed in advance, Dr Reid called on the media to view any allegations of abuse in the context of 1,000s of unreported acts of "lives enhanced and good done by our forces", and called on the press to be "a little slower to condemn and a lot quicker to understand".

Going on to say many of the problems of perception of the armed services came from ignorance - pointing out that it was now 45 years since the last conscripted soldier left the forces - Dr Reid cautioned both the press and the legal profession.

Turning to lawyers, Dr Reid said that soldiers "have been left confused and unsettled by the perception that human rights lawyers and international bodies such as the international criminal court are waiting in the wings to step in and act against them".

"And they believe that there has been an exponential growth in the numbers of lawyers actively looking for cases to bring against British troops by promising potential clients significant compensation payments."

He adds; "The legal profession can't always grasp the significance [soldiers' fears] because they have no experience of being in those situations."

In the same speech, Dr Reid referred, obliquely, to the ongoing row over the mobile phone footage of British troops apparently beating Iraqis.

Today it was reported that two Iraqis will be charged with attempted murder in relation to the riots which precipitated the attacks at al Amarah in 2004. The claim came in the Daily Mirror, but a spokeswoman for the ministry of defence said it was a matter for the local Iraqi police.

Dr Reid told an audience of students and defence experts that "one observer, with one videophone, or today even one mobile phone, standing in one square metre of a vast and hugely complex theatre of operations can convey an oversimplified and sometimes misleading picture with an impact that is incalculable."

"Real time media scrutiny of war, on a scale and a level of intrusiveness inconceivable only a few decades ago."

He develops that argument to say that al-Qaida "sees the free western media as a virtual battleground in itself - where the swaying of public opinion away from support for our campaigns, can be the path to a swift victory, a quick way of undermining our public morale."

"The terrorists have become adept at using the media to their ends. It is the media's responsibility to ensure that in reporting the facts, which it can and must do, it does not fall victim to this campaign."

Dr Reid concluded that it was the "very exceptional nature of the offences which make them headlines. But wouldn't it be nice, wouldn't it be fair, if the contribution of the 100,000 good and brave acts and beliefs were given equal prominence to the offences of the few."

In an unscripted remark, Dr Reid even suggested that if Lord Haw Haw, the Irish propagandist for the Nazis, were alive today, he would be given a weekly column in the newspapers.

Dr Reid's speech was given full endorsement by Number 10. Mr Blair's spokesman said: "John Reid is in no way saying that we should condone or that we do condone abuse."

"Equally, however, what he is saying is that we should keep those cases in perspective. The fact is that in Iraq there are five allegations of abuse. That is five cases too many, but given the number of troops, that is the perspective it should be seen in."

Which terrorists are using the media? Where? Please show me where terrorists have written in the western media advocating September the 11th type attacks. The only places they have has been in small quotes from speeches given, usually to show how outrageous their rhetoric is. The perception that human rights lawyers are ready to step in is exactly that - a perception. They have only stepped in where it has been felt necessary - and the government in those cases has usually sanctioned those investigations. It was the government that authorised the trial against a number of soldiers on trumped up charges with the Iraqi witnesses and accusers out to get the compensation. al-Qaida doesn't need to use the western media when our soldiers and governments either abuse those who they are meant to have liberated or drop bombs on villages where they think there's a possibility there might be a terrorist. We do all their work for them. No one is denying that our soldiers have done on the whole a magnificent job in difficult circumstances in Iraq. The point is that should never have been there in the first place, nor should they be there any longer. All the justifications for remaining there have now run out. "Dr" John Reid's speech is just a smokescreen for keeping the troops there even longer, at the same time preaching "our" propaganda against "theirs".

Then of course we have the favourite comparison and historical illusion of all those who want to see this so-called war in wider terms. Apparently Lord Haw Haw, the Nazis Irish propagandist would now have a job as a columnist on a newspaper. He doesn't mention which newspaper he thinks he'd have a job on, although I think we can probably guess. Instead what the government really wants is no criticism of their foreign policy at all. They want all the media to cheer on our boys in the way the Sun does, unrelentingly and against every single "foe" which might be out there. That the media is resisting government pressure and continues to report "unhelpful" stories should be celebrated. It's what's called a free press, and this New Labour government seems to be increasingly at odds with it.

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Saturday, February 18, 2006 

He's a man of the people!

Maybe I really shouldn't be this cynical. However, is it just me or is the naming of David Cameron's son just yet another publicity stunt?

No sooner had David and Samantha Cameron announced that their newly-born son will be called Arthur Elwen than the Conservative leader was plunged into unwarranted speculation about what it all means for the party's new brand.

While Arthur is historically associated with a patriotic British legend, Elwen appears to come from the politically sensitive region known to Lord of the Rings fans as Middle Earth, not to be confused with the Middle England beloved of the pollsters.

Though the Cameron set are said to have played political games with JRR Tolkien's characters - with Dave as Frodo Baggins - Tory officials were quick to slap down the connection yesterday when it appeared, post-announcement, on the BBC's website.

Apart from the fact that the Cameron set are all nerds, I wonder if this wasn't all thought through in advance. Cameron is Eton educated, worked for a PR firm and comes from Notting Hill. He doesn't have much in common with the average man sitting on his sofa watching the football. But what can he have in common with the average new modern person now? Yes, you've got it! He can give his child a bloody stupid name! I mean, compared to Chardonnay, Apple and Disney (which I saw in the local paper this week) it's not that daft, but hey, every little helps! David Cameron, a modern man for modern Britain!

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Friday, February 17, 2006 

Predictable accusations of anti-semitism against synod.

A typically hysterical reaction to what was an ethically minded and reasonable decision.
Jonathan Sacks, the Chief Rabbi, has criticised the Church of England's general synod as ill-judged in voting to remove its investment in a US company that makes bulldozers used by the Israelis to demolish Palestinian homes.

In unusually harsh language, Dr Sacks called into question the Jewish community's links with the church. In today's Jewish Chronicle, he says: "The church has chosen to take a stand on the politics of the Middle East over which it has no influence, knowing that it will have the most adverse repercussions on a situation over which it has enormous influence, Jewish-Christian relations in Britain.

The article also accuses the Guardian of increasing the British Jewish community's sense of vulnerability after last week's publication of two lengthy articles by its Jerusalem correspondent Chris McGreal that drew comparisons between Israel's treatment of Palestinians with the apartheid policy in South Africa. A delegation from the Board of Deputies of British Jews met the editor Alan Rusbridger to express concern that the articles would increase anti-semitic attacks.

The general synod's call last week for the church commissioners to remove their £2.5m shareholding in Caterpillar Inc - for which Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, voted in favour - has produced accusations of anti-semitism, not least from the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, who said it made him ashamed to be a church member.

Dr Williams wrote to the Chief Rabbi to insist that the vote did not represent a boycott or question Israel's right to exist or to self-defence. Earlier this week Dr Sacks replied that the archbishop's clarification would aid mutual understanding.

But his Jewish Chronicle article states: "The vote of the synod ... was ill-judged even on its own terms. The immediate result will be to reduce the church's ability to act as a force for peace between Israel and the Palestinians for as long as the decision remains in force ... The timing could not have been more inappropriate. [Israel] needs support not vilification."

The board of deputies decided earlier this week to carry out an investigation into attitudes within the Church of England. The Federation of Synagogues' president Alan Finlay called on the chief rabbi to withdraw from inter-faith dialogue until there is a public apology.

Responding to the Chief Rabbi, the Guardian's editor, Alan Rusbridger, said: "We published two pieces by Chris McGreal, which quoted many Israeli and South African Jews with differing viewpoints about a question which is hardly new. We have also published several commentaries and letters rejecting the comparison. I have not come across anyone who considered this was an illegitimate subject for a newspaper to address."

Caterpillar have been named by numerous human rights groups as being one of the worst corporations now on the face of the planet. The facts are thus: Caterpillar supply the Israelis with huge bulldozers which have been used to demolish the homes of the families of suicide bombers, confiscate land, wreck farmland and even kill those who have got in the way of them, such as Rachel Corrie. Caterpillar responds by saying that they do not personally sell the machines to the Israelis; they sell them to the US military which passes them. In reality Caterpillar knows full well what the US military will do with them. Note that this is not an attack on Israel itself; it's simply a decision by the Church of England to disinvest its shares in a company which is complicit in the misery of an entire people.

Jonathan Sacks is actually a reasonably moderate religious leader. He was condemned before when he dared say that one religion does not necessarily contain the full truth. This makes his intervention on this all the more puzzling. The Church of England has preached peace now for decades, and in Rowan Williams probably has the most forward-looking and progressive leader it has ever had. To attack the organisation as a whole simply because it feels that having shares in a company which contributes to human suffering is unethical is naive to say the least. As Williams says, this is also not an attack on Israel's right to self-defence. The use of bulldozers to violate international law and demolish homes is to inflict collective punishment on the Palestinians for the acts of a few, unlike the checkpoints in the West Bank which while are a burden on Palestinian life also stop suicide bombings.

Sacks also says that Israel needs support not vilification. That's rather rich when you can see the numerous measures which Israel is now taking to try to stop Hamas from taking meaningful power, despite its actions, both direct and indirect which led to Hamas winning the elections. Peace cannot be achieved without a level playing field, and for Sacks to claim that the synod's decision to remove investment in a company which helps to destroy the chances of peace is disingenuous.

Then we come to the Board of Deputies of British Jews, an organisation which shrieks anti-semitism while always ignoring some of the outrageous actions by the Israeli government. This is of course the same Board which accused the Palestinian charity organisation Interpal of being a terrorist group, which it was forced to retract. The Board's attempts to smear the Guardian with making Jews more vulnearable are laughable. The Guardian's two articles which compared the situation in Israel with the apartheid South Africa were full of caveats; there was a huge number of responses, which were given both their own article and a large part of the letters page on a following day. Instead of the Board of Deputies actually comprehending why there are increasingly comparisons between the two, at a time when there is a "security wall" seperating the West Bank from Israel, when the prime minister himself has said that there's no way that Israel will give up all its settlements in the West Bank and that it's likely that the boundaries of the wall will be the borders of any Palestinian state, it of course worries that nuanced and well written articles with responses from all sides will lead to Jews in this country being attacked. It would be amusing if they didn't seem to sincerely believe it. Like many Israeli politicians, the Board hides behind the age-old anti-semitism slur, rejecting any criticism of what is happening on the ground in Israel. They would rather have censorship than own up to the continual violations of international law, which occur on both sides. Maybe they should examine what causes the real anger in both the Muslim world and the West, such as a disabled 15-year-old with a broken toy rifle being shot dead by the IDF.

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Thursday, February 16, 2006 

325,000 names on US terrorist suspect list.

Think we have it bad over here? Think again, although at least the US authorities have admitted to how many are on the list:

Civil liberties organisations expressed outrage yesterday after it was reported that the database of terrorist suspects kept by the US authorities now holds 325,000 names, a fourfold increase in two and a half years.

The list, maintained by the National Counterterrorism Centre (NCTC), includes different spellings of the same person's names as well as aliases, but the Washington Post quoted NCTC officials as saying that at least 200,000 individuals are on it. They said that "only a very, very small fraction" of that number were US citizens, but that insistence did little to defuse the reaction.

Timothy Sparapani, an expert on privacy rights at the American Civil Liberties Union, said the ACLU's response was one of incredulity, and alarm that many people are likely to be on the list by mistake, with serious impact on their lives and few, if any, means of getting themselves off it.

"The numbers continue to grow by leaps and bounds," Mr Sparapani said. He had no idea what methods were being used to add names to the database, but added: "I have to say we're probably adding names faster than we can figure out how to deal with them ... We worry greatly about the potential stain to anyone's life who ends up on this list."

It is unclear how many of the names on the list were collected as a result of a domestic wiretapping programme by the National Security Agency, the existence of which only became known through a leak in December.

Administration officials yesterday refused to confirm or deny the reported size of the NCTC list.

Marc Rotenberg, the head of a watchdog group, the Electronic Privacy Information Centre, said: "It's problematic not simply in the big brother way with the loss of privacy, but it's also problematic because it doesn't seem to work."

He said it was virtually impossible for those wrongly listed as terrorist suspects to clear their name. "We passed a very good law in the 1970s ... at least when the US government makes a decision about a US citizen, that process had to be transparent and people had to be able to appeal those decisions, but now those agencies get exemptions to the law."

It looks as if many more Americans with such exotic names as Edward Kennedy are going to be blocked from going on flights thanks to the fact they appear on a list which seems absolutely titanic in scope. Still, at least they know they might well be stopped and under surveillance. Over here we have no such idea, and as a post on Lenin's Tomb makes clear, it's very likely that any "subversive" group probably has a spy or informer within it.

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News of the World paediatrician attack: Debunked?

There's a fascinating article over on the BBC News website, which claims that the widely reported and since alluded to attack on a paediatrician in the aftermath of the News of the World naming and publishing of photos of known paedophiles was in fact just a random act of vandalism and did not involve violence.

According to the BBC, the word "paedo" was spray painted on the front door of a paediatrician, Yvette Cloete, in Newport, Gwent. The article finishes with a flourish, saying that there is scaremongering on both sides of the debate. This may be true, but it doesn't mention the reality of what happened last year to one man who was wrongly labelled a paedophile, with the tragic story being covered on the front page of the Independent. Despite no evidence, a man was beaten to death, and when asked by the Independent's reporter about the death, no one had any sympathy for him and many said that he had been a paedophile, even though he had never been convicted of any crime.

Still, there's a moral for all of us here. We shouldn't always believe the very worst of people, especially when it's often shown that tabloid readers are a lot more intelligent and free-thinking than they're given credit for.

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Wednesday, February 15, 2006 

Abu Ghraib: Never the end.

Sadly, it's quite possible there may still be more videos and photos to come out yet. Seymour Hersh, who originally broke the story, has heard allegations that there are images of children being raped within the jail.

If you don't want to see the following images, close the page now.

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"Glorifying" terrorism passed with barely a whimper.

That makes 3 bad laws in 3 days. I suppose the depression will properly kick in shortly.

MPs today voted to create a new offence of "glorifying" terrorism, overturning opposition from both the House of Lords, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats.

It will come as a welcome relief for both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, who had both publicly backed the new offence this week.

Despite predictions of a Labour rebellion MPs voted 315 to 277, a government majority of 38, to resinstate the offence, which peers removed from the terror bill last year.

Following the victory for the government, Mr Blair's told TV reporters it was a "very clear signal of strength", and his official spokesman said the PM expected the Lords to now back down in the battle over the clause.

He said the new law sent the message that "we have free speech in this country, but don't abuse it".

In a last-minute plea to MPs in the lunchtime PMQs, Mr Blair said failing to create the "glorification offence" would have sent out a "massive counter-productive signal" in the wake of the London bombings and last week's demonstrations by some Muslims.

A total of 17 Labour MPs - not enough to overturn the government's 64 strong majority - voted with the Conservatives and Lib Dems against the measure, fearing that the law was drafted too broadly and could catch supporters of so-called freedom fighters or the commemoration of historical rebellions and revolutions.

A very clear signal of strength? About what? That this government is committed to bit by bit eroding freedom of speech? We have free speech, but we'd better not abuse it. For instance, complaining about this law within a mile of parliament without permission will most likely see you arrested. Feel like celebrating the Easter Rising? How about saying Mugabe should be overthrown by force, or that North Korean dissidents should resort to violence against the state? Well, thank the government because you may well now be breaking the law. What really has motivated this law has been tabloid pressure to take action against these imams and clerics which they are so obsessed with - despite Abu Hamza being convicted just last week under existing laws. The other justification is the demonstration by about 100 extremists who carried placards (all likely written by the same person) which incited murder. What are the chances that once this bill has been given royal assent that some of those protestors will be arrested under this new law - despite there being perfectly good ones which can be used against them. We should really save our condemnation for Charles Clarke though - who seems to like all home secretaries have finally lost the plot.

But Mr Clarke urged MPs to back the government, accusing Conservative and Lib Dem peers of "gratuitously" trying to weaken the weapons available to the authorities in the fight against terror.

"The government is not seeking to pitch any battle whatsoever," he told Today. "The Lords quite gratuitously decided to weaken the proposals that came out of the Commons."

The wording produced by the Lords would grant "impunity" to protesters who brandished placards in London calling for the beheading of those responsible for cartoons of Muhammad, he claimed.

He added: "There are a number of individuals and organisations who seek to glorify terrorism, to promote terrorism, to create an atmosphere in which young men such as those involved in the July 7 bombings decide to become terrorists themselves.

"They do it by preaching, by glorifying, by claiming that terrorism is a noble and holy activity. It seems to the government that we should try to inhibit their intent to do that.

"We need to find the strongest form of legislation to be able to do it."

Mr Clarke said his critics in the human rights community were "lawyers with a vested interest in a particular area".

Quite gratuitously? The Lords amendment still covered oral incitement, it just removed both written and visual statements. Was the in-depth and lengthy debate in the Lords gratuitous? The Lords seems to be the only hope left to some of us that this government is not piece by piece removing safeguards we have enjoyed for decades. That it is unelected but still does this is even more commendable. The amendment would not have given impunity to those protestors at all - they can still definitely be arrested for breach of the peace, incitement to murder and other offences. That we needed this new act to arrest them is pure fiction. Clarke only wishes to highlight the most extreme aspects of what this legislation will cover, namely those old evil imams that incite hatred against their own country of residence. This is of course the same government that refuses to make phone-tap evidence admissible in courts, because it might expose the shady ways of our intelligence services. Would that not send a strong signal?

Then there's the biggest slur on "human rights" lawyers. Does the fact they have a "vested interest" matter? May this law not actually give them more work? In that case, why would they oppose it, as so many are? Clarke knows he can get away with such overt attacks on those who would rather protect freedom of speech as they are often the main target for the ever outraged tabloids and commentators. Cherie Blair is the most high profile example.

I might be entirely wrong on this. It may turn out that no one who supports reasonable causes, such as those mentioned above will be caught under this legislation. What doesn't inspire me with confidence though is the way that the police abuse nearly every new power they are given, as they have Section 44 of the 2000 Terrorism Act. Still, 3 days and 3 illiberal measures have all been introduced by a so-called left of centre party, with the centrist and centre-right parties opposing them on 2 of those acts. The sad thing for Labour is that I very much doubt that this is going to save them from suffering an annihilation on local elections day, and if those elections were being decided by the events this week, they will thoroughly deserve it.

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Tuesday, February 14, 2006 

Front-page watch: Just how much crap can you stand?

I seem to be having something of a crap theme so far this week, but the tabloids have a crap theme every day.

So let's start then with the Diana Express, that warns that a huge storm is on its way to Britain tonight. A quick check of the BBC Weather site reveals the following:

Tuesday night
A band of cloud and rain, accompanied by strong winds will sweep across the country. Clearer conditions with showers, will follow across many places, away from the far south and southeast by the end of the night.

Any rain in far south and southeast moving away. Then all parts seeing a mixture of sunny spells and showers. Showers heaviest in west, and wintry over northern hills. Windy, with temperatures above normal.

So uh, this huge storm seems to be just some not very strong winds. Good job the Express cleared the front page for it though, because you never know when a Michael Fish moment is going to happen again. Or maybe it's just another example of a tabloid panicking and trying to get its readers into a constant state of angst.

Speaking of angst, the Daily Star still can't get over the fact that two very boring ordinary people are now outside a house were they were just ever so marginally more interesting. To illustrate this we have a picture of gorgeous, pouting Chantelle, half naked of course, and a great pun. Hans off! Geddit?!?!? Hans, because he's German?! Yes, I laughed too. Thank the Lord for the Daily Star.

Compared to the front page of the Mirror, the Star looks like the International Herald Tribune. Not one, not two, but three "celebrity" stories! The Mirror breaks the incredible story that Ron Atkinson, occasional football manager and commentator, at least until he called one of the players a "fucking lazy nigger" when he thought he was off air, nearly lost his leg from a bug bite. I don't know what I would have done if I hadn't know about this horrific incident.

Finally then to the Daily Wail, which is severely agitated over the introduction of "chip and pin", even though it's been operating in most shops for months, and that signs have been up in those same shops telling everyone about the change from tomorrow for at least three weeks. Not being able to take advice well, the Mail also takes umbrage at being advised by banks to take cards and cash just in case. An obvious suggestion you might think, but not to the brains which design the biggest selling mid-market tabloid. I'd say that it might be more down to the Mail's resistance to almost any change to anything at all, but that would just be sour grapes.

The only tabloid that even mentioned the vote on ID cards on its front page was amazingly enough, the Sun. That's why it's not featured here today. Um, keep it up, Rebekah?

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UN calls for closure of Guantanamo.

Nothing in the report is a surprise, as all of it has already been reported. What's so laughable is the way that the US government tells bare-faced lies about what is going on in that camp.

A White House spokesman said it was an al-Qaida tactic to complain of abuse, while the Pentagon does not comment on UN matters. But a Pentagon official yesterday insisted there had been no attempts to break a hunger strike with punitive measures. "All detainees at Guantánamo are being treated humanely and are being provided with excellent medical care," he said.

Ah yes, every single person at Guantanamo is a member of al-Qaida. This is the new excuse for when any prisoners, either in Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo or one of the CIA's secret prisons allege that they've been tortured or abused. It's a great conceit in that it will wash with a lot of people, and that most of all, it's probably true that recruits to the organisations linked in some way to al-Qaida are told to say that they've been abused if they are captured. By tarring all the prisoners with the same brush the US administration manages to make it look like the morally superior one; us abuse prisoners? It's these guys that want to kill all of us! The Pentagon spokesman on the other hand is half using the art of sophistry. They most likely are getting excellent medical care - medical care in which feeding tubes are shoved down their nose in order to keep their prize specimens alive when they'd rather die than live with the conditions they face in their cells. In Northern Ireland we let the hunger strikers die and make their point. In Cuba, the US just wants to further these bad peoples' (George Bush's words) misery and trap them forever.

There's something incredibly sadistic about Guantanamo, and it's not going to be broken by the UN, especially in its currently moribund unreformed state.

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Monday, February 13, 2006 

Crap followed by crap followed by crap followed by crap.

What a depressing week in politics this is going to be.

Before it even got started, we've had the pleasure of witnessing "our boys" beating the hell out of some Iraqi teenagers, as well as taking their anger out on a corpse. Cue the cliched responses: "bad apples" "small minority" "should in no way represent the whole army". Well, you don't say. But what is to be expected of an army that is now nearing its 3rd year of deployment in a country where they are becoming increasingly less welcome? Attacked by those who they have meant to have liberated, with shortages of kit and with many of their number, including the most high-up wholly unconvinced of the case for war, is it any surprise that some have lashed out? This isn't to excuse their behaviour. The real blame, however, should be placed at the feet of the politicians who still refuse to apologise or own up to so many of their mistakes. They made the decision to go war, the army has simply followed their orders. Instead the politicians promise that those responsible will be severely punished, while Blair still sits in 10 Downing Street, still trying to figure out his legacy.

Which brings us to the next depressing development. Not satisfied with the terrorism bill which is still going through parliament, good old Gordie Brown is here to frighten us yet again. This government isn't satisfied with the 28 days detention for terrorist suspects, oh no. Ignoring the will of parliament and the stuffing which 90 days got, Brown wants to more or less reintroduce the legislation again. Of course, this will please the likes of the Sun and some of the other tabloids greatly. Rebekah Wade will love the chance to accuse elected members of parliament of being traitors again, as that fills up a couple of pages with outraged rhetoric. He then goes on to talk about glorification and the ID card scheme, each with points that have been countered time and time again, but as this government knows, if you say something enough then the public will probably believe it:

"We need look no further than the incidents in London, with posters glorifying terrorism - which shocked the country - to see that the authorities might benefit from a clearer framework to intervene quickly when boundaries are crossed," he said.

Mr Brown said no one should be allowed to celebrate the London terror attacks "and walk away from the consequences".

"If we withdraw glorification from the definition of indirect incitement or from the grounds for proscribing organisations, this would send a signal that we could not reach a consensus on how serious this issue is," he said.

Except that the government has already said that the protestors would be caught under current laws. Except that Abu Hamza, the other reason for supporting the bill, was convicted under current laws. There is no justification whatsoever for the possibility of making certain comments or speeches illegal, as has been pointed out, that calling for the overthrow of such a government as Robert Mugabe's would be. You'd better forget about even thinking of supporting an armed insurgency, even if every single other method of toppling a tyrannical regime has failed. This is why the Lords threw out this far too widely drafted piece of legislation. It's why the Commons should do the same.

Onto ID Cards then:
In supporting ID cards Mr Brown said terror suspects frequently used multiple identities - such as one September 11 hijacker who used 30 false identities.

"Would most people not agree that if there are acceptable safeguards to protect civil liberties, there are advantages in a national identity scheme that could not just help us disrupt terrorists and criminals travelling on forged or stolen identities - but more fundamentally, protect each citizen's identity and prevent it being forged or stolen?" he asked.

Except that the US hijackers were all foreigners. Those who attacked Madrid and London were either homegrown or used their own identities, unlike the September 11th hijackers. Those in Spain still carried out the attack despite having identity cards. Even Charles Clarke has mentioned that ID cards would not have stopped the 7th of July attacks. Nevermind that most think ID cards would make it even more likely that identities could be stolen, let's trump the cards possible positives all the way up before we've even introduced the scheme. Just for good measure, let's throw in the views of Brian Gladman:

Brian Gladman, from Worcester, now a security consultant to US government agencies, said Mr Blair and the home secretary had got it wrong when they accused critics of producing "a technically incompetent report" on ID cards. They had accused the report's main author, a visiting fellow at the London School of Economics, Simon Davies, of bias because he is also a director of Privacy International, a human rights group that opposes ID cards.

Now Dr Gladman, who led research into protecting foreign spies from compromising the country's most secure communciations system, has written to Mr Blair saying he was the author of the sections of the report dealing with safety and security. He pointed out that the "technically incompetent" data was subject to review by the LSE before publication by two "independent information security experts, both of whom are internationally recognised for their expertise".

He warns the new database will "create safety and security risks for all those whose details are entered on the system".

In a damning blow to ministers' claims of bias, he tells Mr Blair "in case you think that I am an opponent of ID cards, I should point out that I support an irrevocably voluntary, self-funded ID card scheme".

He reveals he would rather pay fines than join a compulsory scheme, saying "it is shameful that those who are less well-off will be forced to put themselves at serious risk for a system that serves no purpose that cannot be achieved in other, more effective and less costly ways".

According to Blair though, the argument's already been won, so we might as well just give up now.

Then there's Brown's fantastic wheeze about veterans and getting cadets involved in schools:

In the wake of his speech in January calling for a "British Day", Mr Brown today demanded that a "National Veteran's Day" be designated where ex-soldiers in every constituency are honoured at local ceremonies.

Every ex-serviceman before 1960, including those who did national service, would now be entitled to a veteran's badge, he announced.

He also revealed he would be looking for private financing to back an extension of pilot schemes for cadet schemes, "especially in state schools."

Of course, this is by no means a lack of joined up thinking on the day on which the military is in the can because a few kicked the living shit out of some Iraqis. No, the military will shape our feckless feral youths up into a fine body of men, instead of hanging around on street corners and spitting at old people, they'll be helping them across the street and collecting for remembrance sunday. Notice that none of this money will come out of the treasury's funds, it'll probably come from our mercenary friends, or from the security organisations which supply all those bouncers at the weekend. As for a veteran's day, haven't we left this rather late? Isn't it time that we started to move on from the 2 world wars? By all means respect them and be glad of their sacrifice, as we are every November, but isn't what were up against now more pressing? No, of course not. The only battle now is that of which oil company can make the most profits, who can get rich quickest and how fast can ex-ministers jump into the nearest directorship. Capitalism has not only won, it's doing the equivalent of beating the corpse.

And if that's not enough to make you want to weep, you can also look forward to the vote on the possible smoking in public buildings ban tomorrow. Another attack on the rights of the individual to damage their own body, but this time it's wrapped in the health concern of others. Bar staff don't have a choice, they say. They do: don't work in a bar. I'm not even a smoker, yet this to me seems just like another attack on a persecuted enough already minority. If we're going to impose this, at the same time we should increase funding into programs to get people off the damn cancer sticks. It's good, but it could be better.

Which brings me to my final point. This country is not going to the dogs. Things aren't entirely rosy, but they aren't that bad. So why is it that politicians seem to be constantly only focusing on terrorism legislation, which now never seems to go away? Why are there threats around every corner, why are the youths so out of control that they need the military to make them good citizens? I would blame the tabloids, but I think it's more than that. This government, and politicians in general seem to be increasingly out of touch with what is actually going on. The focus groups don't tell the whole story. And if the Dunfermline by-election is anything to go by, the public are getting mighty sick of hearing about how everything needs constant reform and new legislation. The most depressing thing of all is that Gordon Brown, whom so many put their hopes on, is just as bad as Blair.

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