Tuesday, October 31, 2006 

War all the time.

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

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

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

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

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Dave's raves pt. 94

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Monday, October 30, 2006 

So burn the flag if you must...

A flag-burning everyone should be able to applaud.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Saturday, October 28, 2006 

Scum-watch: Police-supporting tosh.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Friday, October 27, 2006 

The silent nightmare.

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

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

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

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

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

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Thursday, October 26, 2006 

Lifestyles of the rich and the famous.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Wednesday, October 25, 2006 

Send 'em all back, guv...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tuesday, October 24, 2006 

Spooks: Daring, incisive, brilliant television.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Monday, October 23, 2006 

Covered in blood and shit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Saturday, October 21, 2006 

Ban it!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oct 13 2006

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Friday, October 20, 2006 


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Monday, October 16, 2006 


Obsolete will return on Friday/Saturday. Hopefully.

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Friday, October 13, 2006 


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

Normal service should hopefully be resumed shortly.

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Wednesday, October 11, 2006 

There are (or should be) no words.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A crisis entirely of their own making.

Connaught barracks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tuesday, October 10, 2006 

Pass the sick bags.

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

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

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Monday, October 09, 2006 

Did the earth move for you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Saturday, October 07, 2006 

Scum-watch: Blaming a religion and community shamelessly.

Despite all that's already happened this week, the Sun's not prepared to allow the exasperation of some die down. Today it splashes on its front page with the claim that a house which soldiers were planning to move into was vandalised by "Muslims", with threats being made to them over the phone.

MUSLIM yobs who wrecked a house to stop four brave soldiers moving in after returning from Afghanistan sparked outrage last night.

The house in a village near riot-torn Windsor had BRICKS thrown through windows and was DAUBED with messages of hate.

Four young Household Cavalry officers who had planned to rent it were also the target of phone THREATS.

They were yesterday forced to look elsewhere to live — after top brass warned them against inflaming racial violence near the Queen’s Windsor Castle home.

Note that these weren't Asian yobs, Pakistani yobs, Indian yobs or other brown-coloured yobs; no, these were definitely MUSLIM yobs.

The young officers — from the same regiment as Prince Harry — had planned to use the four-bed house for rest and recuperation after months risking their lives on the frontline.

Louts struck two days after the four arrived in uniform in an Army Land Rover to view it.

The source said: “A gang of local Muslims set about keeping them away. They hurled bricks through the windows and then wrote offensive graffiti across the front of the house.” The vile messages included one in 4ft letters on the drive — warning: “F*** off”.

Sources inside Windsor’s Combermere Barracks — where the officers are based — confirmed Muslims had made calls threatening the men.

In other words, only circumstantial evidence that the vandalism was even linked to the soldiers looking at the place. None of the "vile" messages, which the Sun kindly censors so you can't even properly see what was written, seem to be racially or politically motivated. The only evidence that MUSLIMS were involved is from an unnamed source at the barracks, and that's from what could be entirely unrelated phone calls.

Police hunting the vandals confirmed: “One line of inquiry is that it is racially aggravated.”

A spokesman for letting agency Kings, who are marketing the property, said: “It was an isolated case of vandalism. We do not know the reasons behind it.”

The Sun and police differ over what constitutes a race riot.

It's not surprising that police are keeping an open mind. Since the beginning of the week there have been clashes and skirmishes in a suburb of Windsor which contains a Muslim-owned dairy in a predominantly white suburb. Reports differ and are confused over how it started, although tension appears to have been rising over plans to also use the dairy as an Islamic centre. A woman speaking to the Windsor Express alleges that after going to the dairy to check on her son, who had been involved in a previous altercation, that she was attacked by a group of up to 20 men, armed with "pitchforks, baseball bats, lead pipes and blow-torches". She also maintains that they smashed up her daughter's car, as well as beating the backs of her legs. A separate report states that a 15-year old boy and his mother suffered minor injuries. Sardar Hussain, the owner, claims that his security guard was the first to be attacked. Despite claims by some newspapers that the incidents amounted to race riots, the police have denied it, and it seems to have been more about local issues than directly related to race. Nevertheless, with this happening in the vicinity of the house that was vandalised, it would be daft for the police not to be considering that it may be in some way related. A dispersal order has now been granted, enabling the police to remove gangs of youths from around the dairy.

The Sun however decides that a front page article directing anger at MUSLIMS isn't enough, and so dedicates its leader column to discussing Jack Straw's comments about the veil, or rather the MUSLIM "anger" directed against him:

THE knee-jerk anger directed at Jack Straw by a section of the Muslim community is offensive.

There is not a racist, Islamophobic bone in his body.

For 27 years he has represented admirably a constituency with the third highest proportion of Muslims in Britain.

His constructive observations about veils have sparked an absurd overreaction from some Muslims for whom even the mildest criticism of any aspect of their religion amounts to a declaration of war.

When the Pope quoted dispassionately from an ancient text about the Prophet Mohammed, his effigy was burned in the street. One lunatic demanded his execution.

Mr Straw is the new hate figure.

Complete and utter unadulterated bullshit. Let's have a look at some of these absurd, angry, overreactions:

Islamic Human Rights Commission chairman Massoud Shadjareh said: "It is astonishing that someone as experienced and senior as Jack Straw does not realise that the job of an elected representative is to represent the interests of the constituency, not to selectively discriminate on the basis of religion."

Rajnaara Akhtar, who chairs the organisation Protect-Hijab, suggested the "appalling" comments showed "a deep lack of understanding".

Reefat Bravu, chair of the Muslim Council for Britain's social and family affairs committee, said yesterday that Mr Straw's comments had exacerbated existing tensions. "We had John Reid first and now we have Jack Straw ... This is going to do great damage to the Muslim community, again we are being singled out by this government as the problem. Women have a right to wear a veil and this is just another example of blatant Muslim-bashing by this government."

Nahella Ashraf, chairwoman of the Manchester Stop the War Coalition, said: "Obviously we want to send a loud and clear message to Jack Straw about what he's said. We don't agree with what he's said, it's just completely out of order.

"The idea that after representing Muslims for 23 years, he's now come out and said that a cloth over someone's face is stopping him from interacting, is just absurd."

Halima Hussain, from civil liberties group the Muslim Public Affairs Committee, asked BBC News 24: "Who is Jack Straw to comment on negative symbols within a religion that is not his own?"

"Who does Jack Straw think he is to tell his female constituents that he would prefer they disrobe before they meet him," says Respect MP George Galloway. "For that is what this amounts to. It is a male politician telling women to wear less. When put like that, there's no one who would be considered part of the civilised political spectrum who would have anything but contempt for Straw.

"Yet, because this is about Muslims, we are seriously being told this is about breaking down the "barriers to community cohesion". It is not women choosing to wear what they want that is sowing division in our society. It is poverty, racism and the despicable competition between the Tory and New Labour front benches over who can grab the headlines as the hammer of the Muslims.

Dr Daud Abdullah of the Muslim Council of Britain said individual Muslim women could choose to remove part of their veil.

"Even within the Muslim community, the scholars have different views on this.

"Our view is that if it is going to cause discomfort and that can be avoided then it can be done."

Dr Abdullah added, however, that covering hair remained "obligatory" for Muslim women.

Out of all those remarks, perhaps 2 could be construed as being angry rather than being concerned, worried or defiant, and one of them was from the white George Galloway, the other from the notably radical Muslim Public Affairs Committee. Jack Straw has hardly been turned into the new hate figure overnight. The Sun's grasping at straws is so desperate that it brings up the completely unrelated reaction to the Pope's quoting of a Byzantine emperor who said that what Mohammed had brought was "evil and inhumane", which understandably caused offence, even if the reaction to it in some quarters was completely unjustifiable and wrong. It fails to mention that the burning of his effigy didn't occur in this country, or that the referred to lunatic, the extremist idiot Anjem Choudrary, only suggested that the Pope could be subject to capital punishment, rather than calling for it.

The Scum continues:
Some Muslim men and women queued up to heap bile on him for attacking their way of life.

Some plainly had no idea what he’d actually said. From their reaction you’d have thought he’d demanded Islam itself be outlawed.

Where are these Muslim men and women? They certainly weren't in Blackburn, where the Guardian asked 6 people to comment on Straw's views, none of whom heaped bile on anyone. If anything, the debate on Straw's comments has been civil, understanding and interesting. The only people who have been trying to profit out of it are the far-left likes of Respect (the appearance of Lindsey German on Newsnight was cringe worthy) and the far-right likes of the Sun and the BNP.

It is perhaps understandable if Muslims feel under siege at the moment. That is the unhappy and unfair consequence of Islamic extremists bringing terror and death to the UK and the world.

But our mainstream Muslim community can help itself simply by getting a grip.

And accepting that, in Britain, no religion should be above criticism.

They feel under siege because of how they suddenly appear to be under constant attack. John Reid a couple of weeks ago talked nonsense, warning parents that their kids were in danger of being "brainwashed". The Sun itself has had more than a hand in this siege mentality; their story on Thursday on the Muslim police officer being excused service was blown out of all proportion. The Sun has repeatedly demanded that Muslims as a whole condemn violence, as if they are entirely responsible for what some who claim to follow Islam do in their name, and now today they focus on an isolated case of vandalism by claiming that MUSLIMS were definitely responsible.

Everyone accepts that there are detailed, difficult and necessary debates to be had over multiculturalism, integration, immigration and extremism. However, these debates cannot be conducted while there is a near constant state of media hysteria, along with newspapers seeking to apportion blame, as well as exaggerating what are far from open and shut cases of either political correctness or racism. Jack Straw was right to raise his concerns, and they have been thoroughly debated in a much calmer way than the Sun claims. When the Sun stops blaming an entire community and an entire religion for the actions of a few, it might then be the time for it to be listened to. Until then, it should be shown up as the hate-filled right-wing rag that it is.


The Diana Express's front page, claiming that 97% want veils banned, is based on phone calls to their 25p a time voting line, rather than from a properly conducted and weighted opinion poll. Not only do you have to be completely stupid to register your state of mind by giving yet more money to Dirty Des, but it seems that the majority that do also happen to be authoritarian and deeply intolerant. There's no connection between the two things, obviously.

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Friday, October 06, 2006 

Take the veil.

Jack Straw's comments about Muslim women and headscarves have inevitably opened up a huge can of worms - there have been 5 posts alone on the matter over on Comment is Free - and it looks as if the debate could go on for weeks.

It's worth examining what Straw actually said in the first place. In an article for the Lancashire Telegraph, he wrote mainly from the perspective of a constituency MP with a large Muslim population, in that he found it much easier to talk to Muslim women wearing the full niqab veil if they removed it. It's only at the finish that he voices his fears that the full veil, covering all of the face except for the eyes, can make relations between two communities more difficult, and can be seen as a visible statement of separation and of difference.

Firstly, there shouldn't be any problem with Straw requesting full veiled women to remove when they go to his constituency surgery, as it is entirely of their own volition whether they do so or not. That is uncontroversial. What's been at the heart of much of the discussion though has been the headscarf itself.

Much of this stems directly from the ignorance of the main population of the varying types of Muslim dress. It's only in recent years that we've grown more accustomed to talk of shalwar kameez, burqas, hijab, jilbab and niqabs. It's doubtful that many know the difference between them or why they are worn in the first place, and various Muslim scholars disagree on which headscarf is appropriate, some even believing that wearing one is unnecessary.

Straw's main ire was directed against niqabs, but he has since stated that he would rather that veils were not worn at all. Again, nothing particularly controversial. He is entirely entitled to his opinion, and it's one that I share, but with caveats that Straw doesn't seem to have. The main reason for the wearing of the headscarf is modesty, which in our modern day society seems an almost regressive, repressive, choice of dressing. I'm reminded of a Private Eye cartoon in which a man dressed in a suit is looking at two women dressed up in attire that would make Jodie Marsh blush, covered in tattoos, bellowing at him "WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU'RE LOOKING AT?" Our culture has become so desensitised both to men and women being dressed either scantily or outlandishly that to see Muslim women wearing the niqab has become shocking; it jolts our thinking, and makes us wonder what possible reason a woman living in Britain in the 21st century has for being so, well, insulated and protected against the outside world.

This is mainly down to the wrongly held belief, which has been increased by the reporting of honour killings and the contempt with which some writers feel men from the Middle East treat their wives and daughters, that the wearing of the veil is down to it being demanded by men. As Straw writes in his article, that is almost always wrong. Almost all Muslim women make the decision about what veil they wear, if any, completely independently. Indeed, some Muslim teenage women, rather than abandoning the veil, have taken to it almost as part of a counter-cultural reaction. Whether this is down to what they see as persecution against Muslims, a statement of difference or simply individual fashion concerns or not, we should respect their decision. This doesn't mean not questioning it, or wanting to understand the reasons behind it, as Straw himself explains. What we should not be doing is demanding that women disrobe.

This is where Straw's arguments come into slight difficulty. As mentioned above, some communities will undoubtedly feel threatened, or concerned about women walking around covered from head to toe, just as a large majority of people feel anxious about groups of teenagers wearing hooded tops. Where I take issue with Straw is that the veil is a visible statement of separation and difference - that may be so, but why should that be a problem? The problem many seem to have with multiculturalism is just that, that these communities are different to "ours". What makes it difficult for me to understand such arguments is the simple fact that difference is what makes us what we are; life would be deeply boring if we were all one homogeneous lump, having few differing opinions. The crushing of "difference" and individuality is associated, rightly, with totalitarian regimes. Any dissent is viewed as a threat to everyone, rather than just as a matter of personal choice.

Rather than wondering whether the veil is a barrier to good community relations, Straw should be reassuring people that the fear or disgust shown towards veil wearers is irrational. What he is right on though is that veil wearers can bring trouble on themselves. Last year on Newsnight, one of the reporters was talking to a jilbab wearing Muslim woman in Luton in the aftermath of 7/7 when a young white youth approached them, and apparently unaware of the camera, proceeded to rant angrily about "bombers", making various racist remarks for good measure. While such experiences should by no means encourage women to abandon their veils out of fear, they should perhaps revisit their own philosophy on why exactly it is they wear one. The matter though should be on the choice of the woman, and the woman alone. The very last thing we should import is the strict French ban on religious symbols in state buildings, which was an attack on personal freedom.

More troubling is the way in which all these issues and debates about Muslims seem to have suddenly piled up on one another. Last night BBC News led with Straw's comments, then the police officer excused guarding the Israeli embassy, while later in the programme there was a report from Frank Gardner on extremists recruiting on university campuses, as well as a short story on the incidents which have been occuring in Windsor involving a Muslim-owned dairy. The editor should have perhaps seen that so many items were complete overkill, and the fear, rightly or wrongly, is that the public is getting the completely wrong view that Muslims appear to be demanding to have different standards applied to them, or that extremists are far more prevalent in their communities than they actually are. This is playing completely into the hands of the extremists on both sides. These debates are both necessary and welcome, but they cannot be conducted when there is a constant climate of hysteria.

An example of the current double standards seems to be the complete silence in the national press and media on a raid on Colne, Burnley in which two men, one an ex-BNP member who stood for election for the local Pendle council in May, have been arrested and charged with possessing what is being described as a "record haul" of chemical components. One of the men is reported as having a rocket launcher. You can only imagine how high up on the news this would have been had the men been Muslims rather than white northerners.

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Thursday, October 05, 2006 

Scum-watch: A reporting Foley?

Everyone knows Rebekah Wade's views on paedophiles, or as the Sun often refers to them, paedo-pervs. Hardly a day goes by without the Sun reporting some horror story, either about a sick evil scumbag being convicted for possessing child pornography, or some other similar less than pleasant act, accompanied with the accused being referred to with whichever disgusted adjective picks the writer's fancy, with "beast" being one of the recent favourites.

It's with this in mind that I wondered how the Sun would be reporting the case of Mark Foley, the Republican congressman who has been exposed as being lecherous towards underage teenage runners at the House of Representatives. Even more delightfully for a tabloid newspaper, Foley had been at the heart of a recently passed bill which attempted to crackdown on "internet predators". Not only has the man been found metaphorically with his pants down, he's a horrible hypocrite to boot. There's no way the Sun could have passed up such an open goal, right?

Imagine my shock then on searching the Sun website that there doesn't seem to have been a single story about Foley's online chats with his young helpers. This wouldn't have anything to do with Rupert Murdoch's hardly hidden support for the Republicans, and especially the Bush administration, would it, similar to how the newspaper buried Abu Ghraib? I'm sure they've just been busy with other things, like the below post. That would explain it.

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Scum-watch: The sky is falling!

You know it's a slow news day when such an utterly ridiculous, prejudiced story makes all the headlines. This morning's Sun, in typically outraged and sensationalist fashion, screams "COP OUT". The story written by the piss-poor crime editor Mike Sullivan (who has past form, having a hand in the laughable terror camp school reports and the house of horrors that wasn't) alleges that a Muslim officer was excused guarding the Israeli embassy on "moral grounds" because he objected to the bombing of Lebanon by the IDF.

THE decision to excuse a Muslim cop from guarding the Israeli Embassy was last night branded “the beginning of the end for British policing”.

Critics slammed the decision. Ex-Met Flying Squad commander John O’Connor said: “This is the beginning of the end for British policing.

“If they can allow this, surely they’ll have to accept a Jewish officer not wanting to work at an Islamic national embassy? Will Catholic cops be let off working at Protestant churches? Where will it end?

“This decision is going to allow officers to act in a discriminating and racist way.”

Mr O’Connor added: “When you join the police, you do so to provide a service to the public. If you cannot perform those duties, you leave.

“The Metropolitan Police are setting a precedent they will come to bitterly regret. Top brass granted his wish as they were probably frightened of being accused of racism. But what they’ve done is an insult to the Jewish community.”

Another angry policeman said: “This decision beggars belief. It goes against everything the police should stand for — providing a service to the public no matter who they are.”

PC Basha, attached to the Met’s Diplomatic Protection Group, asked for special dispensation not to work at the embassy in Kensington Palace Gardens, Central London. The officer, in his late 20s, has taken part in recent anti-war protests.

As usually happens with self-serving moral outraged articles printed by the Sun newspaper, the whole basis for the Sun's story has began to fall apart:

The decision not to deploy a Muslim police officer to guard the Israeli embassy in London was taken on "risk and safety" grounds and had nothing to do with political correctness, a senior Metropolitan police officer said today.

The Met's deputy commissioner, Paul Stephenson, insisted that PC Alexander Omar Basha's alerting of superiors about his reservations to being deployed at the embassy "during the height of the Israeli/ Lebanon conflict" in August was encouraged by force policy.

He also added that the service's officers "put their duties above their political, religious or ideological views" every day and that the impartial policing of all communities was fundamental in Britain.

"In all its personnel management issues, the MPS encourages officers to be up front and honest to highlight any matters that may impact on them conducting their duties," Mr Stephenson said. "At the height of the Israeli/Lebanon conflict in August this year the officer made his managers aware of his personal concerns, which included that he had Lebanese family members.

"Whilst the Israeli embassy is not his normal posting, in view of the possibility that he could be deployed there, a risk assessment was undertaken, which is normal practice. It was as a result of this risk assessment - and not because of the officer's personal views, whatever they might have been - that the decisions was taken temporarily not to deploy him to the embassy. The public would expect us to conduct such a risk assessment and review the suitability of any firearms officer undertaking such duties.

"This is not about political correctness. I want to make it clear that this decision was taken on the basis of risk and safety."

Whoops! Nowhere in the Sun article, now even that it's been updated, is the fact that his wife is Lebanese and his father Syrian, or the possibility that he could have relatives out in Lebanon where the Israelis subjected the south to nearly a month's worth of bombing, resulting in the deaths of over 1000 civilians. Neither is it mentioned that the Israelis in the last few days of the war with Hizbullah launched hundreds of thousands of cluster bombs, of which as many as 100,000 did not explode, a military decision which the UN called "completely immoral". If one of his relatives had been killed in the bombing, it seems highly unlikely he would have been given such an assignment on compassionate grounds.

The inference from the Sun article is clear. If Muslims can't be trusted to guard sensitive areas, then why should they be in the force at all? That they seemingly attempt to smear him by saying that he has attended anti-war protests, with the unwritten but obvious point being if you go on those marches, you're obviously either an extremist or a Marxist pacifist wet. This is made even less subtle by the linking in of a long forgotten Palestinian bomb attack on the building in 1994, which thankfully didn't kill anyone. The article as a whole is typical of the Sun's tactics in attempting to divide and rule, while claiming that it fully favours integration. You can't imagine the Sun dedicating its front page to a case of a policeman refusing to perform duty at a gay pride parade. Indeed, a recent case involving 9 firemen who refused to distribute fire safety leaflets at a gay pride march in Scotland, some of whom objected on "moral grounds" has not garnered a mention in the Sun newspaper.

The reality of the case is that the officer was worried not by moral issues, but by what could have happened to him if he was seen guarding the embassy during a time of strain between the local communities. The Sun is the first to remind us of the danger of fanatical Islamists - it's not hard to believe that they wouldn't take kindly to the idea of a Muslim guarding what is by definition Israeli territory at a time of war, especially as his wife herself is Lebanese. The BBC reports that the man is now back on diplomatic protection duties, and has no problems with carrying out his job.

Sir Ian Blair's decision to launch an inquiry, when it's already obvious that simply talking to the officer involved and those who made the decision would have revealed the truth, shows how sensitive he is to claims that the police now goes out of its way to be politically correct. This is the same police force which only 6 years ago was called "institutionally racist" by the Macpherson; claims that it's gone too far in the other direction are laughable, as shown by the contempt that has surrounded the police's response to the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes (septicisle passim ad nauseum), as well as the smears and distortions which followed the arrest of the Koyair brothers, which by a strange coincidence mainly featured in the Murdoch press.

The article doesn't take in to account Israeli sensibilities either. Muslim countries that offered to send troops to perform peacekeeping in Lebanon were unceremoniously told that they were not welcome.
It seems unlikely if those in charge on the Israeli embassy were informed of his familial line and relatives in Lebanon that they would have been too pleased with him guarding the place, especially during the conflict itself. Some might call such a move paranoia, but Israel has always wanted to be safe rather than sorry.

The whole issue then is as MPA member Peter Herbert put it, a "fuss over nothing" and a storm in a teacup, a piece of news which filled the vacuum on an otherwise slow day, the only other big story being Cameron's speech at the party conference, which the Sun's page 3 girl adequately covered, as Bloggerheads notes. It's little surprise that the Sun opened its mouth before being informed of the full facts, something that Rebekah Wade has been noted for in the past.

Related posts:
Big Stick Small Carrot - Those Evil Muuuuslems
Andrew Bartlett - Leak and Spin
Ministry of Truth - It woz The Sun wot spun it…

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Wednesday, October 04, 2006 


Watching David Cameron being interviewed yesterday evening on Newsnight, I was struck by something I never expected to feel about a serving Tory leader. It suddenly occurred to me that this man isn't a complete and utter git. Michael Howard, Iain Duncan Smith, William Hague - all unspeakable wankers. John Major was a charisma free-zone, but at least he had something of the normal person about him, even if he was utterly hopeless and a git in private, as claimed by some.

There are of course reasons for this. Cameron has tried as hard as possible to be seen as this carefree, youthful, up to date leader, and more than that, he's also not faced harsh questioning by any interviewer yet on a matter of great importance. He hasn't had to sit in front of a braying bunch of servicemen's wives, or sceptical Question Time audiences that booed him before he had even sat down. He also doesn't get off entirely scot free, as it's obvious how he was born with the proverbial silver spoon in the mouth, attending Eton, going onto Oxford, marrying a suitably fragrant and wealthy woman, etc etc . Even so, you don't get the urge to instantly switch the television off when his voice starts wafting over, as you do as soon as William Hague opens his obnoxious mouth. His accent is neither too posh or common enough, an almost perfect balance for a politician who wants to appeal to everyone.

In essence, Cameron is probably the best the Conservatives are ever likely to get. Unfortunately for everyone else, he's just a facsimile of Tony Blair. Everything about his speech today at their conference exuded Blairism. It even had the verb less sentences that Blair constantly converses in. Unlike Blair however, there was hardly anything in the whole of the speech that you could instantly vehemently disagree with. At times he veers into Mrs Brady, Old Lady territory, rhetorically saying something and then almost absent-mindedly adding yes to the end. In the first part, he talks of substance, or rather his lack of it. His Tories, like John Reid, are sure of one thing, and that's that they believe in social responsibility. This is meant to show how Cameron and his party have moved on from believing solely in the individual, that there is such a thing as society, and that we're all in this together, but the manner in which he reacts to this criticism suggests that rather than wanting to come up with some policies, he'd rather have the current situation stay as it is; after all, despite having no fully recognisable pledges, his party is still ahead in the polls.

He goes on, juggernauting through tax, then the economy, saying nothing that would have been out of place at a Labour conference speech by Blair circa 95-97. They won't take risks with the economy, challenges of globalisation, flying the flag for British business etc. This is though the same Mr Cameron that said that he wasn't a big fan of isms, socialism, republicanism, capitalism, which also at the time seemed to contradict his argument for backing business, that not a big enough case was being made for the creation of wealth.

Next up is the NHS, which seems to have been seized on by the Conservatives as their way of damaging Labour, and they've picked an open goal as their target. Despite all the past bluster of his party, the decades of under investment, the championing of private healthcare, Cameron has decided, quite rightly, that's it the one thing that unifies the public. For all his blustering however, he says nothing about what he would do to make the service better, apart from stopping the pointless reorganisations. Would the hugely wasteful private finance initative continue? Would the private centres that are being paid huge amounts of money despite not carrying out the number of operations they're meant to continue to exist? Is he prepared to commit the NHS to staying in the public sector? He doesn't tell us, probably because he would either change none of the above or go even further. The right-wing press is full of stories of how a private insurance system would be better, how billions are being wasted. Much like the rest of Cameron's agenda, his complete belief in the NHS is an act of political opportunism.

More evidence of which is in the next paragraph, where he pledges to support Labour when it does the right thing. He praises the minimum wage, which is strange, as the Tories at the time, along with the CBI, claimed that it would cost hundreds of thousands of jobs. It didn't, and is still barely a living wage.

Cameron continues in much the same vein, saying nothing controversial or of any real interest, until he eventually gets to the troops in Afghanistan, making a rather bogus claim that our mission there is a "moral responsibility", and conflates it with our presence in Iraq, which certainly isn't. He rather amusingly mentions Liam Fox, the defence spokesman, one who could certainly be added to the "git" list at the beginning of this post. Next up is terrorism, which gets the usual orthodoxies of being a far bigger threat than the IRA and also being unappeasable. Nothing particularly wrong with that, but there's certainly nothing profound about it either. He rightly brings up how wiretap evidence still hasn't been made admissible in courts in terrorism cases, then blots his copy book by once again repeating his idiotic British bill of rights plan. He claims to be the heir to Brown's soundbite "tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime", that Ronald Reagan and Thatcher defeated the Soviet Union (they didn't, the Soviet Union defeated itself), and to be a "liberal Conservative", despite writing the most right-wing Tory manifesto of recent years, voting for the Iraq war, against allowing gay couples to adopt and abolishing the notorious section 28. He supports faith schools, despite evidence that they contribute to the ghettoisation of Britain. Cameron's solution is that they should admit a certain proportion of children from either no faith or from different faiths, a curious compromise which would do little to nothing to alter it, instead continuing the status quo.

And so it goes on. And on. It's as if he's listened or watched Blair's speeches over the years, took notes, and then decided to rip out anything that might be slightly radical or uncomfortable for his party, but keeping the sincerity, or rather the lack of it that lies beneath all his sanctimonious words. As speeches go, it wasn't really a bad one. It was just lacking absolutely anything that identified it from the crowd.

This is Cameron's problem. He wants his Conservative party to be deeply average, just as Blair's revolution was deeply average but then turned into a war waged against the party's true believers. Cameron too has his war with the true believers, but unlike Blair he has yet to properly stick the knife right into them, and he has shown no sign of doing so. This is partly because the opinion polls could yet still change, or worse, stay the same. All three former leaders talked soft and then moved back to the right when the public's failure to believe them became manifest. For now, Cameron is winning that battle, but it leaves politics in this country completely unremarkable. There are no big ideas, just agreement or slight differences. The only speech from all of the conferences that was genuinely inspired was from the Lib Dems, with Nick Clegg's promise to introduce a bonfire of Labour's draconian legislation. None of the main two parties dare to suggest anything so radical. None want to bring the troops out of Iraq. None are diametrically opposed to conflict with Iran. This is why when someone speaks out of turn, as Boris Johnson almost did yesterday, the media ran with him rather than anything else from the deeply snore-worthy conference. Cameron might be a success, but the danger is that no one cares what he thinks, just that he's different to Blair. Hail then the two identical vacuums, the equivalent of voting for either Kudos or Kang.

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Tuesday, October 03, 2006 

The modern gulag and Catch-22.

Two of the Tipton Three, held in Guantanamo for two years.

All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others, wrote Orwell in Animal Farm, as the original principles of the revolution were gradually but surely eroded. A similar situation seems to have developed in the attitude of the British government towards the remaining nominally British detainees stuck in the legal limbo hellhole which is Guantanamo Bay. The Guardian today reports that the government has decided to more or less abandon 8 of them, even after months of wrangling over plans to repatriate them.

The one detainee they are prepared to welcome back, Bisher al-Rawi, was first denounced by MI5, who told the CIA that he was in possession of bomb parts. Now they've admitted that al-Rawi was in fact an intelligence asset, one who was involved in monitoring the radical cleric Abu Qutada, alleged by some to have been the spiritual leader of al-Qaida in Europe. Qutada himself, along with Abu Hamza, is now known to have at least been approached by MI5, hoping that they would help monitor extremists, in return for them being left alone. A Times article from 2004 alleges that Qutada was a double agent, who pledged to help MI5, but was in fact setting up his own terrorist network. Could it be possible that al-Rawi, having severely embarrassed MI5 by showing that they were involved in his rendition, now want al-Rawi back before he spills the beans about his spying on Qutada?

As for the rest of those trapped in Guantanamo, the United States is demanding that they be monitored 24 hours a day, and banned from meeting with "known extremists" or leaving the country. The UK, for its part, calls such demands ridiculous, knowing full well that a good majority of those still at Guantanamo are either innocent of all they are accused of, or those at the very lowest rungs of jihadiism.

Some of the allegations against those being held are both familiar and laughable. Omar Deghayes, who came to Britain with his family when he was 16 to escape Gadafy in Libya after his father was executed by the regime, is accused of "having a good relationship with Osama bin Laden" and being seen in a Chechen militant training video, similar to how the Tipton Three were accused of appearing in the crowd of those listening to a speech by bin Laden. Benyam Mohammad has both the most serious allegations and conclusive evidence against him, but also has indefinite leave to remain in the UK. Shaker Aamer, who knew Mozzamm Begg, also has indefinite leave to remain, and was seeking British citizenship while living in Afghanistan, where he was captured in fighting by Afghan troops. Jamil-el-Banna has refugee status in the UK, and was captured along with al-Rawi in the Gambia. He too had some association with Abu Qutada, but seems not to know enough for MI5 to care about him. Spain wants to extradite they say he has with a terrorist group. Ahmed Errachidi, who has indefinite leave to remain in Britain, had another allegation similar to those against the Tipton Three made against him, that he had been at a training camp known as al-Farouq in July 2001. His lawyers have the payslips and bank transactions that show that he was working in London at the time. Like other innocents who have turned up in Guantanamo Bay, he was captured by bounty hunters and sold to the US. Ahmed Belbacha, who has exceptional leave to remain in the UK, was vetted by MI5 in 1999 to work at the Labour party conference. The US alleges that he received training at a camp in Afghanistan and met the beard master himself, Osama bin Laden, twice. Abdelnour Sameur, who also has leave to remain in the UK, was captured in Pakistan shortly before the Taliban were overthrown. Accused of fighting in Bosnia and going to Afghanistan for further training, he rather humourously claimed to have had knowledge of the 9/11 terror attacks in an attempt to get a gunshot wound to his leg treated. Whether that contributed to his detention to Guantanamo is worth wondering about.

The men are stuck in a catch-22 situation. Men that are claimed to pose such a little threat that carrying out surveillance on them would be a waste of time and money are denied re-entry to a country where they have either been granted leave to remain or asylum. British officials also claim that human rights legislation means that they would be unable to deport them if they were allowed back here, but on what grounds would they be considered for deportation in the first place if they pose no threat? The US also faces the problem of sending them back to their countries of birth due to the supreme court ruling which Bush has tried his best to legislate around. Nothing they can seemingly do will free them from detention without charge, and an attempt to get the courts to force the government into repatriating the men failed, despite the judges recognising that there was a powerful political case for them to be freed.

All of this is rather shocking, especially when you consider that numerous ministers have now lined up to condemn Guantanamo, with the lord chancellor and the Dear Leader's ex-far from flatmate Charles Falconer calling the prison camp a "shocking affront to justice". Such remarks are exposed as the window-dressing, sop to the Labour party faithful and lefties that they are when the government he belongs to refuses to rescue men from constant uncertainty and petty abuse, which in some cases may well amount to torture. Doubtless, the Sun and the usual suspects would make a huge noise about "extremist fanatics" being allowed back onto British streets, but isn't Labour meant to be based around values and compassion, or does that only apply to the those who deserve it through their "responsibilities"? None of the previously released British citizens from Guantanamo have been charged with anything or posed a problem since being flown back here. Why should those still there be any different?

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Monday, October 02, 2006 

Same old Tories.

As the Conservatives gather for the yearly sleep-in, much of the sheen appears to have worn off the expensively buffed Cameron silver. The problem isn't just the usual Tory problems of an MP leaving his cancer-striken wife to run off with another woman, Francis Maude being exposed as having invested in some top-notch hardcore pornography, or questions about their election spending, it's rather the gathering itself. Let's face it, the average Conservative just isn't well, sexy enough, or usually a part of the iPod carrying, shopping 'n' fucking Notting Hell set. The constituency card-carrying Tory has political views ranging from the foaming at the mouth to the certified rabid, and never is this more clear than at their conference. As much as Cameron tries, it's the equivalent of teaching an old dog new tricks: how on earth is he going to convince the party faithful that well, being wet, might well win them the next election?

David Davis, bless him, at least likes to throw a few bones while he's tightening the leash. Making his big speech as shadow Home Secretary, he joked about wanting to hug hoodies a little tighter than Dave might have had in mind. Jenni Russell notes how his audience responded, and for the civil libertarian who admires some of the Tories principles in standing up to this draconian Labour government, there's not much to be cheerful about, judging the faithful's reaction. Still, at least Davis appears to believe in what he says about opposing 90 days, denouncing restrictions on liberty and defending fundamental freedoms.

Much of the rest of the speech was an attempt to hand-wring about crime and punishment. The Tories are being out-muscled by Labour - Reid handing over the keys to the Home Office to Rebekah Wade and all - so where do they go? Going further right may please the Daily Mail and the blue rinses, but they're in opposition, so it's difficult to agree with everything the party adjacent to them says but then say they should go further, and if they did, that might mean having to sacrifice their occasional victories over a split Neo-Labour. Davis then takes the middle approach. He too wants to build more prisons, and he's going to fill them up as well. On immigration they're not afraid to speak out honestly (for which read these bloody foreigners should jolly well go home) unlike the Labour party, despite Ruth Kelly's promises of debate to follow two other previous discussions, as Gary Younge writes.

Davis's points about prison aren't entirely without merit. He's completely right that it's not working at the minute, but he's wrong that it can work at all. His idea for prison to suddenly become a rehabilitation palace, where the great unwashed will go in and come out ready to guide old ladies across the street is fine in principle, but rather difficult to actually put into practice. Prison is not suddenly going to go through a great culture change, where the emphasis is on reform rather than punishment overnight. Such a sea change would take years. Making prisons literate and places where inmates come down off drugs is very noble, but it faces the fact that even with more spaces available, overcrowding will always be an issue, as will the need for staff training. The biggest problem is the bad influence of prison itself - not everyone there is going to co-operate or accept the need to learn to read, or accept treatment willingly or otherwise - which is half of the reason why so many may go in for minor offences and come out as career criminals. This is why Davis's big idea simply won't work: treatment and rehabilitation have to be in the community, not in the gulag.

It also fails to the recognise the fact that the school system currently fails so many, itself a major impact on crime, as is poverty. Prison needs to be there only for the most violent and the most dangerous, the repeat offenders who will not or cannot change their ways. No one should be failed, but unfortunately this is the way it is. The mentally ill, the young and ever increasing numbers of women are currently thrown away and forgotten about, when they would be better off not inside but outside, on the same programmes that Davis is advocating for jails. This would not of course though go down well with those in the hall, or the vast majority of ordinary voters, hence the compromise.

Davis also continues to support Dave's rave about the British bill of rights, a hopeless hodge podge when there's already a perfectly good law on the statute books, albeit one originally opposed by the party and loathed by the tabloids. Even Charles Falconer, not the most astute of politicians, realises that it's the best we're going to get.

Davis then has sort of missed a tick. He could have appealed directly to those who view the government's capitulation to the Murdoch agenda as utterly distasteful, promising to still be centrist but oppose the government nonetheless. Instead he and his party are left looking like the dinosaurs of old, waiting for eventual extinction. Nice party, said Dave, shame about the members. New Tories, new history repeating.

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News of the Screws-watch: The biggest liar in politics?

Another Screws journalist not known for his honest methods.

The Murdoch papers, much like the Rothermere press, do not forget criticism. They take most unkindly to being exposed as the lying, traitorous, cheap whores that they are. It's little wonder then that Tommy Sheridan, having won such a huge battle against the Screws' gutter journalism, has once again made the front page.

Sheridan, former leader of the Scottish Socialist Party, and now leader of the newly formed Solidarity, is almost unknown south of the border. A firebrand Trotskyist, his party made a remarkable breakthrough under the proportional representation system for the Scottish parliament, winning six seats. In 2004 he announced he was standing down from the leadership, citing that he wished to spend more time with his family. Within weeks the News of the World in Scotland splashed lurid allegations across its front page claiming that he had had an extra-marital affair and had visited a massage parlour in Manchester twice. The resulting libel trial ended when by a seven to four verdict by the jury found in favour of Sheridan.

Yesterday's banner boost from the Screws screamed "THE BIGGEST LIAR IN POLITICS". Claiming to have a 40-minute video tape made by one of Sheridan's best men, George McNeilage, the tape purportedly has Sheridan admitting to McNeilage that he did attend the Cupids club in Manchester. An edited version of the tape, up on the Screws website, is predictably, incredibly difficult to hear. The Screws claims that the tape was recorded by McNeilage in November 2004, just after Sheridan had resigned. McNeilage said that he recorded the meeting with Sheridan so that he and the local Pollok group of activists would know "straight from the horse's mouth" the truth about why he had resigned. Why they wouldn't have accepted McNeilage's word isn't explained. The video itself does not show Sheridan's face.

McNeilage sets out his reasons for going to the Screws in his own article, which reads suspiciously like a standard News of the Screws subbed and re-written rent-a-rant. Claiming Sheridan is a traitor to the working class for calling his former comrades "scabs" and receiving £30,000 for his interviews with the Scottish Daily Record, he mentions that he's not a great fan of the Screws, but that what's most important is that the truth gets out to as many working people as possible. Why McNeilage didn't go to a different newspaper with his sensational tape if he dislikes the Screws so much isn't explained, especially as any newspaper would have taken such a story. It's therefore not unreasonable to wonder how much cash was involved. McNeilage also doesn't properly explain why he didn't bring the tape forward sooner, as in immediately after the ending of the case, nor why he felt that such compelling evidence wasn't needed at the trial, even if he considered it highly unlikely that Sheridan was to emerge the victor. It seems difficult to believe that the story has been worked on for weeks, or that the Screws would have sat on such a potential goldmine for so long.

The Screws claims that the tape has been authenticated by four different voice verification experts. Again, when you know that Rebekah Wade, former editor of the Screws, currently of the Sun, admitted to a parliamentary committee that the police had been paid for their leaks and indiscretions to the newspaper, then it's not so difficult to countenance the paying of experts either.

The Screws also has form when it comes to entrapping people. Mazher Mahmood, this blog's favourite journalist, has been caught out twice, over the Victoria Beckham kidnap plot that never was, and the more recent "red mercury" case. Why should we believe that the Screws has changed its ways over a man who it lost £200,000 of its propietors money to, without considering the damage done to its reputation and "journalism"?

The tape could of course be real. Sheridan's claims of striking out against gutter journalism were also rather hollowed by his acceptance of the money from the Daily Record, owned by the same company which produces the Screws-lite papers the People and the Sunday Mirror. Roy Greenslade argues that the Screws deserve support from the rest of the media, made more laughable by the fact that the Screws only believes in the freedom of the press when it makes Murdoch more money, as evidenced by its attack on both bloggers and George Galloway when Mahmood's photograph was to be distributed. Until proved otherwise, Sheridan is still the man cleared of wrongdoing, and the Screws is still the biggest liar. The announcement by the police that they intend to launch a criminal investigation into allegations of perjury at the trial, not apparently influenced by yesterday's Screws claims, only emphasises this further. As for being the biggest liar, someone lying about his sex life becomes rather insubstantial compared to the fabricator currently residing in Downing Street, with the blood of a huge number of Iraqis on his hands.

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