Wednesday, May 31, 2006

A Few Bad Apples

It is being widely reported that US officials are preparing public opinion for the fact that American marines did deliberately murder a number of unarmed civilians in Haditha last November in retaliation for an IED killing of Miguel Terrazas, one of their colleagues. It seems clear that US government investigations have uncovered substantial evidence that these murders did take place.

The Whitehouse are going to release full details of the inquiries into the killings in an attempt to fend off allegations of a cover-up. But a cursory consideration of the reason why an investigation even occurred makes a mockery of any attempt to deny that this was initially covered up by the US military.

It is clear that it was the reporting of this event by Time magazine which belatedly provoked a grudging US military into considering the circumstances surrounding the deaths of these Iraqi civilians.

The day after the incident, Time notes:
[A] Marine communiqué from Camp Blue Diamond in Ramadi reported that Terrazas and 15 Iraqi civilians were killed by the blast and that "gunmen attacked the convoy with small-arms fire," prompting the Marines to return fire, killing eight insurgents and wounding one other.
This is very much the stock military line and reports like these are issued on an almost daily basis as the violence continues unabated in Iraq. There was no hint in the initial statement that US marines had deliberately killed innocent civilians in a cold blooded revenge attack. That was the end of the matter as far as the military were concerned.

It was only in January, after Time had investigated and reported on the incident, that the US military grudgingly opened an inquiry themselves and withdrew their spurious claim that civilian casualties were caused by the roadside bomb.
In January, after TIME presented military officials in Baghdad with the Iraqis' accounts of the Marines' actions, the U.S. opened its own investigation, interviewing 28 people, including the Marines, the families of the victims and local doctors. According to military officials, the inquiry acknowledged that, contrary to the military's initial report, the 15 civilians killed on Nov. 19 died at the hands of the Marines, not the insurgents.
They maintained, however, that the civilians had died as a result of collateral damage during a gunfight. It now appears clear that this wasn't true either and that no such gunfight took place.

The fact that Time magazine have forced the issue says much about the importance of a free press in a democratic society.

The fact that the US military had to be forced to investigate says much about the priorities of the democratic government of the United States of America.

There'll be lots of talk about the differences between the ways the US government handles these crimes as compared to the way Saddam operated as this gruesome story unfolds. It'll be as accurate as a communiqué from Camp Blue Diamond,

In truth, the real difference between US democracy (and British for that matter) and dictatorship in these cases is that democratic government's can on occasion be forced, kicking and screaming all the while, to investigate human rights abuses perpetrated by their representatives when confronted with damning evidence collated by the free press. Show trials and scapegoats to distance the leadership from the failings of their own policies are par for the course in both cases however.

The idea that the US government can be trusted to effectively investigate abuses by their own military personal voluntarily is, it should be clear by now if it wasn't already, utterly fallacious. How many more reported IED casualties were killed by US troops un-noticed by Time magazine or anyone else in the West? More many more dead "insurgents" were innocent civilians gunned down in cold blood out of sight of the world's press? It's impossible to tell and you can be sure that the US government is not making any effort to find out. Given what we know about US military training, morale, strategies and political leadership, it is highly improbable that this slaughter was an "isolated incident".

Here's one other example, also from the area round Haditha. In June 2005, five months before the attack above, US troops conducted a raid on the village of al-Shaikh Hadid. During that raid, US marines shot dead an Iraqi by the name of Mohammed al-Sumaidaie. He'd have been passed off as "just another dead insurgent" but for the fact that he was related to Samir Sumaidaie, Iraq's ambassador to the UN.

Ambassador Sumaidaie said:
All indications point to a killing of an unarmed innocent civilian - a cold-blooded murder.
A US military statement was issued in response:
We take these allegations seriously and will thoroughly investigate this incident to determine what happened.
The seriousness and thoroughness of the investigation into this apparent murder can be seen by the fact that as of May 2006, almost a year later, no details of the findings of this investigation have been made public.

A few bad apples? How many bad apples do there need to be before for it to becomes clear that the managers of the orchard are the root of problem?

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Tuesday, May 30, 2006

An opportunity to purchase the genuine professional contact details for Alistair Campbell on ebay? Outstanding.

I wonder if he'd be interested in autographing a new artwork so it can be autioned for charidee.

Dr.Kelly and the Hutton Report

It's called "Dr.Kelly and the Hutton Enquiry".

Buy Alistair Campbell's details here.

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Plans to give all 50m NHS patients in England a full electronic medical record are running at least two to two-and-a-half years late, Lord Warner, the health minister who oversees the project, has confirmed.

He also admitted that the full cost of the programme was likely to be nearer £20bn than the widely quoted figure of £6.2bn.
What's particularly noteworthy is Lord Warner's insistence that the project is still on budget. He says the £20bn figure merely reflects the full expense of the new system. Oh I see. That's alright then. It's not like we expected them to tell us the full expense from the start. I mean, why would they?

Perhaps someone ought to ask the government whether the government's £5.8bn figure for the cost of the ID card and national database travesty reflects the full expense of that scheme.

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Monday, May 29, 2006


Blair, it won't have escaped your attention, is very keen on the "special relationship". So keen is he, in fact, that the Whitehouse appears to be quite literally setting the limits to British foreign policy (via). There's the full horror of the George Bush's "with us or against us" rhetoric. Blair, although he may talk a good game on occasion, just doesn't have the strength of character to challenge the Whitehouse on pretty much anything. It's almost embarrassing.

In the Whitehouse today, the great new threat to world security is the Iranian nuclear programme. This, despite the fact that there's really no evidence of any sort of illicit nuclear weapons work being done in Iran.

Blair has, unsurprisingly, echoed the US government line at every opportunity including refusing to rule out military action. It has even been suggested that Jack Straw was removed from the post of foreign secretary because his assertion that military action was "inconceivable" provoked displeasure in the Whitehouse. Given the link above, it hardly seems beyond the realms of possibility.

I wonder then, what the US government makes of the new Iraqi foreign minister? (Via.)
BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Iran has a right to develop nuclear technology and the international community should drop its demands that Tehran prove it's not trying to build a nuclear weapon, Iraq's foreign minister said Friday.

"Iran doesn't claim that they want to obtain a nuclear weapon or a nuclear bomb, so there is no need that we ask them for any guarantee now," Hoshyar Zebari said after meeting with his Iranian counterpart, Manouchehr Mottaki.
You can see the problem, I think.

Interestingly, Zebari is a Kurd, not a Shiite. The US government assisted in the creation and protection of the Kurdish autonomous zone in the north after the first Gulf war and the Kurds are generally regarded as Washington's strongest ally in Iraq. It seems likely that Zebari is stating the position of the Shiite dominated Iraqi government rather than representing his own faction.

Whatever, you think of the position, it's clear that Iraq's foreign minister has broken from US policy to a far greater degree than Blair or Straw ever would. You can say what you like about Iraq but at least they've got politicians of courage and conviction who refuse to kowtow to the Whitehouse. Wouldn't it be great if we had some of them here too?

And then there's the serious matter of the substance of this new Iraqi government's foreign policy. This is the government we send our troops out there to die for, remember. And for what?

To create a new ally for the Iranian mullahs. Oh goody.

Can anyone tell me whether George thinks this new Iraqi government is "with us or against us"?

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Sunday, May 28, 2006

Anyone for Tennis?

This year, the male and female French Open winners will receive equal prize money for the first time. Wimbledon is now the only grand slam event where the award for winning the men's title is larger than the award for the winner of the ladies tournament.

I'm all for equal rights. But are the ladies going to be playing best of five sets at the French Open from now on? No, they are not.

It's at times like this that the whole political correctness thing gets a bit annoying. Some people have probably been a bit taken aback that I even raised the issue.

But, it is a statement of fact that in Grand Slam events, the women's game is best of three sets and the men's best of five. Men's games take longer. Spectators get more tennis and broadcasters get more footage. It hardly seems "indefensible" therefore that the prize for winning the men's event is larger.

So, let's have equal rights. Let's have equal prize money and best of five sets for both genders. Proper equality. I'm all for that.

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Saturday, May 27, 2006

Attempted bribery of witnesses during a police investigation? Perverting the course of justice?

I couldn't possibly comment.

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That Friday Feeling

The Scum reports on some breaking news:
COPS are desperately hunting FIVE HUNDRED foreign prisoners set free from mental hospitals, it was sensationally revealed yesterday.

The shock figure — on TOP of the 1,019 who have been released from jails without being booted out of Britain — sparked uproar last night.
Reid alluded to this in the vaguest of terms in his written statement on Tuesday but the details behind his weasel words were not revealed until yesterday. A Friday.

I bet you're completely taken aback that this embarrassing news wasn't made public till Friday afternoon. I mean, what are the chances of that happening?

Now, because of the incompetence of the Home Office, they'll undoibtedly launch a reactionary witchhunt for mentally ill people. We're so lucky to have a progressive government in this country...

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Friday, May 26, 2006

The Ultra-Moonbat Strikes Again

Caution - swearing*.

The Litigious One says he is anti-war but pro-killing.
George Galloway has said the assassination of Tony Blair would be "morally justified" given his support for the war in Iraq.
The man is a fuckwit. Indefatigably irredeemable. An arse.

He says:
Yes, it would be morally justified. I am not calling for it, but if it happened I believe it would be of a wholly different moral order to the events of 7/7. It would be entirely logical and explicable. And morally equivalent to ordering the deaths of thousands of innocent people in Iraq as Blair did.
Did you get that? Let's just look at it again.

The assasination of Blair is justifed, according to Galloway, because it is morally equivalent to ordering the deaths of thousands of innocent people in Iraq. In other words, he believes one action is morally justified because it is equivalent to another action which he believes to be morally reprehensible. Dear o fucking dear.

George Galloway, you are a fucking hypocrite. I'm sure I speak for the majority of people who opposed the invasion of Iraq when I say "shut your stupid indefatigable mouth, you odious egotistical fuckwit".

He doesn't represent my views. At all.

* Not feeling well today. Perhaps that explains my need to resort to profanities. Or perhaps its because GG is such an enormous fuckwit that there really is no other option. Anyway, this rant over, I'm going back to bed.)

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Blair's Britain

An Early Day Motion has been put forward to express concern at the proposed deportation of Ernesto Leal. You can lobby your MP to support the EDM courtesy of a handy interweb tool at the Friends of Ernesto website. A short video report of Ernesto Leal's story is available from Scotland Today.

Mr Leal was arrested while Charles Clarke was under intense pressure over the failures of the Home Office and this attempt to deport him is clearly politically motivated.

And you thought it was only evil tin-pot dictators who persecuted people to further their own political ends.

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Thursday, May 25, 2006

Nudes and Prudes

In 2004, Janet Jackson's wardrobe malfunction at the SuperBowl caused an enormous amount of controversy in the United States. A section of the US public was outraged that something as disgusting as a woman's breast had been shown on television. Large fines and the introduction of time delays on live events were the result of this scandalous boob (heh, sorry).

In Europe, even in stuffy old Britain, we mostly adopted that slightly condescending "Americans, what are they like, eh?" attitude. It's only a breast, for goodness sake. I think you'll find that most people have seen breasts before.

Not everyone in the UK is so open-minded about the naked human body though. Mr Jones from Wales for example, isn't keen on nudity at all. His next door neighbour had the front (and back) to sunbath naked in her own garden. Mr Jones, who filmed this incident, was not happy.
I have been extremely shaken by this. It has been very upsetting and worrying. I don't want to bring up my children in such an environment.
Not happy.

And the prosecutor, yes this went to court, said sunbathing nude "could be grossly offensive to normal decent persons in society". Grossly offensive? Calm down dears.

Fortunately, the law states that you must intend to cause harm and distress before you can be convicted of indecent exposure and the magistrates threw out the case. It's slightly odd that it ever came to court and but I'd say justice has been done.

And the reaction from the great British public, judging from the Beeb's HYS, has been supportive of the right to get naked in your own garden. People are more concerned about why someone would video their naked next door neighbour and then complain to the police.

So we really aren't a nation of prudes. Splendid. To celebrate, I suggest we all get naked and have a great big game of volleyball.

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I've got a new post up at the Sharpener about attitudes towards political violence.


Wednesday, May 24, 2006


I didn't see this until it was raised at PMQs today but Peter Riddell in the Times has claimed that Blair asked Prescott to give up his luxury tax-payer funded home when he took away his department. Prescott apparently refused.

When asked whether this was true at PMQs, Blair refused to confirm or deny the report. Andrew Neil and Nick Robinson were of the view that Blair's refusal to deny the claim was an implicit confirmation of it. I agree.

What surprised me was that Nick was of the view that "someone close to the Prime Minister" had intentionally leaked this story to Riddell in an attempt to distance the PM from the running sore that Prescott's continued enjoyment of the trapping of power (without any actual power) is causing.

The message we're supposed to get, apparently, is this. Blair has not lost his ability to make political judgements as some have suggested. He actually could see that Prescott being allowed to keep his perks would be enormously embarrassing and he told Prescott that. But Prescott, the greedy bastard, refused to give up his grace and favour lifestyle in spite of the wise PM's warnings.

The thing is, who's ultimately responsible for continuing to allow Prescott to occupy a first class seat on the gravy train? It's the ticket master himself. The Prime Minister is the one who has the final say on such issues.

If Blair really did see this coming but was unable to do anything about it in the face of Prescott's refusal to give up his perks, where does that leave the authority of the Prime Minister? Nowhere. He can't even get his own deputy to do what he wants. This is surely just going to add fuel to the accusations that he's a lame duck whose authority is in terminal decline.

I welcome that fact of course. But is that really the message Blair and his allies want to send out? Rather than a rebutal of accusations that Blair is losing any vestige of political good judgement, this surely has the opposite effect.

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Tuesday, May 23, 2006

It's a free country. Unless you're a dangerous bell weilding terrorist anyway.


Tim says:
You are invited to attend Parliament Square in solidarity with Brian Haw tomorrow (Wednesday) morning at 11am ready for 11.30 (when Blair is due to drive past on his way to PMQs).

It is suggested that bells and whistles are used. Here's why.

I am going to further suggest that, instead of being in Parliament Square (where police are sure to clamp down and round people up during this short period), you merely be in that general area with a *concealed* bell or whistle at the ready... and then let fly when Baby Blair's motorcade goes past.

And, if anybody gives you any stick, remind them that:

1) SOCPA forbids the use of loudspeakers - *not* noisemakers.
2) SOCPA also fails to define what constitutes a demonstration.
3) So if they don't get out of your face, you'll be forced to have them arrested for demonstrating their ignorance.
Sadly, I can't be there. Maybe you can.

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Taheri Stand By His Story

By, er, denying what he originally said. "Jumped the gun"? Oh my.

I think he, and those who still seem ready to defend his article, would do well to listen to the advice of Adloyada: When you're in a hole, stop digging

The only question now is whether you believe that Taheri's membership of Benador Associates, a PR firm with undeniably strong connections to various neo-conservatives, has a bearing on his false allegations. Obviously, I do. Amir Taheri is a neo-conservative stooge who got found out.

I do doubt that Taheri made this story up entirely. There will be a tiny element of truth behind the exaggerated nonsense Taheri wrote. You can be certain that there are those in Iran who would like to badge non-Muslims so they can avoid accidentally touching them. I can't imagine that's a surprise to anyone who knows anything about Iran.

Taheri's attempted to sell the idea that this had become law though. That was newsworthy. And it was also untrue. This is a standard practice in black propaganda campaigns. A small kernel of truth is manipulated into the desired form before being quietly released to the public. The key message is embedded in the story (in this case the "Iran is the new Nazi Germany" meme) rather than being overplayed. This works because easily predictable "useful idiots" will then pick out the key message and amplify and exaggerate it further. The propagandists then have very little to do except sit back and watch their meme spread.

In this case, it hasn't worked very well. The strings are showing. This is good.

I know some people believe that this is some sort of conspiracy theory nonsense. As someone who's studied International Relations, I have to say that I think this is naive. The CIA, to take one example, have used black propaganda against America's "enemies" any number of times since WWII. This sort of thing really does go on; foreign policy is a nasty business. Robin Cook's attempt to bring an "ethical dimension" to UK foreign policy was laudable but if he'd suceeded we'd have been very much in the minority.

The question as to whether President Bush has already decided on military action is still open. That leading neo-conservative are advocating the same isn't. That they'd resort to underhand measures like these isn't some outlandish conspiracy theory; it is, sadly, how things work all to often.

One final thing and this is actually is a spot of highly dubious speculation. There's been a lot of talk about Jessie MacBeth on the interwebs. In this case, it looks very much as if he's a fake and the right-wingers have been gleefully mocking the "leftists" and "Commies" for ever believing his claims. Judging by the dates of the comments on the video, it was posted sometime on Sunday the 21st of May.

Taheri's article was published on Friday 19th. People almost immediately pointed out that it was false, highlighed the neo-con connection, and warned that this was an obvious attempt to bolster support for military action against Iran. This was a major embarrasment in wingnut world and probably did some damage to their credibility.

What they really needed was some sort of distraction. Ideally, this distraction would include painting their political opponents in a bad light to try to even the score. If these opponents could be lured into making a similar blunder which could then be used against them, they'd be laughing.

Perhaps there's no connection. I'm just saying it's an interesting series of events. (I've genuinely no idea who on earth Jessie Wallace is.)

One final final thing. It's hard to write about neo-conservatism without implying that you believe it's some sort of evil monolythic S.P.E.C.T.R.E type organisation . It isn't. It's a group of people with shared and similar views working together to achieve certain goals. That's fair enough. I've got no problem with that. The problem is that their methods are often dishonest and their views on foreign policy are frequently moronic, simplistic and unworkable. That, I have a problem with.

Edit - corrected errant link.

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I was going to explain why Blair is an idiot for visiting Iraq yesterday but I see Simon Jenkins has already done the business.
Why has Tony Blair flown to Baghdad? This day of all days he should stay away. Everyone should stay away. Leave the new prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, at least to appear to be his own man and not a coalition puppet the day after he has been sworn in.
Indeed. It's the last thing he needs. Blair's visit undermines any slim chance there might be for "a new beginning" in Iraq. It's another in a long line of unforgivable errors of judgement.

Maliki's response appears to have been this statement of intent. He knows the damage Blair's visit could do and he really doesn't want to look like a puppet.

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Sunday, May 21, 2006

Forming a Government

So Iraq finally has a new government. Sort of. It seems that Grand Ayatollah Sistani's intervention was not enough to overcome all of the obstacles to forming a government.

The post which I think is the most important (excluding the PM obviously) is the Interior Ministry. It has yet to be filled. The Defence and National Security Ministers have also not been appointed. Maliki has said he intends to fill these posts within a week. In the meantime, he's taken control of the IM himself and appointed his deputies, Salam Zaubai, a Sunni of the IAF and Barham Salih, a Kurd of the PUK, as acting Defence and National Security Ministers respectively.

I've written quite a bit about the Interior Ministry. It was previously controlled by the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI). Many Sunnis believe that the SCIRI had filled the IM with members of their militia, the Badr brigade, and were using it to wage sectarian war. It appears that Maliki does intend to remove them from the IM. Depending on who he puts in instead, this could be a genuine bit of good news.

Defence, I've not often mentioned here but it's clear why this is a contentious post. Military coups are pretty much endemic in unstable countries. Control of the military could be an enormous advantage to one faction or another, particulary if and when the coalition troops withdraw*.

I can't say I know a great deal about the reponsibilities of the National Security Minister. I'll look it up.

There's still some way to go before the full government is formed then. Whoever is finally appointed to these positions, they'll face an enormously difficult task. The government will struggle to act decisively while at the same time maintaining the fragile agreements which hold it together. This can be easily seen by the reaction to Maliki's announcement that he intends to use "maximum force" against terrorism.

As Juan Cole reports, Nur al-Din al-Hayali, a spokesman for the Sunni IAF said "the Front has reservations about the program of the government . . . We have reservatons about the laws related to fighting terror, which do not distinguish between the Resistance, which plays a heroic role for the sake of liberating Iraq, and acts of violence that all reject".

That brings home just one of the problems. One of the key party's in this new government openly supports and praises those who attack coalition troops*.

President Bush does not hesitate to call attacks on coalition troops terrorism. He is, of course, waging a war on terror. The new Iraqi government contains people who think some of these "terrorists" are actually "heroic" freedom fighters. Consistency requires that he attack this new government immediately.

Strangely, he's praising them instead.

Maliki, it must be said, does appear to be genuinely attempting to defuse the sectarian tensions in Iraq. The question has to be whether its too little too late. While again stressing that it gives me no pleasure to say this**, I'm afraid I believe it is. Sectarian factional tensions have momentum. In Iraq, there has been a steadily accelerating movement towards greater sectarian tension for at least two years, probably more. It'll take an enormous effort just to stabilise this movement, never mind push it back in the other direction.

On the day of the election in Iraq, in the face of much trumpeting of images of purple fingers and general euphoria in the MSM, I wrote a post warning that it would be foolish to expect these election to be a cure-all.
The real test then, is not the elections themselves, impressive as they undoubtedly looked on your TV screen. The real test will be whether the newly elected political groups, with their openly stated and directly conflicting visions of Iraq's future, will be able to successfully work together. Will they be able to find the solutions to the many outstanding issues which currently fuel the insurgency and instability in Iraq? It seems an almost impossible task but perhaps, just perhaps, it can be done.
When I tried to point this out at other places on the interwebs at the time, people called me a deluded stopper idiot or words to that effect. But there can be no doubt that the situation has worsened considerably in the intervening period (particularly after the Samarra bombing).

Now, with the security situation worse than ever, the new government is going to have to solve its differences over federalism, the constitution, control of the northern oilfields and Kirkuk, and various other issues. The odds, sadly, are not good.

* Given the make up of this government there's still a strong possibility that they'll ask the coalition to leave in fairly short order. The IAF certainly want a speedy end to the occupation and so do many in the UIA, particularly those loyal to al Sadr. Power politics will play a part here though; the various factions of the UIA will only call for withdrawal if they believe their dominant position can be maintained without coalition support. That seems to be Sistani's postion; can't find the link but he's called for the removal of "all evidence of the occupation" or something similar. He's been in no great hurry to have this happen while the coalition has been providing security for the religious Shiite dominated government though.

** I'm not one of those people who'd like to see Iraq descend into oceans of blood. I know some people want Iraq to collapse so that the US government finally gets the message that its policies are imperialist and unworkable. The argument, it seems, is that this might finally put an end to future US military interventions and therefore serve some greater good. For me, that really isn't convincing. As I see it, that's wishing instant misery and suffering on Iraqis now in the hope, nothing more, that their suffering will prevent even more suffering in the longer term. It seems a bit dubious to me in the means and ends department.

No, I'd rather see Iraqis living in peace while we in the West fight our political battles over our countrys' future foreign policies. More than three years after Mission Accomplished, living in peace is a luxury Iraqis still don't have.

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Saturday, May 20, 2006

Yellow Badges

On Friday, the Canadian National Post reported on a new law which has been passed in Iran. It concerns dress codes for Muslims and for non-Muslims. The most startling revelation is this:
Religious minorities would have their own colour schemes. They will also have to wear special insignia, known as zonnar, to indicate their non-Islamic faiths. Jews would be marked out with a yellow strip of cloth sewn in front of their clothes while Christians will be assigned the colour red.
Yellow badges? Jews? Ahmadinejad is the next Hitler you know. What more proof do you need?

It's not true though. Not if you believe Maurice Motamed (as reported by Ynet, part of Israel's largest media company) anyway. He's the only Jewish MP in Iran and he represents the 25,000 Iranian Jews who live there. He says "restrictions for minority or other religions were not mentioned" when the law on Muslim dress was passed. And the National Post later reported that "Experts say report of badges for Jews in Iran is untrue".

My surprise at reading this was obviously non-existent. The story is almost certainly a crude but worrying outbreak of propaganda against Iran.

Daily Kos has details as to the origins of the story. Would it surprise you to know that the words "key", "neo-conservative" and "figures" make an appearance? No, thought not.

Can you hear the drums? They're starting to beat to a very familiar rythym.

One other thing about this. After more than a year of fairly steady blogging, I've had my first ever comment deleted today. At this post at Harry's Place. Do I get a badge for that?

My comment was short. I linked to the Ynet article above and said something like:
This story isn't true.

Good job on spreading Monger propaganda though boys. Let's bomb the f*ckers anyway.
OK, it probably was a bit trollish and a bit snide but I'd genuinely like to know whether they put any thought into the likely source of this story before posting so unquestioningly on it. I thought I'd raise the issue in my own special way. Alas, no response was forthcoming. Now I'll never know whether they really are manipulative warmongers or just gullible and easily manipulated themselves.

To be fair, it's their site and they can delete what they like. To be honest, although H'P has a far larger readship than my humble blog, I doubt many people would have bothered to read the umpteenth comment on an old thread. But they must have been offended by it in some way and I certainly wouldn't challenge their right to remove it.


Bear with me on this. On Thursday, a nice person (thanks) linked to one of my posts on the This is London current affairs forum (This is London is part of the Daily Mail group if you wondered). I've been following the conversation there since. Most people seemed to agree with what I'd written but yesterday, someone disagreed. They repeated the tired old nonsense that most of the media was over-stating the violence in Iraq. For a real understanding of the situation in Iraq, this person said, you should read the writings of one Amir Taheri. That's the same Amir Taheri who wrote the yellow badges story above.

Oh dear. Being a public spirited individual, I felt it was my duty to point out that Amir Taheri is actually a neo-conservative stooge so last night I signed up to the forum and submitted my comment to that effect. My post went into the moderation queue.

This morning, when I went to check if there'd been any responses, I discovered something rather startling. Not only has the moderator not posted my comment but they've deleted the entire thread. This, judging by their archives, is an unusual occurrance. It seems that there are those in t'media who would rather people didn't know that Amir Taheri is a neo-conservative stooge.

So, public spirited bloggers, how about you join me in doing this:

Amir Taheri is a neo-conservative stooge.

Or something like it. I don't know about you but I think its important to try to challenge the propaganda of right-wing media loons as they attempt to manipulate public opinion in order to generate support for another military misadventure.

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The Traditional Friday Scandal

On Thursday, the news broke that five illegal immigrants sent to work at a Home Office immigration enforcement office by a cleaner contractor had been arrested. What could have been an extremely embarrassing incident was defused reasonably sucessfully by John Reid. He toured various TV and radio studios to assure us that these arrests showed that Home Office security measures were working effectively.
"They did not go in to work in the Home Office. We carried out security checks and we stopped it happening."
His comment took the sting out of any accusations of incompetence at the Home Office. These people were caught as soon as they attempted to enter the building. Perhaps the H.O. should vet its contractors more carefully but there's not much in the way of scandal going on here. It's not like they'd been working illegally at the Home Office or anything. File under minor incident and move on; that was my view.

It didn't occur to me, and I really should know better by know, but it really didn't occur to me that Reid was being "economic with the actuality".

Techclean, the contractor involved, released a statement today.
Each of the five individuals has worked at premises of the IND on a number of occasions; one of them for about three years.
Oh my lordy lord.

I'm almost at a loss for words.


Reshuffle anyone?

PS. Friday afternoons, eh? I mean, some BBC journalist has had to write this page at 8pm on a Friday evening (after seeing Channel 4 News at 7pm presumably). And they'll certainly know that relatively few people will read it on a Friday evening. What a downer...

Coincidence? Well, if you think the Techclean management, desperate as they undoubtedly are not to lose their government contracts, hasn't taken advice from the sultans of spin on the best way to minimise the embarrassment to the H.O., you're probably also the person who checks to see whether the word "gullible" really has been omitted from your new dictionary. It wasn't and it hasn't.

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Friday, May 19, 2006

Hold the front page. I agree with Jack Straw on something.

Newsreaders "prancing around studios" gets on my goat too. What benefit is there in this new craze for choreographed news presentation? None that I can see. It's a needless distraction. If I had my way, all newsreaders who behave like hyperactive children should be proscribed a dangerously high level of ritalin. Maybe that'd keep them sitting still for half an hour. Bah. It wasn't like that in my day, I tells you.

Straw couldn't possibly utter more than a few sentences without saying something ridiculously hypocritical though. Here we go:
"On the issue of accuracy, all journalists, including the BBC, have a responsibility to ensure that quotations are attributed accurately."
Oh dear. At least he had the good sense not to suggest that government should behave the same way. Because we know they don't. Just ask Ibrahim al-Marashi, the original but unattributed author of much of the government's "dodgy dossier".

The government's lack of ethical standards isn't going to stop Jack demanding that others adhere to higher standards. In Blair's brave new world, it's the government's right to insist that everyone else lives up their responsibilities. We, on the other hand, appear to have no right to insist that they keep to theirs. They have rights. We have responsibilities.

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Thursday, May 18, 2006

Isolated Incidents

Reuters Alertnet reported the following act of violence in Iraq yesterday:
MOSUL - Two policemen killed in drive-by shooting in northern town of Mosul, police said. Gunmen also killed two students in drive-by shooting, they said.

BAGHDAD - A roadside bomb targeted a police patrol in Baghdad's western Mansour district, wounding four policemen and two civilians.

BAGHDAD - The government of autonomous Kurdistan region accused Turkish forces of shelling an area inside mountainous northern Iraq on Wednesday. Khaled Salih, a senior official of the Kurdish regional government in Arbil, said by telephone that no one was hurt when three shells slammed near the town of Kani Masi. A Turkish government official denied the accusation, saying it was "total fabrication."

NEAR KIRKUK - Police found the body of a woman who was shot dead near the northern oil city of Kirkuk, 250 km (155 miles) north of Baghdad, police said.

KIRKUK - One Iraqi soldier was killed and four wounded when a roadside bomb struck their convoy in Kirkuk, police said.

KIRKUK - Gunmen kidnapped a man in Kirkuk, police said.

BAGHDAD - The body of Muhib Abdul-Razzak, a general director in the Finance Ministry, was found in the morgue after he was kidnapped earlier in the week, police and ministry officials said.

NEAR QAIM - Police found the body of a man, handcuffed, blindfolded, tortured and shot dead near the Syrian border, police said.

KERBALA - Gunmen kidnapped a tribal leader after storming into his house in the sacred city of Kerbala, 110 km southeast of Baghdad, police said.

BAGHDAD - Eight bodies were found with gun shot wounds in different parts of Baghdad, police said.

BAQUBA - A bombing and shooting attack killed four people and wounded 11 in the religiously mixed city of Baquba, 65 km (40 miles) northeast of Baghdad, police said. It started when gunmen shot a bakery owner. A roadside bomb exploded when police and others rushed to the scene, killing two policemen and a civilian. Five policemen and six civilians were wounded.

BAGHDAD - Four civilians were killed when two roadside bombs went off in quick succession in central Baghdad, police said.

BAGHDAD - A Sudanese driver for an Arab diplomat in Baghdad has died after being shot as he tried to stop gunmen kidnapping the envoy, police said. Diplomat Naji al-Noaimi of the United Arab Emirates was still missing after being snatched following a short drive from the embassy to visit a colleague on Tuesday evening.

BAGHDAD - Two policemen were wounded when a roadside bomb went off close to their patrol near al-Kindi hospital in eastern Baghdad, police said.

BAGHDAD - Also in eastern Baghdad, two policemen were wounded when a roadside bomb exploded near a police check point in eastern Baghdad, police said.

BAGHDAD - Four people were wounded when a roadside bomb went off in eastern Baghdad, police said.
But I'm sure you've already heard all about it. In fact, you're probably fed up with the mainstream media's endless repetitions of these isolated incidents. Er...

Sorry to harp on but I do believe it's important to continue to challenge this myth which some seem so keen to perpetuate. Most of the violence happening in Iraq today goes essentially unreported by the mainstream media. That's not an opinion. That's a fact.

It's clear that some people are unable to face facts when it comes to Iraq.

Yesterday, Blair said:
[I]t is important to recognise that in Iraq and Afghanistan we are fighting a battle against the same forces of terrorism that want to disrupt our way of life here and to kill people.
Iraq, the Prime Minister seems to have forgotten, was a war of choice. His choice.

In August 2002, when the Iraqi government heard rumours that al Qaida operatives might be in Iraq, they ordered the security services to try to track them down (second doc.). In the mid-Nineties Saddam had expressed some interest in co-operating with al Qaida. By 2002, mutual distrust had made any such link impossible. Blair's attempt to link the terrorist threat with his decision to participate in the invasion of Iraq is utterly baseless.

Blair also stressed yesterday that British troops will "stay until the Iraqi forces are capable of engaging with their own security themselves". The realities of what's actually happening in Iraq appear to be genuinely lost on him.

Here are a couple of article's Blair would do well to read.

Le Monde diplomatique: Iraq’s resistance evolves
Iraq is simultaneously descending into both a civil war and a war of resistance against foreign occupation. The United States has been hoping to exploit the divide between Iraqi patriots and global jihadists, but the Sunni opposition is growing more structured and unified as it adapts to changing conditions, and may transcend those divisions.
The Business: The British lose Basra
TAKING Basra was unexpectedly easy for the British army during the invasion of Iraq in 2003. The 7th Armoured Brigade spent a fortnight on the outskirts of Iraq’s second city before it entered, fearing street fighting and civilian casualties. Instead the fabled Desert Rats were greeted by an excited crowd, some handing flowers to infantrymen who were happy to put them in the barrel of their guns. It is hard to think of a starker contrast with the murderous hostility which the British military faces in the city today.
He might also like to read about the latest political developments in Iraq. He won't though. As long as he can say that he's supporting the "first-ever democratically elected Iraqi Government" he doesn't actually give a flying fuck about the lives of ordinary Iraqis. If he did, he'd recognise how badly things have gone and attempt to do something about it.

But he can't do that. For Blair, Iraq, like everything else, is considered exclusively through the prism of domestic politics and his own survival. An admission of the realities would undermine his position so it's simply not an option. The idea that the failures of his policy are actually a very good reason for him to step down and allow someone else to try to sort out the mess he's made is also a non-starter.

And yet, Blair's supporters, and the man himself, seem to have no problem squaring his behaviour with his stated aim of doing what's best for the people of Iraq. Tragedy doesn't even begin to describe it.

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Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha...

Always remember that only this government can protect your identity. I bet you can't wait to hand over your personal private details to these people. What could possibly go wrong?

P.S. Now is the time to renew your passport.

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Wednesday, May 17, 2006

We Care a Bit

Here's a bit more on Blair's new We Don't Care initiative. Downing Street has had to "clarify" his position.
The prime minister's official spokesman later clarified that a general threat to safety would not be sufficient to avoid deportation but a specific threat could be enough in some cases.
Ah, I see. Why didn't he say that then?

Two things:

1. This latest example of classic Blairite half-baked authoritarian nonsense has lasted all of an entire afternoon before having to be "clarified". Not sure if that's a record but it's got to be up there. It's clear than Blair no longer gives the slightest consideration to the real world consequences of these dick swinging policy announcements (Did he ever? Ed.). The bunker mentality has taken over to a genuinely worrying degree. Government policies are now exclusively motivated by the media coverage they're likely to generate, particularly in the tabloids. This is not good.

2. The PMOS's version of the policy is slightly less objectionable than Blair's. Perhaps there is someone working in Downing Street who's managed to retain some tiny remnant of their humanity. If there is, their influence is sadly on the wane. These exemptions would apply in "very few exceptional cases," we're told. In most cases, the We Don't Care initiative will remain in effect. This isn't the sort of country I want to live in.

Just in case you've forgotten, here's another reminder that this is a direct result of the years of bumbling incompetence at the Home Office under New Labour suddenly becoming public knowledge.

Do you know what I'd like? I'd like to have a government which was more interested in making things work properly than in pandering to borderline xenophobic tabloid newspapers with an endless stream of tough new "policy initiatives". It's hard to imagine I know, but do try. It'd be fantastic, don't you think?

You might mock me for my naive utopian idealism but one day, one day, it might actually happen here.

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Burn 'Em

Two weeks ago, at the height of the media frenzy into the foreign prisoners fiasco, the Prime Minister attempted to defuse the crisis with yet another poorly considered kneejerk response. It wasn't unexpected. At PMQs, he said:
I think that it is now time that anybody who is convicted of an imprisonable offence and who is a foreign national is deported.
It was a spectacularly reactionary notion, even for Blair.

There are an extraordinary number of imprisonable offences their are in this country. Here's an example. Under section 132(1)(a) of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act, it is an offence to organise a demonstration in a public place in the designated area around parliament without first seeking and aquiring authorisation from the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. Section 136(1) lays out the penalty for organising an unauthorised demonstration.
A person guilty of an offence under section 132(1)(a) is liable on summary conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 51 weeks, to a fine not exceeding level 4 on the standard scale, or to both.
51 weeks in prison for organising a demonstration. Remarkable. (See Bloggerheads for more on the exclusion zone.)

Whether someone was actually sentenced to 51 weeks in prison for this "offence"would be irrelevant under Blair's proposal; the point is that this is an imprisonable offence. It is, I hope, clear that a foreign national who'd organised an unauthorised demonstration should not automatically be deported. That is the system Blair advocated in the House of Commons two weeks ago; foreign nationals convicted of an imprisonable offence should be deported.

Many people are convicted of imprisonable offences but are not actually sent to prison. Blair, a man who always chooses his words with care, deliberately included these non-prisoners.

Obviously the reality is that if we are to deport foreign nationals convicted of crimes after they've served any sentence passed down by the courts these cases need to be considered individually on their own merits. By a happy coincidence, that's what the law actually says should happen. The recent furore was been caused by the fact that we now know that the Home Office has not been meeting its obligations to follow procedures as set out under the existing law.

Working out how best to address this problem isn't rocket science. The Home Office needs to be reformed to enable it to meet its responsibilities to us, the people. Real reforms like these however don't seem to interest Blair. He is, for the most part, addicted to the quick fix policy announcement. Often these announcements are either totally unworkable or insanely authoritarian. In this case, it's probably both. They do make him sound tough though.

At today's PMQs, Dave the boy wonder asked Blair whether he stood by his statement of two weeks ago given the variations we've heard since from his government (transcribed from the Beeb's doodah).
The whole point about it is it only applies to people who have gone to prison. That’s why we’re talking about foreign prisoners. Now it may be that if they were sent to prison, for example, for a very short space of time and they’ve been in this country for a long period of time then the presumption of automatic deportation would not apply. But in the vast bulk of cases, as was explained, there will be an automatic presumption now to deport and the vast bulk of those people will indeed be deported.
It seems that Blair has finally found that reverse gear he's been missing all these years. Common sense and discretionary judgement in individual cases will not, after all, be legislated against. It's a small step back towards sanity. Bizarrely, Blair's still insisting that he's moving forwards. He really is a man apart.

What he said next though, is a serious issue.
And those people, in my view, should be deported irrespective of any claim that they have that the country to which they are going back may not be safe.
This, in the end, is about the kind of country we want to live in. Blair is now saying that we will deport people to countries irrespective of the dangers they might face as a result. In effect, the PM is saying that we'll deport people irrespective of whether they face being slowly and brutally tortured to death at the hands of the government we deliver them too. I make no apologies for using an extreme example. That, when you take away the Blairy words, is what he said.

For those who argue that "if you can't do the time, you shouldn't do the crime", or what have you, I'd say this. There are some activities that civilized countries just do not participate in. End of.

Fortunately, Blair's new lunacy will obviously come into conflict with various international obligations so it'll be difficult to implement such a policy. That he even wants to attempt it however is yet another reason why he should already be touring the US after-dinner speech circuit. It is a constant source of astonishment to me that there are people in this country who still believe Blair leads a progressive government.

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Tuesday, May 16, 2006


Re-initialising BHL interface... validating PC vocabulary... checking opinion processing speeds... re-establishing interweb connectivity... Reboot successful.

You know you've become a blog addict when four days is a long break. A minor crisis of confidence is as nothing compared to the irresistible desire to opine on the ongoing political theatre being delivered for our viewing pleasure. I've got a fair old "to do" list going on, and a rather full inbox too. But first, this:

Blair's government is notorious for its use of the "no alternative" gambit as I, and many others, have pointed out on any number of occasions. It seems clear to me that the sole motivation for the use of this essentially anti-democratic tactic is a desire to win and retain power at all costs. To see Blair tortuously construct a straw bogeyman and then boldly assert that only his policies can protect us from the new and serious danger it poses is one of the least edifying sights available to the audience of Blair's act of the play. These performances have very little to do with political debate over policy issues; they are mostly about the effect they will have on the viewing public. These days, the public are increasingly unconvinced. It's now hard to imagine why we were ever taken in by the shallow, superficial performances and the all too obvious and predictable plotlines.

Having watched the same play for the last nine years and become increasingly bored with its insubstantial banality, it's clear that the public is now ready to embrace an alternative production.

In other words, Blair is on his way out. Over the last couple of weeks, I've been mulling over the implications of his imminent departure (at worst, if the PLP are as suicidal as they appear to be, he'll survive till the '07 Party Conference). For the first time in almost a decade, there is the potential for a dramatic change in the political landscape of the UK. This could be, quite literally, a chance in a decade. So what's going to happen?

Thinking about this has led me to some rather troubling conclusions. This was, at least in part, the reason for my short break.

There seems to be a growing consensus that a new fault line has developed in British politics (although I'm not sure how "new" it really is). In broad terms, you might describe it as authoritarian lock 'em up and throw away the keyists on the one side and progressive liberals on the other. Blair, once upon a time, would have said that he was on the liberal side. For a while, some of us even believed him. These days, its clear which side he's on. His government's recent attacks on the few journalists with the bottle to highlight his authoritarian tendencies tell you all you need to know. His departure can't come soon enough as far as I'm concerned.

So I was thinking about the alignment of the parties (and their leaders) on this fault line after Blair goes.

The role of the media is crucial in this. The two best selling daily newspapers in the UK are The Sun and The Daily Mail. The Sun tops the list with over three million copies sold every day and the Mail sells more than two million. As a comparison, The Guardian and The Independent together sell less than six hundred thousand copies per day. (This is why, of course, Blair feels able to attack Gran and Indy journos; when did you last hear the PM directly criticise the hacks at the Scum or the Mail?) It's clear then, that the authoritarian keyists dominate the print media market in the UK.

There are those who play down the influence these papers can exert. They argue that us ivory tower intellectuals patronise the great unwashed by assuming that they're easily led by their daily dose of prolefeed. I disagree with this for all sorts of reasons but I won't list them all here. Instead, courtesy of Guido, I'll do something rare indeed; I'll quote Andrew Neil:
There is a mistaken view that The Sun's endorsement before an election is what matters. It is not. It is The Sun's drip-drip support, week in, week out over a prolonged period that builds somebody up and destroys whoever is the alternative. It is the positive and negative effect that is so powerful. If The Sun is really going to get behind Cameron, then it has to do it this year - I would say by the autumn. But first they have got to make up their mind if they think Cameron is a winner.
That's how it works. Drip-drip, drip-drip. There's an interesting argument to be had about the extent of a newspaper's ability to shape their readers' views rather than just reflecting them but the fact that they do influence public opinion is surely beyond doubt.

Murdoch's organ, as the paper most willing to manipulate public opinion (combined with the highest circulation of any daily), is the one politicians are most concerned about. Blair's long-standing relationship with the Scum is the stuff of legend. Now, as is so often the case when dealing with unscrupulous individuals, they've turned on him (click through advised).
Here's the condensed version of events for those with a short attention span:

12 May - The Sun: "Law abiding citizens must walk in fear while 'human rights' give their assailants the freedom of the streets."

13 May - Tony Blair: Changes to the Human Rights Act are essential to "ensure the law-abiding majority can live without fear".

It's pretty clear who is dancing to whose tune here.

Blair can be forgiven the odd delusion, but he's not doing himself - or us - any favours by refusing the leave the bunker and forming policy on the basis of a few tabloid headlines. And - contrary to what he might think, hope or wish - there is no way he'll win Murdoch back while there's a risk Brown will take office.
That's the thing. Day after day, week after week, the Scum is going to press the government on this issue; by the time of the next election, the idea that Labour are "soft on crime" will have been embedded into the national conscience. At one time, when Labour enjoyed huge popular support, they might have been able to take on such an onslaught head on and prevailed. Indeed for me, the fact that Blair failed to do this (whether through lack of desire or courage I could never tell) is one of the great disappointments of "progressive" New Labour politics. Blair, rather, than confronting the hysterical distortions of Murdoch's minions, has pandered to them. With his party suffering at the polls, he's lost any ability that he might once have had to challenge the worst sorts of authoritarian right-hackery.

All Blair can do now, and perhaps more worryingly, all his successor will be able to do when s/he takes over, is attempt to look as tough as possible to try to take the sting out of the onslaught. In short, by appeasing Murdoch, Blair has severely damaged any possibility that Labour will be able to introduce genuinely progressive measures on law and order in the foreseeable future.

Dave the boy wonder, who already appears to be the heir to Blair in the sense that he'll say anything if he thinks it'll get him elected, will no doubt be keen to secure the Scum's support. This, unfortunately, is going to mean he's going to have to adopt as much authoritarian right-wingery as he can get away with. Admittedly, this is hardly a radical departure from type - liberal conservative my arse - but encouragement is hardly going to improve matters.

Under the First Past the Post system, barring some sort of miracle, there are going to be two choices at the next election. One will be to elect a Labour leader desperately trying to sound as tough as possible in an attempt to defuse the charge that they're soft on crime. The other will be Dave, a closet keyist no more, who'll be making sure he has a tougher policy than the government on all the key issues.

Democracy; don't you just love it? Perhaps Blair was right after all. Maybe there is no alternative.

This thought took the wind out of my sails slightly. After nine years of "progressive" government, we've had huge rises in the number of people in prison, enormous numbers of new criminal offences being put on the statute book, and a re-offending rate which is frankly an affront to decency. Supervision of those out on release has been woefully inadequate. And then there's all the authoritarian nonsense, far too much to list, which this government has introduced. In all, but particularly with regard to law and order, it's hard to see what's been progressive about the last nine years.

The opportunity to make real progressive changes has been squandered. It's bloody depressing, no matter which way you look at it.


The opportunity did exist back in 1997. Sure, it was wasted by a power hunger messianic charlatan with an ability to sound sincere which would be more suited to an Oscars acceptance speech than to serious politics, but it did exist. And it can exist again.

Now is not the time to give up in despair. At the risk of slipping into horrible cliches ("at the risk" - who am I kidding?) now is the time for progressive liberals to redouble our efforts. We may each be only one small voice but together we can make a hell of a noise.

That's what I reckon anyway.

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Friday, May 12, 2006

Apologies in advance for an outbreak of SINGing here at the blog. That's Self-Indulgent Navel Gazing, if you wondered.

Looking back on this week, it feels like I might be suffering from blog burnout. I'm not particularly happy with my recent contributions to the interwebs. It sort of feels like I've lost perspective on things a bit. As usual, it's clear that Tony Blair is to blame (he joked).

Anyway, I might take a wee bit of time off to recharge my batteries and reboot the old grey matter. No doubt something'll happen this afternoon which I'll be desperate to blog but unless something really quite spectaular happens, it's my intention to lay off for a while.

Normal service, or at least what passes for normal service round here, will resume shortly.


Thursday, May 11, 2006

Still catching up with various things but here's a quick pointer to the website which has been set up for Ernesto Leal. More info on Ernesto's case there. Click click.


Final Fantasy

I'm a bit busy at the moment but I can't not mention this.

The No. 10 planning committee says Labour did so badly at the local elections because:
People were angry with Tony because they love him so much, and they are angry because they think he might go.
Just when you think Blair's people couldn't do anything to surprise you anymore... (Note that there was no denial from Blair on the accuracy of the leak.)

This is the sort of thing you'd expect from the supporters of the egomaniacal leader of a totalitarian regime. Uncle Joe would undoubtedly have been fed lots of stuff just like this during his reign. Saddam too, I'm sure. These men too were utterly isolated from the real views of people of their countries.

I'd love to know what Tony's ego-strokers make of the fact that he's now the least popular Labour Prime Minister since WWII.

"Well Tony, the people don't actually know what's best for them. They have been misled by lies (not your's obviously; your lies were motivated by genuine good intentions and were unquestionably for the greater good) and are therefore unable to make an objective judgement as to what's best for them. That's why it's so essential that you, the sole repository of wisdom and good judgement in this nation, continue to make all the decisions on their behalf..."

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Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Happening Elsewhere

Today, Iraq's President, Jalal Talabani, has said that in Baghdad alone more than 1,000 people were killed as a result of sectarian violence in April. It seems that it is a matter of opinion as to whether this can be described as civil war. For Iraqis living in such chaos, I very much doubt they give a fuck whether western public opinion believes it is justified to refer to the escalating violence in their country as civil war. They care about the safety and security of their families. They care about not being killed today. They care about not having so many holes drilled into their chest that it appears shredded when their body is discovered.

For those of us sitting in our cosy bunkers firing rhetoric salvoes at the hated stoppers/mongers (delete as appropriate), it is essentially impossible to grasp the realities of living under conditions like these. Whatever you want to call what's happening in Iraq today, I'm sure we can all agree that we wouldn't want our children living there.

On the political front, Iraq's new Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, is close to announcing his cabinet. It looks as if there is a good chance that the Interior Ministry will be placed under the authority of an "independent figure". Whatever the truth of the allegations of involvement in sectarian violence by SCIRI controlled Interior Ministry forces, it was clear that Sunnis had lost all confidence in its ability to protect their communities. With that in mind, it is essential that the Interior Ministry be removed from SCIRI control if Iraq is to have any chance of avoiding complete disintegration. It looks as if al-Maliki understands this and has the authority to do something about it. This could be a small chink of light in the gloom.

This is only part of the picture though. Much of al-Maliki's authority to remove the SCIRI appears to come from Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. Al-Maliki went to meet al-Sistani almost immediately after being nominated as PM. After the meeting, the Grand Ayatollah "called for a government of technocrats rather than political loyalists or sectarian interests and said that only government forces should be permitted to carry weapons on the streets". (The irony there is, of course that al-Sistani is almost certainly heavily guarded by Shiite militia forces.* Can you imagine what'd happen if Zarqawi's thugs managed to kill the Grand Ayatollah?) Al-Sistani's statement has led to worries that the clergy are becoming increasingly involved in what should be entirely political decisions.

Al-Sistani is sometimes referred to as a moderate. Western pro-war universalists ought not to but in many cases their desperation for good news seems to have clouded their judgement as to what the Grand Ayatollah actually believes. David T at Harry's place, to give credit where it's due, seems not to have fallen into that trap. On al-Sistani's Arabic website is a report of a question and answer session
Question: What is the judgment for sodomy and lesbianism?

Al-Sistani: Forbidden. Punished, in fact, killed. The people involved should be killed in the worst, most severe way of killing.
This judgement appears to be having real life consequences for gay Iraqis. Again, David T does not shirk from bringing this to the attention of H'sP readers**.

Al-Sistani then, is not a moderate in the sense some would have us believe. On a related note, I'd be very interested to know what his views are on Israel. I've tried a bit of googling but can find little information on this. It seems to me that there's a very good chance that he shares Ahmadinejad's view that "this occupation regime over Jerusalem must vanish from the page of time". That is, I stress, speculation on my part. If anyone has any useful links as to al-Sistani's stated position on Israel, I'd be much obliged if you could point me towards them.

In some senses though, it can be argued that he is more moderate than some. His influence has been considerable in restraining the Shite majority from taking violent action on a much larger scale against Iraqi Sunnis and this has undoubtedly limited what could otherwise have been a far worse death toll in recent months. It should be noted, however, that for religious Shiites, there are no particular advantages to the disintegration of Iraq. In terms of power politics, they're going to hold all the cards in a unified Iraq given the size of the Shiite majority. In a civil war, in other words, the Shiites have nothing to gain. This should be borne in mind when considering al-Sistani's desire to hold the country together; there's almost certainly more than just peaceful altruism at work there.

The other of al-Sistani's "moderate" positions is that he, unlike the Iranian clerical regime, has long believed that clerics should not be directly involved in the political process. His vision of an Islamic Republic is one in which the politicians simply consult the religious authorities to ensure they are acting within the limits of Islamic law. To this end, Shiite politicians created Article 2(a) of the Iraqi constitution which states that "No law can be passed that contradicts the fixed principles of Islam."*** This essentially gives clerics the right of veto over any laws the government wishes to pass. It is more moderate than the Iranian position but by how much remains to be seen.

It should also be noted that, as the LA Times article linked above points out, al-Sistani has recently become more directly involved in politics in spite of his stated beliefs. He is, arguably, the most influential figure in Iraq today.

The best anyone can hope for in Iraq now is a relatively stable, conservative, religious, Iran friendly **** Shiite government which is able to exercise some degree of authority over most of the country (excluding the Kurdish north which will become increasingly independent). This Shiite dominated government will have to fight a sectarian Sunni insurgency for years, probably decades to come. As Kurdish independence becomes more and more evident, the Kurdish/Turkish question will fuel further conflict in the North.

The worst case scenario is that Iraq disintegrates completely into seperate warring sectarian factions.

Al-Sistani's decision to become directly involved in influencing the makeup of the government makes this second perhaps slightly less likely and the first slightly more. Whatever happens, it'll be very long way from the sort of peaceful democratic beacon which was originally promised by the leaders who led us to war.

* Correct me if I'm wrong on this though. I can't say I'm certain. It just seems extraordinarily unlikely that al-Sistani is relying exclusively on government forces for his protection.

** If I was being really cynical, I'd wonder whether these H'P posts were intended to bring out the worst sort of anti-war gloating loons in the comment boxes. You know, the people who seem genuinely happy to read that someone has been executed because they can use it to wind up those who supported the war. The ultimate example can be seen in the first comment here. Good grief. We should surely all try to remember that we're talking about the lives and deaths of real people, not just pawns our long running game.

(On the other side, Brownie, seeks to play down this execution in his comments by overlooking the fact that policemen carried out this crime and that they'll almost certainly have immunity from any sort of investigation and punishment. These feeble and misleading representations of the realities of Iraq are just as bad.)

Anyway, I genuinely am not that cynical. I think David is making an honest attempt to apply his beliefs consistently. Credit where due, as I said.

*** The "fixed principles" is one of several translations. Others include "established" and "undisputed".

**** I say Iran friendly because Iraqi Shiites, despite sharing much in common with the Iranians, are also proud Iraqis. They will not simply consent to becoming an Iranian puppet state; they want and expect to be relatively independent but generally supportive of Iran.

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New Backing Blair video: The Roses of Success (3.5MB)

And always remember, Iran is not Iraq.

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Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Things can only get better

Labour MPs are going to react to the latest Times/Populus poll in one of two ways. They'll either attempt to rally behind Blair or they'll attempt to get rid.

It should be obvious by now that more of the same isn't going to halt the slump. The notion that it's not that bad because the local election results were only marginally worse than the disasterous results of 2004 is absurd. Any Labour MP who is comforted by that nonsense deserves to lose their seat at the next election. Just in case you've forgotten, there are 319 less Labour councillors in England today than there were after the 2004 elections. More of the same will not help.

People are seriously discussing the possibility that Labour will lose control of the Scottish parliament next year. The only reason the bloody thing exists in the first place is because Labour, barring some sort of catastrophe, would always be in control. Well, there has been a catastrophe and we all know what his name is.

Polly can see it. No more nosepegs; "Labour is in mortal danger". Whatever you think of Blair, he cannot halt the slump. He's finished. He will never be able to win back the support he's lost and the longer he stays, the less likely it is that Brown or anyone else can.

If Blair actually cared about more than just desperately clinging to power for as long as he possibly can, he'd take the hit for the benefit of the team. He won't. Everyone knows it.

Action needs to be taken if the Labour Party wants to avoid another trip to the wilderness. It should be obvious. But will it be?

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Monday, May 08, 2006

The Hunch is Back

I have to admit to having recently developed an embarrassing fascination with Michael White at the Guardian. At times, his writing astonishes me in ways I've yet to come to terms with.

I'm afraid I don't know enough about such things to know exactly how cosy Mr White's relationship with Downing Street is but it's probably fair to say that he's not on the Number 10 shitlist.

Last Wednesday, Michael wrote an article about Charles Clarke which ended with this pearl of wisdom.
[M]y hunch remains what it has been throughout, that Clarke is not an easy target for the pack and will survive both this week's drama and next week's reshuffle.
Oh dear.

To be fair, it was only a "hunch". There are, I think, two ways to consider this "hunch". The first is that Mr White genuinely believed this to be the case and that his relationship with Number 10 is not quite as cosy as his writing sometimes suggests. Perhaps he didn't actually know what Blair was thinking about Clarke.

The second perhaps more likely option is that Blair changed his mind about sacking Clarke and this has made Michael look silly and exposed. The reason I say that this might be the more likely option is that this is what appears to have happened to the Prime Minister himself; he, remember, assured us that Clarke was the right man for the job just two days before he sacked him. Coincidentally that assurance was also on delivered on the same Wednesday.

It's the consistency and integrity of Blair's political judgements which make him such an asset to the party and the country... er, wait a minute...

Yes, anyway, the reason why Blair said what he said is fairly obvious; he didn't want to sack Clarke and thought he could ride out the controversy, perhaps with the help of a few sympathetic journalists who could be persuaded to tell us that Safety, despite knowingly presiding over a continuing shambles for some considerable time, wasn't going anywhere.

When this sort of approach goes wrong of course, politicians, and sympathetic journalists, can end up looking rather foolish. I'm not saying that's how events unfolded in this case (although I imagine Mr White feels slightly foolish for being wrong on such a matter, whatever the reason). I really haven't the faintest idea.

There's not really a point to this. As I said, I seem to have developed something of a fascination with Mr White.

Today, I noticed that Michael has repeated another of his long standing hunches.
My hunch remains, as it has always been, that Blair will battle on until next year, make a point of passing the 10 year mark and then quit.
This, I also find fascinating. I very much hope he's wrong (by about a year and a bit - what a surprise) but it's an interesting prediction all the same.

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My first post is up over at the Sharpener. Hurray!

It's actually slightly daunting to be in such esteemed company but I'm delighted to have been asked to contribute.

*Goes off to play with his ego*

Being all the way up here in Aberdeen, it's not easy for me to take to the streets to protest against this government.

But if I was in London today, I'd be risking arrest to protest about this. Brian Haw is not involved in organised crime. He's not a terrorist or a danger to this country. He is simply exercising his democratic right to protest against the policies of this government. That Blair's government has gone to such lengths to prevent him from doing so tells you everything you need to know about their attitude to our fundamental democratic freedoms.

Is it just me or is it very nearly time to start building the barricades?

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Sunday, May 07, 2006

Forward in a Unified Way

If you’ve not already read about John Reid over at Chicken Yoghurt, I recommend you do so immediately.

Reid really is a man apart. Blair, it won’t surprise you to know, angers me enormously; every time I hear him spout another of his inanities in that carefully contrived faux-sincere manner of his, it sets my teeth on edge. Blair’s lack of understanding of civil liberties and their importance to a democratic society poses, I believe, a genuine danger to our freedom.

Reid doesn’t anger me in the same way; Reid frightens me silly. This is a man who will say absolutely anything in pursuit of his agenda without showing the slightest hint of embarrassment. This is a man whose direct gaze you would do well to avoid; his eyes appear to be windows into a rather unpleasant alternative universe. This, worst of all, is a man who makes Tony Blair look scrupulous.

He’s now Home Secretary.

Yesterday, he was sent out on the attack against anyone who would dare challenge the authority of man who gave him that job last Friday. I wonder how Blair persuaded him to conduct this assault. It’s a mystery to me, so it is.

So what did the scary one say about challenges to Blair’s leadership?
The whole thing has been generated by people who want to push Mr Blair out. They want to stop the reform programme and go back to Old Labour.
Ouch. Did Cameron tell him to use that one, do you think? We all know that the Tory strategy is to argue that Brown is the “roadblock to reform” and a return to old Labour. Now, Reid’s essentially doing the same. It could be argued that he isn’t referring to Brown but to the “usual suspects” but we all know that it’s more than just the usual suspects this time and that Brown is desperate to take over.

Reid’s comment demonstrates something about the priorities of the current government under Blair. Reid clearly considers the short term survival of the Prime Minister to be more important than Labour’s prospects at the next general election. Here, he is publicly promoting the very strategy which the Tories intend to use against Labour once Blair goes. That is undeniably not going to help the party's cause come election time.

Oops, I got my quotes confused. That'll teach me to blog late on a Sunday night. The rest of this post attributed a quote to Reid which was actually said by Brown. Apologies.

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Equal under the law?

SCOTLAND YARD has been dragged into the John Prescott affair after receiving a formal complaint alleging the deputy prime minister broke the law by having sex with a secretary in his Whitehall office. The Metropolitan police says it will consider the complaint, which claims Prescott committed the offence of misconduct in a public office by carrying on his affair during working hours.

Earlier this year, two policemen were convicted in separate cases for similar offences after being found guilty of having sex with members of the public while on duty. Legal experts say the offence — which has previously carried a sentence of community service — applies to all public servants including councillors and government ministers. Read more...
If we are all equal under the law, it looks like big little John could be in a spot of bother. If he gets community service, do you think he'll have to wear one of those community payback T-shirts? Or was that just another pointless half-baked headline grabber which has since been abandoned?

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Saturday, May 06, 2006

I'm going to try to reinstall Blogger comments. Again. Things might all go a bit odd in the meantime.

Update - Right then, that's the Blogger comments back I think. Please let me know if you're having any problems.

I'm intending to remove the Haloscan system altogether after a couple of months so it'd be much appreciated if you could just use Blogger from now on. Thanks.

Update 2 - Argh. It seems that the "Links to this" has stopped working. Hardly the end of the world but anyone got any ideas why that might have happened?

Update 3 - "Links to this" working now. No idea why.