Friday, June 30, 2006

Heads, Sand and New Labour

Labour failed to win back Blaenau Gwent in yesterday's by-election. And in Bromley and Chislehurst they came forth. Behind UKIP.

I wonder...
What would Aneurin Bevan do
If he was here right now,
He'd make a plan
And he'd follow through,
That's what Aneurin Bevan'd do.
It's highly unlikely that he'd be happy to participate in an attempt to deploy damage limiting spin so that the hugely unpopular party leader could survive just a little bit longer. Unlike Hazel Blears.

It's much more likely that he'd be mostly interested in the long term implications of what's actually happening in the real world. The Labour Party's slow but entirely visible slide into another long period of unpopularity and unelectability might just be of greater concern to him than a futile attempt to prop up a failing, flailing leader whose moral authority is in tatters and whose only strategy is to try to keep right-wing authoritarian tabloid owners onside.

So, Labour Party types, the party leadership types are undoubtedly sounding like Lance Corporal Jones right about now. Well, they're right that panicking won't help. But they're wrong about pretty much everything else. I suspect you know this already.

Action needs to be taken. The party will not recover if Blair is allowed to continue as leader and an "orderly transition" will simply transfer Blair's unpopularity straight onto Brown. There needs to be, for want of a better word, a bloodletting.

Make a plan and follow it through.
And what would Aneurin Bevan do,
He'd call all the kids in town,
And tell them to unite for truth
That's what Aneurin Bevan would do.
Or, alternatively, start preparing for a long period of opposition.

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Thursday, June 29, 2006

The Piper

Here's a little riddle. Just complete this sentence in a way which doesn't make a mockery of our democratic process:
Rupert Murdoch, the Australian media baron who lives in the United States, is entitled to wield enormous influence over British politics because...
Anyone? Because he's very rich? Because he can? Because all British politicians are scared of the Scum?

If there is an answer, I've yet to think what it could possibly be.

The man who owns the Scum, the NotW, the Times, and Sky News has been speaking rather a lot recently about the possibly of switching his support from Labour back to the Tories under Cameron. This, I really don't think it's an exaggeration to say, could have a crucial effect on the outcome of the next general election.

Only the most cynical of people could possibly argue that the new Home Secretary's recent actions, which prompted the NotW to proclaim that it had won a "massive victory", are in any way related to Murdoch's not even thinly veiled threat to switch sides. I mean, this government pandering to a right wing authoritarian media baron in an attempt to garner his continuing support? The very thought...

This week, Murdoch, not content with that "massive victory", has continued to play coy about his intentions. Clearly, the current electoral position, where the outcome of the next general election is very much up for grabs, gives him added leverage over the politicians who seek his approval. It's no wonder he doesn't want a snap election. Why on earth would he want to cut short a period in which the leaders of the two parties are both going to be dancing to his tune?

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Bloggerheads: Things to do today (if you live or work in London)

I'll be there in spirit but sadly 550 miles away in reality.

That aside, I strongly recomend taking the time to read Henry Porter article in the today's Independent, wherever you are.


Beau Bo D’Or: Asymetrical Extradition

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Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Our Independent WMD

Last week, I wrote about our government's flagrant disregard for the disarmament provisions of the NNPT. Today at PMQs, Jeremy Corbyn asked a question along the same lines. What was Blair's answer?
Jeremy Corben: The Prime Minister, I'm sure, would accept that the 1970 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty commits this country and all other declared nuclear powers to long term disarmament. In the light of that, could he explain why the government is even considering an extension or replacement for Trident. Shouldn't we seize this historic opportunity to start a process of nuclear disarmament around the world?

Blair: Well of course we do do an immense amount in this area and there is nothing inconsistent with renewing our own independent nuclear deterrent to be in favour of non-proliferation. But I think my honourable friend's remarks are an indication that it's going to be a lively debate.
Ah, he didn't answer. I'm not what you'd call overcome by surprise.

The point is that it *is* inconsistent to insist that other countries abide by the non-proliferation provisions of the treaty while simulateously ignoring the disarmament provisions which are an essential part of the same agreement.

The NNPT has been signed by 188 nations. Of those, less than 10 actually have nuclear weapons. Many, if not most of the remaining countries signed the treaty and promised not to seek to aquire nuclear weapons on the understanding that the nuclear powers were commited to work towards "general and complete disarmament". This wasn't woolly headed peacenik optimist on their part; it is what the treaty actually says.

Our government cannot seriously expect to be able to insist on the continued selective application of the provisions of the treaty without doing enormous damage to our country's moral standing in the international community. Either we take the treaty seriously or we do not.

I think we should. Others disagree but seem reluctant to withdraw from it, prefering instead to simply ignore an international commitment which they believe goes against our national interests. This is certainly an understandable position. But, by adopting that attitude you surely lose any right to criticise other governments when they do the same.

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Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The H Word

Could there be anything more stomach churning than our great leader, the spinmeister general, calling for open and candid debate?

He has, for years now, done everything in his power to prevent open and candid debate within his party and the country. This is the man who has choreographed Labour party conferences to the extent that they have become vacuous, unthinking, flag waving homages to the great leader. Now, after all those years of marginalising and misrepresenting his critics, ignoring uncomfortable truths, silencing protestors and generally just being a lying, untrustworthy git, he wants to have a debate.

I think I'm going to throw up.

It is surely a sign of how detached from reality he is that he would even suggest such a thing. It has long since become clear that Blair is pathlogically unable to participate in an open and candid debate. And even if he was not, there is a certain level of trust which must exist before a debate can have any useful purpose. There are not enough people left in the country who trust the liar for a debate to serve any purpose whatsoever.

Here's an uncoded message.

No Liars

That's the sign on the front door of the debating chamber.

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Sunday, June 25, 2006

Freedom of Speech Goes Pop

The Daily Mail has been at the forefront of the campaign to defend free speech against those insidious Muslim usurpers which are such a threat to our great society. We must not allow freedom of speech to be constrained in the name of preventing offence, they trumpet. It is an absolute.

Well, not exactly. The right to free speech apparently doesn't apply when someone wants to make offensive comments about the divine leader of their religion. That's Mrs Thatcher, obviously.
Moronic...and Cameron should have known better

[O]nce in a while a moment arrives when it is impossible to sigh with resignation. Think what you like about Lady Thatcher or David Cameron, this is a civilised democracy in which the elected leaders of major parties are entitled to a minimal respect.

Mockery and satire are one thing - in fact they are an important way of sharpening political debate - but sheer, gross personal bad manners are another. The question put by Mr Ross to Mr Cameron was not mocking or satirical. It was moronic and infantile.

Remember that this passage was actually chosen by executives from a much longer recording. It is hard to resist the conclusion that they thought this was yet another opportunity to display their loathing for Margaret Thatcher, an unreasoning, obsessive, snobbish liberal bigotry that still grips BBC staff, and people such as Mr Ross, more than 15 years after her fall from power.

If no action is taken against those who allowed this distasteful exchange, then it will be proof that the BBC has lost all perspective and judgment.
Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha h ha ha ha ha...

Ho ho ho ho ho ho ho ho ho ho ho ho...

Hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee...

Dear oh dear. My sides. Someone call a doctor, they may have split.

Moronic hypocrites.

By the way, if you missed it here's what Ross said. Distasteful to some perhaps, but he's like that every week so it's hardly what you'd call surprising or unusual. Lots of people like it apparently.

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Saturday, June 24, 2006

Tales from the Real World

For a long time, I worked in a shop selling bicycles in an area with a fair few social problems.

One of the most difficult aspects of working in retail is dealing with people who want to steal your stock. Anyone who argues that shoplifting is a victimless crime has never had to confront a desperate drug addict attempting to aquire something, anything, which they can sell in order to afford their next hit. As deputy manager I had to take the lead and do that any number of times and I can safely say that it's a very stressful business. I've been spat at, verbally abused and physically threatened more times than I care to remember. As such, I certainly don't feel that I'm an ivory tower middle-class intellectual with no understanding of anti-social behaviour and the effects it can have on the "law-abiding majority".

I have also had considerable dealing with the police, having caught a fair few shoplifters fair and square. In the many discussions I've had with police officers, I've aquired a reasonable understanding of what evidence the police need to be able to charge someone with shoplifing and what steps a person can take to hold someone until the police arrive (in Scotland that is, although I believe the law in England is very similar on these issues). Here's an absolutely true real world example from a couple of years back.

It was a busy Saturday afternoon in the shop and I was serving a customer near the front door. While talking to this customer, I looked up and spotted someone, a man, probably 18 years old, walking towards the front door with a mountain bike worth £1,500. For security reasons, we had a rule that all customers leaving the premises with new bikes be accompanied to the front door by a member of staff and as no member of staff was present, I knew something was up. I tried to attract the guy's attention and he immediately bolted with the bike.

I shouted to a couple of my colleagues (for safety, and under police advice on the need for two people to give evidence, you can't go charging off on your own) and we were off out the door after him. He, on the bike, was already well on his way but as luck would have it, a regular customer happened to be driving past and saw what was happening. He stopped his car, I jumped in, and away we went, my colleagues pursuing on foot. We drove past the guy, stopped the car, and I jumped out in front of him, much to his surprise.

So he's cycling towards me on the pavement, looking pretty determined not to be caught. I am clearly identified by my uniform and he's clearly not going to just stop. What to do? I'm not a violent person, haven't been in a fight since I was 10 years old, but it's my job to try to stop him. So, as he approaches, I lunge for him, and try to grab him, bike and all. He falls off the bike and goes headfirst into a wall at the side of the road. He busts his nose open; there's really quite a lot of blood. I tell him not to move, he tries to get up, and I sit on him. I shout to one of my colleagues running towards us to go back to the shop and phone the police.

A small audience forms around the two of us. Some of them, particularly those around the same age as the guy, are hostile; more than one tells me that I've assaulted him, that they've witnessed it and that they'll give evidence against me and that I can't hold the guy against his will. I tell them to tell it to the police officers when they arrive but that I know I can restrain the guy till they do. An off-duty police officer arrives. He's also witnessed my rugby tackle and associated damage to the guys face from his car, sat in traffic at the other side of the road. The off-duty copper tells him not to move and I get off the guy. He stays where he is.

So what happened next?

In tabloid land, I, the law abiding citizen just trying to do the right thing, am done for assault. I did, in front of many witnesses, including a police officer, launch myself at him, bust his nose, albeit accidentally, and physically restrain him.

In the real world, no such thing happens. The uniformed police arrive. They take statements. The "hostiles" tell them that I've assaulted the guy. I explain exactly what I did. The police tell the "hostiles" that I have the right to use "reasonable force" to stop the guy and essentially tell them to piss off. This they do, grudgingly, their entertainment over. They take the guy away in handcuffs. I go back to the shop and, after a fag and a cup of tea to steady the nerves, go back to work.

The guy had previous, got bail but pleaded guilty before the case came to trial and was given a custodial sentence (I can't remember how long if truth be told, but we did get a letter from the powers that be informing us of the outcome).

What chance the tabloids would bother to report this?

If I'd actually beaten the guy to a pulp however, if I'd used unreasonable force, I might have been done for assault, and rightly so. What chance the tabloids would have reported such an outcome in outraged tones as some sort of travesty, while playing down any suggestion that excessive force had been used?

The truth is that the guy's behavior would not have been significantly different whether he was risking one day in prison or 10 years and there's every chance that he went on to reoffend on his release. There was only one thing on his mind that day, the need to feed his habit, and it's sadly quite probable that it's the only thing on his mind today too.

In 2002, the Audit Office estimated that half of all crime is related to drug use. This problem cannot be addressed by new authoritarian laws, summary justice or longer prison sentences. Drug addicts couldn't give a flying toss about any of that.

What this guy needed, not just for him but for society as a whole, was to be put on a drug treatment programme with a genuine chance of rehabilitation. Both north and south of the border, to give credit where it's due, funding for drug treatment programmes has been significantly increased. But more is needed. This is an area which does require a revolution in approach. Today, most drug addicts still do not get the treatment they need.

The emphasis needs to be on tackling the root of the problem, not the symptoms. If Blair seriously wants to do something about improving the lot of society, that's where he should be concentrating his energies.

Of course, the tabloids think of this sort of thing as "junkie scum loving, woolly headed, bleeding heart liberal leftie nonsense" and we know that a patient, well considered, and potentially successful strategy is never going to be at the forefore of Blair's mind when there are tabloid headlines to appease. It just isn't the New Labour way.

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Friday, June 23, 2006

Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves.
- William Pitt the Younger, House of Commons, 18 November 1783.
So here we are today with the Home Office, understandably, under siege. And, of course, I don't say, for a moment that mistakes haven't been made, that competence or lack of it has not been a serious complaint. But I do say that it is a complete delusion to think that simply by changing Ministers, civil servants or practices, the gap I referred to earlier [between what the public expects and what the public sees], is going to be bridged. It isn't. I have learnt many things in 9 years of Government and that is one of them.
- Tony Blair argues that it is necessary to infringe human freedom to protect the "law-abiding majority", 23 June 2006.
We've travelled a long way since the Eighteenth Century. But in which direction are we moving now?

Time is pressing today. More on Blair's speech later. Possibly.

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Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Supporting WMD

So Gordon has announced that he wants the UK to retain an independent nuclear deterrent thus prejudging the "debate" we're all going to be allowed to have on this. Hurray! Is he Prime Minister already then?

And I was hoping he'd be an improvement. Yeah, I suppose that was daft. What can I say? I'm an eternal optimist. Well, I used to be anyway. This government, to give them credit where it's due, does a good line in ruthlessly crushing any sense of optimism you might have been foolish enough to hold on to.

Here's what Brown actually said in context (just for laughs, note the tortuous attempt to make the statement appear part of his actual brief).
What I said when I made the Bank of England independent remains even more true today, I said that our new monetary and fiscal regime was founded on stability first, foremost and always, stability yesterday, today and tomorrow.

And I mean not just stability by securing low inflation but stability in our industrial relations, stability through a stable and competitive tax regime, and stability through a predictable and light touch regulatory environment – a stability founded on our strength to make the right long term decisions, the same strength of national purpose we will demonstrate in protecting our security in this Parliament and the long-term – strong in defence in fighting terrorism, upholding NATO, supporting our armed forces at home and abroad, and retaining our independent nuclear deterrent.

In an insecure world we must and will always have the strength to take all necessary long term decisions for stability and security.
He hasn't explicitly stated that he believes Trident should be replaced but he has dropped a rather enormous hint.

If the UK government does make a policy decision to "retain" our nuclear deterrent and replace Trident with a new nuclear weapons system, will we also be withdrawing from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty?

Just a reminder of Article VI:
Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.
[my emphasis]
The UK government surely couldn't simply be planning to ignore the provisions of this hugely important international treaty. I mean, to deliberately flaunt the spirit, and almost certainly the letter, of this treaty would make our government an international pariah, a rogue state with an arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. It would make a mockery of our obligations to the international community. The UN Security Council would undoubtedly have to impose some sort of sanctions...

Oh, hang on. I forgot that we're the indisputable good guys. These obligations don't apply to *us*. The idea that *we* should be constrained by international treaties we're a party to is just silly.

(As a side issue, there's some considerable debate as to how independent it really is. We buy the Trident missiles from the US government. What chance we could actually use any of it independently (not that I'd like them used at all obviously)? There's every chance that these missiles would mysteriously not work if the UK government tried to use them independently of the US. The "independent" nuclear deterrent may very well be a complete misnomer.)


For those who have a care about the misuse of the English language, I'm reliably informed that it should be "flout the spirit", not "flaunt the spirit". It's a common error apparently. I really should have paid more attention in those English classes.

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Tough on Freedom, Tough on the Causes of Freedom

Listening to Prime Ministers Questions today, its easy to see why its not called Prime Ministers Answers. Actual answers to the questions asked are rare indeed.

Blair and Cameron had another of their long pantomime "I'm tougher than you" sessions. In the midst of this, Blair revealed the true extent of his thinking. This, in his most gleefully accusatory tone:
He tried to suggest that the Sentencing Guidelines Council was the reason he voted against the 2003 [Criminal Justice] Act. Actually... the reason they voted against the 2003 act was because of the withdrawal of the right to trial by jury, which incidentally they were also wrong on. It [Tory opposition to the act] was not because the measures were too soft. It was because they were too tough.
[Transcribed from the BBC player]
Blair is proud of it. The withdrawal of the right to trial by jury.

The Criminal Justice Act 2003 withdrew the right to trial by jury in specific circumstances. There are very good reasons why it might be a good idea to oppose setting such a precedent.

What does it say about the current political landscape when defending the right to trial by jury is open to mocking ridicule and scorn? To me, it says today's political landscape is a malaria infested swamp. But it's not mosquitoes which are causing disease. It's Blair, his cronies and their borderline proto-fascist posturing.

I think Blair might have got on quite well with Il Duce. Blair might not share a penchant for "outright violence" against his political opponents (well, not domestically anyway), but he would surely approve of the intimidation tactics Il Duce employed.

Seriously, he and his cabal are becoming dangerously deluded and increasingly detached from an understanding of the consequences of their policies and actions. I shudder to think what they're going to propose next.

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In Denial

That'll be another one of Blair's loyal lackeys pretending that the Labour Party is not in freefall then. Step forward Hazel Blears.
I simply don't recognise the picture Jackie Ashley paints of a Labour party on the edge of an electoral suicide pact (Blair will have to name the day at Labour's conference, June 19). Yes, it has been a tough few weeks. There have been self-inflicted wounds and the Tory party, helped by a media temporarily missing all critical faculties when it comes to David Cameron, is on the up.
A tough few weeks? Just have a think about that. Everything that is wrong with New Labour is encapsulated within that claim. "Yes, it has been a tough few weeks."

It's tragic really, a perfect example of the reasons why the "merchants of doom" are right.

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Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Power and Corruption

Prime Minister Tony Blair is set to get the go-ahead later this month for two "Blair Force One" planes to fly him on official trips, the BBC has learned.
I presume they mean "Prime Minister Tony Blair is set to give himself the go-ahead later this month..."
They are expected to cost around £12.3m a year - about £2.7m more than the current arrangement.
Having thought about this, and with apologies for the language, I think I can only express my opinion thus:

Fuck. Right. Off!

Does Blair have even the slightest idea what the majority of people think of him and his government? Apparently not.

We've come a long way since he warned his party not to become seduced by the "trappings of power".

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Monday, June 19, 2006

Oh looky! Labour have launched a new initiative. It's called "Let's ask leading questions" or something (via)

Question two is particularly noteworthy.
Does the criminal justice system provide the correct balance between the protection of civil liberties and the rights of the victims of crime?

The subtext, clearly, is that the rights of victims of crime can *only* be secured by giving up civil liberties. The question takes it as read; what is the "correct balance" between the two? This is disingenuous to put it mildly.

It's another classic use of the Blairite "no alternative" gambit cunningly disguised as a consultation exercise. It just doesn't get any more cynical than that.

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Our Man In Iraq

Juan Cole has put up a transcript of the "sensitive" description of Iraq from the US embassy there. (This was made public by the Washington Post.)

The document is dated June '06 and the US ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad, has put his name to it. I'd recommend reading it for a rare opportunity to see what the US officials on the ground in Iraq actually say about the current situation. Here are a few lowlights.

In general:
1. (SBU) Beginning in March. and picking up in mid-May, Iraqi staff in the Public Affairs Section have complained that Islamist and/or militia Groups have been negatively affecting their daily routine. Harassment over proper dress and habits has been increasingly pervasive. They also report that power cuts and fuel prices have diminished their quality of life. Conditions vary by neighborhood, but even upscale neighborhoods such as Mansur have visibly deteriorated.
On women's rights:
2. (SBU) The Public Affairs Press Office has 9 local Iraqi employees. Two of our three female employees report stepped up harassment beginning in mid-May. One, a Shiite who favors Western clothing, was advised by an unknown woman in her upscale Shiite/Christian Baghdad neighborhood to wear a veil and not to drive her own car. Indeed, she said, some groups are pushing women to cover even their face, a step not taken in Iran even at its most conservative.

3. (SBU) Another, a Sunni, said that people in her middle-class neighborhood are harassing women and telling them to cover up and stop using cell phones (suspected channel to licentious relationships with men). She said that the taxi driver who brings her every day to the green zone checkpoint has told her he cannot let her ride unless she wears a headcover. A female in the PAS cultural section is now wearing a full abaya after receiving direct threats in May. She says her neighborhood, Mhamiya, is no longer permissive if she is not clad so modestly.

4. (SBU) These women say they cannot identify the groups that are pressuring them many times. the cautions come from other women, sometimes from men who they say could be Sunni or Shiite, but appear conservative. They also tell us that some ministries, notably the Sadrist controlled Ministry of Transportation, have been forcing fem1es to wear the hijab at work. Dress Code for All?
On Western clothing:
5. (SBU) Staff members have reported that it is now dangerous for men to wear shorts in public; they no longer allow their children to play outside tn shorts. People who wear jeans in public have come under attack from what staff members describe as Wahabis and Sadrists.
And finally, on security and confidence in the new government:
21. (SBU) Our staff, report that security and services are being rerouted through local provider whose affiliations are vague. As noted above, those who are admonishing citizens on their dress are not known to the residents. Neighborhood power providers are not well known either, nor is it clear how they avoid robbery or targeting. Personal safety depends on good relations with the neighborhood governments, who barricade streets and ward off outsiders. The central government, our staff says, is not relevant; even local mukhtars have been displaced or co-opted by militias. People no longer trust most neighbors.
It is grim indeed and should please no-one, whether they supported the war or opposed it.

What is important is that we in the West get a real understanding of the actual results of the policies of our governments. Without that understanding, which they seem desperate to deny us, they'll be free to continue to play fast and loose with the lives of people in faraway countries.

Presiding over the total collapse of a nation state is not a "tactical errror". It's a tragic catastrophe brought about by the ignorance, incompetance and stupidity of the Bush and Blair governments. If there were Western lives at stake (civilian, not cannon fodder), do you think they would still have behaved in such a recklessly cavilier way?

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Nearly two thousand years ago, the Romans destroyed Judea and made clear that they would not tolerate an independent Jewish nation. This political interference from an outside power was a crucial cause of the Jewish diaspora. Huge numbers of Jewish people were effectively forced from their homeland apparently never to return.

The Jews spread throughout Europe and the Middle East and eventually further afield still. During the hundreds of years in which Jews lived in other countries, they generally resisted integrating culturally and religiously, prefering instead to preserve and maintain their "otherness", their unique Jewish identity. This they did even in the face of sometime brutal persecution and prejudice (particularly in Christian Europe). Despite the many assaults on them, the Jews bravely managed to sustain their unique cultural and religious traditions which were often quite seperate and distinct from those of their "host" nations.

Eventually, over 1900 years after the Roman destruction of Judea, the Jewish people were able to claim back their homeland.

Nearly sixty years ago, political inteference from outside powers effectively forced huge numbers of Palistinian people from their homeland apparently never to return.

The Palistinians spread throughout the surrounding nations. During the sixty years in which the Palistinians have lived in other countries, they have resisted integrating with their "host" nations, prefering instead to preserve their unique identity, even in the face of sometime brutal persecution and prejudice.

What are these moaners like, eh? Why don't they just integrate into their new countries? I mean, sixty years? Quite living in the past guy. Never happy unless they're the "victim," that lot, I tell you.



Just in case there's any confusion about this post, please see the comments for a less opaque version.

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Sunday, June 18, 2006

A Rare Moment of Clarity

From the Guardian:
One of Gordon Brown's closest aides has warned that Labour on its current course will lose the next election and be out of power for 15 years, since voters have lost trust in the party and will no longer listen to its message.

The warning by Michael Wills, a former Home Office minister and the Labour MP for Swindon North, is the most public disclosure yet of the deep concern in the chancellor's circle that Labour may lose the election unless there is a radical renewal of the party.
Ya think? Proper Einstein's, these guys, aren't they?

Here's a tip for radical renewal of the party.

Do it!

(I've shamelessly only very slightly (and badly) adapted a Bloggerheads original here.)

That ought to be the starting point. Then a proper leadership election. Not a coronation.

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Saturday, June 17, 2006

Unwelcome Comments

A couple of days ago, I wrote that Saudi Arabia was governed by fundamentalist nutjobs. That post attracted an anonymous comment containing a phrase which I considered inappropriate. For the sake of clarity, the comment referenced the inability of "camel jockeys" to defend themselves.

This is, sadly, not the first time that this sort of thing has happened in recent days. The first, on this post, was disparaging towards Jews. In that instance, I explained that I found the phrase comment "unpleasant" and "particularly distateful". Again, for clarity, the phrase was "the diseased mentality of the parasitical and predatory Red Sea Pedestrians".

As there does appear to be a section of "the left" which seems to indulge in this sort of nasty thinking and as most people would consider me to also be of "the left", I decided at the time to leave the comment up and to respond in order to make it clear that I absolutely do not condone that sort of language or attitude.

At the time, I thought it was a one off. Now, with a second desparaging racial comment coming just a few days afterwards, I think it's time to make things clear. From today, all descriptions of that sort based on racial or ethnic characteristics are going to be deleted.

I almost never delete comments. In fact, apart from spam, I think these might be the first. Having decided on this deletion policy however, I have also deleted the comment directed against Jews. Again, let me stress that I absolutely do not condone racial prejudices of any sort.

One final thing. I suspect some people will question whether my use of the phrase "fundamentalist nutjobs" to describe the Saudi government was appropriate. I'd ask you to consider this.

Pat Robertson, the conservative Christian US religious broadcaster, infamously said that Ariel Sharon's stroke was caused by the divine retribution of God. Sharon, he said, had paid the price for "dividing God's land". He is a fundamentalist nutjob.

If you're happy with that, but not happy with my use of the term to describe the Saudi government, why is that?

If you are opposed to anyone being called a "fundamentalist nutjob" that's a seperate mater. I'd argue that people's beliefs should always be open to criticisms, even mocking and disparaging ones.

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Friday, June 16, 2006

The Power of the Dark Side

On Wednesday, Lord Falconer called what's happening at Guantanamo Bay "intolerable and wrong". He said that he was making clear the "government's position".

How much media coverage did this, the strongest statement of condemnation by a UK government minister, get? Well, according to google news, essentially none. The Guardian, ABC Australia, Middle East Online and Gulf Daily News appear to be the only media outlets who bothered to mention it as I write this two days later.

It isn't greatly surprising. I doubt many people outside the UK have the faintest idea who Lord Falconer is so his words have had little impact. If Blair made the same statement however, it could not but be headline news. This would greatly increase the chances of the US government paying attention.

So why won't he? Is it because Falconer's protestations are empty words intended for the UK domestic political audience only? If the government is serious, Blair needs to make the statement. Sadly, but unsurprisingly, it seems highly unlikely that they are or that he will.

Go on Tony. Prove me wrong. Like Darth Vader, there must surely still be a tiny shred of humanity hidden away under that black mask.

Search your feelings, Tony, you can do this. I feel the conflict within you. Let go of your hate.

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Thursday, June 15, 2006

The Beat Goes On

It has been revealed (by the Daily Mail) that the police found a large quantity of cash in the house they so publically raided two weeks ago. The brothers' sister has had to insist to the press that there is nothing sinister about this. Her explanation, that the family don't use banking services because "Islam prohibits the keeping of money in circumstances where interest is earned or where it is paid," is straighforward enough.

But the question is, how was it revealed that the police found this money? How did this information find its way into the public domain? It seemsclaer that only the family or the police officers and other officials connected to the raid could possibly know. It seems equally clear that the family would not have wanted this information made public. (Would you like the world to know if you kept £38,000 in your home?)

So who was it exactly? And why was it done?

If you need an idea as to the impression some people might get from this, try reading the first few comments on the DM article. Guilty until proven innocent; it's the bedrock of all free societies...

I can only speculate that someone somewhere said something like this:
Are those waters muddy enough to get us off the hook yet Sarge or should I add another shovelful of shit?
Despite what Blair may think, being one hundred and one percent behind the police is not the same as allowing them to behave in an utterly unacceptable way. Quite the opposite in fact. These leaks must stop.


Obsolete has more on the Sun's role in this.

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This New Terrorism

Today is the tenth aniversary of the IRA bomb attack which damaged a sizable part of Manchester's city centre. More than two hundred people were injured in the blast which caused an estimated £700m damage. It was just the latest of a series of attacks which had started that Febuary with the Dockland bomb in London which killed two people.

John Major was Prime Minister. His willingness to embark on a longstanding association with the Carlyle Group after the '97 election suggest that he's not the most scrupulous individual ever to have occupied Number Ten.

Major, nevertheless responded to the attack in a reasonably sensible way. He said:
This act by a handful of fanatics will be regarded with contempt and disgust around the world.
Clearly, his assertion that that these attacks were the work of "a handful of fanatics" was true.

Importantly, by emphasising this fact, Major sought to counter any suggestion that these fanatics should be allowed to dominate the political agenda. Part of the standard strategy adopted by terrorists is to attempt to use random violence to create a climate of fear. This climate can give the terrorists a degree of power which is disporportionate to their actual physical ability to inflict harm. In this, target government have, often unwittingly, done more to help the cause of the terrorists than they themselves ever could. Major was, it seems, determined not to fall into that trap.

Michael Howard, again, not my favourite ever Home Secretary, gave an interview to John Humprys the next day in which he elaborated on the government's strategy. He said the government was attempting to "exclude and isolate the few extremists who continue to be prepared to use violence to get their way".

Howard, like Major, rightly downplayed the importance of a"few extremists" and made it clear that they would not be allowed to set the agenda.

He also said this:
[W]hat we can't do is offer any guarantee that there will not be another attack. Open, free, democratic societies are always vulnerable to those terrorists who are prepared to use force to achieve their ends and nobody can ever offer a guarantee that we won't have such an attack in the future, that we can prevent every such attack. What I can say is that we are vigilant in the extreme. We are prepared to take any action that we regard as likely to be effective to combat this menace and that we pull no punches, we do everything in our power to bring those responsible to justice.
This is true and it's important that the public be reminded of the fact on occassion. (It always surprises me that the people who tend to say things like "wars are inevitable, deal with it pinko" are the very same people who say "we must be prepared to pay any price to stop terrorism". Baffling.)

Terrorism, almost by definition ("what definition?", you rightly ask), is carried out by handfuls of fanatics and it's very difficult to stop them. Even the most repressive totalitarian regimes are unable to completely stop terrorist activities so democratic societies are always going to be vulnerable to terrorist attack to some extent. That is, much as we might wish it otherwise, a fact.

As usual, since ridiculous preconceptions, misrepresentations based on logical fallacies and moronic tribal name calling are par for the course whenever you mention the T word these days, I'll stress that stating this fact does not in any way imply that I believe we should do nothing. Although, I feel slightly queasy doing so, I refer you back to what Michael Howard said.

The central stategy of random terrorist violence as a means to project disproportionate power and thereby dominate the agenda has not changed. Nevertheless, there are differences between 1996 and 2006. Major's strategy, which included pursuit of an active peace process with clearly identified groups, could not simply be transfered wholesale to today's situation. There are, however, central stategic issues which are just as relevant today. Major, it appears, understood those issues to some dgree. Blair does not.

It might be interesting to speculate as to how Blair would have reacted had he been in Major's shoes in 1996. Suffering in the polls and facing the prospect of losing power at the election the following year, would Blair have made a genuine attempt to deal with these complex issues even though it was politically risky? Or would have have introduced a raft of tabloid pleasing tough new anti-terror laws designed to be opposed by the opposition so that he could claim they were "soft on terrorism". A genuine attempt to deal withe the issues or the exploitation of a terrorist attack to make political capital for himself and his lackeys?

Does anyone have even the slightest doubt which option he'd have chosen?

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Saudi Arabia, as I'm sure you know, is governed by our kind of fundamentalist nutjobs. The "universalists" of our government are always quick to avoid criticising nutjobs who play our game economically and buy lots of the killing machinery we're so good at manufacturing. It is, I suppose, a form of universalism. There is a consistency there; it's just that it has nothing to do with ethics, values, or humanitarianism.

The fact that the Saudi government has spent millions of dollars promoting fundamentalist Wahhabism around the world is a trifling matter. It's the economy stupid.

Now, go read Chicken Yoghurt.

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Impossible to Endure

Lord Falconer, was on Question Time last night. His comments on judges and sentencing have already been reported but as I write this, his comments on Guantanamo Bay have not.

Lord Falconer said:
I think that Guantanamo Bay is a recruiting agent for those who would attack all our values. We live by the rule of law. What Guantanamo Bay is doing is placing people beyond the rule of law which I think is intolerable and wrong. It should never have been opened and it should be closed.
David Dimbleby then asks if he'll comment on Shami Chakrabarti suggestion that the British government had been pressuring the US government on Guantanamo behind the scenes. Lord Falconer replied:
No, I won't. I have made clear what the government's position is. We have spoken privately to our closest ally and we have made public what we think as well.*
Only just mind.

I'm presuming that there has pressure been and that he's determined to keep private matters private. He is a lawyer after all.

What's important is that Lord Falconer has called Guantanamo "intolerable". That's a strong word. And he's also explicitly stated that this is "the Government's position". With luck, at least some of the US media will pick up on the fact that a minister of the UK government has made such a strong statement.

If this is indeed the government's position, it's a long overdue move in the right direction and to be welcomed. At this stage, given the slipperiness of a certain individual, I recomend caution.

Tony Blair must now issue a public statement making it clear that the UK government considers indefinite detention beyond the rule of law to be intolerable. He should insist that Camp Delta is closed and the detainees brought back under the rule of law immediately.

A clear unambigious statement from the Prime Minister would have for more impact on the US government and on US public opinion than anything Lord Falconer could manage. If Blair is serious, he needs to make the statement. The US media may or may not ignore Falconer's words, it remains to be seen as I write this, but they certainly couldn't ignore Blair.

On a related note, it's Torture Awareness Month. There's a Bloggers Against Torture Blog attempting to raise awareness of these issues. Click click.

* 46 and a bit minutes in if you want to check my transcribing.

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Wednesday, June 14, 2006

On Sunday, I wrote a post criticising that day's Observer leader. In it, I treated the Guardian and Observer newpapers as one and the same organ. As more than one commentor pointed out, that wasn't really justified. Although they are sister papers, they do not share the same editorial approach; the Gran has resisted becoming a government mouthpiece much more effectively than the Obo.

I should have made that clear. Apologies that I did not.

Just to prove the point, here's today's Guardian Leader. Hear hear!

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Who Decides?

This is a second post on President Bush's unannounced visit to Iraq and it may make more sense if you read the first one, er, first.

Iraq's new prime Minister, Nuri al-Maliki, has had some successes on the political front. Last week, amid the deluge of stories about the death of Zarqawi, he appointed the final members of his cabinet. What with one thing and another, I've not had time to look into this fully but it seems that he's managed to find a reasonably unaffiliated Interior Minister; Jawad Kadem al-Bolani.

The Interior Ministry is widely believed to be heavily infiltrated by members of the Badr Brigade, the armed wing of the SCIRI and the SCIRI were, of course, running the Ministry until recently. It is some cause for concern that the SCIRI "was central in pushing his [Bolani's] candidacy".

Nevertheless, "of 198 deputies present in the 275-seat assembly, 182 voted for Mr Bolani". That strongly suggests that Sunni politicians do not believe Mr Bolani is too close to the SCIRI. Bolani has a huge task ahead of him if he is to rein in the militias but it does appear that he may at least be prepared to try.

The last thing Maliki needed, just as a small ray of hope began to hint at its existence, was an unannounced visit by President Bush. "Thank you for having me" Bush told the Prime Minister. As if he'd had a choice.

Maliki, who has over 100,000 well equipped and heavily armed reasons to be diplomatic towards Bush, was so. He was neverthless also determined not to look a complete muppet. He said (through a translator) that Iraq was "determined to succeed, and we have to defeat terrorists and defeat all the hardships". He went on:
God willing, all the suffering will be over. And all the soldiers will return to their country with our gratitude for what they have offered, the sacrifice
That statement, diplomatic though it may be, is clear enough. The Iraqi Prime Minister wants all the foreign soldiers to return to their countries in due course. He does not want permanent US military bases to be built on Iraqi soil. Furthermore, he believes that it is important for his government to make clear that it considers the presence of foreign troops to be a temporary state of affairs.

He's trying to combat assertions like this:
While US President George Bush disclosed the US plan to keep Iraq permanently occupied by a force of about 50.000 troops, to be deployed in a series of permanent US military bases, Moqtada al-Sader's followers organized a demonstration in northern Baghdad against the visit of George Bush.
A permanent US military presence in Iraq would be unacceptable to many, possibly even most Iraqis and the idea that Iraq is under "occupation" by the US is a powerful one. Maliki is attempting to fight this assertion by making it clear that he expects the US troops to leave at an appropriate time. All of them.

I presume then that the Bush administration, proud of the sovereign democratic government of Iraq as it is, will respect this decision by Iraq's Prime Minister and make a statement confirming that all US troops will be withdrawn at a suitable time, something they have singularly failed to do up till now. Furthermore, I expect that their statement will make it clear that there are no permanent US military bases under construction in Iraq and that, in keeping with the wishes of Iraq's Prime Minister, they do not intend build any.


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Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Foot Meets Bullet

There are those who argue that the US government is actually intentionally provoking the continuing violence in Iraq in order to provide a pretext for their continued presence there. I'm unconvinced.

For a start, the daily death toll from Iraq is having an enormously damaging effect on Republicans in the domestic political arena. Every day the violence continues is another bad day for Bush and his party.

Perhaps more significantly, it's just a tactical nonsense. There's no doubt that the US government wants to permanently station troops in Iraq in order to project power in the region. The Republicans only last week, during the horsetrading over the latest Iraq funding bill, very pointedly attempted to remove a Democrat amendment which would have prohibited funds being used to "establish permanent United States military bases in Iraq, or to exercise United States control over the oil infrastructure or oil resources of Iraq". It seems that they have succeeded in stripping out such limitations in the final bill.

And, when the Telegraph writes the headline "US 'planning to keep 50,000 troops in Iraq for many years'" I probably don't need to say more. So, I agree that this US government wants permanant military bases in Iraq.

But what would be the point of having the troops there if all they can do is what they're doing now? There's no strategic advantage to be gained by having their own troops tied down in Iraq as they are. They're hardly in a position to project power in a useful way.

And the reputation of the US military, unable to defeat a few thousand guys (their figures) with AK-47's and improvised explosive devices, is taking a beating too.

So, I just don't see it.

But when Bush decides to inflict yet another gunshot to the bloodied corpse that he once called "Mission Accomplished", it almost makes me think again. Is it conceivable that he's unaware of the provocative and unhelpful nature of this visit?

He gave the sovereign Prime Minister of Iraq five minutes notice of the fact that he'd been granted a brief audience with his master. Whether Maliki had to kiss the great one's feet has not been reported. Five minutes?

R.E.S.P.E.C.T. Find out what it means to me...

The insurgents (some of them anyway) make the claim that the new Iraqi government is a powerless US puppet and that this justifies their continued "resistance" and attacks on "collaborators". The support they receive from the wider communities in which they operate depends to some extent on the credibility of this claim.

So what on earth is Bush doing there making Maliki look like his stooge? Is he being intentionally provocative?

No, I think not. There is an explanation and it isn't intentional sabotage. It appears that George W. Bush genuinely believes his own rhetoric and actually does think only in black and white. In Bush's world, he is the undisputed good guy and anyone who wasn't grateful for this visit is an undisputed bad guy. And Bush doesn't care what the bad guys think. The bad guys are evil, unable to understand rational argument, beyond saving, deranged. He wants them to stop thinking. He wants them dead.

He's not trying to stir up further violence. He just doesn't actually understand the real world. I'm not sure if that's better or worse.

That aside, it's clear that the President doesn't exactly trust the new Iraqi PM with his own security despite the fact that Bush is already the most heavily protected individual in history (no link, but you know it's true). He trusts him to provide security for millions of Iraqis but when it comes to the important stuff, well, that's different.

And what of the new Iraqi Prime Minister? How did he react to this visit? Well, it's going in the next post because it's rather significant.

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Monday, June 12, 2006

Playing With Fire

The quotation I'm about to use isn't for real. Big Jules didn't say it and neither did Will's version of him. In fact, no-one seems to know where these lines came from. Wikipedia says they were written by political cartoonist Paul Conrad but Snopes says the quotation first appeared on the interwebs in 2001 and Conrad's cartoon wasn't published until late 2002. Anyway, whoever it was, it wasn't Julius Caesar. That doesn't mean it's not a useful introduction to this post.
Beware the leader who bangs the drums of war in order to whip the citizenry into a patriotic fervor, for patriotism is indeed a double-edged sword. It both emboldens the blood, just as it narrows the mind. And when the drums of war have reached a fever pitch and the blood boils with hate and the mind has closed, the leader will have no need in seizing the rights of the citizenry. Rather, the citizenry, infused with fear and blinded by patriotism, will offer up all of their rights unto the leader and gladly so. How do I know? For this is what I have done. And I am Caesar.
With that ficticious but salient quotation in mind, it's time to turn to the Beeb's Have Your Say on last week's anti-terror raid in Forest Gate. Here are the two most recommended comments as I write this:
Why should police action affect "race relations" They uphold the laws of the land, decided by members of parliament elected by the people, why are people from one religion,not a race, allowed to put the police force under such scrutiny,no other religion does, and would they be allowed to do it in any other country?. NO, so stop aplogising,there's nothing to apologise for nobody has to stay here if it does not suit them.
- jennileoni, Milton Keynes

So what should the police do? Ignore intelligence and then when muslim fanatics blow up another bomb who will get the blame?

Perhaps if muslim communities weren't so incredibly insular then intelligence would flow more easily and this kind of thing wouldn't happen again.
- Neo Neko, Newcastle
Going through the recommended comments, the ninteenth is the first to be critical of this raid. I'm always wary of making generalisations based on the opinions of interweb geeks (and I include myself in that) but I do get the sense that this HYS is broadly representative of public opinion as a whole at the moment. It appears that the "law abiding majority" have been infused with fear to the necessary degree.

That ninteenth most recommended comment, the first appearance of a dissenting opinion, is a genuine well known quotation:
When the Nazis came for the communists, I remained silent; I was not a communist.

When they locked up the social democrats, I remained silent; I was not a social democrat.

When they came for the trade unionists, I did not speak out; I was not a trade unionist.

When they came for the Jews, I did not speak out; I was not a Jew.

When they came for me, there was no one left to speak out.
- Martin Niemöller

Posted by Steve, UK.

Blair is not Hitler. As I've said before, I believe that direct comparisions of the two men are unjustified hyperbole and not at all helpful. That isn't the point.

The point is that Blair does not show any sign that he understands the conditions in which prejudice and extremism thrive (a characteristic he shares with much of the media, it has to be said). We owe it to those who defended our country against Hitler's aggression to never forget the fact that the Nazis polled over 40% in the 1933 German elections. The reasons why this happened are complex, and many of them do not apply to the UK in 2006, but the lessons of that barbaric time should never be forgotten. Blair, if his actions are any guide, has done just that.

He, by manipulating and amplifying the terrorist threat for his own political purposes, is creating increased hostility towards a minority group in our society. It is a dangerous undertaking and one that could easily spiral out of control and lead to extremely unpleasant unintended consequences.

After a disasterous raid like this, in which an unarmed man was shot by a police officer, the most popular sentiment on the Beeb's HYS forum is that "there's nothing to apologise for nobody has to stay here if it does not suit them". And let's be honest here; the word "nobody" is clearly a euphemism for "they".

Why can the PM not see the dangers of the path he has chosen to lead us down? I don't know the answer; I wish I did. But the fact that he cannot is undoubtedly a cause for great concern.

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Calling all Londoners. Your duty is clear. Vote Lord Archer!

(Was his application to rejoin the Conservatives actually successful, does anyone know? And yes, I know Dave the boy wonder wouldn't allow him on the shortlist. Shame. Come on Dave. Let the people have their say.)

In other substantive and not at all shallow, gimmicky or image obsessed marketing political news, the Conservatives have announced that they're going to have a new logo. With our Prime Mininster more detached from reality by the day and displaying an increasingly messianic determination to implement dangerous changes to our society, this is exactly the sort of strong policy initiative that this country so desperately needs. Well done.



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The Anomoly

It was Dostoevsky who first said "the degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons".

What degree of civilisation would you say exists in a government which behaves like this?
A top US official has described the suicides of three detainees at the US base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as a "good PR move to draw attention".

Colleen Graffy told the BBC the deaths were part of a strategy and "a tactic to further the jihadi cause", but taking their own lives was unnecessary.
Not one of the three dead men had been found guilty of any crime. I don't know if any of them genuinely were involved in terrorist activities before their capture and neither do you. Just to be clear, that's because the US government has refused to attempt to prove them guilty of anything in any sort of meaningful way.

And our great leader will no doubt be quick to again put this "anomoly" in context.

On a purely tactical level, he, like Bush is apparently completely oblivious to the fact that every day that Camp Delta exists is another good day for bin Laden. Islamist extremist groups recruit from (or self-generate out of) those who believe that Western society treats Muslims as second class citizens. Denying these Muslim detainees the right to a fair trail, actually treating them as second class citizens in other words, is the last thing we should be doing. It's about a sensible as going on a hunting trip with the Vice President.

Perhaps more frightening than that though, is the fact that we're governed by people who appear to have no understanding of the very things they claim to be defending. It is not acceptable for a civilized country to continue to imprison people indefinitely in this way. Camp Delta must be closed.


It just gets worse.

Note also Graffy's bald-faced lie.

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Sunday, June 11, 2006

Sold Out

The relationship between the Guardian/Observer and Blair's government seems to have taken a new turn today with a particularly craven leader in the Observer.

"Better a bungled raid than another terrorist outrage" blares the headline. They, like the government, seem determined to sell the idea that the police had "no choice" but to conduct last week's raid in the way they did. This, despite the fact that the same paper also tells us the police were not actually particularly enthusiastic about the idea of the raid and were concerned about the quality of the intelligence.

In fact, the leader reads as if Downing Street and the Met's press office wrote it, not the journalists of a leading progressive newspaper. Is it nostalgia or was there once a golden era when the Guardian were able to critically assess the pronouncements of Blair's ever more authoritarian government? I seem to remember that they used to manage it. Not anymore apparently.

The idea that it might be better not to have had a bungled raid doesn't seem to have occurred to them. The notion that police operations should be driven by calm rationality, not politically motivated hysteria, just isn't up for discussion. And the worry that these sorts of heavy handed operations are likely to alienate people and be ultimately counter-productive is of no concern to the Observer. These just are not alternatives to be considered. There is only one way; Blair's way.

Then there's the fact that the police appear to have been reluctant to conduct this raid. That should also raise the question as to who actually ordered that it should go ahead.
Whitehall sources told The Observer last night the reservations were passed up the chain of command to senior officials in the office of Sir Richard Mottram, the government's security and intelligence co-ordinator, but despite the concerns the police were ordered to go in. [From the second linked article.]
By who? Sir Richard's office? Sir Richard is "the prime minister's top security and intelligence adviser". Was there politicial interference in what should be an operational matter? This again is of no concern to the writers of today's leader.

Likewise, the fact that a man was shot and could easily have been killed seems to have passed them by. It's an irrelevance. Not for the guy with the hole in his shoulder, I'll wager, but he's just a Muslim, not a part of the "law abiding majority".

I guess we're just going to have to get used to the fact that there's a new member of the authoritarian right "string 'em up" tabloid press in this country. This new member of the "better us safe and them sorry" club is, it seems, particularly beholden to the current government.

The Observers' editorial team appear to have finally succumbed completely to Blair's constant manipulation of the terrorist threat for his own political purposes. Given the relationships and sympathies that exist betwen New Labour and Guardian journalists, perhaps I shouldn't be surprised. But I can't help feeling extremely disappointed.

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Friday, June 09, 2006

Would you put it past this government to have the police delay the release without charge of two people for reasons of political expediency?

The police have released the two men detained last Friday without charging them with any crime. Details aren't available yet but I think it's safe to say they're no long terrorist suspects. When were they released? The initial BBC story was posted at 7.40pm. On a Friday evening. The dead zone of media coverage of news events.

So would you put it past them? Not sure I would.

Still, it's just as well the US government didn't get hold of them; as terrorist suspects they'd be having electrode attached to their genitals courtesy of an "ally in the war on terror" by now.

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Celebrating Death

Zarqawi is dead. It's just possible that you've already heard the news. The likely consequences of his death are now being argued over and any "leftists" who don't cheer loudly enough are being accused of sypathising with and supporting his activities. It's a standard practice in the "war" on terror to smear and bully anyone who dares question the wisdom of our great leaders so this is very much par for the course.

Let's be clear; Zarqawi was not a nice man. He was a murderer and a particularly vicious one at that. There are those who argue that killing him was illegal but from what we know, it seems clear that Zarqawi was not a non-combatant and was therefore a legitimate target.

But that doesn't mean it was a good idea to drop two bloody great bombs on him, killing a child in the process. Would we have done that if he'd been holed up in Las Vegas? Capturing him, while undoubtedly a more difficult task, would have been the more sensible and indeed more ethical option. (Of course, that too can lead to "collateral damage" particularly given the US military's propensity to use overwhelming force. Neverthless, a genuine effort to reduce the likelyhood of the deaths of innocents should have been made but was not.)

What do we really know about Zarqawi? Not a great deal if truth be told. It is widely accepted that he was a leading member of al Qaida but even that is debatable to say the least. There are strong suggestions that he was a rival to bin Laden rather than an ally. As in the Cold War, the complexities of the realtionships between "our enemies" are poorly understood in the halls of power. Blair, for example, harps on about the global nature of "this terrorism at every opportunity. He did so again yesterday:
For three years Al Qaeda have sought to murder innocent people, promote sectarian killing and wreck the democratic process in Iraq. This terrorism is a global movement. Their attack in Iraq has only ever been part of a wider attack that they have carried into conflicts and countries the world over, indeed there is barely a major nation in the world that has not felt the outreach of their evil. So defeat them in Iraq and we will defeat them everywhere.
This is so redolent of the simplistic US attitudes towards socialist movements during the Cold War, it's a vast communist conspiracy I tells you, that you've got to wonder whether the PM has the slightest understanding of recent world history. We now know that many socialist and even communist movements throughout the world were not part of some grand scheme orchestrated by the Soviets but were actually motivated by a variety of factors depending on the individual circumstances in each case. We know. I doubt Blair does.

(Btw, at Blair's press conference, he also said this:
I have long argued, as you know, that whatever the debate over the original decision to remove Saddam, for the past three years since his removal a struggle of a different nature has taken shape.
For all those who say calling Blair a liar is unjustified, how do you explain this? The debate over the decision to remove Saddam? When did we have that debate? Did I sleep through it? I remember the debate over Saddam's WMD and I remember the PM specifically ruling out regime change as a goal of his policy - "I detest his regime but even now he can save it by complying with the UN's demand".

The man is an unprincipled revisionist. A liar.)

There's no doubt that Zarqawi had some contact with bin Laden and his associates. That he was a key al Qaida leader is far less certain.

But how significant was Zarqawi in Iraq? Estimates vary, the fog of war makes it difficult to draw firm conclusions, but it seems likely that he was responsible for some of the more extreme attacks on Shiite communities. He was widely though to be behind the bombing of the Al Askari Mosque at Samarra which set off a chain of sectarian reprisal killings, for example. But, it is also thought that his fighters represent less than ten percent of the insurgency in Iraq.

Will his death make a significant difference to the security situation? I doubt it very much. Israeli governments have been assassinating leading figures in various groups for years and it has done nothing to provide long term security. In fact, it could be argued that these killings simply increase the determination of others to redouble their efforts to continue with their attacks.

Zarqawi was the poster boy of the US efforts in Iraq. In some ways, while I'm not of the view that he was a myth as some people claim, he was a creation of the US government.
Military Plays Up Role of Zarqawi
Jordanian Painted As Foreign Threat To Iraq's Stability

The U.S. military is conducting a propaganda campaign to magnify the role of the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, according to internal military documents and officers familiar with the program. The effort has raised his profile in a way that some military intelligence officials believe may have overstated his importance and helped the Bush administration tie the war to the organization responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
His death will undoubtedly be of some value to the US government in the domestic political arena.

Will it make a real difference to the long term security situation? Given the low key pronouncements of Bush and Blair yesterday, even they realise that it most probably will not.

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Thursday, June 08, 2006

Busy busy and Blogger's being particularly unhelpful today. Here's a couple of things to read and do for anyone who manages to view this post before hell freezes over.

Bloggerheads: Denial: a message to my Downing Street audience

Go read if you've not already. (I've had a couple of brief visits from Downing Street via Tim's links too in the last couple of days.) Ditto for Justin's post. As Tim notes, it is excellent.

The Sharpener: More on Blair's Legacy

A fully interactive post requesting predictions of Blair's delusions regarding his own legacy. Opinions required.

That's it for now. I'm off to see if I can finally post a comment on a post my own blog. Bah. I'd stop paying Blogger if it wasn't already free. One of these days, I'm going to sort out some hosting and other related interwebbery.

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Radical Moves

You might not know it but yesterday saw the Prime Minister announce the most fundamental shift in British foreign policy since, well, ever. Strangely, the media hasn't bothered to report it.

Bear with me as it's probably a good idea to look at the context before discussing the radical policy shift itself. The announcement was made during PMQs when Sir Menzies asked about rendition.
Sir Menzies: Can the Prime Minister confirm that the United Kingdom has given no logistical support for rendition to the CIA nor provided any information to be used in torture?

Tony Blair: We have said absolutely all that we have to say on this. There is nothing more to add to it. The Council of Europe report adds nothing new whatever to the information that we have.
Blair, as usual on "this", is very careful not to actually answer the question or issue a denial. If he really wants people to stop asking him about this, why doesn't he just answer the questions he's asked? It's no wonder that people are suspicious when the PM can't provide a straight answer to a straight question. That, of course, isn't new. He's been making these non-denials from the first moment people started asking him about rendition and UK involvement in it.

Sir Menzies follows up:
Sir Menzies: I think that the Prime Minister might find careful reading of the Council of Europe report particularly rewarding. It says that rendition involves disappearances, secret detention and unlawful transfers to countries that practise torture. On 7 December the Prime Minister told the House that he fully endorsed rendition. Does he still do so now?

Tony Blair: I think that what I actually said was that rendition had been the policy of the American Government for a long period, under the last Administration as well as this Administration. We have kept Parliament informed of all the requests that we are aware of: four in 1998, two of which were granted and two declined.
Note the standard insertion of the "that we are aware of" caveat and remember that the Blair has not actually asked the US government whether they've been using the UK as part of the illegal transportation set-up. It would be the simplest of things for Blair to find out the truth from his closest ally and answer without these qualifications. He continues to refuse to do so. Again, this is nothing new.

But it's the final sentence of Blair's "answer" which reveals the dramatic new approach to foreign policy. It is possibly the biggest change undertaken by any country in the history of international relations. Are you ready?
Tony Blair: As for the rest of what is in the Council of Europe's report, that concerns other countries, and obviously I am not in a position to speak about them.
It is an extraordinary reversal for the once proudly inverventionist Blair. He no longer believes he is in a position to speak about, never mind interfere in, the behaviour of other countries. There are to be no more Iraq's. No more condemnations of the Iranian government's nuclear programme. No comment on the behaviour of foreign government's whatsoever, in fact. The UK is to become a neutral country; like Switzerland but with less holes in our cheese.


Or will Blair just say anything, no matter how utterly ridiculous, in order to avoid answering questions on the behaviour of the US government?

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Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Behind the Headlines

Last Friday's "terror" raid appears to have revealed something really rather odd. This isn't to do with the individual case but with Blair's one time obsesion with the need for the security services to be allowed to imprison people for 90 days without charge.

It's being reported that the police are applying to for an extension so they can hold the men detained in Friday's raid for further questioning.
This afternoon, detectives are expected to apply to extend the time the pair can be held until next Wednesday. The maximum time they can be held, from the time of their arrest last Friday, is 14 days.
14 days? This doesn't seem to be an error. Krishnan Guru-Murthy just said exactly the same on C4 News.

Blair's obsession back in November last year, as I said, was the need for 90 days. Parliament didn't agree, despite the government's fear-mongering and their disgraceful use of the police as a political lobbying tool, and instead voted for a compromise 28 days. It was Blair's first defeat in parliament. He wasn't happy and suggested that those who opposed him had been irresponsible and other such nonsense.

The end result was that MPs voted to double the period that police were allowed to imprison people without charge from 14 to 28 days. This bill was given royal assent in March this year as the Terrorism Act 2006. As the Home Office says:
The Act... extends the maximum period for which people can be detained prior to charge under terrorism legislation from 14 to 28 days.
So what's going on then? Why are the media reporting that the maximum is still 14 days? I thought royal assent was the last step before a bill becomes law. Is there something I'm missing?

The H.O. said in March:
The majority of new measures in the Act will be brought into force two weeks from today, with the remainder taking effect over the next few months.
It appears that the 28 day detention period is one of the measures which hasn't been implemented yet. As I understand it, this is about the priorities of the H.O. in the way they implement the law rather than any constitutional constraints.

I really know very little about the exact prodecures through which acts are brought into force* but on the face of it, the H.O. do not appear to be in any great hurry to implement the once desperately needed extension to police power.

Why not? Was the whole 90 day thing nothing more than yet another vacuous media stunt created at a time when the PM felt he needed to be seen to be "tough on terror"? Was Blair's sincere and deeply held conviction that we absolutely must allow this enormous extension to the detention period just another worthless act of gesture politics, an attempt to generate positive headlines? Would it surprise you even slightly if it was?

* If anyone who knows can clarify this, I'd be most grateful.

I'm in no hurry to see the extension implemented by the way. The longer this unnecessary political posturing nonsense is delayed the better. Take your time, H.O. bods.

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Ignorance is Bliss

Council of Europe rapporteur Dick Marty has been investigating the allegations of US renditions and European government involvement in them. His report has been published today.

280. Our analysis of the CIA 'rendition' programme has revealed a network that resembles a 'spider’s web' spun across the globe. The analysis is based on official information provided by national and international air traffic control authorities, as well as on other information including from sources inside intelligence services, in particular the American. This 'web', shown in the graphic, is composed of several landing points, which we have subdivided into different categories, and which are linked up among themselves by civilian planes used by the CIA or military aircraft.

281. These landing points are used for various purposes that range from aircraft stopovers to refuel during a mission to staging points used for the connection of different 'rendition circuits' that we have identified and where “rendition units” can rest and prepare missions. We have also marked the points where there are known detention centres (Guantanamo Bay, Kabul and Baghdad…) as well as points where we believe we have been able to establish that pick-ups of rendition victims took place.
The United Kingdom is part of this web. The report goes on:
284. It must be emphasised that this report is indeed addressed to the Council of Europe Member states. The United States, an observer state of our Organisation, actually created this reprehensible network, which we criticise in light of the values shared on both sides of the Atlantic. But we also believe to have established that it is only through the intentional or grossly negligent collusion of the European partners that this “web” was able to spread also over Europe.

285. The impression which some Governments tried to create at the beginning of this debate – that Europe was a victim of secret CIA plots – does not seem to correspond to reality. It is now clear – although we are still far from having established the whole truth - that authorities in several European countries actively participated with the CIA in these unlawful activities. Other countries ignored them knowingly, or did not want to know.
With that in mind, here's a reminder of a question asked of our great leader back in January and his response to it.
Question: You have not made enquiries as to whether people have been illegally transported through this country from Place A to B?

Prime Minister: No.
What's that you say about not wanting to know? Where's the evidence...

PS, if anyone attempts to rubbish this report because it comes from the EU, tell them they're an ignorant arse. It comes from the Council of Europe.

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