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The Guantanamo Returnees

Mon, 07 Jan 2008 21:31:35 GMT2008-01-07T21:31:35Z

7 January 2008If this page does not display properly, please view it here."If you want a vision of the future, imagine a  boot stamping on a human face - forever"  -  George OrwellThe Guantanamo returnees Last month three more detainees were released fromthe Guantanamo Bay detention camp.   This brings thetotal British nationals to nine released, four of themin 2007.Source: BBCTwo of those released - Jamil el-Banna and Omar Deghayes -face further charges in Spain.   Abdenour Samuer wasarrested upon return, but soon released without charge.The Spanish have actually had several years to considerevidence and provide a case for extradition straight fromGuantanamo, but refused to do so stating they had nocase against them.  This means that Samuer - like Moazzam Begg, gave the UK security forces no reason at all to be concerned. Whatever threat he supposedly represented that caused him to be detained and abused for six years has  apparently gone.Source:  BBCHere are some of the released prisoners, and their story in brief.Jamil el-Banna    - faces extradition to Spain, released December 2007.US claimed he had links to AbuQatada (a radical cleric).  Britainclaimed until recently that he didnot have a British passport, eventhough his mother is British andel-Banna (now 45) lived in theUK from the age of 14.Source: Guardian (UK)As can be seen from the picture, he has allowed his beard to growfor some time.   A US administrative review board at Guantanamodecided Banna was no threat to the US or its allies.Omar Deghayes    - faces extradition to Spain, released December 2007.  Accused of terrorism against US,  lawyers say it's mistaken ID.  He had decided to go to Afghanistan to judge the Taliban - the first Islamic society  of its kind - for himself.  As with others, he fled to Pakistan when war broke out.   Having put in a stint at the notorious Bagram prison camp, he was transferred to Guantanamo.Source: BBCDeghayes is now blind in one eye as a result of one ofthe many assaults by interrogators and guards - duringone session, an interrogator stuck his thumb intoDeghayes' eye socket.   His campaign supporters sayhe is now recovering at home with his family.Omar Deghayes, Jamil el-Banna and Abdenour SamuerSource:  MetroAbdenour Samuer    - released without charge, December 2007Confessed to prior knowledge about 9/11, but insists thiswas because his leg would otherwise be amputated.  Hehad a gunshot wound from his arrest, which USinterrogators refused to treat without a confession first.Moazzam Begg - released without charge, January 2005  A charity worker, he left Afghanistan when the situation became "unbearable". Bundled into a car boot in Pakistan by authorities, he was handed over to the US.Source: BBCAfter spending a year at the US detention camp atBagram, Afghanistan, he was flown to Guantanamoin March 2003.  His name was apparently found ona money order at an Al-Qa'eda camp, but he and hisfamily insisted this was a case of mistaken identity.Arriving back in the UK in January 2005,  he wasquestioned and released within hours.  The securityforces found no reason to hold him, and no chargeshave ever been brought - not by US nor UK lawagencies.Articles on Begg like this describe his story.Far from being a wild-eyed fanatic, Begg is articulate,intelligent, and surprisingly calm and polite whendiscussing his treatment.  He even speaks positivelyof some of the guards he met while at Guantanamo.In his book brought out in 2006, Begg describes histime at Begram detention centre,  his trip to Guantanamoand the time there. He spent most of the time fromJanuary 2003 in solitary confinement.Begg's story is also shown in the film "Road to Guantanamo".Martin Mubanga    - released withou[...]

Blair's Absolution Drive

Sun, 23 Dec 2007 00:04:22 GMT2007-12-23T00:04:22Z

23 December 2007If this page does not display properly, please view it here.                        "The ancient sages say, that when the governmentmakes sheep of the people, then wolves will rule the land."    -  The Water MarginBlair seeks absolutionThat former Prime Minister Blair has decided to convertto becoming a Roman Catholic comes as little surprise.His wife is Catholic, and Blair has been acting as onefor 20 years - attending mass and taking communion,until Basil Hume (the former Catholic Archbishop ofWestminster) put a stop to it.This is regarded as "a triumph for the Catholic Church", even though he directly contradictedthe callings of the previous Pope, who urgedBlair not to pursue war in Iraq.The new Pope Benedict has also denounced Blair over Iraq, abortion, gay adoption andstem cell research.Blair may get the absolution he craves in the CatholicChurch, but confessing may be a new experience for him.Blair has never confessed to anything but acting in the bestpossible faith, of doing only what he thought to be right,and of acting in the best interests of everyone concernedwith the utmost integrity at all times.Any meaningful confession has to involve a genuine admission to what he has done wrong, and the trueevil he has undertaken and encouraged.Concerns that he would be labeled "a nutter"prevented Blair from talking about his religion,and his chief henchman and war-mongerCampbell made the point early in Blair'sadministration that "We don't do God."Blair is on the record as saying God will judge himover Iraq.  Perhaps he considers it prudent to get officiallyforgiven ahead of time?UN Human Rights Council reportThe Human Rights Council of the United Nationsissued a report last month into the effect onhuman rights and freedoms in the "war onterror", America's counter terrorism programme.The objective was to make a fact-finding andlegal assessment of US low and practice, andassess the standard to which the US adheresto International Law.The full report can be seen here: UN Special Rapporteur is set up to promoteand protect human rights and freedoms whilecountering terrorism.  Professor of LawMartin Scheinin currently holds the job.The conclusions are found in the document above,but in brief they are as follows:    * The international fight against terrorism is not a       war in the true sense of the word, and the US is      reminded that even during armed conflicts,      international law continues to apply.  This is binding      on every person under its jurisdiction, even outside      its own territory.   *  The term "Unlawful enemy combatants" is used       for convenience and has no legal validity.       Furthermore, the Special Rapporteur has "grave       concerns" over detainees, and their inability to       have a judicial review on their cases.   This amounts       to breaking the International Covenant on Civil and       Political Rights.   *  The exclusion of habeas corpus rights under the Millitary    commissions Act of 2006 is particularly noted.   * The US is urged to close Guantánamo Bay, in acccordance    with the US administration's stated and expressed wishes.    * That military commissions are used to prosecute terrorist-    related suspects are not part of the laws of war, and involve    a retro[...]

Book Review

Mon, 10 Dec 2007 23:54:32 GMT2007-12-10T23:54:32Z

11 December 2007Note:  If this page is not displayed properly, pleaseuse this link.Comrades,P&M have kindly fixed the display of my column, and it'sbeen a good couple of months since I last wrote. Pushedfor a subject, perhaps I could review a couple of thebooks which made a good read over the period.Title : The London Bombings - an independent inquiryAuthor : Nafeez Mosaddeq AhmedPublisher : Duckworth PressThis is the first book I've come across in quite some timewhich has large sections blanked out with the words:    "Section removed for legal reasons"It would be interesting to know whether US editions -with the First Amendment in force - have these sections in place.Summary:The author Nafeez Ahmed does not, as one might havethought, seek to explain the actions of the Londonbombers in terms of their becoming radicalised as aresult of UK/US adventurism in the Middle East.On the contrary, no attempt whatsoever is made to actas their apologist. The best excuse that can be offeredthem according to Ahmed is that they were radicalisedby extremist elements - characters well known to andco-orporating with the UK security services.What Ahmed raises are a lot of very serious questions,so serious that a full public inquiry is an absoluterequirement.  Radical clerics such as Abu Hamza had preached hatred for many years from the notorious Mosques they operated.  Suspected as a double-agent for the security services, his dangerous rhetoric was tolerated.The author contends that Islamic radicals wereallowed to operate by UK secret services under theunderstanding that the UK itself was never going tobe a target for their terrorist actions.The public have so far been allowed only the OfficialAccount of 7/7 - written by anonymous governmentemployees (civil servants), based on secret andunreferenced sources,  censored and/or rewrittenby the government itself before release. This is notthe way in which errors are corrected and lessonslearned.Building on an extensive source of references,The London Bombings make it clear that farfrom being unknown to the security services,this cell was part of a monitored,established al-Qaeda network in the UKCommunications that occurred between theLondon bombers and senior al-Qaedaoperatives who (according to British andUS investigators) masterminded the bombingsare beyond dispute. Telephone calls andcontacts, meetings and participation inAQ front organisations, all solidly link theseLondon bombers with closely monitoredAQ operatives and double agents.The four bombers were members of al-Muhajiroun,a group that US and UK services knew to beinvolved with terrorist activity before 7/7. Leadersof these groups were allowed free travel and werefree from investigation at home, so the notion theywere unknown "clean-skins" that had self-radicalised is a misleading falsehood.  The London Bombings of 7/July/05 left  56 dead (including the bombers), and over 700 injured. *Why did the US and UK give such tacit approvaland support to radical AQ groups in the Balkansand North Africa in the years up to and after11/September/2001? Why were radical Islamistswith established and known terrorist connectionsinside the UK allowed to operate for more thana decade?Why is there considerable dispute about the bombsused, both by the 7/7 bombers and the failedbombers a fortnight later? The initial reports spokeconclusively about weapons-grade plastic explosiveC4 - but this was later downgraded to home-madeTATP.  Forensic experts are apparently still tryingto establish the presence of TATP, however, sohow is the conclusion so solid? pp.26-30The blasts were inconsistent with the known propertyof TATP explosions, and Guardian journalist Mark Honigsbaum (who spent all morning interviewingvictims on 7/7/05) found they:"Believe there was an explosion this morning underthe carriage of the train"... they described[...]

"The Footprint of Freedom"

Mon, 04 Jun 2007 02:14:11 GMT2007-06-04T02:14:11Z

 Location of the stolen countrySource: BBC"Welcome Aboard!" is the title of the US Navy's web page on Diego Garcia. "Congratulations" it continues.Diego Garcia is part of the Chagos archipelago,situated almost exactly halfway between Africaand Asia. The island was inhabited by a gentleCreole nation, who made a living fromsupplying coconut oil (which actually poweredLondon's street lamps), acting as a coalingstation for ships travelling to Australia.Source: BBCA British Colonial Office film from the 1950'sdescribes the people as "Born and brought up... in conditions most tranquil and benign".There were plans for tourism.From the wikipedia entry on Diego GarciaBut in the 1960s and '70s, British governmentsexpelled hese people, and handed the Chagosislands to the US for military use. This wasdone in secrecy, all reference since hasofficially referred to the island as if it hadalways been uninhabited.In 1964 the British Government offeredindependence to Mauritius, with the conditionthat the Chagos archipelago belonged toBritain. (UN resolution 1514 alreadyguaranteed all colonial people inalienablerights to independence.) Parliament wasnot informed.The Washington Post first revealed that,in 1975, the UK government received a$14M discount on Polaris nuclearsubmarines, in exchange for leasingthe islands to the US military. This hadnot been approved by Congress. Therewas no mention of any population.The US Navy website's reference toDiego Garcia continues:   "You have been selected to join one of the Navy's   finest operational commands anywhere in the   world: Diego Garcia, British Indian Ocean Territory    (B.I.O.T.). If you're looking for a professional    challenge, a close-knit team, unbelievable    recreational facilities and exquisite natural    beauty, then you are coming to the perfect place!"    "Recreational    opportunities are    numerous and we are   constantly expanding   facilities to make  life   more comfortable"      "On behalf of everyone on Diego Garcia,    I hope you have a safe and pleasant    journey to the "the Footprint of Freedom." And indeed, life seems pretty comfortable forthe service personnel whooping it up: Sadly, no native of this "footprint of freedom"has been allowed to appreciate "the exquisite natural beauty" of their island since 1965. We sometimes hear reports of UK/US bombing raids originating from Diego Garcia, during the course of military action against Iraq or Afghanistan.Source:  Bits of newsThe islands are invariably described as uninhabited- which is true, now. Oddly enough, the Navy's web-site's telling of the history of Diego Garcia entirelyfails to mention the people who lived there, otherthan to say "Plantations on Diego Garcia wereclosed in 1971, following a decision to establishthe U.S. Navy Supprt Facility based on the 1966Exchange of Notes between Great Britain andthe United States."1967 Coconut Factory WorkersSo there were simply plantations, subsequentlyclosed, and that's that?  Not quite. GlobalSecurity.orggoes into much further detail of the island's history:But curiously enough, they too neglect to mentionwhat actually happened to the original inhabitants."Camp Justice" Besides being a military base, Diego Garcia alsoholds an unknown number of detainees, "terrorsuspects", in a CIA facility called Camp Justice.Liberal Democrat MP Tom Brake has described "very large hangers" (warehouses) visible onsatellite images.The 30-acre site below is called a "temporaryhousing area", but not just for personnelsupporting the Operation Enduring Freedom,as GlobalS[...]

Iran and Iraq

Wed, 09 May 2007 01:14:58 GMT2007-05-09T01:14:58Z

9/May/07Comrades,It's been an eventful month or so,  andthere's quite some catching up to do.IranThe ActionThe case of the Royal Navy Marinesheld in Iran for nearly a fortnight hassort-of been forgotten.   These thingsare too inconvenient to remember forvery long.  After all, the Iranianpresident Ahmadinejad had playedthe incident masterfully, pleasing hisown people (many of whom  originallywanted to see the 15 put on trial), avoided a serious confrontation withthe UK/US,  and appeared reasonableto the rest of the world.Despite the fact that they were allreleased unharmed as promised, Blairis unable to take a conciliatory line.Bush and American media were bitterlydisappointed,  and armchair generalson both sides of the Atlantic werewheeled in to denounce supposedcowardice.  The 15 lightly armedmarines should have made a futileultimate sacrifice - hopefully starting awar in the process.Source:  GuardianNote the marines are all still clutchingtheir gift-bags from Iran, despite beingsafely back in the UK.  Odd behaviourfrom people apparently terrified of their hosts.The SpinOur marines were in a hopeless situation,and could be expected to say everythingthe Iranians wanted while in custody. Nevertheless, they seemed to  positivelywarm to their role in giving coercedtestimony - seemingly very at ease, evenjoking with each other.Souce: Al-AlamThe handwritten letters from leadingseaman Faye Turney were clearlydictated by Iran.  Her statements (and that of the othermarines) that they were definitely inIranian waters is false - the watershave constantly been in dispute betweenIraq and Iran.(Our God-given right to be in Iraq's waterwas - of course - not questioned.)After all, we know very well that peoplewill sing like canaries if enough pressureis applied - why else Guantanamo,secret prisons and our calculatedtechniques of physical and emotionaldistress to supposedly extract information?If they had said just that, and admittedthey'd co-operated under duress, nobodycould sensibly blame them.*Instead, we were treated to a series ofretractions which looked more coercedthan the original statements made underIranian supervision.   The Marines deniedmaking the statements we had all seena few days earlier.  They claimed roughtreatment, but none had marks that hadlasted the fortnight.Source: BBCThe female and males were kept inseparate quarters, we were shockedto hear.  (Actually, the Iranians probablythought this was for her protection.)A sceptical public needed somethingelse, so the Marines were allowedto give their stories to the press. Fair enough, but here the storieswere in return for large amountsof cash.   The public was deeplyunimpressed.*The denouncements of Iran wentfurther - our Marines were frightenedat being captured, we were told.  Oneconfessed to crying himself to sleepeach night, another was most upsetthat his iPod had been stolen.His iPod had been stolen.  Rule Britannia.As it is, the best that can be scrapedfrom the situation leaves us (theUK/US) looking like hypocrites ofthe first order, and future detaineesin similar circumstances far lesslikely to be treated leniently.  The Real StoryAs first revealed in Private Eye,HMS Cornwall was being coveredby the BBC,  Sky News and Channel-5 News as a flagship, showingCaptain Nick Lambert commandingcoalition task for 158 in the northern Gulf.Source:  Royal NavyThe Lynx helicopter covering the inflatablessent to inspect the passing freighter Al-Haninwas called back because the BBC had anappointment to visit Commander Nick Lambert.(Side note : Nick Lambert was Captainof HMS Endurance in 2005.   Nearly 25years earlier, HMS Endurance wasbasically offered as bait to the ArgentinianJunta.   The ship could single-handedlyfend off the Argentinians from theFalkland Islands, according to ForeignSecretary Lord Carrin[...]

Interview with Brian Haw - part 1

Sun, 18 Mar 2007 18:52:29 GMT2007-03-18T18:52:29Z

18/3/2007Comrades,Last weekend I went to see the last protest allowedoutside Parliament, and to interview the lastprotester - Brian Haw.   As mentioned in previousarticles, he is allowed there only because the newlaw banning protest was not made retroactive.  Since on-going protests prior to the law were notcovered,  Brian Haw's protest can remain - as longas it remains continuous.It has ran continuously for 2115 days so far.Photo by Marc Vallee, 23/11/06 Brian Haw on his 2000'th consecutive day and night in Parliament Square.This first part of the interview covers the religiousangle, which Brian feels has been blasphemouslyhijacked to justify war.Having been given the mobile telephone number forMr Haw, he agreed to do an interview for P&M.   Your intrepid reporter tracked down Downing Street(where the British PM Blair resides), but found nosign of Brian Haw or his protest.Picture:  Glenn Barder, P&MA police officer -heavily armed -cheerfully told methat I'd find himabout 1/2 mileaway, as his protesthad moved tooutside Parliamentitself, and helpfullyprovided directions.Brian Haw was pacing about on the lawn outside andacross the road from Parliament, talking on his mobile.Various helpers of his enable him to maintain thiscontinuous vigil, so I spoke with them for a while untilBrian became available.Picture:  Glenn Barder, P&MSome helpers wereseasoned protestveterans of manynationalities,including formerhuman shields.Brian can only leaveto attend numerouscourt cases - leavingfor any other reasonwill end this lastprotest permanently.*Finishing his telephone conversation about an hourlater,  Brian was in no mood for a interview.  It hadn'tbeen an uplifting conversation, apparently.   Doubtless tired of thousands of people wanting tohave a chat, make fun of him, and just having togo over the same issues he's discussed countlesstimes, he does not always welcome idle conversations.Picture by Mark WallingerBefore most of the protestbanners were dismantledfor "security reasons", thedisplay was much moreextensive.Picture by Mark WallingerExhibits from the originalprotest can currentlybe seen in Tate Britainwhere an exhibition iscurrently taking place.The exhibition in the gallery itself is verypowerful, impossible to witness withoutbeing emotionally moved.   Please takethe time to see some of the display itemsby using this link.Back for the interviewPicture:  Glenn Barder, P&MI began by acknowledging he has probably beenthrough the issues thousands of times,  and he said he'ssick and tired of it.   Brian wanted to know if I had all thebackground.  His friends had vouched for me, that I wasaware of the issues, and was not there to waste time.Brian asked what I wanted to know.Explaining this was for a US based site, I asked for hispersonal experience - what had made him take up thisendeavour, given Americans often identify withindividual stories rather than simple facts and figuresabout others.Was it the sanctions that started this campaign?Brian Haw: What does "sanctions" mean for goodness sake?USA?  UK?   God almighty.  God forgive us.  TheUnited States of Assassins.  Have you checked itout?  Genocidal Britain.  Check out what we've donearound the nations during the course of history. Check out what the United States of Assassins hasdone.  It's horrifying.Sanctions?  It's called Genocide.  That's what wedo.  Bomb, burn, bury your neighbour.  Who do wethink we are? Check out DU.  Check out Depleted Uraniummunitions.  Our war material, made from our nuclearwaste.  Check what we do.GB (P&M): We've finally found a way of disposing of it, haven't we?Brian Haw:Isn't that neat. &nb[...]

Control Orders

Tue, 13 Feb 2007 01:31:18 GMT2007-02-13T01:31:18Z

14/2/07Comrades,To complement terms such as "Extraordinary Rendition", the practiceof subjecting people to "Control Orders" has now entered the lexiconof received cynicism.These "control orders" are a set of seemingly meaningless andarbitrary restrictions which impose a cruel limitation on the livesof those selected. The restrictions are based on secret evidence,closed courts where even the defence lawyer is not allowed toknow the charges, and are laughable unsuitable for stopping agenuine jihadist bent on destruction in any case.Nearly a year ago, Amnesty International released a heavilycritical report on the UK's compliance with its human rightsobligations. Obligations as signed up to under InternationalLaw, not just some wish-list.*The Control Order programme is still in full operation. Theidea is to punish undesirables out of the country, to trip themup by falling foul of arbitrary and punitive restrictions. In manycases the families of such individuals are punished along withthem, and they feel no choice but to return to a repressiveregime, from whose torture they fled in the first place.AI's Secretary General emphasised:    There is now a dangerous imbalance between draconian    actions the UK is taking in the name of security and its    obligation to protect human rights. These measures tarnish    the UK’s image and its ability to promote human rights abroad."The UK government's practices of holding people on thebasis of evidence the accused cannot know or challengeis described as "Kafkaesque", the government is accusedof by-passing courts. No case is ever tried. The evidenceis too sensitive.But the AI criticism goes much further, from an organisationwhich specifically avoid political judgements, and retainsinternational respectibility only through its impartiality:    "Most worrying of all has been the effort of the UK    government to weaken the absolute ban on torture"*Not so long ago, absolutely devestating evidencehad UK's airports locked down, and still today wehave absurd restrictions in travel - arbitrary,rediculous and ineffective in any case.The Home Office admitted there has been nospecific terror threat.  No evidence of anythingwas found.Source:  BBCNothing has happened as a result of these arrests, and noevidence of any substance whatsoever has been produced.In Notting Hill, a family (Muslim, as it happens) was arrestedby 250 police, and their house pretty much dismantled - allon the grounds of "Intelligence". Nothing was found, all werereleased with apologies.Brazilian electrician Menezes was shot dead - 7times at point-blank range in the head - because"intelligence" had it that he was a suspect. Hewas entirely innocent.Jean Charles de Menezes- shot dead 22/7/2005Source:  ThisIsLondonBut why should we look further for the reliabilityof "intelligence", when the fearsome WMD of Iraqwere absolutely known about, and thereforejustified the basis for war?*ASBOs and Control OrdersA previous article mentioned ASBOs - Anti-Social BehaviourOrders. These share a theme with our new Control Orders.You may not have committed a crime which is brought beforethe courts. You may have broken no law. But you can besubjected to an ASBO or CO.Once this ASBO or CO has been levied upon you, you mustabide with its conditions. Failure to do so is a crime, andyou can be thrown in jail or - even more seriously for asylumseekers - sent back to the country that tortured you and madeyou flee.And the more onorous the conditions imposed, the morelikely we are able to dispose of you, and have you in jailor back to wherever you came from, without all that botherabout legal trivialities such as due process, International Law,and bothersome courts asking if there is i[...]

"New" Labour's winds of change

Sat, 27 Jan 2007 01:46:17 GMT2007-01-27T01:46:17Z

29/01/2007Comrades,Blair has a remarkable talent for becoming best friends withrich and powerful people.   He also has a well tuned senseof the way the wind is blowing, so to anticipate which side ofhis face best be shown.Clinton was Blair's natural friend at the start of his premiership.Both were artful spin-masters,  relatively youthful  (Blair was theyoungest PM for 200 years, Clinton since Roosevelt),  and bothunbound by any particularly strong principles.  Both had strong career wives, a background in law,  and came topower on the back of a long and finally unpopular Conservative rule.It has been a puzzle to many why Blair has behaved the wayhe has, and if some other commentator writes the same conclusionbefore this post is up, my apologies  - Blair governs Britain in thestyle of whoever is currently in power in Washington, and is finallyshifting course now that Washington's leadership is changing.Nevertheless, he stands by Bush, will sink with him, and beremembered as the worst Prime Minister this country has everhad.The Clinton influenceAmerica has a culture quite different to that of Britain, andthere are various pros and cons for each.  One significantdifference is that it is a less socially progressive country,this much is beyond dispute.Whether Britain should abandon - continue to abandon -a social approach to governance, drift from the European modeland become more right wing is a matter of debate, but theanswer in a democracy should be decided by the people.The people made their choice, and got the opposite ofthat which was advertised.In 1997, Blair ended 18 long years of Tory rule.  The electoratehad decided it had had enough.  People - despite the urgingsof a right wing press - always did want a better public serviceand socially progressive policies.The rich buy their ink in barrels and have a louder voice, andtheir fearful screams about higher taxes and a destroyed economymade people accept that Thatcherism was necessary as thealternatives were even worse,  until even business had hadenough of the incompetence and sleaze.Once the press backed off support for the Tories, Labour sweptin on a wave of popularity.   Anything seemed possible.  Not manysuspected nightmares on an even grander scale were likely to bedelivered from this "New" Labour.*Britain voted the Tories out because they wanteda change, but Blair was besotted with Clintonand his successful presidency.   He confused theelectorate's desire with personal approval, andchanged the basis of British politics to a presidential,top-down style, with his infallible self at the head.He set about imposing the benefits of anAmerican society for the rich - nationalising risksand cost, while privitising benefits and profit.  This was carried out  with a greater abandonthan even Thatcher dared.  Little wonder, then,at Thatcher and Blair's mutual admiration.Source: gpo.govClinton could do this and act as a progressive,but Britain was coming to this position fromthe opposite direction, and so took the country ona huge lurch to the right.   Again - this needs emphasising -a shift to the right was not what had just been voted for.Many of us who actually have a lot of respect for America's institutions,the freedoms and rights granted by the Bill of Rights and the Constitution,are angered that Blair's happy-clappy "Third Way" omits these benefitsto citizens, while upholding corporate benefits on a scale unheard ofsince the 19th Century. What does Blair really mean by "Third Way"?  As Lewis Carroll wrote inAlice through the looking glass, "When I use a word, it means whateverI want it to mean, no more, no less."Swiftly shifting to BushAs disaster struck in November 2000 and Al Gore (not to ment[...]

Debt to the US, real war sacrifice, and the death sentence

Tue, 09 Jan 2007 19:32:18 GMT2007-01-09T19:32:18Z

Comrades,It's fair to say that most of Europe was pretty appalled by thetreatment and execution of Saddam Hussein.   The fact thata state execution takes place at all is bad enough, but thiswas effectively a lynching.Besides outraging the very small minority of Saddam loyalists,Sunni Muslims are obviously going to feel the US installedand run government has no interest in them.  Not just theSunnis in Iraq, but those in Saudi, Egypt and Syria - the veryplace were all the "foreign fighters" are supposed to becoming from.   Calm down the situation, use diplomacy andintelligence - real intelligence?  Never.Saddam Hussein had gained such a long and fearsomereputation in his 25 year dictatorship, some who did notsupport Sunni or Saddam himself could believe that oneday he might be back.  After all, the Americans have beenknown to change their minds on these things.  The fact ofSaddam's existence was a deterrent to taking action.  If theyrose up on the wrong side, what would be their fate ifSaddam returned?   Now, with his sons gone too, theyhave nothing to fear by rising up.Turning a brutal dictator like Saddam Hussein into a martyrseemed an impossible job.   Yet the Bush administrationmanaged it.The British debt to AmericaBlair and Bush like to talk about colossal battles, the great trial ofour times, a desperate and noble mission to defeat the evil aboutto engulf us.  It's just that we don't get it, and Blair is saddened byour lack of commitment, Bush is outraged at the lack of patriotism.Perhaps we don't understand this to be a titanic struggle betweengood and evil, because we recognise the Middle East adventureas an unequal smashing of an unarmed, depleted country by theworld's super-power, followed by a ham-fisted and unpopularoccupation.British people understand the cost of genuine war, they need nolectures from Blair or Bush on this.Britain owed a great deal to America after the Second World War.So much, in fact, that the final payment was only made at thestart of 2007.    The last installment was only $83M,  but the loanstarted with nearly $4.3Billion .There was a lot to spend it on.Many cities in Britain were absolutelybombed flat during the war.  If notquite as sudden, a "9/11" typedevastation across vast swathes ofevery major city remained, in whichwe celebrated an end to the war.   Allthis required building - and with moneyand resources in short supply, this wasnot always done particularly well.Source: eyewitnesstohistory.comThe Bltiz , bombing from the air, was over six years, and killedabout 43,000 people while destroying over a million homes. Casualties were greatly reduced, because people were usedto running for bomb shelters as soon as sirens sounded.  This was usually at night, and lasted for many hours. Source:*Americans have not suffered a widespread attack since thecountry was formed, in living or spoken memory,  but theirperspective might have been broadened as to the real costsof war with the benefit of such experience.   The very notionof Blair & Bush's  "Churchillian victory" over Iraq is deeplyinsulting to ancestors and older relatives from the war, whounderstand what genuine sacrifice from a nation means.*Industry had been turned entirely to war production, andmajor re-tooling was required for a return to civilian purposes.A lot of men returned from war to unemployment, and thewounded and war widows needed looking after.The rate was pretty favourable at 2%, but there was someannoyance that Britain had been given a loan, while othercountries - particularly those who had started the war - weregiven free aid under the Marshall Plan and saw theireconomies boom. &nbs[...]

The Treachery of Blair

Thu, 14 Dec 2006 21:08:33 GMT2006-12-14T21:08:33Z

21/12/2006Comrades,There are worse things than losing an election.   Having an election stolencounts, but losing your party to the opposition is that much worse.  When youlose your party to a bunch of fanatics in a foreign country,  whose views arediametrically opposed to the founding principles of your party, the problembecomes a disaster.During the run of normal takeovers a brutal dictator is brought in, the oppositionsilenced or killed, and dissent rooted from the press.   Politicians have long beenbribed, threatened or blackmailed away from opposing the ruling elite too much.But rarely has a popular opposition been stolen before our eyes, and the valuesof the incumbent entirely accepted by the opposition before taking over.  And thisagainst popular sentiment.  It is unprecedented in British politics - and Americaneeds to be very, very careful the same does not happen there.The origins of the Labour partyIn order to fully understand the depth of Blair's betrayal, it's necessary tounderstand what Labour was, prior to becoming "New" Labour.Labour was founded in Farrington Street, London, in 1900.    It was formed torepresent the working class, and give a true political arm to the unions thathad long fought for the interests of the vast majority of the country.  James "Kier" Hardy was one of two MPs as the first representatives of the British working class.  Or another way, he was the first representative of a party which was not given entirely over to providing for the gentrified classes.   In his younger days, he had organised unions in various collieries(mines) in Lancashire, and became Britain's first ever socialist MPin the general election of 1892.   Merthyr Tydfil, in south Wales, wasonce the source of vast amounts of profit.  Coal mines and ironsmelting, fueled by the destruction of most of the Forest of Dean,provided vast fortunes while the workers lived on subsistence wages.It is said that more wealth was extracted from the Rhondda Valley (SouthWales, again) than was taken from India during time of the British Empire.With wages mostly only redeemable in "truck shops" owned by the IronMasters and pit owners, the 10,000 population of Merthyr Tydfil had a singletap for water between them in the mid nineteenth century.  Meanwhile, theIron Masters and Coal Masters lived in absolute splendor,  lives as distantfrom their workers as today's Saudi Kings are to the average westerner.The roots of the Labour party were from the unions that represented theunderclass, the working people that generated the country's wealth. Labour was the party representing those not born into wealth.  The idea itmight sell out to corporate interests even while an unpopular Conservativeparty was about to be kicked out was unthinkable.   Yet Blair managed it.Stealing the OppositionBlair came to power as the prodigy of John Smith, who led theLabour party out of the dark days into the inevitable successorof a deeply unpopular Conservative rule.  John Smith, even more tragically for humanity as history plays out,  died in 1995.  Considerably more popular than incumbent PM John Major, he would have become Prime Minister at the next election.  John Smith was renowned for his honesty and adherence to core principles.Source:  BBCThe charismatic Blair took over, despite severe misgivings about his trueloyalties.   The popular press (The Mail, Sun, Express, Times, Telegraphet al, all owned by heavily biased business interests) started to coddle Blairand assurances were granted.  They stopped providing institutional supportfor the Tories - their mismanagement o[...]

Becoming a terrorist, and hate crimes

Sun, 26 Nov 2006 21:22:24 GMT2006-11-26T21:22:24Z

28/11/06Comrades,Becoming a terrorist is not as hard as it used to be. Years ago,you would have to go to all the trouble of making plots, throwingbombs and overcoming any moral scruples concerning the safetyof ordinarymembers of the public.These days, you can become a terrorist simply by reading out a list.Or wearing a T-shirt.  There are plenty of references to peopleswept up under new police powers, but these three examplesmake the point clear.   Anyone can be arrested and have apermanent record of terrorism against them for exercising themost modest free speech rights.Convicted of reading out names of dead soldiers  Maya Evans,  a 25 year old vegan cook,  became the first person to be arrested and convicted under new laws banning demonstrations near Parliament. She was found guilty of acting contrary to Section 132 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005.Her crime consisted of her standing by the Cenotaph near Downingstreet, and reading aloud the 97 names of British soldiers who haddied in Iraq at that time.As befitted the seriousness of such a threat to the state, two policesergeants and 12 constables in two minibuses were dispatched forthe arrest.  She was held for 5 hours of questioning, charged andconvicted in court. She got a conditional discharge, and ordered to pay 100 pounds incosts.  This may sound like a light sentence, but she now has a recordof terrorism against her.  Not very helpful to anyone who plans afuture career or freedom to travel.Convicted of heckling during party conference   Walter Wolfgang, 82, is a Jew who escaped the Nazis. A veteran peace activist, he has been a Labour party member for 57 years.Source:  BBC news     Shouting "Nonsense" to Foreign Secretary Jack Straw as Straw praised our Iraq adventure, he was bundled out by heavies.He tried to re-enter the hall later.  Police stopped him - anembarrassed officer siting "anti-terrorist legislation" as the reason.Convicted of wearing a T-shirt John Catt, another long-time peace campaigner at 81, was joininga protest in Brighton when police stopped him with concern overhis T-shirt.  It proclaimed:  Bush Blair Sharon to be tried for war crimes, torture, human rights abuse and, lower down: The leaders of rogue states.The former WW-II RAF man was dragged to the ground by fourpolice officers, searched and made to sign a form confirming hisinterview under the 2000 Terrorism Act.   He later refused theoffer of a caution.Convicted of nothing due to government incompetenceBrian Haw has become a standard feature in Parliament Squaresince June 2001.  This has angered and embarrassed Blair, butlegally, he was doing nothing wrong.  This has not stopped policetaking down all his placards and bringing Haw in for questioning onnumerous occasions, of course, but the Law could not prevent his return.The Serious Organised Crime and police Act 2005 was designedspecifically to get rid of him, and prevent any further such protests.  The legislation was not made retrospective, however - so his pre-existing protest was not included.   (This is currently under appealby the government.)Haw continues to this day.   He never leaves the vigil, and dependsentirely on well-wishers.  If he left, his banners would be removedand he would not be allowed to return.Blair has often tried to dismiss his authoritarian regime with referenceto Brian Haw's protest.  During an e-mail exchange with The Observer'sHenry Porter, Blair claimed:You say people can only have blank placards outside Parliament and can'tprotest. Go and look at the placards of those camp[...]

One cheer for democracy

Thu, 09 Nov 2006 23:43:47 GMT2006-11-09T23:43:47Z

11/November/2006The title of this article comes from E.M.Forster's "Two cheers forDemocracy".   Quoting Forster,"So Two cheers for Democracy: one because it admits variety and two because it permits criticism."But this article only allows for one of these cheers, because thesecond - in this case criticism of an on-going and extensivecrime against humanity - is not permitted.  This isn't a time to gloat, good as it feels. There will be plenty of time for that later. Now is the time to correct the terrible wrongs we've been raving about this past half decade. It is imperative that we prosecute the criminals behind these war crimes, so their would-be successors can feel the weight of history pressing on their shoulders.Inappropriate influence?British chief executives donate large sums to Republican candidatesin this latest election, reads a sideline on the business pages ofThe Independent.Back in the 1990's, while I was living in America, a Huge Scandal brokeout concerning President Clinton and foreign money coming into theDemocratic campaign.  Indeed, the Investigation of Illegal or ImproperActivities in Connection with 1996 Federal Election Campaigns appearedquite specific about such funding.  This gave me the impression thatreceiving cash from foreigners is deeply frowned upon.The US is particularly concerned that foreigninfluence should not bear on their own elections.Pretty much all Americans agree on that, arevery suspicious and rightly so.Interfering with the elections of other countriesare quite acceptable, however.  In fact, they areso commonplace - together with drawing upfuture governments of countries - there arerare examples of countries where the US has not interfered.Mochtar Riady and son James in 1994(AP File Photo)Given all this fuss about the Clinton's administration's receiving of cashfrom foreigners, it was a surprise to find money freely handed over withouteven a whisper of concern in the right-wing chattering classes.According to The Independent, UK executive directors have been sendingmoney.  AstraZeneca:  UK Chief Executive David Brennan and his wifecontributed $31,000 to individual politicians, and Republican setups suchas the Majority Initiative to Keep Electing RepublicansShire Pharmaceuticals: UK Chairman James Cavanaugh (and his wife)contributed $36,000 to the Republican party and candidates in Pennsylvania. GlaxoSmithKline: All US based senior executives contributed 4-figure sums.CE Jean-Pierre Garnier donated $5000 to three sitting senators, includingone Democrat, in the last two years.GSK's head of pharmaceuticals, David Stout, and David Pulman, GSk'smanufacturing head, gave $2000 for Pennsylvania's senator (R) Rick Santorum.All three have funded Santorum's campaign.  Garnier (GSK) gave £2000,Brennadn (same) $4100 and Shire's Matthew Emmens $500 - all in thiselection cycle.Naturally, all these companies are driven by goodness, and just wanteveryone be healthy.  The idea that they might want to buy politicians toboost profits is entirely cynical.One need only look at such pictures on thesecompany's "mission statements" to recognisetheir pure motives.GSK and AstraZeneca have given $2.1M and $806K respectively in twoyears, nearly all to the Republican party.*Given all this fuss about election influencing, why is perfectly OK for Britishpharmaceutical company chiefs to get funds into Republican party coffers,particularly when they have such a clear profit motive?While we were looking the other way...Gaza is battered, poverty stricken, and desperately overcrowded.  It is themost densely populated area on earth.  The [...]

A culture of debt

Fri, 03 Nov 2006 01:11:53 GMT2006-11-03T01:11:53Z

4November/2006A culture of debtComrades,Most of my articles to date have concerned some significant differences between theUS and pretty much anywhere else.  This subject is one where the US and Britain areboth out of step with other civilised nations.Indeed, debt has become so ordinary that most people consider it a fact of life.Whereas we are firmly wedded to the buy-now-pay-later lifestyle, most European countries(such as France and Germany) avoid debt as much as possible, and much prefer savingand living in an economical manner.British debtAccording to DataMontior, the average British person has over twice the unsecured debt ofan average European.  Even before taking mortgages into  account, this average debt is£3175 ($6054), compared with a European average of £1,588 ($3028).When mortgages are included, total debt is nearly £1.3Trn ($2,48T).  This is growing at anastonishing rate, as can be seen from the chart: vastly outstrips inflation and earnings.  This debt has to be paid for.Debt is about three times the level in 1997 when Blair took office.According to One Advice, one of many debt counselling services, over100,000 people aged 18-24 owe credit card bills of over £5000 ($9500). So the situation is much along the lines ofthat in the US.  But it is quite distinct fromthe patterns of the rest of Europe.Apart from Italy, all countries on this charthave higher populations, making UK debteven more significant.HousingThe popular impression from the press has always been that house price rises areunquestionably good.  A steady 10% - 20% rise per year was regarded as essentialincome, according to conventional wisdom.   Clearly, this impression can only comefrom someone owning more than one property - nevertheless, people gathered theimpression that their rising property value was money in their pocket.  (Not everyonerealised that any alternative accommodation they might have in mind would also haverisen in price.)House prices have rocketed in the UK over the past few decades, and rent costsincreased proportionally.  The latest reports suggest the cost of an average home isnow above £200,000 ($381,000).  RightMove put average asking price as £201,600. The average London house is near £400,000.First-time buyers have the most difficult time, not having an existing property to use forthe deposit on a new purchase.  Prices for first-time buyer property is rising faster thanany other catagory, according to MoneyWeek.  Such first-time purchases were anaverage of £174,782 in August 2006, an increase of 36% in two years.Familiar to Americans will be the trap of not being able to afford the deposit on amortgage, paying such high rent in the meantime that saving for a deposit is difficult,with house prices escalating all the while.Prices have doubled in the last five years.  The Halifax, one of the world's largest BuildingSocieties (mortage lender), report house prices at five and a half times income.  But that's5.5 time the earnings of the buyer, not national average, so the true figure is much higher- about seven times the national average.The rules used to be that only 2.5 times annual income could be borrowed.  Now, up to10 times income is allowed.Council housesCouncil houses are property - often purpose builtby the hundred or thousand - maintained andowned by local councils, and rented out at lowrates to the generally less well off working class.This by no means the destitute or underemployed.Families lived for entire generations under thesesystems, the service was decent and respectableneighbourhoods worked [...]

Faith in the State

Fri, 20 Oct 2006 23:50:00 GMT2006-10-20T23:50:00Z

21/October/2006Comrades,Restricting this article to a couple of thousand wordstook some doing. Final drafts had most sections deleted,and the remaining trimmed mercilessly. Perhaps they canbe taken up on the message boards. Something halfway toa book probably doesn't have a place here.The sections that remain discussed are:- Faith in Government- UK government line - "We don't do God"- Religion in British society- Religion in America - a British perspective- Talking with religious activistsPlease know that all feedback is welcomed.Faith in GovernmentBritain is nominally a Christian nation, as the Church ofEngland is our official state religion. In practice, thecountry and government is entirely secular. Religiousstatements from government are very rarely made, and thenstrictly limited to such innocuous expressions as "Godsave the Queen". Anything else would be treated ascontempt for the public's intelligence, would certainlyalienate people of other faiths or no faith at all. Thoseof the religion a politician supposedly speaks for arealso annoyed that they are being patronised, and affrontedat the use of their faith for political gain.Even denominational leaders themselves are treated withdisdain on the whole when they make public pronouncements,whatever they happen to be saying.Official - "We don't do God"Blair has been tempted to share his faith with what heregards as a country waiting to be guided by him on allthings. But his spin-minders are far more in tune withthe country that its leader. Alistair Campbell (chiefspin-meister until late August 2003) famously steppedin to cut down a religous based question to Prime MinisterBlair, telling journalists "We don't do God."Alastair Cambell - definitelyno bully or control freakBlair was asked during an interview with David Frost,after the South Asian tidal wave of December 2004, on therole that God played in the disaster. Blair shifted awkwardly,grimaced and stammered for several seconds before replyingthat someone more knowledgeable should be asked that.His handlers had done their job well. Nobody in Britainwants our Prime Minister telling us what God thinks, orclaiming to act on his behalf.Before the last election, Jeremy Paxman - a pretty toughjournalist - asked Blair in a lengthy interview whetherGeorge W Bush and he had prayed together when they met.This brief extract does not give justice to the squirmingand hesitancy Blair exhibited when discussing the point:-------------startJEREMY PAXMAN: [...]I want to explore a little further aboutyour personal feelings about this war. Does the fact that GeorgeBush and you are both Christians make it easier for you toview these conflicts in terms of good and evil?TONY BLAIR: I don't think so, no, I think that whether you're aChristian or you're not a Christian you can try perceive what isgood and what is, is evil.JEREMY PAXMAN: You don't pray together for example?TONY BLAIR: No, we don't pray together Jeremy, no.JEREMY PAXMAN: Why do you smile?TONY BLAIR: Because - why do you ask me the question?JEREMY PAXMAN: Because I'm trying to find out how you feel about it.TONY BLAIR: Possibly.-------------endHowever, "The Faith of George W. Bush" by Christian author StephenMansfield states the very opposite, and clarified to The Observer:'There is no question they have shared scripture and prayed together.'Former senior Time writer David Aikman confirms in his book "A Man OfFaith: The Spiritual Journey Of George W Bush" that the Prime Ministerand the President did indeed pray together.Blair has made no secret of the fact that his faith is importantto him. His wife is a practicing Cat[...]

Off to War

Sun, 08 Oct 2006 04:02:40 GMT2006-10-08T04:02:40Z

07/October/2006Off To War----------Military service in America is a Big Thing. People say,"Thank you for your service" and respect the military on pointof principle. It's a good thing to honour defenders ofyour country, even if that respect doesn't exactlytranslate into providing decent care for those damagedby their service.When talking to Americans about wars and their justification(or lack of), I'm often challenged over my own military service,as if this qualifies one for judging a war's merits.This is peculiar, because I really don't look 80+ years old. The lasttime the UK was at war with a real enemy was 1939-1945 againstGermany. Since then, we have not been attacked by anothercountry, and had no call to wage war.People here do not get challenged about our own lack of militaryservice, at least not in living memory. Put simply, nobody inEurope is under the impression we are in an almost constant state ofwar, to the extent one expects praise for being employed by the miltary.There is no threat of any significance to our country.  Should onearise, we are prepared to sign up and fight right away.*But... but... what about the "War on Terror", "9/11", "Wewere attacked" and so on?True - the UK has been attacked by terrorists. The IRA -funded almost totally by America - committed thousands of terroristattacks. Punishment beatings, torture, racketeering and assassinationsoccured on a daily basis, with indiscriminate bombings and attackson civilians and infrastructure.But this isn't something we went to war with Ireland over.The arguments for going to war in Afghanistan could have been usedwith even greater justification. Bombing Ireland was neverconsidered by anyone except lunatics.Joining the army pretty much meant serving as peacekeepers inNorthern Island for three years, before largely inactive dutyabroad somewhere.Serving in the military is seen much more as a job to the populaceat large, rather than a playing a crucial role of defence. We knowperfectly well than no country would consider invading the UK, orany other European Union nation.Our "7/7" bombers claimed, as recorded, that they carried outtheir attacks because of British foreign policy.This was dismissed by the government. The bombers must have beenlying about why they were about to violently murder and die fortheir cause.*The last time the UK went to war as a matter of necessity wason 3 September 1939, when we declared war on Germany along withFrance, Australia and New Zealand. Canada also declared wara week later.Germany declared war on the US, on 11 December 1941.This was the last war in which we - the UK - felt a real dangeragainst which we needed to defend ourselves. Not so for theUS. America has felt itself to be in constant danger, withwars conducted almost continually since. This impression ofbeing on permanent defence is not suprising, given declarationsof every president since WW-II about ever-present danger, andthe necessity of conducting wars continuously.Here is a partial list of countries bombed by the US since WWII:--------China 1945-46Korea 1950-53China 1950-53Guatemala 1954Indonesia 1958Cuba 1959-60Guatemala 1960Belgian Congo 1964Guatemala 1964Dominican Republic 1965-66Peru 1965Laos 1964-73Vietnam 1961-73Cambodia 1969-70Guatemala 1967-69Lebanon 1982-84Grenada 1983-84Libya 1986El Salvador 1981-92Nicaragua 1981-90Libya 1986Iran 1987-88Libya 1989Panama 1989-90Iraq 1991-2002Kuwait 1991Somalia 1992-94Croatia 1994 (of Serbs at Krajina)Bosnia 1995Iran 1998 (airliner)Sudan 1998Afghanistan 1998Yugoslavia 1999Afghanistan 2001-presentIraq 1991-2003, on a regular basisIraq 2003-present---------(Added to[...]


Thu, 28 Sep 2006 00:02:44 GMT2006-09-28T00:02:44Z

27/Sept/2006Guns-----While living in the US, guns were pretty much a part of daily life. People had guns, all the police had them, people talked about them often and we heard plenty of reports of injury and death, through crimes and accidents involving guns.While it might seem arrogant to suggest it, coming from a foreigner, I have to tell you - it really doesn't have to be this way.This article is unlikely to win many friends or agreement in the US. The cost of thousands of lives and injury through having a gun culture is an unfortunate price which must be paid, according to just about every American I've talked to. The exact reason why this price must be paid escapes the British in particular, and Europeans generally. The advantages seem thin, the cost huge, and the supposed balance of power which to influence government frankly laughable.US gun ownership--------------------An inalienable right, set in the constitution and all that - although this right isn't quite inalienable. For instance, a person cannot own or transport a gun if they fall into the following categories: * Those convicted of crimes punishable by imprisonment for over one year, except state misdemeanors punishable by two years or less. * Fugitives from justice. * Unlawful users of certain depressant, narcotic, or stimulant drugs. * Those adjudicated as mental defectives or incompetents or those committed to any mental institution. * Illegal aliens. * Citizens who have renounced their citizenship. * Those persons dishonorably discharged from the Armed Forces. * Persons less than 18 years of age for the purchase of a shotgun or rifle. * Persons less than 21 years of age for the purchase of a firearm that is other than a shotgun or rifle. * Persons subject to a court order that restrains such persons from harassing, stalking, or threatening an intimate partner. * Persons convicted in any court of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence. of guns was supposed to be a limit to the power of government, in that a standing army was not so necessary when well-armed militias were available to call upon. was back in the days of muskets, of course. A modern army has weaponry vastly more deadly than that available to citizens, and thenotion of militias being able to match the government with firepower is ludicrous.Having said that, the weapons available to citizens is quite amazing to those not familiar with a gun culture.US gun costs---------------America leads the way in gun death per capita, among all reasonably stable countries. above link also shows rates of death for children (under 15 years).The US leads here too, nearly three times the rate for the next highest, Finland.It would not appear that a gun culture results in a satisfactory outcome in the majority of cases where they are used.If a country feels that 30,000-odd deaths per year is a price worthpaying to maintain a gun culture, perhaps a European should not question it.*But this article is supposed to be about drawing comparisons with the US and UK/Europe rather than focusing on American internal arguments,so the final item in this subsection is from a study quoted in the link:"Of 626 shootings in or around a residence in three U.S. cities revealed that, for every time a gun in the home was used in a self-defense or legally justifiable shooting, there were four unintentional shootings, seven criminal assaults or h[...]

UK Prisons

Wed, 20 Sep 2006 01:00:24 GMT2006-09-20T01:00:24Z

19/Sept/2006 - Why talk about prisons? - How many are locked up in the UK? - What influences sentencing? - Prison Conditions - "Prison works!" - Outlook?Why talk about prisons?-----------------------The UK is fairly notorious in Europe for its fondness ofthrowing people in jail. Compared with the record of ourEuropean counterparts - it is a fair cop.What jail (synonymous with prison here) means is a verydifferent story to the threat US jails holds to ordinarypeople, however. European jails are places where peopleare deprived of their liberty, not where they will regularlybe tortured with institutionalised rape, subjected to unbelievably brutal practices by both inmates and guards,and very often threatened with death itself - again,both state sanctioned and sub-judicial.This article aims to show the disparity between such brutal punishment as a matter of course in the US and Europe is not to be considered normal. This creation of an entiresub-underclass of incarcerates and probationees has not keptthe general population on the straight and narrow, nor hasan uncaring public benefited from this punishment culture. We don't have criminals killing Europeans at staggering rates, so it's fair to say that locking up large numbers of citizens is not necessary for a peaceful society.The main question in this article is for Americans - how come you lock up people at rates greater than any othercountry? Why do you feel it OK to have brutal prison regimes, appalling sentences and executions, when every half-civilised country has rejected such savagery?How many are locked up in the UK?---------------------------------At the moment, knocking on 80,000 people. This is about doublethe number when Thatcher took power in 1979, even though thepopulation and crime has nowhere near doubled. of 60,600,000-odd, this means we lock up 0.132% of our population. is considered pretty bad by most of Europe, who lock upa far lower proportion.By comparison, America currently has nearly 298.5 million people. With prisons holding 2.2 million, that's 0.74% of the population.In a table of the world's jailers, the US comes out by far andaway on top, locking up 714/100,000 citizens back in 2005: rate is increasing. While very far behind, it's a worryingtrend that the UK is following with the second highest in westernEurope (142/100,000). Even Turkey has only 95/100,000 .What influences sentencing?---------------------------An entirely different apparatus works to that of the US. Ratherthan elected officials demonstrating their boldness by denyingmercy in sentencing, UK sentencing officials are unelected.This is a point which has escaped a number of recent HomeSecretaries (law and order chiefs), who have attempted to coercejudges into seeing things their way. Public criticism of judgesby the Home Secretary should be non-existent - just as absent asthe connection, in the US, between Church and State.This is a line which has been crossed with shameless abandon inrecent years. Imposition of mandatory sentences, top-down governingof parole policy, knee-jerk reaction to any scare-story (imagined orotherwise) from the right-wing press, and particularly the increasedpowers following "anti-terrorism" legislation has led to bothincreased numbers and length of sentences.Basic human rights are routinely infringed when it comes to powers assumed for fighting terrorism, a subject for another article. Inthe meant[...]

Health Concerns

Mon, 11 Sep 2006 18:53:35 GMT2006-09-11T18:53:35Z

10/Sept/2006Health Care-----------This article will outline the following: - Why this article? - What the British get from the NHS - How much the NHS costs - Why the NHS has a bad name - What's good/bad about NHS direction - Why on earth do Americans not demand one?Why mention the NHS?--------------------A standard criticism of socialised heath care is heard in America, and that concerns the British NHS (National Health Service). It appears to be conventional wisdom that the NHS is just about to collapse, service is terrible, patients are left bleeding in corridors for hours, old people are entirely neglected, and it's basically an example of a failed system. Whenever I mentioned the UK NHS while living in America, I was told, "Oh yeah, but it's a terrible system" as if I was rather lacking for not appreciating this. Trying to address charges against the NHS earned me blank looks, as if I (as the only UK person in the room) just didn't get it.So standard is this belief, that not only does it pass without question in the general media, right-wingers even get away with making such points on liberal talk shows.That the UK is frequently chosen as the _single_ point of comparison is noteworthy. When dismissing socialised health care, why use the British example, when the health systems of Denmark, Canada, or even mixtures of public/private healthcare such as that of the Swiss could be used for comparison?Please take a look around part of the UK NHS website, just to give yourself an idea of what this abject failure offers: truth is that the NHS was bowed, but not broken under the years of the Conservative Party from 1979-1997. It was starved of cash, subjected to interminable "reform" and creeping privitisation, while business cronies of the government busied themselves siphoning off every last penny they could get. Despite its many faults, "New" Labour has certainly funded the NHS properly and made it a priority.Whether the NHS in truly going in the right direction is a matter of debate, because the Thatcherite principles of an "Internal market" within the NHS are largely maintained, as is a fixation on "Choice". cynicism of those critising the damage done by Thatcherite/ Reganite philosophy over two decades to the NHS, then claiming this as proof of a failed socialised system, is breathtaking.*The UK NHS is most definitely on the up. It could be better - particularly if private contractors and management consultants were not draining the system, constantly re-organising and finding methods to give profits to private investors and service providers.There are books' worth of information on the NHS, including how UK citizens can elect - at NHS expense! - to fly abroad and take advantage of German, Dutch or French expertise should they wish. If local service is not up to scratch, you can go abroad and it gets charged without you handing over a penny.But let's just skim the basics. Look at the NHS, read up on how it gets things done, administration charges (about 5%, as opposed to the US typical 30%), service level offerings which are guaranteed. This is a service which feels for your pulse before feeling for your wallet, and you get to like it.Charges for Hospitals, Doctors and out-patient treatment--------------------------------------------------------This could be a pretty short section. The charge is zero.Walk into a doctor's offices (surgery), have the consultation, check-ups and so on. Possibly have treatment from a nurse. Say thank you and go on your way. [...]

Immigration, racism and more terrorist fears

Mon, 04 Sep 2006 23:08:20 GMT2006-09-04T23:08:20Z

04/Sept/2006Comrades,My apologies for my lack of contributions for the last couple of weeks.The owners of this website were warned that August was difficult to getanything done by Brits, and the inactivity of our elected representativesduring the disaster that befell Lebanon was surely testimony to that.So this column will have to be somewhat brief, having onlybeen home a couple of days with a ton of work to catch up on.Summer - August in particular - is known as the "silly season"in the UK. This is because parliament is in recess, so the usualmainstream of the press has nothing to report. The job of runningpapers is left to junior staff.Party leadership speculation is the world's only concern for much of the press and the BBC, along with getting between tiny wedge issues to make politicians pretend they're really discussing whatis important to the majority. Genuine issues are not squeezed out altogether, as they are in the US, but Summer is definitely the time of the Silly Season.Last year at this time, the overwhelming issue of the season was a panic about bra shortages because of restrictions on Chinese imports.I do not wish to elaborate.This year, the Silly Season was chillingly different. Even theLondon bombings of 7/7/05 had not dented the tradition that year. But the terror alerts concerning aircraft, and Lebanon's destruction together with northern Israel's evacuation demanded more serious attention than usual.Press concerns, and free enterprise-----------------------------------The war between Israel and Hezbollah was an extremely importantdevelopment, but Parliament was held in recess, Blair remainedon holiday and a "business as usual" attitude was the officialblithe response. Until the "terror threat" was invoked.British tabloids toggled between denouncement of immigrants(a staple feature, but this time against the Eastern Europeanvariety), and drumming up fears of terrorists not so muchkilling us, but spoiling our holidays by making us wait inline for hours before boarding flights.The Big Threat to us - since we British can't readily be soldon terrorism (having lived with it for a long time) is foreignworkers coming in and taking our jobs. Besides the standard annual salutation of teenagers collecting their exam results (preferably from a posh all-girl school where they leap up in unison, exposing midriffs... an event "The Telegraph"readers look forward to all year), the main point of concern was alleged ball-tampering during a Pakistan-England test match.This is the silly season, after all.But between terrorist threats, such immigrant concerns are strikingly similar to those put about in America. If they aren't taking our jobs and driving down our wages, spreading disease andcausing crime, running off with our women and drawing welfare benefits, there's always the terrorist angle to consider. Polish workers (the most notable influx to the UK) aren't renowned for Al Qaeda sympathies, and they are pretty good looking, blonde, blue-eyed and the rest - so the usual "Look at their faces!" screeching by the most racist tabloids had to be reconsidered.For example:Daily Mail - "A Door we can't close"Daily Express - "Stop the asylum invasion"The Sun - "We need deportation on a huge scale""Asylum threat to house prices""Asylum blamed for AIDS crisis"etc. etc. ad nauseam.Examples are so utterly numerous, it's pointless makingextensive lists. "Foreigners", "scroungers", bringing diseaseand national ruin are now taken up afresh with the added possibility they're all terrorists.Thus it has always been. The Daily Mail has learne[...]

Terror, and fear of debate in a stifling atmosphere

Mon, 21 Aug 2006 23:05:04 GMT2006-08-21T23:05:04Z

Comrades,The days of air traffic security alerts are temporarily subsiding.Heathrow delivered a full service for the first time since 10/Aug/2006,and baggage restriction is significantly lifted. mentioned in my previous post, rail travel - including the internationalchannel link to the rest of Europe - and ferries officially remain unthreatened. The fact that a great number of people are exposed on easier targets thanaircraft is not questioned, nor is the observation made that the AQ attributed outages in Europe to date are confined to just such forms of transport. We can take as a matter of faith that AQ are only interested in aircraft (because "intelligence" doesn't tell us to fear anything else for the moment), so clearly we've got that covered for now.There is a softening up process going on. Discussions are aired - notjust in right-wing rags - that "targeted surveillance" might be appropriate.After all, we've got to keep flying, terrorists must be rooted out and searched, and we don't have the resources to search everyone. So, thereasoning goes, it makes perfect sense to do "profiling". The profileof a would-be terrorist, it so happens, consists chiefly of being Arabicor Asian appearance, and / or being Muslim. line of reasoning comes from reverse-engineering the knee-jerkprinciple "Arab= terrorist (and anyone who looks a bit like one), soif we can't lock them all up, at least shake them all down." One entire flight of people refused to take off because they consideredtwo middle eastern guys suspicious, and - horror of horrors - theywere talking in Arabic with each other: racist, fearful passengers who considered their "profiling" of suspect terrorists to be better than that of the security people explained themselves: the couple are clutching copies of the Daily Mail, if you hunt down the video of that interview on the BBC. The far-rightDaily Mail is the UK paper version of Fox News: usual hang-'em, jail-'em, flog-'em brigade are fully signed up to this. And that treatment was just for the poor classes, so you canimagine what they feel about "foreigners" - anyone not looking andtalking pretty much just like them. But when threats to their own saftey are officially touted because of these "foreigners", the touchpaper is lit - so stand well back.[As it happens, the best way to predict whether someone is likelyto harbour ill-will towards our country, is to recall the tonnage ofordinance recently dropped by us on that person's country of ancestry.]The problem is that this sort of thinking is actually taking holdfollowing the latest "scare", despite the fact nothing actuallyhappened, nor was it likely to on evidence to date.,,1852231,00.htmlIt looks like there has been - doubtless unintended - a completedistraction from earlier concerns following the latest "intelligence" that put our UK security to critical - attack imminent. All of the following disappeared from the news radar:1. Public/ political outrage at indulgence at the failure to call for a ceasefire from Israel/ Hezbollah. (Note that as soon as the USagreed to the ceasefire, it happened at once. Hundreds of liveswere lost in the inexcusable sideline-sitting for weeks.)[...]

Distractions, distortions and restrictions

Tue, 15 Aug 2006 17:29:41 GMT2006-08-15T17:29:41Z

Comrades,This contribution comes hot on the heels of the last, as it tooka few days to get this column set up. It's been quite a week in Britain, with the cabinet in open revolt over Blair's compliance in Bush's nonchalance concerning Israel's adventurism in Lebanon, with the public as ever far ahead of government representatives. This news of continuing outrage inLebanon entirely overtook the ongoing disaster in Iraq, from where it is just about impossible to get news anymore. The Independent's intrepid reporters are among very few to provide rare glimpses, anything else on the ground is impossible to know. The Independent retains probably the world's foremost experts on the Middle East, with Robert Fisk, Patrick Cockburn and Kim Sengupta unrivalled has seen more journalists killed than in any war on record. Jazeera was kicked out of Iraq by the PCA - ordered out after their offices bombed by precision missiles, despite their precise location being made absolutely clear to the US who fired it. Strangely enough, the very same thing happened in Afghanistan: all of this has been overtaken by the latest terror alert. This entirelyunwelcome event must have - on reflection, of course - given a sigh of relief to administration officials weary of their role as professional apologists,excusing away our failure to call for a ceasefire in Lebanon, and theincreasingly glaring Iraq civil war.Conditions are fairly stringent for flying all of a sudden, and we're findingthe paranoid fantasies we thought confined to US officials are being appliedhere. Carry-on luggage is now extremely limited. I'll reproduce the reference,because it changes periodically. As of 12/Aug/2006, 02:19, With immediate effect all cabin baggage must be processed as hold baggage and carried in the hold of passenger aircraft departing UK airports2. Passengers may take through the airport security search point, in a single (ideally transparent) plastic carrier bag, only the following items. Nothing may be carried in pockets : * Pocket size wallets and pocket size purses plus contents (for example money, credit cards, identity cards etc. (not handbags)) ; * Travel documents essential for the journey (for example passports and travel tickets); * Prescription medicines and medical items sufficient and essential for the flight (e.g. diabetic kit), except in liquid form unless verified as authentic. * Spectacles and sunglasses, without cases. * Contact lens holders, without bottles of solution * For those travelling with an infant: baby food, milk (the contents of each bottle must be tasted by the accompanying passenger) and sanitary items sufficient and essential for the flight (nappies, wipes, creams and nappy disposal bags). * Female sanitary items sufficient and essential for the flight, if unboxed (e.g. tampons, pads, towels and wipes). * Tissues (unboxed) and/or handkerchiefs * Keys (but no electrical key fobs)3. All passengers must be hand searched, and their footwear and all the items they are carrying must be x-ray screened.4. Pushchairs and walking aids must be x-ray screened, and only airport-provided wheelchairs may pass through the screening point.5. Flights to the USAIn addition to the above, passengers boarding flights to the USA and all the [...]

A Letter Of Introduction...

Sat, 12 Aug 2006 01:37:20 GMT2006-08-12T01:37:20Z

August 11th, 2006 6:04PM Pacific Time (USA)Greetings readers. Welcome to our first International News Column, hosted by Glenn Barder of the UK.We've heard your voices, and once again P&M is expanding to cover world events as they happen in real time. Below is a letter of introduction, from Glenn to you. I hope that all of you will welcome him aboard and consider him your contact for submission of your UK News.Comrades,As the first contribution to a column here, may I begin in thanking you for your time in reading it, and giving appreciation to for allowing me their valuable space.A lightening introduction, if I may. UK born and educated, my wife and I lived in America for much of the 1990's. This allowed us to see first hand how life is lived on first the east then the west coast, but it was travelling that made the greatest impression.We never took a dime out of the system, contributed tax and spent most of the income there. Didn't take a job from anyone else either - recruitment in my field was desperate, and I spent some time interviewing and selecting candidates to increase our undermanned teams.While in America, we got to meet enough people to understand there are significant differences between America's self image and how it is viewed abroad. We found amazing misconceptions in the US about the rest of the world, and how it lives.We're not just talking about the misconception that "rubber" means "pencil eraser" in the UK, so marching into the secretary's office and asking "Where are the rubbers kept please? I need one right now!" might not be the best self-introduction.Nor am I talking about the innocuous announcement, "I'm just going out for a fag" / "I could really do with a fag right now" being misconstrued as anything more than being related to a tobacco habit.What I'm talking about is the general impression that citizens from other countries (Europe in particular) would prefer to live in US, that we're all somewhere between the US and the third world... that it's accepted fact that European's lives are immeasurably inferior in every sense to that of our US counterparts.*Now I've made the introduction, I should say how much I appreciated the hospitality from the US, and how decent most people were. We could depend on people to be helpful in a way we probably wouldn't in our own homeland. This was particularly true in the mid-west.My own theory is that this is how people survived in the relatively recent good-old days, you either had mutual co-operation or suffered a much worse chance of survival. You help strangers on their way, and are happy to recommend so-and-so to an acquaintance embarking upon some journey, who will further recommend you to another on a third or fourth-hand aquaintance. This is the principle on which many Arab people survived in the barest conditions for many thousands of years, after all.There was a politeness, even a peace, about the large majority of the thousands of random individuals we encountered. Of course, therewere crazies and idiots too, the same as you'd find anywhere else. But the majority - far and away - left us with an overwhelmingly positive experience.This is the America that the rest of the world just doesn't know, because it's not the America it has any experience of. The other side of this hefty coin is that the US populace has no idea of what the rest of the world actually does experience of America.*A number of the close friends that we made there - work and persona[...]