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    4th October, 2010

    Leaked documents show how US ignored warnings about Afghanistan and made it worse

    by guest at 9:44 am    

    by Iman Qureshi

    Probably around the time that then US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage infamously informed President Pervez Musharraf that he would bomb Pakistan back to the Stone Age if it didn’t comply with American demands, the following correspondence between the two countries, recently declassified and published by the National Security Archive on 13 September 2010, took place.

    These documents reveal that the US voiced to Pakistan their refusal to engage in any discourse with the Taliban, and instead forge straight ahead with military action.

    US Ambassador to Pakistan tells President Musharraf that “there was absolutely no inclination in Washington to enter into a dialogue with the Taliban.”

    The US further put to Pakistan a list of seven non-negotiable demands:
    1. To stop al Qaeda at the border;
    2. Provide the US with blanket landing rights to conduct operations;
    3. Provide territorial and naval access;
    4. Provide intelligence;
    5. Publicly condemn terrorist attacks;
    6. Cut off recruits and supplies to the Taliban;
    7. Break diplomatic relations with the Taliban and help the US destroy Osama Bin Laden.

    Continue Reading...
    3rd October, 2010

    I might have to watch a Bollywood film for the first time in years…

    by Sunny at 10:30 am    

    This is how Andrew Buncombe introduces ‘Endhiran’:

    In Mumbai, the print of his film was driven at dawn to a temple by horse-drawn carriage in order for it to be blessed. In Chennai, the 4am showing of the film sold out, forcing fans to hustle to get tickets for the 5am slot. In Milton Keynes, movie reviewers were charmed, and in the US, hard-to-get tickets were reportedly selling for up to $40 (£25).

    This weekend, the 61-year-old veteran of more than 150 films is earning even more money. The star’s latest film, Endhiran – English title The Robot – opened to good reviews and huge, adoring crowds who queued overnight outside cinemas across the nation to watch the latest, high-adrenaline adventure. Inside, the audiences shouted and cheered at their hero’s unlikely moves while outside fireworks were set off and drums played.

    But this movie is different for several reasons. Not only is it the most expensive Indian movie in history, costing around 1.6bn rupees (£23m), a vast sum for a film in this country even if it’s nothing compared to Hollywood. But the film was also simultaneously released globally at more than 2,000 cinemas, the largest ever distribution for an Indian film and a decision that underscores the star’s appeal with south Asian communities around the world.

    Watch the trailer - it does look a bit insane, and worth watching just for the comedy value (PS, I can understand Hindi, but not a word of Telugu).

    Filed under: Media
    2nd October, 2010

    “Join us or die”

    by Rumbold at 11:08 am    

    That’s the message anyway from the new taxpayer-funded environmental campaign, backed by staunch environmentalists such as Peter Crouch (who takes the train or swims to European matches). The video sees two children murdered for refusing to back the 10:10 environmental campaign:

    The video, (despite attempts to pass it off as humour) sums up all that is wrong with some elements of the environmental movement; it is smug, intolerant and hypocritical (that’s not to say though that there are not some genuinely committed and principled environmentalists out there).

    I think that we need to tackle climate change. Whilst new technologies and improvements in renewable energy efficiency will undoubtedly help, at the moment the best thing we can do is to reduce energy issue by making carbon-emitting energy more expensive. This can be done through the tax system (as carbon emission are externalities). But this alone is not right, as people will just see it (understandably) as a way to raise extra revenue. This is why green taxes rises need to be balanced with tax cuts in other areas, particularly income tax and National Insurance.

    Thus businesses and individuals who don’t emit that much carbon will see their tax bills fall, whilst heavy emitters will see their tax bills rise, which should encourage them to cut their carbon emissions , whether through cutting back for investing in more energy efficient products. Over time then, it should also reduce the tax take of the government, as long as the green taxes are significant enough to impact on behaviour. Chris Huhne has advocated such a policy recently:

    The Liberal Democrat minister backed a call by his party’s activists which would see 10 per cent of all Government revenue come from green taxes within five years. Revenue from green taxes is currently forecast to fall from 6.9 per cent of the total to 6.5 per cent over the next five years. Raising the proportion to 10 per cent would require an extra £22billion – an unprecedented shift in the burden of taxation.

    The LibDems claimed that raising more in green taxes would allow them to reduce other taxes. But critics last night dismissed it as a cynical move to squeeze more tax out of motorists.

    1st October, 2010

    ISN 239 Aamer, Shaker (UK-Saudi Arabia)

    by earwicga at 11:03 am    

    Andy Worthington, author of The Guantánamo Files, is half-way through a series of articles telling the stories of the 176 men still imprisoned in Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp.

    Shaker Aamer is one of the many men who were captured in 2001/02 as a result of the bounty payments offered by Team America which meant many missionaries, humanitarian aid workers or economic migrants, caught fleeing the death and destruction in Afghanistan‘ were imprisoned and tortured in one of the gravest injustices of the ‘War on Terror’.

    This is Andy’s account of Shaker Aamer:

    Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, was born in Saudi Arabia and, in 1996, moved to the UK after traveling in the US, Europe and the Middle East. He has a British wife, and four British children, the youngest of whom he has never seen. Aamer’s road to Guantánamo began when he, along with Moazzam Begg, took his family to live in Kabul, in June 2001, to work for a charity involved in humanitarian aid projects, including a girls’ school and various well-digging projects.

    After the US-led invasion in October 2001, Aamer arranged for the evacuation of his family from Afghanistan, but was thwarted in his own attempts to leave. He was taken in by an Afghan family, but was then seized by Afghan soldiers, who held him and abused him for several weeks before handing him over — or, more probably, selling him — to US forces. After horrendous abuse in US custody in Afghanistan, including prolonged sleep deprivation and starvation, so that he lost 60 pounds in weight, he apparently made a number of false confessions used by the US to justify his detention, and was then transferred to Guantánamo, where he became one of the most significant prisoners, attracting the support of his fellow inmates, and the fear and suspicion of the authorities, because of his relentless advocacy on behalf of those held without rights in the “War on Terror.”

    Charismatic and eloquent, he brokered a deal that brought a halt to the prison-wide hunger strike in the summer of 2005, but when the authorities reneged on their promise to make the prison more compliant with the Geneva Conventions, he was then imprisoned in solitary confinement for at least 18 months, and, ever since, has been held in a block reserved for prisoners regarded by the authorities as non-compliant or particularly influential.

    Despite being cleared for release by a military review board under the Bush administration in March 2007, the British government claims that negotiations for his release to the UK have stalled because of security concerns on the part of the US authorities, but this seems implausible, as any security concerns could easily be addressed in the UK. Instead, it appears that Aamer is still held because of what he knows, including knowledge of the terrible events of June 9, 2006, when three prisoners died and, he has stated, he was tortured to within an inch of his life. His presence in the UK is vital to the inquiry into British complicity in torture announced by Prime Minister David Cameron in July, in part because he won a court case in the UK in December 2009, to secure information relating to his allegations that British agents were in the room when he was tortured by US forces, and the campaign to free him from Guantánamo continues.

    Also worth reading is Scott Horton’s The Guantánamo “Suicides”: A Camp Delta sergeant blows the whistle  published in the March 2010 edition of Harper’s Magazine.

    Filed under: Terrorism
    30th September, 2010

    Ayodhya ruling sees site shared between Muslims and Hindus

    by Rumbold at 3:00 pm    

    Ayodhya, the site of communal violence in 1992 when Hindu extremists destroyed a 16th century mosque, has been under a heavy security presence in the last few days in anticipation of today’s court announcement, which saw the site divided between Hindus and Muslims. Before 1992, the site had long been a focus for Hindu extremists, who alleged that the Mughal emperor Babur had destroyed a temple on the site. The destruction and ensuring riots also helped to galvanise the BJP. The site is especially important since it is considered to be the birthplace of Lord Ram:

    A court in India has said that a disputed holy site in Ayodhya should be split between Hindus and Muslims, lawyers for the Hindu petitioners say. However in a majority verdict, judges gave control of the main disputed section, where a mosque was torn down in 1992, to Hindus, lawyers said. Other parts of the site will be controlled by Muslims and a Hindu sect. The destruction of the mosque by Hindu extremists led to widespread rioting in which some 2,000 people died.

    No ruling was ever going to be welcomed by all sides (both sides are likely to appeal). Nore is there an easy answer. We know Hindu extremists destroyed the mosque, but how far back does one go (if indeed Babur destroyed a temple)? Who holds the ‘rights’ to the site? Does one destruction cancel out another one? Does the site’s relative holiness to either religion have any bearing?

    This is the kind of journalism CNN should be doing

    by Sunny at 9:55 am    

    Filed under: Media
    29th September, 2010

    Barbaric regime jails blogger for twenty years

    by Rumbold at 11:17 am    

    A prominent blogger in Iran has been jailed for nineteen and a half years by the Iranian regime:

    Readers of the Guardian’s news section may have seen that Hossein Derakhshan, the prominent Iranian blogger, has been jailed for 19 and a half years by a court in Tehran.

    Derakhshan, who also has Canadian citizenship, was apparently convicted of “co-operation with hostile countries, spreading propaganda against the establishment, promoting counter-revolutionary groups, insulting Islamic thought and religious figures and managing obscene websites”.

    This continues the trend for Iran’s regime in handing out vicious and/or lengthy punishments to people who cross it, migrants or women.

    28th September, 2010

    The escalating extremism of Fox News’s Glenn Beck

    by Jai at 11:45 am    

    This article follows directly from the PP article yesterday focusing on Newt Gingrich. Readers are therefore advised to read that part first before continuing below.

    Fox News anchor & Tea Party icon Glenn Beck, who has described himself as a “borderline schizophrenic”, increasingly reminds me of Ron Perlman’s “right-wing media icon” demagogue in the 1995 film The Last Supper. Anyone who has seen that movie will understand exactly what I mean. And like his fictional counterpart, Beck has even started holding huge rallies with exactly the type of audience Perlman’s character was shown as being such a dangerous influence on. Life disturbingly imitating art, 15 years later.

    A selection of examples focusing on Glenn Beck, Fox News and the Tea Party

    · Fox News anchor Bill O’Reilly has stated that Glenn Beck is the leader of the Tea Party movement. Beck has repeatedly declared that his aim is to oppose progressivism, which he calls a “cancer” in American society. Beck has also repeatedly claimed that there is currently a vast, secular, liberal, progressive conspiracy underway to seize control of America and destroy the republic in its present form by manipulating the democratic system and subverting the Constitution.

    · As previously discussed on PP, an in-depth investigation by Jane Mayer of the New Yorker has revealed the huge scale of the Right-wing billionaire Koch brothers’ involvement in bankrolling & manipulating the Tea Party movement from the very start, with the deliberate intention of furthering their own agenda (also summarised by the New York Times). The Koch brothers have direct links to both Fox News and the Republican Party. Not only have the Koch brothers been doing everything they can to destroy Obama’s presidency, but one of their main aims is to destroy progressivism itself.

    · Glenn Beck has an extensive history of extremely violent rhetoric. He has also openly stated that he is going to spend the rest of his life hunting down and “exposing” progressives. Furthermore, he has repeatedly made bizarre comments about his opponents potentially “shooting him in the head”, along with suggesting that the Obama Administration plans to kill 10% of the American population and is deliberately pushing the US towards a civil war.

    Continue Reading...
    27th September, 2010

    Releasing extremists

    by Rumbold at 11:54 pm    

    An expert on Islamist prison radicalism is bemoaning the dominant strategy of those jailed for terrorism-related offences, in response to the head of MI5 warning about the dangers of soon to be released terrorists/terrorist supporters:

    Rehabilitation is not the main priority of the British prison system. However, during my research, in the case of prisoners convicted of terrorist offences, it was not even taken into consideration. Rather, intense surveillance, sometimes to the limit of removing the prisoner’s human rights, and in some prisons, abuse by the other inmates (and in some cases prison officers) were often the norm rather than the exception…

    The former government, as I explain in my book, made an enormous effort to show that radicalisation within prisons was controlled and the mass media reports of Muslim radicalisation behind bars were addressed. Yet it did not care about the future of prisoners or about the issues less covered by the media, such as re-integration.

    Prisoners who still pose a danger to wider society are always a thorny issue, especially as it is draconian to continue to hold them after they have served their sentences, unless new and concrete evidence is presented in a court of law. Yet many of those released are unlikely to have softened their views of the British state or society, so what can be done? The system needs to be reformed, but what about those being released now? Certainly non-EU citizens should be deported, whilst the others should be watched initially, but without any other interference in their liberties (unless they are being released early under specified bail conditions).

    (Hat-tip: Naadir Jeewa )

    The escalating bigotry of Newt Gingrich

    by Jai at 11:45 am    

    Tea Party icons Newt Gingrich and Glenn Beck have recently been going into overdrive in terms of the scale of their extremism. During the past few weeks, there has been considerable controversy over Fox News contributor, senior Republican politician, and potential candidate for the 2012 presidential election Newt Gingrich in particular due to the following remarks he made about US President Barack Obama:

    Via Media Matters for America:

    Citing a recent Forbes article by Dinesh D’Souza, former House speaker Newt Gingrich tells National Review Online that President Obama may follow a “Kenyan, anti-colonial” worldview. Gingrich says that D’Souza has made a “stunning insight” into Obama’s behavior — the “most profound insight I have read in the last six years about Barack Obama.”

    Continue Reading...
    26th September, 2010

    UK tortures torture victims

    by earwicga at 7:08 pm    

    Wonder if the Labour conference will address this shameful part of their legacy?

    Millions of pounds in compensation is being paid to migrants who have been traumatised after being locked up in detention centres across the UK, the Guardian has learned.

    Government figures show £12m in “special payments” – including compensation – for 2009/10 and a further £3m the year before.

    The Home Office said it did not record the proportion of special payments made in compensation, but officials accepted that the figure over the past three years ran to millions of pounds.

    Lawyers who are acting for detainees said there was an “epidemic of mistreatment” in the asylum system.

    These payments are unlikely to continue thanks to Labour’s policy of depriving asylum seekers of legal representation.

    Filed under: Civil liberties

    The Ricin Plot that never was (new book)

    by Sunny at 11:22 am    

    In January 2003, the British media splashed the news that anti-terror police had disrupted an Al-Qaeda cell, poised to unleash the deadly poison ricin on the capital. Police had reportedly found traces of ricin, as well as a panoply of bomb and poison-making equipment in the cell’s ‘factory of death’ – a shabby flat in north London.

    ‘This danger is present and real, and with us now’ announced prime minister Tony Blair.

    But, when the ‘ricin plot’ came to trial at the Old Bailey, a very different story emerged: there was no ricin and no sophisticated plot. Rarely has a legal case been so shamelessly distorted by government, media and security forces to push their own ‘tough on terror’ agendas.

    In this meticulously researched and compellingly written book, Lawrence Archer, the jury foreman at the trial, and journalist Fiona Bawdon, give the definitive story of the ricin plot, the trial and its aftermath.
    Lawrence Archer is the telecoms engineer who was foreman of the jury at the 2005 ricin trial. He has followed the lives of the acquitted defendants ever since, including attending their High Court and immigration appeal hearings.

    Fiona Bawdon is a freelance journalist. She writes on criminal and civil justice issues for the national and specialist legal press.

    The book is released October 11th 2010. More info here

    Filed under: Culture,Media
    25th September, 2010

    An Ed Miliband leadership should be good for the country

    by Rumbold at 9:07 pm    

    I will note be voting for the Labour party at the next election. Their long stay in government caused significant damage to this country, whether it was through overspending, curbing of civil liberties or any other number of reasons. I feel that the present government, for all its faults, has started off rather well, attempting to curb the massive deficit and increasing civil liberties. Logically then, I should want Labour to be as ineffective and divided as possible. But I don’t.

    Governments should always be scrutinised as heavily as possible. This can be done by the media and voters, but the Opposition has a part to play too. The more competent and focused the Opposition, the better the scrutiny. They are there to question and highlight mistakes. It can be galling at times to watching Opposition politicians who helped to ruin the country doing this, but it needs to be done.

    Of the three most plausible leadership candidates, Ed Miliband seemed the most likely to refocus the party on its primary task; providing Britain with an effective Opposition. Ed Balls was loathed by Blairites, David Miliband by Brownites. Ed Miliband seems to be relatively well regarded by various factions (even though he was close to Gordon Brown), and so should be able to unite (or Unite) them, as long as he avoids the trap of being the unions’ man in Parliament. A more unified Labour party should then provide better scrutiny of the executive, which benefits the country.

    Filed under: Party politics
    24th September, 2010

    ‘Love commandos’ combat ‘honour’ killings

    by Rumbold at 9:55 pm    

    This is a wonderful development:

    A newly-formed helpline called Love Commandos is taking calls from distraught couples. The Love Commandos include lawyers and social activists, and claims to have attracted 140,000 volunteers across India. They have helped rescue many couples from death by forcing police to intervene. Those in danger can now get instant help by simply dialing a number and telling their life is threatened or a girlfriend has been held captive.

    The founder of Love Commandos, Harsh Malhotra, shares that “Whenever we get a call that a couple is being threatened, we contact our commandos and tell them to go there immediately to help them. If they face any problem, we inform the police. Our team of lawyers also reach there so that the couple is not attacked, threatened or mistreated.”

    Ahmadinejad - the bad news and the good news

    by Sunny at 9:10 am    

    The bad news is that this quasi-dictator still keeps spouting anti-semitism and 9/11 conspiracy theories.

    The good news is:

    He briefly touch on the four sets of sanctions imposed on his country by the United Nations over Tehran’s refusal stop enriching uranium and to prove Iran is not trying to build an atomic bomb.

    Some members of the Security Council have “equated nuclear energy with nuclear bombs,” Ahmadinejad said. He accused the United States of building up its nuclear arsenal instead of dismantling it and reiterated his call for a nuclear-free world.

    “The nuclear bomb is the worst inhumane weapon and which must totally be eliminated. The NPT (Nonproliferation Treaty) prohibits its development and stockpiling and calls for nuclear disarmament,” the Iranian president said.

    Of course, some people may choose not to believe him, but Ahmedinejad usually shoots straight from the hip. Besides, at least that’s better than threatening his neighbours with nukes.

    23rd September, 2010

    Hindu supremacist allowed in the UK; no one outraged

    by Sunny at 6:32 pm    

    Meet Sadhvi Rithambara - she is a rabble rouser from India. She is also a leader at the Hindu militant group: Vishwa Hindu Parishad, and a founder of Durga Vahini (Army of Durga) – A Hindu women’s militant group in India.

    DV trains women in India to become part of a growing militia. It works in tandem with the Bajrang Dal - the male version.

    “Our aim is to insulate young girls from cultural pollution and teach them various ancient Indian traditions,” a VHP official said. He said TV was destroying Indian values and affecting young girls adversely. “The Vahini’s members discuss ways to protect Indian culture from the Western onslaught.”

    A few years ago, the Indian govt established Liberhan Commission, investigating the demolition of 16th Century Babri Mosque by Hindu militants.

    It held Sadhvi Rithambara and 67 other Hindu leaders in India guilty for demolishing the mosque and igniting the subsequent violence that killed some 3,000 people across India.

    This woman is now on a tour of the UK, visiting temples and giving speeches. The Council of Indian Muslims (UK) are outraged. I doubt the press or any of the usual suspects will pay attention though - it doesn’t fit the narrative.

    Continue Reading...

    Interviewed by Kate Hudson from CND

    by Sunny at 9:42 am    

    I was interviewed by Kate Hudson of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament this week. Talked about why I decided to join the Labour party and how we should fight the cuts.
    The interview is done by Reality Radio - who focus on politics related interviews.

    (I apologise in advance for you having to see my face on the thing above. Not by my design, honest)

    Filed under: Blog
    22nd September, 2010

    Defending Obama over foreign policy and Afghanistan

    by Sunny at 2:47 pm    

    Several of my colleagues on the left, particularly Mehdi Hasan, have been highly critical of Obama’s foreign policy, in particular the decision to stay in Afghanistan.

    Now, I supported the attempt to get rid of the Taliban, but I’ve also maintained that Obama’s foreign policy objectives are unlikely to have been under his control all the time.

    This explosive Washington Post story detailing bits from Bob Woodward’s new book, shows the extent to which he faced resistance to his plans:

    Obama rejected the military’s request for 40,000 troops as part of an expansive mission that had no foreseeable end. “I’m not doing 10 years,” he told Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton at a meeting on Oct. 26, 2009. “I’m not doing long-term nation-building. I am not spending a trillion dollars.”

    Continue Reading...
    Filed under: Current affairs

    This is why discipline in politics is sometimes necessary

    by Sunny at 11:09 am    

    The Senate today blocked the start of debate on the National Defense Authorization Act, with Republicans objecting to a provision that would repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. The vote was 56 to 43, with 60 votes needed to break the filibuster. Two Democratic senators, Mark Pryor and Blanche Lincoln, both from Arkansas, voted with Republicans to block the bill. — reported by Talking Points Memo.

    This is of course intensely annoying to supporters of Obama, but I highlight this to make two points. First, a lot of people criticised Obama for not moving on DADT quickly enough. He had good reason to: the Democrats didn’t have enough votes to pass it. And even now they don’t.

    Secondly, and more importantly, it once again highlights why sometimes discipline is useful and important in politics. I bet there are more Democrat senators who did not like the idea of passing DADT. And I bet there were Republicans who wanted to. But the Republicans are extremely disciplined, which means they can block legislation and restrict Obama’s agenda. This also helps them electorally.

    Democrats on the other hand are badly disciplined, and because some don’t buy Obama’s progressive agenda, continually shoot the party in the foot by stopping their own legislation.

    This is worth noting when people use the voting records on TheyworkForYou.com to make a point about how terrible Labour cabinet ministers or MPs were. Their voting record doesn’t tell you anything other than what the leadership wanted. You might argue of course that these means Labour (or Tory MPs) are spineless. Perhaps. But there clear political advantages too in such a strategy. My only regret is that Barack Obama can’t threaten / whip his Democrat senators harder and get them to stand in line.

    Filed under: United States

    Theresa May: we plan to treat Muslims like ordinary citizens

    by Sunny at 2:26 am    

    This story has been put out by the Press Association:

    Home Secretary Theresa May has said it is time the Government stopped talking to Muslims only about counter-terrorism. The Government should instead treat the Muslim community as a “mature and fundamental part of our society”, break down barriers and tackle discrimination, she said.

    It must also aim to achieve “a better balance between public safety and civil liberties, something the last government got badly wrong”.

    via @HabibaHamid

    I agree that the last government got the balance wrong (though they were slowly correcting their mistakes), though this doesn’t say much in terms of specific policy shifts. In fact I believe the last communities minister said the same thing at one point.

    I wonder, is this an attempt to say some nice things before some big (negative) announcement is made? I wouldn’t put it past them. Though perhaps I’m being too cynical.

    If I were to hazard a guess, one of the main ways in which British Muslims are primarily seen through the prism of counter-terrorism is thanks to the right-wing press. Only a couple of days ago the Daily Express did a big front-page about ‘Muslim terrorists’ targeting the Pope. Of course it turned out to be rubbish, but the negative connotations are repeatedly hammered. Will the government do something about the corrections process at tabloids? Doubt it. In which case I’m not sure what this translates to…

    Update: Turns out this was said at an EID reception organised by the Home Office. See the press release, pics and video here.

    Filed under: Religion
    21st September, 2010

    New paper says immigration affects public trust in politics

    by Sunny at 8:35 pm    

    A new Policy Network paper finds that concerns about immigration are an important factor in explaining distrust in politicians and political institutions. The paper by Lauren McLaren, associate professor of politics at Nottingham University, finds that if citizens’ perception of immigration is negative, trust in politics is lower.

    The paper, which compares the situation in different European countries, also finds that:

    • Political trust does not appear to be related to actual levels of immigration, but rather to how people perceive the effects of immigration.

    • The popularity of far-right parties does not appear to be related to levels of political trust.

    • In countries where policies are more conducive to the integration of immigrants, the impact of concerns about immigration is stronger than in countries where immigrants face greater barriers to finding work and becoming citizens.

    To summarise, the paper says that immigration leads to a breakdown in trust about political institutions and process. Which in turn means that politics is seen as less trusting.

    It also occurs to me that if you view from from a left-right prism, where lefties depend more on ‘faith in the political system for working for people‘ - immigration is better news for the right than the left.

    Filed under: Race politics
    20th September, 2010

    In partial defence of Sally Bercow

    by Rumbold at 9:45 am    

    Sally Bercow, best known as the wife of the Speaker, has come in for criticism once again after repeatedly tweeting various controversial views. Sally Bercow deserves to be heavily criticised for her use of ‘mental’ to describe George Osbone; a sadly all too common theme amongst people who feel that mocking mental issues and the people who suffer from them is the best way to criticise an opponent’s policies.

    That aside, some of the criticism is unfair and sexist. A number of critics have called for the Speaker to ‘rein in’ his wife, as if she is some sort of animal. Mrs. Bercow is entitled to air her opinions on whatever she sees fit. It was her husband who was elected to the speaker’s chair, not her. She should be free to continue her political career, providing that she doesn’t not use the resources of the Speaker’s office to do so:

    Some critics have said her comments cheapen the historic office of Speaker. And the fact that the Speaker is supposed to be impartial is undermined by Mrs Bercow’s attempts to find a Labour seat so she can become an MP, they claim. In May, Mrs Bercow failed in an attempt to become a Labour councillor.

    Tory MP Nadine Dorries said Mrs Bercow only had a platform because of her husband and should not be using it to attack her party. She said: ‘It is absolutely outrageous that she should now be commenting on debates that the Speaker may or may not have granted. ‘It is totally unprecedented, unseemly and in bad taste. Mrs Bercow is letting down Parliament and the majority of people think she should just shut up.

    Moreover, John Bercow was already politically compromised when he was elected, having been put in the chair despite massive expenses fraud, solely to annoy Conservative MPs.

    19th September, 2010

    Suddenly Nick Cohen realises counter-terrorism laws can be abused

    by Sunny at 11:22 am    

    Nick Cohen actually has a good article in the Observer today (no, I’m not joking!) about the so-called Twitter trial. Read the whole thing, though this bit caught my eye specifically:

    Beyond the law lies the politics. The hounding of Paul Chambers stinks of Labour authoritarianism. The prosecuting authorities showed no respect for free speech. They could not take a joke. They carried on prosecuting Chambers even when they knew he was harmless. They turned a trifle into a crime because a conviction helped them hit performance targets. Inside their bureaucratic hierarchies, it was dangerous to speak out against a superior’s stupidity. Better to let an injustice take place than risk a black mark against your name.

    What surprises me is that anyone thought it was going to turn out any other way.

    I’ve opposed most anti-terrorism legislation precisely because it had the potential (and likelihood) of being abused to get anyone the police did not like. They used it to stop protests during the pro-Tibetan rally in London; they’ve used these laws against environmental protesters for years.

    But Nick Cohen and his mates were adamant that Islamists represented the biggest threat to western civilisation ever, and so the extra vigilance was necessary.

    This is the same Nick Cohen who said that terrorist suspects should be deported even if there was a chance they’d be tortured, remember?

    The French, being French, don’t have taboos. They just do what’s in their national interest.

    I’m pretty sure ‘national interest’ is invoked by the police when asking for these increasingly draconian anti-terror laws.

    And here’s a more recent article where he says:

    Most of the British do not behave as if they are at war. Every third-rate political pundit has ruled that we cannot say that we are in a “war on terror”. Meanwhile, politicians will not allow us to say that we are in a “war against radical Islam” because they have to pretend that religion does not motivate religious extremists.

    We’re at war people. And what happens when we’re at war? Yes, the executive usually ask for extra powers and justify excessive force in the name of national security.

    It’s quite amusing to see a columnist who helped in raising the temperature through his rhetoric is now lamenting that the anti-terror laws that came as a result are a bastard.

    Filed under: Civil liberties
    18th September, 2010

    Israel walks away from peace process (again)

    by Sunny at 10:47 am    

    AFP reported this yesterday:

    Israel reiterated on Friday its refusal to extend curbs on settlement building that expire this month, despite US pressure and Palestinian threats to walk out of peace talks.

    Meanwhile, US envoy George Mitchell met Lebanese President Michel Sleiman as part of Washington’s target of forging a comprehensive Middle East peace. “The prime minister has not changed his position on this issue, there is no question of extending the moratorium,” a senior Israeli government official told AFP, asking not to be named.

    The 10-month measure to curb construction of settler homes in the Israeli-occupied West Bank concludes at the end of this month.

    Abbas told Netanyahu during the talks that he would walk out of the negotiations if Israel does not renew the moratorium, according to an aide.

    And yet it’s always Palestinians being blamed for the peace process going nowhere. I wonder if any of Israel’s usual supporters will condemn this and put pressure on the govt to stop the settlements. Don’t hold your breath though.

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