Saturday, October 29, 2011

Police and the Frailty of Truth

"Britain's most senior police officer," (Bernard Hogan-Howe, the Metropolitan police commissioner) "has defended the practice of undercover officers using fake identities in court."

He claimed, when he appeared before the Metropolitan Police Authority, that "there's no law that says it can't happen."

That was, according to Lord Macdonald, a former Director of Public Prosecutions, "a bold assertion."

It is stupendously, horrifyingly, cretinously, unbelievable that a senior police officer can suggest for a moment that committing perjury in open court is OK if you happen to be a policeman.

And this amazing statement was not made headline news by the supine, stupid, lazy, wicked people who run our newspapers and other media.

I did not see it mentioned in Metro, the Evening Standard or on the news on Radio 4 or BBC tv. I only found out about it from the Guardian (28th. October, main section, page 8).

Even the Guardian did not put this most revealing comment on the front page.

What's wrong with people now?

Don't they see the creeping corruption that is infecting and has infected our society?

To assert that dishonest police behaviour, if tolerated and authorised by senior police officers, should also be tolerated by the courts, means that ALL our standards have gone down the path of dishonesty well trodden by the fat cats of the city and British industry, where bosses' salaries have risen hugely in the past few years while ordinary workers salaries have been rigidly controlled or even diminished.

Is that the country we all want to live in?

I don't understand why it is so difficult to shout these simple truths from the roof tops and get people to listen.

Morality is important.

Lying is wrong.

Greed is not good, it is intolerable and the invidious distribution of wealth in our society will be paid back in blood.

Probably soon.

Friday, October 28, 2011

The Protests at St. Paul's

St. Paul was a tent-maker.

St. Paul's Cathedral, in the heart of the City of London, is currently surrounded by tents occupied by protesters opposed to capitalism and the greedy excesses of capitalism which the City now represents.

"Greed is good," said the (fictional) icon, Gordon Gekko, in a movie made in the '80s.

It seems otherwise now, as Western capitalism starts to collapse in upon itself like a dying star.

The cathedral has been closed "for health and safety reasons" for the last week. The police are about to be called in to evict the tent-dwellers by force.

It is sad, says the Canon Chancellor of St. Paul's, who has resigned from his post on this issue, that the protesters "came to occupy the Stock Exchange but ended by closing a cathedral."

But what do the protesters want? What are their demands? What answers do they propose?

"Answers?" wrote an anonymous commentator on the Guardian's internet column. "They barely have questions."

"Why should they have all the answers," retorted another, "There is no such thing as all the answers."

"It's pretty obvious what people want first off," wrote a third. "To show how damn angry and frustrated they are with the status quo and how much they want change. It will take a long time, longer even than a winter's camping on St. Paul's cobbles, but this is as good a place to start as any."

(Sources: Guardian 29th. October, G2 p. 15 and main section interview.)

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Britain is best .... but at what?

UK has 'worst quality of life in Europe'

Survey of 10 developed European countries puts UK at bottom of the pile due to high costs of living, while France takes top spot

Mark King
Thursday September 29 2011
The Guardian

The UK has been named the worst place to live in Europe for quality of life, behind countries with damaged economies such as Ireland and Italy, according to the latest uSwitch [" title="uSwitch website] quality of life index.

The UK emerged as having the second lowest hours of sunshine a year, the fourth highest retirement age, and the third lowest spend on health as a percentage of GDP.

Despite above average household income ? the fourth highest in Europe ? Britons have 5.5 fewer days holiday a year than the European average and endure a below average government spend on education.

UK households also struggle with a high cost of living, with food and diesel prices the highest in Europe, and unleaded petrol, alcohol and cigarettes all costing more than the European average.

As a result, more than one in 10 Britons (12%) said they are "seriously considering" emigrating, with "broken society" the biggest concern for 59% of those questioned, followed by the cost of living (49%), and crime and violence (47%). Just 5% of those questioned are happy in the UK.

(A later report, a few days later, from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, seemed to suggest the opposite of this, that Britain was rather popular with its inhabitants, but few details were published and they did not seem very convincing. When I tried to look up the report on the OECD's web-site, I could not find any mention of it. Did it ever exist? Was the newspaper 'story' about it just that, a story?)

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Another thing I love about Britain - hypocrisy!

Politicians have waxed lyrical about the "evident criminality" of the rioters and looters who took part in disturbances in London and many other English cities last week. They have also demanded the most severe penalties.

The legislature and the judiciary are (supposedly) separate bodies in the U.K. It is not, as one columnist put it, for politicians to cheer or boo the decisions of the supposedly independent judges and magistrates. This did not seem to constrain anyone. Indeed, Her Majesty's Courts and Tribunals Service went out of its way to clarify the position:

"Sentencing is a matter for the independent judiciary," it said. (But) "... justices' clerks and legal advisers in magistrates courts have a responsibility to give advice to magistrates on sentencing guidelines .... Accordingly magistrates in London are being advised by their legal advisers to consider whether their powers of punishment are sufficient in dealing with some cases arising from the recent disorder."

So that is clear then. The judiciary and magistrates are independent. On the other hand all their professional advisers are telling them to ratchet up the sentences they give and send offenders to the Crown Courts if magistrates' powers seem insufficient. This advice reflects the vengeful ambitions of the politicians (led by the Prime Minister).

From the Guardian, 16th. August: "The Chair of Camberwell Green magistrates' court, Novello Noades, went so far as to claim that the court had been given a government "directive" that anyone involved in the rioting be given a custodial sentence. She later retracted her statement and said that she was mortified to have used the term 'directive'."

Whatever you call it, the 'directive' has had its effect and the results of this advice from the politicians have been ludicrous. It would be a laughable situation were the sentences imposed not so extreme that they will wreck the lives of some young people and incite rather than deter active expressions of protest and dissent.

A youth was sent to prison for six months for stealing bottled water valued at £3.50. Two others were sent to prison for four years each (FOUR YEARS) for posting riotous suggestions on Facebook (though absolutely no one responded and one of them took the suggestions down as soon as he sobered up.)

The Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, was - for once - completely right when he stated (before he came into office) that austerity policies and excessive deflationary pressures would lead to riots. These were his words before the last election, which Gary Younge recalled in an excellent article in the Guardian on Monday 15th. August:

"Imagine the Conservatives ... get an absolute majority, on 25% of the eligible votes .... They then turn around in the next week or two and say we're going to chuck up VAT to 20%, we're going to start cutting teachers, cutting the police, and the wage bill in the public sector. I think if you're not careful in that situation ... you'd get Greek-style unrest."

The Tories got 23% of the eligible vote.

Nick Clegg and his party have actively supported cutting teachers' pay, cutting the numbers of the police and axing the wage bill in the public sector.

Result? Unsurprisingly?

".... Greek-style unrest."

Given how much politicians pocketed before the expenses scandal and the autocratic disdain with which they paid back the money (without remorse) when forced to do so, it does not behove them to call for poor people to be sent to prison for ludicrously long periods.

Most of the politicians stole much more than £3.50.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The riots and the death of Mark Duggan

It seems a long time since Murdoch and the News of the World were the most important things going on in the world - yet it is only a few weeks. In the last seven days, Britain has been rocked by the unexpected and amazingly destructive riots that have taken place in many English cities.

The riots started in Tottenham in London where a young black man was killed by the police in circumstances which the police and the Independent Police Complaints Commission have successfully made suspicious. The first accounts of the incident were (probably deliberately) intended to mislead. This was the Guardian internet headline, over an article by Paul Lewis and Sandra Laville dated 13 August:

Mark Duggan death: IPCC says it inadvertently misled media

Police watchdog says it led media to believe shots were exchanged but Duggan was carrying gun that was never used

The text of the internet version of this article is at:

It is very convenient, if the police shoot a man hastily, mistakenly or by accident, to discover a gun in his pocket or near his cold dead fingers. American cops used to carry unidentifiable 'throwdown' weapons for just this purpose.

The weapon that Mark Duggan is said to have been carrying has variously been described as a converted starting pistol or a replica gun converted to fire real bullets. There was, it has been said, just one bullet in it.

If Duggan was, as the police allege, a major drug dealer and pusher, could he not have got himself a more impressive weapon? And should he not have been in a luxurious Range Rover rather than a mini-cab when he was shot?

The whole thing stinks. And it was to find out what the police would say about it that a protest march led by Duggan's family members went to the police station on Friday 6th. August.

They were kept waiting for, it seems, five hours. No one would come out and tell them what was going on, what the IPCC were doing or why the police had shot Duggan. Instead, the trail was muddied into obscurity by the misleading statements about Duggan opening fire on the police which are reported above.

That was when a peaceful demonstration turned into a riot; when supporters of the family of a man murdered or at least killed by the police sought a peaceful explanation for his death and, failing to find it, tore bits of their own community apart in protest. And a ready well of frustration in other areas, in other cities, flooded the streets with copycat violence as a result.

As I texted to a friend later, when a Cabinet full of millionaire old Etonians informs a whole nation that it is to be impoverished, that the young now have no hope and the old have no security, it is hardly surprising when mindless mob violence born of anger and frustration erupts onto our streets.

P.S. To my surprise, I find the Daily Telegraph's Chief Political Correspondent, Peter Oborne, expressing views very similar to those in my last paragraph in an excellent recent 'think piece'. You can read his views at this addresss:

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

She knew - she knew all the time

from the Guardian, 17/7/11

"... (The Spectator's) current issue also carries an illuminating anecdote by the columnist Toby Young, who recalled Lis Murdoch's hen night before her marriage to Freud, when she and Rebekah Wade (then editing the News of the World, and not yet Mrs Brooks) were in a party of "boozed-up ladies" being ferried around London in "a white stretch limo". Noticing they were being followed by a Ford Mondeo in a way that suggested a paparazzo pursuit, Wade "called her picture desk and rattled off the Mondeo's number plate. In less than a minute, she had the name and telephone number of the car's owner, a notorious paparazzo." She rang the number and, Young says, told him: "If you don't stop following us, I'll personally see to it that you never work in this town again." Cue an immediate U-turn by their pursuer."

OK - very amusing.

So Rebekah Wade KNEW eight or ten years ago, how to get her staff to hack police or phone company data bases?

HELLO! Did you all hear me?

Rebekah Wade KNEW eight or ten years ago, exactly who to phone, on her staff, who could hack police or phone company data bases? In real time?

And how to use that information to threaten retaliation?

Well, blow me - what a surprise!

She seems to have forgotten that this was part of her range of talents ..... her ruthlessness, her aggression, her disregard for the legalities and, of course, she had no knowledge whatsoever of her staff doing similar bad things in the years that followed.


The sheer cheek makes you blink and recoil.

The casual incompetent arrogance of News International is (please God) going to kill them dead!

I cannot wait.

Monday, July 11, 2011

What I love about Britain (1-7)

What I love about Britain (1)

That an unknown Australian with a lot of his Daddy's money could come here 30 or more years ago and buy up three of the most influential newspapers and bankrupt a respectable and properly regulated satellite television company and gain monopoly control of all the satellite broadcasting in this country.

What I love about Britain (2)

That when the same Australian transformed himself into an American we let him go on owning all that stuff.

What I love about Britain (3)

That is was only when his staff tried to hack the Royal Family's phones that his Evil Empire started to collapse.

What I love about Britain (4)

That in 2009, when the Guardian accused Murdoch and his staff of bad stuff like this, the Metropolitan Police rubbished the Guardian in a report which its author, Assistant Commissioner John Yates, yesterday described as "pretty crap" in a remarkably frank Sunday Telegraph article.

What I love about Britain (5)

That Yates worked really closely, on his "crap" 2009 report with Ken Macdonald, then Head of the Crown Prosecution Service.

What I love about Britain (6)

That Ken Macdonald, now Lord Macdonald, is currently retained by News International to "advise them on their dealings with the police."

What I love about Britain (7)

That you couldn't possibly make it up.

PS - What I also love about Britain:

The Guardian correction this morning.

Lord Macdonald "has given some advice to the company (News International) about the ... issue of allegedly corrupt payments to police on the part of News of the World journalists."
Which sounds like he is advising them on their newspaper's dealings with the police?

He has not been "retained" but he does "give them some advice."

Now, does he give them this advice for free?

Or, can we assume, he invoices them accordingly?

The advice of somebody of Lord Macdonald's legal standing should be worth - what - 500 pounds sterling per hour? 1,000 pounds or more for a written opinion? I am not a lawyer - I am guessing - but that is probably in the appropriate scale of charges. He may be able to charge much more.

In other words, Lord Macdonald has been paid to help News International as it wriggles and jiggles and squiggles inside the British body politic which is trying (like the old lady who swallowed a fly) to rid itself of this parasitic, cruel and mischievous organization.

I think Lord Macdonald would do well to review his choice of clients.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

British Police - and how they behave

A terrible, shocking story - which you all ought to read and remember:

Last year, returning from a football match, student Tommy Meyers was savaged by a police dog while being arrested for assault. 

Now, following his acquittal, he and his family talk about the incident.

"Until 11 September last year, the police were rather admired in the Meyers household. Tony Meyers is a firefighter, a profession in which you work closely with the police and tend to get on with them, and his younger son, then 17, had done work experience with the police and was considering it as a career.
All that changed in a few dreadful seconds on Reading station, when the two of them were forced to watch as officers handcuffed Tony's older son, 20-year-old Leeds University student Tommy, forced him on to the ground, and set a police dog on him. The dog bit fiercely into Tommy's face – he couldn't even raise his handcuffed hands to protect himself. The injuries will be with him for the rest of his life, partly because the police refused him access to antibiotics for 14 hours, by which time infection had taken hold.
Tommy, a slightly built, taciturn and rather serious student of medical biochemistry who is thinking about training to be a doctor, was acquitted of assault and resisting arrest last month. I ask him what he thinks of the police now. He pauses for a moment to put his thoughts in order and says quietly: "They're cruel, inhumane, barbaric and brutal. They look on people with disdain. They think they are above everyone else. I have no faith at all in the police." Tony says: "The only trouble I witnessed that day was caused by the bullying police thugs who think they can do what they want and get away with it."

Friday, May 6, 2011

Why Do They Lie To Us?

British atrocities against the Mau Mau in Kenya, in the 1950s

The murder of Blair Peach by a British policeman in 1979

The unlawful killing of Ian Tomlinson in 2011 ...

What can these petty British events have in common with the successful U.S. military raid on an unspectacular compound near the Pakistani Military Academy which resulted in the long-awaited death of Osama Bin Laden a few days ago?

Set aside the callous triumphalism with which Americans greeted the news of the execution …..

Set aside doubts about the legality of pursuing and executing Bin Laden when he was unarmed and therefore incapable of resisting arrest and resident in a sovereign state with which the U.S.A. was not at war …….

What Bin Laden's death and those British events have in common is that the U.S. and British governments lied about them. Blatantly, obviously, stupidly.

They have been lying through their teeth.

These governments did not simply withhold information or mislay information or put the best spin on information - they lied openly and very very stupidly to their own people, to their own newspapers, to public opinion and in the plain sight of their ultimate authorities, the peoples of their democracies.

The Bin Laden affair is hot news, as are the U.S. government's "mis-statements" about the circumstances of the terrorist leader's death.

Associated Press has, this morning, written at length about it. I found the bulletin at:

It is reproduced in full below.

British lies about the Mau Mau freedom fighters in Kenya who were tortured and killed in hideous and utterly illegal ways, are now becoming clear but, in the late Fifties it was obvious to me (a schoolboy) that this was happening, that British soldiers and officials and administrators had colluded in murder, torture and rape. It was obvious to me, as a young man, that Blair Peach had been struck over the head by a policeman wielding an illegal weapon, that this caused his death. It is now completely obvious, after the obfuscations and lies he produced at the inquest, that PC Simon Harwood 'unlawfully killed' Ian Tomlinson at the G20 protests, attacking him, from behind, when his hands were in his pockets and he was moving away from the police lines, with such severity that he fell and was fatally injured. Tomlinson was 47 years old.

PC Harwood's identification badge was missing at the time and his face covered with a balaclava.

His attempts to explain these facts away would have been very entertaining if it were not such a serious matter.

From evidence at the inquest, it appears completely clear that Simon Harwood did not intend to kill or even seriously injure Tomlinson, who might easily have survived the assault if he had not been a sick man with a badly swollen liver.

It is also completely clear why Harwood would want to lie or tell less than the truth when he found out, to (it seems) his complete surprise, that the man he had thrown to the ground had, in fact, died.

But what motivated the press office at New Scotland Yard to issue clear and completely false statements that Tomlinson had died from a heart attack, that police officers going to his aid when he fell had been assaulted by a rain of bottles?

What motivated the White House to state without equivocation that Osama Bin Laden was shot while shooting at the U.S. 'Seals' (Special Forces soldiers), that he was using a woman as a human shield to protect himself when he died?

Does it not occur to the incompetents, the lying incompetents, who govern Britain and (it seems) America that telling lies is not only wrong, morally and in every other way, but incredibly stupid and inept, that a democracy that uses grossly tainted means to achieve honourable or laudable aims makes those same aims not merely unattainable but intolerable, worthless and disgusting to its own citizens?

Why do they lie to us?

Why did the White House not decide in advance that nothing should be said until everything could be said, that nothing would do except the truth, the plain unvarnished truth.

We have been lied to for long enough. For the whole of my long life, the British government and others have not simply been 'economical with the actualite', they have laboured energetically to deceive their own citizens.

Truth is important. It is an ultimate, an absolute. It is not negotiable.

Morality is important.

If the democracies can not be trusted with the truth, they can not be trusted with our futures and the futures of our grand-children.

5th, May, 2011


Only single bin Laden defender shot at SEALs

By ROBERT BURNS and PAULINE JELINEK, Associated Press Robert Burns And Pauline Jelinek, Associated Press – 1 hr 32 mins ago

WASHINGTON – The Americans who raided Osama bin Laden's lair met far less resistance than the Obama administration described in the aftermath. The commandos encountered gunshots from only one man, whom they quickly killed, before sweeping the house and shooting others, who were unarmed, a senior defense official said in the latest account.

In Thursday's revised telling, the Navy SEALs mounted a precision, floor-by-floor operation to find the al-Qaida leader and his protectors — but without the prolonged and intense firefight that officials had described for several days.

By any measure, the raid was fraught with risk, sensationally bold and a historic success. U.S. officials said some of the first information gleaned from the scene indicated that last year al-Qaida was considering attacking U.S. trains on the tenth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. The officials said they had no recent intelligence indicating such a plot was active.

The compound raid netted a man who had been on the run for nearly a decade after his terrorist organization pulled off the devastating attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Even so, in the administration's haste to satisfy the world's hunger for details and eager to make the most of the moment, officials told a tale tarnished by discrepancies and apparent exaggeration.

Whether that matters to most Americans, gratified if not joyful that bin Laden is dead, is an open question. Republican House Speaker John Boehner, for one, shrugged off the backtracking to focus on the big picture: "I had a conversation with the president, and the president outlined to me the series of actions that occurred on Sunday evening. I have no doubt that Osama bin Laden is dead."

[ For complete coverage of politics and policy, go to Yahoo! Politics ]

President Barack Obama's visit to New York's ground zero on Thursday was a somber and understated event, and he avoided mentioning bin Laden by name. A day earlier, he said the government would not release images of bin Laden's body, a decision taken in part to avoid the perception that America was crowing about killing him.

"We don't need to spike the football," Obama said. He plans to go to Fort Campbell, Ky., on Friday to meet aviators from the mission.

The senior defense official spoke to The Associated Press anonymously because he was not authorized to speak on the record. He said the sole bin Laden shooter in the Pakistan compound was killed in the early minutes of the commando operation, the latest of the details becoming clearer now that the Navy SEAL assault team has fully briefed officials.

As the raiders moved into the compound from helicopters, they were fired on by bin Laden's courier, Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, who was in the guesthouse, the official said. The SEALs returned fire, and the courier was killed, along with a woman with him. The official said she was hit in the crossfire.

The Americans were never fired on again as they encountered and killed a man on the first floor of the main building and then bin Laden's son on a staircase, before arriving at bin Laden's room, the official said, revising an earlier account that the son was in the room with his father. Officials have said bin Laden was killed, shot in the chest and then the head, after he appeared to be lunging for a weapon.

White House and Defense Department and CIA officials through the week have offered varying and foggy versions of the operation, though the dominant focus was on a firefight that officials said consumed most of the 40 minutes on the ground after midnight Monday morning in Pakistan, Sunday in Washington.

"There were many other people who were armed ... in the compound," White House spokesman Jay Carney said Tuesday when asked if bin Laden was armed. "There was a firefight."

"We expected a great deal of resistance and were met with a great deal of resistance," he said.

"For most of the period there, there was a firefight," a senior defense official told Pentagon reporters in a briefing Monday.

White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan originally suggested bin Laden was among those who was armed.

"He was engaged in a firefight with those that entered the area of the house he was in," Brennan said Monday, before the administration announced bin Laden actually was unarmed although there were weapons in his room.

The success of the bin Laden raid gave the White House a spectacular story to offer without any need to dress it up.

The revelation on Thursday that the raid scooped up valuable intelligence was another positive note. A Homeland Security intelligence warning sent to law enforcement officials around the country said that as of February 2010, al-Qaida was considering tampering with an unspecified U.S. rail track so that a train would fall off at a valley or a bridge. The warning, marked for official use only, was obtained by The Associated Press.

Some of the inconsistencies in the U.S. accounts seemed designed to score extra propaganda points. Brennan, for one, using information that turned out to be flawed, portrayed bin Laden as a man "living in an area that is far removed from the front, hiding behind women who were put in front of him as a shield."

Officials soon dropped the contention that bin Laden tried to hide behind women. They said what really happened is that bin Laden's wife rushed the SEALs when they entered the room. They injured her with a shot in her calf.

The issue of who among the bin Laden group was armed can be a matter of interpretation. To a soldier — and particularly in the case of the SEALs confronting the world's most wanted terrorist — an empty-handed person with a weapon nearby can be considered an armed threat.

The gaps and flaws, while striking, do not seem to approach the level of exaggeration and error in some other cases, such as the 2003 capture and eventual rescue of a female Army supply clerk in Iraq at the outset of the war. Initial military accounts of Jessica Lynch's resistance to her captors were part of an effort to rally public support for the war, and were factually wrong.

It's taken as inevitable in military circles that initial reports of combat operations are almost always imperfect. Sometimes major details are wrong in the first telling, due either to misunderstandings or errors. As a result, the armed forces generally take the time necessary to double check key pieces of the story before making it public.

In the bin Laden case, the Pentagon was not the lead provider of information for an operation led by the CIA and followed in real time by the national security team and by Obama, who gave the order to proceed late last week. And the bin Laden killing stood head and shoulders above most other military operations in the demand for fast details.

The U.S. account of what happened inside bin Laden's Abbottabad compound is so far the only one most Americans have. Pakistan has custody of the people rounded up afterward, including more than two dozen children and women. Differing accounts purporting to be from witnesses have appeared in Pakistani and Arab media, and on the Internet.

Pakistan's army on Thursday called for cuts in the number of U.S. military personnel inside the country to protest the American raid, and threatened to cut cooperation with Washington if it stages more unilateral actions on its territory.

In the Pentagon's first on-the-record comment on the raid, defense policy chief Michele Flournoy said Thursday that the U.S. has no "definitive evidence" that Pakistan knew that the targeted compound was bin Laden's hideout. Regardless, the Pakistanis must now show convincingly their commitment to defeating al-Qaida, Flournoy said. Anything short of that, she said, will risk losing congressional support for continued U.S. financial aid to Islamabad.

Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, who supports withholding aid to Pakistan until it demonstrates such a commitment, was among those who found it hard to believe that authorities there were unaware of bin Laden's presence in a military town with a military academy.

"Bin Laden's hideaway was just a stone's throw from Pakistan's West Point," he said. "That's like John Dillinger living right down the street from the FBI and the FBI not knowing about it."

Once elements of the official version began changing, and in an effort to slow the demand for more details, White House press secretary Jay Carney referred reporters to the Pentagon for more information, even though the Pentagon had already said it would say no more. The Pentagon canceled its daily public press briefings each day this week.

"The nature of the mission, the nature of what happened Sunday, combined with the effort to get that information quickly, resulted in the need to clarify some facts," Carney said aboard Air Force One en route to New York. He said the administration should be given credit for correcting mistakes when it found them.


Associated Press writers Donna Cassata, Stephen Braun, Calvin Woodward, Adam Goldman and Eileen Sullivan in Washington and Chris Brummitt in Islamabad, Pakistan, contributed to this report.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Great Speeches

A few days ago, in Tucson, Arizona, a young man went out to buy a gun. He was a disturbed young man, someone who scared the people around him. But he got his gun, a Glock machine pistol, a brutally effective rapid-firing semi-automatic widely used by American police forces.

No one asked about his mental health or his intentions.

"This is America," said - or thought - the salesman, "he is entitled to carry arms."

A few days later, he went to the local mall and shot a politician, a member of Congress, called Gabrielle Giffords. The bullet traversed her skull but did not kill her.

Then he turned his gun at random on the people around him, shooting a judge, a nine year old girl and many others.

In hospital, yesterday, Gabrielle Giffords opened her eyes and moved her arm again. She is not dead but will probably never live a normal life again.

Barack Obama spoke about this outrage the other day.

It was, by all accounts, a great speech. Even a Fox TV commentator called Glenn Beck congratulated him. Beck is rabidly opposed to Obama and what he stands for.

In his speech, the President talked about the lives of those who had died and of those who were injured by the gunman.

He talked about the heroism of the passers by who had disarmed and subdued the gunman.

Above all, thinking, perhaps, of his own young daughters, he talked about the nine year old girl who died, Christina Green. This is what he said:

"In Christina we see all of our children. So curious, so trusting, so energetic and full of magic. Christina was given to us on 11 September 2001, one of 50 babies born that day to be pictured in a book called Faces of Hope."

"On either side of her photo in that book were simple wishes for a child's life. 'I hope you help those in need,' read one. 'I hope you know all of the words to the national anthem and sing it with your hand over our heart. I hope you jump in rain puddles.'"

"If there are rain puddles in heaven, Christina is jumping in them today."

His words move me to tears.

I hope his words will also move Americans to take actions against the bilious hatred which has dishonoured their political discourse in recent months and the naked racism which has helped to fuel the disrespect which some Americans have shown to their properly elected leader, Barack Hussein Obama.

America, as a country and as a society, is a mass of contradictions. It can throw up political and spiritual greatness more often than Britain. But it sometimes wallows with relish in its own ignorance, spite and bile.

Yet the idealism of the founding fathers is still available and their spirit can invoked to refresh the libertarian impulses to which America was originally dedicated.

I cannot remember when I heard a British politician make a speech that either inspired me or moved me.

What a disappointing country mine has become when great events (and there have been great events in my lifetime) produce no tears, no ideals and little or no hope for the young.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Christmas - a time for taking stock

Overwhelmed again. I always seem to be at this time of the year.

Is Christmas a time when I notice more injustice, more incursions into the shrinking stock of personal and social liberties which we used to think we owned?

Or a time when more injustices are reported (in the hope that they will remain un-noticed because we are all drunk and stupefied with preparations for Christmas)?

First, there is the curious case of the undercover policeman who went by the name of Mark Stone and who spent seven years, no less, at an estimated cost of £250,000 per year infiltrating environmental movements and buddying up with Green activists.

He helped them with money and transport and to organize their entirely peaceful protests, all the while reporting back as much as he could to the shadowy and sinister National Public Order Intelligence Unit to which he had been seconded by the Met.

When six of the activists were charged with conspiracy, his evidence would have made it clear that they were not conspirators in the legal sense, that this particular group of six (out of some 146 people who were originally arrested) did not know the target of the planned non-violent demonstration.

It seems that he offered to come forward and reveal this and the case was immediately dropped.

What is truly shocking is that the Crown Prosecution Service either did not know about or chose to ignore his presence within the movement and his possible testimony.

The CPS would happily have fought to convict six innocent people if he had not crawled out of the woodwork in time to upset the legal applecart.

Indeed, it successfully convicted 20 people previously, from the same group, without revealing the existence of the police informers or appearing to take their prejudicial activities into account. These 20 people are appealing their sentences.

It all reminds me (as some newspaper columnists and correspondents have also pointed out) of GK Chesterton's novel, The Man who was Thursday, first published in 1908.

Seven bearded Anarchists meet each week to discuss plans for the violent overthrow of Britain and neighbouring states.

But, it transpires, every single one of them (including the Big Boss) is a plain clothes policeman working undercover.

If the British police spend millions of pounds on surveillance of peaceful and non-violent protesters, it seem that we are all, as I have often suspected, continually under surveillance and in danger of active repression or persecution if we attempt to defy the wishes of the government or the prevailing orthodoxy.

Certainly a group of letters in the Guardian on 28th. December, written in the wake of student protests about the huge proposed rises in university tuition fees, confirmed this feeling.

One correspondent, who lives in France, went so far as to suggest that British police are now even fiercer and more out of control than the notorious (and rightly feared) French riot police, the CRS.

"The police need to be made truly acccountable to prevent them turning into brutal bullies."

Other correspondents thought that it was too late, that the police already had turned into bullies - and worse.

A student writer drew attention to the police's 'kettling' tactics, confining peaceful demonstrators in a small area for long periods until the crowd's frustrations and the cramped conditions provoked exactly the types of disorder that the police were, in theory, there to prevent.

"People just wanted to go home and instead were crushed, left screaming and, in some cases, gasping for breath."

"This is not democracy, but repression." wrote a third correspondent. "The police are clearly being used for political ends. I look forward to .... the restoration of our right to protest without intimidation and violence."

Well, so do I.

But I don't think I will hold my breath.

And is 'restoration' the right word?

Did such a 'right' ever exist?

Timothy Garton Ash, writing in the Guardian in June 2008, made the following comments when discussing the proposal to make it possible for terror suspects to be detained for 42 days (seven weeks - just think about it - in a 'free country') without any formal charge.

"Let us be clear. Our liberties are under threat from two sides. They are threatened by terrorists, especially takfiri jihadist ones, exploiting new technologies and open society in order to kill, maim and terrify the innocent. And they are endangered by the overreaction from the state, eroding those liberties in the name of defending us against these threats. Taken to the extreme, that means strangling freedom to save it."

Repression and surveillance can have humorous aspects. This next letter made me laugh.

Liam O'Farrell to the Editor, the Guardian, December, 2009:

"I was stopped and searched twice near London City airport - for watercolouring! I was not even facing the airport. I was painting the Tate and Lyle sugar factory opposite. They said they saw me on a camera and thought that "no one would want to paint a factory." I explained that L.S. Lowry did loads. Then they said I could be an anarchist and I was carrying "suspicious paraphernalia" - this being a flask of coffee and an IPod. Oh, and a box of watercolours.
Once they had all my gear out, rummaged through what identity documentation I had and double-checked it on a few radios, they were satisfied that I was just "weird" and left me to it. Until the next week, when I went back to finish off the picture and had to go through the same rigmarole again.
I have painted in Ukraine, Russia, Vietnam and plenty of other "controlled" states and have never been questioned about watercolour anarchism."

Note: "In 2004/5, stop -and-search powers under Section 44 (of the Terrorism Act 2000) were used 33,000 times; the figure rose to over 117,000 by 2007/8. People were being stopped at random - children, tourists, photographers. Moreover, no one knows of a single conviction for a terrorist offence that arose as a result ..... The police were out of control." David Allen Green, New Statesman, 17th. January, 2011