Sunday, 26 December 2010

Justice for the police.

Finally, someone has realised that what was done to children and young adults at the tuition fees protests isn't acceptable, and are duly sueing the police. False imprisonment, assault, exposing minors to inhuman treatment, all valid accusations now being levelled at the men in charge of the police force.

Every time I write about this I feel the need to start with a disclaimer. I am not some kind of anti-police anarchist, who will use any opportunity to have a dig. I am not making sweeping generalisations about police men and women, most do their duties admirably. But equally, that doesn't mean I will excuse the horrifying sights of young children being charged at by police on horseback and of a protester being carried away from the scene with a brain haemorrhage. Those responsible have to be held to account.

The whole tactic of kettling itself needs serious scrutiny, I've never understood how it can be defensible in the kind of situations that it has been used recently. The tuition fees protests were not innately violent, they started peacefully, and remained that way other than a few isolated incidents. The fact that the media refused to show the peaceful aspects in lieu of the small pockets of violence means many have a warped sense of the atmosphere at the protests.

There are plenty of videos and accounts which describe how rather than being used as a last resort by police, kettling was used even before any violence broke out. Anyone with more intelligence than your average chimp can see that if you lock people up in a small area, in the cold with no food and water, not even toilet facilities, and keep them there for hours on end, then violence is going to flair up as people become understandably frustrated. Kettling might contain violence, but without being kettled the violence might not start in the first place.

And then you have the disgusting violence towards protesters, which was completely out of proportion. You can see this through the use of charging horse, overly officious use of batons, and the denial of medical care to protesters who had been seriously injured.

Protest is a vital part of any democracy, people need to have a voice, especially when the people who they voted to represent them so shamelessly break the promises they peddled to be elected in the first place. We should protect the right to protest, not discourage people by treating them like second-hand citizens.

We treat our prisoners better than the people who take to the streets because they want to have their voices heard. Can you imagine a prisoner suffering a brain haemorrhage after being hit by a baton, the media would rightly be all over the story like a bad rash. Why not the same for protesters?

I hope this legal action succeeds, and I hope it forces the Met to review their tactics. They can't carry on like this, at least not if they want to keep the respect of the people they serve.

Friday, 24 December 2010

Santa is the reason for the season.

I haven't posted for a while, all the excitement of the holidays has kept me away I'm afraid, but I thought I'd do one last one on Christmas Eve to wish you all a Merry Christmas. I'm essentially a 5 year old child when it comes to Christmas, it's by far and away the best time of year, almost as if it's everyone's birthday all at once.

And here's a Santa tracker for everyone wondering where he's up to:

The title is an allusion to the idea spouted by some that you have to be religious to enjoy Christmas because they imagine that it's a Christian festival. I'm not going to have my Christmas spirit dragged down by a serious post but needless to say the Christian faiths links to a holiday on the 25th December are very tenuous indeed. It'd be much more appropriate to say that you can't celebrate Christmas unless you believe in the power of the unconquered sun. Christians just came along later and nicked the date for their own.

If you want to be technical, then actually its axial tilt that's the reason for te season, not that nice chap called Jesus.

Christmas is for everyone, whatever faith or lack thereof, so stop trying to make claims to it. And with that, I bid everyone Happy Holidays, in recognition of the truth of Pastafarianism.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Prohibition: Stop screeching.

Those with an interest will have noticed an odd observation, the fact that former drugs ministers, who are now safely out of the limelight, have a habit of condemning the prohibition policy they once so staunchly advocated. The latest is Bob Ainsworth, who of course has been barracked from all sides, but that doesn't mean he's wrong.

I've already written about the case for prohibition, which is all to rarely never given a fair hearing simply because of the screeching from the likes of the weekly edition of Mein Kampf (known by its publication name of the Daily Mail) about people being too 'soft' on drugs, and how it's likely that one day an immigrant with a knife who is high on smack will give you cancer. That really would be their dream headline. But in actuality it's not about being hard or soft, its about being smart or stubborn and stupid.

The idea that banned drugs are safely away from kids on the streets is ridiculous, it's insultingly easy to get drugs on the street, illegal or not. The only difference illegality brings is that in order to get the drugs gangs become involved. This jacks up prices (leading to a rise in crime to fund habits), knocks down purity to make bigger profits (leading to much greater health risks) and means millions around the world are caught up in the crossfire from turf wars.

I've already done detailed posts on the case for prohibition, as has the far more qualified Johann Hari, but that's not the point of this post. You don't have to think drugs should be legalised to agree that we at least need the debate, so that both sides can make their case.

As soon as Ainsworth came out and simply asked for a debate on the issue of drug legalisation we had one Tory say he was not just wrong, but 'dangerous', and Labour's John Mann criticise him for wanting nothing but an 'intellectual debate'. We're in a sorry state of affairs when wanting an 'intellectual debate' is something to be criticised.

I understand why party leaders would want to keep well away from his views, admittedly they don't resonate with the majority of the public, but surely much of that could just be down to the fact that we're never allowed a real debate on the issue. Disagree with him by all means, but don't start with the hyperbole in order to shut him up, we need more people like Bob Ainsworth with a backbone around or we'd never discuss anything controversial.

When I talked about prison reform, and why prison manifestly does not work for many people, I mentioned at the end how, surprisingly, the last person to cut prison numbers significantly was not a namby-pamby liberal at all, but Winston Churchill. And so it gives me a little hope that, when safely out of the limelight, another MP from the backbenches asked the then Labour government to discuss with the UN the possibility of legalisation and regulation of drugs. He added, "I ask the Government not to return to retribution and war on drugs. That has been tried, and we all know that it does not work."

The young hotshots name was David Cameron, whose personal views clearly differed from the political viewpoint he's now forced to espouse as Prime Minister. Let's hope he has the kind of steel we haven't seen from him or his deputy as yet and whether he decides to let the country have a genuine debate on the subject.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

The trouble with referendums.

What with my normal posting you might think I'd be all for as many referendums as we could handle, surely it's the ultimate form of democracy? But actually, referendums are far from perfect, and can often end up being far less democratic than you may think.

The big one coming up in the next year is the vote on the change to our voting system, from the archaic First-Past-the-Post to the Alternative Vote. Whilst I think it can be argued that this is a worthwhile referendum to be had, there are plenty of other occasions where it would be much more appropriate to have a vote in parliament as opposed to a national referendum.

A brilliant example of the problems with constant referenda can be found in California, a state rich in resources, but in massive trouble economically. The state that houses Silicon Valley and Hollywood recently had to start handing out IOU's, and in no small part because of the problems in untempered direct democracy. Anyone with enough signatures can put forward a proposition in California, and need only a simple majority of those bothered to vote to get it passed. Because it would be difficult to imagine anyone wanting to be taxed more or given less from the state they now have a state of affairs that is totally unsustainable, they've wanted low taxes to cover expansive public services.

But it's not so much the idea of direct democracy that's the problem, but the way it can be perverted by special interest groups. Rich individuals, companies and others with a particular axe to grind can pay volunteers to get in the required signatures and then use massive advertising campaigns to bring in the votes. However much people like to think they are independently minded, no-one is immune to the effects of advertising, that's just a psychological fact.

Rather than having governance of the people by the people, you have governance of the people for the benefit of those with enough cash to buy one side of the argument.

But that's not enough of a reason to criticise referenda, after all, no-one is proposing that kind of direct democracy here. However, some of the problems are still present, particularly the role of special interest groups in perverting the argument to their own aims. Far too much power lies in the hands of those with the money to pay for extravagant advertising campaigns and in the hands of media barons with an easy route to influence their huge readerships. Rather than power lying in the hands of elected officials it's handed over to unelected heads of pressure groups with no accountability.

Too often we aren't even voting on what we think. To use the AV referendum as an example, the No campaign claims to not only have the backing of those who support FPTP, but also those who want proportional representation. The question is framed in such a way that we aren't given the full range of options, and so you get a kind of perverse tactical voting. You can guarantee that if the No campaign wins, they won't be proposing a new referendum on whether to change to PR instead of FPTP, they will claim it as a victory for the status quo and say the matter of voting reform has been put to bed.

It's important to draw a line between democracy and simple minded populist governance. The opinion with the greatest number of supporters isn't always the right one. What should be encouraged is open and fair debate, based on facts rather than emotional screeching as so beautifully demonstrated by a whole plethora of Daily Mail articles. If, after an open and fair debate, the majority still supports a certain standpoint then that should be upheld, but referenda often don't allow that fair debate to take place. Nor, I would suggest, does the current set-up of our parliament.

A democracy that gives in to dumb populism in the face of reason loses its credibilty, and loses sight of its most important facet, government of the people by the people.

Monday, 13 December 2010

Water Cannons to keep the peace. Oxymoron?

We were told at the election that our civil liberties had been attacked for far too long (which arguably they had) and that this coalition was going to give us all our liberty back. A few months in and that sentiments out the window as the right to protest is being curtailed, and now the latest weapon is wheeled out for inspection, the water cannon. Funny how times change isn't it.

People, and me included until recently, seem to think that water cannons just get the protesters a bit wet, a bit cold, and annoy them so much that they end up leaving. The truth is much more sinister, the power that the water is sprayed at can cause serious damage. It can cause serious damage and make people stuck inside the protest feel unable to breathe. The man in the picture above is a protester from Germany, who was hit full in the face with a water cannon, his eyes are swelled shut and bleeding. I'm not sure if there's been a follow up story since (I can't speak German and wouldn't know where to find it) but at the time his doctor confirmed that the man was blind and may never recover his sight.

The idea that the police see this as a logical next step, and that Theresa May sees it as acceptable, speaks volumes for the disdain towards protesters. We always hear how politicians respect people's right to peaceful protest, but for protest to be peaceful there has to be mutual respect between police and protester. Charging people on horses, cracking them over the head with batons, and now considering spraying them with high velocity blasts to water leads to nothing but more anger, and that doesn't benefit anyone.

I am not someone who is typically critical of the police force, they do a very difficult job and usually do it admirably. It would be a sweeping generalisation indeed to say that the police are 'all' anything, but recently the police have lost the respect of many people, and that doesn't bode well for their ability to keep the peace in future demonstrations.

They blamed the problems at the last demonstration on the protesters changing their planned route. The only reason people changed the route, and it is becoming an all too familiar story, is that the police refused to let them complete their march. People at the head of the march saw a police line forming in front of them and, understandably not wanting to be holed up in a kettle for hours, decided to try a different route. Every time they saw a line forming, they changed paths.

The act of the police trying to contain people before any hint of violence had broken out meant that they actually made their own job much harder. Instead of policing a pre-agreed route, their tactics led to a very unpredictable march, where they could never hope to have full control.

And all of this isn't helped by the wild hysteria coming out of David Cameron's mouth. He has now changed his tack, saying that most protesters were there just for violence, refusing to listen to the voices of thousands of students, and wrongly asserting that a policeman was 'dragged off his horse and beaten'. I think he owes protesters an apology, after the video clearly shows the injury of the policemen on the horse had nothing to do with students, he just fell off. I won't hold my breath though.

To control future protests police need to show more respect, and in turn they will win back respect. Firing water cannons at people who are simply exercising their democratic right to protest is no way to achieve that aim.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

The Catholic Church: A Force for Evil

At first I thought I might write a post based on the points from this video, but then realised I could never dream of putting the argument as eloquently and succinctly as Stephen Fry makes it. For that reason, I've simply re-posted the video here, to watch at your own leisure, it really is sensational, and I agree with every single word of it.

The first thing he goes into, and is important to him and me, is that he is not criticising members of the church. It would be condescending in the extreme for me to lecture believers as much as it is for Jehovah's witnesses to ram their religion down the throats of people relaxing at home. But that doesn't mean I'm unintitled to my own opinions, and that is to say that the catholic church as an organisation causes more harm in the world than it does good.

It's in the second half of the clip that he really gets into the modern problems with the church, and the longer he goes on the more passionate (and more persuasive) he gets. But I certainly wouldn't recommend skipping any of the video to get to the heart of the argument, because the introduction is brilliantly delivered.

Here's a few sound bites to look for:

- From 7.25: "The idea that the catholic church exists to disseminate the word of the Lord is nonsense, it is the only owner of the truth... because those billions are uneducated and poor, they are the ones they can tell, and bully, and domineer."

- From 9.20: "What it (Vatican City in union with major Islamic states) did was to hobble and veto any possibility of women's sexual freedom in the world, because as we know the Islamic religion and the catholic church have never been anything other than implacably opposed to women's choice in their own bodies and their own destinies."

- From 10.20: "His (Current Pope, Ratzinger) first act was to write to the bishops ordering them, on pain of excommunication, not to talk to the police or anyone else (about priests accused of child rape), and to handle investigations 'in the most secretive way, restrained by perpetual silence'."

- From 11.45: "It's a little hard for me (Stephen, as a gay man) to know that I am disordered, or to quote Ratzinger, 'guilty of a moral evil', simply by fulfilling my sexual destiny as I see it, because I see myself as someone who is filled only with love."

- From 13.05: "The celibacy, the nuns, the monks, the priesthood, this is not natural and normal, for me to be called a pervert by these extraordinarily sexually dysfunctional people."

- From 14.50: "I am not denying that abstinence is a very good way of not getting AIDS, it really works, so does being faithful. But so do condoms, and do not deny it! And this Pope... he spreads the lie that condoms actually increase the incidence of AIDS."

- From 15.55: "It (the church) is obsessed with sex. They will say we with our permissive society and our rude jokes are obsessed with sex. No, we have a healthy attitude. We like it, it's fun, it's jolly, because it's a primary impulse it can be dangerous and dark and difficult, it's a bit like food in that respect, but only more exciting. The only people who are obsessed with food are anorexics and the morbidly obese, and that, in erotic terms is the catholic church in a nutshell."

- From 17.30: "Do you know who the last person ever would be to be accepted as a Prince of the church? The Gallilean carpenter, that Jew. (Jesus, obviously) They would kick him out before he tried to cross the threshold. He would be so ill at ease in the church, that simple and remarkable man. What would he think of St. Peter's? What would he think of the wealth, and the power, and the self-justification, and the wheedling apologies? He would be horrified."

And finally, the most powerful part:

"The Pope could decide that all this power, all this wealth, and this hierarchy of princes, and bishops, and archbishops, priests, and monks and nuns, should be sent out in the world with money and art treasures and put them back in the countries they once raped and violated... They could give that money away... And then I could stand here and say the Catholic church may well be a force for good in the world, but until that day it is not."

Friday, 10 December 2010

Dear Future Students, we're sorry.

I wanted to write this last night, but it would have ended up being 95% rant and 5% mashing the keyboard with my face, so thought it best to wait until today.

As a side note, a question to anyone reading. Which of these two scenarios would you consider more news worthy? A man being driven through the protest having his car kicked and pelted with paint or, a protester in the crowds doing nothing more than try and get out of the area, being hit so hard over the head by a policemen that he suffers a brain haemorrhage? The BBC, Sky and seemingly every other news outlet decided to go with the former. Purely because the man in the car happened to be born from the womb of a nice lady called Elizabeth. But I digress, the real news is the demolition of higher education voted in by all the Tories bar eight, and 28 Lib Dems.

Last night, after a mere 3 hours of allowed debating time, 11 MPs condemned future students to a tripling of fees and many of the poorest to a future without the hope of higher education. That's what it comes down to, 11 MPs switching sides would have defeated the vote.

It seems that no matter how much you protest, how much the general population agrees with your cause, how much you are willing to put yourself in front of a charging horse, or even suffer brain damage from a policeman's truncheon, David Cameron and Nick Clegg can simply put their fingers in their ears and pretend we're all stupid. We keep hearing that people don't agree with the new proposals because students are 'peddling myths' about what they'll actually mean. In light of this, let's have a look at a few myths.

- This increased funding means our universities can compete against the best in the world.

No, the increased money coming from tuition fees merely fills the gaping hole left by the pull out of government funding from higher education. Our fees will be the highest to attend public university in the developed world, and all David Cameron could offer was 'they're not as high as in America' (which are privately run, so completely misses the point). How that counts as an argument in favour I'm unsure, would 'Our human rights aren't as bad as China's.' be a valid argument point in that case? It is fair that graduates make a contribution to their education, but it is wholly wrong that the state should abdicate its own responsibility for funding, after all, it benefits massively from the wealth creation of graduates.

- The system is progressive because people pay less than they do now.

Not the case, not even nearly true. The IFS showed that 25% of graduates would pay less than now, which of course 75% pay more. And besides that point, the argument is between a new system and the status quo, it's between the system proposed and other alternatives, such as the graduate tax, which could be far more progressive. In fact, further analysis by the IFS actually showed that people from every background will be worse off after these proposals.

More than that, we have to look at whether people from the poorest backgrounds would even bother applying in the first place. (The massive issue over the scrapping of EMA has rather been sidelined, but that will come another day) People from poorer backgrounds are far more debt averse (with good reason) and a massive 70% of students would be put off applying at all.  Its no good if people could end up paying less (which they won't be) if the poorest never get to go to university in the first place, social mobility it seems is old-fashioned talk.

(Interestingly, Michael Gove said in his time as Shadow Education Secretary that large amounts of debt putting the poorest off the idea of university would be a good thing!)

- The fact you have to start repaying at £21,000 makes the whole thing progressive.

First off, you don't have to treble fees to bring this measure in, so to try and use it as an argument for the 80% cut and trebling of fees is completely ridiculous. But even accepting that it's part of the package, the jump in the threshold really isn't as large as you might think. This threshold comes into place in 2016, by which time that £21,000 will be worth just shy of £18,000. An increase yes, but hardly enough to undo the damage from the rest of the package.

- People would like it if only they understood you don't have to pay up front.

The general populus isn't stupid, Messrs Cameron and Clegg, we get it. You don't pay up front, but you conveniently skirt over the issue of the massively increased debt. Whilst they talk of the government debt in apocalyptic terms (which is comparatively low when viewed within historical trends), they seem to think personal debt is something to be championed. Just because payment is postponed doesn't mean it disappears, it just means that it will cripple people for years to come.

One of the biggest problems I have with this whole debacle is that confidence in politics has hit rock bottom, lower now than at the height of the expenses scandal. A lot of people are apathetic about political matters, one reason behind our low turnouts at election, and I've always tried to argue that politics matters. How can I, or anyone else, now argue that people should ever trust a word that comes out of a politicians mouth? At the election we had three main parties, two didn't tell us where they stood, and the one that did tell us went completely against there word the moment they got a sniff of power. Nobody trusts politics any more, and I can no longer blame them.

Before the vote took place the best policy was to target Lib Dems, as they were the ones most likely to switch sides and possibly defeat the government. Now that it's happened we can switch the narrative, yes Lib Dems who voted for the proposals are spineless nothings, but we should focus more at the 299 Tory MPs who also voted it through. For them, Nick Clegg is a handy human shield, but they were the ones responsible for pushing this through. They should be punished just as viciously as Nick Clegg is being targeted right now.

Students won't stop protesting just because the vote has passed, and they won't forget come next election.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Hackers, Fees and Morons.

Haven't really got the time away from work at the moment to right a long, rambling blog to fit in with the many other similar posts around here, so instead I'll just write a little bit on a lot of the stories floating around.

Julian Assange Arrested -

Well, this wasn't exactly unexpected, I doubt he'll even get extradited, never mind sentenced, and all in all it doesn't matter one jot to the future of WikiLeaks as an organisation. The charges bought against him have already been laughed out of court once in Sweden, and there doesn't seem to be any new evidence since then. The only reason this has come back to the surface is some busy body politician in Sweden has had a quick word with a smaller court and they've decided to reopen it.

I'd like to think that our judicial system is more robust than that and so won't cave in to the massive political pressure to extradite him. As I said though, even were he to be charged this would make no difference. As of right now, WikiLeaks is much stronger than just one man, who is essentially now just a front man. He acts as a lightening rod whilst the thousands of other journalists and cyber-geniuses at WikiLeaks get on with releasing the rest of the leaked cables. It's strange to think we've got so much information so far and we're not even up to the 1,000 mark out of 250,000 cables.

It'd also be interesting, to put it very mildly, if he did get charged and WikiLeaks decided to release the passcode for the 'insurance file' they uploaded. I dare say there's likely to be some pretty explosive stuff in there.

Tuition Fees come to a head -

Tomorrow's the big day, the tuition fees vote. I expect it to go through, but we can only hope that more MPs see sense between now and then. Only a moron like Clegg could claim that slashing HE funding by 80% and then trebling fees is in some way 'progressive'. he then dismisses a Graduate Tax as 'unworkable', without a seconds pause for thought. It has far more going for it than the plans currently on the table.

Yes, some people will pay less under these new proposals, but the majority will pay more. And this funding isn't upping the money that goes to universities, the fees coming out of students pockets is just being used to plug the gaping hole left by the withdrawal of government cash. For the large number of people on middle incomes, too rich to get support, but too poor to quickly pay off loans without incurring interest, then these proposals will hit you hard. Very hard.

And the idea that all is well because you only start paying back at £21,000 is complete tosh as well. Although they made it slightly better today by making the amount rise with inflation, the fact remains that by the time the plans come into effect that £21,000 will be worth less than £18,000 in today's money because of inflation. Hardly a massive jump is it.

The Lib Dems have a choice, be loyal to the Tories, or be loyal to students and loyal to their word. Only a No vote is acceptable, abstaining is not nearly enough.

Lansley completes his collection -

My favourite figure Andrew Lansley has succeeded in completing his collection, after his plans were trashed by his own side, following of course the objections from GPs, the BMA, Health Workers and many others in the profession. The Tory chair of the Health Select Comittee has already warned him about the pace and scale of his reforms, and now a figure from within No. 10 has told the Financial Times:

"Andrew [Lansley] has all the answers when he is asked the questions about how the implementation of all this will work. We're just not sure they are the right ones.” Ouch.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

The Mess at the Top of World Football

Is something really wrong with FIFA, or is it just us English being a little upset that we didn't win the bid?

Far be it from me to lash out in sour grapes, but I think it's clear to many right now that something is very wrong at the heart of FIFA. It's not the fact that we didn't win the World Cup bid that riles me, I could have accepted coming second, but to finish with just one vote other than our own is insulting. And Qatar, rated as 'high risk' by FIFA, winning the 2022 bid shows that something really is wrong with the selection process.

Let's look at the facts from the bidding process (an idea which apparently evaded those 22 men with the votes):

  • England was rated a 'safe' host, with eventual winners Russia rated as 'Medium risk'. 
  • We are widely acknowledged to have the best technical bid of the 2018 candidates, all our infrastructure is already in place.
  • We had the best commercial bid of all, no-one else could have provided FIFA with as much cash that they so desperately crave.
  • Our presentation was amongst the best, with us sending our most senior people, unlike other competitors.

The one thing I could possibly see us being marked down for is the legacy aspect of the bid. We may have included football development in Africa as part of our bid but back in England there is little scope for further football development as we already have it all. That one downside is the reason I could have stomached (begrudgingly perhaps) coming second to Russia, who clearly have a detailed plan for the legacy of the World Cup. 

What I find appalling is that all the other positives, put together in a bid that cost us £15m, could count for absolutely nothing. If the rules of the contest were that actually all the stuff about inspections and economic reports counted for nothing, surely we should have been told?

And now certain members of the executive committee show their true colours, in coming out and blaming our loss on the fact that we as a country have a free and independent media. It is now clear that the reason we lost is that FIFA members are part of a club which is secretive, and hold grudges on all who dare investigate the corruption that sits only very slightly under the surface.

We're not talking about the English media smearing people here, the Sunday Times and Panorama both had hard evidence of corruption. The press didn't say 'England doesn't like FIFA', they showed exactly how bribery played a part in the decisions of some members. If outing the truth about corruption loses you a bid, then I think we can safely say that England has lost, but for all the right reasons.

I'd have loved to see the World Cup in England as much as anyone else, but not if it was at the cost of our integrity and us having to sink to the level of corruption and political positioning that is obviously far more important to FIFA than the actual strength of a bid.

The Sunday Times and Panorama were both absolutely right to release the information they had when they did, its FIFA that has the problem, we shouldn't sink to their level. The IOC had a similar problem not so long ago, and they soon turned it round. Maybe some good can come of this furore and FIFA will soon follow the IOC on the road to transparency and respectability.

Friday, 3 December 2010

Wikileaks: The Invincibles

This is the first blog in a week, for two reasons really. First, I've had a lot of catch-up work to get done, and perhaps more importantly, I got Assassin's Creed this week which has taken up a good chunk of my life. Today's will look at Wikileaks, not so much this particular leak, but why they're now in such a position of power.

Much has been made of the latest leaked US cables, and the various revelations within, from the calls to have an air strike on Iran's nuclear facilities, to China calling North Korea a 'spoiled child', and allegations that Russia has effectively become a 'mafia state'. How accurate all these allegations are remains to be seen but it's clear that they've made not so much ripples but tidal waves in international relations.

I think, however, that criticism of Wikileaks and Julian Assange in particular fails to see the important point that has come out of the past few leaks. Even if Assange was locked up tomorrow and Wikileaks disbanded, their ethos and skills would be passed on. Nothing would change, leaks would still happen just as often and with just as much impact. You can't kill an idea.

So much of the discussion about Wikileaks is about whether or not they can be silenced and whether they should be. You can be sure that if Wikileaks weren't the people making these things public then there'd be plenty of other people who'd be willing to fill the niche.

And even more than that, the media frenzy over them that is fed by hyperbolic statements like that from Hilary Clinton saying they were an 'attack on the international community', only feeds their influence. Just look at what happened when the British Police tried to muscle in and police the internet.

After the first student protest, a website gave advice to those present about how to avoid prosecution. It was a relatively small website and I'd hazard a guess that few people had heard of it outside certain small circles. Then the Met decide that they don't like that information being available on the internet and try to ban it, succeeding in taking down the website. Within minutes dozens of sites posted their own copy of the offending text, and the original website found a new home within a day. All that was achieved was that the police ensured that the traffic to the website sky-rocketed because of all the publicity. Completely counter productive.

The same thing happened with Wikileaks. Their original domain name got taken down, it took them a matter of hours to get it back up. And the fact that they've managed to keep online despite massive hacking attacks is nothing short of remarkable.

It only takes a tiny minority of people in any given organisation to have a sense of moral duty to lead to these kind of leaks. Once you have the motive, the actual getting hold of the information doesn't tend to be all that difficult. Just as technology means it's easier than ever for leaders to keep tabs on their electorate, so it works the other way around. In days gone by you'd need to smuggle out hard copies of incriminating evidence. These days all it takes is one USB and suddenly you can carry around hundreds of thousands of files.

Once you accept that future leaks are inevitable, you can move on and try to find a way to minimise the likelihood that someone would want to leak data and minimise the damage done by said leak. I think a lot of the attraction to whistle blowers stems from the fact that too many governments are over eager to use the 'national security' defence to withhold embarrassing information. Of course some information needs to be secret, but too often things are kept private simply because they wouldn't look good out in the public.

How far should we go to make sure governments and organisations share information and how do we decide what information should be protected?

That's where we need to look, not to whether or not Julian Assange is a good guy, that's irrelevant. He's the front man for a much bigger organisation, and that organisation is just the current manifestation of a trend that is here to stay. As long as you have disaffected people, you'll have leaks, so you can safely assume they'll be here for quite some time to come.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Kettling: Not suitable for children.

Since originally posting this, I've found this article on the Guardian, the video from which I've now included, and it looks frankly terrifying. These are the kinds of tactics police feel they have to use to control a peaceful protest.

And so the protest continues, with yesterdays countrywide protests (though you'd be forgiven for thinking it was only London after the press coverage) against the disgusting abuse of our education system. But today's post isn't about that. It's about police abusing and beating young children, right in the middle of London.

A lot of people will now be familiar with the police tactics of 'kettling', it having sprung to fame in the G20 protests. (For all the wrong reasons) It was used again yesterday, presumably because the police were rather embarrassed at the mess from the last weeks protests, but is it really a good way to control a crowd?

For those not entirely sure what 'kettling' is, I'll give a brief overview. Basically, at any large event or protest, the police will never have enough numbers to control the whole crowd because it can move so quickly from one place to another. When it gets away from the police, they could lose control. So the idea is that if things start getting uncomfortable for the police, they box the protesters into a small space, and keep them there for hours. No one in, no one out, to try and keep an eye on, and control of, the crowd.

The flaw though, should be clear. If you take a crowd of people and stick them crammed together in the same spot for a long period of time, with little or no toilet facilities, sparse water supplies and no food, then even the most tame protesters are going to get very angry indeed, and with good reason. The name 'kettling' is actually very appropriate, you will very quickly turn up the heat on the situation and that steam has to come off somewhere.

Yesterday's example however, was particularly barbaric.

It looked very much like the police had a twitch yesterday, they changed tactics from soft touch to heavy handed very quickly indeed, most likely a little over eager to avoid the same embarrassment as last time out. But that twitch meant that thousands of school children (because they joined the march yesterday alongside students) were left stuck in a very claustrophobic and cramped environment, with no idea what was going on and having very angry policemen shouting at them and flailing their batons at them.

With my own eyes watching the TV, I saw one policemen hit a school child with a baton and another get thrown off a wall back into a crowd as he was trying to leave what looked like a pretty terrifying crush. Many others have equally appalling tales.

It is claimed the police had to resort to this heavy-handedness because the crowd was becoming restless and trying to break through. I'm sorry, I consider myself pretty moderate, but if I was stuck in an area unable to use the toilet or get access to food and water then I'd get pretty 'restless' too, and if that meant trying to push through a police barricade then that's exactly what I'd do.

And the argument that these people knew what they were getting into when they joined the protest is hogwash as well. Many of these people from schools had no idea what a protest looked like, they were just angry and wanted to have their say. They followed the crowd because that's what human nature tells us to do and ended up penned in by police. As one put it: "It's ridiculous that they won't let us march, we can't even vote yet, we should be allowed to have our say."

Are we now going to ban protests or penalise protesters because a few rogue elements might turn it violent, and in doing so deny people their say who otherwise wouldn't have a voice. We might have elections, but they're only five years, what about if we're angry in between that time, should we just keep schtum? And anyway, you try telling a Lib Dem voter that voting means you know what you're going to get.

If you put people in a crowded environment, they panic, they push to get out, and tempers flair. And then, at the first sign of any minor violence the whole protest is declared void and suddenly 'students' (as if you could ever make such a sweeping generalisation and have it keep any legitimacy) are somehow the bad guys in the whole affair. Conveniently forgetting that it wasn't their decision to triple their debt and slash their teaching budget by 80%.

It's very simple, kettling is a travesty, it's barbaric, undemocratic and it should be banned. Even the Lib Dems agree with me, or at least they did a year ago:

"Tactics like baton charges, the seizure of personal property and the kettling of protestors for hours on end are fundamentally wrong. They are a threat to democratic rights, they cause distress and injury, increase tension, provoke reaction and damage the reputation of the police.

"These tactics must change. The police must recognise the democratic right to protest and put the protection of the public first at all times." - David Howarth

But we all know how Lib Dems like to change their minds at a sniff of power don't we, so I'm not too sure what their current stance on the issue is. Probably what ever David Cameron tells them I'd imagine.

P.s. Of course it's wrong when protests turn violent, but maybe if the news channels cared about the peaceful marches up and down the country without insisting on focussing solely on one small area of trouble, people wouldn't feel like violence was the only way to get their voice heard. 50,000 people marched last week, but we heard only about the few at Millbank. There were protests at many universities yesterday, but the coverage focussed on one vandalised police van. Ridiculous.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

In the War on Drugs, Reason is Treason.

Last night, Professor David Nutt (the previous Chair of the drug advisory council to the government who was sacked for a paper he wrote) held a lecture at the University of Manchester on the science (or rather lack of it) in current drug policy. Much of this post is based on that talk.

I've wrote posts on this subject before, but now that I've heard the arguments come from an infinitely more knowledgeable person on the subject I thought I'd reiterate with a few new points. The basic message is that our current views and laws on drugs are completely out of touch with the scientific reality. The Misuse of Drugs Act is being abused and its original purpose to take the politics out of drug policy is being swept aside in order to score cheap points.

First of all, I'll start with what made him famous in the first place, his being sacked as the Chair of the Advisory Council On the Misuse of Drugs by Alan Johnson, the then Home Secretary. It may have come to the attention of readers that I'm something of a Labour man, I don't hide it all that well, but this is one of those occasions when I was appalled by what we did in government. Our drugs policy, and that of the opposition, was completely out of kilter. In trying to cosy up to the tabloid rags (i.e. Daily Mail, Sun etc.) Johnson decided to put his boot in where it was not wanted or indeed appropriate.

Nutt's crime? To publish a scientific paper, stating the facts about the relative harms of drugs. Because what he said embarrassed the government he was shown the door, hardly the kind of treatment you would expect to give to someone who is supposed to work independently of the government in order to give sound unbiased advise.

I have a feeling the government weren't too happy even before this paper was released, what with his previous findings on the relative harms of Ecstacy and horse riding (for which he coined the term Equasy). It didn't suit the tough rhetoric of the government that in fact Ecstacy was less harmful than horse riding and so they distanced themselves. Nutt had evidence, but the politicians had an image to protect.

So, here's some of the facts the government would rather Nutt wouldn't let the public know about, because they'd rather keep us all in this hysterical Daily Mail style bubble which keeps us all frothing at the mouths about the dangers of drugs over a pint in the pub. (And failing to see the irony) These are all findings from previous studies and Nutt's new independent body, which did a much more detailed analysis of both the harm to users and to society of a range of drugs.

  • The most harmful drug overall was Alcohol, mainly due to its exaggerated damaging effects on society. Because so many of us drink, we fail to see the massive damage that this drug does.
  • Tobacco comes in 6th place, ahead of Cannabis, Amphetamines and Ketamine.
  • The most dangerous drugs to the individual user are Heroin, Crack and Crystal Meth, the most dangerous to others are Alcohol, Heroin and Crack, in that order.
  • Horse riding is more dangerous than taking Ecstacy, with acute harm occurring once every 10,000 times a person takes Ecstacy, but once in only 350 times someone goes horse riding.

For these scientific facts, backed up by evidence and peer reviewed studies, he has been hung out to dry. Politicians seem to think they know better than the people whose job it is to study and research these things every day of their lives. What one person 'believes' to be true is not equivalent to the opinion of a man with over 30 years research experience. People may say that they 'know' better, and that these claims can't be true, but you only have to walk through an insane asylum to see that faith proves nothing.

It really was an excellent talk he gave, and it really does beg the question why we continue with such a clearly broken system for classifying drug use. We are criminalising people for their sickness and for their attempts to reduce their perceived suffering, what kind of system is that?

The Misuse of Drugs Act was set up to take the political point scoring out of drug policy, and make sure it was evidence based. What we have now makes a mockery of that original purpose. It's high time we got more evidence at the heart of policy making and had a grown up debate about drug use without people screaming their invalid opinions and distorting the debate.

Monday, 22 November 2010

The Untouchable Monarchy

Unless you've been living in a cave for the past couple of weeks you may have noticed that there is going to be a royal wedding next year, something which judging by the amount of coverage it's received seems to be on a par with a cure for HIV. I'm not being dour, I'm sure they'll have a lovely wedding and enjoy life as a married couple, but I just don't care. We're essentially fawning over a headline of: 'Couple who met at university to marry next year.' Not exactly front page worthy is it?

Great news for them, but why exactly should I care?

But my reason for writing this is that I genuinely couldn't believe some of the comments I've seen aimed at republicans who would dare suggest that the monarchy should pay for their own wedding. It would seem a relatively un-provocative idea in a time of austerity surely? So I thought I'd counter some of the monarchist arguments in one handy post, in order of how often I've heard them. (Aside from those I already made last time)

  • What does it matter, they don't do anything and have no power: First of all, how this can be a defense of an institution we are spending good money on is beyond me, (the idea that we should work out the cost by dividing by the population is bizarre indeed, any cost looks small when you divide it by every citizen, including non-taxpayers) surely we'd want something back for our substantial amounts of money.
    And secondly, whilst it might be true that the Queen has little real power left, (save to choose the Prime Minister in a tie) the institution of the monarchy holds all the power in the land. Whilst most of it is given to parliament, this arrangement allows the Prime Minister and Privy Council to have unchecked power that they would not have without the monarchy. 

  • The power to go to war without a vote and to give immunity are just two of many powers available under the 'Royal Prerogative'. We can only move towards a real, democratic constitution when we get rid of the monarchy. 

  • They pay for themselves through tourism: Well, this argument is just patently untrue, as well as being brilliantly irrelevant. There is no evidence that the monarchy does anything for tourism, and even less to suggest it brings in substantial amounts. 

  • The royal residences make up 1% of Britain's total tourism revenue, and only one makes it into the Top 20 list of tourism destinations (Windsor Castle at 17). In fact, the Tower of London is much more successful than any of the residences (at number 6) which may even suggest the royal residences would make much more money if they were vacated by the current dwellers.
    You can still have all the pomp and tradition of things like the changing of the guard without the Queen around, it's all ceremonial anyway.

It's lovely, and not going anywhere if we get rid of the Monarchy.

  • There are more important things to worry about: Of course there are, no-one would deny that. But since when as a country did we rank our priorities and decide we could only cope with dealing with one at a time? It'd be pretty slow progress if we worked like that.

  • I'd say the validity of our democracy was something we should deal with, regardless of how high up the pecking order it is. We look back at history and laugh at Kings who claim they were sent by God to rule, yet still we have an unelected representative as our Head of State who is simply chosen by bloodlines? You cannot claim that is democratic in any sense of the word, it makes a mockery of our attempts to espouse the virtues of democracy to other nations.

  • It would cost more to have a president: Again, this is just patently untrue, and quite beside the point. This isn't about money, it's about democracy, but I may as well disprove this fallacy anyway.

  • The palace may claim to cost £40 million a year, (a big enough figure in itself) but they left out some key expenses. If you include lost revenue from the Duchies of Lancaster and Cornwall, unpaid tax, security costs and costs for local authorities the real figure is around £180 million. By contrast Ireland spends £1.8m and Austria spends £3.5m. Even an expensive president like Germany's costs £26m, still a massive saving.

    And those who claim the monarchy pays for itself because they 'donate' the proceeds of the Crown estate to the government are also wrong. The Crown estates don't belong to the Queen, she can't donate what she doesn't own. The estates belong to the Sovereign, they are not the personal property of any individual monarch. In essence the Queen looks after the estates, the revenue from them always has and always will have the purpose of providing income for the country, with or without a monarch.

There are more, but I won't bore you longer, anyone interested can look at more here, and those who aren't will surely have switched pages by now, so no need to worry about them.

Some of the attempts to defend such a patently unfair and backwards institution really do amuse me, but sadly we still have to make the arguments because not enough people care to actually get rid of them, despite the lack of any cohesive argument for them to be retained.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Another hit to health reform.

It's been nearly a week without a post, many apologies for that, it's not that I've been particularly busy but just that I didn't feel like posting. So for the return I thought it's time to revisit my old favourite subject... How much of an idiot Andrew Lansley is and his attempts to break down the NHS.

You probably won't have noticed it in the news, (good news about the NHS never seems to be given a lot of airtime or print space) but yet again the NHS has been found to be one of the best health care systems in the world. This time for its access to healthcare and in terms of efficiency. You'd never believe it from all the hype you hear about over-paid executives from the right-wing press, but yes, the NHS is one of the most efficient systems with its money.

So, after news like that you'd expect maybe a well done for all the hard work from the health secretary right? Maybe a little pride in one of the nations favourite and best-performing institutions? No sir, not from Andrew Lansley. All you got from him was moaning about how bad the NHS performed in other areas (with some very dubious claims) and an insistence that only his reforms could help mend the system. I really don't get why this man is in charge of something he clearly loathes.

No-one ever claimed the NHS is perfect, because no health care system in the world is perfect. But to just brush off any praise and insist on focussing purely on negatives is a ridiculous stance for a man in charge of our health.

And now onto the latest in a long series of high profile criticisms of his planned reforms, which I've previously wrote about not once, or even twice, but a fair few times now. (I can't help it if people keep adding their names to the 'Andrew Lansley is an idiot' fan club)

The new head of the Royal College of GPs, a distinguished doctor who has helped massively improve health in deprived areas, has herself come out against the reforms, saying (amongst other more detailed criticisms) that:

"I think it is the end of the NHS as we currently know it, which is a national, unified health service, with central policies and central planning, in the way that (Aneurin) Bevan imagined."

Bearing in mind that his plans are supposed to be about giving GPs the power they so desperately crave to help patients without the interference of 'evil' PCTs, isn't a bit bizarre to Lansley that the RCGP and its leader have both now come out with damning attacks? What will it take for him to see that he is in fact a lunatic with a plan that no-one wants?

There is negligible support within the health care profession for these reforms. The fact that Lansley promised no more 'top-down reorganisations' seems to have been lost in the carnage of the multitude of other broken coalition promises, with Lansley's plans being the mother of all top-down reorganisations. It could cost over £3bn on a risky reorganisation at a time when the NHS is being told to save money, it makes no sense whatsoever.

It makes me sad that someone so stupid can be in such a position of power over something the country and I love so much. If Cameron has even one brain cell to share out amongst the cabinet, please lend it to Lansley for a while.

Edit: This seriously annoyed me when I read it just after originally posting. The current chief executive has said that any staff who oppose the reorganisation should offer their resignations as they will be a 'drag' on the health service in transition. Absolutely outrageous. I'd suggest the only person who should be offering their resignation any time soon is David Nicholson for such an arrogant statement which shows such disdain for the opinions of those working in the NHS.

He has to go, it's that simple. You cannot insult the personal views of so many of your workforce, suggesting they leave for disagreeing with you and expect to remain in a job.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Wealth and/or Happiness?

I'm going to do something pretty unusual in these parts, say that I think David Cameron has done something good. (Interestingly, the one time I agree with him, Liam the Tory man seems to disagree) His plan to introduce a Happiness Index, as devised by two economic Nobel laureates, is a great idea in principle (IF done properly), though I'm not sure he'll like the results.

For a long time, the only thing anyone has been interested in is how much and how quickly a country can make money, a massive jump in GDP was all that mattered. But what people are realising is that more money doesn't make for a better society, it doesn't mean a happier electorate, and that more money for a country doesn't usually mean more money for everyone in it.

We should take more of an interest in how the people of our country are getting on, and not just assuming that all is well because the money is rolling in. The last decades may have seen a jump in wealth but they've also seen a jump in the amount of mental illnesses people suffer from. If more money is bought in because people are working harder and longer with no time for family life is that a price ever worth paying?

This isn't going to be a case of asking people to fill in a form that says, 'How happy are you on a scale of 1 to 10?', which would clearly be useless. It's been shown that there are reliable ways to measure subjective happiness and well-being which are meaningful to those interpreting what they mean. New policy shouldn't just be judged on what happens to the economy, but on what happens to society as a result.

Looking at these measures will hopefully lead to a renewed focus on just how unequal our society still is, and that will be reflected in people's feelings. It's well known in psychology that being richer isn't what makes people happier, it's how they compare to their peers that matters. Someone on £21,000 whose social group includes many people on lower incomes will be happier with their current state of affairs than someone on £50,000 who socialises with millionaires.

A society where everyone feels they have a fair shot at getting on in life would be the happiest, we can't rely on the trickle down effect any more where the rich rule the roost and tell the rest to be happy with their lot because they are making money that will benefit everybody. It just isn't true. For every extra £100 earned as a country, £40 goes to the top 10%. 13% of our national wealth resides in the pockets of just 1% of the population. I'm not advocating communism here (that seems to be the buzzword for anyone who wants to attack the left) but simply a fairer society where you earn more based on merit, rather than coming from a privileged background.

The Tories who deride this are right on one thing, it's the exact type of policy that Cameron would have ridiculed if it had come from Labour. We might yet have a bizarre situation where Cameron is trying harder to convince Tories that this is a good thing than he is with the opposition.

It will be hard to get a reliable measure of how policy is affecting us as a society, but it can be done, and should be. It will be an extra tool available to see just how society can be made better for everyone in it. And if nothing else it shows one thing, we're finally realising that there is more to measuring the successes of a nation than the narrow and flawed notion of GDP.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

How to break a promise spectacularly.

I seem to talk about tuition fees a lot recently, but humour me for one more post, because this might just make you sick if you were one of those unfortunate souls to vote Lib Dem last election. It's clear for all to see now that the Libs are spineless puppets with no principals, but until now it wasn't clear just how far back that state of affairs went.

It now turns out (having been revealed in the Guardian, the very paper that swapped parties to support them in the General Election) that senior Lib Dems decided they wouldn't pursue their pledge to scrap tuition fees in the event of a coalition (the only way they were ever going to get to implement their policies) a full two months before polling day! That's before Clegg and co. signed their pledges in the desperate attempt to win the student vote, and before he released his video promising to get rid of broken promises in politics. Hypocrisy, thy name is Clegg.

Here's what Danny Alexander said in the document:

"On tuition fees we should seek agreement on part-time students and leave the rest. We will have clear yellow water with the other [parties] on raising the tuition fee cap, so let us not cause ourselves more headaches."

'Leave the rest'. Three words which in one swoop destroy any last vestige of respectability that the Lib Dems had left. And this isn't just about tuition fees, they did the exact same thing with the economy. When people cast their votes, over 60% of people voted for parties on the basis that they had committed to a slow cutting of the deficit, and not taking the risk of plunging millions into unemployment. But the bottles of champagne and the ministerial car proved to much of a temptation, and so now we're going through a devastating round of cuts even deeper than the Conservatives had promised. Instead of compromise, they've just agreed to everything that Cameron has fed them.

The idea that events have changed so much since before the election to cause this change of heart is laughable. The events in Greece were not a sign of things to come for us, we were and are in a much stronger position than Greece was at the time, and the idea that they hadn't realised how bad the countries finances were until they got into office is the biggest sham of all. First of all, they campaigned relentlessly on how bad they thought the countries finances were, and second, every indicator over that period suggested that we were actually in better shape than even Darling had thought.

Those who climb the highest, have the furthest to fall. And maybe that's why I loathe Nick Clegg so much right now. I expected to be sold down the river by slime balls like Cameron, but I'd always respected Clegg and thought he was an honest politician. How wrong I was.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Jailed for your jokes

The more I read about this story, the more horrifying I realise it is. We're now essentially barred from making any statement online which could be taken in a literal way. Say goodbye sarcasm and irony, you're illegal now.

This might not be the biggest story around right now, but I thought it was a horrendous and ridiculous story all at the same time, Paul Chambers today lost his appeal against a conviction and fine he received for a joke he made on Twitter. Apparently, the judge decided he was a 'menace' and was likely to be taken seriously.

Here's the offending tweet, sent to a friend whom he was meant to meet, about the fact that his nearby airport had closed due to heavy snow:

"Crap! Robin Hood airport is closed. You've got a week and a bit to get your shit together otherwise I'm blowing the airport sky high!!"

Now I'm sorry, but if anyone took that seriously, they're a moron. It was a message sent to a friend, and visible to a small number of people who 'followed' him, I would guess he assumed he could trust them to know him well enough to know that he wasn't a terrorist. A fairly safe assumption you would have thought.

Added to that, what kind of terrorist would pre-announce their plans in joke form via Twitter, surely they'd be the single most incompetent terrorist ever, and not being able to see a friend would hardly be the most solid motive would it.

Because of the judges over-zealous interpretation of the law and lack of basic common sense this man not only has to pay a £1000 fine, but more importantly for him has lost his job, and will find it harder to get one in the future.

The Crown Prosecution Service must have known that this really was a nothing case because when they bought it to court they used the 'Nuisance Calls' Law, (designed to protect female telephonists at the Post Office in the 1930's) rather than the actual bomb hoax legislation, precisely because to get a conviction with the bomb hoax legislation they would have needed significantly more evidence of intent.

If you can get arrested for jokes made on the internet then I'd suggest that right now 90% of the British population are criminals on the run, it's absurd to take something like this from a social networking site and pretend that it was meant with any real intent at all.

I suggest we all secretly follow the idiotic judge who rejected this appeal, and next time he says 'Man, I'd kill for a cup of tea' I will personally jump out and make a citizen's arrest for intent to murder.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Admission Impossible

You could hardly have missed it if you even just glanced at the news today, there was a major protest in London against the tripling of tuition fees, with up to 50,000 people marching. Of course, everyone will talk about the 'violence' at Millbank tower, but that misses the bigger point.

I also said before that it's good to admit when you're wrong, and earlier I was a bit too hyped up to see the damage done by a minority of people. I would never ever sympathise with people who choose to hit innocent policemen, or threaten innocent people. I think my natural instinct to protect the right to protest overrode common sense. Marching, sit-in's and blockade's are fine, but I draw the line at any violent behaviour. That said, I think the media coverage was ridiculously over keen to show Millbank rather than the 50,000 other people and that they are partly to blame for how this protest will be remembered.

I've already done to death the reasons why a rise in tuition fees is a ridiculous idea. It will lead to university once again becoming the preserve of the rich, it will mean the richest students pay less than those in the middle, and it ends up costing the government more, so you can't even say its needed to reduce the deficit. We are constantly told that we as a country can't build a future when we're burdened with massive debts, but expect students to do exactly that.

People say that this protest may even end up hurting the student cause, but I think that the next part of the protest, which hasn't been mentioned in the news much yet, will be the key part.

The NUS are now going to pursue a 'decapitation' route (which sounds cool enough already), aiming to take out high-ranking Lib Dems for their U-turn on tuition fees. Imagine how beautiful it would be if the coalition's own 'Right to recall' power was used to bring down Nick Clegg in Sheffield. I might have defended him a couple of months ago but the way he's acted since getting into power have been nothing short of disgusting.

They will use the 'Right to recall' to force a by-election in University seats where they can count on the student vote to punish Lib Dems who broke their pledges, pledges which were a big part of the reason why they got elected in the first place. Nick Clegg himself, before the General Election, lambasted politicians who broke their promises. Now he will reap what he has sown.

For too long people have accused students of not doing enough to get their voices heard like they once did, the peaceful part of today's protest (hijacked at the end by thugs) shows that they won't roll over on this one.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Legal Torture

It's well accepted among sane people that George Bush was a moron of the highest proportions, and that he should never have been able to hold the most powerful job in the world. But sometimes even morons can do something that surprises you in its stupidity, and he's decided to demonstrate this point in a beautiful way, and we should never misunderestimate old George's ability to do just that.

Today's big cover story in The Times proclaims that 'Waterboarding Saved London from Attacks', going with a story from George Bush that he allowed waterboarding to take place, and he thinks the information gleaned from this saved many lives from terrorist attacks.

Now in the much glamourised world of spies, the likes of Jack Bauer go running round all day chasing bad guys and it's only through the use of force that anything gets done, then all of a sudden the day is saved. Bush seems to subscribe to this view. That isn't how it works.

First of all Bush tries to claim that waterboarding isn't torture because it 'didn't leave any permanent damage'. I understand that George has his own dictionary, and a very 'special' way with words, but this has never been the definition of torture, and so it shouldn't be.

The real definition, if you're interested, is that torture is defined as "...any act by which severe suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person".

For those who don't know, waterboarding is essentially a way of slowly drowning someone, so that they are put in such pain that they will tell the people torturing them absolutely anything. Christopher Hitchens volunteered to be waterboarded to see what it was like, and to show just how horrifying it is. If that isn't torture, then nothing is.

As a country we should never participate or condone anything like this, or any form of torture whatsoever. There is the argument that the ends (getting information) justify the means, but I don't think that stands up at all. If you justify waterboarding then why not beating up the prisoner, or putting them on the rack? We realised long ago that torture is immoral and not helpful, justifying a new form of torture on the grounds that it doesn't cause 'physical damage' is abhorrent.

To use the ends justify the means argument you're making a lot of assumptions. You assume you have the right person. You assume that they know everything you need to know. You assume that they will tell you the right information in time. I think that's a lot of assumptions to make to justify inflicted horrendous suffering on someone, and indeed there's plenty of evidence which shows that torture is a terrible way of getting accurate information from people.

And on that other point, I said the prisoner would tell the torturer 'anything', and I meant exactly that. They will say absolutely anything to get out of that situation, not just the truth. You could end up with a whole load of false leads because someone is so understandably desperate to get out of that situation that they will say whatever they think the person wants to hear.

Torture doesn't work, and is indefensible morally. Whatever benefits George may now claim it bought (which are very dubious indeed) it cannot justify the means. I've said before, if security services need to break human rights laws to get their job done, then they should find another way to do their job.

How can we as a people criticise human rights issues in other countries when we are complicit in torture? We can't. It makes no difference whether it's a pensioner, a schoolchild or a terrorist, human rights apply to everyone. If human rights aren't universal, then they aren't worth a jot.

Like Franklin said, "Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security, will deserve neither and lose both."

Edit: A writer at ConservativeHome has applauded George Bush for his 'decisiveness' and claimed he will be seen positively in the future. I've said before why I think being decisive is a very overrated attribute, and would much rather have someone in power who occasionally changed their mind after seeing new evidence than a leader like Bush who went charging all guns blazing (quite literally in some cases) without any thought for consequences or changing situations.