Sunday, December 16, 2012

institutional corruption

A Metropolitan police officer says that black people aren't evolved and 'live in mud huts in Africa'. PC Kevin Hughes also told a black colleague that she was 'going home to cook bananas'. She was insulted and he was prosecuted. He told the court that it was 'upsetting' that anyone might think he was racist. The court found that actually he hadn't insulted anyone and acquitted him along with a colleague who had made similar comments.

It comes barely a month after another Metropolitan police officer was cleared of racist abuse after arresting a black man, strangling him, calling him a cunt and saying 'your problem is you'll always be a n*gger'. Mauro Demetrio managed to record the abuse on his phone, leading to a court case. PC Alex MacFarlane argued that he was trying to help Demetrio with low self-esteem. The court believed him.

If you're a well built white man with training in physical restraint, go out and try that on a young black man. Have it recorded so you can't deny it. See if you get cleared as well.

Police officers get acquittals or minimised sentences when the rest of us would be sent to jail. Judges often cite their record of service and their loss of career as mitigating factors. In fact they should be treated as exacerbating factors. They are in a position of authority, entrusted with special powers that require a higher standard of behaviour than the average citizen.

If a teacher uses racist insults against a pupil in their class it is worse than if it came from another child in the playground. By the same token, intimidation and coercion should be more unacceptable from the police officer whose every word is subtexted 'and you have to obey me because I can put you in a cell on a whim, and nobody will believe your word against mine'.

Yet the establishment identifies with them and pities them. A fortnight ago a New Jersey police officer was sentenced after the court heard he raped an informant. He admitted the assault and yet judge Thomas F Scully did not send him to jail, saying

You are not going to jail, as we traditionally know the concept of jail, today. But with many respects, given what your childhood dream was, you’re going to be in jail the rest of your life. You’re going to have to live with this the rest of your life.

It echoes the words of Justice Hooper who decided not to imprison the officers primarily responsible for the Hillsborough disaster even before the trial began. The Crown Prosecution Service had decided not to take action against David Duckenfield his deputy superintendent Bernard Murray, so the families of the victims brought a private proseuction. Judge Hooper was appointed even though he had been an advisor to the CPS about Hillsborough.

As the court convened Hooper declared he was

making it clear that the two defendants will not immediately lose their liberty should they be convicted.

He explained - smearing the justice campaign as a bunch of vigilantes and openly siding with the defendants - that

neither the defendants or members of their family have given evidence but I have no difficulty in inferring that they must be suffering a considerable amount of strain...

these two defendants, if sentenced to prison for the manslaughter of, in effect, 96 people would necessarily be at considerable risk of serious injury if not death at the hands of those who feel very strongly about Hillsborough.

By this logic, we shouldn't be sending anyone accused of paedophilia to jail.

Why is it that a ruined career and a presumed troubled conscience are enough punishment for a police officer yet not for anyone else who responsible for mass killing or rape?

The privilege given to those in power inevitably leads to a sense that they're entitled to that privilege. Others who are similarly entrusted will always give them the benefit of the doubt. This leads to impunity which leads in turn to widespread and casual abuse and violence.

So we don't just see this commonplace corruption with periodic cases of clearly racist and killer cops walking free, or Hillsborough's trial and two judge-led inquiries utterly failing. We also get the cynical protection of that privilege, from everyday false statements to horrific covers-ups, all of it persecuting those they were supposed to protect.

When South Yorkshire police were accused of the responsibility and cover up for Hillsborough, they were investigated by West Midlands police. Their objectivity can be judged by the way the lead officer told witnesses to say they had seen Liverpool fans forcing their way in to the stadium. When the witnesses insisted that was not true their interviewing officers threatened them, alleged they hadn't even been at Hillsborough, and marked their statement 'witnessed unauthorised entry' anyway.

And in an echo of last month's New Jersey case, another West Midlands Hillsborough investigator used his position to sexually harass a traumatised survivor, grabbing her and saying 'my wife will never know'. She felt unable to accuse a man of such authority until this year.

The spread of corruption to the rest of the establishment is underlined by other contemporaneous West Midlands police activities. Their Serious Crime Squad tortured and framed suspects and was disbanded for corruption. Dozens of convictions have been subsequently quashed. We know who those officers are and where they live, we are still paying their pensions. Yet not one of them has faced any charges, let alone a conviction.

This week's report into the killing of Pat Finucane was dismissed as a whitewash by the family. Whilst I don't doubt their position, nonetheless the report has the British government clearly admitting that a civilian lawyer was murdered by loyalist terrorists with the help of British police, who also gave identifying details to enable other murders.

Again, don't try this at home. What would happen if you went and provided key information to people planning a string of assassinations? And yet will any officers see the inside of a jail cell for collusion in the murder of Pat Finucane?

Today we have the newly elected Police and Crime Commissioner for the Northumbria area, Vera Baird, saying that as a barrister during the miners strike she saw swathes of

invented allegations, copied notebooks and allegations from officers that weren't even at the scene

You can count the number of convicted officers on the fingers of one leg. 

How many examples do we need before it is generally accepted that this is institutional corruption underpinned by a supportive network of judiciary, government and other arms of state? 

The root problem is the concentration of power. This is why devolving and decentralising are preferable, but wherever power occurs it needs proportionally increased accountability to, and greater scrutiny by, those it purports to serve. Yet self-serving denials are their response because they see their main task as maintaining their power. 

Eveline Lubbers' book Secret Manoeuvres in the Dark recounts how, in the aftermath of the McLibel case, a Freedom of Information request was lodged asking for Special Branch records on people with alleged affiliations to London Greenpeace. The police information manager responded in October 2006, readily admitting that records existed and it 'would contribute to the quality and accuracy of public debate' to release them. However they refused to do it as it was 'not in the public interest'.

They explained – and get ready to have to read this twice to believe it - 'The Public Interest is not what interests the public, but what will be of greater good if released to the community as a whole.' Disclosure is not in the public interest because it could 'undermine their goodwill and confidence in the Metropolitan Police and could result in a lack of engagement with the MPS' and may 'endanger the health and safety of our officers'. 

In other words, if you really knew what we were doing to you, you'd lynch us.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

the perpetrator is not the victim

Former police infiltrator Mark Kennedy is suing his police bosses for the trauma he suffered working undercover, and for them failing to prevent him having a long-term relationship with one of the activists he targeted.

He filed his papers last month but only sold his story to the Daily Mail this week, presumably as a distraction from unsavoury details about him in this week's run of news about his victims also suing the same police bosses.

I wonder if Max Clifford, Kennedy's publicity agent, actually stipulated in the contract that the Mail would only get the story on condition it included the line, "he is as much a victim as the women are".

If I get drunk and drive my car at 90mph along a pavement, the resulting carnage will traumatise me and I will be disfigured from smashing into a lamp post at the end. But to say that I am just as much a victim as the people I run over would be the sick insult of someone unable to understand that other people are as human as me.

How this metaphor extends if I spend seven years choosing to get paid to drive drunk along pavements between making reports about it and spending time with my family even as I rob other people of theirs, well, I leave that for you to work out.


Kennedy, always up for stabbing any back within reach if there's money in it for him, sold his story to the Mail with new pictures of himself, ones he previously took of activists as well as a picture of his wife.

When the collapse of the Ratcliffe power station trial made the Kennedy story break in the news last year, the defendants worked hard to ensure that Kennedy's personal victims were kept out of it. This wasn't just his girlfriends but also any mention of his wife and family. Whatever you think he may deserve, his family were innocent in this.

Yet in protecting them the activists financially helped Kennedy - it meant that his personal story had more juicy details to be included and could be sold to the tabloids for an even higher sum. Sure enough the first person to name his son in the press was Kennedy himself in a Mail interview. He said, 'my son has been crying and says he never wants to see me again,' yet cruelly compounded the damage by pulling the distressed adolescent's identity into the tabloid spotlight.

He says, 'if I hadn't had sex they would have rumbled me as an informant'. This is nonsense. We know other undercover officers managed to stay for years among activists without having sex - let alone a long-term, co-habiting, integrated-families relationship - and leave without ever being suspected. Beyond that there are, of course, many activists who don't have sexual relationships with other activists yet are not denounced as police spies. 

He now says they police knew all along about his relationships, which contradicts his earlier version where he said that the relationships were never discussed. Still, his story has changed with every retelling and, as he also claimed to have spied in 22 countries when it was actually half that, he is clearly not averse to aggrandisement. As would happen to any of us who spent years having our entire life be a tapestry of lies, it seems that the concept of truth has dissolved within him


At least there is some small mercy in the fact that - unlike at least three of his predecessors - Kennedy didn't leave a woman raising his child when he left. How common is that amongst undercover officers? Of the officers exposed so far a quarter fathered children with women they were sent to spy on. Is that a representative sample?

Whatever the final figures, it is clear that the Metropolitan Police's official line that Kennedy was an off-mission rogue agent is a lie. Not only is he not the victim, he is not the issue. There is nothing Mark Kennedy did as an undercover officer that wasn't also done by most of the swathe who came before him. It is clearly the modus operandi of the department. Their methods and choice of targets were - probably still are - utterly indefensible.

It is as black and white as an issue can be. Not one person anywhere, including the senior officers who ran these operations, will say that what happened to the victims was good and justified.

It's extraordinary that phone hacking can, rightly, have caused such a furore yet this monumentally greater invasion of privacy gets almost nothing in the way of high profile support. Then again the police are not the central characters in the hacking scandal. It seems that for private wrongdoing the outrage is there, but for the state then - as Bloody Sunday, Hillsborough and now hopefully the related case of Orgreave demonstrate -  public figures believe we should wait decades for a chance of justice.


Ten women and one man are suing the police for the intrusion into their lives after undercover officers formed long-term, committed life-partner relationships with people they were spying on. Whilst Kennedy's claim is to be heard in the High Court, the group of eleven suing the police are waiting for a judge to decide if they will go to open court or to an Investigatory Powers Tribunal.

The police are trying to cover up what they have done by having the case heard in one of these bizarre secret courts. They are a Kafkaesque institution that beggars belief in a nation where the right to a fair trial is supposed to be inalienable. The police can present any made up evidence they like; the complainants do not get to see the evidence, do not get to be present, and only get told the result without any reasons why it was reached. They then have no right to appeal. Over 99% of cases in these courts find in favour of the government.

As the brilliant activist infiltration researcher Eveline Lubbers described from the court last week, it is absurd to argue that a case as well publicised and documented from all sides as Kennedy's has any claim to need secrecy. It is simply an obstructive ruse to avoid accountability.


Beyond the eleven people bringing the action against the police, there may well be others who cannot face a gruelling court case that binds you to prolonged forensic examination of the worst part of your life instead of letting you move on. We can be certain that all of them are far outnumbered by others whose lives have been shattered by inexplicably disappearing partners, still unaware that they were the victims of the British Stasi.

It is this - the other officers, and methods that the court case may expose - that holds the most value for society in letting us know what was done and letting other victims find the truth and perhaps thereby some peace.

It also holds the most fear for those who perpetrated the operations as, beyond the moral exposure, a court case would also lay them open to claims for damages from dozens of traumatised ex-partners and maintenance payments for single parents raising children who were only born to enhance a police officer's cover story. What is clear to everyone except the man himself is that Mark Kennedy is not the real victim in this.

Friday, November 02, 2012

everything costs the police 200k

The No Dash For Gas power station protest continues to occupy the tops of chimneys at the new West Burton power station and looks set to last a full week as intended.

Paul Broadbent, Nottinghamshire police's assistant chief constable, said

That is already proving a drain on police resources – and if the current staffing levels are maintained day and night for the next week, that will cost in the region of £200,000 – excluding petrol, overtime payments, and other factors.

This is for a week's operation leading to 17 arrests.

The same constabulary dealt with the 2009 Ratcliffe on Soar power station protest - a six month run-up to deploying over 200 officers to make 114 arrests - yet that cost £208,000.

In these straitened times the police need to make cuts and increase efficiency, so how odd that they spend over seven times as much per arrest these days. Unless they're blatantly lying to discredit the protesters and detract from the politics of the situation.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

no dash for gas

In the early hours of Monday morning around 30 activists invaded West Burton power station on the Nottinghamshire/Lincolnshire border. Although a massive coal fired power station has been there since the 1960s and was blazing away, the protest is aimed at a different target.

European laws restricting sulphur dioxide emissions to reduce acid rain come into effect in 2015. Rather than face the vast expense of retrofitting coal fired power stations that breach the new rules, many will simply close. A new swathe of electricity generation is going to be built in the coming years. Whatever we choose will be in service for decades to come. Essentially, we are choosing our childrens' power sources.

This is exactly the time to switch to renewables. As the redoubtable Danny Chivers explains, the arguments against doing so are pushable over with a feather. With technologies that are here today we could readily be producing most of our electricity renewably. Britain's geography gives us vast potential for offshore wind, wave and tidal generation and there are credible, detailed sources saying we could be Zero Carbon Britain by 2030. So the government is committed to building two dozen new gas fired power stations instead.

Gas is cheaper than renewables today, and the fossil burning corporations have friends, lobbyists and board members in high places that the renewables sector can't even dream of. But it's a short term vision that passes on the true cost to those yet to come. If I were building a house next door to you it might be cheaper to put my sewage outflow into your garage. It would not be fair.

Gas is lower carbon than coal, but that's shifting. Rather like unconventional oil such as tar sands is way more carbon intensive, so we're starting to buy what is, in its way, unconventional gas. Gas is extracted in Qatar, cooled to minus 162 degrees C, with all the carbon cost you'd imagine. It is then kept at that temperature as it is shipped round to us.

This isn't just about climate change, it's about national independence and social justice.We will be subject to price hikes dictated by our suppliers, notably Russia, as they get control and more customers compete. Energy prices will rocket, pushing more and more people into fuel poverty. instead, we could be producing electricity with minimal environmental cost and no greedy suppliers with their hands on the taps.

The 'dash for gas' is a new target for environmental and social justice campaigners. In an audacious opening salvo they got 17 of them up two chimneys at West Burton, where the second of the new stations is being built, right alongside one of the condemned coal ones. Thirty or so people organising in secrecy and pulling it off, a great bounceback from the Kennedy-hobbled climate action of previous years.

They've taken enough supplies to last a week and, at the time of writing, have been up there for nearly four days. They've got a solar panel with them to keep their phones charged and are tweeting some pretty spectacular pictures as well as eloquently explaining their position to the media. You can follow them @nodashforgas and check their website here. Here's hoping this is just the start.

Friday, October 12, 2012

jettison bettison

Sir Norman Bettison is Chief Constable of West Yorkshire police, but not for much longer. Despite having a £225k paypacket and a contract due to run until 2015, he's stepping down next March.

This is because in the wake of the Hillsborough disaster he was one of the senior South Yorkshire officers who ran the horrific dirty tricks campaign against the Liverpool fans. They were accused of robbing the dead and dying and attacking brave police trying to save victims (much the same way as G20 protesters were supposedly pelting police who were trying to save the heart-attack victim Ian Tomlinson).

As the recent Hillsborough Independent Panel proved beyond any doubt, it was a cold calculated lie designed to deflect blame from an institution who knew itself to be primarily responsible for the deaths.

In the days after the report was published and the release of thousands of official documents supporting it, Bettison carefully said he never personally altered any officers' statements nor asked for them to be altered. He was silent on the fact that he was part of team that dealt with the doctoring. 

Despite the Panel's definitive findings that completely exonerate Liverpool fans, Bettison issued an apology but in it he tried to clear himself saying that the Liverpool fans had obstructed police efforts. This was disproven at the Taylor Inquiry in 1989, let alone by the Panel. Within hours Bettison was forced into the bizarre position of issuing an apology for his apology.

His credibility dissolved, with protests outside Leeds' main police station calling for him to resign, his position looked tenuous. But this isn't the reason he's resigned. With the Independent Police Complaints Commission now looking into whether disciplinary charges should be brought against officers, possibly even criminal charges, Bettison's resignation is a pragmatic move to avoid accountability.

By retiring you scupper any pending disciplinary charges, so avoid any sanction, and keep your full pension. The tactic is so common in the police that I'm willing to bet they have a name for it.

It is what the officers primarily responsible for the Hillsborough disaster did. Like Bettison today, in 1991 the man most responsible for the Hillsborough disater, Chief Superintendent David Duckenfield, had disciplinary charges pending against him. So he too simply retired and the charges had to be dropped leaving this retired man - still in his 40s - with his full pension. He has still suffered no penalty of any kind for what he did.

As the response to Hillsborough so starkly illustrates, the police will do anything to avoid accountability. Four days after the disaster Deputy Chief Constable Peter Hayes was discussing with insurers how to avoid blame. Identifying the senior officers who'd ordered the gate open, Duckenfield and his deputy Bernard Murray, as 'in an exposed position,' Hayes suggested coming up with a junior officer who could be said to have panicked and opened the gate on their own initiative. He said this knowing that he'd have to produce such a scapegoated officer to sacrifice.

South Yorkshire officers still want to silence criticism. Last Saturday Hull City played against Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough. Hull fans chanted 'justice for the 96' and 'murderers' at South Yorkshire officers who responded by baton charging them.

It is not just about Hillsborough. The officers responsible for the death of Christopher Alder - standing round the unconscious black man laughing and making monkey noises while he slowly choked to death on his own blood and vomit on a police station floor - took early retirement to avoid charges too, even though some were only in their 30s.

Bettison - still only 56 today - retired in 2005, leaving his position as Chief Constable of Merseyside to work in the private sector for two years. So technically the current West Yorkshire job is a post-retirement position. That being so, his pension will be paid by the Council Tax from the area he first retired from - Merseyside.

The Hillsborough victims' friends and families in Liverpool will be contributing to the £88k pension of the man who was at the heart of the cruel, vicious plot to deny them justice, what Michael Mansfield QC has called 'the biggest cover-up in British history'.

The Hillsborough families are livid, calling for him to be sacked before he resigns, calling for the IPCC to report before his resignation date of next March so disciplinary charges may be brought against him, and for him to be stripped of his knighthood.

Were he to end up being convicted of any criminal offence there is a power to strip him of up to two thirds of his pension, leaving him with a mere £30k a year. But it's notoriously hard to get convictions of police officers. 

Ian Tomlinson's inquest jury found he had been unlawfully killed by PC Simon Harwood's baton strike. Yet Harwood's trial jury found his baton strike had not significantly contributed to Tomlinson's death. Both worked to the same standard of proof - beyond a reasonable doubt - so one of them is simply wrong.

Like Duckenfield and Murray after their private prosecution by Hillsborough families, like the officers who let Christopher Alder die and so many more, Harwood simply walked free from court, pension intact.

Many more officers never see the dock. West Midlands Police's Serious Crime Squad was riddled with corruption, it falsified evidence, tortured suspects, and was disbanded. Dozens of convictions have been overturned. Not one officer has been charged.

West Midlands, incidentally, were the force who looked into whether there should be any criminal prosecutions over Hillsborough in 1990. With their expertise in falsifying statements, it's not surprising that found nothing wrong in South Yorkshire altering hundreds of witness statements to remove anything that blamed the police for the disaster. 

Once they had told various people to change their evidence to be more generous to the police, West Midlands submitted a report that led to the Crown Prosecution Service deciding not to bring any charges against South Yorkshire police or anybody else. The Hillsborough football ground did not have a valid safety certificate, yet West Midlands decided this didn't amount to negligence by either the club or the body reponsible for issuing them, Sheffield City Council. Total fucking whitewash.

It is clear that we cannot depend on the legal system that has so monstrously failed the Hillsborrugh families to deliver justice in this case. As has been proven with over two decades of fruitless judge-led inquiries and rigged inquests, one arm of state power does not readily hold another to account. It only happens on the rare occasions when the clamour for justice is so persistent that the truth is less of an irritant than the continuing campaign.

On the assumption Norman Bettison's retirement goes ahead as planned, the campaign should not stop. Council Tax bills give the payer a breakdown of their charge. Liverpool families with a thirst for justice should withold the proportion for policing for as long as it contributes to the enrichment of their vilifier and tormentor. 


UPDATE: There is a government epetition to postpone Bettison's retirement. Most petitions are a waste of time but these ones, especially on this issue, are different.Once these petitions get over 100,000 signatures they have to be considered for parliamentary debate. Two Hillsborough ones have done it and, thanks to long-term campaigning MPs such as Maria Eagle and Andy Burnham, the debates yielded real results such as the government agreeing to give full unredacted copies of the relevant Cabinet minutes. We've already got further down the road to accountability and justice than most of us dreamed was possible. Let's keep going.  

So please, if you're a British resident, take a minute to add your name and pass it on to your friends. It's here.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

then they came for the cyclists

Secretary of State for Transport Patrick McLoughlin told this week's Conservative Party Conference that cyclists have to 'do their bit' for road safety. It got loud applause despite not having any detail about what it actually meant.

Cars privatise road space. As a privately owned vehicle - the most expensive thing you buy apart from your house, an item sold to you harder than any other product - they give the driver a sense of entitlement. They also isolate the driver from other road users. Drivers will unironically complain about the problem of traffic without thinking that they are who every other driver is blaming.

Having other road users appear in your space, especially ones slower than you, feels like having someone dawdle in to your living room off the street and stand in front of your telly.

Being seriously conditioned by the adverts of motoring liberty - wide open roads and freedom, nipping through traffic and getting where you want when you want, yet finding themselves perpetually stuck in traffic - drivers find cyclists a psychological irritant. Bikes really are the quickest way around the city, zipping to the front at junctions and have free parking at - or even in - every building they go to. Also, the bike is much cheaper than the car. Spending money should buy privilege so why am I being constrained by traffic they simply pour through?

Obviously the motorist cannot admit jealousy so they must find a rationalisation, however ill-founded. They declare cyclists dangerous and demand they be taken in hand.

The truth shows the opposite; it is motorists who pose the risk to cyclists. Transport for London found that the cyclist's law-breaking is at fault in 6% of cases where cyclists are killed or seriously injured. In the clear majority of cases it was caused by a motoring offence.

For national figures a Department for Transport study found that, where cyclists were seriously injured in collisions, police said that the rider disobeyed a stop sign or traffic light in just 2% of cases. Wearing dark clothing at night was seen as a potential cause in about 2.5% of cases, and failure to use lights was mentioned 2% of the time.

The figures were slightly higher when the cyclist was killed. But even then, when we only have the driver's word for what happened, police found the driver solely responsible in about 60%-75% of all cases.

And actually, cyclists breaking certain laws may protect them. Our traffic systems have been designed to favour motor vehicles and ignore other road users. Those who push to the front and then jump the red light put themselves ahead of the traffic, in sight but out of range.

A 2007 report by Transport for London's road safety unit found that 86% of the women cyclists killed in London between 1999 and 2004 collided with a lorry, whilst lorries killed less than half of male cyclists.The report plainly said

Women may be over-represented in (collisions with goods vehicles) because they are less likely than men to disobey red lights

Obviously Transport for London couldn't be seen to encourage unlawful road use even if it saved lives, so they decided not to publish the report.

The Secretary of State for Transport, were he inclined to be proportionate, would have given his speech ten times the emphasis on dangerous motoring as to cycling. But he did not. The overarching ideology of this government is how best to provide for the rich. The rest of his speech included other projects for the wealthy such as the environmentally disastrous carbon nightmare of rich-only high-speed trains and proposing a new airport for the South East of England. They are not interested in what's fair or right, nor even what's sensible or has any credible supporting evidence.

So instead of looking at the facts of who's to blame between cars and bikes, ask only 'who is richest?'. The car costs more therefore the car is right. It's War on the Poor. Again.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

war on the poor

Last Sunday the Mail headlined the Tory declaration that there will be no Mansion Tax. The – and I use the term in its broadest sense – newspaper said that this would 'help hard-pressed middle-class families'.

A tax on properties worth £2,000,000 or more? What is that the middle of? The Tory front bench?

On the same day’s Andrew Marr show David Cameron heralded further billions of pounds in cuts to welfare (that’s ‘cuts’, BBC, not ‘savings’). Amongst these is the removal of Housing Benefit for people under 25.

They already get a lower level of Housing Benefit and the under 21s get a lower minimum wage. This is presumably because landlords give them cheaper rent and supermarkets charge them less for food.

There is a straight contradiction between the idea that those without work should move to get work and that unemployed under 25s should live with their parents. The only thing that ties these diametrically opposed thoughts together is that they punish the person without work.

Given that there are more than five times as many unemployed people as vacancies, it clearly cannot be the fault of over 80% of them. You can’t find jobs that don’t exist. Yet we punish them with workfare in which they do the same tasks handed out as sentences to minor criminals for no pay.

Cameron said it is unfair that someone can leave school and be unemployed and get Housing Benefit that is unavailable to their classmates who become students or find work. It's not half as unfair as a man who inherited £3,000,000 on his 18th birthday taking away the pittance that stands between impoverished under 25s and destitution.

Also, he's simply wrong. Those in work can get housing benefit if they’re on a low wage. Indeed, many of them do - over 90% of new Housing Benefit claimants have jobs. And students did get Housing Benefit until the last Tory government took it away from them. First they came for the students.

You can’t go up to people eating their dinner, steal a plate, then say ‘it’s not fair that only some of you have got food so I’m taking the rest too’.

But, and most importantly, it is not unfair that the poorer receive more welfare, any more than it is unfair that kidney patients get more dialysis machines than the rest of us.

I work and pay tax not because it’s a personal savings bank but because it’s fair. And actually I do actually get a personal reward. I get a society that is less grim and less dangerous for me personally. I get to live in a place where people don’t starve, where people aren’t forced to live on the streets, where the only question between someone and health care is ‘how much do you need it?’. At least, I used get to live in that place.

The majority of people hit by changes to Housing Benefit for ‘under-occupancy’ are disabled. Many of them need a spare room for equipment. Many have had expensive adaptations to their homes that will be ripped out once they move out, and then be paid for again to refurbish their new homes (if they can find them).

The genuine likelihood of this and other changes to the welfare system costing as much as they save show that it’s not about saving money. Just like the contradictions within the reasoning for the new attack on Housing Benefit payments to young people, it proves that this is ideological. It is War On The Poor.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

expanding the injustice

The case of undercover police officers who had long term relationships with their targets is as morally clear as can be. Even the most fervent supporters of police powers are unable to give any real excuse for what happened.

These officers were trained to weave themselves into peoples' trust and used it to become ongoing life partners. They shared every kind of intimacy, often for years. They fully integrated into families. Several of them fathered children with their targeted women, knowing that when the orders came they would leave. 

Eight women are suing their ex-partners' bosses for the damage done and to uncover the truth (their new support website is here). In last night's Radio 4 documentary, one of them spoke of how she has photographs and memories from years with her partner and yet doesn't even know his real name. Another spoke of her partner becoming part of her family when, in reality, he was married with children.

The women want answers. How much of the apparent affection and intimacy was in fact designed and ordered by superior officers? How much of their partners' communication was monitored by other people? How was any of this ever allowed to happen?

The police have responded with a move to have the case heard not in open court but in a bizarre secret hearing called an Investigatory Powers Tribunal. These sinister events ignore many of the fundamental pillars of fair trial. No information or documents which have been provided to the tribunal, or even the fact that they have been provided, would be disclosed to the women. The police could say, or withhold, anything.

The women would have no right to an oral hearing, nor the chance to cross-examine witnesses and see the evidence, nor read the reasons for losing the case. They would not be allowed to appeal against the verdict and could only challenge it through the exorbitantly expensive European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

The tribunals were designed for the rare cases involving surveillance that might expose present investigations and place people in positions of great danger. That is blatantly not the case with these women. It is simply being used by the police as a further piece of desperate arse-covering and desire to hide the truth of what they have done.

As has been so starkly shown by the revelations about the Hillsborough disaster and the Leveson Inquiry, when faced with proof of wrongdoing it is customary for the police to mount a cover-up. Indeed, the same anti-protest department who abused these women placed an officer inside campaigns for justice like that of Stephen Lawrence's family. There was no threat to life and limb or public order there. The only danger was that the police would be seen to have acted as they did.

Rather than admit the wrongdoing that everyone knows they committed, they compounded their damage to those families by actively obstructing justice. Just like at Hillsborough. Just like they're trying to do to these women they abused.

Monday, August 13, 2012

boycott the bigot

Last weekend was Pride across the UK. Despite the best efforts of the Mayor of London, hundreds of thousands of people paraded in towns and cities across the country.

Here in Leeds the celebrations were tempered somewhat by a Twitter storm emanating from a homophobic outburst by the proprietor of several city centre venues. Lewis Cuddy is co-owner of two pubs, The Wrens and the Central, as well as late-night bar Milo's.

So once again it's time for lots of people to celebrate the fact that they are all socially unable to be normal.Well done. When is Leeds first peado pride event? Or is it just the same thing. Bonkers.

Instantly confronted and insulted, he made no retraction. With his privacy settings turned right up, he thought his comments wouldn't be seen by the wider public and his customers. He seems unaware of the ability to tweet a screengrab.

As his comments circulated one or two of his friends defended him saying he had apologised, yet couldn't provide a link or quote to prove it. Challenged on Facebook about it he did not apologise in any way.

It's my bad for writing what I did but it was a status that was meant for my close friends. I assumed all my friends would take it in the same humour as all my other posts. I write constantly on my facebook wall with stupid comments and sometime close to the bone comments (as todays post) which sometimes get a reaction. No harm meant but I can see why a few people have taken it personal. I feel saddened if this cas caused any genuine hurt to anyone.

As Tom Flay points out, 'close to the bone' implies that there is truth in saying all LGBT people are unable to be normal and may well be paedophiles. He does not retract his sentiment at all, nor explain why he feels that way. He merely regrets that is has been made public, as tags on being saddened if - if! - it has been hurtful to anyone.

Like a man deciding to redouble his digging rate to get out of a hole, several days later Cuddy posted on Leeds Music Forum.

Good morning. My name is Lewis Cuddy and I am responsible for writing the said comment on my private Facebook wall.

I have tried my best to keep out of this whole saga but as someone who posts on here I think it is only fair to explain my actions.

Any of my close friends know that I have a massive problem with gay pride, not because of gay people but the attitude of the council to street parties. I asked the council last year after the leeds pride even on how I would go about closing the street outside milo for a massive band day. I was told in no uncertain way than unless it was for a minority event would this be allowed.

This is what angers me, why should a minority have different rights to the majority. Maybe saying that paedophiles should get their own minority event was a bit strong but clearly the people who my comments were aimed at would understand.

Grabbing a screen shot of something I wrote and taking it out of context is not only rude but a betrayal of friendship. Safe to say this person has been removed from my Facebook friends.

So quite simply that is it. Nothing more I can say.

Ps. To anyone who thinks I ruined the wrens, sorry. Without my investment and hard work the wrens would have been stripped out and closed down over a year ago. Probably just a rotting mess right now.

If we are to believe this reasoning - unmentioned for days in the aftermath of the initial tweet - then it shows an extraordinary ability to do logic gymnastics.

If his issue really is that Pride gets road closures of the kind he would like to have, surely his ire should be directed at the council who decide on these things, rather than one of the beneficiaries.

More to the point, why does he single out only one beneficiary? Many events get road closures in Leeds. There are far more LGBT people than amateur long distance runners, yet Leeds Half Marathon or the 10k Race For Life gets much greater road space. Where is Cuddy's bigoted rant about runners?
He says that maybe - maybe! - saying a paedophile event is equivalent to Pride is 'a bit strong'. He didn't only say that, though. He suggested they could already be one and the same thing. This is not just a homophobic attack but one that uses the darkest, most malevolent stereotypes. He maximises his contribution to the cancer of homophobia that ruins and even claims lives.

Later this month streets in Chapeltown will be full of the carnival. Will Cuddy be tweeting 'send the raping thieving n*****s back'?

As it stands, it seems his apoplexy at events in the city centre unorganised by is confined to Pride, and Pride alone. There is a well-known piece of pop psychology that says we know what virulent homophobia really says about a man's inner life.

But irrespective of who he is when he turns out the light, on the outside Lewis Cuddy is an unabashed homophobic bigot. As a publican he has a privileged position serving the community. It is incumbent on such people to serve everybody well. If you want to run a B and B but are a homophobe, tough. By the same token, public facilities such as pubs have no place in the hands of people who direct hate speech at a serious proportion of their clientele.

Beyond that, it's not about the LGBT people who walk through the doors at the Wrens or Milo's. It is, contrary to what Cuddy says, not something to 'take personal'. This isn't about individuals, this is about equality and freedom from fear and repression. An attack on the rights of anyone for their colour, sexuality, gender or any other aspect is an attack on equality itself.

That Cuddy seems too dimwitted to grasp that concept is disappointing. That he is not only prepared to add weight to bigotry but defend it is unforgivable. Whether he is an ideological bigot or just an overconfident, loudmouthed, hard-of-thinking bigot is irrelevant.

By his steadfast refusal to apologise, let alone examine his discriminatory position, he proves himself unworthy to hold a place in a community that wants to have tolerance and equality. Anyone who shares those values should not be giving him their money. It's time to boycott his pubs and get anyone who isn't a homophobic bigot to to the same.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

legal sex is a sexcrime

A couple of years ago I interviewed Tom Robinson about his 1976 song Glad To Be Gay. He told me of the police repression being meted out to gay men in London at the time he composed it.

Outrageous shit was going on. There were Surrey bankers dressed up in leather getting handcuffed and kicked in the backs of Black Marias, who’d then plead guilty to causing an affray so as not to cause a fuss and get their face in their local paper back home. Running in a gay man on trumped-up charges was apparently known as a ‘soft’ arrest – they could be pretty sure of a conviction and no trouble afterwards.

Fast forward a generation and, whilst being gay drew less state opprobrium, it was only if you kept it to yourself, were in private and not kinky. In the early 1990s £3m was spent on Operation Spanner, investigating and prosecuting a group of sixteen gay men for having pretty extreme BDSM sex. It had all happened in private, it was all consensual, nobody had complained of any injuries, or of anything else for that matter.

The judge ruled that consent was not a defence, therefore the men had assaulted one another and they were found guilty. He handed down sentences of up to four and a half years. Lives were ruined.

We can now jump the same timespan again and, with all the legal and social changes in the status of non-heterosexuals, you might have thought pointless persecution was over. But last year Michael Peacock was prosecuted under the Obscene Publications Act for making DVDs of extreme gay sex.

None of the acts were illegal but like a fussy old aunt from the 1950s the Obscene Publications Act says, 'I don't mind them doing it but I don't want them to talk about it in front of me'. It is making material likely to 'corrupt and deprave' that is illegal, even if what it shows is not illegal in itself.

As Johnnie Marbles said at the time

the men were shoving their hands up each others arses, pissing in each others mouths and using each others inflated balls as punching bags, and having a brilliant time doing it.

I’ll happily admit that the detailed descriptions of these acts, tweeted from the courtroom, made me feel squeamish on several occasions. But so what? Each time I so much as hear about X Factor I’m overcome with a deep, nauseous sense of despair, but for some reason I can’t fathom, nobody ever suggests banning it. Which is odd as, if you live in Britain with functioning eyes, you’re pretty much forced to know about X Factor, but anal fisting mostly keeps itself to itself.

If men were having their urethras dilated on the cover of More magazine, or the screams of men having their bollocks electrocuted was Christmas number one, I might understand the prosecution. Instead, Simon Cowell’s abomination (the show’s pre-production title) assaults me at every turn, while my first knowledge of Michael Peacock’s sex life came from his trial.

These kinds of prosecutions have been going on all the time as a modern equivalent of the 70s soft arrests Robinson talked about, the charges themselves serve the required purpose irrespective of the verdict, as Marbles astutely pointed out.

Michael Peacock has been severely punished for not committing a crime. The vagaries of the process itself – the soul-churning moment of arrest, the months of worry that followed, the endless meetings with lawyers... These are standard ways the process punishes people, but in Peacock’s case they were coupled with revelations about his private life which must have been excruciating. Even the most vanilla of you probably wouldn’t want your mum hearing every detail of what you do in bed, particularly not if you were telling her from the dock

They know you're likely to plead guilty and keep your head down. But Michael Peacock was the first person to plead not guilty for this kind of stuff and go for trial by jury and win.

His acquittal should have been a death sentence for such intrusive prosecutions that are nothing more than prudishness with a nasty seam of homophobia.

But there are people in the police and CPS who specialise in this stuff. They'd be out of a job if we let consenting adults do what they want with their own bodies in private. Having had Michael Peacock's smackdown for the Obscene Publications Act, the state has rummaged through the statutes laws and hit back with the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008.

It's a law from the last Labour government. Section 63 outlaws the possession of images depicting sexual violence, carrying a sentence of up to three years imprisonment. The definition is a sexual image that shows – or realistically appears to show – something that threatens a person’s life, or is likely to result in serious injury to a person’s anus, breasts or genitals. As the whole point of much BDSM is to play out extreme roles, photos of it could certainly appear to show such violence.

Home Office minister Vernon Coaker explained at the time

the vast majority of people find these forms of violent and extreme pornography deeply abhorrent

In other words, if most people don’t like doing it then we should jail those that do it. The Act inconsistently failed to recriminalise homosexual acts or ban the eating of brussel sprouts, even though most people don’t like doing these things.

As it makes crimes out of things that aren't a crime, it was only a matter of time before the law was used against consenting adults for filming acts that are not in themselves illegal. That time has come.

Simon Walsh must have seemed like a soft target. Just as 1950s blackmailers would approach prominent men with secret gay lives, just as 1970s police would arrest those Surrey bankers in gay bars, so a contemporary gay barrister with what he himself calls 'a strange sex life' is ripe for the nicking.

If you're wondering why he was targeted by police, consider the fact that he was a barrister who prosecuted police officers accused of disciplinary offences. Let that be a warning to anyone who wants to challenge police corruption.

Walsh's lawyer Myles Jackman has blogged a clear rundown of the charges and legal aspects of the case. No pornography was found on any of Walsh's work computers. No pornography was found on his home computers either. Police had to go into a Hotmail account that Walsh used for his sexual activities, looking for anything to charge him for. Initially this included a picture of a man in a gas mask, supossedly illegal on the grounds that such a breathing aid might actually might cause death by asphyxiation.

As Heresiarch's Dungeon describes, Walsh did not make DVDs or websites. There is one picture sent to him of a young man who, the prosecution allege, may be under 18. It is not clear if Walsh even saw that picture.

Apart from that solitary contested image, we're talking about consenting adults photographing themselves committing legal acts, then sharing the pictures amongst themselves them and keeping them in a way that nobody else has access to. What proportion of the adult population do you think that could apply to?

For this, Walsh has had his career demolished and is currently on trial. He is being splashed across the press including allegations of paedophilia in - of course - the Daily Mail. As with Michael Peacock, even if he is acquitted he has been almost as severely punished as if he were found guilty.

Rather like Robert Stewart, convicted for masturbating alone in his locked bedroom with a bicycle, the law is used to punish people whose sexual tastes don't conform to what we are told is normal.

But, as the internet era has proven, exclusively normal sexual tastes are actually so rare that they constitute a kind of deviant fetish in themselves. If this kind of attack and social dismemberment can happen to Robert Stewart or Simon Walsh, it can happen to most people you know.

Friday, July 20, 2012

simon harwood: typical

As is clear in the footage, PC Simon Harwood's baton strike and push on Ian Tomlinson were unreasonable force. As a result, Tomlinson suffered internal bleeding which led to his collapse within a few minutes and his subsequent death. His death was therefore unlawful.

That's not me talking, that's the inquest jury's findings. And, as the judge in this week's trial told the jury, if Harwood's actions were unreasonable and led directly to Tomlinson's death, it was manslaughter. The judge also pointed out that Tomlinson had a medical condition, but nonetheless if Harwood's actions shortened Tomlinson's life 'even by one day' then it was still manslaughter. But yesterday Harwood was acquitted.

For all the talk of Harwood's record of violence, we need to be clear that he is not exceptional. If Harwood was, as the prosecution alleged, someone with his 'blood up' compared to other officers, why do his colleagues show no surprise at any of the assaults, whether on Tomlinson or the earlier ones on the BBC cameraman and the guy he hits with the jacket? Why is there footage of hundreds of officers making thousands of similar assaults that day? Why weren't there queues of officers at Scotland Yard the next morning, as is their sworn duty, making statements reporting this unlawful behaviour?

Harwood was a typical officer, just unlucky to get the guy with the pre-existing medical condition. He told the trial if he had known of Ian Tomlinson's condition he would not have hit him, but the unfortunately vulnerability wasn't visible. Yet other officers are happy to drag people out of their wheelchairs and along the road.

Even then, Harwood nearly got away with it. The crime was systematically covered up by the police, the Independent Police Complaints Commission, the Crown Prosecution Service and the compliant media.

Really, let's remind ourselves of the timeline. Everything in it contains outright lies by the police and their associated bodies.

- Police issue a statement saying they had 'no contact' with Tomlinson before his collapse.

- They said their medics tried to help him but were pelted with missiles including bottles.

- They had a dodgy autopsy done to say he died of a heart attack. (The later one found no sign of heart attack and pointed out that such people collapse quickly whereas those dying from internal bleeding collapse, as Tomlinson did, by staggering then crumpling.)

- When the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) started investigating, police witheld evidence from three officers who'd witnessed the attack.

- The IPCC said there was no CCTV in the area. When this was shown to be untrue, they said the cameras weren't working.

- When the Guardian put the citizen footage of the assault online, the police and IPCC went to the newspaper's offices and demanded it be taken down. A copper in your workplace telling you what to do isn't an easy thing to say no to.

- A senior police officer then told the Tomlinson family the assailant may have been a protester disguised in a police uniform. The IPCC said the idea was credible and needed investigating.

- The CPS decided not to prosecute Harwood. Only a year later after the inquest returned a verdict of unlawful killing were they compelled to change their minds.

Maybe, just maybe, we can believe the cameras weren't working at Stockwell tube station when the police killed Jean Charles de Menezes (even though the company operating the cameras and tube workers say otherwise). Who knows how many cameras are kept in full working order?

But the G20 was different. Ian Tomlinson died at the centre of an area in a demonstration that the police had months to plan the surveillance of. There was a dedicated control room with over a hundred officers monitoring the feeds. Those cameras were working.


Three days ago, the Crown Prosecution Service decided there was insufficient chance of success to bring charges against three G4S guards who smothered a man to death during a deportation flight. Former barrister Frances Webber responded

The prosecutor says that "given Mubenga's physiological condition" he cannot rule out that factors such as "adrenaline, muscle exhaustion or isometric exercise" might have helped cause his death because he was in an "agitated state" before he died.

The general application of this extraordinary reasoning would mean that no murderer whose victim struggled could be charged, because of the adrenaline, muscle exhaustion and isometric exercise involved in resisting attack.

And even if (as is implied) Mubenga was somehow uniquely vulnerable because of a pre-existing condition, every rookie lawyer learns the "eggshell skull" doctrine, which states that an assailant bears legal responsibility for a death even if his victim has a pre-existing condition making for extra vulnerability.

The parallels are obvious with the Tomlinson case, both in apportioning culpability and in the response to authority killing the people it should protect.

Not only is there a problem with the police protecting their culture of impunity but, as the contradiction in the Tomlinson juries' findings proves, even when the police are held to account there is a problem with our attitudes. The Tomlinson inquest jury decided about events and their legality. Harwood's trial decided a police officer's fate.

We have a jury system that is as good as anything in the world, but it is clear that juries quite often find it difficult to convict police officers.
- Len Jackson, chair of the Independent Police Complaints Commission

Chico Marx could have been a police officer under oath when he said 'who you gonna believe, me or your own eyes?'.


In 1998, Christopher Alder was knocked out in an argument outside a Hull nightclub. Police arrived, made no examination and decided he was just drunk. In hospital he regained consciousness and, as is common with people who suffer a hard blow to the head, he became disorientated and aggressive, volubly asking what happened and where he was. The same police took him away and by the time he arrived at the station he was unconscious. They dragged him into the lobby, his trousers trailing round his knees. There they dropped him face down on the floor.

His hands cuffed behind his back, he can be heard on the film rasping through blood and vomit for eleven minutes whilst the officers stand round joking about him and - Alder was a black man - making monkey noises. He died there at their feet.

As with Harwood, it was all caught clearly on camera. As with Harwood the CPS initially decided not to prosecute. As with Harwood, the inquest said it was unlawful killing, forcing the CPS to relent and charge them with manslaughter. As with Harwood, the police were acquitted.

A report last year found that, of 333 deaths in police custody in an 11 year period, not one had led to an officer's conviction. There are then many more deaths, such as Ian Tomlinson's, outside of custody. Inquest report that since 1990, 1,433 people have died following contact with the police, leading to 23 officers going on trial. Not one conviction.

The subsequent internal police investigation cleared the officers who taunted Christopher Alder while he died of any wrongdoing. After that the men - in their late 30s and early 40s - were given early retirement to clear them out of the way. We'll be paying their pensions for decades to come.

Simon Harwood can look forward to the same fat payoff. As can the officer who killed Mark Duggan. As can the next officer who kills someone.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

class war comes round to your house

In the last days of that runaway train of Tory evil before the 1997 general election the man seen as their next leader, Michael Portillo, was still in full twitchy right-armed Thatcherite flow.

He made a speech saying that poor people should not be allowed to live where they choose but instead should be made to live in 'housing befitting their station'.

His choice of phrasing was almost as telling as the idea itself. The vision of robust class boundaries, ensuring the lower orders were punished for their poverty, and his own sense of snobbish entitlement.

But more than a decade into Labour rule - Tory-imitating Labour rule that disavowed its belief in public ownership and hooked itself to the freemarket bandwagon, saddling us with the PFI public finance ticking timebomb - we forgot what real full-throttle Tories were like.


Despite being twice rejected by the House of Lords, the government got its way with the 'spare bedroom tax' in the Welfare Reform Act which got Royal Assent earlier this year.

The new rules for Housing Benefit will take money away from people whose homes are underoccupied. Anyone with a spare bedroom loses 14%, anyone with two spare bedrooms loses 25%.

The rules have been drawn up to make some horrifying exclusions. They are not merely harsh. They will knowingly cause real suffering and - here's the proof that it is ideologically punitive rather than drastically cash-strapped - much if not all of the savings made will be swallowed up by the costs of the knock-on effects.


The majority of those affected by the change - almost half a million people - are disabled.  Someone who has a disability that requires a carer to stay overnight retains their spare room as long as it's used every night. But someone whose medical condition fluctuates - as a great many do - cannot keep a room for a carer, even if it means they will be housebound alone for half their life. This will lead to medical conditions being exacerbated and more hospital treatment.

As Shelter noted, the National Housing Federation estimates that 100,000 tenants set to be affected live in homes specially adapted to their needs. Encouraging these tenants to move would not be cost-effective as new properties would need to be adapted while aids and adaptations would be stripped out of vacated homes.


Foster families cannot keep a room for the children they care for. Just as the Tories want to restrict marrying a foreigner to the rich, so poor people are effectively deemed unworthy to foster. This will lead to more children in care, and more people growing up without the self-esteem and social connections brought about by family life.

Children under 16 of the same gender must share a bedroom. Children under ten must share a bedroom regardless of gender. Children under three get no room at all and are expected to sleep in their parents' room. This means that a couple with three or four young children must live in a two bedroom household, with all the stress on family life and impediment to academic work it will bring.

A separated parent who does not have custody of their child cannot keep a bedroom for them. The government has already changed the rules so that someone under 35 cannot have a self-contained flat, only a room in a shared house. Clearly, a vast proportion of parents with children under 16 are below the age of 35.

So, a separated parent would have to have their child sleep in the parent's room, sharing a toilet, bathroom and kitchen with a house full of un-CRB checked strangers. Many courts will see this as a 'safeguarding' situation and prevent custody or even visits in order to protect the child. This will lead to loss of contact and reliance on sole parents. This, in turn, will lead to more single parents claiming benefits and a further increase in the number of children in care and those needing foster homes, even as the supply diminishes.


Those living in 'underoccupied' households will run up arrears and then be homeless and in debt. This will mean an explosion in the need for debt advice, more people homeless, more vulnerable people in short-stay bed and breakfast accommodation, more mental health treatment required, and more people saddled with long term debt repayments taken out of their benefits, pushing their heads further below the waterline.

The knock-on financial costs of these changes, especially to the penal, health and benefits systems, are obvious to anyone who thinks about them for more than four seconds. It proves that this, like so much of the cuts agenda, is not about reducing spending. It is straightforward cruelty and open class warfare.

Monday, July 16, 2012

the lorax: turkeys advertising christmas

As adults have to face the fact that the myriad potential of youth is largely unfulfilled, so they tend to idealise their formative years. Not just their personal youth, but everything about the times and society they grew up in. Thus people around 50 seem to think 1970s Britain - National Front marches tens of thousands strong, dogshit everywhere, queerbashing a normalised activity ignored (or participated in) by the police, and no decent curry to be found - as a glorious arcadia.

This determined nostalgia makes adults, now substantially richer than when they were 12, readily vulnerable to being fleeced by people who offer them any reminder of their youth. Thus we see 30-somethings spending 40 quid on fucking Take That tickets.

In 2003 there was a Cat In The Hat movie. It wasn't actually a movie, it was an unmitigated pile of shite. The Boston Globe said

At one point in "The Cat in the Hat," the Cat, played by Mike Myers, is mistaken for a pinata by a group of children at a birthday party. One by one, they line up to smack him, and the scene culminates with a husky lad swinging a baseball bat directly into the unfortunate feline's cojones.

That's a remarkably precise metaphor for what this movie does to the memory of Dr. Seuss. If the producers had dug up Ted Geisel's body and hung it from a tree, they couldn't have desecrated the man more.

Nonetheless $134,000,000 was handed over by people who went to see it. Even this was seen as a flop, and surely more money could be made from the Dr Seuss franchise. The lesson was learned and they decided not to make any more live action movies. Bring on the animation.and its marketing opportunities.

The thing with Dr Seuss is that it's not just whimsical tales with daft made up language and ear-stretching rhymes. The books have a clear agenda of encouraging children to explore themselves and the world, to be open minded, to not go for the greedy, destructive, mean and narrow - to reject all that marketing and advertising stands for.

The Lorax is perhaps the clearest of these. The Once-ler cuts down trees to make thneeds, a piece of junk that will make their seller rich. The Lorax come to speak for the trees, warning that if the Once-ler goes ahead then all the tress will be cut down and the forests will not regenerate.

Behold, the Lorax selling thneeds.

We're told the cars are Truffula Tree Friendly. The Mazda CX-5 has carbon emissions of 119g/km-144g/km, some 20%-50% higher than other cars presently available. And those lower emission cars are still an unsustainable environmental nightmare.

The solution is surely electric cars, a whole planet's worth of which, thanks to this ad, could be powered by a generator rigged up to the fast-spinning corpse of Theodore Geisel.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

and the lord smote the wicked with unseasonal rain

After the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, some American christians said the satellite picture had looked like a massive foetus and the near-obliteration of New Orleans was God punishing Florida. It's a barking idea made even wackier by the fact that New Orleans is in Louisiana.

The Good Lord continues to move in weatherly ways. This summer's flooding in parts of the UK are also the judgment of God, according to senior Church of England bishops.

It's a novel set of skills that have you able to control the weather yet unable use a pen. I have to say, excessive rainfall is a bit ambiguous. Folk might respond better to your holy instructions if you dropped them a text instead.

All this is well and good, the easy pickings of using the gun handed to you by an outsize fish as it climbs into a barrel. But the really choice bit of this stuff, and one that does deserve our conscious attention, is the unironic arrogance of it all.

Firstly the Rt Rev Graham Dow, Bishop of Carlisle, is certain that he knows exactly what evil we're being punished for. Environmental degradation and gay rights apparently. Gay sex is, after all, unambiguously prohibited in Leviticus 18:22. Yet just three lines earlier the book of Leviticus also prohibits wearing clothes made of two types of fibre. Given the prevalence of poly-cotton shirts in modern society, I reckon the Lord's having a go at us for that. Or maybe it's for eating prawns.

And wouldn't a god of justice, infinite love and mercy act well within the norms of the Geneva Convention? You'd have thought they might want to target just the sinners as opposed to meting out collective punishment. Apparently not, sayeth the bishop.

The principle of God's judgment on nations that have exploited other nations is all there in the Bible

When did environmentally assaulted countries like Ethiopia and Bangladesh do their exploiting of other nations? Did I miss some stuff?

But there's a higher level of unintentional irony beyond the bishop's bilingual fluency in English and meteorology.

In the Bible, institutional power is referred to as 'the beast', which sets itself up to control people and their morals.

Human institutions aren't allowed to make moral rulings. That job is reserved for, er, the church.

Saturday, July 07, 2012

boris the bigot strikes again

Boris Johnson shambles along with his ill-chosen words and messy hair, and we see him as a bumbler who can't really do much harm. Ronald Reagan had a similar schtick when he went into politics, even though he was an accomplished union buster before he quit Hollywood.

Those who had personal experience of Johnson's tenure as editor of The Spectator testify to his sharp intellect, swift and complex grasp of issues, and persuasive methods to ensure he got exactly the articles he wanted out of his staff.

But, like Reagan before him, he knows the un-PC errant uncle routine is a great way to make even your opponents reluctant to call you out on your extreme right wing ideology. A laboriously constructed image of not being in thrall to spin is the way he spins himself.

Let's be clear about him. He's a vicious bigot who attacks the marginalised and favours the rich. Being in charge of a city utterly reliant on public services and containing the poorest boroughs in the country, he has special opportunity for damage and as such voting for him is far worse than voting for some quiet backbench rural Tory in Dorset.

The London Mayor's office and associated Tory establishment have sabotaged this year's Pride march. Now I know modern Pride is a far cry from the courageous political rallies of 40 years ago when it was a few hundred people being jeered by their police escort, and these days it's a pink-pound corporate jamboree. But really, I don't think that's why the Mayor has undermined it, do you? For the real reason, let's remind ourselves that Johnson likened gay marriage to bestiality.

Peter Tatchell lists many of the ways the event has been stymied, including:

- The Mayor insisted the start time be brought forward by two hours, citing 'safety issues' and 'problems' but refused to say what they actually were. This means people who already booked travel tickets wouldn't be able to join in.

- Greater London Authority insisted on Pride paying all money up front, even though guaranteed sponsorship money wouldn't come in till after, and even though the GLA didn't cough up its promised funding in time. 

 - They banned not just floats but all vehicles from the parade, effectively barring people who need vehicles for mobility.

- Westminster council sent a threatening letter to gay venues warning them that their licences could be revoked if they play music that is "audible outside of your premises", saying that Pride day must be treated like "any normal day".

It's all been done to run it down and discourage people from attending, seemingly solely because the Tories are an evil gang of bigoted scumfucks. We haven't heard much about that though, as the Mayor insisted Pride run all press releases past them first, and made changes in order to spin the Mayor's position.

And meanwhile, the much larger 'safety issues' around for the Olympics can be readily dealt with or ignored, anything needed for that is just fiiiiiiine.

Fuck Johnson, fuck the Tories, fuck everyone who voted for them.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

the dpp protecting miscarriages of justice

The Mark Kennedy affair became big news when, in January last year, a trial collapsed. Out of 114 climate activists arrested at a planning meeting to shut down Ratcliffe coal-fired power station, 26 had been charged.

The thing is, it was 113 activists and the undercover police officer Mark Kennedy. Twenty of the activists, who admitted planning the action but said it was justified, had already been convicted.

Another six activists had not decided to participate at the time of arrest and so were having a separate trial. In light of the information that one of their number had been a police officer who must have submitted a report that may well exonerate them, they asked to see what Kennedy had said. The prosecution have a legal duty to reveal any evidence that might help the defence.

Rather than disclose it, the prosecution dropped the case that millions of pounds had been spent on. (Remember that next time you hear any bullshit about it collapsing because Kennedy was going to testify for the defence. Kennedy never helped the activists, it was in fact his solid police work that caused the trial to collapse).

Faced with this scandal, a whitewash self-investigation report was commissioned from Sir Christopher Rose, a Surveillance Commissioner who had ultimate oversight over the deployment of Kennedy and other undercover officers. He said the prosecutors had seen Kennedy's fat file on the case but hadn't realised it was significant in any way, that it didn't occur to them that a transcipt of what went on in the meeting might be handy, honest guv, it was incompetance rather than a cover up.

Then in April last year the Director of Public Prosecutions, Kier Starmer, took the highly unusual step of recommending that the 20 already convicted appeal against their convictions, which were duly quashed. Starmer tried to make out that Ratcliffe was a one-off and there is no systemic problem, but if any activists thought they had convictions from other cases that may have had undercover evidence witheld, they should get in touch.

The gall of the man is hugely impressive. How are activists meant to know if undercover officers reported on them?

We can start with actions that had convictions where known undercovers were definitely present. The salient example is the Drax 29 - a train carrying coal to Drax power station was stopped and its cargo shovelled on to the tracks. Mark Kennedy was one of the drivers that dropped them off, and 29 people were convicted. Yet the DPP didn't look into that as an unsafe conviction.

But as the undercover scandal refuses to go away and more details come out, the 'one rogue case' stance has crumbled underneath them. It's taken them over a year but today they finally invited the Drax 29 to appeal, meaning it is a formality that their convictions will also be overturned. This makes a total of 49 convictions quashed (plus 6 that were reprieved at the last minute), giving Kennedy & co the high score for largest miscarriage of justice in recent legal history.

But this, too, is a fob-off. Despite the already massive total of wrongful convictions, it has the distinct appearance of an iceberg tip. In many cases, officers won't have gone on actions yet will still have reported on things they overheard or that their comrades told them about. In many cases, officers went on actions, reported and left the movement without being uncovered. How are those activists wrongly convicted to know that evidence was witheld?

Starmer knows this, so his reluctance can only be a cover-up for the police. We know he knows, because he has seen it with his own eyes. As a young defence lawyer he handled a case of hunt saboteurs where one of them, Jim Sutton, went through the case under his false name and identity. He was in fact police officer Jim Boyling. There is also serious suggestion that Bob Lambert was prosecuted under his activist alias for the deadly crime of leafletting.

If I get burgled, find a finger print and take it to the police, they're unlikely to tell me to find a name to match it before they investigate. It's they who have the fingerprint files with matching names. They are the only ones who can put that together.

By the same token, they - and only they - know exactly who all the undercover officers are, what they reported, and which cases led to conviction. The responsibility is with them to go through those files and contact those wrongly convicted. Anything else is a conspiracy to let miscarriages of justice stand.