The Coalition’s £500 Million Blush-Sparer

This is unbelievable.

Welsh Secretary Cheryl Gillan’s opposition to the proposed high-speed rail link between Birmingham and London was so strong she pledged to resign if the plans were approved. Her main reason for opposing it was the railway line would be an unsightly blemish on the beautiful countryside in her Buckinghamshire constituency. So, to avoid a Cabinet minister’s resignation creating an unsightly blemish on David Cameron, the Government will have a tunnel built in Gillan’s constituency to the tune of £500 million (The Daily Mail’s headline is incorrect – it is the Welsh Secretary, not the Transport Secretary, they are desperate to keep in the Cabinet):

Plans for a railway tunnel costing up to £500million to spare David Cameron an embarrassing Cabinet resignation are expected to be unveiled this week.

Sources say Transport Secretary Justine Greening is likely to confirm the 1.5-mile project when she gives the go-ahead for the London-to-Birmingham high-speed rail line. The proposed new tunnel, in the Buckinghamshire constituency of Cheryl Gillan, comes after the Welsh Secretary threatened to quit at the prospect of some of the loveliest countryside in England being scarred by new trains racing by at 250mph.

But if, as expected, Ms Greening approves the new tunnel under the Chilterns, Whitehall sources say they hope it will be enough to persuade Amersham and Chesham MP Ms Gillan to withdraw her threat. However, the move would come at a heavy price – the planned extra tunnel works out at about £190,000 a yard, or nearly £5,300 per inch.

While the Tories trumpet austerity, make devastating cuts that will harm families and communities all over Britain and are already strangling our fragile economy to the point of sending it back into recession, they will blow £500 million on a project that serves no purpose other than to save a politician’s career and avoid yet more embarrassment for this already ridiculous Government.

As always, austerity is for the little guy, while the big shots carry on as normal.

 

 

 

 

On Troy Davis And The Death Penalty

Many who live deserve death, and some that die deserve life – can you give it to them? Do not be so quick to deal out death and judgement.

Gandalf – Lord of the Rings

 

Troy Davis is dead. The fact the death penalty is itself alive and well after this and many, many other dreadful injustices, is not a hopeful sign for the abolitionists. For Troy Davis isn’t close to being the first, nor will he be the last innocent person to die by state mandate.

The whole Death Row system puts me in mind of the Roman emperors, deciding the fate of prisoners with a signal: thumbs up or thumbs down. At least the Romans were honest in using executions as entertainment, whereas America, supposedly a civilised Western nation, tries to cloak the savage nature of executions with the trappings of a long and drawn out judicial system, in which ultimately a mere handful of people decide the fate of a convicted criminal, while still allowing the public to witness them.

You need only look at the attitudes of the governors who condemn people to death to see how utterly morally unfit we are to decide whether our fellows should live or die. Who can forget George W Bush’s mocking of the terrified Karla Faye Tucker’s pleas for clemency? And now we have Rick Perry, who has overseen more executions as Texas governor than any American governor in history, and takes perverse pride in this while claiming he loses no sleep that an innocent person may have been killed (the case of Cameron Todd Willingham proves that this is a certainty). What is frighteningly clear is that neither treats the act of ending a person’s existence seriously.

How is it that those with power to condemn can do so with such callousness and lack of awareness of the gravity of the act? I don’t suggest they think that killing a person isn’t a serious step to take, but that they do not appreciate the full awfulness of what killing involves: destroying a person forever. Why is America alone of all Western countries, such a proud and eager enforcer of this terrible and barbaric punishment? Christopher Hitchens pretty much nails it here, I think:

Nobody had been bothering to argue that the rope or the firing squad, or the gas chamber, or “Old Sparky” the bristle-making chair, or the deadly catheter were a deterrent. The point of the penalty was that it was death. It expressed righteous revulsion and symbolized rectitude and retribution. Voila tout! The reason why the United States is alone among comparable countries in its commitment to doing this is that it is the most religious of those countries. (Take away only China, which is run by a very nervous oligarchy, and the remaining death-penalty states in the world will generally be noticeable as theocratic ones.)

And this is the crux of the matter. The overwhelming majority of death penalty supporters in America are Christians. It’s tempting to claim that as usual, these Christians aren’t following their own faith, but in fact they are. The Bible declares the wages of sin to be death, and the fact we all have to die someday is deemed punishment for our inherent sinfulness. So it is entirely natural for an intensely religious country to see death as an appropriate punishment for particularly evil crimes. And it also explains the lack of comprehension as to exactly what executing a person is doing. When you firmly believe that there is an afterlife, you cannot grasp the fact that by killing a person, you may have destroyed them for all time, and you cannot grasp the incredible awfulness of that fact. Add to that the fact that we just don’t know what happens when we die. There may be indeed a heaven and hell, but it is just as likely that death is literally the end for us. It’s all very well for religious people to claim that the guilty executed will go to hell, and the innocents executed will be well compensated for their suffering in Heaven (providing they accept Jesus as their saviour of course!), while being just as ignorant as the rest of us as to what comes next. It is precisely because we don’t know that no human being should have the power of life and death over another.

There’s a strange kind of moral blindness in those who support capital punishment. They claim that murder is such a heinous crime that only death is a punishment sufficiently severe enough for it, while completely failing to see the inherent paradox of the deliberate taking of a human life necessitating the deliberate taking of another human life to balance the books, as it were. It is supposed to deter people from murdering, yet no statistics have ever backed that claim up. On the contrary, instead of acting as a force for good, as its supporters insist, the death penalty is a great force for evil in that it is the result of our very worst instincts, and brings out the very worst side of us. The cries of ‘Fry him!’, the savage braying for blood, the demand for vengeance, and worst of all, the sickening gloating satisfaction after the execution betrays what America’s ultra-civilised system tries to conceal: that capital punishment is primitive, barbaric, and completely uncivilised.

For those of us who naturally oppose the death penalty, there are still traps and temptations that we risk falling into. The most obvious is to make exceptions: clearly, innocent people shouldn’t die, but when we read about a child rapist and killer, it becomes very tempting to say, “Well, this person deserves it, because what he did was so terrible.” In fact, the very same day Troy Davis was executed, this man was too:

White supremacist Lawrence Russell Brewer was executed Wednesday evening for the infamous dragging death slaying of James Byrd Jr., a black man from East Texas.

Byrd, 49, was chained to the back of a pickup truck and pulled whip-like to his death along a bumpy asphalt road in one of the most grisly hate crime murders in recent Texas history.

There was no doubt about his guilt. He committed a hate crime and murder as evil as any ever committed. This crime makes it easy to see why the death penalty has so many supporters. Yet Brewer did not deserve to die either, because nobody deserves to be put to death. We must always remember that.

 

 

 

News International And War Dead Relatives

In the wake of the News of the World’s depraved phone-hacking of dead soldiers’ relatives, I thought it would be a good time to revisit what its daily sister paper considered such a grievous insult to our war dead it led a manipulative and nasty campaign against then Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

Misspelling a dead soldiers name, poor handwriting, and worst of all, not dotting his Is:

COMMITTED four other spelling mistakes: Greatst for greatest, condolencs for condolences, you instead of your, and colleagus for colleagues.

He also wrote the letter “i” incorrectly 18 times – mostly by leaving the dots off them but once by using two in “security”.

And he ended with a repetition – writing “my sincere condolences” and then signing off “Yours sincerely”

What an evil, evil man. How did he ever sleep at night?

The Sun proceeded to callously exploit the mother’s grief for its own ends, to viciously attack Brown. Which is the hallmark of Rupert Murdoch’s media outlets of course – exploitation, manipulation and hit jobs to try and obtain a certain political outcome.

News International: where spelling mistakes when writing an emotionally difficult letter to a dead soldier’s mother is a hanging offence, but illegally invading and violating the privacy of relatives is A-OK.

NOTW Phone Hacking: Dead Soldiers’ Families Also Targeted

Sweet Jesus. The News of the World scandal hits rock bottom:

Phones owned by relatives of dead UK soldiers were allegedly hacked by the News of the World, a national newspaper reports.

The Daily Telegraph claims the phone numbers of relatives of dead were found in the files of private investigator Glenn Mulcaire.

The Government can’t resist calls for a full public inquiry for much longer. And who knows what further revelations are coming? However, it will be extremely hard for it to get worse than being discovered to have hacked the phones of bereaved families of the men who fought and died for us. I’m running out of variants of ‘disgusting’ to describe this loathsome rag’s actions.

 

 

The Murdoch Empire Is Undermining Democracy

The last few days have been dark ones for the journalistic profession. A free press is supposed to be the lynchpin of democracy, but when the press engages in behaviour which, if committed by the government, would rightly be described as Orwellian, it fundamentally betrays that principle. Yesterday’s revelation that the News of the World was willing to eavesdrop on grieving families after one of Britain’s grimmest days reveals that there was no depth they were unwilling to sink to. How can people feel secure when the very organisations who are supposed to help protect them from abuses of power intrude on their privacy and grief should they have the misfortune to be involved in a heavily publicised crime or event?

And this is just what’s happening this side of the pond. Over in America, for the last few years Murdoch’s Fox News has effectively played Pravda to the Republican Party’s Soviet Union. Whether it is magically turning scandal-plagued/unpopular Republicans into Democrats, repeatedly lying about and smearing a Democratic President, or actively telling its employees to use words which are likely to have negative connotations in the minds of viewers to describe Democratic policies, Fox is not so much a news network as the media arm of the GOP – and that’s just the allegedly straight news parts. Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, Brian Kilmeade, Chris Wallace and the now-departed Glenn Beck are in a league of their own when it comes to right-wing propaganda, as Charlie Brooker hilariously explains. The goal is to spread misinformation, fear and lies in order to manipulate the masses into supporting the same party Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes do…while sowing hate in the minds of their gullible and faithful viewers towards anyone who isn’t white, rich and conservative. During Watergate, John Dean spoke of a ‘cancer on the presidency’. Fox News is a cancer on America.

Meanwhile, while we do not have a Fox News-esque channel acting as cheerleader for a political party over here in the UK, we face something more ominous in the form of the imminent News Corp takeover of BSkyB, which unfortunately is likely to be green-lighted by the Government despite the snowballing hacking scandal. A media run solely by the state is something nobody in their right mind would want, but how is a media run virtually by only one man and his corporate empire any better? Yet that is a scenario we are increasingly faced with. Yes, they’ve pledged to sell Sky News, but there’s absolutely nothing to stop them buying it back once the takeover deal is secured. And given the Murdoch media’s complete disregard for things like ethics, morality and truth, if that takeover were to go through, we would have more to fear from our new media overlords than our government. And that is a truly terrifying thought.

Rebekah Brooks Is Either Incompetent Or A Liar

Rebekah Brooks continues to deny all knowledge of the despicable hacks into Milly Dowler and 7/7 families’ phones, leading to only two possible conclusions: either Brooks was so incompetent an editor that she had no control over and no idea of what was being done by her own newspaper, or she’s a liar, neither of which does her credit.

As the Independent revealed today that she asked the same private detective who dug up the Dowlers’ number to do other searches, I’m leaning towards the latter.

Ms Brooks, while editor of NOTW, used Steve Whittamore, a private detective who specialised in obtaining illegal information, to “convert” a mobile phone number to find its registered owner. Mr Whittamore also provided the paper with the Dowlers’ ex-directory home phone number.

The Information Commissioner’s Office, which successfully prosecuted Whittamore for breaches of the Data Protection Act in 2005, said last night it would have been illegal to obtain the mobile conversion if the details had been “blagged” from a phone company.

Ms Brooks, who said yesterday she was “shocked and appalled” at the latest hacking claims, admitted requesting the information. But she said it could be obtained by “perfectly legitimate means.”

I highly doubt that, but let’s leave the ‘means’ aside for a minute and focus on her actual request – trying to discover the private owner of a private mobile phone for no justifiable reason, on top of gaining access to a phone number that was removed from the directory books precisely to stop unwanted callers from obtaining it. Ethics, schmethics.

 

Unreasonable Doubt

Rape victims already find it horrendously difficult to report the crime that was committed against them. We have a culture that seems to go out of its way to find ways to blame the victim for what happened to her – “If she hadn’t been drunk/worn that short skirt/acted like a flirt it wouldn’t have happened.” – while telling women ‘Don’t get raped’ instead of telling men ‘Don’t rape’. They face the knowledge that they will almost certainly have to confront the person who violated them and stole so much from them in court, have their character mercilessly assaulted by a defence lawyer, and that there’s a good chance that they could be forced to relive the horror and the perpetrator for nothing as he could be acquitted. Those women who come forward display an immense level of courage.

So the news that the jurors in the trial of two NYPD officers for the rape of an intoxicated woman in her own home chose to acquit them, even though they were convinced they were guilty, because there was no DNA evidence, has just struck another blow against the effort to get more women to try to bring their attackers to justice. For one thing – it is extremely common for women who have been raped to shower immediately, to scrub and wash the horrible feeling of their rapist off of them as soon as they can. This case shows that now this could well mean the chances of their rapists being brought to justice have plummeted. And furthermore, the fact that the defendants in this case were police officers is likely to damage a lot of people’s faith in the justice system. People will ask: would they have been acquitted if they hadn’t been cops? How can you seek justice from those who are seemingly above it?

Here are snippets of what the jurors said. If their comments don’t enrage you, nothing will:

“[Kenneth Moreno] raped her,” the unidentified female juror tells DNAinfo. “There is no doubt in my mind.”But never mind that whole “beyond a reasonable doubt” business, today’s modern jury demands DNA. As juror John Finck, 57, explains, “We were strictly bound by the judge’s instruction that there must be evidence beyond a reasonable doubt in order to convict the defendants of the major charges of the case.”

That does NOT mean there needs to be DNA evidence, but as one legal expert told the Post after the verdict was announced, “CSI has made things difficult, there’s no law saying that ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ means we show you DNA. It means ‘evidence that points to a moral certainty that is beyond dispute.’” “My heart breaks for her. I think the system failed her terribly,” says Hernandez, the juror who played a crucial role in the system that acquitted the cops.

“I think the system failed her terribly.” You’ve got to love that ‘system’, a convenient way for individuals like Hernandez to avoid responsibility for their own decisions that have an enormous impact on the lives of other human beings. It pops up all the time – when people die, when injustice happens, it’s the impersonal, ambiguous monolith of The System that’s to blame, not human error, not human failure, not human ignorance. This is why miscarriages of justice on both sides of the court and in other walks of life will continue to happen, because as long as we can all comfortably blame injustice on an abstract thing that doesn’t really exist, people can avoid accountability, the buck can be passed, and no effort need be made to educate people about crucial things like the definition of ‘reasonable doubt’.

But that’s not to say there aren’t problems with juries. The key is in that first word, ‘reasonable’. As we see here in this appalling case, juries are now seeing not just any doubt in their minds, but anything that could cause doubt as enough to vote in favour of the accused. This has always been one of the major flaws of trial by jury, and why I have long believed professional jurors would vastly improve justice systems. By throwing 12 random people together who likely as not know nothing about law, are not trained to think logically or weigh evidence, the result is that you are inevitably going to get ridiculous verdicts like this, because the jury is ignorant of what reasonable doubt actually is – and thus so frightened of sending an innocent person to jail that the tiniest of discrepancies get blown up into reasons not to convict.

 

 

 

Bystander Who Filmed Cops Shooting Man To Death Has Phone Seized, Destroyed At Gunpoint

This is seriously fucked up:

Miami Beach police did their best to destroy a citizen video that shows them shooting a man to death in a hail of bullets Memorial Day.

First, police pointed their guns at the man who shot the video, according to a Miami Herald interview with the videographer.

Then they ordered the man and his girlfriend out the car and threw them down to the ground, yelling “you want to be fucking paparazzi?”

Then they snatched the cell phone from his hand and slammed it to the ground before stomping on it. Then they placed the smashed phone in the videographer’s back pocket as he was laying down on the ground.

Unfortunately for these fascists masquerading as public protectors, the man had removed the SIM card, so his video survived the destruction of his phone. And their actions alone, let alone whatever that video contains, suggest there needs to be an investigation into why and how the man they shot to death was killed.

It’s getting to the point where you’d do well to question the actions of any cop who’s touchy about being filmed by a member of the public they’re supposed to serve. After all, as is the common refrain of authority figures, if you’ve got nothing to hide, you should have nothing to worry about, no?