Police Disorder

Over the last few years there has been a steady flow of people warning how, in the west, we are sleepwalking into a surveillance state. Often this is accompanied with references to 1984 and how our government and national leadership seem to view this book as an instruction manual, rather than a stark warning. It seems, however, that we are growing a generation of people who are immune to this, they live under constant surveillance (even aspire to it in the form of Big Brother reality TV) and the idea of privacy may one day be alien.

There is (IMHO of course) a darker aspect to this. In our rush to accept everything the government tells us when it is linked to the Evil Terrorist, we are giving up the basic rights and concepts that make a country a “free” democracy. The press, and police, love the high profile terror raids (such as the “Easter Bomb Plot“) which generate torrents of media coverage – along with huge amounts of right wing outrage at how easy it is for these evil Islamic terrorists to get into our country. These events are used to justify insane amounts of secrecy about police activity and huge public funding, even though it has no apparent return in public safety. When the inevitable happens, and those arrested are released without charge, there is often a short note at the end of the news and no withdrawal of the right-wing outrage. The damage has well and truly been done, so the fact it was a pointless event doesn’t need saying… In this, we are far from a free press. As an example we can look at two events:

1 – Police raid addresses in Lurgan, Co Armagh, Northern Ireland, and trigger riots that last over a day – followed by a series of hoax car bombs and attacks on other police patrols. All this was to find the people involved in the fatal shooting of two soldiers and a police officer a few days earlier.

2 – Police raid a few addresses in Manchester and Liverpool, England, and peacefully arrest 12 people. No community response.

The first event generated almost no coverage from the national media outlets. Few people would have known it happened. Less would have cared. The second event was “Breaking news” 24hours a day for days – even when most of the coverage consisted of bored police officers standing outside a house in some unknown street. It resulted in heated diplomatic exchanges with foreign nations and untold amounts of right wing outrage about “furriners” coming into our country.

It is in the states interest to present the situation in Northern Ireland as a closed deal. Peace has broken out. Unless the terrorists are actually “lucky” enough to kill, it gets no news coverage. There are hundreds of actual attacks and bomb plots over there but these are carried out by white Christians who were born in the United Kingdom (or occasionally the Republic of Ireland). There is no where to deport them and no amount of border controls can prevent them. Crucially they look like us, so cant easily be profiled at ports and for stop & search powers. Overall the peace process is working but the dissident republicans present a clear and present danger to the security forces. They carry out attacks, they have wounded dozens of people (and killed several innocents). They carry out atrocious punishment beatings.  They are real terrorists.

On the other hand, we have the Islamic terrorist cells. Yes, they got “lucky” once with devastating effect, but they have managed one attack in the UK. Ever. The biggest difference is they dont look like “us.” Often they are first or second generation immigrants. They speak a “funny” language. They (sometimes) dress differently. They are easy to spot in public. That most of this is nonsense hasn’t stopped Islamic terrorism becoming a massive bugbear, while the actual violence carried out by Republican terrorists is ignored.

The cynic in me suggests that targetting the Islamic terrorist is in the states best interest. Without turning into V for Vengeance, by generating this public fear there is little argument against draconian laws, huge spending on “anti-terror,” crazy policies (no fluids on planes for example), intrusive surveillance and out of control policing. We have to accept this because if we dont the Islamic Terrorist will get us. That the press pander to this crazy idea, and are instrumental in producing it, which can only benefit the state makes me strongly question how “free” our press is.

Without a free press, can we really have a democracy? Is it possible for the public to have an informed vote if their information is controlled by the state?

This leads on to the next bit, and the thing that really got me going. The Police.

Recently the UK enacted a law (part of the Terrorism Act) which has made it illegal to take pictures of police, military or intelligence services personnel. This has been presented as being important to prevent terrorism (how?) and the government claimed it would not be used out of context nor would it be used to restrict journalism.

This is nonsense. Every law gets used out of context. Councils use anti-terrorism powers to mount surveillance on people to see if they live in the correct district for their children’s school. This will always happen – if you give someone a legal authority to do something, they will do it if it makes their job easier. The only alternative is to right better laws – something often lacking with regards to rushed terrorism legislation.

The police are no better. The terrorism act is regularly used out of context. Be it climate change protesters or tourists, the various legislation is often misused. Crucially, looking at the tourist incident, the police not only misused their legislation but they broke the law doing so: (From the guardian):

Like most visitors to London, Klaus Matzka and his teenage son Loris took several photographs of some of the city’s sights, including the famous red double-decker buses. More unusually perhaps, they also took pictures of the Vauxhall bus station, which Matzka regards as “modern sculpture”.

But the tourists have said they had to return home to Vienna without their holiday pictures after two policemen forced them to delete the photographs from their cameras in the name of preventing terrorism.

Matzka, a 69-year-old retired television cameraman with a taste for modern architecture, was told that photographing anything to do with transport was “strictly forbidden”. The policemen also recorded the pair’s details, including passport numbers and hotel addresses.

If we assume the police were right to carry out the stop under TACT legislation, and this was information useful to terrorist, why did they destroy the evidence? Either they thought these two tourists were covert Jihadists, in which case an intelligence stop should have been conducted, with the pictures retained for the DPS to look at (and the intelligence services to brief the Daily Mail as to the plans to attack the bus station) or they knew these were innocent tourists and there was no reason to destroy the pictures. This seems to be unlawful destruction of evidence pertaining to a criminal act. Will anything be done about it?

The Metropolitan police said it was investigating the allegations.

Ok, thats “no” then. In magazines like Amateur Photographer there are regular reports of how people are stopped under similar circumstances (to the point at which a photo-friendly MP has tried tabling this in Parliment) however nothing has changed. Nothing is likely to change because the police dont care.

I am loathe to scream about how our police forces are out of control, but they appear to be under less and less force to obey the will of the people. The police enforce the rule of law with public consent. They are not an occupying army seeking to repress us. They are not here to control and dominate the public. They are public servants who have chosen to do a job which means they will protect the public. They protect no one by harassing tourists. They protect no one by killing newspaper sellers as they try to get home. The tragic death of Ian Tomlinson has opened up a whole can of worms about police behaviour, but it is unlikely to change anything.

As has happened countless times in the past (anyone remember Stockwell?), following Ian Tomlinson’s death the police were quick to issue a completely erroneous statement. It took a newspaper getting (what was actually illegal) footage of police violence before they would do anything. Even then, it took days before they actually got into action and started the investigation. Worryingly there were dozens of police officers there when Ian Tomlinson was hit, yet none thought to come forward about his death. This speaks of an institutionalised idea that hitting people from behind is acceptable. It isnt.

The police are faced with dangerous situations on a daily basis. They are also taught how to react and how to identify when the danger has passed. Although it was a few years ago, and for a different place, I have had considerable amounts of riot training (in the shield wall, as snatch squads and controlling) although thankfully I rarely had to put it into practice. However there were some basic lessons. You stood there knowing you would get abused. Verbal abuse was something to be ignored. No matter what the crowd shouted to taunt you, you were supposed to stand your ground. The idea that you would get a sly hit on someone walking away was unthinkable. It happened, but people reported it because it was a breakdown in discipline, and without that we were the same as the mob. Despite this, footage has come to light of several police officers attacking non-violent members of the public.

There is a time where the use of force by the police is acceptable. Backhanding a woman who has called you a name is not it. Hitting people who are shouting at you is not it. The police are there to PROTECT the public from violence, not be the cause of it. There is a harrowing amount of footage on the Guardian website which shows police failing in their primary duty. I have no idea if this is simply due to the group on the ground having become “maverick” or if this is a sign of larger problems with the police, but it is a problem.

For example: Police on the ground removed their ID badges to make it harder for people to identify them at a later date. This is wrong, as Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary (HMIC) stated. It is very wrong and borderline criminal in itself. It means the officer was intending to do something wrong and mens rea is an important part of the law. What concerns me is the comment made by the HMIC:

“I firmly hope that will be rectified with some certainty”

What? Pure weasel words. What is the point in having the HMIC? Equally disturbing is the fact that these officers were not taken to task by their seniors before deploying. Instutionalised failure. How do you rectify that if the HMIC is beating around the bush? The simple solution is to punish the Sgts and Inspectors as well as the constables (when finally identified). That would very quickly change the behaviour.

This is tied into the behavour of the police on the day. In this video, the police carry out a baton charge against the crowd (who appear to be commiting the offence of singing badly and out of tune in a public place) and attack the press in the process. They are not carrying out a controlled act to move the crowd back, they are simply trying to break heads. At 36 seconds you can see them baton a guy with a camera facing away from them. That is unjustifable. They are not using controled violence, otherwise why hit the press photographer facing away? He is no danger to them and is not part of the crowd. Force is a last resort. Not a first one. The photographer lies on the floor until the police line moves back again (what was the point in the charge if it wasnt to dominate new ground?), when some one finally helps him up.

In the next video, the police impose Section 14 of the Public Order act to make the press go away for “about half an hour.”  Two big issues with this.

First off – why? Why did the senior office want the press out of view? Was it to calm the protesters down? (unlikely) or was it to remove public oversight of the police behaviour? We may never know.

Secondly – section 14 of the Public Order Act 1986 provides police the power to impose conditions on assemblies “to prevent serious public disorder, serious criminal damage or serious disruption to the life of the community.” It is not a lawful use of the act to make the press move on. This act is often misused by the police so its almost understandable that they would try to misuse it here. However, how can they not have known better? Did the senior officer on the ground really think it was an appropriate use of Sect 14 powers? If so, why isnt he being sent away for retraining? Were the police just trying their luck to see if they could make the pesky press go away, hoping most wouldnt question the legality? Again we may never know.

In all, this has been a long rant (sorry) but it is infuriating that we accept this behaviour from the representatives of the public. How can we live in a free democracy while this goes on?

EDITED TO ADD: Sadly I posted this rant before I saw an excellent version written by Alun over on Archaeoastronomy. If you havent already read it, get over there now and read. As always, Aluns post is well written and to the point. I especially like his closing remarks: (emphasis mine)

policing cannot happen without the consent of a community. Otherwise it’s just a paramilitary occupation. The video shows plenty of witnesses in yellow jackets. If they won’t assist the law, who will?

Well said.

A review of 2008

(Hat tip: Miami Herald writer Dave Barry via Rebellious Scot on FSTDT Forums)

To save you having to go to the trouble of remembering the last 12 months, this is a summary of the important bits, from a US point of view at least:

Dave Barry Year in Review: Bailing out of 2008
BY DAVE BARRY

How weird a year was it?

Here’s how weird:

• O.J. actually got convicted of something.

• Gasoline hit $4 a gallon — and those were the good times.

• On several occasions, Saturday Night Live was funny.

• There were a few days there in October when you could not completely rule out the possibility that the next Treasury Secretary would be Joe the Plumber.

• Finally, and most weirdly, for the first time in history, the voters elected a president who — despite the skeptics who said such a thing would never happen in the United States — was neither a Bush NOR a Clinton.

Of course not all the events of 2008 were weird. Some were depressing. The only U.S. industries that had a good year were campaign consultants and foreclosure lawyers. Everybody else got financially whacked. Millions of people started out the year with enough money in their 401(k)’s to think about retiring on, and ended up with maybe enough for a medium Slurpee.

So we can be grateful that 2008 is almost over. But before we leave it behind, let’s take a few minutes to look back and see if we can find some small nuggets of amusement. Why not? We paid for it, starting with . . .

JANUARY

. . . which begins, as it does every four years, with presidential contenders swarming into Iowa and expressing sincerely feigned interest in corn. The Iowa caucuses produce two surprises:

• On the Republican side, the winner is Mike Huckabee, folksy former governor of Arkansas or possibly Oklahoma, who vows to remain in the race until he gets a commentator gig with Fox. His win deals a severe blow to Mitt Romney and his bid to become the first president of the android persuasion. Not competing in Iowa are Rudy Giuliani, whose strategy is to stay out of the race until he is mathematically eliminated, and John McCain, who entered the caucus date incorrectly into his 1996 Palm Pilot.

• On the Democratic side, the surprise winner is Barack Obama, who is running for president on a long and impressive record of running for president. A mesmerizing speaker, Obama electrifies voters with his exciting new ideas for change, although people have trouble remembering exactly what these ideas were because they were so darned mesmerized. Some people become so excited that they actually pass out. These are members of the press corps.

Obama’s victory comes at the expense of former front-runner Hillary Clinton, who fails to ignite voter passion despite a rip-snorter of a stump speech in which she recites, without notes, all 17 points of her plan to streamline tuition-loan applications.

The instant the caucuses are over the contenders drop Iowa like a rancid frankfurter and jet to other states to express concern about whatever people there care about.

Meanwhile George W. Bush, who is still technically the president, visits the Middle East and finds things over there just as confusing as ever.

In sports, LSU wins the national college football championship, easily defeating the Miami Dolphins.

Finally, in what some economists see as a troubling sign, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac invest $12.7 billion in Powerball tickets.

The worsening economy takes center stage in . . .

FEBRUARY

. . . when, amid much fanfare, Congress passes, and President Bush signs, an ”economic stimulus package” under which the federal government will give taxpayers back several hundred dollars apiece of their own money, the idea being that they will use this money to revive the U.S. economy by buying TV sets that were made in China. This will seem much more comical in the fall.

The battle between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton heats up as the two engage in a series of increasingly hostile debates, including one in which Secret Service agents have to tackle a large, angry, red-faced man who bursts from the audience shouting incoherently. This turns out to be Bill Clinton, who is swiftly dispatched by his wife’s campaign to work his magic on voters in the crucial Guam caucuses.

On the Republican side, John McCain emerges as the front-runner when Mitt Romney drops out of the race, citing “motherboard issues.”

Abroad, Fidel Castro steps down after 49 years as president of Cuba, explaining that he wants to spend more time decomposing. In selecting his successor, the Cuban National Assembly, after conducting an exhaustive nationwide search, selects Fidel’s brother, Raúl, who narrowly edges out Dennis Kucinich.

In sports, the undefeated New England Patriots lose the Super Bowl to the New York Giants in a stunning upset that confounds the experts, not to mention Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which had $38 billion on the Pats to win.

Speaking of losers, in . . .

MARCH

. . . New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer becomes embroiled in an embarrassing scandal when a criminal investigation reveals that he looks like a large suit-wearing rodent. Also he has been seeing a high-class prostitute known as ”Kristen” in a Washington, D.C., hotel. Spitzer resigns in disgrace; ”Kristen,” hounded by the press and no longer able to pursue her profession, receives a $23 billion bailout from the federal government.

In politics, Barack Obama addresses the issue of why, in his 20 years of membership in Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, he failed to notice that the pastor, Jeremiah Wright, is a racist lunatic. In a major televised address widely hailed for its brilliance, Obama explains that . . . OK, nobody really remembers what the actual explanation was. But everybody agrees it was mesmerizing.

Obama’s opponent, Hillary Clinton, gets into a controversy of her own when she claims that, as first lady, she landed in Bosnia ”under sniper fire.” News outlets quickly locate archive video showing that she was in fact greeted with a welcoming ceremony featuring an 8-year-old girl reading a poem. Clinton’s campaign releases a statement pointing out that it was “a pretty long poem.”

On the Republican side, John McCain wraps up the nomination and embarks on a series of strategic naps.

On Wall Street, J.P. Morgan buys Bear Stearns; nobody really understands what this means, but it is clearly bad. Abroad, the dollar declines to the point where currency traders are using it solely for wiping up spills. Both Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac apply to be contestants on Deal Or No Deal.

In environmental news, Earth Hour is observed on March 29, when cities around the world display their commitment to conserving energy by turning out their lights for one hour. When the lights come back on, Detroit is missing.

In sports, the troubled Olympic torch becomes embroiled in a protest riot in Athens; witnesses claim the torch ”reeked of alcohol.” In football, beloved Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre retires and embarks on a series of emotional farewell events, several of which are still going on when he signs to play for the Jets.

Speaking of emotional, in . . .

APRIL

. . . tensions run high in the Pennsylvania Democratic primary, which all the experts agree is extremely crucial. Barack Obama gets into trouble with rural voters for saying that rural Americans are ”bitter” and ”cling to guns or religion.” Responding to charges that this statement is elitist, Obama responds: “You are getting sleepy. Very sleepy.”

Seeking to capitalize on Obama’s gaffe, Hillary Clinton starts channeling Annie Oakley, tossing down shots of whiskey and talking about her love of guns and hunting. After one particularly long day on the trail, she grabs a Secret Service agent’s pistol and attempts to shoot a deer; instead she wounds a reporter, thereby sealing her victory in the Pennsylvania primary, which turns out to not actually be all that crucial because the Democratic race keeps right on going with no sign of ending in the current decade.

On the Republican side, John McCain gets wind of something called the ”Internet” and orders his staff to give him a summary of it on index cards.

In economic news, the price of gasoline tops $4 a gallon, meaning the cost of filling up an average car is now $50, or, for Hummer owners, $17,500. Congress, responding to the financial pain of the American people, goes into partisan gridlock faster than ever before, with Republicans demanding that the oil companies immediately start drilling everywhere, including cemeteries, and Democrats calling for a massive effort to develop alternative energy sources such as wind, the sun, tides, comets, Al Gore and dragon breath, using technology expected to be perfected sometime this millennium. It soon becomes clear that Congress will not actually do anything, so Americans start buying less gasoline.

The economic news is also gloomy for the U.S. automotive industry, where General Motors, in a legally questionable move aimed at boosting its sagging car sales, comes out with a new model called “The Chevrolet Toyota.”

In sports, the troubled Olympic torch punches a photographer while entering a San Francisco hotel at 3 a.m. with Lindsay Lohan.

Speaking of trouble, in . . .

MAY

. . . the International Atomic Energy Agency releases a report stating that Iran is actively developing nuclear warheads. In response, Iran issues a statement asserting that (1) it absolutely is not developing nuclear warheads, and (2) these are peaceful warheads. The United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Russia and China convene an emergency meeting, during which they manage, in heated negotiations, to talk France out of surrendering.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac invest $17 billion in an Herbalife franchise.

In presidential politics, the increasingly bitter fight for the Democratic nomination intensifies when Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton hold a televised debate, moderated by PBS anchor Jim Lehrer, that consists entirely of spitting.

On the Republican side, John McCain, preparing for the fall campaign, purchases a new necktie.

The big spring Hollywood hit is the film version of Sex and the City, which draws millions of movie-goers, including an estimated three men, two of whom thought they were in the theater for the fourth Indiana Jones movie, Indiana Jones Experiences Frequent Nighttime Urination. The riveting plot of Sex and the City, which runs for nearly two-and-a-half hours, involves the efforts of Carrie, Samantha, Miranda and Charlotte to plan Carrie’s wedding — Finally! — to ”Mr. Big,” only to have things go awry when mutant vampire moles bore up through the church floor and suck the blood out of the wedding party through their feet.

In sports, both the Kentucky Derby and the Indianapolis 500 are won by Usain Bolt.

Speaking of victory, in . . .

JUNE

. . . Barack Obama finally claims the bitterly contested Democratic nomination when Hillary Clinton, behind on delegates and in debt to the tune of $25 million, including $9 million for hairspray alone, suspends her campaign and declares that she has ”no hard feelings” and will do ”whatever it takes” to help Obama get elected ”even though he is scum.” Bill Clinton, at his wife’s side, nods vigorously, but is unable to speak because of the restraining device. A gracious John McCain tells the press that he ”looks forward to a spirited debate with Sen. Mondale.” Before he can take questions he is informed by his aides that he has an important meeting.

In other campaign-related news, Chicago developer Tony Rezko, a former Obama associate and fundraiser, is convicted on corruption charges, but the press realizes that this is not an issue after Obama explains that it is not an issue.

President George W. Bush takes one last official trip to Europe to meet with European leaders. Unfortunately they are not home.

In economic news, Chrysler announces a plan to lay off workers who have not been born yet. The lone economic bright spot is the iPhone, which is selling like crazy thanks to the release of a new model enhanced with the capability of sucking pieces of your brain out through your ear until all you want to do is play with your iPhone.

Speaking of vegetables, the big scare in June comes from the Food and Drug Administration, which announces that tomatoes are killing people. A wave of fear grips the nation as supermarket shoppers stampede from the produce section, causing several fatal shopping-cart mishaps. At the height of the panic, with the tomato industry reeling, the FDA declares that, oops, the killer might NOT be tomatoes, but some other vegetable, possibly jalapeño peppers, but nobody knows for sure. Eventually everyone calms down, but not before a bank in Cleveland is held up by a man wielding only a stalk of asparagus.

The scientific community is elated by NASA’s announcement that the Phoenix lander has detected ice on Mars. The elation turns to concern when, several hours later, the lander detects a Zamboni machine.

Tiger Woods, in an epic performance, wins the U.S. Open playing on an injured and very painful knee, thereby proving, beyond all doubt, that golf is not a real sport.

Speaking of epic performances, in . . .

JULY

. . . Barack Obama, having secured North and South America, flies to Germany without using an airplane and gives a major speech — speaking English and German simultaneously — to 200,000 mesmerized Germans, who immediately elect him chancellor, prompting France to surrender.

Meanwhile John McCain, at a strategy session at a golf resort, tells his top aides to prepare a list of potential running mates, stressing that he wants somebody ”who is completely, brutally honest.” Unfortunately, because of noise from a lawn mower, the aides think McCain said he wants somebody ”who has competed in a beauty contest.” This will lead to trouble down the road.

Speaking of trouble, the economic news continues to worsen with the discovery that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have sent $87 billion to a Nigerian businessman with a compelling e-mail story.

Also troubling is the news from Iran, which test-fires some long-range missiles, although Iranian President Wackjob Lunatic insists that Iran intends to use these missiles “for stump removal.”

In sports, the government of China, in an effort to improve air quality for the Beijing Olympics, bans flatulence.

Speaking of Olympian, in . . .

AUGUST

. . . Barack Obama, continuing to shake up the establishment, selects as his running mate Joe Biden, a tireless fighter for change since he was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 1849. The Democratic Party gathers in Denver to formally nominate Obama, who descends from his Fortress of Solitude to mesmerize the adoring crowd with an acceptance speech objectively described by The New York Times as “comparable to the Gettysburg Address, only way better.”

Meanwhile John McCain, still searching for the perfect running mate, tells his top aides in a conference call that he wants ”someone who is capable of filling my shoes.” Unfortunately, he is speaking into the wrong end of his cellular phone, and his aides think he said ”someone who is capable of killing a moose.” Shortly thereafter McCain stuns the world, and possibly himself, by selecting Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, a no-nonsense hockey mom with roughly 114 children named after random nouns such as “Hamper.”

In yet another troubling economic indicator, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac rob a liquor store.

Internationally, the big story is the Olympic games, which begin under a cloud of controversy when journalists in Beijing, who were promised unfettered Internet access by the Chinese government, discover that no matter what address they enter into their browsers, they wind up on Chairman Mao’s Facebook page (he has 1.3 billion friends). But even the critics are blown away by the spectacular opening ceremony, which features the entire population of Asia performing the Electric Slide.

The games themselves are dominated by swimmer Michael Phelps, who wins eight gold medals, thus putting himself on a sounder financial footing than the U.S. Treasury. China wins the gold-medal count, although critics charge that some of China’s 11-year-old female gymnasts are under the minimum age of 16. Chinese officials refute this charge by noting, correctly, that they have tanks.

Elsewhere abroad, war breaks out between Russia and Georgia over South Ossetia and Abkhazia, serving as a stark reminder that, in an increasingly uncertain world, we, as Americans, have no idea where these places are.

Speaking of uncertainty, in . . .

SEPTEMBER

. . . the Republican convention gets off to a tentative start in St. Paul when President Bush and Vice President Cheney are unable to attend, partly because of Hurricane Gustav, and partly because the organizers told them that the convention was in Atlanta. The mood improves when Sarah Palin dazzles the delegates with her winning smile, detailed knowledge of what is on the teleprompter, and spot-on imitation of Tina Fey. The next night, John McCain, formally accepting the nomination, pledges to run ”a totally incoherent campaign.” None of this is reported in the media because the entire press corps is in Wasilla, Alaska, investigating rumors that Palin once dated a yeti.

But the presidential campaign is soon overshadowed by the troubled economy. The federal government is finally forced to take over Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac after they are caught selling crack at a middle school. But that is not enough, as major financial institutions, having lost hundreds of billions of dollars thanks to years of engaging in practices ranging from questionable to moronic, begin failing, which gives the federal government an idea: Why not give these institutions MORE hundreds of billions of dollars, generously provided by taxpayers?

This plan is discussed and debated in urgent meetings in Washington attended by the president, the cabinet, congressional leaders, Sen. Obama, Sen. McCain and all other concerned parties except the actual taxpayers, who are not invited because they are, with all due respect, way too stupid to understand high finance. The taxpayers are repeatedly assured, however, that unless they fork over $700 billion, the economy will go right down the toilet. And so it comes to pass that in . . .

OCTOBER

. . . Congress passes, and Technically Still President Bush signs, the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, and everyone heaves a sigh of relief as the economy stabilizes for approximately 2.7 seconds, after which it resumes going down the toilet. As world financial markets collapse like fraternity pledges at a keg party and banks fail around the world, the International Monetary Fund implements an emergency program under which anybody who opens a checking account anywhere on earth gets a free developing nation. But it is not enough; the financial system is in utter chaos. At one point a teenage girl in Worcester, Mass., attempts to withdraw $25 from an ATM and winds up acquiring Wells Fargo.

As the crisis worsens, an angry Congress, determined to get some answers, holds hearings and determines that whoever is responsible for this mess, it is definitely not Congress. Meanwhile all the cable-TV financial experts agree that since they totally failed to predict this disaster, they will stop pretending they have a clue what the markets are going to do and henceforth confine themselves to topics they can discuss knowledgeably, such as what time it is.

Just kidding! They’d get that wrong, too.

The economy dominates the presidential campaign, with the focal point being ”Joe the Plumber,” an Ohio resident who asks Barack Obama a mildly confrontational question about tax policy and within hours is more famous than the Dalai Lama. He draws intense scrutiny from the news media, which, using investigative reporters borrowed from the Palin-yeti beat, determine that ”Joe the Plumber” is in fact (1) not named Joe, (2) not a plumber, (3) a citizen of Belgium, and (4) biologically, a woman.

In the presidential debates, John McCain, looking and sounding increasingly like the late Walter Brennan, cites Joe the Plumber a record 847 times while charging that Obama’s tax policies amount to socialism. Obama, ahead of McCain by double digits in the polls and several hundred million dollars in money, skips the debates so he can work on his inaugural address. The New York Times declares his performance “masterful.”

In non-economic news, a Las Vegas jury convicts O.J. Simpson on 12 counts of being an unbelievable idiot. He faces more than 60 years in jail, which could end his relentless quest to find the killer of the people he stabbed to death in 1994.

In sports, the entire nation rejoices as the World Series is won, yet again, by a team other than the New York Yankees.

Speaking of winning, in . . .

NOVEMBER

. . . Barack Obama, in a historic triumph, becomes the nation’s first black president since the second season of 24, setting off an ecstatically joyful and boisterous all-night celebration that at times threatens to spill out of The New York Times newsroom. Obama, following through on his promise to bring change to Washington, quickly begins assembling an administration consisting of a diverse group of renegade outsiders, ranging all the way from lawyers who attended Ivy League schools and then worked in the Clinton administration to lawyers who attended entirely different Ivy league schools and then worked in the Clinton administration.

But the hopeful mood is dampened by grim economic news. The stock market plummets farther as investors realize that the only thing that had been keeping the economy afloat was the millions of dollars spent daily on TV commercials for presidential candidates explaining how they would fix the economy. As it becomes increasingly clear that the federal government’s plan of giving hundreds of billions of dollars to dysfunctional companies has not fixed the problem, the government comes up with a bold new plan: give more hundreds of billions of dollars to dysfunctional companies. Soon the government is in a bailout frenzy, handing out money left and right, at one point accidentally giving $14 billion to a man delivering a Domino’s pizza to the Treasury building.

More and more companies seek federal help, among them the troubled ”big three” auto makers, whose chief executives fly to Washington in three separate corporate jets to ask Congress for $25 billion, explaining that if they don’t get the money, they will be unable to continue making cars that Americans are not buying.

In space, NASA’s woes continue when an astronaut attempting to repair the troubled multibillion-dollar international space station accidentally lets go of a special $100,000 space tool bag, which drifts away, taking with it the special $17,000 space washer needed to fix the station’s special, but troubled, space toilet. NASA announces that it will now have to send up a special space plumber, who charges $38 million an hour.

In sports, New York Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress shoots himself in the thigh in a New York City nightclub, using a gun he carried to protect himself from bad things that might happen to him, such as getting shot.

Speaking of bad things, in . . .

DECEMBER

. . . the National Bureau of Declaring Things That Make You Go ”Duh” declares that the nation has been in a recession since December of 2007. The bureau also points out that, according to its statistical analysis, “for some time now, bears apparently have been going to the bathroom in the woods.”

The CEOs of the Increasingly Small Three auto makers return to Washington to resume pleading for a bailout, this time telling Congress that if they can reach an agreement that day, they will throw in the undercoating, the satellite-radio package AND a set of floor mats. ”We’re actually LOSING MONEY on this deal!” they assure Congress. Finally they reach a $13.4 billion agreement under which the car companies will continue to provide jobs, medical insurance and pension benefits, but will cease producing actual cars. The agreement will be overseen by the federal government, using its legendary ability to keep things on budget.

President-elect Obama, continuing to bring change in the form of fresh-faced Washington outsiders, announces that his secretary of state will be Hillary Clinton. The position of secretary of defense, currently held by Bush appointee Robert Gates, will be filled by Bush appointee Robert Gates. Responding to rumors that he also plans to retain Dick Cheney, Obama insists that he has tried to ask the vice president to leave, “but nobody knows where he is.”

In other political news, federal authorities arrest Democratic Illinois Gov. Rod ”Rod” Blagojevich after wiretaps reveal that he was . . . OK, that he was being the governor of Illinois. Everybody is very, very shocked. Meanwhile the recount in the extremely tight Minnesota Senate race between Norm Coleman and Al Franken is thrown into disarray with the discovery that more than 13,000 of the ballots were cast by residents of Palm Beach County, Fla.

But the economy remains the dominant issue, with retailers reporting weak holiday sales as many shoppers pass up pricier gifts such as jewelry and big-screen TVs in favor of toilet paper and jerky. As the year draws to a close, the president’s Council of Economic Advisers warns that the current recession ”could spiral downward into a full-blown depression,” leaving the U.S. with “no viable economic option but to declare war on Japan.”

In another troubling note, U.S. intelligence sources report that Iran is developing “a gigantic rocket-powered shoe.”

Adding to the year-end gloom is a congressionally appointed bipartisan commission on terrorism, which releases a troubling report asserting that there is an 80 percent chance that within the next two years, a major U.S. city will be struck, with devastating consequences, by “an 18,000 mile-per-hour tool bag from space.”

The point is, if you have any money left, you should spend it soon.

And happy New Year.

Funny. Very funny.

Happy New Year to everyone.

Live by the sword…

For years now, politicians of all flavours have been busy manipulating public opinion and cherry picking how they present information – all with the aim of convincing the largely apathetic voting public to agree with their crackpot ideas. As you can imagine, however, this has its own share of problems.

As an example, today on the BBC Radio 1 news show (*), there was a terrible indictment of just how mixed up people are. Basically, the Prime Minster Gordon Brown is trying to gain some media-credits with his claims that he is “tackling knife crime.” Obviously the PM and current government are unpopular at the moment so here we see yet another example of how politicians no longer have a political view, but will do what ever they think they can to get support from the barely coherent, rabid, tabloid media.

The knife crime panic is a great example of this. All year, we have been subjected to scare stories in the media about how knife crime is on the increase; if you believe papers such as the Daily Mail there are more stabbings than there are people. I am not for one second trying to imply that knife crime isn’t devastating for the victims and their families – but we need some form of perspective. While there were pockets of increased incidents, the chances of Joe Blogs UK becoming a victim was pretty much the same as it always has been.

However, our media-hungry politicians (on all sides) read the building tabloid-frenzy and jumped in early. For months we had debates about how bad knife crime was, and what were the government going to do about it. This was stoked with the public being drip fed “news” each time a cute, innocent kid got stabbed. Each one was delivered in that wonderful way the tabloids have of making their readers think that the one incident they report is just the tip of the iceberg – in reality, when things are so commonplace, the media loses interest in them… Seeing a great chance, the government (and opposition) built upon the general irrationality of people – isolated incidents were blown out of proportion, personal anecdote was given much greater emphasis etc. So far, so typical. This is all politicians have done for over a decade.

Today, the PM tried to deliver his latest great accomplishment.

The PM announced that the new “crackdowns” implemented by Police in high-risk areas had managed to bring down knife crime. Wonderful. I am sure he expected nothing but fanfare… Sadly, the general public are too depressed and gloom-laden to take good news like this. Also, for years we have been indoctrinated into the idea that out microcosm of life is more representative of society than anything else – which means no matter what the PM claims, people think things are getting worse. From the BBC Pages:

The Prime Minister has spoken to Newsbeat after the government said the latest police crackdown was working.

The government says stabbings are down and fewer teenagers are carrying blades in the 10 parts of England and Wales where there’s been a big effort to tackle the problem.

The figures also show under-18s going to hospital for stabs and cuts are down by a quarter and more serious attacks have dropped by a fifth.

Great news. It doesn’t really say much about the government policies though. Nothing like enough time has passed to know if this is a long term change or a simple “blip”  in the numbers. Equally, there is no way of knowing if the “massive” (**) increase was a statistical blip. The information provided doesn’t tell us if the crime has simply moved elsewhere, or if this is part of a national downturn in knife crime. It really is a non-news item. There isn’t enough information for the viewer to do anything but rely on how the sparse numbers are spun to the public.

Shocking, but this is how the government have wanted us to interact with news for many a year now. If the public were given all the information that drove national policy, half the crazy things we suffer now would never have survived.

Equally comical, is how Gordon Brown reacted to the predictable nonsense questions. According to the BBC, the text messages from their listeners saying things like “I was stabbed 2 years ago, how has knife crime gone down” were a valid counterpoint to the governments figures. A normal, sane, educated person would have laughed and said “shut up crazy fool.” But this is gold to politicians – they want people to think like this so that future crazy laws can be passed. This lead to a very bizarre exchange:

Newsbeat: The statistics on knife crime say one thing. We’re hearing other things from our listeners.
Gordon Brown: That’s why we want to get knives off the street. I’m not complacent at all. A lot of young people are stopping carrying knives but we’ve got a long way to go. And that’s why today you’ve got all these people from all different walks of life; sports people, from the world of entertainment, from radio, from television, all saying, working with the community groups, no to knives. (blah… blah… blah…)

A touch strange. The PM is saying nothing as an actual response. It is certified 100% content free. Isn’t that nice. That was just mildly odd but it was followed by this:

Newsbeat: The stats that you’ve published today seem to show that knife crime is down. A nurse at Bristol Royal Infirmary says stab wound admissions are going up.
Gordon Brown: What I want to know is how we can actually get knife crime down and how we can make sure it stays down. Making sure it stays down is more policing that’s visible on the streets, a presumption to prosecute if you’re seen to be carrying a knife, tougher police and prison sentences when that happens, shops banned from selling knives to young people and schools and community groups doing an educational process whereby young people are discouraged from carrying knives.

What? Listen to it on the radio. Newsbeat phrase their statement as a question. You can hear the question in the reporters voice. She is expecting an answer. Granted she seems unable to actually ask questions, and just makes statements with a rising emphasis at the end to imply a question, but if you speak English you can hear the questioning tone.  However, our glorious PM ignores it. It is really like he has been asked a different question and Newsbeat dubbed their own over the top of it. Nothing he says bares any relation to the question.

Bizarre.

Are we really in such a disconnected world that any of this makes sense? Do politicians think this is acceptable? Do reporters? (He wasn’t challenged on it).

Equally sad, but much more common, is the idea that the experiences of a nurse at the Bristol Royal has such an insight into national trends that their comments outweigh national reports. Even if they are the person who records every admission (and the cause) they have no idea what is going on in Liverpool, Barnsley, Truro, Southampton (etc.). The national statistics are based on reporting from various sources and show the national trend. Knife crime can go down 90% nationally but still show an increase in a region. That an otherwise well educated nurse doesn’t understand this element of statistics gives me concern over how disease surveillance is carried out.

The BBC mentions the “crime hotspots” that were targeted, and show a reduction:

The 10 knife crime hotspots are London, Essex, Lancashire, West Yorkshire, Merseyside, the West Midlands, Greater Manchester, Nottinghamshire, South Wales and Thames Valley.

Unless the Bristol Royal has moved across the River Severn  into Wales, it is not in that list. It could show a trillion percent increase and the governments figures for the crime hotspots would still be down. This nurse’s experiences may be 100%, but they are irrelevant. The only way this person could have had real impact was if the debate was about knife-crime admissions to the Bristol Royal Infirmary. But it wasn’t.

Still, in this day and age of citizen journalism, no one was going to say this. The nurse’s (and others) comments were treated as valid counterpoints to the report and dutifully skipped around by the PM. Are the BBC’s news reporters really so empty that this seemed reasonable?

Sadly the answer seems to be “yes.” Well done Great Britain, I am so proud.

(*) Please note, this is a link to the current newsbeat page – the actual content I am talking about here may have gone by the time you read this. If you can, though, this is worth listening to. Its almost like they re-recorded the PM and asked him different questions…

(**) For an arbitrary value of massive.

Cameron is a consonant, vowel, consonant, consonant

There must be a word for people who turn other people’s tragedies to their own benefit. That is, a word that wouldn’t set publicity-hungry Daily Mail readers into a full-blown “Fury”, if it appeared in an Nintendo version of Scrabble. I stole the phrase above from a TV comedian. (Sorry, I forget who it was. I’ll credit him or her if I remember.) It has the advantage that you can fit quite a few cusswords into the template and still be sure that you’ve made an accurate judgment.

In this case, Cameron is speaking to the Daily Mail readers. (consonant, vowel, consonant, consonants to the power of 1 million or so) The topical prop for his speech is the case of Shannon Matthews. Shannon became Maddie-level famous when she was “abducted.” Her mother made tearful TV pleas for her return, sobbing to camera, while clutching a cuddly toy. Oh, and tried to get the sort of millionaires who stumped up for the Madeleine McCann appeal to give her loads of money. Her use of the people around her and the media was as masterly as you’d expect from a Jeremy Kyle devotee. (Sobs, props, appeals to class and community loyalty, going straight for the emotional jugular every time.)

Only it turned out that the mother had planned the whole scheme. The child was being hidden, drugged, in the mother’s boyfriend’s flat a few streets away from her home. Mother and boyfriend were arrested. The child was reportedly much happier being looked after by the kidnapper than her mother or current father-substitute.

Hell seems to have no fury like a tabloid tricked. Shannon’s mother has now become the archetypal underclass hate figure. And if the right-wing tabloids and their ideological chums in the Conservative Party (and New Labour, sadly) have been made to look like gullible consonant, vowel, consonant, consonants by one poor person, the poor are surely going to have to pay.

Hence Cameron’s bizarre column in the Daily Mail
DAVID CAMERON: There are 5 million people on benefits in Britain. How do we stop them turning into Karen Matthews?

As if that is an ever-present danger…. One in 5 million. That seems like a very very low ratio of “Karen Matthews” to “people on benefits.” Unless she has some strange epidemic condition and isn’t so much going to jail as getting put into quarantine.

As far as I can see that makes 4,999,999 people on benefits who haven’t kidnapped anyone. Who somehow manage to survive almost on air alone and still don’t feel the need to drug their own children to keep them quiet in their kidnap-den.

Why stop at people in benefits? Karen Matthews was female. How do we stop x million women turning into Karen Matthews. Well, they’d have to have children. How do you stop a lower-value-of-x people turning into Karen Matthews? Or Northerners? Or people whose first names start with K?

It turns out that Cameron has strung together a few isolated and horrible incidents involving children, (spread over a couple of years) to say that Britain is b0rked. And the solution is – guess what – not expanding the life opportunities or providing better support for kids on the edge- but

And, yes, we do need tougher punishment, longer sentences and more prison places. But it’s not enough just to treat the symptoms of social breakdown – we need to treat its causes.
The Conservative plan starts with supporting families. ….. ”

By cutting benefits, if you read past the rest of the waffle.

If that’s being supportive, I’d hate to see what constitutes undermining.

The Guardian/Observer website has a report on the Tory benefits plans.

Tories to probe long-term jobless
Out-of-work families face close scrutiny of their children and home life under new opposition proposals

Blimey, it’s almost worth celebrating the massive recession we are apparently entering, if only because lots of Mail-reading people might suddenly find themselves forced to experience what it is really like to survive on benefits. To become “scroungers”, even 🙂

Congratulations America

Well done America. You have put aside my lingering doubts about your national sanity (although looking at the red-blue map of the US, it seems there are an awful lot of nutcases) and the elections are all but over. Phew. A double sigh of relief; not only have you avoided putting a screaming nutter with nothing to offer other than “I was a POW” but the coverage on the UK news must surely soon dwindle. You have no idea how much that cheers me up!

Today however, it is still very much headline news. I can sort of understand this, it is a monumental change and is historic in that the Obama is the first black President. Wonderful. I do find it monumentally racist, however, that lots of commentators have suggested black people were going to vote for Obama because he was black. It carries the implication that black people dont have political viewpoints, the same issue arose around Hillary Clinton and Sarah “Crazy Eyes” Palin. Why would women vote against their political views simply to elect a woman into office?

Anyway, hopefully this will see the end of our 24 hour news coverage of the election campaign visiting places no one in the UK will have ever heard of. Of politics that have no impact on us and a government we have no say over. Maybe we will be able to get back to the days when a soldier dying in Afghanistan can make at least some headlines (maybe he is less news worthy because he was a Gurkha?). Or when a riot in the UK injures police and closes off half a city. Or even rocket attacks in Gaza if you must showcase world news.

Not long now.

Holiness

Rachel Sylvester, wrote in the Times that “There’s a god-shaped hole in Westminster” I assumed this meant that Thor had crash landed outside the House of Commons or, at the least, that artistic roadworkers had scooped out a reverse statue of Pan from the pavements of the Royal Borough.

Disappointingly, not so. Rachel Sylvester just thinks that our politicians are too godless.

Certainly, politicians find it easier to “come out” as atheists than to profess that they have a religious faith. Nick Clegg, David Miliband and George Osborne have all said recently that they do not believe in God – something that would be unthinkable in the United States, where presidential candidates compete to win over religious voters……
……. the favourite book for politicians on holiday last year was The God Delusion.

Well, yes, of course they find it easier to say they are atheists, rather than to call their own credulity and mental health into question, by claiming to believe in an imaginary friend. They want us to vote for them surely.

(I am distracted again by exactly how Rachel Sylvester knows what politicians’ favourite holiday reading was. I mean, I’d like to believe that it was the God Delusion but I fear that falls into the category of “made-up stuff”.)

The creeping secularisation of politics was one of the factors that pushed Ruth Kelly, a devout Roman Catholic, into resigning her Cabinet position. …….
She was also disturbed by the way in which her membership of Opus Dei was seen as something weird and even rather dangerous; and she disliked the way in which Mr Blair’s Christianity was mocked during the war in Iraq.

“Creeping secularisation” suggests some stealthy process in which the religious underpinnings of British government are being progressively undermined. Nonsense. Religion plays a bigger part in public discourse now than it has before in my lifetime. If anything, Blair let ideas of “religion” and “faith” intrude into UK politics in ways that were relatively novel.

Ruth Kelly’s membership of Opus Dei may indeed have been seen as something weird. Because it is.

(Although I doubt anyone had heard of her before she resigned, let alone knew that she was member of of Opus Dei, a Catholic society not normally associated with the politics of the Labour Party, old or new.)

Blair’s Christianity “mocked during the war in Iraq”. What? What on earth are you talking about? Blair was unpopular because of the war, true enough. What did his avowed Christianity have to do with that war? Or did he think he was secretly acting for Rowan Williams or the Pope? I can’t believe that either of them would thank him for it.

He was mocked for his commitment to “faith”, fair enough. Indeed, his commitment to his “faith” was so great that he pretended to be an Anglican until he left power, then immediately “converted” to Catholicism. It’s quite hard to see this as a deep and abiding commitment to anything.

Plus, if he was indeed mocked, it must have only been in the House of Commons, which boosts my faltering trust in the judgment of MPs. Most British voters are not interested in a politician’s religion, even though Ms Sylvester seems to think that we need politicians to proclaim imaginary solutions to give us the optimism to deal with crises:

It is ironic that politicians in this country have abandoned belief – at the very moment that the people need hope.

What? This rhetoric is bilge. Have politicians all abandoned belief? No such luck. All of a sudden? No. Do people need “hope” now particularly, as opposed to any other time? Obviously not. Do people get “hope” as a result of politicians believing in sky fairies? Too silly to answer.

Palin wins hearts – boggles minds

Amazingly, it seems that despite the sheer force of nonsense in her, ahem, speeches, Sarah Palin has won some supporters. No, I cant understand it either.

Reading the comments on the entertaining Guardian piece I linked to previously, shows there are some people with an interesting take on reality. I will try to provide links to the comments but Heather has informed me this doesn’t seem to be working.

For some reason, there are a lot of Americans reading British newspapers [see Heathers Post] and then feeling the need to wade in when ever the Republican party is mentioned. Nearly all are so rabidly anti-Obama it is quite funny. Even funnier are the ones who say we should mind our own business and no one in America cares what we think. The irony is fantastic, and only matched by their ignorance of it.

Anyway, on the current stream of conciousness, which is at least on the American Comment pages… I am aware my recent posts have been long, so I will only look at two funny comments here:

The first s by the very American sounding “JohnQPublic” who writes:

No honest person would have described this debate as anything other than a draw in which both candidates states many falsehoods as truths and didn’t answer the questions posed. No one sets the cause of equal rights for women further back than do self-described feminists.

Well, I am hurt that John Q Public thinks I am dishonest, but in all fairness nothing Biden could have done would have been either as offensive or just plain wrong as Palin. To say she “drew” with him is comical. Bastet only knows what the second sentence refers to…

The second is by the also-American-sounding “FreedomLand.” This one is so good, I’m going to have to take it a bit at a time:

Ahh, is this the male misogynist blog? Opps, no, its written by a woman! Perhaps an Obama-phile in disguise. “The Ring” attacks again, duh…..

The “ring” bit has lost me, however the opening gambit speaks volumes. It is a twist of appeal to ridicule mixed with ad-hominems. It says nothing of value and adds nothing to FreedomLand’s arguments – it does highlight a lack thereof.

For some reason, it has become quite common for a certain type of person to misspell “oops” as “opps” – check out how many times you can see it on FSTDT. It certainly takes the sting out of this attempt at an insult though.

[comment about Palin getting off lightly] No, you are quite wrong, Michelle Goldberg, Barack Obama has been doing precisely that all year. Along comes a woman with executive experience in government and you assume the rules should change to pillory her to your satisfaction.

Choke. Wow. There are loads of people who bang on about how Palin has more experience than Obama. I find it quite weird to be honest, but most worryingly, if she does have “experience” why in Hades’ name does she come across as an ignorant retard every time she sees a camera? If she has “executive experience” where in Asgard is she hiding it?

Palin gets away with murder in front of the public. People hold back on savaging her because it seems a touch unchivalrous and, honestly, it is like kicking a puppy. She is, on the whole, too easy a target to fully ridicule – even here we hold back because so many things just seem to obvious and cruel as she is blatantly educationally subnormal.

You also forgot to mention that her husband is at least part native American Eskimo. What does it mean for a white woman to be married to an indigenous ethnic minority in the USA? Quite a lot really…..

What? A lot of what? The article also forgets to mention she has ten fingers and two ears… Is this a weird implication that Palin gets the “race” vote because she is married to a Native American? Have you seen Obama? I am really confused by this rant.

[comment on her performance being a farce] Well, this IS politics as it is, you know. Its a popularity contest decided by the lowest common denominator in society and usually on the most superficial grounds. Its the same for women candidates as it is for men.

Oh that makes it OK then? Vote for Palin because she is an idiot who appeals to other idiots.

Isn’t America a great place?

I am rapidly trying to convert my urge to emigrate to the US into an emigration to New Zealand