Friday, July 31, 2009

Morning after pill is poison, says the Vatican

Expect excommunication any time soon.

"Lethal poison", "human pesticide", "DIY abortion", an offence that "will grant excommunication" for whoever takes it or is involved in its prescription or sale.

Always on the side of modernity, the Vatican are pulling a right strop after Italy's Drug Agency's recently gave the nod to abortive pill Ru486.

Now, bear in mind the pill will only be administered in hospital, so it's hardly going to be hordes of randy 16-year-old girls popping over to the nearest chemists to grab hold of them like lozenges. More, the agency said "the pill can only be taken up to the seventh week of pregnancy, and not up to the ninth as is the case in other countries".

And yet, as they launch their crusade to pull the pill from the market, the Vatican keep pointing out that excommunication is looming. According to one of their top officials, Most Rev. Giulio Sgreccia, the Ru486 is unsafe because a total of 29 people who took it worldwide since 1988 lost their lives. Surely more people have popped their clogs while jogging?

Dave Gahan

This month's Interview magazine features an excellent interview, what else, between actress Chloë Sevigny and Depeche Mode legend Dave Gahan, one of my all-time music heroes.

It's worth a read, it touches upon a number of themes: outcasts, fandom, stage dynamics, Depeche Mode's evolving sound, Gahan's love of fashion, meeting David Bowie, and more...

Click here to read the interview.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Flu panic updates!

Brace yourself for the mother of unholy alliances: pigs and chickens to create a mutant superflu, says the respected Daily Star.

In a massive journalistic effort, today the Daily Star asked Celeb Babes, supervixens and 'wet and wild busties' to step aside for two minutes as the newsroom reported a fresh Swine Flu warning.

Coming from Russian scientists, which to readers of the Daily Nipple may sound even more chilling, "swine flu and bird flu could mutate into a deadly new superflu", especially when "people live in the same premises as pigs and chickens", the latter a possible reference to Rebecca Loos.

"The danger emerged", the article by one Emma Wall continues, "as shock statistics showed 100,000 Brits were infected with swine flu in the week ending July 19, double the number the week before" - regurgitating the lie circulating last week.

100,000 referred in fact to the number of people seeking information (i.e. phoning helplines or making an inquiry about their aching joints) and not to those officially diagnosed with H1-N1.

The piece ends with the assertion that "latest Health Protection Agency figures show there have been 26 deaths in England linked to the virus". But last we heard, it was 29. Can the papers even remember or could it be that three have done a Lazarus?

Asylum seekers: the political punchbag

Look how the Daily Mail is reporting that "overly generous" handouts will be reduced from £42 to £35 a week.

I have a lot to learn. I thought that the news that asylum seekers handouts are going to be slashed to £35 a week wasn't going to fit the Daily Mail's narrative.

How wrong and how naive. I underestimated how news can be turned on its head to further build up on the 'scrounger' myth.

Here's the depressing background. Unless you lived on another planet, you may have overheard the notion that foreigners are taking over.

According to Britain's tabloids, an unspecified concoction of legal and illegal immigrants, asylum seekers, Eastern Europeans and 'foreigners' are all coming here and being showered with "[F]ree houses, free cars, free healthcare and free money".

Like George Orwell famously said: a lie told often enough becomes truth. Courtesy of the daily "outrageous" claims perpetrated by the Sun, the Express, the Daily Mail and the Titty Star, most people have come to believe that asylum seekers all live in gold-plated palaces surrounded by fleets of free cars and paid for with the money that Daily Mail readers were going to spend on their new patio.

The reality is somewhat different. Up until today, asylum seekers -who we must remember are not allowed to seek work- had to survive on a staggering £42.16 a week. Gasping for oxygen, the Government decided to pick on the most obvious political punchbag and announced that the handout will be slashed to £35.13 a week.

That the Daily Mail are incapable of reporting as it is. What they write instead is: "Payouts to asylum seekers are to be slashed after immigration chiefs admitted they had been too generous", along with the outright lie that "'bribes' of £1,700 [are] offered - in a joint project with France - to induce migrants in camps near Calais to return to their home countries".

Similarly, the Express - normally plastered in headlines about foreign freeloaders- sports a rickety mini-article that goes "Asylum pay to be cut" with the added bit that, at £42.16, "payments were too generous", and not a hint of irony on their part.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Vestas: bullying people out of their jobs

The case of 625 workers fighting for their jobs.

Today is a crucial one for the 625 Vestas workers who are at risk of losing their job. The wind turbine firm on the Isle of Wight is seeking a court order to force the occupying workers out of the factory.

Vestas has always been aggressively anti-union and, since announcing the closure at the Isle of Wight plant, they have kept a hard-nosed and arsy approach towards the whole thing. The Vestas factory is the only unit in England manufacturing wind turbines. The Danish company which owns it are trying to close the factory down with the loss of 625 jobs blaming the British government’s lack of commitment to renewable energy.

The company is reported to have made profits of $56 million in the first quarter of this year alone – a rise of 70% on last year. They also received £6million in government grants. The factory has been under workers occupation since Tuesday. Communication lines into the factory have been cut and deliveries of food and water have been blockaded by private security guards. Eleven of those involved in the occupation have received summary dismissal letters.

The irony is that, only twelve days ago, Secretary of State for Climate Change Ed Miliband re-stated the government's alleged commitment to renewable energy. In the words of RMT general secretary Bob Crow, “there’s a simple solution to this dispute. The government should nationalise the factory, protect the jobs and show that they are walking the talk when it come to green and renewable energy.”

“This dispute brings together two crucial issues – the right to protection from companies who abuse the law to hire and fire and the right to live in a world where the environment and sustainability are absolute priorities.

“We are demanding an urgent intervention from Ed Milliband today. The government stand accused of sheer hypocrisy over their public announcements on climate change while our only wind turbine factory faces the axe. If the government can nationalise the banks at the drop of a hat there is no reason whatsoever why they can’t nationalise Vestas.”

More about Vestas workers fighting for their jobs here and here.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

"Lots of guys staring at me. I loved it!"

Brain and hard work as promoted by The Sun.

Britain wakes up today presented with especially challenging front page news. According to the Sun online, Big Brother contestant Karly Ashworth poured her heart out to Zoo magazine with the revelation that she "wants a boob job" and that life after Big Brother is great.

"I'm going to be partying as much as I can now", she said, adding that "I'm really flattered that everyone's been positive towards me. I was out the other day and loads of guys were staring at me. I loved it!"

We didn't read the Zoo magazine interview but our gut instinct tells us it was more photos than paragraphs.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Right on, Zapatero

Proof that not always pandering to Big Business can be possible.

Outside Little England, Spanish PM Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero "declares war against the CEOE", the Spanish equivalent of the CBI in the UK, announcing a series of anti-crisis measures that will include an increase in dole handouts. Can you imagine New Labour having the cojones to do that in the UK?

According to government sources, "80% of the Spanish people don't want [the introduction of] freedom to dismiss or cuts to social security. Yet this is what CEOE are asking for". In a press statement, the Department of Work said that the CEOE's behaviour makes an agreement "materially impossible".

Spanish daily El Pais reports that, in the next few weeks, Zapatero will highlight his pro-welfare credentials: "standing up for workers and the unemployed in time of crisis, as well as for eight million pensioners, pointing out that [CEOE leader] Díaz Ferrán want to jeopardise Social Security and reduce protection for unemployed and workers alike through the introduction of free dismissal measures".

Friday, July 24, 2009

"Keep calm and don't panic"

You brought them into the world, they will take you out.

Today's remarkable front page from the Express took a leaf out of the script for recent horror The Children.

No doubt at the BBC they carried out some thorough researching as one of their headlines this morning goes: "Papers calm over swine flu fears".

In the meantime, it's interesting to note how swine flu-related figures are being collected, processed and vomited out.

Papers keep reporting that "about 100,000 people in Britain were infected with the H1N1 virus" last week, but a closer look reveals that this number is an estimate involving whoever made a phone call to the Swine flu directory or visited their GP with complaints that they're feeling poorly or have a blocked sinus.

As of today, the confirmed number of those hospitalised in Britain amounts to 840.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The only progressive statement possible

Another think tank is launched and the usual suspects get excited as they dust off the same old soundbites. Not an ordinary person in sight.

This week former Minister James Purnell got tired of sitting at home staring at his fridge magnets and launched his new project Open Left, sponsored by a think tank called Demos.

Cue a series of contributions in the Guardian and beyond. From Polly Toynbee to Billy Bragg, Tony Benn and John Cruddas, the Usual Suspects Brigade of Labour MPs and commentators have been engaged in an "open conversation aimed at renewing the thinking and ideas of the political left".

A great deal of it, however, is a simple rehash of ivory tower-debates regularly taking place since circa 1994. Just look at the number of those 'think tanks'. They're all thinking and you can hear the cogs whirring: Demos, Compass, Civitas and Politeia, one Latin or Greek name after the other.

In those places, professional politicians and veteran commentators are in their element, blabbering about 'change', 'modernising' and 'way forward', 'choice', 'equality of capability', 'open society', 'bigtent politics', a staggering selection of hollow-sounding bits and pieces whose significance to most British people ranges from very little to 'what-are-they-on-about'.

Like noted here, right from the start, Open Left suffers from the usual syndrome: it's an exclusive collection of MPs, Guardian journalists, think tank members plus a squad from Oxford Uni.

So while these chaps talk, think and tank, no doubt with the best of intentions, more families continue to see their homes repossessed, bankruptcies triple in number, and the dole queues swell up - all under the expert watch of Labour (the party these people are mostly aiming their think-tanking at).

And in the meantime Britain's workforce has become the most casualised in Europe, some get sacked at an hour's notice, and a lot don't know if they get rehired tomorrow or next week. Many low-paid get taxed and wonder if it's actually worth the hassle.

Britain's reinforced its status as one of the most expensive countries to live in the EU, so much that millions of people routinely top up their meagre wages with a binge of credit, digging further down each day.

Consumers see their utility bills, bus fares and train fares going up like a possessed escalator and tabloid-induced fears are the best distraction available. Little wonder apathy and political disillusion have reached levels previously unknown to man.

So before I get bogged down with a roll call of problems that would make Joy Division sound cheery, this is the massive political statement that should come from the British left and lead the way in Europe:

Labour and/or the LibDems should announce a radically different way of selecting MPs for the next elections. They should state loud and clear that their ways have changed as they pick a substantial quota of candidates from ordinary women and men: consumers, call centre workers, minimum wage staff, shopkeepers, nurses, Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans, bankruptcy victims, factory workers, people on the dole, workers who’ve been on casual “contracts” for years…treated like shit at work, facing the problems that millions of ordinary people face everyday.

It may look like a freak show to an old Westminster-dwelling freeloader but it's a massive progressive statement and the only one that would strike a chord with the electorate. Something in line with the real problems of the real world and not the usual chit chats amongst the usual suspects that go under the guise of a Latin word.

And if this sounds populistic to a think tanker, then they should see what their stuff sounds like to millions of ordinary people.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Swine flu terrorism

At least a bit of sanity on the subject of swine flu - the bad cold that is generating more panic than a squadron of Osama bin Ladens on bad speed.

Simon Jenkins in today's Guardian points out the baffling discrepancy between government adverts on the BBC that tell you not to panic and official statements that are pure calls to panic. But the best bit is this:

I would like to know how many people will die of heart attacks, meningitis, MRSA and delayed cancer treatment while health politicians play Whitehall games with flu. Many people might indeed die of flu, but they might also die of a nuclear attack, an asteroid strike or a dozen other diseases and accidents now receiving lower priority.

Read Simon Jenkins' article here. It'll do you better than a course of Tamiflu.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Drug pusher logic

The mother of specks, eyes and planks: "don't blame the banks. It's the little people who created the mess".

Some people out there are still unable to spot what the banks have been doing throughout the past decade.

Whether it's vested interest, default devotion to Big Money or genuine inclination for toss-arguing of olympic proportions, the old strawman that the banks are "not responsible" for people's incapacity to manage their own finances is still alive. Yes, even after the big collapse of that sandcastle built on virtual money.

A generalisation it may be, but you find that such statements are usually made by those who've never had to struggle to pay the rent or an electricity bill. Those for whom there is little pain involved in turning down five Barclaycard offers in a month. Perhaps those whose wages are enough to pay for their tooth extraction- but I suppose that's fair enough.

So while even Dave Bleeding Cameron said that "banks have partly collapsed under the the weight of their own irresponsibility", a blog called Banditry has decided to champion "a rather nice post" circulating elsewhere. It says that "nearly all the stick [the banks] get [is] from people who can’t be bothered to check whether they’re over their overdraft limit, and/or who’ve borrowed silly amounts of money so they can go to Ibiza and have a big TV…". Banks instead, should be praised for offering "goods and services".

So here we are: irresponsible little ignorant thickos with the big fuckoff telly who then blame it all on "The Big Conspiracy from the Illuminati". Does such a hideous statement deserve a reply?

Perhaps not, and perhaps it's not even worth bothering with the dull roll of honour of all the people each of us knows who were pestered with unsolicited virtual money, credit cards, overdrafts, summer loans and christmas loans from all directions, or those who were actively encouraged to go into the red to incur charges.

Because people like Banditry know about it, of course they bloody do. But they suffer from that ancient syndrome called double standards, speck-eye-and-plank, the one that makes you go all squint-eyed when information is processed and cue a succession of strawmen that put The Wicker Man to shame.

Clueless kids aged 18, people on the dole (!), casuals or part-timers earning £200 a month or less, people with a hair-raising credit history, desperate people with zero chances of paying back, and in the case of RBS, even dogs. The truth is that hundreds of thousands of them did not even ask for virtual money. They were actively chased, sometimes harassed, the carrot dangling in front of their eyes like there was no tomorrow. Some people may not have done their homework before signing, but the banks and their highly dedicated departments knew exactly what they were doing.

And guess what, not only did they fail to vet millions of financial backgrounds: they actively encouraged them, cajoled them, tempted them, using the most sophisticated marketing techniques, ranging from dangling carrots to outright lies.

Blogs like Banditry would probably tell you that it's all very well to moan now, but you did get that help when you needed it. Basically, what some people would call Drug Pusher Logic, especially in a country as extortionately expensive as Britain where over 35% of all adults admit that they're relying on overdrafts to make it til the end of the month.

And let's not even approach the subject of students. Most loaded aside, do you know a single one who isn't in debt? All idiots, aren't they?

That is how Britain became the Land of Hope and Debt in no time at all. Is it coincidence that in 2006 2/3 of all personal debt in the EU came from Britain? Are the French, the Dutch or the Germans better at managing finances or could it be that their population wasn't subjected to such a toxic, clinical bombardment?

Those who've lived abroad know that unless you have a steady income (not necessarily high- steady is all you need), there's more chance of water running upwards than your bank handing you virtual money. On the 'Continent', the concept of a person being 'invited' to visit their branch with the purpose of an "account review", that is a Christmas loan offer or one for a new car, is as alien as the notion that cricket may be enjoyed.

Tell a Frenchman or a Swede that 18-year-old students in the UK are still routinely showered with thousands of plastic money and "it's-your-own-fault-if-you-mismanage-it" and they'll laugh at you. Oh...Remind me, which country ended up bailing out the banks in the end?

And you don't need to be particularly sharp to figure out that you don't get a whole nation to increase personal debt to the tune of £1 million every four minutes without some concerted effort, or like John Harris said in 2006, "the most aggressive advertising and marketing environment ever known", as he wrote of today's Britons turning into "Generation Debt".

So why could some bank automatically stop you from withdrawing money if that would take you into the red while most would let you? Why is it that to open a standard current account, certain banks would make it mandatory to attach a £1500 overdraft and a £3000 credit card "and that's the way it is"? Why is it that so many people would have their credit card limit doubled only to find out later on?

All of these, dear Banditry, were not mistakes or isolated incidents. This was systematic: a routine way of conducting business for more than a decade.

Perhaps, just perhaps, because -like a man once said- if we all had our account in order, if no-one defaulted, missed a credit card payment or went beyond their overdraft limit, the banks would miss out on an awful lot of dosh.

"Good jobs reserved for the rich"

Chip on our shoulders officially vindicated.

The Panel on Fair Access to Professions may have discovered what you directly found out a long time ago, but it's nice to see it nice and neat, sculpted in print, and stated by an official body: top professions are increasingly closed off to all but the most affluent (and best connected) families.

Established in January, the Panel on Fair Access is a study carried out by experts on social mobility as well as professional bodies from across the spectrum, from the armed forces to accountancy and from academia to engineering, law, civil service and others. Chaired by former Minister Alan Milburn, the guy who quit the cabinet to stay with his family and then came back, the Panel has published its final report.

So, daddy's boys and girls, brace yourself for the mother of all revelations, because it is now official that "professions [have] a "closed shop mentality" and "have become more and not less exclusive over time". According to Alan Milburn, we should encourage a "a second great wave of social mobility" like it happened in the 1950s and 1960s "to match a projected growth in the number of managerial jobs".

"What we have got to do is open up these opportunities so they are available for everybody", he added, while the report warns that "people entering careers such as medicine, law and journalism are increasingly likely to be from more affluent families".

According to BBC News, "the report does not only focus on the poorest part of the population - but suggests that many middle-income families are also missing out in an increasingly polarised jobs market".

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Best Sunday articles

Today's articles and blogs that are worth a read -or the dustbin.

Andrew Rawnsley in the Observer: Labour may never, ever win power on its own again. Including a pop at a future Tory government likely to hold power "with the unenthused support of only a minority of the country".

In the Morning Star, Paddy McGuffin focuses on the public inquiry into the death of Iraqi worker Baha Mousa and the torture of six other Iraqis while in Our Boys' custody.

Make sure you don't sneeze during your check-in: the Sunday Times reports that major airlines have started banning swine flu suspects. If you don't think we've reached hysterical levels then read India Knight here.

The tabloids are milking Jacko's death til the bitter end. Today's Mirror reveals that Michael Jackson's dermatologist claims to be the natural father of Prince Michael and Paris and he's about to stake custody claims.

On to blogs, John B on Banditry excels at erecting a strawman of unprecedented scale. Remember you minnows, thickos and simpletons: Big Phat Corporations are always right. And when they aren't, it's because it's your fault. And scrub that floor better, I spotted dust earlier. And don't forget that Hail Mary for having an iPod, eh?

Madam Miaow makes a valid point on the irony of Brits taking 'swine flu' to China and John Q Publican on Liberal Conspiracy explains the evolution (or involution) of the pub trade over the last 30 years, a world where big property speculators are now the biggest players.

Finally, we've discovered the funniest and weirdest blog of the year. It's called Nutro, the tagline reads "the ramblings of a failed nutritionist", and you MUST take a look. I must say I've never seen anything as randomly mad. Except that a few years ago we highlighted something similar.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Shit yourself, Daily Mail reader, shit yourself

Mass hysteria, odds given as facts, headlines that don't match the content. At the Daily Mail they do anything to sell more copies.

"Swine flu: one in eight forced to take time off sick as pandemic spreads"
squeals the Hypochondria Tribune a.k.a. Daily Mail today.

As Armageddon creeps in, the paper informs you, "the vast number of people off work could leave many businesses struggling to run as normal and cripple public services and transport over the summer".

But hold on a minute. If this pandemic is so bad, why is the same paper plastered with "boob-job bikini", "Michael Jackson's leg" and "Pamela Anderson's Playboy catalogue"? And also, I don't know anyone affected by swine flu. You probably don't either, and nor does your neighbour. So where does this "one in eight" thing come from?

That's where the puzzled reader decides to delve into the article in order to learn more. Yet the picture that emerges depicts a totally different story and, above all, different verbal constructions.

Because if the headline makes it sound like it's already happening, the piece by Daniel Martin states that "Almost one in eight workers will have to take time off sick with swine flu in the next few weeks", and that "chief medical officer Sir Liam Donaldson is expected to announce that 30 per cent of the population is likely to be infected during this first wave of the pandemic". Will. Expected. Likely.

This morning the BBC reports that the number of people contacting their GP over swine flu-related fears "has jumped almost 50% in the last week" - basically, mass hysteria in its pure form.

As the Daily Mail enjoyes a circulation of roughly 2.4 million and a readership of up to 6 million, could it just be that their recent headline "A SORE THROAT- 48 HOURS LATER CHLOE WAS DEAD" may have something to do with the ensuing panic?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Sun have lost it completely!

Dumbing down? You haven't seen this one yet...

Look at this for god's sake- one of the Sun's Top Five stories today: 'Ghost' of Jacko snapped on car.

The person who submitted the photo is quoting as saying: "If you look at the picture for long enough it even looks as if he has got wings". Bet he did...when he saw the chequebook.

Could it be that, after thirty years of solidly printing out tits and cleavages, the Sun may have run out of fresh ones and are resorting to this?

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

War Games and scapegoats

The warped tabloid world: Labour's vanity and 'diversity' are killing our soldiers in Afghanistan.

With the recent surge in casualties (8 British troops killed in one single day) in Afghanistan, you may have noticed a spike in right-wing commentators blaming Gordon Brown.

As you know, this blog is not fond of this New Labour government. However, we also think that, far too often, the same papers who are happy to beat the drums of war, any war, think of it as a game of Playstation 3. The only scenario they can envisage from their settee is: our Boys fly over, bomb the crap out of the bearded ones, raid a few villages and bob's your uncle, off they go and mission accomplished.

But our friends from the tabloids are simply incapable to fathom that war is war. Quite simply because, lucky them, they've never been in one. As they scramble for scapegoats, one comes in cheap and convenient: Punchbag Gordon.

And so you get Sun Defence editor Tom Newton Dunn writing that "Boys pay for mean Brown", while Richard Littlejohn in the Daily Mail states that "They're paying the blood price of putting welfare before warfare", with the added attack on "a Prime Minister who puts 'diversity' before defence and gives a higher priority to a Gay Pride march than to the mortal sacrifices being made by young men in Afghanistan in the name of Queen and Country". Highly relevant, you see.

Leo McKinstry in the Daily Express joins in, saying that "Labour's vanity" is what's killing British troops in Afghanistan. "Hundreds more brave young men are being sacrificed on the altar of Gordon Brown’s socialist arrogance", he writes, adding that British troops are there because Brown is "desperate to curry favour" with President Obama.

Is it possible that no-one was available at the Express to remind McKinstry that neither Brown nor Obama started the war? It happened to be a man called George W Bush who, the same McKinstry wrote in the Telegraph back in 2004, "through his toughness [was] successful[ly] demilitarising the most dangerous regimes on the planet".

New calls for Dr Kelly inquest

The only people satisfied with the Hutton Report were Tony Blair and Alistair Campbell.

Six years after the alleged suicide of Dr David Kelly, a group of doctors is preparing to legally challenge the findings of the Hutton Inquiry, which was set up by the government to clear the government of any wrongdoing.

According to today's Independent, the doctors' report rejects the theory that Dr Kelly died as a result of cutting his own wrist. The case came under renewed publicity at the end of 2007 when LibDem MP Norman Baker wrote the book The Strange Death of David Kelly, which pointed out a staggering number of contradictions and unanswered questions. "It was impossible for Dr Kelly to have died like that", Baker told us at Hagley Road to Ladywood.

More on the Hutton Report here.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Privacy and technology. A rant.

Your personal data? Cheap as they've never been.


This morning I received my 8th text message from my mobile provider in four days. It's getting relentless. Promotions and competitions, adverts and marketing, discounts and counterdiscounts, JUST LEAVE ME ALONE! Of course all you have to do is to look at it and press delete, but it's the exact equivalent of having a stalker bugging you two to three times a day -everyday- with text messages, except that you don't pay the stalker to offer you a service. A mobile provider, you do.

More to the point. Can you imagine if every single utility company acted like them (and, rest assured, many do)? If your electricity and gas suppliers, your water and landline were all bombarding you at the same rate, checking your texts and answering calls would turn into a full-time job.

Yesterday I made a belated, though still scary, discovery: a website called, a true stalker's paradise. I know that directory enquiries always existed, but this is a different league altogether. You type in the name of a person and, the site proudly informs you, you get "age guide co-occupants, length of occupancy, property prices, neighbours, Director Reports and more!". Note the exclamation mark as part of the quote.

Some of the information comes for free and does not even require registration. But anybody can register and, with as little as 23p, can access more private information. According to, most of their data is courtesy of "Over 200 million archived records from historical Electoral Rolls" from 2002 on. Nice to know private info on the electoral roll is given out like sweets in a playground.

The latest pisstake of anything related to privacy in Britain is now coming in the guise of 118 800, "the only directory with millions of mobile numbers", run by a company called 'Connectivity'. You can't opt in. If you don't like it, you have to opt out so, unless you actively make contact with them and ask them to be made ex-directory, expect your mobile number to be at the mercy of anybody for the modicum price of £1. This has already alerted lawyers and privacy campaigners, especially as it emerged that 'Connectivity' made legal threats to obtain personal details and beef up their database.

What sort of country allows to piss all over privacy just like that?

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Best blog entry of 2009

Still on the subject of the phone-hacking scandal, the supreme Angry Mob blog has the best paragraph I've spotted in a long time. Hope they don't mind me reproducing this bit:

"What the fuck is [Andy Coulson] doing anywhere near politics, let alone being in charge of the media campaign for the Conservative Party? If you at some point in your life have edited a tabloid newspaper then you are a piece of shit.

If you, for whatever reason, had edited a shitty, gossipy scandel-sheet then you should do the decent thing and kill yourself. Seriously, there is no justification for editing a tabloid newspaper; tabloid journalism is the lowest form of enterprise.

Lies, hatred, fear, disinformation, slander, racism - these are a few of the words associated with tabloid journalism, yet somehow having edited a tabloid newspaper qualifies Andy Coulson to engage in political representation. No wonder people don't care [about] politics anymore when the person who used to bring you fuck-and-tell stories is now bringing you the latest ideas from Conservative HQ".

The whole article is absolutely spot-on and worth a read.

Murdoch, Power and selective scandals

A veil of silence has descended on the phone-tapping scandal.

Do you still believe that a nation's priorities are not artificially dictated by the press?

Take how the recent MP expenses mega-scandal monopolised every single front page for a whole month. Compare that with the speed with which the recent News International phone-hacking revelations are being swept under the carpet.

Armed with evidence, the Guardian lifted the lid on the tabloid culture of phone hacking, hefty sums paid to keep people quiet, private investigators hired to do the dirty work, and possible police and Crown Prosecution Service connivance. Cases previously denied are now coming out one after the other (like the one of PFA chief executive Gordon Taylor and now Jo Armstrong).

Still, very little interest. Like today's Guardian editorial points out:

"Try this scenario: a prominent private company or public agency - say, the police, or security services - has paid a seven-figure sum to hush up evidence of its own criminal activities. It has furthermore persuaded a judge to seal the court papers so that the deal will never see the light of day. Is there an editor in Britain who would not seize on that story and pursue it with a righteous vengeance? Of course not. How, as an industry, could we command any public respect if we suppressed such a story when it related to our own trade?"

Trouble is, the people that matter are terrified of taking on the immensely powerful Rupert Murdoch. In spite of all the ingredients for one of the biggest scandals of this decade being there, the feeding tubes are being disconnected fast and the story is already dying a quick death.

Now, obviously no-one expected the Murdoch press (that is the best selling papers in the country) to talk about it much, but how about those normally so quick at shouting "SCANDAL!"? The Daily Mail is barely tiptoeing about, just in case they end up with a similar story splattered all over their faces. And while the Express are clearly not into it and the Mirror lost their gnashers a long time ago, even the BBC, after some initial interest, has already relegated the case behind "Happy Birthday Big Ben".

The Telegraph, who just wouldn't let go on parliamentary expenses, is only marginally mentioning a confrontation between David Cameron and Charles Clarke, therefore quarantining the story within the graveyard of party politics. More, Deborah Orr's take on the story may be spot-on, but as far as the Independent is concerned, their biggest reference is former Sun editor and current News International chief executive Rebekah Wade's statement that the accusations are "irresponsible".

Throw in the fact that the police took less than half a day to confidently rule out further investigations and it's quite clear that Great Britain's journalistic dark arts are here for the long haul. Like Sunny Hundal wrote yesterday on Liberal Conspiracy, this has already become "the phone-hacking scandal that no-one wants to talk about".

Friday, July 10, 2009

Time to spit out that strawberry?

The tabloids tell you people who come into this country are in for a free ride. Look at the fruit farm workers.

If you watched Ken Loach's recent film It's A Free World then this will sound eerily familiar. Busloads of Eastern European migrants lured into England with promises of a fast buck, savings and accomodation, only to discover slave labour.

Today's Independent investigation focuses on the biggest fruit growers and suppliers to Tesco and Sainsbury's, a company called S&A that, already back in 2005, grabbed a few headlines (though not enough) over ridiculous working conditions.

The law says that agencies "cannot make unlawful deductions" from pay and that workers "have the right to be paid at least the National Minimum Wage". Yet, the Independent found out that "[F]oreign fruit pickers are paid as little as £45 a week" and a series of 'deductions' are routinely made for "welfare", "transport", "internet access" (which doesn't work) and "accomodation" in dingy caravans where as many as seven workers can sleep together. Once all deductions are taken into account, workers are paid as little as £2.37 an hour.

Four years ago T&G also collected evidence that S&A Produce were charging workers for basic health services and that breaches of contract were frequent.

While the Independent states that "[T]here is no suggestion that S&A, which also uses the name S&A Davies, has broken any employment laws", it also adds that the revelations will also "pile extra pressure on Tesco which was criticised last month by the Unite union for exploiting foreign agency workers in its UK supply chains" and that Sainsbury's have announced they'll talk to S&A to assess the allegations.

So next time the Daily Mail tells you that people coming into this country get a grand deal, look at those cheap strawberries you bought and think how you would like to be stuffed in such small accommodation with no come back for your treatment.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Not just obnoxious. Criminal too.

They've illegally tapped thousands of phones and then paid huge amounts to keep it quiet: here's journalism according to the Sun and the News of the World.

These are revelations that not even the biggest critics of both the Sun and News of the World could dream up. It emerged today that "Rupert Murdoch's News Group News­papers has paid out more than £1m to settle legal cases that threatened to reveal evidence of his journalists' repeated involvement in the use of criminal methods to get stories".

Up to three thousand politicians, public figures and various celebrities had their phones tapped, courtesy of the News of the World cajoling BT and other phone companies into letting them in on private details and voicemail messages.

According to ex-Murdoch editor Andrew Neil, certain practices were/are endemic at those tabloids. "Particularly in the News of the World", he said yesterday, "this was a newsroom out of control … Everyone who knows the News of the World, everybody knows this was going on. But it did no good to talk about it. One News of the World journalist said to me … it was dangerous to talk about it."

Not that surprising really, from a paper that has long made a living out of a toxic concoction of making up stories, peeping through private lives, perving on tits and bullying people.

What's most depressing is the evidence that Murdoch's clout on all aspects of British life is beyond the most pessimistic predictions. Aside from confirming the sheer ineptitude of the Press Complaint Commission, the revelations show awful practices on the part of the police and the Crown Prosecution Service for failing to investigate the repeated and criminal breach of the Data Protection Act.

Like John Prescott said to the BBC: "those of us that had our phones tapped and the police were aware of it - why were we not told? Why were they [the News of the World] not prosecuted? Why was a separate deal done in the court and then put away, and not made available to us? To the legal authorities [I would ask] why did you do this?"

"News International is not above the law", said former Home Secretary Charles Clarke. Well, not quite.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

"They take our houses, our jobs, our women"

The tabloids have been telling you council flats are all going to immigrants. Utter bollocks- and it's now official.

The fightback has begun. After a decade of noxious tabloid-based myths gradually seeping through the national consciousness, some hard figures were finally released by the Institute for Public Policy Research.

Social tenants who had moved to the UK within the past five years accounted for only 1.8 per cent. Some 87.8 per cent were UK-born and 10 per cent were foreigners who had lived in Britain for more than five years.

Like the Independent points out today though, the problem has been a Government that allowed the right wing myths that "they all come here and steal our houses and jobs" to fester unchallenged, perhaps fearful to appear at odds with the populistic bollocks.

Oh...and by the way...if you want your ready-to-microwave Tesco food to stay this cheap, you may also want to consider -just for a second- that someone is being paid a pittance to make it. And they're not gonna be able to afford a semi-detached in Kensington, are they?

Friday, July 03, 2009

Tory apologies

The Conservative leader is saying "sorry" over past policy mistakes at least once a week. It shows how wrong the Tories have been over the years.

David Cameron has apologised for Section 28. He said the party "had got it wrong" when it introduced the homophobic piece of legislation back in 1988-89 (look here for the Daily Mail's ludicrous reminder of "WHAT SECTION 28 DID"). Now, either:

1) This is a genuine Road to Damascus moment, in which case fair play. Or:

2) the Tory u-turn is part of their political calculation to appear as a 'modernised' party (note that Cameron personally voted to keep Section 28 in the Commons as recently as 2003).

In any case, when you look at the bigger picture, are people seriously ready to vote for a Party who keep getting it so wrong? The pattern is eerily familiar. First they support something obnoxious and backward, then they fight tooth and nail to keep it and smear whoever opposes them, and finally -years down the line- they offer a grovelling apology over their "past mistake".

From opposing the abolition of slavery the 1830s to Margaret Thatcher dubbing Nelson Mandela's ANC "a terrorist organisation"; from their entrenched homophobia of the 1980s and 1990s to the poll tax; from drumming up support for the Iraq war to their hysterical anti-minimum wage scaremongering, the examples of the Tory Party getting it severely wrong over the years and then saying "sorry" are countless.

Quite worrying, as they prepare for another stint in power.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Mandelson's "bold policies"

From 'inevitable' to 'impossible'. The Baron of Hartlepool and Foy and his plans to part-privatise Royal Mail.

Peter Mandelson, 14 January 2009: " A strategic partner for Royal Mail would bring a 'gale force of fresh air' to the state-owned company's management culture";

26 February 2009: "Royal Mail privatisation is 'only credible option'";

1 March 2009: "Some may be weary of taking decisions. But that simply signals that we're ready for a rest and inviting electoral defeat";

Peter Mandelson today, 1 July 2009: "There is no prospect of the partial sell-off of the Royal Mail going ahead in the current circumstances. [The state of the economy] has made it imossible to complete a deal on favourable terms".