Un Rendez-vous

2009/10/27

The concept of fairness was “constantly evolving”, he added

They would say that, wouldn’t they?

Any evidence of MI5 and MI6 involvement in the rendition and torture of Britons now seeking damages must be heard behind closed doors, the government told the high court today.

In a move with profound implications for how the security and intelligence agencies can be held to account, ministers want the evidence to be withheld from the victims of illegal activities and their lawyers.

It is the first time the government has asked the courts to rule that evidence should be kept secret in a civil case involving claims for damages. “I entirely accept [it] is a departure” from the normal course of such litigation, Jonathan Crow QC, for the agencies, the Home Office, the Foreign Office and the attorney general, told Mr Justice Silber.

He said that although such a “closed” procedure had never before been adopted in a civil claim for damages, there was no reason in principle why it should not be used if it was necessary for what he called “the just disposal of the case”.

The concept of fairness was “constantly evolving”, he added. An alternative would be to “strike out” the claim launched by seven former detainees.

The seven are Binyam Mohamed, Bisher al-Rawi, Jamil el-Banna, Richard Belmar, Omar Deghayes, Moazzam Begg, and Martin Mubanga. All are British citizens or residents who were held at Guantánamo Bay.

The government wants the evidence of what MI5, MI6 and other officials knew of the torture or mistreatment, and in particular what the CIA told them, to be shown in secret to special advocates appointed by the attorney general, Lady Scotland.

Move to withhold evidence in torture collusion claim

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2009/10/23

Jack “I’m all right” Straw

Filed under: politics — Tags: , , , — simonlecoeur @ 09:07

His gift for dodging responsibility verges on genius. Time and time again the hand of censure has brushed his collar, and each time he has slipped it and vanished into the night. Over his complicity as Foreign Secretary in the rendition and subsequent torture of terrorist suspects, he escaped by the skin of his teeth. What deniability he had – and his story changed, in the most legalistic of language, after an initial blanket denial – rested entirely on being given the benefit of a gigantic doubt that he never asked the most obvious questions, or turned his deaf ear to the answers if he did. As Martin Bright wrote in the Independent on Sunday, his self-alleged lack of curiosity about the outsourced torture of British nationals is astonishing.

The man’s entire career serves as a gruesome paradigm of the poverty and enfeeblement of Westminster politics. The granddaddy of the professional politician, he blazed the trail so well worn now by gliding seamlessly from leftie student activist to legal qualification to unelected adviser to MP to Cabinet member, quietly jettisoning every belief he once professed along the way to speed the journey.

The one thing we can be sure Mr Straw believes in is Mr Straw. His ambition is unquenchable. When his one serious mistake (deflecting transatlantic glory from Mr Tony Blair by cuddling up to Condi Rice) cost him the Foreign Office, he accepted humiliating demotion just to stay in the game. His transfer of allegiance from Blair to Brown, whose leadership “campaign” he managed (and hats off for winning that one), was comical in its fervency. Even now, be sure that he is scheming to position himself as the Jim Hacker compromise candidate should Labour somehow locate the energy required to ditch the PM.

Tragically, there would be worse electoral choices. As viewers doubtless observed on BBC1 last night, he is adept at promoting an image of calmly authoritative blandness, hence his comparative popularity, and a grandmaster of televisual smoothness. He is as slimy as an oil slick, and always quick to move on once he’s coated the vulnerable birdies with filthy tar.

An utter disgrace to every high office he has held, Jack Straw has, typically enough, evaded the widespread loathing attracted by Blair, Brown, Mandelson, Campbell and the rest, despite being one of only three ministers to remain in the Cabinet since 1997. In an all-star team containing Pele, Maradona, Cruyff and Zidane, only the more obsessive fan would notice Patrick Vieira unflamboyantly putting in the hard work in defensive midfield.

Matthew Norman: Of all the New Labour toadies, Jack Straw must be the worst

2009/10/20

Lifestyles of the powerful and corrupt

Filed under: politics — simonlecoeur @ 18:42

How’s that best buddy of yours working out, Rudy?

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. — A federal judge on Tuesday revoked bail for former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik and sent him to jail to await a corruption trial scheduled to start next week.
Calling Kerik “a toxic combination of self-minded focus and arrogance,” Judge Stephen Robinson said he was revoking the $500,000 bail because Kerik disclosed sealed case information to the trustee of his legal defense fund.

The trustee shared some of the secret information with the Washington Times, which didn’t publish it. The judge said he did not believe Kerik’s claim that the trustee had been hired as a lawyer and was therefore allowed to see the information.

Kerik was being jailed to make sure he was unable to “influence witnesses or prospective jurors,” Robinson said.
“My fear is that he has a toxic combination of self-minded focus and arrogance, and I fear that combination leads him to believe that his ends justify his means,” Robinson said. “The failure of Mr. Kerik to abide by the direct order of this court … must be appropriately addressed.”

Kerik is charged with accepting apartment renovations from a construction company in exchange for recommending the company for city contracts. He has pleaded not guilty.

Defense lawyer Barry Berke said he would appeal the ruling and seek a stay, but he said he was unsure if that could be accomplished before the trial, which is scheduled to begin Monday.

At the end of the court session, Kerik took off his purple tie, emptied his pockets, removed a ring from his finger and gave them to his lawyer. He then walked off in custody.

Kerik was police commissioner when terrorists crashed jetliners into the two World Trade Center towers on Sept. 11, 2001. He and then-Mayor Rudolph Giuliani received glowing reviews for their leadership in the crisis. Kerik was later President George W. Bush’s pick to lead the Department of Homeland Security, but withdrew.

Robinson said Tuesday that Kerik seemed to believe that “the rulings of this court are an inconvenience to be forgotten or an obstacle to be circumvented. Mr. Kerik sees himself as a victim of circumstance … I think he needs to refocus.”

Kerik faces a second trial on tax charges, and a third that claims he lied to White House officials vetting him for the position of Homeland Security secretary.

Judge revokes bail for NYC ex-police commissioner

2009/10/13

Mr Carter-Ruck, meet Barbra Streisand

Filed under: politics — Tags: , , , , , , — simonlecoeur @ 13:28

Good job keeping that a secret, boys.

The existence of a previously secret injunction against the media by oil traders Trafigura can now be revealed.

Within the past hour Trafigura’s legal firm, Carter-Ruck, has withdrawn its opposition to the Guardian reporting proceedings in parliament that revealed its existence.

Labour MP Paul Farrelly put down a question yesterday to the justice secretary, Jack Straw. It asked about the injunction obtained by “Trafigura and Carter-Ruck solicitors on 11 September 2009 on the publication of the Minton Report on the alleged dumping of toxic waste in the Ivory Coast, commissioned by Trafigura”.

The Guardian was due to appear at the High Court at 2pm to challenge Carter-Ruck’s behaviour, but the firm has dropped its claim that to report parliament would be in contempt of court.

Here is the full text of Farrelly’s question:

“To ask the Secretary of State for Justice what assessment he has made of the effectiveness of legislation to protect (a) whistleblowers and (b) press freedom following the injunctions obtained in the High Court by (i) Barclays and Freshfields solicitors on 19 March 2009 on the publication of internal Barclays reports documenting alleged tax avoidance schemes and (ii) Trafigura and Carter-Ruck solicitors on 11 September 2009 on the publication of the Minton report on the alleged dumping of toxic waste in the Ivory Coast, commissioned by Trafigura.”

At Westminster earlier today urgent questions were tabled by the Liberal Democrats in an attempt to get an emergency debate about the injunction.

Bloggers were active this morning in speculating about what lay behind the ban on the Guardian reporting parliamentary questions. Proposals being circulated online included plans for a protest outside the offices of Carter-Ruck.

The ban on reporting parliamentary proceedings on legal grounds appeared to call into question privileges guaranteeing free speech established under the 1688 Bill of Rights.

Today’s published Commons order papers contained Farrelly’s question to be answered by a minister later this week. The Guardian was initially prevented from identifying the MP who had asked the question, what the question was, which minister might answer it, or where the question was to be found.

Gag on Guardian reporting MP’s Trafigura question lifted

2009/10/11

How to win friends and influence voters

Filed under: finance, politics — Tags: , , — simonlecoeur @ 20:09

MPs today began to challenge openly the authority of the independent auditor charged with investigating expenses abuses at Westminster amid claims that the civil servant’s inquiry had strayed beyond its remit.

John Mann, the MP who has led calls for a thorough overhaul of the allowances system, raised concern that Sir Thomas Legg’s audit of expenses had become too broad, and warned that this might trigger lawsuits that could drag on through the “entirety of the next parliament”.

The MP for Bassetlaw, who has been publishing his own expenses in full since 2004, warned that many MPs – faced with paying back sums of up to £200,000 – may “go to ground” rather than pay immediately, and then challenge the legality of the repayment demands.

In early July, Legg initially set out to examine cases where MPs used parliamentary expenses to improve their second homes in order to make a profit rather than just maintaining them, as rules allow. However, he has also looked at exploitation of loopholes which amounted to breaches in the spirit of the law, as well as the actual law.

Mann’s views were supported by Sir Stuart Bell, who sits on the ruling Commons members estimate committee (MEC). Bell yesterday suggested Sir Thomas may have “strayed outside his remit”.

The expenses scandal that dominated the last parliamentary term will kick off the new term tomorrow. Legg has been examining the expenses claims of all MPs over the last four years. Tomorrow morning he will send hundreds of letters to MPs detailing wrongdoing or requesting further evidence. He will send a separate email itemising whether or not the MP flouted the rules of the parliamentary housing allowances.

MPs will either be cleared, told to provide more information, or will be ordered to repay money. Disputes over Legg’s findings must be raised within three weeks to the MEC. When Legg has received all responses his team will publish a report of recommendations to parliament in December.

It is thought Legg has also uncovered more cases where MPs have used taxpayers’ money to pay off the capital element of mortgages instead of just the interest on the borrowing, as is allowed under the rules. His team is also said to have been particularly exercised by claims for gardening and cleaning. One source suggested he was to place a ceiling on claims of this sort; any MPs broaching that limit would have to repay the difference. This would include MPs whose expenses claims of this kind were approved by the fees office.

It is under these tight rules that the prime minister is likely to be asked to pay back some or all of his cleaning expenses. On Sunday, Downing Street said Gordon Brown would repay anything asked of him, adding that up to 500 of parliament’s 646 MPs would also be asked for more information.

Mann predicted legal challenges which could engulf the general election. “The Legg team have clearly got problems, because [MPs] don’t have the receipts for a lot of this stuff. Clearly, if someone has managed to get [a claim] signed off by the fees office then they have a case when asked to repay.

“There could be as many as 200 MPs who refuse to pay anything. If he is going to say to an MP, ‘You have to pay back £200,000’ and that MP is standing down, they are simply going to say ‘No way’. I think there’s a chance that a good number of MPs will not pay up – the repair of a moat may have been bad but it was approved by the fees office.”

–Defiant MPs challenge call to repay cash in expenses row

2009/10/04

It’s OK, I’m Harriet Harman

Filed under: politics — Tags: , , , , — simonlecoeur @ 08:46

Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman is being investigated by the police after she was involved in a traffic collision, it was revealed last night.

The MP for Camberwell and Peckham is reported to have wound down her window following the crash and said to witnesses: “I’m Harriet Harman – you know where you can get hold of me,” before driving off.

The accident, which is said to have occurred while the leader of the House of Commons was using her mobile phone, did not result in any injuries.

Witnesses say Harman failed to leave any of her insurance or registration details at the scene, an offence carrying a possible six-month jail term.

A Scotland Yard spokesman said yesterday: “We are investigating a minor traffic collision and are in the process of taking statements from all parties concerned.”

The crash happened in the afternoon of 3 July in Dulwich, south-east London, near Harman’s home. Witnesses say the 59-year-old, who is normally chauffeur-driven in a silver Toyota Prius, was driving her Ford Fiesta when she collided with a car parked by the side of the road.

Reports claim that the resulting loud crash caused a small crowd of onlookers to the scene. One witness is understood to be the neighbour of the damaged car’s owner.

Police are now expected to take a statement from Harman, but have refused to say whether they have spoken to her or confirm any other details relating to the incident. A spokeswoman for the MP said yesterday: “Ms Harman strongly refutes the allegations but is co-operating fully with the police.”

Under the 1988 Road Traffic Act, any driver involved in a collision with another vehicle is required by law to stop and give their name and address, as well as details of the vehicle’s owner and the vehicle’s registration. Drivers caught using a mobile phone while at the wheel receive an automatic three points on their licence and a fixed £60 fine.

In 2003, Ms Harman was fined £400 and banned from driving for a week after being convicted of driving at 99mph on a motorway. She was also issued with a £60 fixed-penalty notice and three penalty points in April 2007 for driving at 50mph in a 40mph zone in the A14 in Suffolk.

Harriet Harman failed to leave details at scene of car crash, allege witnesses

2009/09/28

Left Party Celebrates While Greens Quarrel

Filed under: anti-war, politics — Tags: , , , , — simonlecoeur @ 08:24

For some reason this wasn’t reported on the BBC this morning…

The Left Party was celebrating its historic election result on Sunday night but for the Greens there was disappointment. While the Left Party’s position as a protest party seems to have gone down well with voters, the Greens had to constantly explain which party they wanted to govern with.

Even the illuminated red supermarket sign above their heads matched their party color. On Sunday evening Oskar Lafontaine, Gregor Gysi, Lothar Bisky and Klaus Ernst gathered for a moment outside the party venue in renovated brewery in the trendy Berlin district of Prenzlauerberg and celebrated another victory for their Left Party. Just a few meters away their supporters were cheering the election projections as they came in, while the four top party bosses beamed like schoolboys, flinging their arms around each others necks and patting their arms. “In Bavaria we are over 6 percent,” Ernst, who hails from the southern state, says to Lafontaine. The party boss pretends to be baffled. “What?” says Lafontaine, before they all laugh and head into the election party.

The Left Party have a lot to laugh about this election night. They have reached double digits, securing 12.4 percent of the vote, a marked improvement on their 2005 result of 8.7 percent. And they also did well in state elections in Brandenburg and Schleswig-Holstein. “We have broken the sound barrier and have double digits,” Bisky told the cheering supporters while Gysi described the result as “historic.”
‘The SPD Needs a Rebellion’

Lafontaine allowed his fellow party leaders to speak first. For almost 10 minutes he stood there speechless on the podium. He looked left and right and straight ahead and the smile never once left his face. Laftontaine knows that the Left Party’s triumph is above all his own success. “We want the left-wing camp to be stronger,” Lafontaine tells the jostling crowd of supporters — but for that there first of all has to be a left-wing camp.

It is an exhortation to the SPD and Gysi was even clearer in his choice of words. “The SPD now needs a rebellion and it has to make itself social democratic.”

For the Left Party this election night is a clear affirmation of their campaign: They have been re-elected to parliament with a clear growth in support while the SPD has suffered a historic defeat. That means that the Left Party will expect a clear swing to the left in the SPD before they will countenance cooperating with it in the future. “We will stay on our path, the SPD has to change its path,” said the party’s deputy leader, Ernst, who is a former Social Democrat. Otherwise the SPD faces even further losses in the future, he warned. “Then at some stage they will drop to 15 percent and the last one to leave can turn out the light,” he said. Ernst is certain that the SPD will soon draw the necessary consequences from the election debacle: “This will lead to a change of leadership and direction in the SPD.” It is clear what kind of change in direction the Left Party wants to see the Social Democrats go in, they have said it often enough — move away from the Hartz IV welfare reforms introduced under the previous SPD-Green coalition and an end to the Bundeswehr deployment in Afghanistan.

There was still a lot of applause left for one of the great figures from the SPD’s past. The Left Party wants to “dare more democracy,” Lafontaine said, referring to the famous quote by former Chancellor Willy Brandt — but that is only possible with a “new economic and social order.”

Der Spiegel

2009/09/18

Die Linke

Filed under: anti-war, politics — Tags: , , , , , , — simonlecoeur @ 00:38

Who would have thought that the Germans would be against a doomed war in Afghanistan or — gasp! — wealth redistribution?

Against a backdrop of multicoloured pre-fabricated housing blocks, a tanning salon and a travel agent offering last-minute deals to the Baltic coast, Frank Spieth handed out red balloons, pens and advice in equal measure.

The concerns of those who approached his campaign bus in Erfurt, the former communist east of Germany, were primarily local: a woman fighting for compensation from a hospital after contracting MRSA, another seeking a ramp access to her building, a man complaining about the state of windows in the city’s schools, which he said needed replacing even before the fall of the wall 20 years ago.

But in little more than a week, when Germans vote for a new parliament, Spieth and his allies are hoping to make a national impact.

His anti-capitalist, pro-social justice Die Linke is striking a chord with an increasingly disenfranchised electorate, espousing causes – such as inequality, reunification issues and, crucially, the war in Afghanistan – that are finding a receptive audience in both east and west.

“Our voters are representative of millions of Germans who feel cut off from the political process and they could have a significant impact on Germany’s political landscape,” said 62-year-old Spieth, who left the Social Democratic party (SPD) in 2003 after 37 years in protest at its restructuring of the social welfare state.

While Die Linke’s rivals have mercilessly attacked it for its radical wealth redistribution plans and its links to the defunct communist regime, its message is clearly getting through.

“The promises [of the mainstream parties] to us about the blossoming landscapes which would follow after unification are mere speech bubbles,” said 68-year old Erika Seebach, the MRSA sufferer, in Erfurt. “While some might accuse Die Linke of populism, they get things on to the agenda that really matter.”

Polls gives the party about 14%, but after huge gains recently made in key regional elections at the end of August, where it won 21% in the western state of Saarland, Die Linke is being seen as the party that could shake up the political landscape in the 27 September vote.

The policies of bigger parties, including the chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU and its junior Social Democrat partner, are now seen to be disturbingly similar in comparison.

“Generally there are only a few themes that particularly distinguish most of the parties,” according to Renate Köcher, joint head of the Allensbach Institute for Demoscopy. “It’s only really Die Linke that stands out, in particular for their critical position regarding the German economy and societal order.”

Spieth embodies the verve and drive of many in Die Linke. The party, founded just two years ago is, he admits, “a motley crew of democratic socialists, social democrats, communists, Christians, you name it”.

Broadly speaking it consists of disillusioned easterners, former members of the ruling communists, and disaffected members of the centre-left SPD.

Die Linke is promising to redress the rich-poor divide by pumping €200bn (£178bn) a year into job creation and financing a gigantic public spending programme, a plan opponents dismiss as unworkable.

Its anti-capitalist stance has raised its profile at a time when expressing such views has become increasingly fashionable, though it has failed to cash in on the economic crisis as growth resumes in Europe’s largest economy.

But it came into its own in the aftermath of a recent Nato air strike, ordered by the German military, in northern Afghanistan. The attack triggered a fierce debate about pulling German forces out of Afghanistan. Die Linke is the only party in parliament that is calling for the immediate withdrawal of German troops. As many as 80% of people in Germany are against the Afghan mission.

“It’s got people talking about the war, which the other parties had wanted to exclude from the discussion, and that can only be a good thing for us,” said Oskar Lafontaine, a former SPD finance minister and one of Die Linke’s most prominent leaders.

“The majority of people are against this war due to our own appalling experiences in two world wars but if we don’t keep this issue on the agenda, no one will,” he told the Guardian at an anti-war rally at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin.

As he went on stage there were roars of approval as he punched the air and with sweat dripping down his shirt, proclaimed: “We’re proud to be anti-war. As Willy Brandt said there should never be war on German soil ever again. That should be the message for now and the future.”Christoph Hein, a leading German novelist from Leipzig, who as a pacifist said he was a Die Linke supporter, albeit a reluctant one, put the rise in its popularity down to the increase in floating voters.

“The days when people voted for one party are over. People feel deceived by the other parties, but at least they feel Die Linke speaks their language, and this war issue is a good example of that.”If there is one factor holding the party back, it is the claim that it is a home for the “loony left”.

Die Linke party wins German votes by standing out from crowd

2009/09/07

“Labor Day in a Kleptocracy”

Filed under: politics — Tags: , — simonlecoeur @ 10:04

Reagan-Cheney between 1980 and 2008 created a new American aristocracy, a small sliver of super-rich, who buy and sell legislators, create whole “news networks” to present far rightwing fantasies as “news,” have their lackeys invade and occupy whole countries, hold themselves above the law, falsify financial statements, and suffer little or no punishment for stealing billions from the pensions of “working families” (i.e. those of us about whom P.T. Barnum remarked, “one is born every minute”.) The Republican Party has come to represent these super-rich. Since .1% of the population couldn’t actually win elections, they ally with other groups in society. About two-thirds of evangelicals have joined up with them, about a third of Latinos, significant numbers of midwestern rural families, and obviously large numbers of white southerners. In some cases these are lower middle class people on the make, who want to hitch their wagons to the brightest stars in the sky. In others, they share with the super-rich various resentments of the federal government. This alliance of odd bedfellows (think of Paris Hilton married to Joe Sixpack) is what produces the wackiness of Republican Party politics and media. They can’t come out and say that they want the country run for the benefit of 300,000 multi-millionaires and billionaires (almost all of them white), so they say they are all in favor of guns, apple pie, Jay-sus and the Confederacy. Sometimes, as with Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney, the pretense is so forced as to be implausible even to their minions. Clearly, racism and fear-mongering are also key irrational talking points for the plutocrats seeking support from the white lower middle class (though this route can backfire, as it did in 2008 when Republican fear-mongering about Latino immigration alienated most Latino voters and drove them into the arms of the Democrats.)…

Many of our corporations are essentially using us as garbage dumps for their unhealthy corporate food, creating a crisis of obesity that in turn is causing our bulging bellies to devour our brains and for men, to make it impossible for them to get it up. A government genuinely concerned with our welfare would outlaw anything but diet sodas. The unwillingness of our government to regulate this assault on our brain mass via our bellies is owed directly to the power of corporate lobbies that shape and even outright author legislation on such issues. (This paragraph is not meant to hurt the feelings of the victims of these policies; I’m saying you are victims– you have a right to expect your food to be healthy, and your government to care if it isn’t.) The super-rich are fattening us up, not for the kill, but for imbecility and impotence. At least we won’t remember to miss the fun…

I cannot entirely explain why the American super-rich are so much more heartless and stupid than their counterparts in Europe. In fact, they behave politically much more like Afghan and Pakistani big landlords, who pay their peasants a dollar a day and call in the army to put down any organized protests. In part, they have been offered an irresistible temptation by the destruction of organized labor; French workers wouldn’t put up with a tenth of the insults visited upon us by our overlords. But it is a dead end, even for the uber-rich. Healthy, educated workers will be key to American economic competition in the world in the coming century. Our super-rich and our politicians are hollowing the country out with their ponzi schemes and their Sparta strategy of projecting military force even as the country’s economic base in manufacturing and productivity sinks in comparison to rivals….

–Juan Cole

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