Archive for November, 2004

(Part of an occasional series)

The draft ID Cards Bill is now out, (you can get a copy here) and it is just as bad as we thought. After all, you might think a huge government database linking all its information about all of us was bad enough. But what would you say to this?

“(5)

The Secretary of State—

(a)may at any time modify the Register for the purpose of correcting information recorded in it that he is satisfied is inaccurate or incomplete; but

(b)is not, by virtue of any provision of this Act, to be under a duty to correct such information unless, in a case where he is so satisfied, he considers that it is appropriate to do so.”

In clearer English, this means that even if the Home Secretary is satisfied that your file is incorrect, he is not obliged by law to correct it. Whether this would stand up in court or not, of course, is another matter, but it hardly fills you with confidence as to the fairness and accuracy of the information held on the database. I’d rather got my hopes up when I noticed that the draft provides for the register to hold any other information that you, the citizen, asks to be added to your record – I was thinking along the lines of “I LOVE KIMBERLEY FORTIER”, for example – but section 3(2) rules this out by making such information subject to (3(2)b) rules set by the Home Office and (3(2)c) the Secretary of State’s approval. More seriously, 1(5)h includes on the proposed database

“information about occasions on which information recorded about him in the Register has been provided to any person;”.

If the Home Office’s hopes for the widespread use of ID card readers were to come true, this would provide a means of following the movements of individuals – as every time the card was checked, this would be logged in the Big Computer. This would be pointless unless such a log included details of which terminal had checked the ID card and when. The “information of a technical nature for use in the administration of the Register” and of ID cards that will also (section 3 subsections 1b and c) be stored against your name would also seem to offer considerable possibilities (not least because it is entirely unspecified in the legislation). In Schedule 1, Section 9, this is made entirely explicit:

“The following may be recorded in the entry in the Register for an individual—

(a)particulars of every occasion on which information contained in the individual’s entry has been provided to a person;

(b)particulars of every person to whom such information has been provided on such an occasion;

(c)other particulars, in relation to each such occasion, of the provision of the information”

Section 15 permits the authorities to make the provision of public services conditional on identity checks. In a bizarre twist to this, subsection 2 then excludes any service that involves a payment being made to the persion involved or any service that is provided free of charge. I am struggling to think of a personal public service that is neither free of charge nor involves the issue of a benefit in cash. And how, given this explicit exclusion of education, health and social security, will any of the savings Blunkett claims the ID card will bring actually happen? All is revealed, however, when you read down to the bottom of section 15. Here we find a little beauty of a clause that excludes the exclusion in as far as it affects “individuals of a description required to register in section 6″. Section 6 includes the procedure for the eventual introduction of compulsory registration. So, everyone will indeed have to show their cards to get medical treatment. Just not yet. In section 18 (“Prohibition on Requirements to produce identity cards”), there is not one but two similar get-out clauses. One excludes any regulation under section 15, and another excludes those section 6 individuals. Ha.

Plunging swiftly into the grubby universe of financial interest, we come to the section on “Fees and charges”. As well as the bits we already knew (the £85 ID and passport charge), this includes a truly impressive scale of possible bills:

“a)applications to him for entries to be made in the Register, for the modification of entries or for the issue of ID cards;

(b)the making or modification of entries in the Register;

(c)the issue of ID cards;

(d)applications for the provision of information contained in entries in the Register;

(e)the provision of such information;

(f)applications for confirmation that information supplied coincides with information recorded in the Register;

(g)the issue or refusal of such confirmations;

h)applications for the approval of a person or of apparatus in accordance with any regulations under this Act

(i)the grant of such approvals.

So that’s a fat nine opportunities to milk everyone in any way involved with the scheme, with apparently no limit on the bill in the Bill. I will offer you three questions: Firstly, can anyone tell us how much it will cost, both to individuals and to the state? Secondly, can anyone tell us what the explanation of the arguably dishonest drafting of section 15 is? (Shorter – if it will be required for access to social security, education and the NHS, why not say so in plain honest terms?) And thirdly, who can say they really have nothing to hide?

Ha’aretz reports on Ukrainian Jews’ view of the election crisis, revolution, etc. They quote Leonid Finberg, director of the Jewish Institute of Kiev, as follows:

“”I am convinced the article was commissioned to blacken the name of Yushchenko and sabotage a source of support for him,” said Leonid Finberg, director of the Judaica Institute in Kiev and chairman of a publishing house. “Presenting him as a person who supports anti-Semitism is a terrible distortion. His father was in Auschwitz, and it is known that his family saved Jews during the Holocaust. The Ukrainian intelligensia, including the Jews, supports him completely. He had made a great contribution to constructive dialogue between the Jewish and the Ukrainian intelligensia.”

Finberg also told of the strong position Yushchenko took at a conference on anti-Semitism in Sweden and about an appearance he made before a group of Ukrainian Jews.

Finberg attached little importance to graffiti calling to strike at Jews and Russians that was painted on the walls of clubs associated with Yushchenko, “There are nationalist and anti-Semitic elements on the fringes of all political personalities here. I have no doubt that Yushchenko and his people are not connected to this. Such graffiti can be found today all over the world, including Israel.”

Oh yes, and the president of the Jewish Community

“rejected what he called “absurd rumors” connecting Yushchenko to anti-Semitism”

. For balance, I checked out the Jerusalem Post, but they didn’t even find it worth ink.

Something was annoying me about all this stuff of “US-guided branding strategies” that’s coming out of the Grauniad, and I fortunately remembered what it was. All the features they spoke of as being invented by evil political consultants are actually part of a genuine European history of the recent past. “One-word branding”? Well, it’s certainly true that the Ukrainians chose a one-word punch meaning “It’s time!” just like the Georgians – and the Serbs – but then so did the Czechs of 1989. Rereading Tim Garton Ash’s 1989 memoir, We the People, this continuity is very clear. In Prague in November, 1989, that was exactly – exactly – the slogan that the first demos on Wenceslas Square chanted. And the Otporniks were themselves recapping their previous attempt in 1996 (Zajedno – Together!). Looking even further back, though, there was another civil revolutionary movement that made use of the same tactics, indeed almost invented them – Solidarity.

What are those tactics? Not so much an assault on the regime, as desertion from the regime. Self-organisation in a parallel structure to the state. Mass non-violent demonstrations and strikes. Creating a samizdat media to discredit the official version of events. The crucial point was that by 1989, even the vastly more controlling regimes of communist Europe did not rule by force but by deceit and by the dead weight of incumbency. In a semi- or fake democracy like the Ukraine, the importance of rule by deceit is even greater – Milosevic didn’t maintain his grip on (Serbian) Yugoslavia by force, but by propaganda and manipulation. Control of the media permits the rulers to get out their version and suppress anything else. Control of the economy permits them to divert scarce goods or services to those who support them. Control of the secret service provides surveillance, but only in extreme cases is it used to kill (although a little terror, as always, goes a long way). The answer – the supposed “US strategy” – is to tell the truth and organise outside it. It is necessary to get as broad a coalition as possible – this was very true of the Central European revolutions, and requires willingness to compromise from all sides.

It is not a new programme, and it was not invented out of whole cloth by Madeleine Albright in 1999 as some people seem to think. Exactly the same elements were in action in 1980 in Poland, in 1989 in Central Europe, in 2000 in Yugoslavia.

Bizarre Spam

My Technorati link cosmos just flashed up with a new blog linking to the Ranter (I have it as an RSS feed into a Firefox live bookmark). Eagerly I clicked on the newcomer – and found an odd, poorly designed thingy with repeated posts about “gift cards”. Not posts with information in them really, but lots of links to the same site and the words gift cards over and over again. It was pretty clear that we were dealing with a fake blog, a phenomenon in the science of spamming that has emerged this year. Informed bloggers hold that the point is to drive another site up the Google page rankings, exploiting Google’s tendency to rate blogs highly. Simply, the idea is to get as many links to the roboblog as possible to boost the value of the links into your real site in Google’s eyes.

I refuse to aid this nonsense by linking to it, so if you want to see it, go to Technorati and search for my URL. I assume it’ll be under “gift cards”. Whois returns the fact that the registrant is hiding behind a firm called “Domains by Proxy Inc” in Scottsdale, Arizona. Feckin’ spammers. On the same theme, I found an odd item of comment spam in my June archives today – among the online poker links was one to http://www.valeofglamorganconservatives.org, which turns out (deeply to my disappointment) to be an online poker site registered by a firm called Phetermine Deals, who also spam. The chap responsible appears to be one Ron Miles, of English Harbour, Antigua, who gives the phone number (00)268 4606129 as well as his blatantly silly PO box number. The tech contact is in Paris at 38, rue Notre-Dame de Nazareth, a well-known source of spam. Now, I don’t know about you, but if I was the Tories’ sysadmin I’d make good and goddamn sure that none of my local groups let their domain names lapse. This sort of thing is embarrassing.

The Observer reports on the gathering threat of another Rwandan intervention in the DRC. Back in June, I reported that just as fighting broke out anew in eastern Congo, one of Viktor Bout’s aircraft had shown up in Kigali. (Linky) It’s no surprise to notice this key paragraph, then:

“n the towns of Walikale and Rubaya soldiers of the Rassemblement Congolais Pour la Démocratie, or RCD-Goma, Rwanda’s proxy force in eastern Congo, transferred sacks of the minerals cassiterite and tantalite to lorries bound for airstrips from which jets shuttled to Kigali”

A source who regularly comments here mentioned at the time that the Kenyan arms dealer and Bout intimate Sanjivan Ruprah is a relation of the RCD’s leader.

Action!

Tomorrow, the ID Cards bill gets its first reading in the Commons. We are holding a public meeting on Tuesday, 30/11/04, at 1900 in the location following:

Tuesday 30 November 2004,

The Brix,

St Matthews Church,

Brixton,

London SW2 1JF

If you go to that – even if you don’t – you might also want to write to your MEP with the Open Letter against biometric identification that you can find here. Don’t let the Government blame ID cards on the European Union, getting out of the responsibility and incidentally wrecking any chance of ratifying the European Constitution, joining the €, etc.

Excellent blog here, reporting in detail on just how the elections went on in the officially pro-Yanukovich regions of the Ukraine. It’s too long to quote, but well worth reading.

Analysis moment: if you were going to be paranoid about it, Russia might have a lot to gain in the event of a secession by the south-eastern Ukraine. Looking at the map, it would give them most of what they would want in a “reintegration” of Ukraine (direct access to the Crimea and the fleet, most of the gas and oil pipelines, defence industries and a land link to their army in Transdniestria) with a good chance of getting the rest. After all, the presence of their forces in Transdniestria has lasted and kept it as a quasi-Russian province.

I suspect partition won’t happen, though, due to the “purple map” issue. What most big media (but not blogs on the spot, interestingly) don’t mention is that there is no shortage of oppositionists in the supposedly pro-regime east (and of course of regime supporters in the pro-Yushchenko west), just as the famous map of the US with counties scaled to population and coloured proportionally to the vote demonstrates that there are plenty of Texan Democrats and New York Republicans. Reports have been frequent of demos and other activity in Dnepropetrovsk (especially). After all, the figures that support this meme can be no more credible than the election as a whole – and if you read that link, you won’t believe a decimal point of the election. (There are also some useful maps there.)

In Other News: you’ll probably know by now that the parliament voted no confidence in the election commission. Interesting echo of 1917 in the report that the railwaymen’s union said they would prevent the movement of trains for the government towards Kiev. General Kornilov must be spinning in his grave at that one. Interestingly, the men and women on the spot seem to be much more optimistic than The Commentators – despite the civil war talk, none of the Kievblogs have yet to report any violence or indeed hostility.

Cocaine now cheaper than a glass of wine. Regular Ranters will no doubt remember that I’ve long thought that Tony Blair’s success in getting drug prices down should form part of Labour’s election campaign. Time was that hard drugs cost the earth and polluting petrol was cheap. Now, petrol is like rocking-horse shit and you can get stoned, ripped, twisted for peanuts. After all, heroin’s cheap as chips, too. Labour – Casinos, Coke and Heroin! could do wonders for the youth vote.

Well, they’ll need something to take everyone’s mind off them exempting High Court judges from tax on their pension funds….

The Sindy reports on our old friend, Jonathan/Kenneth/Jack Idema, the man who was arrested in Afghanistan for running his own jail. Idema, as previously blogged, claims to have been working for the US government. When apprehended, apart from the two men hanging by their ankles from the roof, he was surrounded by a weird entourage who he claimed were making a film about him. A little research into his background showed that he was always making a film, rather in the style of the Private Eye cartoon with the two writers (“I’m writing a book.” “Neither am I..”). He attempted to sue George Clooney for supposedly basing The Peacemaker on his own heroic exploits. Exactly how heroic is doubtful – despite his boasting of being “the craziest Green Beret in the army”, his real role was considerably less hoooooooyah. In fact, as I previously reported, he was a quartermaster for the reservist 11th Special Forces Group, a job that didn’t actually require him to pass Special Forces selection although no doubt he was able to tell his marks that he was a Green Beret. Later he owned a business selling army webbing, chest-rigs and the like.

In jail, his Hollywood obsession apparently continues. He told the Indy’s Nick Meo that he’d recruited an agent to pitch his life story, and that he was about to complete writing the script. One hopes the agent got paid in advance, because his film project has been “nearly finished” since 2001 and in my view is nothing but a way of getting people to fund him. Like all the best fraudsters, though, his spiel is based on a certain degree of truth. When the Pentagon is willing to deal with the Viktor Bouts and Ahmed Chalabis of this world, his claims are far more credible. The fact that responsible persons at Bagram accepted a prisoner from his group shows at least that bizarre things are going on there, but not necessarily that they approved of him. (After all, if you were in the guard commander’s shoes and a bunch of random gunmen appeared with a terrified prisoner and a lot of overexcited superspook talk, would you really leave him to their tender mercies? Even if you didn’t care about his fate it would certainly be a matter demanding urgent investigation.) The fact that they “accepted” the prisoner without arresting Idema, though, suggests that enough parallel-network stuff was going on that his claims weren’t entirely unbelievable.

I don’t for a moment believe, though, that he’s the real thing. The Pentagon (or whoever) would never have confided such a mission to someone who spends his free time suing film stars and having himself idolised by a camarilla of cameramen. It’s called a “secret service” for a reason. His comfortable captivity, I suspect, is more due to his skills as a plausible talker than anything else.

In fact, reviewing my previous coverage of Idema, I see that I’d forgotten just how Walter Mittyish he really is. We’re looking at a man who claims he took his pet dog on combat parachute jumps (in his spare time from stacking blankets in the stores presumably).

The Grauniad’s Jonathan Steele has produced a frankly silly article in yesterday’s paper in which he basically decides that the Ukrainian revolution is an evil CIA plot. Steele has already been roundly cursed by the blogosphere for this particularly dodgy argument:

“Nor is there much evidence to imagine that, were he the incumbent president facing a severe challenge, he would not have tried to falsify the poll.”

So – Yushchenko’s a total bastard because we don’t know that he wouldn’t steal an election if the situation arose, and therefore it’s far better to let the government – ah – steal an election. (Note as well that Steele seems to be demanding that Yushchenko prove himself innocent.) Further on, he snarls about the US “provocatively” funding exit polls:

“More provocatively, the US and other western embassies paid for exit polls, prompting Russia to do likewise, though apparently to a lesser extent.

The US’s own election this month showed how wrong exit polls can be. But they provide a powerful mobilising effect, making it easier to persuade people to mount civil disobedience or seize public buildings on the grounds the election must have been stolen if the official results diverge”

Well, a credulous mind might have thought that stealing the election was the provocative bit. The final exit poll results in the US election weren’t actually wrong – they reflected the overall result exactly. And the argument that the ones that did diverge were wrong assumes that the election itself was entirely honest. We are told that “Intervening in foreign elections, under the guise of an impartial interest in helping civil society, has become the run-up to the postmodern coup d’etat, the CIA-sponsored third world uprising of cold war days adapted to post-Soviet conditions”. We aren’t told, however, what form this adaptation takes. If Steele is right, and the whole thing is a giant conspiracy, it would appear that this adaptation consists in getting rid of the torture, killings, tanks on the streets and ensuing military dictatorship – or in other words, the CIA-sponsored third world uprising pretty much in its entirety.

But the sloppy logic doesn’t end there. In the next paragraph, Steele accuses the US of pursuing a geostrategic encirclement of Russia by trying to pull Ukraine into the orbit of the West. What is the alternative policy he offers Ukrainians, then? Er – to offer the Ukraine membership in the EU. To recap, the enlargement of NATO and the EU is an evil western plot against Russia. To resist it, you should join – the EU! Leaving aside the small matter that the evil fascist CIA stooge Yushchenko’s declared policy is to join the EU, I wonder what the explanation of this bizarre sentence is?

“Some protesters have been chanting nationalistic and secessionist songs from the anti-semitic years of the second world war.”

Secessionist? I assume secession in the second world war would mean secession from the Soviet Union. Well, Ukraine seceded from the Soviet Union in 1991 to become an independent state. What could be more absurd than to rail at the citizens of that state for singing songs about being, er, an independent state? What the hell is wrong with it?

But the Guardian can always find space for this kind of stuff. In fact, its comment page betrays a bizarre obsession with the views of people like Neil Clark and other intellectuals who hold a torch for vicious little tyrants like Alexander Lukashenko and Slobodan Milosevic. Again and again, we find the same old charges. It’s all the work of the CIA! And they are really Nazis! Today’s paper contains an article by John Laughland (who not so long ago published this apologia for Russia’s war in Chechnya in the Grauniad) in which he claims to have met two neo-Nazis in the Kiev crowds. Two of them! Just think! He continues by referring to Yushchenko and his allies “standing up for the Socialist Party newspaper after it ran an anti-semitic article”. So obviously they must be all Nazis. Or perhaps they stood up for it because they didn’t believe in press censorship, but that is clearly a wild and unlikely idea not even worth mentioning. Even if they actually said so at the time:

“Yushchenko, Moroz and their oligarch ally Yulia Timoshenko meanwhile cited a court order closing the paper as evidence of the government’s desire to muzzle the media”

Mr. Laughland clearly has dead certain evidence that this view is not worth a moment’s consideration. Why he doesn’t share it with us is his affair. But the Guardian seems to have practically no quality control when it comes to these people.

Mr. Laughland has previous for calling people Nazis when they don’t agree with him:

“Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s propaganda wizard, was also persuaded that technology brought peoples together and made borders anachronistic a thought which is common among modern pro-Europeans.”

This quote comes from his book The Tainted Source, written while he worked for Bill Cash’s European Foundation, a rightwing thinktank. Fortunately for the Guardian’s credibility, there’s always Francis Wheen around, who brought this up in the paper.

Check out Neil Clark on the death of Zoran Djindjc:

“At the same time, there is evidence that underworld groups, controlled by Zoran Djindjic and linked to US intelligence, carried out a series of assassinations of key supporters of the Milosevic regime, including Defence Minister Pavle Bulatovic and Zika Petrovic, head of Yugoslav Airlines.”

What evidence? It doesn’t appear, and later Clark mentions a figure of 30% unemployment without mentioning that this was actually better than some periods under Milosevic. Or you might try this weird excursion into sportswriting. In the past, Mr. Laughland claimed that nobody was really killed in Kosovo, but even after the Grauniad’s Nick Cohen publicly bust his chops about this bizarre lie they still find no problem in running as much of his nonsense as they can fit in. The Guardian now has the absurd situation of printing great chunks from Neeka’s Backlog about the revolution in the News section while the Comment section pours vitriol on her and everyone else involved. There is clearly a split in the newsroom here, and one side needs to get its quality control sorted.

Meanwhile, at the front, Foreign Notes’s mother-in-law has joined the revolution. I wonder if she’s really a CIA agent too? Post-Modern Clog has more Steele-bashing, with the advantage of actually being present in Kiev rather than Farringdon Road.





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