The last acceptable prejudice

Liberal Conspiracy had an excellent piece earlier this week about the discrimination and persecution suffered by Romani citizens of various EU countries. I won’t quote excerpts here as it really is worth reading the whole thing, but I am glad to see that this rarely publicised issue is finally starting to get the attention it deserves (I’m not trying to claim any moral high ground here, this is my first post on the subject).

Two contrasting pieces in Saturday’s newspapers sum up the problem perfectly and show that even if this country does not have the kind of instututionalised discrimination seen in others bigotry towards the Roma is seemingly the last acceptable prejudice. Firstly, here is the Guardian

The European Union was today accused of “turning a blind eye” as countries across Europe carried out a wave of expulsions and introduced new legislation targeting the Roma.

Human rights groups criticised the EU for failing to address the real issues driving Europe’s largest ethnic minority to migrate in the first place and for choosing not to upbraid countries for breaking both domestic and EU laws in their treatment of them.

And here is the Express.

Now it has to be said that the Express is happy to display its own brand of racism towards all sorts of minority groups, immigrants and (especially) asylum seekers, so it would be unfair to accuse it of specifically targetting Roma, but it is still not unusual to hear people expressing views about “Pikeys” when they would never use phrases such as “Pakis” or “Yids”, and it is unlikely that the Express headline raised many eyebrows. This needs to change.

Election – 7.25am update

So it will be a hung parliament, we know that much. The biggest story (apart from the problems with the vote itself) is the collapse in LibDem support, their overall share of the vote is about the same as last time and they are currently 5 seats down – a desperately disappointing night for them. Two small causes for comfort – it was good to see Caroline Lucas win a seat for the Greens and the Tories won’t get an overall majority which seemed possible when the early results came in.
Cameron has of course been staking his claim to form a government, stressing that the results so far demonstrate that the voters have given a clear message that they want change, but given that the Tories have lost a number of seats they were hoping to win and the LibDems have faded I’m not sure that really holds up.
There has been much talk of Labour and the LibDems doing a deal but they are not going to have enough seats between them to have a majority. And much as I hate to say it, given the Tories considerable lead in the share of the vote they do probably have a moral case to try to form a government.

Labour in the dock (again)

Even in its (probable) dying days of power Labour is still being taken to task by the courts for railroading civil liberties under the pretence of protecting national security.

As the Guardian reports

The court of appeal has dismissed an attempt by MI5 and MI6 to suppress evidence of their alleged complicity in the torture and secret transfer of British residents to Guantánamo Bay.
In a devastating judgment, it ruled that the unprecedented attempt by the security and intelligence agencies, backed by the attorney general and senior Whitehall officials, to suppress evidence in a civil trial undermined deep-seated principles of common law and open justice.

MI5 and MI6 said evidence in the case, in which the Guardian, the Times and the BBC intervened, should be kept secret from everyone except the judges and specially appointed and vetted counsel.

The case concerns six Guantanamo detainees, including Binyam Mohamed, who has already won a separate case to make public information regarding his mistreatment. They have taken out a civil action against the government in respect of various abuses including torture and false imprisonment. The government was attempting to have the entire case heard in secret with evidence used in the government’s defence withheld from the claimants, a flagrant breach of natural justice. One of the judges who made the ruling, Lord Neuberger, put it perfectly –

The principle that a litigant should be able to see and hear all the evidence which is seen and heard by a court determining his case is so fundamental, so embedded in the common law, that, in the absence of parliamentary authority, no judge should override it … [it] represents an irreducible minimum requirement of an ordinary civil trial,

This follows a ruling last week by the European Court of Justice that restrictions on the payment of benefits to the wives of individuals who have had their assets frozen due to suspected terrorist activity are illegal. The restrictions included only being allowed to withdraw £10 a week in cash for each member of the household and having to regularly submit detailed reports of their finances to the Treasury. Right to the very end Labour has refused to learn that these kind of spiteful and vindictive measures do nothing to combat terrorism and do everything to undermine public support for the fight against it.

Taking Brown to task on child detention

An excellent piece at OurKingdom by Clare Sambrook, who takes apart Gordon Brown’s defence of the detention of the children of asylum seekers.

We believe that history will judge the administrative detention of children to be a moral stain on the reputation of this country, akin to slavery and child labour. One day we will look back in horror at the fact that innocent children, no different from our own, and capable of experiencing the same joy and wonder at the world and feeling the same anxiety, fear and pain were imprisoned in our name.

This issue, and the treatment of asylum seekers in general, is the great unsung scandal in this country. Meanwhile the leaders of our political parties bicker over who can be “toughest” on immigration.

H/T Justin @ Chicken Yoghurt

Socialised healthcare? Yes please!

Since I commented on Barack Obama’s difficulties last week things have improved for him considerably, with his healthcare reforms finally signed into law.

The final bill may not be entirely what many on the left were hoping for but given the entrenched interests he was battling against and the wholly dishonest and unprincipled disinformation campaign by his opponents (“death panels” etc) this is still a considerable achievement.

Unsurprisingly there has been a rather hysterical reaction from opponents on the right, for example this from GOP congressman Devin Nunes

Today we are turning back the clock. For most of the 21st century, people fled the ghosts of communist dictators and now you’re bringing the ghost back into this chamber. With passage of this bill, they will haunt Americans for generations. Your multi-trillion dollar health care bill continues the Soviets, failed Soviet socialist experiment. It gives the federal government absolute control over healthcare in America.

Well quite, why would Americans want a socialised, communist even, system like that in the UK – where the state exerts so much control over our healthcare, spending our tax dollars (or rather pounds) with abandon?

P.S. According to the OECD, public spending on health in 2007 as a proportion of GDP was -

UK – 6.86%
USA – 7.26%

Gordon’s revenge

It’s good to see that Labour has taken such quick and decisive action against the former ministers caught up in the lobbying sting. It would be nice to think that this is a purely principled reaction and the start of a crackdown on political lobbying and on former ministers filling their boots by taking lucrative jobs either with lobbying firms or companies which had dealings with their departments while they were ministers (see here for example).
Or just possibly it has someting to do with the fact that two of the ministers, Hewitt and Hoon, were involved in the abortive coup against Brown earlier this year.
Either way, given the sheer useless they displayed during their ministerial careers it is difficult to have any sympathy for Hoon and Hewitt.

Return of the undead

It has been another difficult week for Barack Obama, with his little problem with Israel. What with his problems getting his healthcare reforms through congress and in finding a way to close Guantanamo Bay it might be understandable if Liberals on both sides of the pond were getting slightly frustrated, so it is fitting that in the last few days we have been given a reminder of why, whatever Obama’s faults, we should at least be truly grateful that the Republicans, or specifically the particular faction represented by Bush and his cronies, are out of power.

First we have Bush’s chief political strategist Karl Rove doing the rounds, touting his book and defending the use of waterboarding on terrorist subjects.

“I’m proud that we used techniques that broke the will of these terrorists and gave us valuable information that allowed us to foil plots such as flying aeroplanes into Heathrow and into London, bringing down aircraft over the Pacific, flying an aeroplane into the tallest building in Los Angeles and other plots,” he said.
“Yes, I’m proud that we kept the world safer than it was, by the use of these techniques. They’re appropriate, they’re in conformity with our international requirements and with US law.”

All very noble sounding of course, but even if one accepts that waterboarding does not constitute torture (and that requires a rather wide stretch of the imagination) we should be aware that this was only one kind of abuse which was suffered by detainees and remember the practice of extraordinary rendition, the black prison network and the outsourcing of torture to regimes less concerned with their international obligations and legal niceties. Continue reading

Amnesty and Gita Sahgal – keeping it in perspective

Flying Rodent has an excellent post here which pretty much nails the arguments over Amnesty International and its dispute with Gita Sahgal, the head of its gender unit over its “association” with Mozam Begg and CagePrisoners. There isn’t much more I can really add, except that if people are making a fuss over this because they are genuinely concerned about Amnesty protecting its reputation (and I don’t doubt this is true in some cases) then they might take care to keep their concerns and the tone in which they express them in proportion on the basis that AI is generally run by pretty decent people who are not terrorist huggers and on the whole does a large amount of very important work which dwarfs any individual (possible) errors of judgement like this. And also take care to distance themselves from those who don’t have such noble motives but are either using this to promote a wider agenda, either to portray all liberal lefty types as appeasers of terrorists and Islamists, or to actively undermine AI itself.
Of course AI should not be immune from criticism – like any organisation it can make mistakes and it hasn’t handled the whole situation very well. But it is perfectly possibly to make pointed but constructive criticism while at the same time making a wider defence of the organisation and its work as well.

The Guardian’s Fred Pearce seems to be confused

The Guardian is not the first place one expects to see stories jumping on the “climategate” bandwagon, but they made a big splash this week with this story by Fred Pearce.

Phil Jones, the beleaguered British climate scientist at the centre of the leaked emails controversy, is facing fresh claims that he sought to hide problems in key temperature data on which some of his work was based.
A Guardian investigation of thousands of emails and documents apparently hacked from the University of East Anglia’s climatic research unit has found evidence that a series of measurements from Chinese weather stations were seriously flawed and that documents relating to them could not be produced.

The “evidence” which supposedly incriminates Jones seems to me to be rather flimsy, but my point is not to argue the rights and wrongs of the accusation. What I find a bit odd is that Fred Pearce seems to have rather changed his view of the hacked emails – after all he had previously published a piece with the headline “How the ‘climategate’ scandal is bogus and based on climate sceptics’ lies” with the sub-heading “Claims based on email soundbites are demonstrably false – there is manifestly no evidence of clandestine data manipulation” in which he wrote

Almost all the media and political discussion about the hacked climate emails has been based on brief soundbites publicised by professional sceptics and their blogs. In many cases, these have been taken out of context and twisted to mean something they were never intended to.

Of course people do sometimes change their positions on particular issues, there’s nothing wrong with that. So how long did it take Pearce to undergo this rather drastic conversion? Well the piece alleging malpractice based on evidence in the hacked emails was posted on the Guardian website at 21:00 on 1st February, whereas the piece claiming that the “climategate” scandal was bogus was posted at , er, 18:04 on the same day, less than three hours earlier.

Is it just me or does Fred Pearce seem to be somewhat confused?