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Archive for October 2010

Massive Denial-of-Service attack on human rights group Survival International

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Help beat the torturers and their cyber-hacking buddies – please blog or tweet about the attack on Survival International

The video that someone, somewhere doesn’t want you to see

Survival International works to defend the rights of tribal communities under threat from repressive governments and rogue corporations.

Last week they published and distributed a shocking video of Indonesian soldiers torturing tribal people in West Papua. This week their website was attacked and taken out of action. Other websites that published the torture video were also reportedly attacked.

According to Survival:

Starting with a test attack at 5pm (London time) on Wednesday 27 October, and building to a very sophisticated ‘distributed denial-of-service’ onslaught that evening, many thousands of PCs around the world simultaneously bombarded Survival’s website, knocking it offline.

Other organizations that hosted the torture video have also had their websites attacked.

Similar attacks occurred during Survival’s campaign against the Botswana government, after the Bushmen were evicted from their traditional lands.

Survival’s Director Stephen Corry said today, ‘This isn’t a couple of geeks in a shed, it’s an expensive and sophisticated attack amounting to cyberterrorism. The damage to Survival International may be substantial but is of course nothing compared to that inflicted on West Papuan tribes or Botswana’s Bushmen. This is not just a local struggle for the survival of the few hundred remaining hunting Bushmen in Africa, or the more than one million oppressed tribespeople in Indonesian West Papua, it also epitomizes the onslaught against those who dare to reject the domination of money and government over human rights. The forces ranged against us are colossal, and may have won this round, but we will never give up.’

Written by Richard Wilson

October 28, 2010 at 1:31 pm

BBC’s Mark Easton uncritically regurgitates report downplaying corruption in the UK – but chooses not to reveal that the “thinktank” behind it is a finance industry front group

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Dear Mark Easton,

1. Why did you decide not to reveal to your readers that this report – which claims that the UK Financial sector has been sorely maligned and that corruption in the UK is not as bad as people think it is, and whose conclusions you appear to accept uncritically – was produced by a front group for the Financial industry?

2. Did it not strike you as noteworthy that this study is being launched with great razzamatazz – fronted, of course, by Peter Mandelson – on exactly the same day as the annual report by the independent (ie. not funded by an industry front group) anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International?

In contrast to today’s sunny findings from the Legatum Institute, Transparency International has warned us that  Britain is “seriously at risk of dropping out of the top 20″ in its anti-corruption index.

According to the Guardian:

Britain’s failure to prosecute foreign bribery has been partly blamed on its outdated, fragmented and complex anti-corruption legislation.

Interestingly:

In its dying days, the last Labour government brought in a modernised law to stamp out bribery… Ken Clarke, the justice secretary, announced in the summer that the act will not be enforced until April next year, so further consultation on its details can be held.

Transparency International’s Director told the Guardian that

Britain’s worsening performance in the league table “strengthens the case for the UK’s new bribery act to be properly enforced, and sends a warning signal to the government that there should be no dilution of the bribery act or further delay in its commencement”.

I wonder what “signal” the Legatum Institute is hoping to send the government by launching its somewhat cosier assessment on exactly the same day…

Written by Richard Wilson

October 26, 2010 at 11:53 am

Complicity in sleaze: UK Parliamentary Standards Commission kept MacShane investigation secret from voters during 2010 General Election

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Today it was revealed that the UK Parliamentary Standards Commissioner has reported Denis MacShane MP to the police over his alleged misuse of Parliamentary expenses.

But they appear to have decided that the voters of Rotherham had no right to know, during this year’s General Election, that their MP was under investigation. The Labour Party, too, appears to have had little interest in allowing voters to make an informed choice.

Denis MacShane today told the BBC that he had been under investigation following a complaint made against him in June 2009.

Yet, when in March this year, I made a Freedom of Information Act request to the Parliamentary Standards Office asking how many MPs were being investigated, and who those MPs were, the request was formally refused.

Someone called Bob Castle (more on his connection to the MPs expenses scandal here) stated frostily that:

The number of inquiries under way as at 31 March 2010 is information that will be included in the Commissioner’s Annual Report for 2009-10, which is expected to be published in the early summer. It is therefore exempt from publication under s22  of the Freedom of Information Act (information intended for future publication).

To release the names of any MPs under investigation would, he told me, infringe the “privileges of Parliament”.

In response, I wrote to Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats, asking them which, if any, of their MPs were under investigation. None responded.

I’ve argued before that cleaning up Parliament will require a wholesale clear-out not only of the corrupt MPs who have been abusing the system for personal gain, but also of the unelected, unaccountable officials who have worked so hard to help them get away with it.

The Parliamentary Standards Office made a deliberate decision to withhold crucial information from UK voters ahead of the 2010 General Election. The voters of Rotherham – and for all we know many other constituencies around the country – were thus prevented from making an informed choice about the candidates seeking their votes. It’s only now, five months after the election has taken place, that the full picture is beginning to emerge. It may be another four years before Rotherham voters can express their judgement on this at the ballot box.

Yet again, the Standards Commission has put the “privileges of Parliament” before the rights of the electorate, and brought our democracy into further disrepute.

Written by Richard Wilson

October 14, 2010 at 2:02 pm

Posted in Democracy

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I agree with Tony Blair…

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…albeit only on his claim that western countries have been “outspent, outmanoeuvred and out-strategised” by Islamist extremism.

But what’s missing from Blair’s analysis is an acknowledgement of how much of this funding comes from elites in countries which successive UK governments, including his own, have failed to challenge.

There is nothing unique about the tendency of Islamist demagogues to incite hatred by demonising a particular national or ethnic group, fan resentments by scapegoating a caricatured foreign enemy for domestic problems, entrench inequalities by aggressively enforcing “traditional” social codes, and promote fear by seeking to link unconnected events into some vast global conspiracy.

Elites the world over propagate such extremist ideas as a means of manipulating people and increasing their own power. Sometimes they will sincerely believe their own propaganda. Often, as in the former Yugoslavia, Burundi, and, according to some sources, Iran, the private behaviour of many in power suggests that they have little or no regard for the ideas they are promoting to others with such vigour.

But in a great many cases, a major driving force behind the propagation of these ideas is that they serve a specific political (and often economic) purpose for someone, somewhere. “Challenging the narrative”, to paraphrase Blair, can only get us so far if we refuse to acknowledge this dimension.

As Mark Curtis makes clear in his excellent book “Secret Affairs“, when it comes to militant Islam, no country can match the money poured into propagating an extreme form of “Wahabbism” by Saudi Arabia. Money gained, in large part, through the country’s vast oil reserves.

Like Iran, Saudi Arabia is a fundamentalist dictatorship run by a tiny, corrupt elite that uses militant Islam as a tool for manipulating people. Unlike Iran, that corrupt elite is on very good terms with a number of western governments, notably the UK.

While Prime Minister, Blair personally helped broker a £40 billion arms deal with the Saudi elite. He also sought to scupper, ostensibly on grounds of national security, a major corruption investigation implicating the Saudi royal family in bribery.

It’s no coincidence that corruption and extremism often go hand in hand. For starters, the kind of person who will kill, torture and rape his way into power will tend to have fewer scruples than most about looting the national treasury for his own enrichment when he gets there. And once a corrupt elite has been installed – the enormous financial benefits for the dictator and those in his favour will provide an overwhelming incentive to do whatever it takes to hang onto power. Promoting batty extremist ideas is a tried and tested method.

The distinguishing feature, it seems to me, of the corrupt elite that seized control of Saudi Arabia in the early 20th century is less the particular flavour of their extremism, than the fact that they were lucky enough to take power shortly before the discovery of the country’s vast oil reserves.

In seeking to position itself as the leader of the Islamic world, the Saudi state has spent an estimated $70 billion promoting “Wahhabism” around the globe. One US think-tank describes this as the “largest worldwide propaganda campaign ever mounted”.

If we’re serious about understanding how Islamic extremism grew to be such a powerful global force – and how that power can effectively be “challenged”, then this seems like quite an important fact to overlook.

Saudi Arabia’s vast oil wealth has not only funded militant Islam – it has helped to protect the country’s elite from the consequences of its actions. Western governments seem largely content to focus on the secondary problems of Saudi-funded terrorism in Afghanistan and Pakistan, rather than risk jeopardising lucrative trade deals and energy supplies by facing up to the root cause.

Blair’s indulgence of Saudi Arabia’s hardline Islamist dictatorship continues even now. Earlier this year the Saudi government reported that the former Prime Minister had held another meeting with “The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz”, this time to discuss their plans to “achieve a just and comprehensive peace” in the Middle East. Well good luck with that one…

This post is partly a (tangential) reponse to an excellent piece from Heresy Corner.

Written by Richard Wilson

October 7, 2010 at 1:16 pm

Posted in terrorism

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“Guess who’s also on the Murdoch payroll? The Scotland Yard cop who headed up the failed investigation”

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From the Columbia Journalism Review

Politico astutely pointed out the other day that Fox News now employs four of the leading Republican presidential candidates: Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, Mike Huckabee, and Rick Santorum.

It’s hardly news that Fox News is more propaganda outlet than news organization. But this ought to be a more troubling development than it seems to have been thus far…

…it’s uncertain how other news organizations can cover the early stages of the presidential race when some of the main GOP contenders are contractually forbidden to appear on any TV network besides Fox.

C-SPAN Political Editor Steve Scully said that when C-SPAN tried to have Palin on for an interview, he was told he had to first get Fox’s permission — which the network, citing her contract, ultimately denied. Producers at NBC, ABC, CBS, CNN and MSNBC all report similar experiences…

Murdoch, at least, is a naturalized American citizen, and who can forget the heart-warming story of why he became one: To get past legal requirements so he could snap up TV stations here.

But I’ve never understood why the UK allows a foreigner like Murdoch to have so much control over its press—he controls some 40 percent of newspaper circulation and has huge influence over television, too…

That News of the World scandal and coverup continues to unravel, and Murdoch’s influence is one of the key stories there. It looks for all the world as if Scotland Yard was so in debt to and/or scared of News Corporation that it wouldn’t investigate the crimes properly—and even helped cover them up.

Guess who’s also on the Murdoch payroll? The Scotland Yard cop who headed up the failed investigation….

Written by Richard Wilson

October 5, 2010 at 5:16 am

Case documents from the Migration Watch vs Bercow libel case

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For my details on this, see my previous post

Migration Watch vs Bercow libel case documents

These documents consist of:

pp1-2 A letter from the Migration Watch solicitors, Geoffrey Leaver, to Sally Bercow

p3 A transcript of the television programme in which Sally Bercow made comments which Migration Watch claims are defamatory.

p4 A draft apology to Andrew Green written by the Migration Watch solicitors and included in their initial letter, with the expectation that Sally Bercow would “send an apology to Sir Andrew in the terms attached”.

It’s important to note that even though this letter was written by the claimant’s solicitors in Sally Bercow’s name, she neither approved it nor signed it.

pp5-8 A response to the Migration Watch solicitors from Sally Bercow’s lawyers, Preiskel & Co.

Written by Richard Wilson

October 1, 2010 at 6:45 pm

Time for an open and honest debate about Migration Watch? Defamation case against Labour activist Sally Bercow highlights the urgent need for libel reform.

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Right-wing thinktank takes its cue from the British Chiropractic Association

*Help defend freedom of speech in the UK – sign the petition for libel reform*

Migration Watch is a right-wing thinktank run by Andrew Green, former UK Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, whose controversial claims about the scale and impact of immigration in Britain have been repeatedly challenged.

One might have thought that our former envoy to one of the world’s most repressive regimes would have been keen to defend basic human rights. So I was surprised to learn that Green and his organisation have made repeated use of Britain’s notoriously unfair and draconian libel laws in response to criticism of their views.

Today sees the launch of a renewed campaign to defend freedom of speech in Britain, prompted by the ill-judged libel threat by Migration Watch and Andrew Green against Labour commentator and activist Sally Bercow over comments she made in a TV discussion. She is fighting the claim with the help of formidable free speech advocates David Allen Green and Robert Dougans, who led the successful defence of science writer Simon Singh against an unfounded libel claim by the British Chiropractic Association.

Interestingly, Migration Watch have themselves repeatedly called for “open debate” about immigration:

“The census figures should stimulate an open and honest debate about this highly sensitive issue”, Migration Watch, February 2003

“It is time for a fundamental rethink on the back of an open and honest debate” – Andrew Green, BBC, September 2005

“An open debate would be welcome”, Andrew Green, Guardian, March 2010

Migration Watch’s David Coleman was also keen to cite “freedom of speech” in 2007, when students at Oxford University controversially sought to have him sacked over his association with  the Galton Institute (formerly known as the Eugenics Society).

Migration Watch is one of a small number of NGOs (splitting this dubious honour with the “Quilliam Foundation” and the BCA) who, while seeking to be part of a public discussion, have chosen to respond to criticism within that discussion by resorting to Britain’s discredited and dysfunctional libel laws.

It is indeed time for an “open debate”. Migration Watch should practise what they preach, and drop this misguided libel threat.

See also: New Statesman, “Why MigrationWatch is wrong — a plea for a more robust debate on immigration”.

Written by Richard Wilson

October 1, 2010 at 3:03 pm