Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Rights... of various nature

The deportation of the radical cleric Abu Qatada has recently whipped up quite some furor in the press.

Of cours the furor was not ignited by the long turmoil around the deportation, then the appeal, now the final verdict of ... deportation, nor around the person. The upheaval was about this person's rights... human rights, of course. He is, biologically, human... His mind is more that of a particularly scary monster, but he does have human rights.

Especially so in a society and a country so proud of its human rights record. Qatada should not be deported, some say, to Jordan, because he faces torture with very high probability... therefore one should not be deported to a country where one faces such inhumane treatment.

What gets me is the funny selective amnesia that this historical democracy, oh-so-high on its human rights track record has.

The same Government took us to an illegal war, based on fabricated evidence. It is just mildly amusing that Jack Straw today has vetoed the publication of minutes of key Cabinet meetings held in the run-up to the Iraq war in 2003.

"The damage that disclosure of the minutes in this instance would do far outweighs any corresponding public interest in their disclosure." , he said. In other words, those minutes are soooooooooooo bad that we can't possibly have access to what by now is known as a historically significant monumental lie.

Human rights are selectively suspended and erased by any Government anywhere, even such amnesiac one as this. Whether it is pure political interest, oil, financial and economic reasons, strategy, whatever... human rights are mentioned by the Government as and when suits them.

Things were not dissimilar in any other political regime or country, and people like myself remember those all too well.

This certain Government, whenever trumpeting deep dilemmas about human rights, should recall its track record over the last few, not so few, years - all the stalinist measures they introduced that curtailed MY and OUR human rights.

Frankly, whether a chillingly demented radical cleric's human rights are suffering some scratches and dents, is not up for debate, the politicians say: those rights are not adaptable, questionable depending on how evil one is.

Well, not sure how we ordinary people in this country compare to such demented, dangerous maniacs... and yes, we are not facing probable interrogation torture about anything just yet.

But if those rights are so absolute, can we please stop taking them down one by one under the name of 'War on Terror', please?

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Fear of Terror

After the Geneva-based ICJ published its damning report mentioned yesterday on this blog, too, there have been other much welcome statements.

The head of MI5 itself said that, quite eloquently, "It would be better that the government recognised that there are risks, rather than frightening people in order to be able to pass laws which restrict civil liberties, precisely one of the objects of terrorism - that we live in fear and under a police state".

She said that, neatly put again, ministers are using the fear of terror to introduce interesting legislation.

A short summary of the BBC was quite good, this doesn't even go into the insane new laws on restricting photography or all the abuses of police power reported here, too over the last few years (all committed under the amazing umbrella of the Act on Terror):

"Government plans for a giant database to record the times, dates and recipients of all emails and text messages sent and phone calls made in the UK
The growth of Britain's DNA database - it is now the world's largest, per head of population, with samples from some 4m people
The use by councils of laws designed to track criminals and terrorists to spy on ordinary citizens. In one case a family was watched to see if they were really living in a school catchment area
The spread of CCTV cameras. Britain now reportedly has some 4m, the highest density in western Europe
Proposals for secret inquests, excluding relatives, juries and the media, which the government says would prevent intelligence details leaking out. "

At least for some of us, these are deja-vu... Could of course add to the list the radical and revolting new laws on photograpy in public, and minor things like the propaganda about 'suspiciously acting photographers' to be reported, the rule about not demonstrating around the Parliament in a 1000 yard radius, the further rules about 'being vigilent' at all times...

We all said, this is a stalinist state of affairs in the making, it is quite shocking that some erudite committees and fountainheads have seen what we all thought we must be only imagining, it simply can not be this bad :-)

Well, fear culture I'm sure will develop more and can never underestimate the esteemed politicians' abilities to think up such new legislation in the name of public safety...

Monday, 16 February 2009

Arbitrary terror

UK civil liberties have taken a new beating today. I recall the days in my former home country when the 'militia' (which turned itself into the police force after the Revolution) were dreaded. One could not imagine taking pictures of them out & about, and certainly even during the events of the ethnic pogrom in March 1990, if they caught you immortalising their acts & activities meant serious trouble.

Well, wind the tape forward, and tada... as of today, a new law - Section 76 of the Counter Terrorism Act - has come into force in the UK. It allows the police to arrest anyone found "eliciting, publishing or communicating information" relating to members of the armed forces, intelligence services and police officers, which is "likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism".

In other words, taking pictures of policemen can land you in trouble. In a country where (as per several past blog entries here) they were already renowned for utter abuse of power, now they have even more to arbitrarily interpret and abuse.

Photo organisations and journalists have been outraged. It is simply incredible that the utterly ludicrous legislation on the War on Terror has now a new addition of this kind.

It is just tragicomic that with impeccable timing, the International Commission of Jurists said many states used the public's fear of terrorism to introduce measures, concluding after a 3-year world-wide study.

The chairman declared: "In the course of this inquiry, we have been shocked by the extent of the damage done over the past seven years by excessive or abusive counter-terrorism measures in a wide range of countries around the world. Many governments, ignoring the lessons of history, have allowed themselves to be rushed into hasty responses to terrorism that have undermined cherished values and violated human rights. The result is a serious threat to the integrity of the international human rights legal framework."

So at least one can see one is not imagining it... and also, that some still have a lucid perception of what is going on in these so-called 'free societies'.

Certainly the UK, as per all the bad things, leads again... so hail the brand new Section 76.

Overzealous police officers who thought that they have the backing of these dubious laws were already abusing their powers and illegally, anti-constitutionally committed everything from confiscating photo equipment from even amateur photographers at random, demanded or actually did deletions of photos, arrested photographers for absolutely no reason (and some managed to even successfully sue the police because of such stalinist abuses of power)... Now they have even more 'backing' to do whatever crosses their mind, in the name of 'public safety' (?) and the 'War on terror' (?).

Just who is terrorising who?

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Safety

The Romanian PM, former mayor of Cluj, has stated categorically that there isn't an increase in the rate of crime and that especially Cluj remains a safe city.

Right... Well, some commented that, without having fond memories of Ceausescu's Golden Era, in the 1970s and '80s one could walk in perfect safety alone in the middle of the night, true, had to carry the ID with him as the dreaded 'militia' was roaming the streets. At the moment, one is often afraid to go to quite central areas of the city in broad daylight...

What makes the firm declaration even funnier is that in Cluj a few armed robbers have emptied a bank in one minute and 6 seconds - Oceans Eleven, eat your heart out. Hollywood would really have to scratch its giant head to make thrillers with scripts consisting of the robbers' 'Veni, Vidi, Vici... in one minute and six seconds' routine.

The minister for internal affairs, in quite a contrast to the PM's silly statement about public safety and no increase in crime rates, stated that they really have to consider more beefing up of the police force. Well, this triggered some thoughts and comments along the lines of whether a police state is what we need...

In Romania, policemen mostly clamp down on those that they can clamp down on without further repercussions... if they happen to jump on a key mafioso, then they lose their job in minutes. As usual, laws there are for those that are not above the law... and its enforcing only works towards that particular category.

It is just hilarious, that the above coincidences of events and statements is further made surreal by a third virtually simultanesous piece of news, namely that overzealous Romanian policemen have stopped three ambulances that were rushing ten people to hospital after a major accident.

The particular combination of total disconnect from reality, surreal and laughably easy crimes triggering calls for even further 'uniform mania' and then the events showing just how utterly useless armed policement are in hitting the right spots is truly unique... but it is just one of the synergetic tragicomedies of everyday life there.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Biometrics

While in Romania there was a great upheaval about passports with biometric data, UK has some further tragicomedy... well, actually deeply revolting tragicomedy on this front.

The Romanian Orthodox Church labeled them "Satan's document", because... yes, this is in 2009... there is some 3-digit occurrence of 666... then they changed the tune to talk about human rights, just when the backlash was getting louder (mainly consisted of the question: when will they leave the Dark Ages?). Then of course it raised other eyebrows, because, as the population above the age of 30 very well remembers how the same church had zero problems about being the right hand of Ceausescu's circles of power... Human rights didn't matter to this church before, but of course now they are much reformed...

Anyway, in the UK the situation about the biometric ID cards is even funnier.

If someone said that they are purely and simply after your biometric data (and not so much after the actual ID cards or their use for the ... ah yes... war against terrorism), they got labeled paranoid conspiracy theorists.

But let's look at the facts:

UK Government spent 4.7 billion pounds on the program, mainly to be able to gather the biometric data.

Yes, you read it correctly. The equipment to actually read the data from the cards and match to their bearer and its roll-out has not been budgeted. Clearly, its practical use is not the main aim here...

Furthermore, they said that they have no budget plans for this latter minor element in the landscape of biometric data-based identification of people... not now and not in near future.

So let me summarise:
- they make the biometric data ID cards compulsory (well, you have to present it when you enter the country in the future... so as long as you never leave and enter the UK, you'll be fine...)
- they only spend money on the actual biometric data gathering project
- they don't even have plan to spend money on introducing the reading and authenticating equipment

So... it still is very paranoid from some to say that UK in the name of 'War on Terror' has again played games... and the real objective is to gather as much as possible data about everybody, without an actual practical use in everyday life.

Looking at this, it is not that surprising that iris scan data can only be used on even Terminal 1 at Heathrow in 1 single cubicle (!), so even at that level they have no real intention to use it for what it was advertised to be used for: security and faster passing through airports...

Sunday, 1 February 2009

Resonances

Interesting how the financial and economic crises have triggered nationalism and extremism in various forms.

Watching the events in my former and present home, can't help realising that the core issues are the same, even though the manifestation and the details are very different.

In Romania, there was a master strike - the number of Hungarian language classes that can be run in schools have been dramatically cut. When this was noticed, it produced quite a furor and it was apologetically rectified... but by then, Romanian pupils and high-school students started to organise extreme nationalist protests due to the extra Romanian classes being 'replaced' (hence 'cut') in favour of Hungarian ethnic minority students...

It would be funny, unless it was also happening in my home town that has seen more than enough ultra-nationalist and fact-distorting upheavals... some ending up in a literally bloody mess, like the events in March 1990.

So once again, the spark is simple and purely ethnically driven- but its timing is also perfect and it's being blown out of proportion, as it successfully diverts attention from the huge problems of the current (newly elected) Government. If people are drawn into yet another xenophobia frenzy triggered by tragicomic partial truths, at least they won't pay much attention to the financial crisis deepened by the utterly incompetent Government parties - and that for example the key Mafiosi-turned-politicians like the unbelievable Nastase received tens of billions (in old local currency) from state institutions for his electoral campaign.

If you are raging about the ethnic minorities, you won't maybe notice that these parties have emptied the country's pockets so much for their own political aims, that even child benefit payments were delayed for ages, pension rises cut back to fractions of what was promised... and the currency has reached record lows relative to Euro and Pound.

In the UK, strike actions started due to the fact that foreign contractors are used in many jobs that are seen as 'given away' to alien (to use the kind British term) workforce while unemployment is soaring in the UK. On the surface, fair enough and while Mr. Brown is talking about how protectionism will be disastrous in current economic climate, this really is a matter of protectionism... but of a country's own workforce. Still, it gives rise to uncomfortable questions: currently, anybody who has the right to work in the UK also has the equal right to apply for a job... and the employer can ultimately pick.

So things are not as straightforward as they seem, but this didn't deter the BNP-like fascism to spike again. Loud illiterate gorillas are already shouting with foaming mouths about foreigners and locals... in a country where anyway, always and with boring self-repetition, foreigners are the cause of every problem, even the situation of the diabolical and shameful public transport system's.

So, once again, foreigners among us and foreigners 'out there' are the cause of all of our problems :-)... Yep, another deja-vu and some things are just... universally applicable. Just have to do a search/replace for keywords and the same stories can be printed in Romanian and British media.