That European Arrest Warrant

Such a lovely thing, isn\’t it?

You can be hauled off, no evidence required, to another country where you can be held for up to 18 months without charge.

You see, our fellow members of the European Union don\’t in fact have habeas corpus. Nor jury systems, most of them.

Aren\’t we so, sooo, lucky to be in an ever closer union with them and aren\’t we soooo, sooooo, lucky that we\’ve signed away the rights our forefathers fought for and, in some cases, died for?

This is the other side of, the cost of, common rules on the composition of compotes.

Well worth it, don\’t you think?

Erm, Zoe?

Some might suggest young people are taught abstinence but even investing $1bn in "abstinence-only" sex education across the US has not prevented young people delaying having sex….

That\’s actually the point of the $1 billion, isn\’t it?


Reading Tom Clancy Novels

You know, it might be that someone has been doing that again.

Hundreds of endangered monkeys are being taken from the African bush and sent to a “secretive” laboratory in Iran for scientific experiments.

Manji said scientists at the Razi Vaccine and Serum Research Institute in Iran had bought 215 vervet monkeys from him this year but he had become suspicious about their true motive, although he was still trading with them. They had “spent a lot of money” on getting the monkeys, even sending over scientists to check on each consignment.

“Iran is very secretive,” said Manji, who has been exporting monkeys for 22 years. “They said it [the monkeys] was for ‘our country’, for vaccine. [They said] ‘We don’t buy vaccine from anywhere; we prepare our own vaccine’.

“But I think they use it for something else. You know why? Because they don’t go on kilos. Iran wants [monkeys weighing] 1.5kg to 2.5kg, [but] 1.5kg for vaccine is not possible.”

Rubibira indicated that finding out what the Iranians wanted the monkeys for would be difficult. “They cannot say, you know. They are secretive. They wouldn’t tell the truth.”

The revelation will fuel speculation that the monkeys may be used for research involving biological weapons. Primates are typically used by scientists wishing to test both the effectiveness of germ warfare agents and defences against them.

The Razi Vaccine and Serum Research Institute, which has its headquarters in Karaj, near Tehran, has been accused in the past by an Iranian opposition group of conducting biological weapons testing.

That is indeed one of the basic plots that winds through a Tom Clancy novel: that the Iranians are using monkeys from East Africa to test and manufacture the Ebola virus to use in a biological warfare attack against the US.

Now I suppose the interesting question is who has been reading the novel? The Iranians or the reporters?

Good Grief!

Police sniffer dogs will have to wear bootees when searching the homes of Muslims so as not to cause offence.

Yes, I know we provide halal or kosher (and vegetarian, vegan etc) meals to people and so on but quite how far do we go with this?

For example, under some of the more Orthodox interpretations of Judaism we should not use a menstruating woman officer to arrest an Orthodox man as their contact will make him unclean and in need of purifying himself.

Do we go that far? Or is there some point where we say sorry, this is Britain, deal with it?

And if the latter, where is that point?

Polly Today

This is lovely.

The first half is about that Joseph Rowntree report on the minimum income needed to escape poverty. She entirely misses the fact that people on the minimum wage do in fact make that necessary amount: if only they weren\’t being forced to hand over 18% of their income in income tax and NI. The fault lies not with a minimum wage that is too low, but with a tax system which reaches too far down into the incomes of the poor.

The second part is even better. She\’s just found out that it was the structural changes in the jobs market which fueled the greater social mobility of the post war decades: not the education system. Which pretty much puts the kibosh on her oft repeated insistence that it was the introduction of the comprehensive school system which fueled said mobility.

In the 1960s bright school-leavers at 16 could work their way up, but now lack of qualifications keeps them in their place as graduates from better backgrounds seize that job instead.

Quite, and thus one method of increasing social mobility would be to reduce the eduational establishment. Slash the number of university places, all the way back to 10%, 15% of the age cohort, make a degree the preserve again of those who really need one, rather than what it is now, a signalling mechanism that you are of the background fortunate enough to spend that extra 5 years (from 16 onwards) in said education system.

Those New Economics Foundation Boys

Yes, it\’s Andrew Simms holding forth.

Behind the lamentations is a teenage fantasy of blithe, consequence-free, self-pleasuring that denies the needs of millions in poorer parts of the world who lack electricity, potable water or transport. Our grotesque over-consumption spits in the face of real global poverty, and drives potentially irreversible environmental degradation that hits the poorest first and worst.

In an age of global warming, talk of "green shackles" is like talking about "anti-child labour shackles", or the shackles of laws that prevent us burning down each other\’s houses. We need parameters to be set around sufficient levels of consumption to prevent the footprint of our lifestyles outgrowing the shoe of the planet, and trampling others in the process.

Sadly he seems to rather miss the point that it is by our consuming the products of those poor that they will be able to create the wealth which will raise them up out of poverty. If we all stop consuming then they\’re going to have an even harder time of it than they do now.

Bound to Happen

People applying to take up jobs as teachers, nurses, childminders and even those volunteering to work with youth groups are likely to have been among those falsely accused of wrongdoing by the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB).

I\’m not sure this really counts as news does it? That there will be false positives in any such system is pretty obvious, isn\’t it?

However, figures seen by The Daily Telegraph disclose that in the year to February 2008, 680 people were issued with incorrect information on their background checks by the CRB.

Ministers are planning a massive increase in the number of criminal records checks carried out on members of the public. The number of checks processed annually by CRB has risen from 1.5 million in 2002-04 to almost three million over the past year.

"Since 2004 the CRB has stopped 80,000 unsuitable people working with vulnerable groups with a disclosure accuracy of 99.98 per cent.

Those figures seem to bear that out: a false positives rate off 0.02 %. Did anyone actually think that it would be lower than that? Or that there wouldn\’t be false positives at all?

680 false positives against a claimed 20,000 correct positives seems a pretty good ratio as well. Although. of course, there\’s still the one number we\’d really like to know which is the number of false negatives but there\’s no way of finding that out as far as I can see.

Yes Naomi

This really does take the biscuit. Naomi Klein\’s not normally all that clued up, agreed, but she rarely actually undermines her own argument in the same piece.

Firstly, there\’s this:

It started with no-bid service contracts announced for Exxon Mobil, Chevron, Shell, BP and Total (they have yet to be signed but are still on course). Paying multinationals for their technical expertise is not unusual in itself. What is odd is that such contracts almost invariably go to oil service companies – not to the oil majors, whose work is exploring, producing and owning carbon wealth.

Any of our resident oil industry experts want to take that on?

But then there\’s this:

One week after the no-bid service deals were announced, the world caught its first glimpse of the real prize. After years of backroom arm-twisting, Iraq is officially flinging open six of its major oilfields, accounting for half of its known reserves, to foreign investors. According to Iraq\’s oil minister, the long-term contracts will be signed within a year. While ostensibly under the control of the Iraq National Oil Company, foreign corporations will keep 75% of the value of the contracts, leaving just 25% for their Iraqi partners.

That kind of ratio is unheard of in oil-rich Arab and Persian states, where achieving majority national control over oil was the defining victory of anti-colonial struggles. According to Greg Muttitt, a London-based oil expert, the assumption up until now was that foreign multinationals would be brought in to develop new fields in Iraq – not to take over those which are already in production and therefore require minimal technical support. "The policy was always to allocate these fields to the Iraq National Oil Company," he told me. "This is a total reversal of that policy, giving the Iraq National Oil Company a mere 25% instead of the planned 100%."

So what makes such lousy deals possible in Iraq, which has already suffered so much? Paradoxically, it is Iraq\’s suffering – its never-ending crisis – that is the rationale for an arrangement that threatens to drain Iraq\’s treasury of its main revenue source. The logic goes like this: Iraq\’s oil industry needs foreign expertise because years of punishing sanctions starved it of new technology, while the invasion and continuing violence degraded it further. And Iraq needs to start producing more oil urgently. Why? Also because of the war. The country is shattered and the billions handed out in no-bid contracts to western firms have failed to rebuild it.

And that\’s where the new contracts come in: they will raise more money, but Iraq has become such a treacherous place that the oil majors must be induced to take the risk of investing.

So a system of contracting out the running of oilfields which will raise more money (as she says) is in fact pillaging?

That doesn\’t even make sense in and of itself, let alone her analysis of the wider issues.

Effectively what the Iraqi contracts are doing is allowing the private sector oil companies to invest, find, drill, pump up, transport and sell the oil: while paying whacking great royalties to the Iraqi government for the privilege of doing so.

The system is such a terrible rip off, such a disastrous deal, that it\’s exactly the system that we use in the North Sea and the same system that the US uses in that country. Indeed, it\’s the same system used in Ms. Klein\’s native Canada.

So why is everyone complaining about it?


The Cost of Biofuels

Biofuels have caused a 75 per cent increase in world food prices, a new report suggests.

According to reports last night, a confidential World Bank document indicates the true extent of the effect of biofuels on prices at a crucial time in the world\’s negotiations on biofuel policy.

The report says: "Without the increase in biofuels, global wheat and maize stocks would not have declined appreciably and price increases due to other factors would have been moderate."

Aren\’t we lucky to have those clever people in Brussels picking technological winners for us?

My word, so lucky.