It’s Been A Tough Year, But I Made It!

But not everyone is as lucky as I am……

The economy is so bad that I got a pre-declined credit card in the mail.

I ordered a burger at Burger King, and the kid behind the counter asked, “Can you afford fries with that?”

CEO’s are now playing miniature golf.

If the bank returns your check marked “Insufficient Funds,” you have to call them and ask if they mean you or them .

Hot Wheels and Matchbox stocks are trading higher than GM.

Burger King is selling the 1/4 ‘ouncer’.

Parents in Beverly Hills and Malibu are firing their nannies and learning their children’s names.

A truckload of Americans was caught sneaking into Mexico .

Dick Cheney took his stockbroker hunting.

Motel Six won’t leave the light on anymore.

The Mafia is laying off judges.

Exxon-Mobil laid off 25 Congressmen.

Congress says they are looking into the Bernard Madoff scandal. Oh Great!! The guy who made $50 Billion disappear is being investigated by the people who made $1.5 Trillion disappear !

And, finally…

I was so depressed last night thinking about the economy, wars, jobs, my savings, Social Security, retirement funds, and our bleak future, that I called the Suicide Lifeline and was connected to a call center in Pakistan . When I told them I was suicidal, they got all excited, and asked if I could drive a truck.

Abu Qatada allowed to appeal deportation as Home Office accused of arrest blunder

The Home Office believed that the three month deadline for Qatada to appeal had run out at midnight on Monday, and arrested him at his home ahead of his deportation.

However today his lawyers launched an appeal with the European Court of Human Rights arguing he still had a further 24 hours in which to launch his bid.

It could pave the way for a lengthy legal dispute and allow Qatada’s lawyers to argue for him to be released again on bail.

Qatada’s legal team claims that judges at the European Court of Human Rights were wrong three months ago when they ruled that he would not be at risk of torture if returned to Jordan, a court spokeswoman said.

The court’s Grand Chamber will decide whether to hear his appeal, but the radical cleric, once described by a judge as Osama bin Laden’s right hand man in Europe, cannot be deported until the court has reached a decision.

Read more….

Dave Faces the Commons

MORNING BRIEFING – By Benedict Brogan (Daily Telegraph)


Nick Clegg on the Today Programme, discussing the still-unravelling Budget:

On charitable contributions, Mr Clegg said: “I make absolutely no apology at all that we should seek to make changes in our tax system… so that everyone pays their fair share.

“We should encourage philanthropy… but there is a simple principle at stake: if you have an unlimited allowance, you are asking lower-income taxpayers to fund that allowance, that tax break”. But he added that “we have some time” to come up with a compromise on the details.

More generally, the DPM insisted that he is “not the slightest bit defensive”, citing the increase in the pension, the pupil premium and the youth jobs plan as policies he is implementing. “Of course I accept that governments have bumps and scrapes” he said, but “we are doing good things”.

“People get absolutely swept up by some specific issues”, he said, but “you have to look at the big picture” . He said that the Government has “pulled back this country from the brink” by reducing the deficit. “We are doing things which will help millions of people”.

Asked about tuition fees, he said: “I’d love to be Prime Minister”, but he’s not – he stressed that the Lib Dems are the third biggest party in Parliament: “I have to deal with the world as it is, not as I’d like it.”


David Cameron likes to say that he hates PMQs – well, today’s will be no exception. The Prime Minister has not been seen in the Commons since the Budget that knocked 17 points of his personal approval rating. Today, he’s back, and as well as the monthly unemployment figures (likely to be bad), he will have to confront damning conclusions of the Treasury Select Committee on the Budget.

As we report in our splash story, they’re pretty unhappy with it. Read for the full story for details, but in particular, the MPs attack QE (hurts pensioners), the decision to cut tax relief for charitable donations (not well explained) and the fudge on child benefit (adds complexity). The mass leakage of the Budget also comes under fire.

That three weeks have passed, and we’re still uncovering unexploded bombs in the Budget tells you how big the problems for the Government are. In our leader column, we blame the nature of governing in coalition for the shambles:

“The statement was not only widely leaked, courtesy of the Liberal Democrats, but was also subjected to last-minute horse-trading. As a consequence, it lacked coherence.”

But there is also a broader argument about what this Government is for. In today’s Telegraph, Bruce Anderson – a reliable ally of the Prime Minister – says that Dave has to remind us he’s on our side:

It is time for Mr Cameron to make a subtle but substantial change in his political rhetoric. Every time he prepares a major speech, he should ask himself how it will play with the people who always felt that Maggie was on their side… He should regard any speech as a failure if it does not rebut the charge that the country is going to the dogs.”


Other than the Budget fall out, the other big story is Abu Qatada. Theresa May headed to the Commons yesterday with good news: the radical cleric had been arrested, a deal had been struck with Jordan and his deportation was “imminent” – the only glitch was they may have to wait months for it and it was still not entirely certain. She said:

“Deportation might still take time – the proper processes must be followed and the rule of law must take precedence – but today Qatada has been arrested and the deportation process is underway.”

“Proper processes” means more waiting and negotiating with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR): simply putting Qatada on a plane was apparently out of the question.

Qatada’s barrister claimed that Mrs May’s speech amounted to a “desperate attempt to claim that everything had changed” when the reality was that it amounted to “very little indeed”.

In our leader column , we say Mrs May “deserves praise for her tenacity”, but we wonder about her ability to achieve deportation when all of her predecessors failed. The timing of the announcement is also interesting.

The Guardian says that “justice rushed can be justice discredited” and that she is doing the “right thing” in attempting to secure more detailed assurances to satisfy the ECHR.

David Davis has a column in the Times (£) arguing. “Nobody takes a firmer stance against torture than me”, he reminds us, but the ECHR urgently needs reform, suggesting we need new rules to stop Strasbourg hearing cases that should stay in Britain, the court needs to take on less case work and it must work to restore its reputation in Britain.

Finally, the Mail’s leader column warns that if David Davis is to get his way, we’re going to have to act fast – Britain’s presidency of the Council of Europe expires next month. Tomorrow, Ken Clarke heads to Brighton to discuss the issue: good luck.


From the various reports around, it sounds like the Lobby lunch with Ken Livingstone yesterday was a slightly weird affair. The Labour mayoral candidate seemed to forget he was lunching with journalists – the Telegraph report is here.

Among other things, he said that Bin Laden shouldn’t have been shot, that Labour voters are choosing Boris because he’s funnier than Ken and most oddly of all, that he doesn’t really approve of the idea of elected mayors anyway.

So says Ken: “I’m still not persuaded of the mayoral system because it concentrates a lot of power in one person’s hands”. Presumably, his specific problem is that it concentrates a lot of power in the hands of someone who isn’t called Ken.


The work experience/slavery row is back it seems – at least for Chris Grayling. The DWP minister is giving a speech to Policy Exchange, in which he launches into a pretty savage attack on the “Polly Toynbee Left”. The Guardian has a trail here – Mr Grayling is expected to say:

“I’m afraid that too many people still just don’t get it. Like the ‘Polly Toynbee Left’ who rail with outrage against the idea of a young unemployed person being offered the chance to do a month’s work experience with Airbus, British Telecom, UK Mail or Tesco. Slave labour they call it. Well that’s just insulting to some great companies who are helping young people get a job, not to mention the young people benefiting from placements”

The killer stat Grayling provides is that young people who get some work experience are 20 per cent more likely to get a job than those who don’t.


Another day, another U-turn – now it’s Ken Clarke , on the sensitive topic of legal aid. Our report is here – Mr Clarke said that the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill will be amended to increase access to legal aid for victims of domestic violence.

Under the proposed changes, any victim whose partners has a caution for violence would be entitled to aid, while the Government will adopt the broader Association of Chief Police Officers’ definition of domestic violence. Women with doctors’ notes, or who are living in a refuge, would also get support.

It’s hardly surprising that Mr Clarke has been forced into making some changes – his Bill suffered 11 defeats in the Lords. But the Lib Dem-Labour alliance arranged by Lib Dem president Tim Farron (H/T Paul Waugh ) to push for further concessions yesterday ought to worry the Justice Secretary.


Latest YouGov/Sun polling: Conservatives 32%, Labour 41%, Ukip 9%, Liberal Democrats 8%

From this week, I’m going to include the Ukip figure, as it’s clear that the eurosceptic party is winning from Tory woes (Daniel Hannan is now actually proposing a merger ). On the topic, the FT (£) has a helpful piece today on the rise of fourth parties – from Respect to Ukip – which results from the current, mid-term, anti-Westminster mood. Apparently one winner is Boris Johnson.


Jim Murphy, the shadow defence secretary, shows the political nous which explains why he’s occasionally considered a leadership contender: “Off to canvass @Ken4London but hope to finish in time for Bayern v Real game, interrupting people watching that game on TV not a vote winner”.


In The Telegraph

Bruce Anderson: The Prime Minister must remind us he’s on our side

Michael Hanlon: Can we be sure of shale?

Leader: Theresa May deserves praise for her tenacity

Leader: Treasury troubles

Best of the rest

Simon Jenkins in The Guardian: Elected mayors will destroy our shadowy civic mafias

David Davis in The Times (£): How to get Strasbourg back to first principles

Matthew Norman in The Independent: At this rate we’ll be getting Ed as PM by default

Leader in The Guardian: Charity Case


Today: William Hague and Philip Hammond attending Nato ministerial meeting in Brussels

Today: Theresa Villiers gives a speech on aviation policy at One Great George Street, Westminster

Today: Fuel tanker drivers meet to decide whether to accept a deal aimed at averting strikes

9.30am: The latest unemployment figures are published by the Office for National Statistics

11.30am: Scotland Office questions

12pm: Prime Minister’s Questions

3.15pm: Chris Grayling will make a speech on getting people back to work at Policy Exchange on 10 Storey’s Gate

5pm: David Cameron meets Portuguese prime minister Pedro Passos Coelho

PMQs: Ed Miliband’s missed opportunity

The concentration of force is one of the basic principles of war. In essence, you try to focus your power on your chosen target in order to achieve your desired result. It’s a useful idea at PMQs too: pick an issue where you think the Government is vulnerable and keep prodding at it. Hopefully, you’ll leave the PM squealing with pain.

Ed Miliband ignored that principle today, and as a result, wasted an opportunity. After the torrid time David Cameron has faced recently, PMQs should have been a gift to the Labour leader. He could have picked any one of number of issues – charities, pasties, grannies, 50p tax, fuel panic – and wounded the PM on it.

Instead, he picked them all, and failed to land a real blow.

Yes, he had some good pre-planned comebacks (“Only this Prime Minister could say that it is a cause for celebration that 1 million young people are out of work”) but by trying to jump from one issue to the next, he made it too easy for Mr Cameron to bluster and counter. The Labour leader also appeared unprepared for the (predictable) Conservative attacks on Ken Livingstone’s tax affairs.

Read more….

Ukip a political force? In the 2010 general election, Nigel Farage lost to a candidate dressed as a dolphin

Two days in a row, and Ukip is ahead of the Liberal Democrats in the polls. According to YouGov, while just 8 per cent of people say they would vote for Nick Clegg’s party, 9 per cent say they would vote for Nigel Farage’s. According to lots of influential Tory-leaning writers – from our own Iain Martin through to ConHome’s Tim Montgomerie – this is something that ought to worry that Conservative Party. Daniel Hannan is so worried that he reckons that the two parties should merge – and then immediately hold a referendum on our EU membership.

I’m not convinced. Ukip is a party without grassroots. In total, it controls one council, in the market town of Ramsey in Cambridgeshire, which has a population of 6,000. That’s one tenth of one constituency. By contrast, the Green Party – which does much less well in national polls – is the biggest party in Brighton, a city of 150,000, and is close to controlling Norwich council too. It has an MP in Parliament – Caroline Lucas – who appears to be quite popular, and a well-motivated grassroots force. Ignore the polls – the Green Party is a bigger political force than Ukip.

We are almost exactly in th

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A historical look at the birth of Islam

If I were a theologian, my idea of Valhalla would be something like a villa in Languedoc, an endless supply of red, a smoke (I assume that won’t be a problem in the afterlife) and a good history book.

Among my favourite authors is Tom Holland, whose previous publications Rubicon, Persian Fire and Millennium have accompanied me on those increasingly rare periods of relaxation abroad.

Holland writes about antiquity with great flair and authority, capturing the sense of struggle, anxiety and desperation that often overshadowed great men and great civilisations as they battled for supremacy (and anyone who doubts Steven Pinker’s thesis that we are all getting nicer and less violent should study ancient history more closely).

Holland’s latest, In the Shadow of the Sword, takes a look at a period of antiquity, the 6th and 7th centuries, that has fallen to the very back of the western mind, largely because for our ancestors the light of civilisation had gone out (or had not yet been switched on); in the eastern Mediterranean and Near East, however, the Roman Empire continued much as normal, although now centred in Constantinople and speaking Greek. During this period the Romans battled for supremacy with the Persian Empire, occasionally fighting ferociously in Mesopotamia or Syria but more often in a state of uneasy tr

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I wish they’d just killed him: Anders Behring Breivik and the tragedy of justice

Why didn’t they just shoot him? Anders Breivik, I mean. Why didn’t the Norwegian police, surrounded by the carnage of Utoya Island, take the opportunity to end it all there and then.

Over the past couple of days I’ve been asked to do a number of interviews and write several articles on the wisdom of allowing Breivik his grotesque day in the sun. Should his trial be televised? Should he have been allowed to read out his rambling statement of self-justification? I’ve tried to answer sensibly. The appropriate interface between the media and the judicial process. Striking a balance over allowing a legitimate defence and political grandstanding. And all the time I’ve been thinking: “I wish they’d just killed him.”

It is of course a ridiculous thought. The Norwegian police officers who apprehended the perpetrator of the worst crime in their nation’s history showed immeasurable self-restraint. And suprajudicial assassinations are not the basis upon which secure and civilised societies are constructed. But I wish they’d shot him all the same.

Read more….

Woman nearly lost arm after black widow spider bite

Catherine Coombs, 48, woke up in excruciating pain when she rolled over and was bitten by the false widow on the back of the left hand.

The black spider, a close relative of the deadly black widow, unleashed a toxic venom which caused Mrs Coombs’ hand to swell up dramatically.

She had to be taken to hospital and surgeons operated on her three times to remove the poison and decaying flesh and prevent the venom from spreading up her arm.

At one stage her condition was so bad doctors feared they would have to amputate her hand.

Her body temperature plummeted as the skin infection cellulitis set in and an inflamed patch on one of her legs even sparked concerns it had spread via her heart.

Read more….

Syria pledges to respect Kofi Annan’s peace plan in full says China

Walid Muallem’s comments to his Chinese counterpart Yang Jiechi come after fresh violence was reported in Syria – where over 9,000 people have died in the past 13 months of fighting – despite the ceasefire that began last week.

“Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem … said Syria would continue to … respect and implement Annan’s ‘six-point proposal’,” China’s foreign ministry quoted Muallem as telling Yang in Beijing.

Muallem also said Damascus remained committed to implementing the ceasefire, withdrawing troops and co-operating with UN observers, it added.

The foreign minister is on a short visit to China aimed at briefing Beijing on his nation’s latest efforts to implement Annan’s six-point peace proposal, which came into force on Thursday and includes the ceasefire and troop withdrawal.

A UN team has arrived in the restive nation to monitor the ceasefire, but diplomats say negotiations between Damascus and the advance six-member party have become deadlocked over whether they can operate across the whole country.

Read more….

Jack Straw sued over illegal rendition of Abdel Hakim Belhadj

The civil action, believed to be the first of its kind against such a senior ex minister, could lead to Mr Straw facing a criminal prosecution.

Abdel Hakim Belhadj, 45, is seeking a response to allegations that papers approving his rendition were personally signed off by Mr Straw.

The amount of compensation being sought has not yet been disclosed although lawyers representing Mr Belhadj have said that they are “not ruling anything out”. They argue that “public acknowledgment” and an “admission” of his role by Mr Straw is their main priority.

Today, Sapna Malik, a partner at law firm Leigh Day & Co who is representing Mr Belhadj, said that it was only right “that liability must follow the chain of command”.

She added: “The civil action is against Mr Straw personally and seeks his response to allegations that he was complicit in torture and misfeasance in public office.

Read more….