Sunday, 30 June 2013

Obama v Mandela

Reading the report that Obama would not meet the dying Mandela to satisfy a ‘photo opportunity’ produced a shiver of disgust. Mandela is one of the few world leaders who has inspired countless millions by his values. Mandela walked the walk. 

Obama also inspired hope in countless millions that he too would be a force for good in the world. He talked the talk. Sadly his deeds have undermined his words. Listening to the reverential tone of the coverage of his African tour it is clear that the mainstream media have lost any trace of their critical faculties.

The facts:

The abomination that is Guantanamo is still open.

Many innocent people have been killed by drone attacks authorised by Obama. The numbers are unclear because the US claim the victims are predominantly Taliban or terrorists when independent assessors claim over 90% are innocent people, frequently children. A man reported to be as smart as Obama is pursuing a policy which guarantees  hundreds of recruits for every person killed. The only beneficiaries of this madness are the arms manufacturers. [Pause for thought]

He has even authorised the use of drone assassinations of US citizens – not just on foreign soil, but also in America – all without the due process of the law. [Pause for further thought]

The continuing revelations about the extent and scope of NSA snooping is further confirmation of just how dangerous the US government has become - with more than a little help from our GCHQ and political poodles. The fact that Obama justifies this with phrases such as ‘we all need to lose a little privacy to improve security’ shows how far he has fallen. Does he not recall the wise words of Benjamin Franklin? ‘A person who is prepared to lose some freedom in the name of security deserves neither.’

Finally, apply the ‘what would Mandela have done?’ approach to Guantanamo, Drones, circumventing the Rule of Law and state snooping.


Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Steve Bell nails it.

Anyone wondering why not one banker or financial wizard has seen the inside of a cell? There is talk of a new law to do with reckless banking. Like the hacking scandal, laws already exist. Selling something you know to be worthless is fraud. Claiming you have more assets than you have so that gullible folk will invest in your company is also fraud. There are other technical malfeasances. It is five years since the crash. Steal a bottle of water and get 6 months. Destroy the economy and get a bonus. 

Imagine the mood of the nation on the morning after the story of the manipulation of the Libor rate broke (another fraud) if the airwaves were full of pictures of shocked bankers and traders being carted off in Black Marias. All nicely kept apart and persuaded to grass each other up before they had a chance to flee to their tax exile haven. 

And who was it who was in charge at the Bank of England while all this rampant greed and criminality continued unabated? Step forward Lord King, a smug useless piece of ordure. 

He is on his way to the House of Lords to join the other crooks and corporate whores pretending to show concern for the rest of us. 

Thank you to Steve Bell for nailing the bastard.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Lies, damned liars, surveillance and the next election.

Shock! Horror! It looks like ’14 pints’ Hague may well have been less than frank when he spoke to Parliament a fortnight ago. The cad was being ‘economical with the actualite.’ 
Since he went through the motions in front of a largely supine Commons more and more information about the extent of state snooping has emerged. The juxtaposition of the undercover cops saga and the blanket surveillance from GCHQ and NSA have woken many more citizens up to what is being done in their name.

“It looks as if William Hague may have misled parliament a fortnight ago. He claimed that "to intercept the content of any individual's communications in the UK requires a warrant signed personally by me, the home secretary, or by another secretary of state".
We now discover that these ministers can also issue general certificates, renewed every six months, which permit mass interception of the kind that GCHQ has been conducting. Among the certificates issued to GCHQ is a "global" one authorising all its operations, including the trawling of up to 600m phone calls and 39m gigabytes of electronic information a day. A million ministers, signing all day, couldn't keep up with that.” Monbiot, Guardian 25/6/13

Also today we find out that Andrew Lansley - another shining beacon of truth and honour - is accused by a whistleblower of telling lies about trying to get her sacked from the Care Quality Commission. He joins a long list of liars and deceivers in the current government. Iain Duncan Smith was recently admonished in the strongest terms by the office of statistics for not being truthful with his facts and figures. Grant Schapps, the Walter Mittyish Minister for porkie pies has a very chequered relationship with the truth. Osborne has lots of form for saying one thing and doing the opposite. Boris (‘the saviour,’ Johnson, according to some Tory swivel-eyed loons) also has considerable form from making quotes up, to lying about - and to the PM – not to mention the complexities of his personal life. 

They are all still in post. None have been sacked. And we are not even beginning to look at the myriad financial scandals and corporate whoring...... 

So what happens now? Having woken up it is beholden on all citizens concerned about the future of our democracy to get off our arses and do something about it.

  • Accept that this is serious and that we cannot rely on our self-serving elite to do anything about it.

  • Take to the streets and protest.

  • Vote Green - they at least are onside.

  • Keep going - it is time for a ‘radical spasm’ to get rid of these parasites.

There are 97 weeks until the next election - not a lot of time to organise and deliver a bunch of candidates committed to cleaning up the corruption. 

Monday, 24 June 2013

"When Jeremy Hunt can become health secretary, it's a sign Britain is sick

How can one have faith in the democratic process and the ruling elite when such a man is passing judgment as health secretary? 
Oliver James

Jeremy Hunt, in whom the BMA today passed a motion of no confidence, epitomises the decadent, hypocritical and toxic nature of our ruling elite. Hearing him pass judgement on the managerial failures of health service staff is like appointing Jeremy Forrest, the teacher recently convicted of underage sex with a pupil, as an Old Bailey judge of such cases.
Shortly after Hunt was promoted to health secretary, he lambasted the key figures in the Mid-Staffordshire hospital scandal. Last week he expressed disgust at incompetence and corruption of the Care Quality Commission. 

This is the same Hunt whose special adviser, Adam Smith, exchanged dozens of emails, texts and telephone calls with Frédéric Michel, the BSkyB consultant. As secretary of state for culture, Olympics, media and sport, Hunt was supposed to be occupying a quasi-judicial role in regard to Rupert Murdoch's attempt to regain control of BSkyB. But the staggering truth was that Smith had been passing confidential and market-sensitive information to Michel on a daily basis for months. Undeniably, conspiring with Michel to help Murdoch achieve his goal, Smith passed him "absolutely illegal" data.

Confronted with all this at the Leveson inquiry, Hunt claimed he had no idea it was going on. Special advisers are handpicked by their ministers, not the civil service. The adviser's utterances are regarded as almost indistinguishable from those of their boss. They are more up close and privy to what is really going on in a minister's mind than anyone. Furthermore, the ministerial code is pedantically explicit about the minister's total accountability for all the special adviser's actions.

This leaves us with only two conceivable possibilities regarding Hunt's claim. The first is that Hunt is a bare-faced liar: he knew precisely what Smith was doing, and in fact was the origin of many of the communications - Smith was merely doing his minister's bidding. The second is that Hunt was telling the truth, in which case, he is not only a lousy judge of who to employ, he was a spectacularly incompetent manager. Either way, he should have been sacked on the spot, not promoted to a position which required credibility when pronouncing on the competence of health service managers.

The Hunt saga really does cause any thinking person to lose what shred of faith they may still have in the ruling elite and the democratic process. If a minister can be shown to be only one of either a shameless liar or an appallingly poor manager, and he is promoted, there is no credibility in the morals of his superiors or the system. We have to swallow the idea that he is not a liar, and then listen to this supposedly super-inept manager lecturing public servants on their moral turpitude and inefficiency. How can anyone take Hunt seriously on this subject?

Equally, there is a striking absence of castigation of the private sector for its massive failures. The government dumps on public servants at every opportunity, with sharp-suited Hunt at the front of the pack, naming names and demanding pay freezes and job cuts. We are still waiting for the individuals in the financial services – the stormtroopers of the private sector – to be named, financially penalised and prosecuted for nearly destroying the global economy.
Yet the fiction of "private sector efficient, public sector bloated" is maintained, with a rush to out-source and privatise as much as possible. The lie that the credit crunch was caused by excessive public spending, rather than spectacular managerial private sector failure, continues to go largely unchallenged.

Regrettably, we have no reason to believe that we would be any safer, morally or economically, in the hands of the opposition. The cleansing of the Blatcherite Augean stables has not happened. Hunt is little worse than many Blatcherites.

We were told that former culture secretary Tessa Jowell never knew a thing about the dodgy dealings of her husband, David Mills – could they really have communicated so little about their joint financial affairs? A Channel 4 Dispatches programme shortly before the last election showed footage of the likes of Geoff Hoon and Patricia Hewitt offering to sell their political connections to corporations. We are certainly not all in this together, but the political class and business are as in and out of each other's beds as they ever were.

How much more can the people of this country stand? A radical spasm that vomits the current ruling elite out of power seems more increasingly plausible – and necessary."
Guardian 24/6/13

This article by Oliver James is spot on. Bring on the 'radical spasm' and lets get vomitting!

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Afflicting the comfortable

Rather than giving comfort to the afflicted it is necessary sometimes to afflict the comfortable. For all those smug self-satisfied twerps who have been parroting the stock response so beloved of totalitarian regimes everywhere: ‘If you have done nothing wrong, you have nothing to fear.’ 

Well smug buggers - consider this:

“Peter Francis, a former undercover police officer turned whistleblower, said his superiors wanted him to find "dirt" that could be used against members of the Lawrence family, in the period shortly after Lawrence's racist murder in April 1993.

He also said senior officers deliberately chose to withhold his role spying on the Lawrence campaign from Sir William Macpherson, who headed a public inquiry to examine the police investigation into the death.

Francis said he had come under "huge and constant pressure" from superiors to "hunt for disinformation" that might be used to undermine those arguing for a better investigation into the murder. He posed as an anti-racist activist in the mid-1990s in his search for intelligence.” Guardian 23/6/13

So there you go. The Met Police, under pressure for being ‘institutionally racist’ and with an inquiry tainted by corruption do what nasty bastards everywhere do - attack the victim.

Evidence? Who needs evidence when you can smear and pollute decent people.

One chilling thought is emerging from the Snowden affair. If the snoopers can hoover up information so readily, what is to stop them doing what the Met did, and create evidence which can then be used to attack a potential rival politician, union leader or scapegoat? 

Saturday, 22 June 2013

The Penny Drops

GCHQ and the Internet

Doing his best to impersonate a first World War general justifying tactics at the Somme, corporate whore Rockets Riffkind was on Radio 4 this morning. He was responding to the latest leak revealing what GCHQ are doing in our name but without our say. He huffed and puffed about how wonderful the Intelligence and Security Committee was at holding GCHQ to account. We need not worry our pretty little heads about all this nonsense in the papers. Rockets and his fellow corporate whores would subject GCHQ bosses to rigorous scrutiny. Hmmm. 

Britain's spy agency GCHQ has secretly gained access to the network of cables which carry the world's phone calls and internet traffic and has started to process vast streams of sensitive personal information which it is sharing with its American partner, the National Security Agency (NSA).
The sheer scale of the agency's ambition is reflected in the titles of its two principal components: Mastering the Internet and Global Telecoms Exploitation, aimed at scooping up as much online and telephone traffic as possible. This is all being carried out without any form of public acknowledgement or debate.” Guardian 22/6/13

The implications of what is going on are just starting to sink in. The enormity of the process and the implications for business and personal communication are beginning to be appreciated by business and professional bodies. Ross Anderson, Professor of Security Engineering at Cambridge University made several points in The Guardian yesterday. This was written prior to the publication of the latest leaks. 

“Edward Snowden’s revelations are now causing something of a crisis in the IT industry as its international customers start thinking through the implications. In the past week I've heard of big firms reconsidering plans to spend hundreds of millions on services that would have been hosted in the US, as they start to realise that US agencies might snoop on their data and use it to tip off their competitors. US service firms now fear this will harm their growth, and it's not just Microsoft and Google; many other companies such as Amazon, Salesforce and Rackspace could lose out.

....For years, BTinternet was outsourced to Yahoo. Where can I find a service that will guarantee to keep my confidential data in the UK? The information commissioner can't help: data-protection law has "safe harbour" loopholes designed to allow US service companies to pretend that they follow European Law even when their own government won't let them.....

..many people will fear they're at risk from the US intelligence community even if they're not. Last week I heard from a Greek colleague that a friend of his in Athens was raided by a local security agency, who told him that the Americans had tipped them off after reading his Gmail. That was surely nonsense. But if you're a Greek secret policeman, and a suspect's ex has tipped you off, then blaming the NSA is the perfect cover story. The world's spies and secret policemen treasure their aura of mysterious power, and the paranoia this generates; it helps them to get information out of suspects, and money out of treasuries. 

Web services are leading us to put all our eggs in one basket, and governments everywhere are grabbing for the basket. Visitors to Russia can be forced to disclose laptop passwords at customs; while even less competent governments (like Syria's) simply beat citizens' Facebook and Gmail passwords out of them. And dear Theresa May wants to revive her communications data bill to grant MI5 and the police the same access we now know GCHQ has via the NSA. 

What next? It's time for the British Medical Association, Law Society, Bar Council and other professional bodies to start thinking about the ethics of using cloud-based services for confidential client information.

What next indeed? There are suspicions that there is still a lot more to come. And there are so many reasons not to trust Rocket and his corporate chums who are not so much supine as collusive.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Menwith Hill

Simon Jenkins writes an article in todays Guardian contrasting the reaction in the US and here over the revelations that the NSA are electronically snooping at everyone’s data. In the US there is outrage with over half polled stating they believe Snowden has done them a favour exposing what has been going on. Here we have the MOD issuing D-Notices and Hague trotting out the Stasi line ‘if you have done nothing wrong you have nothing to fear,’ to a supine Commons and a media obsessed with celebrity spats, prats and twats.

One other aspect of this sorry affair is the way the yanks have used a part of Yorkshire to conduct their nefarious activities. On the Guardian ‘Comment is Free’ online section, a contributor calling himself ‘mikemunroe’ had this to say.

“Amazingly, Her Majesties Government does not appear to give a damn what the US does on her turf. Right there in the West Riding we have the world’s largest and most sophisticated NSA spying facility and they do just what they want, answerable to no one and indemnified against UK law by a firewall of secrecy and duplicity.

A multi billion dollar expansion is underway and has been for many years. Plans are for even further expansion up to and beyond 2020. Not one UK company has been invited to bid for the contracts.

And the NSA still, to this day does just what the hell it wants with nary a sniff from the British peoples elected representatives.

These plans confirm the fears of the British public that bases such as Menwith Hill are ultimately inimical to British interests. And American thugs such as Howard Teicher, the former US National Security Council director, refused, I’ll say that again, refused, a decade ago, to offer assurances that the 'special relationship' will make Britain inviolable so far as US commercial or economic intelligence gathering is concerned. Right there in the West Riding in full view of Yorkminster! The irony!

This gobshite said publically…
'At the end of the day, national interests are national interests,' he said. 'And as close as the US and the UK are, sometimes our interests diverge. So never say never - especially in this business.'

In other words, if it’s in the interests of the US we will screw you over ten ways to Sunday and we don’t give a shit whether you like it or not. Even if we do live in your little country.
And our MP’s, save one, say nothing.

"No-one concerned about civil liberties can ignore Menwith Hill. Despite many attempts to get answers to questions, it is quite clear that Menwith Hill is not accountable to MPs and therefore not accountable to the British people."
Alice Mahon MP.
Who resigned in disgust from the labour party.”
CIF 19/6/13

Let us make a start by demanding the removal of this obscenity from our shores - and while we are at it, how about claiming the Diego Garcia airbase and rendition stronghold back too? 

And returning the land to the Chagos Islanders.

What do you think of that Mr Straw?

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

So Now We Know

Anyone left wondering why only the Guardian was making such a fuss about the Snowden revelations should wonder no more. The government (the same government who are intended to be ‘the most transparent ever’ prop D. Cameron) issued a D-Notice which effectively muzzles compliant editors and journalists. These ‘are issued by the MOD when ‘National Security’ is perceived to be at risk.’ [Trans: these are mainly issued when some little shit has leaked something highly embarrassing to the chaps in charge].

Just like the all-embracing SuperInjunction, the media are not supposed to even mention the existence of a D-Notice. Thanks to the Guardian for breaking the rule although they really will be in the doghouse for this. Probably end up being excluded from the Whitehall lie-fest masquerading as press-conferences. Shouldn’t bother them too much so long as they keep getting their hands on the real news.

The BBC continues to struggle to assert its independence. The NSA/GCHQ issue has been mentioned briefly in radio bulletins and in paper reviews. No in-depth analysis. Now we know why. All the people who regularly claim the Beeb is home to lots of lefties continue to bark at the moon. Little Willy Hague was on the ‘Today’ programme yesterday talking about the G8 Summit in N. Ireland. The revelations about GCHQ bugging the last big summit held on these shores were very fresh and apposite to the current situation. A good moment for either ‘grand inquisitor’ Humphreys or Naughtie to grill the Foreign Secretary – for it is he who authorises such bugging. Even though it was done under the last lot he could at the very least have been asked for re-assurances that the N.I. Summit was to be bug-free. 

Not a word. Not even a hint. 

We will soon be back to the days when a journalist asks a Minister, ‘What would you like to tell the people about today sir?’

Stephen Glover of the Daily Wail for one would approve. He has written that the Guardian are traitors for revealing what is really going on in our name. Can he actually believe what he has written or is he an establishment stooge?

Monday, 17 June 2013

Party Political Sausages

The MP for Argyll and Shite has taken his local council’s motto to heart, ‘Aspiring for mediocrity.’ 

Like so many of his colleagues in the Palace of Varieties that is Westminster, he is comfortable dealing with the non-threatening and unchallenging. However, when constituents contact him to get an explanation as to why he supported the privatisation of the NHS - when it was not in either of the coalition parties manifestos - or in the coalition agreement - he does what so many of his tribe do - he goes to ground. No response. No reply. No comment.

A survey carried out in 2009 produced this little gem of a statistic. 

Supportive letters written to an MP/Minister received 100% responses. 
Critical letters written to an MP/Minister received 20% responses 
  • a further 7% received acknowledgements promising a further response - which never came!

It appears this policy of ignoring difficult questions goes right to the top. Sarah Wollaston, a GP for Dartmoor, who is the Tory MP elected by the voters of Totness, was the first MP to be selected by the Open Primary system for choosing candidates. This happened at the height of the expenses scandal - the previous MP, Anthony Steen had claimed thousands for his mansion and famously derided his critics for being ‘jealous’ when his wrongdoing was exposed by the Telegraph. The Tories made great play of their efforts to ‘clean up politics’ and cited the use of the Open Primary method to select candidates as the way forward. Oh yeah. 

Since then the policy has been quietly dropped. As an MP elected by this method Wollaston feels far more responsible to her constituents than to the party. As such she has asked awkward questions and rebelled against the government on several occasions. In an article in the Observer yesterday, she detailed her frustration at the way politics works in the Commons.

“When she heard that the government was dropping plans for minimum pricing for alcohol, she asked for a meeting with Cameron at prime minister's questions. But she says his office have ignored her emails and cancelled meetings. "I have phoned repeatedly and emailed – that is just the way it is. Sometimes they come back, and then it has been cancelled.

She can hardly believe that she – like someone invited to a party but then snubbed by the host – is being cast as a rebel for doing what she was elected to do. "I do regret that a lot of my colleagues now view me as being awkward because I am genuinely not trying to be awkward. I try to do things through what are beautifully known here as the 'usual channels' but the reality is that you can go through the 'usual channels' and you do not get any response at all.”

"The frustrating thing as someone who comes in from outside is that you realise that people who come through the political sausage machine are like fish in water here.
"From day one they arrive understanding how the system works, whereas someone like me spends a lot of time banging their heads against the wall and soon you just realise that a lot of things that happen here happen in rooms to which you are not invited. That is the issue. I think it is part of the way that women here tend to get overlooked because the system is kind of blind to the way these networks work." Observer 16/6/13

Clearly the way we do politics in the UK is at a crisis point. MPs on the take, Lobbyists circumventing the will of the people, the revolving door between Ministries and big business, a massive disconnect between the elite and the electorate and above all the feeling that everything is being done to facilitate the ease and comfort of the very wealthy. Deeply unfair and democratically dangerous.

For a start we need many more Wollastons and a lot less sausages.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

If Only You Knew

“When it comes to terrorism and the like, Jack Straw*, Alan Johnson and David Blunkett* share a common expertise. Each has worked closely with the security services and can presumably claim to understand a thing or two. But each also has a knack for the "if only you knew" gambit.

They have a counterpart in General Keith Alexander, head not only of the United States' National Security Agency but of what is called - no melodrama, you understand - Cyber Command. This week, with the Obama administration besieged by accusations that it has presided over the mass surveillance of innocent citizens, the general stepped up to tell Congress that "dozens" of terrorist plots have been thwarted thanks to spying by the state. He didn't bother to name a couple, of course, for the sake of public enlightenment. 

Messrs Straw, Johnson and Blunkett, like most British ministers past and present, are guilty of the same sort of reticence. Dozens of plots, hundreds of plots, even thousands: the vague numbers alter, but the claims are substantiated only when cases come to trial. Trials happen rarely.

It may be that all these people are telling the absolute truth. It's entirely possible that the things they have seen and heard would make your hair stand on end. But all they ever offer publicly is the equivalent of "trust us". After The Guardian's revelations over the US's Prism programme, and the confirmation that Britain's GCHQ is little better than an NSA franchise, this isn't quite good enough.” Ian Bell Herald 15/6/13

Thanks to Edward Snowden leaking more stuff tonight - we do know. Despite the best/worst efforts of former Ministers who are now whoring their way round the media - putting the case for increased surveillance - to mainly compliant and uncritical churnalists - all the time trousering thousands of tainted cash - or blood money?

The revelations are that GCHQ - the organisation that does no wrong according to little Billy Hague - has been listening in with its US counterparts at Menwith Hill, to emails and phone calls during the G20 summit in London 2009. They were monitoring our allies. Who may not be allies for much longer as these revelations continue to emerge from the security swamp. 

It seems the reason for the push towards a surveillance bill is not to increase powers but to retrospectively legitimise what has been going on for years. 

In the present circumstances the implied plea to 'trust us' is laughable.

*David Blunkett: Murdoch whore - one of the wealthiest MPs - represents one of the poorest constituencies in the UK.
*Jack Straw: Alleged to have colluded with the rendition of a Libyan opposition spokesman back to the tender mercies of Gadaffi’s secret police - thanks to correspondence found in an office formerly run by Libyan secret police. Has colluded with others to prevent the Chagos islanders from returning to their homeland. Disgracefully kept the shenanigans and official moves secret and out of the scrutiny of Parliament. They were kicked off back in the 60’s when the then Labour Government let the yanks establish a massive airbase there. It is called Diego Garcia and it has been implicated in the black prison and rendition programme. In return the Labour Government obtained cheaper nuclear weapons. It is one of the more shaming episodes in our recent history. Straw is also closely linked to the arms company BAE. 

Thursday, 13 June 2013

NSA surveillance: The US is behaving like China.

Artist Ai Weiwei knows what it is like to be deprived of privacy - here he describes his experience.

“Both governments think they are doing what is best for the state and people. But, as I know, such abuse of power can ruin lives.

Even though we know governments do all kinds of things I was shocked by the information about the US surveillance operation, Prism. To me, it's abusively using government powers to interfere in individuals' privacy. This is an important moment for international society to reconsider and protect individual rights.

I lived in the United States for 12 years. This abuse of state power goes totally against my understanding of what it means to be a civilised society, and it will be shocking for me if American citizens allow this to continue. The US has a great tradition of individualism and privacy and has long been a centre for free thinking and creativity as a result.

In our experience in China, basically there is no privacy at all – that is why China is far behind the world in important respects: even though it has become so rich, it trails behind in terms of passion, imagination and creativity.

Of course, we live under different kinds of legal conditions – in the west and in developed nations there are other laws that can balance or restrain the use of information if the government has it. That is not the case in China, and individuals are completely naked as a result. Intrusions can completely ruin a person's life, and I don't think that could happen in western nations.

But still, if we talk about abusive interference in individuals' rights, Prism does the same. It puts individuals in a very vulnerable position. Privacy is a basic human right, one of the very core values. There is no guarantee that China, the US or any other government will not use the information falsely or wrongly. I think especially that a nation like the US, which is technically advanced, should not take advantage of its power. It encourages other nations.
Before the information age the Chinese government could decide you were a counter-revolutionary just because a neighbour reported something they had overheard. Thousands, even millions of lives were ruined through the misuse of such information.

Today, through its technical abilities, the state can easily get into anybody's bank account, private mail, conversations, and social media accounts. The internet and social media give us new possibilities of exploring ourselves.

But we have never exposed ourselves in this way before, and it makes us vulnerable if anyone chooses to use it against us. Any information or communication could put young people under the surveillance of the state. Very often, when oppressive states arrest people, they have that information in their hands. It can be used as a way of controlling you, to tell you: we know exactly what you're thinking or doing. It can drive people to madness.

When human beings are scared and feel everything is exposed to the government, we will censor ourselves from free thinking. That's dangerous for human development. (my emphases)

In the Soviet Union before, in China today, and even in the US, officials always think what they do is necessary, and firmly believe they do what is best for the state and the people. But the lesson that people should learn from history is the need to limit state power.
If a government is elected by the people, and is genuinely working for the people, they should not give in to these temptations.

During my detention in China I was watched 24 hours a day. The light was always on. There were two guards on two-hour shifts standing next to me – even watching when I swallowed a pill; I had to open my mouth so they could see my throat. You have to take a shower in front of them; they watch you while you brush your teeth, in the name of making sure you're not hurting yourself. They had three surveillance cameras to make sure the guards would not communicate with me.

But the guards whispered to me. They told stories about themselves. There is always humanity and privacy, even under the most restrictive conditions.

To limit power is to protect society. It is not only about protecting individuals' rights but making power healthier.

Civilisation is built on that trust and everyone must fight to defend it, and to protect our vulnerable aspects – our inner feelings, our families. We must not hand over our rights to other people. No state power should be given that kind of trust. Not China. Not the US.” 

Ai Weiwei writing in the Guardian 12/6/13

To which it can be added - and not the UK.

Footnote from Comment is Free supplied by ‘U0101Oi0’

Cardinal Richelieu 9 September 1585 – 4 December 1642

‘If you give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest of men, I will find something in them which will hang him.’

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

We do not believe you - we do not trust you

The ramifications of the leaks by Edward Snowden rumble on - with more momentum in the States than here. Our supinely inert elected representatives have so far failed to subject the executive to any hint of real scrutiny. The Intelligence and Security Select Committee is not chosen by MPs - they are all put in their places by the executive and are all ‘senior’ MPs, former Ministers etc - so all part of the system. Their chairman (Riffkind) works for an arms company...

Richard Norton-Taylor writing in the Guardian gave a helpful reminder:
“In the run-up to the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, Katharine Gun was charged with leaking a secret email from the NSA requesting GCHQ for help in what amounted to a dirty tricks campaign: a plan for the bugging of offices and homes in New York belonging to UN diplomats from the six "swing states", countries whose support would be vital if Washington and London were to win a Security Council resolution authorising the invasion of Iraq.
We do not know how GCHQ responded to the request because the authorities, apparently afraid of what may emerge in a criminal trial, suddenly dropped the charges.

The past, Hague suggested in his blustering — and carefully worded — response to the NSA leaks in the Commons on Monday that everything about the way GCHQ gathers intelligence is tickety-boo.

It may be, but ministers have not explained how their assertions should be accepted on trust now.

Unanswered questions remain.

One we could call the Blunkett Question — after the former home secretary intervened in the Commons on Monday to ask Hague how ministers could control the way personal information offered by the NSA, opposed to having been sought, could be used by GCHQ.
In such cases, authorisation would be "extremely difficult", Blunkett said.” Guardian online 12/6/13

As citizens of the UK we are rightfully wary of our political leaders - and their motives.

“Whilst not strictly connected to the GCHQ or the security services I think the police undercover penetration of peaceful direct action groups demonstrates that the authorities have no moral compass. These were after all people who's most serious "criminal acts" were to lock themselves to things or have occupations. Most of these trivial acts were only made illegal by shifting the goal posts. It was completely disproportionate to have such long term operations, and for them to have relationships and even children using their aliases.
We can also see this pattern with legislation introduced to supposedly tackle terrorism being misused for trivial matters not in anyway related to terrorism.
Likewise when both CS gas/Pepper spay and Tazers were given to the police we were assured they would be only a last line of defence only used as protection against attacks with weapons. We were told they would not just be used to control or threaten people. As soon as they were introduced, all that was forgotten, and these weapons were widely used in a way, which the public were assured they would never be used.
So without knowing anything about GCHQ we can be pretty certain that Hague's justification is risible nonsense. We know very well there will be disproportionate use of these powers and abuses. It's as certain as night follows day. Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
Give secretive organizations great powers, and they will abuse them. There is not a single society on earth where this has not happened.” SteB1 Comment is Free Guardian

The visit to the Bilderberg secret meeting by so many of our senior politicians makes the point. Along with Balls, Osborne and Cameron there were such worthies as Ken Clarke, Shirley Williams and Mandelson. 

“(Our PM spends time with the Bilderbergers) protected by the overwhelming security barrier thrown up by the British State, paid for by British taxpayers, and calls it a 'private meeting' which does not need to be witnessed or documented by civil servants, contrary to the usual ministerial rules. Not much of a protest from our 'elected representatives' or the wonderful press; one wonders why?” sarkany (ibid)

One wonders why indeed.

And as for Cameron’s claim to run the most transparent government ever? It was risible when he first said it - the claim is even more laughable today.

Monday, 10 June 2013

Corporate Whores

Hidden among the torrent of news and speculation about the NSA and its monitoring menace was the news that Cameron, Osborne and BALLS! Yes! Bloody BALLS – attended the Bilderberg meeting in sunny Watford.

This was a strictly off the record meeting. Three public servants, for that is what they are, paid for by us, attend a secret meeting of the most influential CEO’s and Financial cheeses in the world. No civil servants in attendance, no minutes, no record of any kind. So who are these corporate whores really working for?

Corporate whore Cameron emerged to offer blandishments about the amount of surveillance taking place and to reassure the plebs. Corporate whore Hague had been on the media over the weekend offering patronising bilge along similar lines - if you have done nothing wrong you have nothing to fear. Er, not quite Mr Hague. 

Corporate whore “Rockets’ Riffkind, who also claims more cash for chairing the Commons Security Committee, has also been on the media offering similar platitudes. No mention did he make of being paid thousands every year to promote the arms and security industry. Odd that. His senior colleague Yeo is in the mire for doing similar.... 

This afternoon, Corporate whore Hague reassured mainly supine MPs that GCHQ is working under laws and policies. Whose laws and whose policies? He said that any claims to the contrary are ‘baseless’ but without giving any evidence to back up his assertion. We are expected to trust a corporate whore from a government and Parliament of corporate whores. 

Corporate whore Osborne will soon be publishing his financial review. No doubt the poorest and most vulnerable will be expected to pay more than their share so Osborne’s Bilderberg chums can continue with their tax-free existence.

And when Osborne speaks in the Commons he will be opposed by Corporate whore Balls – who will engage in sham outrage while knowing that he would have done exactly the same. 

A reminder why all this matters.

We're supposed to know virtually everything about what they (government) do: that's why they're called public servants. They're supposed to know virtually nothing about what we do: that's why we're called private individuals.
This dynamic - the hallmark of a healthy and free society - has been radically reversed. Now, they know everything about what we do, and are constantly building systems to know more. Meanwhile, we know less and less about what they do, as they build walls of secrecy behind which they function. That's the imbalance that needs to come to an end.Glen Greenwald

Having Corporate whores in charge is bad for democracy. What do these sleazeballs really think? Are they expressing honestly held views or are they in the pockets of the wealthy elite. Our security services seem to work for the same elite via our government. 

There are  the odd very brave exceptions like Edward Snowden. 

And as for the hoi polloi? 
There, there, don’t you worry your pretty little heads about it - concentrate on “The Voice’ and which celeb is falling out of their clothes this week...” 

For Cameron, Osborne and Balls to attend the secret Bilderberg meeting is really taking the piss. It shows the contempt they hold us in.

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Go Go Yeo

Here we go again. Another snout in the trough has been caught on camera.

“The paper (Sunday Times) alleges he coached the boss of a firm, owned by a company that was paying Mr Yeo, before the businessman gave evidence to his committee.

Mr Yeo denies this, and says he intends to contest all the allegations.

The BBC understands Mr Yeo has referred himself to the Parliamentary standards commissioner.” BBC Online 9/6/13

Conservative blogger Guido Fawkes is not a fan. 

The reporters approached Yeo posing as representatives of a solar energy company offering to hire him as a paid advocate to push for new laws to boost its business for a fee of £7,000 a day. He told them he could commit to at least one day a month, despite the fact that he already held four private jobs and was in negotiations to take a further two. Setting out what he could offer, the MP said: “If you want to meet the right people, I can facilitate all those introductions and I can use the knowledge I get from what is quite an active network of connections.” Asked if that extended to government figures, Yeo replied: “Yes.” The House of Commons code of conduct forbids members from acting as paid advocates, including by lobbying ministers. Yeo also said he could help them by guiding them on submitting evidence to his own committee, which he described as “a good way of getting your stuff on the map”.

Confirming what we knew all along: Yeo is one of parliament’s most shameless Honorable Members.”

The brass neck of these slimeballs is quite breathtaking. Having been caught bang to rights on camera they still claim to be innocent and that they will contest the allegations vigorously. Following his mate Mercer, Yeo says he has ‘referred himself to the Parliamentary standards commissioner’ as though we should be impressed. 

The one Commissioner who did her job properly (Elizabeth Filkin)was disgracefully hounded out by senior (mainly Labour) MPs after she investigated Peter Mandelson’s murky financial dealings. Since then we have had establishment stooges, one of whom was described by Private Eye as ‘feeble.’ The current occupant, Kathryn Hudson, has been in post under a year. The speedy self-referral by the entrapped snouts implies that they are confident they have nothing to fear.

Nothing less than a complete clear out of these self-serving sleazeballs will do. Mercer and Yeo should be investigated by the police for corruption. And thrown out of the Commons.  It would be a start.  

Friday, 7 June 2013

Big Brother

The revelations from across the pond that the NSA has been listening in and monitoring computers, emails, mobile phones and landline phones has surprised many. That GCHQ have now been brought in to the picture should come as no surprise to anyone who has monitored the one-way street that is the so-called ‘special relationship.’ For a sovereign democracy we are pretty crap at being sovereign and democratic. 

Glen Greenwald, a diligent and principled US journalist has this pithy summation of where we are and where we should be:- 

“The way things are supposed to work is that we're supposed to know virtually everything about what they (government) do: that's why they're called public servants. They're supposed to know virtually nothing about what we do: that's why we're called private individuals.
This dynamic - the hallmark of a healthy and free society - has been radically reversed. Now, they know everything about what we do, and are constantly building systems to know more. Meanwhile, we know less and less about what they do, as they build walls of secrecy behind which they function. That's the imbalance that needs to come to an end. No democracy can be healthy and functional if the most consequential acts of those who wield political power are completely unknown to those to whom they are supposed to be accountable.” Glen Greenwald Guardian Online 7/6/13 (My emphasis)

How do our third-rate leaders figure in this scenario? Are they up to the task? Do you trust them?

“The UK's electronic eavesdropping and security agency, GCHQ, has been secretly gathering intelligence from the world's biggest internet companies through a covertly run operation set up by America's top spy agency, documents obtained by the Guardian reveal.
The documents show that GCHQ, based in Cheltenham, has had access to the system since at least June 2010, and generated 197 intelligence reports from it last year.
The US-run programme, called Prism, would appear to allow GCHQ to circumvent the formal legal process required to seek personal material such as emails, photos and videos from an internet company based outside the UK.

The use of Prism raises ethical and legal issues about such direct access to potentially millions of internet users, as well as questions about which British ministers knew of the programme.

In a statement to the Guardian, GCHQ, insisted it "takes its obligations under the law very seriously".
The details of GCHQ's use of Prism are set out in documents prepared for senior analysts working at America's National Security Agency, the biggest eavesdropping organisation in the world.” Guardian Online 7/6/13

Pretty clear-cut to these eyes.

There is another extremely topical angle to this highlighted by a commentator calling themselves 'stfual' on Comment is Free, Guardian

Watching Obama on TV describe how data collected by Apple, Google, Facebook, and Microsoft is only used to spy on non Americans outside of the USA. Can the Guardian ask the British Government and European Administration what they plan to do about data collected by tax avoiding American companies being used to spy on British citizens?” 
stfual‘  Comment is Free 7/6/13

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

More Balls

“Ed Miliband's party (is) following a tactic pursued by Tony Blair's party. In important things, it turns out, the younger of the MiliBros has not altered fundamental Labour policy to any significant degree, despite all the chatter about a "break with the past". What was good enough for Tony is good enough for Ed. A Tory plan, smudged up a little, will do as a Labour plan.

Equally, if Mr Balls takes himself all the way to Canary Wharf – now there's symbolism – to give a speech at Thomson Reuters to say that "we will start, we will plan, we will expect in 2015-16 that we will inherit the current spending plans that the Chancellor sets out and we will work within them", what have the last three years been about?
Just that Mr Osborne was a bit hasty, a bit wrong, a bit slightly different from anything Labour might have done? It hardly counts as a grand refutation. Mr Balls has spent the last three years telling us that the Coalition erred in matters of fundamental principle. Now he simply says that Labour would do nicer cuts....

....In his speech, Mr Balls said a lot about growth and nothing much about how growth could be achieved. The purpose of his address was to assure someone – who and why? – that "Labour will take a tough and fair approach to deficit reduction". Not a single life will be improved by such nonsense. No single existence will be changed because Mr Balls thinks there's £100 million to be had from stripping away the winter fuel allowance from people in his income bracket.....

....Labour will not have worked it out yet, but the Shadow Chancellor's speech down in Docklands was catastrophic for his party. Set aside all the trimmings, it said that the Tories were right all along, that their view of how a state must balance its books must not be disputed, that cuts – quibble over the details, if you like – must always be made. (My emphasis) So the Shadow Chancellor sides with a Tory Chancellor whose record of achievement is, let's say, patchy. So a Labour hack who failed to notice warnings of the biggest financial catastrophe in a century says that, all of a sudden, he can fix things.....

.....Ed Balls says he is "striking the right balance for the British economy". Vote for him and the other Ed and you'll get "action now to raise living standards, growth and long-term investment". Were Mr Balls to be doing his job, he would explain what happened and why, if you give him access to the Exchequer, it would never happen again. That Ed Balls would give you analysis, explanation, and a promise. Instead, you get a character who accepts the logic of everything his supposed opponent has done, and sympathises faintly for the inconvenience.” Ian Bell, The Herald 5/6/13

He is not alone. Simon Jenkins writing in the Guardian is similarly unimpressed. He sums up, “Britain’s political class, Balls included, remains in thrall to banking ideology. If bankers think austerity is good for the nation’s soul, Osborne and Balls will agree. They are talking not economics but redemptive theology. Present and future generations must apparently pay for the sins of their fathers, with no hope of release, however daft the policy.

This is cruel rubbish. History has given the Labour party a golden opportunity to return to its principles and redefine the economic leadership of Europe. Balls has fumbled it.” Guardian 5/6/13

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

What a load of Balls

Billed as his ‘big speech’ it was remarkable for what Shadow Chancellor Balls did not say. Although he emphasised just how ‘ruthless’ he would be as Chancellor, he failed to tackle the legacy of his years in government. A legacy of duplicity, deception, off-the-books accounting and enhanced tax avoidance. Not to mention launching attack dogs on his own colleagues. For every Tory wheeze, the BallsBrown combo had at least ten of their own. 

Private Eye has put Balls’ contribution to our current malaise in context. 

Balls was part of the team at the Treasury who scrapped corporation tax on company dividends and introduced the ‘lighter touch’ approach to tax administration and financial regulation. We know only too well how that worked out. 

What did ‘Ruthless’ Balls have to say about this catastrophic period? Nothing. 

“The Brown crew’s neglect of the tax system extended beyond corporate tax to super-rich individuals too, as the ‘non-domiciled’ tax break that allows some of the wealthiest to escape tax on offshore income was extended, despite promises to end it, and as private equity bosses were given tax rates famously lower than their cleaners” P.Eye No. 1341

What did ‘Ruthless’ Balls have to say about this unfairness? Nothing.

“One particular, and so far under-reported, series of tax scandals stands out as a monument to team Brown, however, the sale of Britain’s public assets to tax havens in the service of tax avoidance.

The first big one was the sale of the country’s tax offices to Bermudan company Mapeley Steps Ltd (Eyes passim ad nauseam). This was swiftly followed by an exodus under what is now just another tax avoider’s plaything: the private finance initiative. No sooner had these suspect contracts been signed than they began to be traded, with explicit official encouragement, and the most enticing places to sell them to were offshore havens.” ibid

PFI: or pay for two, get one (hospital, school etc); off balance-sheet, the ‘unacceptable face of capitalism’ (Public Accounts Committee). “More than 200 of Britain’s state schools are at least partly owned offshore.” ibid

What did ‘Ruthless’ Balls have to say about PFI’s? Nothing.

Thus it was the owners of some serious British public infrastructure have for years been earning income from them tax-free offshore. The Home Office, would you believe, is owned by a company that pays interest to its parent company HSBC Infrastructure Ltd, in Guernsey. Both the Ministry of Defence headquarters and the Treasury buildings are a quarter-owned from the Channel Islands under similarly tax-driven arrangements. None of the contracts concerned has paid tax even though, under Treasury rules, they were signed off as value for money on the basis they would.” ibid

What did ‘Ruthless’ Balls have to say about this fiasco? Nothing.

What did ‘Ruthless’ Balls have to say about:
  • billions in evaded/avoided tax
  • rent controls
  • zero hours contracts
  • cost of Iraq misadventure
  • cost of Afghanistan 

Absolutely nothing.

“Mr Balls admitted that he had more work to do to win back trust over the public finances.” 
Telegraph 3/6/13

Not half.