Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Zero Hours Contracts

One of the more disturbing developments in employment practice has been the introduction of ‘zero hours contracts’ which leave employees in a parlous situation yet provide bosses with a flexible workforce and big profits. The practice is spreading. 

“Buckingham Palace, a leading cinema chain and one of Britain's best known art galleries are among a group of high profile employers who sign staff up to so-called "zero-hours" contracts to keep employment costs at a minimum.
Two days after it emerged that retailer Sports Direct employs 20,000 staff on zero-hours terms, the Guardian has established that the royal family's London residence, along with Cineworld and the Tate galleries, hire workers under the controversial employment practice.
The 350 part-time employees deployed as extra staff during Buckingham Palace's summer opening have no guaranteed hours. They work in the shop, greet visitors, and work as monitors in the rooms made open to the public.
All of Cineworld's part-time multiplex staff are on zero-hours contracts, as are all catering staff at the Tate galleries in London, Liverpool and St Ives, Cornwall.....”

“.....However, the contracts leave staff without guaranteed hours, sick pay or holiday pay, and make it difficult to get a tenancy agreement, credit card or loan because proving regular income becomes impossible.
The contracts leave workers vulnerable to sudden reduction in shift patterns and last-minute shift cancellations at the discretion of managers. Dozens of staff on zero-hours contracts have told the Guardian that if they do not make themselves available for work they are unlikely to receive shifts for the rest of the month.” Guardian Online 31/7/13

Yet again it is the poorest and most vulnerable who are paying for the malpractice and greed of the wealthiest. This is a despicable way to treat a workforce. The next time PR PM Cameron comes over all smug about the unemployment figures consider whether these contracts are not included in the figures. 

Question: what to do about it?

Some have suggested boycotting companies such as Sports Direct. Others say make sure your MP knows what you feel about this issue either in a letter, email or in person at a constituency surgery. It feels an issue that the Labour party should be grabbing and running with. Unfortunately this began on their watch.....

Monday, 29 July 2013

Indulgence and the Catholic faith

Good to know that mediaeval practices are alive and thriving in the Catholic Church....
In its latest attempt to keep up with the times the Vatican has married one of its oldest traditions to the world of social media by offering "indulgences" to followers of Pope Francis' tweets.
The church's granted indulgences reduce the time Catholics believe they will have to spend in purgatory after they have confessed and been absolved of their sins.
The remissions got a bad name in the Middle Ages because unscrupulous churchmen sold them for large sums of money. But now indulgences are being applied to the 21st century.
But a senior Vatican official warned web-surfing Catholics that indulgences still required a dose of old-fashioned faith, and that paradise was not just a few mouse clicks away.Guardian 16/7/13

The media have shone a fairly benign light on this bit of mumbo jumbo, just as they have donned the pink-tinted specs for the papal visit to Brazil. The men in frocks continue to receive positive coverage in much of the mainstream media despite the overwhelming evidence that the Catholic church has covered up the abuse of children and young priests for decades. It seems they still have not got the message that the crime is bad but the cover up - including the condemnation of victims – by nuns, priests, Bishops and the Vatican – is far, far worse. 

“As a seminarian, a priest known as "Father Michael", who wishes to remain anonymous while an appeal to Rome is made, said he was sexually assaulted by a parish priest, Father Paul Moore. Father Michael said the church failed to deal appropriately with his complaint over a 17-year period, and that he is now being ousted from the church while, he feels, his abuser is being protected.
Father Michael is recovering from cancer but has been refused permission by Bishop John Cunningham of Galloway to reduce his workload during his convalescence.
The church has demanded that he resign or face removal. The priest, who reported Moore to the police in 1997, said he feels this treatment amounts to punishment for whistle-blowing.” Observer 28/7/13

A rational human being ought to treat any comments arising from the Vatican with the deepest suspicion. So should the mainstream media stop indulging the PR puffery coming from Rome.

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Not Fit For Purpose

“The all-party public administration select committee says that estimates of immigration, emigration and net migration are primarily based on a sample of about 5,000 migrants per year identified through the International Passenger Survey, which looks at people travelling through UK air and sea ports.
It claims this method is "subject to a large margin of error" and does not provide sufficient detail about "people migrating to and from the UK to judge properly the social and economic consequences of migration and the effects of immigration policy". The committee chair, Tory MP Bernard Jenkin, said: "Most people would be utterly astonished to learn that there is no attempt to count people as they enter or leave the UK.” Guardian Online 28/7/13

Ignorance about the facts has never stopped politicians from backing policies playing to people’s fears. Immigration minister Mark Harper is responsible for a spectacularly stupid and insulting scheme which is currently being ‘piloted.’ The Home Office have obtained several large transit vans with placards on their sides carrying a message aimed at illegal immigrants. The vans are being driven through areas with a high immigrant population. 
Mark Harper
“The posters read: "In the UK illegally? Go home or face arrest. Text HOME to 78070 for free advice, and help with travel documents. We can help you to return home voluntarily without fear of arrest or detention."

The billboards also show residents how many illegal migrants have recently been arrested in their local area and carry a text number for overstayers to use to arrange their return home. If deemed successful, the vans could be rolled out across the country, the Home Office said." Guardian 27/7/13

Didn’t anybody in the Home Office have any second thoughts? Didn’t anyone with half a brain cell think there may be unwelcome consequences to doing this? For instance, the BNP, the English Defence League and similar racist thugs will be dancing in the streets. 'Legal' and 2nd and 3rd generation ‘immigrants’ born here and established members of our admirably diverse community will also feel threatened by these vans. As will asylum seekers who have escaped from nasty parts of the world where this policy would be just a part of a whole suite of oppressive measures.

Are we going to go round handing out yellow stars to people we suspect of being ‘illegals’?

“Some Conservative MPs have joined in the criticism. Douglas Carswell said: "The breathtaking stupidity of the people in charge of our immigration system knows no bounds. If they still made Monty Python, then the minister for silly walks would be proposing this.’ (ibid)" 

It would be funny if it were not so serious Mr Carswell. Since the Woolwich murder there have been attacks on 75% of the mosques in this country. 

The public administration committee described the methods of counting immigration as ‘not fit for purpose’ – a comment which sits quite neatly on Mr Harper and his idiot department.

Even Nigel Farrage described the idea as nasty. Ben Fleming's Guardian cartoon adds another dimension.

Saturday, 27 July 2013

David Ward MP and freedom of speech

Craig Murray was once the British Ambassador to Uzbekistan. He was forced to resign from the Foreign Office after a series of incidents in the country.  In particular he objected to the British government cosying up to a brutal and undemocratic dictatorship which had an appalling human rights record. This included the boiling alive of two members of an opposition group. He also objected to our government relying on information gained through torture to boost their dodgy case for the Iraq War. Not surprisingly he was forced to resign following being charged with a series of 18 disciplinary offences alleging various forms of misconduct. All of these charges were eventually found to be baseless. Murray was forced to go because he had the temerity to go public about them. Tut tut. 

Since then he has worked hard, despite serious health threats to campaign for human rights. This has brought him into conflict with several very rich oligarchs and their legal rottweillers. His blog site has had a stormy existence, at one point being taken off the internet following pressure from m’learned friends. It is well worth keeping in touch with. For example, his latest posting has this to say about current concerns.

“David Ward MP has not been sent to jail.  He has however had the Lib Dem whip removed, which under Clegg’s leadership perhaps he ought to consider an honour.  It is rather a commonplace sentiment that it is a terribly sad thing, that their community having suffered dreadfully in the Holocaust, the European Jews involved in founding the state of Israel went on themselves to inflict terrible pain and devastation on the Palestinians in the Nakba.   Both the Holocaust and the Nakba were horrific events of human suffering.  For this not startling observation, David Ward is removed from the Liberal Democrats.  He also stated that, with its ever increasing number of racially specific laws, its walls and racially restricted roads, Israel is becoming an apartheid state.  That is so commonplace even Sky News’ security correspondent Sam Kiley said it a few months ago, without repercussion.  In Russia you cannot say Putin is corrupt; in the UK you cannot say Israeli state policy is malign.  Neither national state can claim to uphold freedom of speech.  Meanwhile, of course, David Cameron announces plans to place filters on the internet access of all UK households.
In the United States, the House of Representatives failed by just 12 votes to make illegal the mass snooping by the NSA which was not widely publicised until Edward Snowden’s revelations.  What Snowden said was so important that almost half the country’s legislators wished to act on his information.  Yet the executive wish to pursue him and remove all his freedom for the rest of his life, as they are doing to Bradley Manning for Manning’s exposure of war crimes and extreme duplicity.”

Friday, 26 July 2013

You can’t see the wood for the Tories

There are Tories who exhibit idealogical zeal and fervently believe that ‘private’ is good and ‘public’ is bad. They have been helped along the way by a slimy Labour Party who opened the door to privatisation in the NHS and deregulated the financial sector and so on. 

Several enormous chickens have come home to roost. The fraud allegations linked with employment agency A4E were swiftly followed by the G4S debacle at the Olympics. G4S have gone even further - they have recently been exposed for allegedly falsely claiming millions for tagging non-existent offenders (dead, still in prison, in hospital etc) provoking much outrage in the Commons. ‘Private’ not so good after all.

Shortly after the election the ideologues were delighted at the implementation of some of their wheezes. Among them was the privatisation of the Forensic Science Service. Whoops.

“The Science and Technology Committee has published the results of a follow-up inquiry into the closure of the Forensic Science Service (FSS).
Private firms and in-house police labs now fill the gap left by the FSS.
The report paints a picture of a chaotic new landscape for forensic provision and says private firms need help to survive in an unstable market. (my emphasis)
It says that unless the government formulates a coherent strategy for forensic science in England and Wales, the criminal justice system could be jeopardised.’ BBC Online 25/7/13

There are other, more slippery Tories, who ride on the idealogical bandwagon but who are at heart self-serving chancers. These slimeballs are interested in using these policies to engage in some serious nest-feathering. Everything is for sale. 

Bleeding Hell!

Including the sell-off of the NHS blood plasma facility to Bain Capital, a hedge fund who also own Burger King and Krispy Kreme doughnuts. What this will do to the attitude of the millions of donors who voluntarily give blood every year is open to question. Will the service continue in the same vein (geddit?) knowing that profit is now a pre-requisite?


“As forest campaigners celebrated environment secretary Owen Paterson’s announcement in February that the nation’s trees would be protected by a ‘new, independent public body’, the Eye was the only party pooper to sound a note of caution. 

As a non-ministerial government department, the Forestry Commission is already independent and no one had claimed it was doing a bad job. Why go to the expense of creating a new body (Eye 1333)?

Last week the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) published its governance plans for the new Public Forest Estate Management Organisation (PFE MO) and its analysis of the review by the Bishop of Liverpool’s independent panel - both of which alarmed environmentalists once more.

Thwarted in its attempts to sell the forests to the private sector, the government is now grabbing direct control of them. Far from implementing the panels’ recommendation to put the forests under the protection of independent guardians, as promised, it proposes to appoint guardians who will merely ‘advise and support’ the board, which would be directly appointed by, and report to, Defra ministers rather than parliament.

The Hands Off Our Forests campaign, which gained huge public support against the sell-off, said the proposals would leave the guardians ‘toothless’ and give ministers total control. The analysis paper also notes that the changes ‘could require the transfer of the Forestry Commissioners’ powers and duties in England to the Secretary of State’. It concludes with a vague threat of cuts, as ‘further work will be required to identify and deliver the necessary level of efficiencies’. So much for independent safeguarding.” Private Eye 1345

Giving ministers total control of a national asset? 

What’s not to like? 

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

The BBC and the Royal Family

Despite trying as much as possible to avoid the sycophantic drivel gushing across the airwaves there were inescapable moments such as yesterdays piece on the World at One where ‘experts’ discussed possible names for the latest prince. This was in the middle of a serious news programme. To say the Beeb have a rose-tinted view of the ‘firm’ is not an exaggeration. The pressure group Republic have this to say on their website about the matter:   

“In the last six months the BBC, which employs a “royal liaison officer” to ensure good relations with Buckingham Palace, has overlooked a number of potentially damaging stories about the monarchy – despite extensive coverage in other national media outlets.
These include:
Duchy of Cornwall accused of tax avoidance
Covered by: 
The GuardianThe IndependentThe Daily MailFinancial TimesThe Daily Express
BBC coverage: none
Royal finances to be investigated by public accounts committee
Covered by: 
The IndependentThe Daily MailThe TelegraphThe Sunday Express
BBC coverage: none
Prince Charles uses intestate cash to fund own lobby groups and old public school
Covered by: 
The GuardianThe TimesThe Daily MailThe Daily Express
BBC coverage: none
A number of other stories – including the public accounts committee’s demand for the government to justify Prince Charles’s tax exemptions, revelations about the “royal veto” and the Queen’s £6m pay rise – received only fleeting coverage, despite being given high prominence by other media outlets.”

The website also detailed all the good news PR puffery royal stories that the beeb did cover during that time. 

The BBC is in deep trouble. The matter of the massive pay-offs to several cheeses, allied to the Saville affair, the failed digital media initiative - including claims of misleading Parliament - all add up to a succession of top bods squirming in front of the public accounts committee. Each and every time they evade, bluster and fabricate, their standing in the eyes of the general public declines. 

“Our Values"
'Trust is the foundation of the BBC: we are independent, impartial and honest.'

BBC Website

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Kate Will Un

Ever felt like living in North Korea? Kim Jung-un would have looked at the media coverage of the everyday event in London last night with some pique. On a day when 2200 babies were born in the UK, the media went bananas over one special baby. The Daily Mail managed to fill 17 pages, the retitled ‘Son’ a further 11 - and even moved the page 3 ‘stunner’ away  from their fawning hagiography. Even the Independent, who marketed themselves as not being hot on royal stories had three pages with the Guardian five. Funnily enough the Express managed to fill several pages with photos and articles about  Lady Di.... 

Today we have the politicians muscling on the act. Listening to Clegg on the news was the closest thing to an aural finger-down-the -throat moment imaginable. No doubt they will all get in on the act showing just how loyal and honourable they are. 

The miles of newsprint, hours of airtime and a positive guff-fest of speculation and conjecture would be seen as normal in North Korea. Here our media do at least have the choice in what they cover and how they cover it – but today it is difficult to tell.

Monday, 22 July 2013

Cameron and Crosby (part 2)

The spectre of the unbelievable denial haunted the second term of Bill Clinton. His statement “I did not have sexual relations with that woman” did little to kill the story and in many ways poured petrol onto a raging inferno. 

Scroll forward to this weekend and watch/listen to PR PM Cameron repeating his ‘red herring...he has not intervened’ line to deny being lobbied by the ‘lizard of oz’ Lynton Crosby, to account for the volte face performed by the Tories over fracking, fags and cheap booze. The use of ‘intervened’ is very carefully chosen but leaves sceptics with more ammunition.

Clearly uncomfortable, despite rigorous coaching in how to tackle the question, PR Dave comes across as a man with something to hide. Which he has. 

It has emerged today that Crosby was also involved in working for private health companies and his presence at number 10 coincided with the introduction of clauses into the NHS Bill to allow private medicine into future commissioning.  

There really ought to be a large ‘For Sale’ sign outside Number 10 Downing Street. 

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Cameron and Crosby

Judge them by their deeds (part 25)

Prior to becoming PM, Cameron made this prediction about lobbying: 
It is the next big scandal waiting to happen. It’s an issue that crosses party lines and has tainted our politics for too long, an issue that exposes the far-too-cosy relationship between politics, government, business and money.”

The Conservative leader said that the “£2 billion industry” has a big presence at Westminster and take in some cases MPs are approached more than 100 times a week by lobbyists.”

He said he wanted to shine “the light of transparency” on lobbying so that politics “comes clean about who is buying power and influence.” Telegraph Feb 2010

OK. So far so good. How has he done since then? The evidence is damning. 

In March 2012 our PR PM had this to say about the sale of cheap alcohol.

This isn’t about stopping responsible drinking, adding burdens on business or some new kind of stealth tax – it’s about fast immediate action where universal change is needed…
If the minimum price is 40p a unit, it won’t affect the price of a pint. In fact, pubs may benefit by making the cheap alternatives in supermarkets more expensive.” Telegraph.

Also in March this year a senior ‘Whitehall source’ told the Guardian of the government’s plans to introduce plain packaging on cigarette packs.

We are going to follow what they have done in Australia. The evidence suggests it is going to deter young smokers. There is going to be legislation.”

One week ago - in a day described as ‘a day of shame for the government’ by a Tory MP, Sarah Woolaston, (who happens to be a GP) the plans to combat young people beginning smoking and to introduce a minimum price for alcohol were both dropped. 

Since then Cameron has been under fire for caving in to the lobbying of his political guru - Lynton Crosby - the aussie rotweiller brought in to smear, denigrate and generally pour buckets of filth on anyone who stands in the way of the Tories being elected next time. 

That is not his only job. He is also the co-founder of an international lobbying firm Crosby Textor. Among their clients are Philip Morris, the cigarette giant and multi-national energy companies.

Lynton Crosby's firm, CrosbyTextor, lists tobacco as being among the industries it represents. The Guardian reports that one of those clients is cigarette giant Philip Morris. he also represents alcohol companies according to the Independent. 
Labour Party shadow health minister Andy Burnham claims Crosby chaired a strategy meeting with tobacco bosses to discuss ways to block the plain packaging plans.” Guardian  19th July ‘13

Yesterday it emerged that Crosby was also closely connected to the fracking industry. This emerged after the announcement by George Osborne that the fracking industry were to get tax breaks to help develop the industry across Britain. Nice one Lynton. 

The ‘light of transparency’ is currently hidden behind a cloud of tobacco smoke and shale gas. 

Does Cameron have a clue what he actually believes in and stands for? Following his little speech about the need to tackle cheap booze he said that his was a government that gets things done. Oh yeah. Right. 

On similar lines his plans to ‘reform’ the lobbying industry have been described as window dressing that leaves 95% untouched.

That will suit Crosby and his corporate chums.

As ever Steve Bell nails the issue:

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Little Willy Syndrome

Little Willy Syndrome (LWS) is manifestly a male problem. Many politicians suffer from it. It produces an overwhelming need in the sufferer to ‘prove’ their masculinity by being more aggressive, more manly, thereby having the cojones to take tough decisions. It also unfortunately leads our society into very dodgy waters. 

The image of Tony Blair, puffed up like a bantam cock, walking alongside George W Bush was very telling. The meeting took place just before the war on Iraq was launched - so no coincidence. [Talking of which .....When exactly is the Chilcott Inquiry going to report....?]

A more risible example of an altitudinally-challenged leader is President Putin. He displays LWS regularly. Every year he is shown in action-man poses, ranging from posing stripped to the waist over a dead animal cradling a large gun, to the latest, about to descend to the depths of the ocean in a submersible. 

Unfortunately LWS can affect whole swathes of our political elite. Take for example our ruler’s attitude towards nuclear weapons and Trident in particular. Any rational human being would regard this issue as a no-brainer. At a time of severe austerity and with growing social problems, the prospect of spending £100bn plus on a new range of weapons of mass destruction is absolute lunacy. Among our elite sadly, sanity is in scarce supply. The Tories and the Labour party are engaged in a ‘mine’s bigger than yours’ contest. And as for the LibDems, what they have come up with is astonishing. 

“This small group of islands does apparently need to retain the ability to wipe out one third of the urban population of humankind, as a defence against something undefined – possibly people we invade getting too annoyed about it - and  in order to increase our “influence” in the World.  As we plainly have less influence than the Germans, who don’t feel this need for the power of obliteration, I do not quite see how this works.  Nor do I see Pakistan, which does have nuclear weapons, as very influential.  Nor do I quite understand how our influence can be increased by possessing something  under effective American control.  But there you are.

Anyway, the Lib Dems have come to the intellectually scintillating conclusion that we do need this world shattering power, but we don’t need it on Wednesday or Thursday afternoons or on Saturday mornings, which will be cheaper.  Brilliant, and plainly does not dodge any big ethical or practical questions at all.” Craig Murray blog 17/7/13

Perhaps the LibDems will not suffer from LWS on Wednesday or Thursday afternoons?

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Muirfield – not so Open

It is with some astonishment in this day and age that the hosts of this year’s Open golf championship is a ‘men-only’ club. Muirfield is one of three courses hosting the British Open that has a ‘no women’ membership policy. The other courses are Troon and Royal St George’s. Last year the home of the Masters, Augusta National, accepted that it was time to change and invited two eminent females to become their first women members. 

The existence of men-only sports clubs is odd and an anachronism. That the club are awarded the prestige and economic benefits of hosting the Open with this policy is indefensible. The honour of hosting the Open is not only prestigious, it is also lucrative. A round of golf on an ‘Open’ course can cost £250 for a non-member. Interestingly, the Royal and Ancient (crazy name, crazy guys) who organise and arrange the Open, are themselves a men-only club, so it is less surprising they select similar organisations.. 

There are those who regard these institutions as ‘dinosaurs’ and predict that, like the dinosaurs, they will become extinct. Unfortunately for such believers, the dinosaurs were around for over 300 million years. 

An event like the Open attracts world-wide media coverage. Why are the media colluding with these Bufton-Tuftons? The merest threat of a news blackout would institute a rapid change of attitude. The symbiotic relationship between the media, sponsors and the public is powerful. Sponsors like the coverage and the association of their brand in a positive event. They do not like to be linked with negative events and coverage. Adidas have swiftly moved to drop top sprinter Tyson Gay from their sponsorship following his positive drug test.

South Korean energy giants Doosan, MasterCard, Mercedes Benz, Nikon, NTT Data, Ralph Lauren and Rolex are all listed as patrons/sponsors of the event this year. As are HSBC, who need bad publicity like an extra swollen testicle. All of these companies employ women, sell to women and rely on women. As do the media.

Time for the daughters (and sons) of Emily Davison to get their act together.

Monday, 15 July 2013

Fu*k that! What about the Royal Baby?!

Linton Crosby, the PM’s election guru/shark may well have used his influence to make the Tories do a complete U-Turn on plain packaging. Crosby is a lobbyist for the tobacco industry........Fuck that! What about the Royal Baby?!

Linton Crosby, the PM’s election guru/shark may well have used his influence to make the Tories do a complete U-Turn on fracking. Crosby is a lobbyist for a fracking company....... Fuck that!          What about the Royal Baby?!

President Obama has a secret ‘kill list.’ No need to turn to the law to ensure that justice is done – send a drone to ‘eradicate’ the problem.........Fuck that! What about the Royal Baby?

Prince Charles (who is supposed to be outside of politics) has been writing letters to various ministers on a regular basis. But we – being mere proles – are not allowed to read them for as Dominic Grieve, the Attorney General himself says, if we were to read them it would mean Charley was no longer politically neutral.....FUCK THAT! WHAT ABOUT THE ROYAL BABY?

More rioting on the streets of Belfast........FT! WATRB?

Benefits cap of £26,000 introduced by Dept for Work and Pensions. Iain Duncan Smith the Minister in charge, has been criticised for misusing figures promoting the effectiveness of the benefits cap. IDS lives on his wife’s estate - an estate which has claimed over £1.5 million in ‘benefits’ from the European Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) in recent years.........FT! WATRB?

England win thrilling test match......FT! WATRB?

Top sprinters test positive for drugs......FT! WATRB?

“Expect a bundle of joy by the end of the week” says Camilla...... FT! WATRB? 


Saturday, 13 July 2013

Trent Bridge Ashes Bookends

A curse or a blessing? You decide. 

As a confirmed England cricket supporter there have been many years of pain and forlorn optimism. The 2005 Ashes series changed that. Like City supporters, England followers believe that if something can go wrong, it surely will. 

Back in 1989 David Gower’s team of all the talents were pitted against Alan Border’s gum chewing Aussies. Persuading a young man of the Jackson family that it would be a great day out to go to the opening day of the Trent Bridge test seemed like a very good idea. It turned out to be special for all the wrong reasons. England did not take a wicket all day. 

As  the first two sessions unfolded there was hardly a sniff of a chance. The opening pair of Marsh and Taylor were watchful and controlled. Devon Malcolm huffed and puffed to little effect. The cricket was dull without the fall of a wicket to enliven proceedings. The third session became more and more fascinating as the batsmen, by now totally in control, upped the scoring rate and records began to tumble. The score of 329 still stands as the highest opening partnership in the Ashes. 

24 years later and this time it was the mother of the earlier young Jackson who was present when another remarkable event occurred. The Aussies were 117-9 and looking dead and buried when a young man of 19 entered at number 11. Ashton Agar joined the not-out Phillip Hughes with Australia in deep trouble. He batted superbly, surviving a stumping decision which took some believing, to bat with an ease and fluency that must have made his colleagues wince. Hughes played his part and made the English attack look toothless. 

Again record after record fell. He was finally out for a brilliant 98 much to the dismay of an enthralled, but anxious, home crowd. They would have enjoyed him getting a century on debut - but not too many more. He and Hughes transformed the game and probably the series. Agar now holds the record for a number 11 and the partnership of 163 was the highest for the last wicket - ever. 

The dilemma is whether to ever take a member of the Jackson family to an Ashes test at Trent Bridge ever again. Two visits: two record partnerships - for the Aussies!

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Microsoft in it up to their Eyeballs

Thanks to Mr Snowden (and The Guardian) for yet more ‘shattering revelations” or ‘more of the same’ (for the intelligently challenged). It appears that the NSA and the FBI has complete access to Microsoft emails and web chatrooms, not forgetting those lovely people at Skype (who just happen to have been bought by Microsoft...)

“The documents show that:
• Microsoft helped the NSA to circumvent its encryption to address concerns that the agency would be unable to intercept web chats on the new portal;
• The agency already had pre-encryption stage access to email on, including Hotmail;
• The company worked with the FBI this year to allow the NSA easier access via Prism to its cloud storage service SkyDrive, which now has more than 250 million users worldwide;
• Microsoft also worked with the FBI's Data Intercept Unit to "understand" potential issues with a feature in that allows users to create email aliases;
• In July last year, nine months after Microsoft bought Skype, the NSA boasted that a new capability had tripled the amount of Skype video calls being collected through Prism;
• Material collected through Prism is routinely shared with the FBI and CIA, with one NSA document describing the program as a "team sport".
The latest NSA revelations further expose the tensions between Silicon Valley and the Obama administration. All the major tech firms are lobbying the government to allow them to disclose more fully the extent and nature of their co-operation with the NSA to meet their customers' privacy concerns. Privately, tech executives are at pains to distance themselves from claims of collaboration and teamwork given by the NSA documents, and insist the process is driven by legal compulsion.
In a statement, Microsoft said: "When we upgrade or update products we aren't absolved from the need to comply with existing or future lawful demands." The company reiterated its argument that it provides customer data "only in response to government demands and we only ever comply with orders for requests about specific accounts or identifiers".
In June, the Guardian revealed that the NSA claimed to have "direct access" through the Prism program to the systems of many major internet companies, including Microsoft, Skype, Apple, Google, Facebook and Yahoo.
Blanket orders from the secret surveillance court allow these communications to be collected without an individual warrant if the NSA operative has a 51% belief that the target is not a US citizen and is not on US soil at the time. Targeting US citizens does require an individual warrant, but the NSA is able to collect Americans' communications without a warrant if the target is a foreign national located overseas.
Since Prism's existence became public, Microsoft and the other companies listed on the NSA documents as providers have denied all knowledge of the program and insisted that the intelligence agencies do not have back doors into their systems.
Microsoft's latest marketing campaign, launched in April, emphasizes its commitment to privacy with the slogan: "Your privacy is our priority." 
Glen Greenwald et al on the Guardian online site 11/7/13

As one observer noted, the name ‘Windows’ has suddenly become so much more sinister.

As ever the mainstream media continue to show just how much they are stooges of the elite. Not a mention - as of tonight at 11-25pm.

There are several petitions and campaigns getting off the ground to rein these buggers in. Do your best to support them.

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Pass the Sickbucket

It was terrific to watch Andy Murray win the title after 77 years in an enthralling duel in the sun. It was not enthralling to see the alacrity with which slimy sleazeballs such as Cameron and Salmond seized the chance for some undeserved reflected glory.

The sight of Cameron on the Downing Street steps was a sickbucket moment as was the move to give Murray a Knighthood - something which (thankfully) he has slapped back across the net. 

As usual Mr Bell summed up the situation in his usual fine style. 

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Tory Funding and Rank Hypocrisy

Shouting ‘Len McCluskey’ at Ed Miliband several times at PMQs last week got Cameron several good headlines. It may be a short-lived success. Many people would have thought, "Who funds the Tories?" Typically they are less transparent than the Unions who have to record all their contributions. In fact it appears theTories go to some lengths to disguise the amount they receive from big donors. Aditya Chakrabortty, writing in the Guardian today explained:

Through their forensic investigation into Tory funding, published just after the last general election, Stephen Crone and Stuart Wilks-Heeg discovered that some of the largest contributors would give a few hundred thousand: big, but not big enough to raise eyebrows. But then a funny thing could be spotted in the accounts: their wives and other family members would chip in, as well as their business ventures.
Take the JCB billionaire Sir Anthony Bamford, one of Cameron's favourite businessmen and a regular guest on the PM's trade missions abroad. Between 2001 and summer 2010, Wilks-Heeg and Crone found donations from Anthony Bamford, Mark Bamford, George Bamford, JCB Bamford Excavators, JCB Research, and JCB World Brands. Tot that up and you get a contribution to the Conservative party from the Bamford family of £3,898,900. But you'd need to be an expert sleuth with plenty of time and resources to tot it up.
One family: nearly £4m. Wilks-Heeg and Crone found that 15 of these families or "donor groups" account for almost a third of all Tory funding. They enjoy trips to Chequers, dinners in Downing Street and a friendly prime ministerial ear. Lord Irvine Laidlaw stuffed over £6m into Conservative pockets over a decade and, one of his former staffers told the Mail, liked to boast about his influence over party leaders: "William's [Hague] in my pocket".
Perhaps you're wondering why the Tories talked so tough on banking reform before election but have done so little since. That may have something to do with the money the City gives to them. According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, in 2010 donations from financial services accounted for over half of all Tory funding.
Three years ago, spread-betting boss Stuart Wheeler brazenly told MPs that "a party is going to take more notice of somebody who might give them lots of money than somebody who won't". He should know; he once gave the Conservatives a single donation of £5m. And certainly, the City has plenty to show for its investment. Across Europe, Angela Merkel, Fran├žois Hollande and others are pushing ahead with plans for a Tobin tax or a small levy on financial transactions to start next year. Britain, on the other hand, is part of a small band of refuseniks, along with such other giants of financial regulation as Malta and Luxembourg.
One of the mysteries of this government is why George Osborne made a priority of cutting the 50p tax for the super-rich, thus handing the opposition a stick to beat him with. One possible answer to that is suggested by an FT report from November 2011 on hedge-fund donations to Osborne's party. "There probably aren't many votes in cutting the 50p top rate of tax," one major hedge fund donor told the paper, "but among those that give significant amounts to the party, it's a big issue, and that's probably why it's a big issue for the party too". Just four months later, at the next budget, the 50p rate was scrapped.”

So not only are the extremely wealthy paying huge sums into Tory coffers, they are getting something for their cash. Perhaps our current government of the rich, by the rich, for the rich should be renamed a ‘cashocracy?’

Consider how NewLabour treated the unions when in government and it is clear the unions did not get much in return. They could learn a lot from the Tories.

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Truth and surveillance.

“and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free”

If only....

How far have we slipped?

“Any attempt to invade the privacy of a private citizen, doesn’t matter what it is, is in violation of the Bill of Rights, and those who propose such a thing are more of a danger to this country than the ones they want to listen in on.
...There’s always somebody around, Congress, somewhere, that thinks the country won’t last until day after tomorrow unless there’s a lot of wiretapping involved.”
—Harry Truman, quoted in ‘Plain Speaking’

The steady stream of leaks from Edward Snowden build to form a very troubling picture. It would be difficult to get that impression from the mainstream media obsessed by celebrity and ‘Murray mania.’ Thankfully there are journalists out there such as Glen Greenwald, determined to reveal what is going on. 

“But contrary to what some want to suggest, the privacy rights of Americans aren't the only ones that matter. That the US government - in complete secrecy - is constructing a ubiquitous spying apparatus aimed not only at its own citizens, but all of the world's citizens, has profound consequences. It erodes, if not eliminates, the ability to use the internet with any remnant of privacy or personal security. It vests the US government with boundless power over those to whom it has no accountability. It permits allies of the US - including aggressively oppressive ones - to benefit from indiscriminate spying on their citizens' communications. It radically alters the balance of power between the US and ordinary citizens of the world. And it sends an unmistakable signal to the world that while the US very minimally values the privacy rights of Americans, it assigns zero value to the privacy of everyone else on the planet.

This development - the construction of a worldwide, ubiquitous electronic surveillance apparatus - is self-evidently newsworthy, extreme, and dangerous. It deserves transparency. People around the world have no idea that all of their telephonic and internet communications are being collected, stored and analyzed by a distant government. But that's exactly what is happening, in secrecy and with virtually no accountability. And it is inexorably growing, all in the dark. At the very least, it merits public understanding and debate. That is now possible thanks solely to these disclosures.” Glen Greenwald, Guardian 7/7/13

Finally, how much has this coalition government achieved? Here is what they said in the Coalition Agreement back in May 2010

“We will be strong in defence of freedom. The Government believes that the British state has become too authoritarian, and that over the past decade it has abused and eroded fundamental human freedoms and historic civil liberties. We need to restore the rights of individuals in the face of encroaching state power, in keeping with Britain’s tradition of freedom and fairness.” 

And this

“We will restore rights to non-violent protest.
We will introduce safeguards against the misuse of anti-terrorism legislation.
We will further regulate CCTV.
We will end the storage of internet and email records without good reason.”

Oh yeah.

Romanian MEP
“The reason we fought so hard to join the West was for freedom, not a repeat of what we fought against.”

Saturday, 6 July 2013

Gove: A Wheeze a Minute

Oh he is a card isn’t he? One of the few to stand up for Rupert Murdoch at Leveson. Not really surprising as he did very well out of his former boss. Undoubtedly quick-witted and reported (by some) to be charming, he is a bag of ideas fizzing away in the Dept for Education. Thanks to a succession of stooges in the role there are now more powers for an Education Minister than ever before. Just in time for someone like Gove who relishes getting his little paws on all the levers of power and promoting his latest wheeze. Because he is omniscient you see. 

Only in the last couple of weeks have we heard about the following:
  • Re-drawing the landscape of History - had to be revised again following complaints from numerous eminent critics.
  • GCSE’s revisited and re-named following many twists and turns. At a time when the school leaving age is rising and GCSE - type exams are obsolete.
  • Revolving doors for advisers - if they come up with stuff he likes they may get a mention - if they do not they are persona non grata very quickly.
  • Abolishing the six week summer holiday and allowing schools to set their own dates. This was quickly rubbished by most parents with children at more than one school, never mind teachers with families attending schools in different authorities to where they teach. 
  • Schools to become profit-making businesses.
  • Civil servants at the Dfe have to use a grammar text book to ensure what they write or say is good english.
  • The collapse of a major company in Sweden who ran free schools over there does not seem to have impacted on the omniscient one.

Gove is so omniscient and so wise he has little need to listen to education experts. As Michael Rosen (not a fan) commented:

“It turns out that bevvies of people have been working in an office near you, thinking that they were "national curriculum expert subject advisory groups". On the other hand, one of your spokespeople thinks "these expert groups were not set up to advise on the curriculum".
Of course, if these national curriculum advisers (who are not advising on the curriculum) happened to agree with every word you said, then I'm sure you would conjure them up as wise men in support of your latest harebrained scheme. Instead, they think what's going on is chaotic, that things aren't thought through.
They think what you propose lacks consistency and academic rigour (O unkindest cut of all, adopting your buzz word rigour and directing it back at you).
As they're just highly experienced teachers and academics, I'm sure you can discount their views and push them through the revolving DfE doors asap.” Michael Rosen Guardian 2/7/13

This was followed swiftly by news that Gove wants to make education profitable. Forget service, forget developing the nation’s young, forget opening minds to the wonders around them. He sees them as yet more cash cows to be milked by his chums, the hedge funds, financiers and bankers. 

Academies and free schools should become profit-making businesses using hedge funds and venture capitalists to raise money, according to private plans being drawn up by the Education Secretary, Michael Gove.
Details of discussions on the proposed redesign of academy regulations were leaked to The Independent by Department for Education insiders who are concerned that Mr Gove is going too fast and too far in his ambition to convert all 30,000 schools in England to academies.
They are worried that the new setup will divert cash from classrooms, limit the availability of "expensive" subjects such as music and science and end the public service vocation of teachers. They want to see an end to the secrecy over the proposed reforms, which have not been publicly announced.” Independent 3/7/13

What next. How about selling off all the school playing fields to private developers? Oh. They are already on to that. Forget any ‘Olympic Legacy.’

One thing about Gove, he never lets inconvenient facts or arguments interrupt his policy diarrhea.

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Cheese-eating surrender monkeys

It is astonishing to consider the twists, turns and diversions that Snowden has created. The actions of one whistleblower are reverberating around the world in ways he cannot have foreseen. 

Yes, he knew the ‘land of the brave and the free’ would revert to type and come after him with everything they have got. Yes he knew his life is now on the line. And yes he knew that there would be many parts of the world where he would be regarded as persona non grata.

What he could not have predicted is the possibility of the presidential plane of the Bolivian people being refused passage across European airspace because Snowden might have been aboard the jet. He could not have predicted that the Austrians would check the plane thoroughly when it was diverted to Vienna. He would not have envisaged the fury in South America at the insulting (and illegal) treatment of one of their own. 

He could have predicted that many countries around the world would do exactly what the United States of Surveillance demanded. But the French? The same bunch who pointedly and correctly avoided getting involved in the Iraq fiasco closed their airspace to Evo Morales’ plane. Much to the disgust of most of their citizenry. 

Remember the opprobrium heaped on the French by the yank shock jocks? Cheese-eating surrender monkeys was among the tamer of the insults. So why the change of approach this time? 

Perhaps when you have such a worldwide information gathering apparatus, you unearth the dirty doings of so many shallow, criminal self-serving politicians in countries all over the world. The secret bank accounts, the mistresses, the conspiracies, the mob connections, the bribes, the fraud, drug-taking, corruption, not forgetting the weapons sales to disreputable regimes or groups..... 

All it takes is a little phone call from Joe Biden. Saint Obama has assured us that he will not engage in diplomatic pressure; cheesy grins and an 'Aw Shucks' approach is his role. He can leave the shit to his attack dog who is all lined up and raring to go.

“Make him an offer he can’t refuse.” Ring any bells?

Finally, would Biden’s calls have been made on a secure encrypted line? 

Thanks to Steve Bell for the following: