Saturday, 31 August 2013

Cameron defeat: some reflections

The fall-out from the amazing vote on Thursday night continues apace. 

 “A couple of months ago, I was due to meet a British general for a routine chat when I received an embarrassed email from him, saying that all such meetings must now be approved by the Defence Secretary’s office. This had been refused.

I wrote first to Philip Hammond, and then to David Cameron, asking why they were seeking to kill the sort of private dialogue with the armed forces that I have had for more than 40 years.

Both the Prime Minister and Defence Secretary wrote back, defending their gagging decision. They said that there has been far too much military leaking to the media, and they are determined that this must stop.” Max Hastings, Daily Wail 30/8/13

Not the usual source of embarrassing revelations about our beloved leaders. Clearly one story the Guardian missed. Max had more to say:

“This sort of clumsy control-freakery derives in part, of course, from the fact that our leaders know that our professional soldiers are contemptuous of their antics on security policy generally, and Syria in particular.

But attempts to silence those who know something about strategy and warfare are bound to fail, and only emphasise the Government’s cack-handedness. In the House of Commons yesterday, Mr Cameron asserted again and again that the decision about military action in Syria is a ‘judgment issue’.

He was right, and the shortcomings of his own  judgment are now embarrassingly apparent. He has misread the strategic  arguments, the interests of the  Syrian people, the mood of Britain and now also of its Parliament.

The truth is that the Prime Minister has called the crisis of recent days wrong from the outset. Many of his own backbenchers could see that, and now the House as a whole has spoken – proving that it still has the power to trump the executive and speak for the people.

“But in my view there’s no doubt the Prime Minister has made a colossal fool of himself, on a matter of the utmost gravity – that of war and peace. Almost the worst part of the fiasco is that one day we shall need to deploy our shrunken armed forces against a real threat from a real foreign enemy.

And because our leaders have so often deceived us in the past, crying wolf amid their own hubristic  delusions and pretensions, the British people will not believe them.
That will indeed be a tragic day, and Mr Cameron has followed Blair in bringing it upon us.”

There is much in the press today about ‘heads must roll’ with several ministers being fingered for the sack. Among them are at least five ministers who did not vote - three stayed on holiday and two were in a closet together and ‘did not hear the division bell.’ Strange but true.

Malcolm Tucker would have gone into expletive overload. One minister threw his toys out of the pram:

"I watched the English Education Secretary Michael Gove shout, 'A disgrace, you're a disgrace' at a number of Conservative and Lib Dem rebels," Mr Robertson said.
"He had to be persuaded to calm down by a number of his colleagues.
"I retorted, 'It's called democracy', because that was what happened. We have finally learned the lessons from Iraq." Independent 30/8/13 

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Little Willy Hague

What a week it has been for the former superstar of the Tory party. Ever since the horrendous events in Syria, little Willy has been all over the media banging a massive war drum. So loudly has he banged his drum that he has not been able to hear what began as murmurings, which then became louder and quickly grew into a roar of disagreement and disapproval. He appears to have convinced his leader that everything was hunky dory. Blithely they assumed that joining in on America’s coat-tails to attack Syria was a done deal. 

The events of the last 24 hours have shown just how out of touch and out of time this pair of reprobates are.

Watching the Parliamentary debate, one backbench Tory MP after another expressed the doubts and reservations they have been bombarded with from their constituents. They sought assurances from the leadership, but a piss-poor performance from Clegg, who summed up the debate without answering one of the many reservations raised, undoubtedly did not help the government’s cause. 

For some jingoistic Tories, the Labour party were reprehensible to the point of even being accused of aiding Assad - including egregious Defence Secretary Hammond - who did himself little favour. For these armchair warriors, it is very easy to condemn innocent people to death to satisfy their yearning for days of yore when we once had an Empaah. The reality of being a small north-European state who still spend far too much on arms and the military seems to be well beyond their ken. 

Watching the debate it was clear that so many Tory backbenchers were deeply unhappy at the position they were in. Dave and little Willy have slipped some way down the greasy pole. In the Lords, a slimy war-monger had this little contribution. Michael (‘something of the night’) Howard made the astonishing claim that, ‘Should the Americans and the French launch attacks on the Assad regime over the week-end, it will be to our eternal shame that we were not attacking too.’ Yet again he did not make it clear that he works for a security company. There is nothing the security industry like better than yet more reasons to make more cash. The man is beneath contempt. 

The flag of peace is flying over Portnahaven. It does not mean that war criminals like Assad should have a free rein. As soon as he or his henchmen set foot anywhere outside Syria, they should be arrested and bundled off to the war crimes court. It would help enormously if our own war criminal - one Tony Blair - were to be hauled up before the International Court in the Hague. 

Now that would send a message to despots and tyrants everywhere. 

Joint Intelligence Committee

The rush to attack Syria has been slowed down somewhat by the massive antipathy towards such an attack. 

Having made themselves look like men with little willies, the PM and Foreign Secretary are scrabbling around trying to find something, anything, to justify their warmongering. Their latest wheeze is to publish the ‘thinking’ of the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC).

Would this be the same JIC who published the ‘dodgy dossier’ prior to the attack on Iraq?

It would.

Would this be the same JIC who produced the risible 45 minute attack claim used by Blair to swing the Iraq vote in the Commons?

It would.

Would this be the same JIC who defended their position even when their claims were exposed as being predominantly lifted from the Internet?

It would.

Would this be the same JIC who appear to have got away scot free with their dissembling,  masquerading as a bona fide body? 

It would.

So why should anyone give any credence to anything this bunch of servile toadies churn out?


Before we get embroiled in any further disasters perhaps we should learn from the Chilcott Report into the Iraq fiasco....

Oh, sorry! We cannot because it has not been published yet.

Why is that?

Because the Cabinet Office are reluctant to hand over relevant documents to the Inquiry.

Why should any sentient human being therefore trust a word these slippery slimy cretins say?

They shouldn’t.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

The Call to Arms

Once again we are heading into yet another conflict with no clear reason or purpose. Our Parliament has been recalled to debate the finer points. Or to waste their time and breath if the latest reports stating that an attack is a done deal stitched up between Obama and Cameron in the wee small hours.

Not too many years ago the Americans put pressure on the then government of Harold Wilson to join them in their Vietnam catastrophe. Thankfully Harold and his Cabinet resisted. He was helped in this by the fact that several members of his cabinet had seen active service in World War Two. Dennis Healey for one had won the Military medal in Normandy. Many MPs in the Commons were also war veterans. They knew from deep personal experience about the costs of war. 

They did not know about  ‘collateral damage,’ the euphemism coined by the Americans in Vietnam, which insulted dead civilians inconvenient enough to get in the way and irrelevant enough not to count when all the numbers were added up.

The fiasco of the build up to the Iraq War, followed by the dreadful events in that benighted country, appears to have left the Reverend Blair untouched. Yet again the man of god is banging the war drums as the envoy for peace in the Middle East. 

Has this ‘envoy’ not read the New Testament yet? 

David ‘Heir to Blair’ Cameron appears to be reveling in the drama of it all. Has he learnt nothing? A commentator calling himself Foster6the6imposter6 had this to say:

I would solve the problem by having anyone who calls for war spend time shovelling up body parts left after their side has blown people to bits. There should not be a problem...they say they are in favour of such carnage...but probably only for as long as they do not have first hand experience.
Seldom do old soldiers speak in favour of war.”

Finally, we are entering the world of the weird.

The bizarre thing is that if the UK supports & participates in an attack on Syria to change the balance against Assad, the UK will be on the side of the groups in the region who are allied with violent jihadists, or who are violent jihadists. And yet it is the threat from potential allies in Syria that justifies the attacks on our liberty.”  Kristinekochanski

Whatever happens, you can be assured that increased surveillance at home will be called for to protect us from the terrorist threat.

Madness. Absolute bloody madness.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Royal Panda

Any chance of the Great British Media following up what happened to Miranda and the Snowden revelations fades into the ether when there is the possibility of a baby Panda at Edinburgh Zoo. 

Chuck in the ‘will he – wont he?’  Rooney saga;  and pics (with accompanying mock outrage) of Ms Cirus gyrating in her skimpies and you have the perfect tableau of garbage to keep the public ignorant. Bread and circuses. 

Despite all of the best efforts of our elite to control the media away from the news that we are being spied on in an industrial scale, there is hope that elsewhere in the world folk are waking up to what has been going on. The ripples from the United States, Germany and other European states will wash up on our shores.

In the meantime there is one little ray of sunshine about the Panda story. If there is a successful birth it will mean there are three times more Pandas in Scotland than Tory MPs. 

Then there is the small matter of how our MPs are going to vote on Thursday.....

Naah – what about the Panda?

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Surveiled and silent

A message from a Mexican Revolutionary over 100 years ago. 

"The public functionaries are not, as is commonly believed, the guardians of order. Order, which is harmony, doesn't need guardians, precisely because it is order. That which needs guardians is disorder and a disorder which is scandalous, shameful, and humiliating to those of us who weren't born to be slaves, a disorder which reigns over the political and social life of humanity.
"To maintain disorder, that is, to maintain political and social inequality, to maintain the privileges of the ruling class and the submission of the ruled, that is why governments, laws, policemen, soldiers, jailers, judges, hangmen, and the whole mob of high and petty functionaries who suck the energies of the humble people are needed. These functionaries don't exist to protect humanity, but to maintain its submission, to keep it enslaved for the benefit of those who have contrived to retain the land and the factories for themselves up to this moment."
--Ricardo Flores Magon (1911)

Here is a chillingly apposite quote taken from the book "They Thought They Were Free" published 1955 by Milton Mayer, about life in Nazi Germany:

"What no one seemed to notice," said a colleague of mine, a philologist, "was the ever widening gap, after 1933, between the government and the people. Just think how very wide this gap was to begin with, here in Germany. And it became always wider. You know, it doesn’t make people close to their government to be told that this is a people’s government, a true democracy, or to be enrolled in civilian defense, or even to vote. All this has little, really nothing, to do with knowing one is governing.
"What happened here was the gradual habituation of the people, little by little, to being governed by surprise; to receiving decisions deliberated in secret; to believing that the situation was so complicated that the government had to act on information which the people could not understand, or so dangerous that, even if the people could not understand it, it could not be released because of national security. And their sense of identification with Hitler, their trust in him, made it easier to widen this gap and reassured those who would otherwise have worried about it.
"This separation of government from people, this widening of the gap, took place so gradually and so insensibly, each step disguised (perhaps not even intentionally) as a temporary emergency measure or associated with true patriotic allegiance or with real social purposes. And all the crises and reforms (real reforms, too) so occupied the people that they did not see the slow motion underneath, of the whole process of government growing remoter and remoter.
"To live in this process is absolutely not to be able to notice it—please try to believe me—unless one has a much greater degree of political awareness, acuity, than most of us had ever had occasion to develop. Each step was so small, so inconsequential, so well explained or, on occasion, ‘regretted,’ that, unless one were detached from the whole process from the beginning, unless one understood what the whole thing was in principle, what all these ‘little measures’ that no ‘patriotic German’ could resent must some day lead to, one no more saw it developing from day to day than a farmer in his field sees the corn growing. One day it is over his head.

"You see," my colleague went on, "one doesn’t see exactly where or how to move. Believe me, this is true. Each act, each occasion, is worse than the last, but only a little worse. You wait for the next and the next. You wait for one great shocking occasion, thinking that others, when such a shock comes, will join with you in resisting somehow. You don’t want to act, or even talk, alone; you don’t want to ‘go out of your way to make trouble.’ Why not?—Well, you are not in the habit of doing it. And it is not just fear, fear of standing alone, that restrains you; it is also genuine uncertainty.
"But the one great shocking occasion, when tens or hundreds or thousands will join with you, never comes. That’s the difficulty. If the last and worst act of the whole regime had come immediately after the first and smallest, thousands, yes, millions would have been sufficiently shocked—if, let us say, the gassing of the Jews in ’43 had come immediately after the ‘German Firm’ stickers on the windows of non-Jewish shops in ’33. But of course this isn’t the way it happens. In between come all the hundreds of little steps, some of them imperceptible, each of them preparing you not to be shocked by the next. Step C is not so much worse than Step B, and, if you did not make a stand at Step B, why should you at Step C? And so on to Step D.
"And one day, too late, your principles, if you were ever sensible of them, all rush in upon you. The burden of self-deception has grown too heavy, and some minor incident, in my case my little boy, hardly more than a baby, saying ‘Jewish swine,’ collapses it all at once, and you see that everything, everything, has changed and changed completely under your nose. The world you live in—your nation, your people—is not the world you were born in at all. The forms are all there, all untouched, all reassuring, the houses, the shops, the jobs, the mealtimes, the visits, the concerts, the cinema, the holidays. But the spirit, which you never noticed because you made the lifelong mistake of identifying it with the forms, is changed. Now you live in a world of hate and fear, and the people who hate and fear do not even know it themselves; when everyone is transformed, no one is transformed. Now you live in a system which rules without responsibility even to God. The system itself could not have intended this in the beginning, but in order to sustain itself it was compelled to go all the way."

Fast forward 50 years to the passing of the Patriot Act in the States and the Anti -Terrorism Law in the UK and we can see the steps already taken. Worse, we see the steps taken since then by the security business, the corporations and the political elite to protect their hegemony.

Since the Snowden revelations there is an almost world-wide discussion taking place about the balance between security and privacy - but not in the UK. 

Why not in a country with the greatest number of CCTV cameras per head of population in the world? 

Why not in a country with a fine history of standing up to tyranny? 

Why not in a country that espouses ‘democracy’ to troubled areas but singularly fails to practice it at home?

Friday, 23 August 2013

Open Letter to Larry Page CEO Google

The following first class letter (you don't know who is reading your emails...) will arrive in London early next week. A similar letter has been sent to Michel Van der Bel, MD Microsoft UK too.

Larry Page 
CEO Google
c/o Google UK Ltd
123 Buckingham Palace Road

23rd August 2013

Dear Mr Page,

Your company has come a long way in a very short time becoming an essential part of the internet. Revelations from Edward Snowden put all your progress at risk. 

  It appears that you and your senior team have:
  1. caved in to pressure from the NSA (being charitable) or
  2. sold our privacy to the NSA.

In your company ethos you say, “We strive to maintain the open culture..” and, “You can make money without doing evil.”

Both of those claims now ring rather hollow in the light of what has appeared today:
‘NSA paid millions to cover Prism compliance costs for tech companies’ Guardian online 23/8/13

Your spectacular rise has been incredible. Your decision making over privacy has put your company at risk. Google, along with other tech companies, will not be trusted and alternatives sought. 

Practice what you preach and come clean about your dealings with NSA and GCHQ.

Yours sincerely

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Smash My Hard Drive

Alan Rusbridger, Editor of the Guardian, wrote a piece this week explaining what has been going on behind the scenes since the publication of the Snowden revelations. The disgraceful detention of Miranda at Heathrow last Sunday crossed a line. 

“...The detention of Miranda has rightly caused international dismay because it feeds into a perception that the US and UK governments – while claiming to welcome the debate around state surveillance started by Snowden – are also intent on stemming the tide of leaks and on pursuing the whistleblower with a vengeance. That perception is right. Here follows a little background on the considerable obstacles being placed in the way of informing the public about what the intelligence agencies, governments and corporations are up to.

A little over two months ago I was contacted by a very senior government official* claiming to represent the views of the prime minister. There followed two meetings in which he demanded the return or destruction of all the material we were working on. The tone was steely, if cordial, but there was an implicit threat that others within government and Whitehall favoured a far more draconian approach.

The mood toughened just over a month ago, when I received a phone call from the centre of government telling me: "You've had your fun. Now we want the stuff back." There followed further meetings with shadowy Whitehall figures. The demand was the same: hand the Snowden material back or destroy it. I explained that we could not research and report on this subject if we complied with this request. The man from Whitehall looked mystified. "You've had your debate. There's no need to write any more." (my emphasis)

There was an implicit threat of legal actions - injunctions etc - to close down any coverage of Snowden’s leaks.

“.........I explained to the man from Whitehall about the nature of international collaborations and the way in which, these days, media organisations could take advantage of the most permissive legal environments. Bluntly, we did not have to do our reporting from London. Already most of the NSA stories were being reported and edited out of New York. And had it occurred to him that Greenwald lived in Brazil?
The man was unmoved. And so one of the more bizarre moments in the Guardian's long history occurred – with two GCHQ security experts overseeing the destruction of hard drives in the Guardian's basement just to make sure there was nothing in the mangled bits of metal which could possibly be of any interest to passing Chinese agents. "We can call off the black helicopters," joked one as we swept up the remains of a MacBook Pro.

Whitehall was satisfied, but it felt like a peculiarly pointless piece of symbolism that understood nothing about the digital age. We will continue to do patient, painstaking reporting on the Snowden documents, we just won't do it in London. The seizure of Miranda's laptop, phones, hard drives and camera will similarly have no effect on Greenwald's work.

The state that is building such a formidable apparatus of surveillance will do its best to prevent journalists from reporting on it. Most journalists can see that. But I wonder how many have truly understood the absolute threat to journalism implicit in the idea of total surveillance, when or if it comes – and, increasingly, it looks like "when". Guardian 20/8/13

* This later turned out to be Sir Jeremy Heywood, Cabinet Secretary

Monday, 19 August 2013

Thought Crime

The reaction to the appalling treatment of David Miranda at Heathrow yesterday gathers apace. Someone calling himself RepoManCometh posted this online:

‘We endlessly drone on about human rights violations in places like Zimbabwe and Uzbekistan. What about this blatant violation at Heathrow? Detaining somebody for a thought crime? How very Orwellian.
As far as I'm concerned the UK just violated every single charter on human rights to which it's a signatory. The hypocrisy here is really spectacular.’ Comment is Free, Guardian

It is not surprising to read the reaction from a senior journalist at the Guardian. 

“Miranda's phone and laptop were confiscated and he was held incommunicado, without access to friends or lawyer, for the maximum nine hours allowed under law. It is the airport equivalent of smashing into someone's flat, rifling through their drawers and stealing papers and documents. It is simple harassment and intimidation.

Greenwald himself is not know to have committed any offence, unless journalism is now a "terrorist" occupation in the eyes of British and American politicians. As for Miranda, his only offence seems to have been to be part of his family. Harassing the family of those who have upset authority is the most obscene form of state terrorism.

Last month, the British foreign secretary, William Hague, airily excused the apparently illegal hoovering of internet traffic by British and American spies on the grounds that "the innocent have nothing to fear," the motto of police states down the ages. Hague's apologists explained that he was a nice chap really, but that relations with America trumped every libertarian card.

The hysteria of the "war on terror" is now corrupting every area of democratic government. It extends from the arbitrary selection of drone targets to the quasi-torture of suspects, the intrusion on personal data and the harassing of journalists' families. The disregard of statutory oversight – in Britain's case pathetically inadequate – is giving western governments many of the characteristics of the enemies they profess to oppose. (my emphasis)

How Putin must be rubbing his hands with glee.” Simon Jenkins, Guardian 19/8/13

In a factual article the Telegraph had the following from Amnesty International:

‘Widney Brown, Amnesty International's senior director of international law and policy, said: "It is utterly improbable that David Michael Miranda, a Brazilian national transiting through London, was detained at random, given the role his partner has played in revealing the truth about the unlawful nature of NSA surveillance.”
"David's detention was unlawful and inexcusable. He was detained under a law that violates any principle of fairness and his detention shows how the law can be abused for petty vindictive reasons.”
"There is simply no basis for believing that David Michael Miranda presents any threat whatsoever to the UK Government. The only possible intent behind this detention was to harass him and his partner, Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, for his role in analysing the data released by Edward Snowden."

Stalin would have approved, as would the Stasi. And as for Putin? Hand rubbing plus.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

David Miranda detained at Heathrow.

David who? 
And why was he detained under anti-terror laws at Heathrow? 
And which slimy toe-rag authorised or ordered it?

David Miranda is the partner of Glen Greenwald, the brilliant investigative journalist who has helped Edward Snowden’s revelations reach the world’s media. 

“David Miranda, who lives with Glen Greenwald, was returning from a trip to Berlin when he was stopped by officers at 8.30am and informed that he was to be questioned under schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000. The controversial law, which applies only at airports, ports and border areas, allows officers to stop, search, question and detain individuals.
The 28-year-old was held for nine hours, the maximum the law allows before officers must release or formally arrest the individual. According to official figures, most examinations under schedule 7 - over 97% - last under an hour, and only one in 2,000 people detained are kept for more than 6 hours.

Miranda was released without charge, but officials confiscated electronics equipment including his mobile phone, laptop, camera, memory sticks, DVDs and games consoles. (my emphasis)

Since 5 June, Greenwald has written a series of stories revealing the NSA's electronic surveillance programmes, detailed in thousands of files passed to him by whistleblower Edward Snowden. The Guardian has also published a number of stories about blanket electronic surveillance by Britain's GCHQ, also based on documents from Snowden.
While in Berlin, Miranda had visited Laura Poitras, the US film-maker who has also been working on the Snowden files with Greenwald and the Guardian.

"This is a profound attack on press freedoms and the news gathering process," Greenwald said. "To detain my partner for a full nine hours while denying him a lawyer, and then seize large amounts of his possessions, is clearly intended to send a message of intimidation to those of us who have been reporting on the NSA and GCHQ. The actions of the UK pose a serious threat to journalists everywhere.
"But the last thing it will do is intimidate or deter us in any way from doing our job as journalists. Quite the contrary: it will only embolden us more to continue to report aggressively." Guardian 18/8/13

Time to find out some more facts. Which chinless creep in the security services thought this would be a good idea? Did they get ministerial approval and if so which gutless wonder engaged in defending our democracy by attacking the messenger - or more accurately in this case, the messenger’s partner?

Those of you who think all this does not matter and that it is the blethering of the liberal chattering classes think again. These stooges of the elite are not concerned about rights, wrongs, hard-won freedoms and privacy. They have masters to serve.

Nothing to hide? Nothing to fear? Bollocks.

Public Rip-Off

Yet more revelations about the way our elite operate. 

Whitehall departments are picking up the tax bills for perks such as official cars, first-class rail travel and rent-free accommodation.
The arrangements, which were described by tax advisers as “highly unusual”, were made between government departments and the taxman as part of a deal agreed more than a decade ago.
The effect of the deal is to increase the value of officials’ pay packages by up to £30,000 a year at the expense of taxpayers.
Those who benefited from the scheme include Sir Jeremy Heywood, the Cabinet Secretary; Sir David Nicholson, the head of NHS England; and Phillippa Williamson, the former head of the Serious Fraud Office.Telegraph 18/8/13

Compared to the vast sums hidden abroad in offshore accounts these amounts are quite small beer really. Even so they are symptomatic of a malaise at the heart of our political system. People are justifiably angry.  

A couple of months ago, Jeremy Heywood said it would take at least another 20 years, to bring down Britain's debt.
Now we know why.
It's because politicians like him, are taking money from the tax payer, from people working hard everyday, to line their own pockets. He didn't stop there though. He called for Four More Years of "Austerity" and more welfare cuts, and they expect the public to work longer, and harder, to pay for the lifestyles of a Corrupt Government, and Corrupt Politicians.
Austerity for the poor, money taken from hard working tax payers, and redistributed into the pockets of crony capitalist MP's, who are living off the sweat, and suffering of others.
Now we know the public, are paying the taxes, of a former senior fraud officer. Looks like she learned all the tricks of the trade then.
This country is drowning in a sea of corruption and greed that has flooded the corridors of government, and the institutions that are supposed to work for the people.” T
elegraph commentator JohnBlake1824

OK - so when are we going to get off our knees and do something about it?

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Bugging Democracy

Two months after the Snowden revelations, where are we at? In the UK, it has all gone very quiet. The Guardian have issued periodic updates to the massive indifference (or ‘D’ Noticed silenced?) of the vast majority of the media. In Germany the updates receive massive coverage. In the USA there is a shift in opinion taking place. So much so that Obama announced yesterday that he will institute a review of the bugging processes and introduce ‘reforms.’ This has not appeased his critics.

“The masters send out their charismatic spokesman to charm the public and promise vague "reforms". First they told us "yes we spy on you, but there's very strict oversight", next we heard "okay, maybe we weren't being completely truthful; we need to police ourselves better", and next we'll hear "okay everyone, the reforms are done, everything is fine, carry on!" jjtree Comment is Free, Guardian Online

Each leak has followed a similar pattern. Each claim being initially rubbished by the security services. Snowden’s character (and those who have helped him) are traduced using sycophantic media. Attention is paid to the human interest angle of Snowden’s location. The meat and potatoes of the leak being conveniently ignored. Meanwhile the more intelligent have questioned the response to the leak and found it wanting, devious or a downright pack of lies. This is then reinforced by the following leak which establishes without question that the security industry lied. 

In America the penny has dropped for many, some of whom have always regarded ‘big government’ as the enemy. Others are expressing real concern for the nature and state of their democracy. They quote relevant articles to back up their feelings, such as this one.

Representative institutions no longer represent voters. Instead, they have been short-circuited, steadily corrupted by an institutionalized system of bribery that renders them responsive to powerful interest groups whose constituencies are the major corporations and wealthiest Americans. The courts, in turn, when they are not increasingly handmaidens of corporate power, are consistently deferential to the claims of national security. Elections have become heavily subsidized non-events that typically attract at best merely half of an electorate whose information about foreign and domestic politics is filtered through corporate-dominated media. Citizens are manipulated into a nervous state by the media's reports of rampant crime and terrorist networks, by thinly veiled threats of the Attorney General and by their own fears about unemployment. What is crucially important here is not only the expansion of governmental power but the inevitable discrediting of constitutional limitations and institutional processes that discourages the citizenry and leaves them politically apathetic.” Sheldon Wolin The Nation

It is time for similar articles, debate and discussion in the UK. Will the right- wing media and apprehensive BBC oblige? 

Friday, 9 August 2013

Open letter to the Scott Board Trust

Dear Mr Rusbridger,

The last couple of months has been a terrific time for the Guardian. The reporting of the Snowden revelations has been first class. The lack of coverage elsewhere has reinforced the position of the Guardian in the forefront of holding power to account. The paper has shown great courage. It has been a good time to be a subscriber. Until this week.

An article in the latest Private Eye (No. 1346) has shattered those feelings. Among the allegations are the following critical points:
  • “In a holier-than-thou disclaimer it declared that ‘Guardian News and Media, publisher of the Guardian, does not employ anyone on zero-hours contracts.‘ This, as one hack put it, is ‘absolute fucking bollocks.‘ The Guardian employs scores of people on zero-hours contracts. Some newer desks such as the iPad edition are run almost entirely on them. 
  • There are dozens of casual sub-editors in the newsroom and elsewhere whose terms of employment state clearly that ‘the nature of your work as a casual is intermittent and will vary from week to week. There is no obligation on GNM to provide you with work continuously or otherwise.‘ Zero hours, in other words. 
  • Furthermore, every 10 months Guardian casuals take a compulsory one month unpaid break, and then enroll again, to ensure they have no legal employment rights.” P.Eye   

Are these claims true? If so, should a bastion of liberal journalism be utilising such methods - particularly the last one - without being guilty of gross hypocrisy?

Do you believe these practices meet C.P. Scott’s values: ‘Fundamentally it implies honesty, cleanness, courage, fairness, a sense of duty to the reader and the community?’ (my emphasis)

Your role, according the Scott Trust Board website is, “ to monitor the organisation, financial management and overall strategy of the Group, holding the board accountable for its performance’

As a life-long reader the latest revelations are of great concern. Add into the equation the huge salaries being paid to senior executives, when the group is losing millions every year, thereby giving the impression that fairness as a core value has been abandoned.

Is this the case? Are you prepared to use your position as editor and as a Board member of the Scott Trust to restore faith in the paper? If so, how, in what way and when? Finally what are you going to do to stop the iniquitous practice of zero-hours contracts being used by GNM?

Yours, very concerned,

Stuart Graham

Cc Scott Trust Board members

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Stephen Fry Letter August 7th 2013

Dear Prime Minister, M Rogge, Lord Coe and Members of the International Olympic Committee,

I write in the earnest hope that all those with a love of sport and the Olympic spirit will consider the stain on the Five Rings that occurred when the 1936 Berlin Olympics proceeded under the exultant aegis of a tyrant who had passed into law, two years earlier, an act which singled out for special persecution a minority whose only crime was the accident of their birth. In his case he banned Jews from academic tenure or public office, he made sure that the police turned a blind eye to any beatings, thefts or humiliations afflicted on them, he burned and banned books written by them. He claimed they “polluted” the purity and tradition of what it was to be German, that they were a threat to the state, to the children and the future of the Reich. He blamed them simultaneously for the mutually exclusive crimes of Communism and for the controlling of international capital and banks. He blamed them for ruining the culture with their liberalism and difference. The Olympic movement at that time paid precisely no attention to this evil and proceeded with the notorious Berlin Olympiad, which provided a stage for a gleeful F├╝hrer and only increased his status at home and abroad. It gave him confidence. All historians are agreed on that. What he did with that confidence we all know.

Putin is eerily repeating this insane crime, only this time against LGBT Russians. Beatings, murders and humiliations are ignored by the police. Any defence or sane discussion of homosexuality is against the law. Any statement, for example, that Tchaikovsky was gay and that his art and life reflects this sexuality and are an inspiration to other gay artists would be punishable by imprisonment. It is simply not enough to say that gay Olympians may or may not be safe in their village. The IOC absolutely must take a firm stance on behalf of the shared humanity it is supposed to represent against the barbaric, fascist law that Putin has pushed through the Duma. Let us not forget that Olympic events used not only to be athletic, they used to include cultural competitions. Let us realise that in fact, sport is cultural. It does not exist in a bubble outside society or politics. The idea that sport and politics don’t connect is worse than disingenuous, worse than stupid. It is wickedly, wilfully wrong. Everyone knows politics interconnects with everything for “politics” is simply the Greek for “to do with the people”.

An absolute ban on the Russian Winter Olympics of 2014 on Sochi is simply essential. Stage them elsewhere in Utah, Lillyhammer, anywhere you like. At all costs Putin cannot be seen to have the approval of the civilised world.

He is making scapegoats of gay people, just as Hitler did Jews. He cannot be allowed to get away with it. I know whereof I speak. I have visited Russia, stood up to the political deputy who introduced the first of these laws, in his city of St Petersburg. I looked into the face of the man and, on camera, tried to reason with him, counter him, make him understand what he was doing. All I saw reflected back at me was what Hannah Arendt called, so memorably, “the banality of evil.” A stupid man, but like so many tyrants, one with an instinct of how to exploit a disaffected people by finding scapegoats. Putin may not be quite as oafish and stupid as Deputy Milonov but his instincts are the same. He may claim that the “values” of Russia are not the “values” of the West, but this is absolutely in opposition to Peter the Great’s philosophy, and against the hopes of millions of Russians, those not in the grip of that toxic mix of shaven headed thuggery and bigoted religion, those who are agonised by the rolling back of democracy and the formation of a new autocracy in the motherland that has suffered so much (and whose music, literature and drama, incidentally I love so passionately).
I am gay. I am a Jew. My mother lost over a dozen of her family to Hitler’s anti-Semitism. Every time in Russia (and it is constantly) a gay teenager is forced into suicide, a lesbian “correctively” raped, gay men and women beaten to death by neo-Nazi thugs while the Russian police stand idly by, the world is diminished and I for one, weep anew at seeing history repeat itself.

“All that is needed for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing,” so wrote Edmund Burke. Are you, the men and women of the IOC going to be those “good” who allow evil to triumph?

The Summer Olympics of 2012 were one of the most glorious moments of my life and the life of my country. For there to be a Russian Winter Olympics would stain the movement forever and wipe away any of that glory. The Five Rings would finally be forever smeared, besmirched and ruined in the eyes of the civilised world.

I am begging you to resist the pressures of pragmatism, of money, of the oily cowardice of diplomats and to stand up resolutely and proudly for humanity the world over, as your movement is pledged to do. Wave your Olympic flag with pride as we gay men and women wave our Rainbow flag with pride. Be brave enough to live up to the oaths and protocols of your movement, which I remind you of verbatim below.

Rule 4 Cooperate with the competent public or private organisations and authorities in the endeavour to place sport at the service of humanity and thereby to promote peace

Rule 6: Act against any form of discrimination affecting the Olympic Movement

Rule 15 Encourage and support initiatives blending sport with culture and education

I especially appeal to you, Prime Minister, a man for whom I have the utmost respect. As the leader of a party I have for almost all of my life opposed and instinctively disliked, you showed a determined, passionate and clearly honest commitment to LGBT rights and helped push gay marriage through both houses of our parliament in the teeth of vehement opposition from so many of your own side. For that I will always admire you, whatever other differences may lie between us. In the end I believe you know when a thing is wrong or right. Please act on that instinct now.

Yours in desperate hope for humanity

Stephen Fry

Monday, 5 August 2013

Yet one more reason for Labour to get off their knees.

“Mr Arkwright, Mr Arkwright, coom quick, there’s trouble at t’mill.” 

“Calm down Jobsworth. Whats t’matter?” 

“T’chimneys blocked and t’looms have stopped turnin’.”

“Send another nipper up - that’ll sort it.” 

Oh heady days. Factory owners could treat their workers like slaves. Injuries - including life-threatening ones were common. No such thing as holiday pay or sick pay. If you got injured or became ill, you starved or depended on other desperately poor folk for help. No such thing as contracts. Turn up each morning and see if you were picked to work in grim conditions and very long hours. If you were not picked you returned home and waited for the next day. 

Haven’t we come a long way from those days? Thanks to the sacrifice and organisation of thousands of our ancestors, workers today enjoy the protection of health and safety regulations, a limit to the number of hours at work, holiday and sick pay - and until quite recently - pension schemes. 

Don’t we? 

The news that over a million workers are employed on  iniquitous zero-hours contracts seems to render all those gains redundant. Futurologists were once keen to predict the days when work was a thing of the past. Not one of them predicted what we currently have. The widening divide between the minority of filthy rich and the abuse of the most vulnerable in our society. The austerity drive has given unscrupulous and greedy employers the opportunity to promote ‘flexible’ working. People desperate for any form of income frequently do not realise what they are signing up to. 

The sheer number of people employed on these ‘con-tracts’ grows daily. What was seen as a minor problem a fortnight ago has ballooned into a societal crisis. 

It is an opportunity for Labour and the unions to go onto the attack and work to organise widespread protests and campaigns to consign these practices to the history book. So far the signs are not good - apart from a handful of MPs, there has been nothing from the leadership. 

Out of touch, out of depth and out of office with no real sense of what they stand for. 

This is not about image or the chatterati - this is about basic human values of fairness and decency. 

Are we a civilised country or aren’t we? 

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Obama Nobel Prize disgrace

The news that NSA pays the UK government £100 million a year to help support the work of GCHQ passed with barely a flicker across the BBC radar. Today’s news that BT and Vodaphone routinely collaborate with GCHQ has similarly made little impact. 

The enormity of what is going on is being blithely ignored (suppressed by ‘D’ Notice?) by most of our media. Fortunately there are stirrings in other parts of the world which will mean the issue will not go away despite all of the best efforts of our security services, hereafter referred to as ‘the SS’.

There are moves in the States to rein in the buggers. Obama is rightly under great pressure. The disconnect between what he says and what he does has rarely been so clear. Guantanamo continues to resonate with decent people. The appalling treatment of Bradley Manning and the hounding of Edward Snowden make Obama’s Peace Prize award even more risible. Mutterings about impeachment are beginning.

There is also a move gathering pace to petition the Nobel awarding body to have Obama’s award withdrawn. There is a correlated move to award the prize to Snowden for exposing the depth, breadth and duplicity of the security business.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

XKeyscore and the invasion of privacy

The silence is deafening. As yet another tranche of released documents makes very clear the scale of the NSA privacy invasion is mind-boggling. In the UK only Guardian readers - and occasionally the Independent - even mention what is going on. Do not think what is largely invisible in the UK is replicated elsewhere. For instance the story receives almost daily coverage in Germany. Their history of the Gestapo under the Nazis and more recently in East Germany, the Stasi, make all of these revelations resonate with the potential for state control over its citizenry. They have been there and know what it is like to live in a surveillance state. Funnily enough they do not want to return to that position. Try telling them “If you have done nothing wrong, you have nothing to fear,’ 

The latest revelations are part of an organised, carefully considered plan. The US government has attacked the messenger (again) and Snowden knew this would happen. Allowing time between releases has worked well in letting NSA officials and their backers go public in their denials and rebuttals only to find the next document shows them up as lying devious despots. The time is also necessary to ensure authentication and veracity. The time taken also keeps the story in the news. A mass release would have been a nine-day wonder. It may be being largely ignored in this country but there are significant shifts taking place in public opinion in the States. Even the promoter of the (now) notorious Patriot Act, passed after 9/11, now says the state has gone way too far and is in very dangerous territory. 

"I, sitting at my desk," said Snowden, could "wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant, to a federal judge or even the president, if I had a personal email".
US officials vehemently denied this specific claim. Mike Rogers, the Republican chairman of the House intelligence committee, said of Snowden's assertion: "He's lying. It's impossible for him to do what he was saying he could do."
But training materials for XKeyscore detail how analysts can use it and other systems to mine enormous agency databases by filling in a simple on-screen form giving only a broad justification for the search. The request is not reviewed by a court or any NSA personnel before it is processed.
XKeyscore, the documents boast, is the NSA's "widest reaching" system developing intelligence from computer networks – what the agency calls Digital Network Intelligence (DNI). One presentation claims the program covers "nearly everything a typical user does on the internet", including the content of emails, websites visited and searches, as well as their metadata.” Guardian 1/8/13

“One training slide illustrates the digital activity constantly being collected by XKeyscore and the analyst's ability to query the databases at any time.” (ibid)

One wag posted this comment online: 
‘NSA is the only part of the US government that actually listens to the people.’