Sunday, 29 September 2013

NHS March

 Public =Good
Private=Could do better

The station at New Mills was closed this morning. It was a Sunday. The train was a longer one than usual at six carriages. It was not packed. More people got on at Hazel Grove and  it became busier. There was no sign of the guard/ticket operative. At Piccadilly terminus two lines formed. Those who had bought tickets at a station which had them for sale were checked and went swiftly on their way. The rest of us had to queue to buy tickets as two harassed workers did their best to cope. Aint private business brilliant? Not on this evidence.

The reason for the journey was the ‘Save the NHS’ demonstration in Manchester - held to co-incide with the Tory Party Conference. The designated gathering place was the usual organised chaos. The nearest coffee bar was struggling to cope with the numbers. Sticking strictly to their ‘barista is best’ approach they were being inundated with customers and potential customers all wanting a coffee before the protest. This private company had not got a clue. A touch of lateral thinking, a hint of foresight and voila! A big tea urn selling tea, a bog standard jug (large) of coffee, all at a £1 a pop-with milk and sugar available- result! Many more contented customers, happy staff and joy all round. It did not happen.

The march itself was a well-supported affair. It was sunny and windy which made banner-holding a challenge. Difficult to say how many attended but it did take a long time to file past. Many, many banners - some home made with pithy points on them e.g. ‘This government = 1% Eton, 99% Mess.’  

The privatisation of the NHS has begun and many people present were very angry about it. Nye Bevin was quoted at length, particularly, “The NHS will last as long as there are folk left with the faith to fight for it.” This was juxtaposed with Cameron’s whopper “No Top Down Reorganisation in the NHS.” How must Clegg feel when he (rightfully) copped so much flak for reneging on his tuition fees promise?

Bevin would have been sickened by NewLabour, who opened the door to privatisation; unsurprised by the Tories - a species he despised and not best pleased with the LibDems collusion with the nasty party.

There were many very angry today at the bedroom tax and others unhappy at the surveillance culture revealed by Snowden. Zero-hours contracts also rightly came in for some stick. The changes in legal aid were also challenged. Quite a collection. These were decent people prepared to spend their own time and money to stand up for their beliefs.

Compare and contrast with the slimeballs of our three main modern political parties who attach themselves to the wealthy and aspire to become corporate whores.Everything they do is with an eye for future enhancement. 

The Tory party, happy in their gilded balloon inside the GMEX security wall will slither on, unconcerned at the plight of the weak and vulnerable.... but anxious that UKIP’s loonies are enchanting their core support. They will enjoy the corporate hospitality and do their unrecorded deals. 

Such is life in 2013 Britain.

Saturday, 28 September 2013

A View from Brazil

by Vanessa Barbara 26/9/13

“At the opening of the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday, Dilma Rousseff, the president of my country, Brazil, delivered a scolding speech in response to reports that the National Security Agency has monitored electronic communications of Brazilian citizens, members of government and private corporations. Like a displeased school principal, Ms. Rousseff seemed to speak directly to President Obama, who was waiting in the wings to deliver his own speech.

She called the surveillance program “a breach of international law” and “a situation of grave violation of human rights and of civil liberties; of invasion and capture of confidential information concerning corporate activities; and especially of disrespect to national sovereignty.” She seemed personally offended when she demanded “explanations, apologies and guarantees that such procedures will never be repeated.” Last week, she called off a planned visit to the United States, after she learned that the N.S.A. had gained access to her own e-mails, telephone calls and text messages.

Inside its own country, the N.S.A. needs a warrant to wiretap citizens. But not abroad. According to one document, Brazil is included in a group of key countries being closely monitored by the N.S.A. under the rubric “Friends, Enemies, or Problems?”

Like most Brazilians, I was annoyed to learn that the American government might have been gathering data from my computer and phone calls. But on the bright side, I am hoping that it has kept a backup of my files, since a few months ago I realized that I could no longer find an important video anywhere in my computer. (Mr. Obama, if you’re reading this, please send me the file “summer2012.wmv” as soon as you can.)

The United States has suggested that its interception of data also aims to protect other nations against terrorism. But Ms. Rousseff had an answer for that, too: “Brazil, Mr. President, knows how to protect itself.”

The country’s strategy on that matter does not limit itself to diplomatic grumpiness. Ms. Rousseff has also proposed establishing “a civilian multilateral framework for the governance and use of the Internet.” It would ensure “freedom of expression, security and respect for human rights” by protecting personal information online.

But for now, we citizens have our own plan. It has become something of a joke among my friends in Brazil to, whenever you write a personal e-mail, include a few polite lines addressed to the agents of the N.S.A., wishing them a good day or a Happy Thanksgiving. Sometimes I’ll add a few extra explanations and footnotes about the contents of the message, summarizing it and clarifying some of the Portuguese words that could be difficult to translate.

Other people have gone so far as to send nonsensical e-mails just to confuse N.S.A. agents. For example: first use some key words to attract their surveillance filters, like “chemical brothers,” “chocolate bombs” or “stop holding my heart hostage, my emotions are like a blasting of fundamentalist explosion” (one of my personal favorites, inspired by an online sentence-generator designed to confound the N.S.A.).

Then write indiscriminately to friends and acquaintances about serious stuff like: how Doc Brown stole plutonium from Libyan nationalists, or why poor Godzilla had to attack the City of New York. It is recommended to act as crazy as possible, in order to raise questions about your secret intentions.”
From an article published in The New York Times

So, Ladies and Gentlemen of GCHQ/NSA, hope you enjoyed the article.

Friday, 27 September 2013

Russia v Greenpeace

Former ambassador Craig Murray has this to say on his blog:  “Russia is casting around for legal measures it can use against Greenpeace.  To any reasonable person the accusation of piracy is ludicrous.  Russia has come to it because there is no other charge over which it can claim jurisdiction.

Under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, which Russia has ratified and is in force, the criminal jurisdiction of a coastal state operates only within its territorial sea of up to twelve miles.  Beyond that it may have an exclusive economic zone of up to two hundred miles, and a continental shelf may extend even beyond that; but within those zones the rights of coastal states are limited to jurisdiction over economic activity and mineral exploitation.
The Russians appear very aware of the legal position.  When the Greenpeace activists were first arrested, I heard on BBC World Service radio here in Accra a Russian government spokesman say the vessel appeared to be towing a seismic buoy.  Greenpeace explained it was a survival pod.  But the point is, if it had been a seismic buoy, that would have been an economic activity which the Russian government is indeed entitled to regulate, so it was s thought out pretext (though I have no doubt a dishonest one).

Obviously the argument that they were engaged in unlawful economic activity may have justified the original arrest but quickly falls.  What else is left?  The seas above the exclusive economic zone are part of the High Seas – a fact often misunderstood.  The only criminal activity on the High Seas over which a state other than the flag state of the vessel can claim jurisdiction is piracy.  So if the Russians want to bring charges, it is piracy or nothing.
Of course any sensible government would opt for nothing, and accept that demonstrations happen.  The Russian government is not sensible in that sense, and would far rather throw away the international kudos gained over Syria, than admit for one second that Putin is not in complete macho control of absolutely everything.

The stupid thing about all this is that Russia has every legal right to be drilling for oil in the Arctic, a great deal of which is rightly within Russia’s exclusive economic zone.  The Russians have the right to drill, and Greenpeace have the right to protest about it.
What this is not, is piracy.  Greenpeace were not intending to steal or damage any rig, vessel or cargo, or to commit violence.  They were just protesting.  The definition of piracy in UNCLOS is quite clear:
Article 101
Piracy consists of any of the following acts:
(a) any illegal acts of violence or detention, or any act of depredation, committed for private ends by the crew or the passengers of a private ship or a private aircraft, and directed:
(i) on the high seas, against another ship or aircraft, or against persons or property on board such ship or aircraft;
(ii) against a ship, aircraft, persons or property in a place outside the jurisdiction of any State;
(b) any act of voluntary participation in the operation of a ship or of an aircraft with knowledge of facts making it a pirate ship or aircraft;
(c) any act of inciting or of intentionally facilitating an act described in subparagraph (a) or (b).
 Plainly this is not piracy.” (posted 25/9/13)

The only things to add are
  1. The lack of outrage from European governments. Bubble-dwellers across the continent find Greenpeace a nuisance and will not rush to help. 
  2. What impact has this had on Edward Snowden? Does he feel that little bit less secure?

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Farty Conference Season

Brian Death reporting from the latest corporate funfest gushed about a political leader managing to speak for over an hour -- without notes! Truly this is the way to measure an ability to run the country. Forget content and values ....he spoke without notes!

At the upcoming Tory party funfest, barely one-third of those present will be members. The other two-thirds will comprise mega corps who happen to pay to support ‘initiatives’ and ‘policy research’. The rest will be media bubble dwellers minutely examining every nuance in a desperate attempt to breathe life into a long-dead event. The other two major parties constitute similar set-ups. Even the Lib-Dems, who lasted longest in maintaining at least an element of democracy in their proceedings, finally gave up this year.

Resembling nothing so much as cult leaders spouting to the faithful, farty conferences are way past their credible sell-by date. They do little but remind us of how the bubble-dwellers take after each other. Gone are the days of Kinnock having a go at Militant Tendency.

If the purpose is to allow mega corps access to the political system then it needs to be politely pointed out that they have this facility all year round anyway. [See Update below]

What would be truly novel would be to hold a conference to which any member of the public could go. Further, one in which ordinary folk could have a say in how things are run.

Now that would be worth watching and paying attention to. 

Update 25/9/13

There are several ‘advantages’ for companies hosting events at Farty Conferences. Who would have thought that the Labour Party would allow the Philip Morris tobacco company exhibition space - especially when the company had successfully lobbied to kick the plain packaging of cigarettes into touch? Well they did - and they were paid for doing so. 

The Electoral Reform society has obtained details of party funding and conferences. For instance, the Tory party made over £4 million from selling their conference spaces and access last year. The grassroots of the party, those stalwarts so beloved by Tory ministers,donated about £750,000 in the same year. 

The biggest advantage for ministers and their shadows is that meetings at Farty Conferences are ‘off the record’. Throughout the rest of the year meetings with corporate bosses have to be recorded. 

Now why would any company pay thousands of pounds to a political party to host an event? 
What can they possibly get out of it?

Look at our two-tier society and you will see the result.  

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Judge them by their deeds Chapter 35

Little Willy Hague has been at it again. ‘He who has done nothing wrong has nothing to fear’ was his way of not looking at the Snowden revelations. Remember the week before the tories botched their route to another war, it was Hague who banged the war drum most loudly and most often. He invoked ‘tyranny’ and ‘freedom’ among other inspirational words in his desire to be seen as a player on the world stage.

It now emerges that the same Little Willy signed off arms exports to several countries with dubious human rights records, just as he did last year when some arms went to the Syrian regime that he now condemns. Apparently we even sent Syria the ingredients to make Sarin - the gas used in the chemical attacks. 

Other two-faced forked tongue merchants of death are Defence Secretary Philip Hammond, International Development Secretary Justine Greening and not forgetting  Business Secretary Vince Cable. Yes readers - it is true, sadly the venerable Vince is a two-faced twin forked slimeball like the rest. 

Little Willy has done plenty wrong - let us all hope he has plenty to fear.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Useful Idiots

"Edward Snowden has started a global debate. So why the silence in Britain?
We're subject to huge unwarranted surveillance – but Westminster's useful idiots are more likely to sanction than criticise it

The Brazilian president cancels a state visit to Washington. The German foreign minister talks of "a Hollywood nightmare". His chancellor, Angela Merkel, ponders offering Edward Snowden asylum. The EU may even end the "safe harbour" directive which would force US-based computer servers to relocate to European regulation. Russians and Chinese, so often accused of cyber-espionage, hop with glee.
In response, an embarrassed Barack Obama pleads for debate and a review of the Patriot Acts. Al Gore refers to the Snowden revelations as "obscenely outrageous". The rightwing John McCain declares a review "entirely appropriate". The Senate holds public hearings and summons security chiefs, who squirm like mafia bosses on the run. America's once dominant internet giants, with 80% of the globe under their sway, now face "Balkanised" regulation round the world as nation states seek to repatriate digital sovereignty.
And in Britain? Nothing. From parliament, the courts, and most of the media, nothing. Snowden, the most significant whistleblower of modern times, briefly amused London when he turned scarlet pimpernel in the summer; then the capital was intrigued when David Miranda was seized by Heathrow police on bogus "terrorism" charges. But the British establishment cannot get excited. It hates whistleblowers, regarding them as not proper chaps.
Nothing better illustrates the gulf that sometimes opens between British and American concepts of democracy. Congress is no puppet of the executive. The US may be brutal in its treatment of leakers such as Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning, but the fourth amendment lurks deep in its culture, protecting privacy from the state without due process and "probable cause". Britain has no such amendment.
What moved Americans about Snowden was not just the scale of NSA hoovering of data – though polls indicate strong aversion – but the lying to Congress. Snowden, a Republican former soldier, was simply shocked at the clear collapse of congressional and judicial oversight. The US had lurched into aping precisely the totalitarian regimes it professed to guard against.
Any reading of the Snowden material suggests that US and British agents were up to the same tricks. They were sharing data through Prism, plainly circumventing each country's domestic oversight regimes. Britain's Tempora programme, involving the mass tapping of fibre-optic cables belonging to BT, Verizon, Vodafone and others, meant that GCHQ was possibly a bigger intelligence gatherer even than the NSA, a key player in what Snowden called "the largest suspicion-less surveillance in human history". Its value to the US is evidenced by the £100m the country pays for its surveillance services.
An estimated 850,000 American officials and contractors are thought to have access to this material. Though every activity is said to require the warrant of a US court and a "senior minister" in Britain, this is palpably absurd. There are millions of dips each year, a vast trawl of data. While the NSA is supposedly overseen by a foreign intelligence surveillance court – now exposed as ineffective through being secret – GCHQ professes "a light oversight regime compared with the US". Its overseers are patsies.
Yet none of this seems to turn a hair in London. While Washington has been tearing itself apart, dismissive remarks by William Hague in the Commons and Lady Warsi in the Lords could have passed muster in Andropov's supreme soviet. Hague said merely that everything was "authorised, necessary, proportionate and targeted". National security was not for discussion. British oversight was "the strongest … anywhere in the world". This remark – contradicted by GCHQ itself – went unchallenged.
Meanwhile Sir Malcolm Rifkind MP, head of the intelligence and security committee and supposed champion of citizens against state intrusion, positively grovelled towards GCHQ. He said we should all defer to "those involved in intelligence work". He even cancelled a public hearing with the security chiefs for fear of embarrassing them.
For Labour, Yvette Cooper claimed obscurely she "long believed in stronger oversight" but she was drowned by a dad's army of former defence and home secretaries, such as Lord Reid, Lord King and Jack Straw. All rallied to the securocrats' banner in shrill unison. I sometimes think these people would bring back the rack, the whip and the gallows if "vital for national security".
The reality is that Britons generally have little trouble with the authority of the state. The historian of espionage, Ben McIntyre, has suggested that this trust is embedded in the class system, aided by the vague glamour of James Bond and George Smiley. GCHQ, he says, is seen as "a club of amiable gentlemen in shaggy tweed jackets," probably still fighting the Nazis. Like all toffs, this officer class may behave badly, but its heart is in the right place. It keeps the evil foreigner at bay. Besides, as Hague says, "the law-abiding citizen has nothing to fear".
A few people still hold to the futurist ideology that all things digital are benign. Since I see the digital revolution as one of means not ends, I am less convinced. A huge industry has shrunk the globe and vastly increased transparency, but it is poised to corrupt the very freedoms it professes to advance. The market is no guard against it, only democratic oversight. If that fails, as it has, everything is at risk.

The UK reaction to Snowden may in part be an awareness of cant and hypocrisy. All governments have played fast and loose with privacy. Besides, half the world is still intoxicated by the novelty of social media. If the NSA bugs Brazilian oil companies during licence talks, so what? Everyone does it. Perhaps we should just calm down.
This might pass muster if we were merely letting sleeping dogs lie. These lying dogs are not sleeping. The need for the state to acquire and guard some secrets is not in question. But such a claim has been blown out of all proportion. We have created a monster that has overwhelmed the defences put in place to regulate it. I suspect neither Hague nor Rifkind had any clue of the Prism and Tempora programmes. They are the useful idiots of the security classes. But if they thought it best to believe everything the security services told them, they should now be the wiser. They should know, as do their American counterparts, that they were duped.
Britons are not only subject to massive unwarranted surveillance, surveillance that is insecure and unaccountable. They are also at the mercy of intrusive institutions which, for the time being, their politicians will not and cannot control. When push comes to shove, Americans do this better." Simon Jenkins, Guardian 19/9/13

Monday, 16 September 2013

OFSTED : an arm of Government

As Captain Clueless cements his position with the Liberal Democlots and the media wax lyrical about coalition government and how wonderful it is, there exists a different tale in the real world. Thanks to Blair, who introduced Academies into an already confused education system - just like he opened the door for private companies in the NHS - we have a Secretary of State for Education who is using his powers to impose academy status on all manner of schools. Gove is a Murdoch minion - a professional groveller who loves himself to bits. Good schools are suddenly being told they are in ‘special measures’ which then sets in train a process towards academy status. Ofsted are being used to implement government policy. Ofsted are above the law. Any statements they make can be challenged but there is no real right of appeal. An ex-Ofsted inspector admitted the work is done before they arrive as they scrutinise the documents sent by the school. They come to a judgement before the visit and then look for evidence when they turn up. No open minds here. They were even told they did not have to see a lesson.

Back in Democlot heaven, Clueless is assuring his faithful that all is well with the world and thanks to them, the government is pursuing a Democlot agenda. Oh yeah.

NHS privatisation would not have gone through without the clots.

Benefits attacks on the disabled would not have happened without the clots.

The ‘bedroom tax’ (for that is what it is) would not have gone through without the clots. 

Tax cuts for the richest ditto

Erosion of civil liberties ditto

Creation of secret courts ditto

Making our country even more unfair ditto

Making our country nastier ditto

Now this,  Ofsted being used to privatise  state schools DITTO

For the record some Academies are doing well. Hand-picking their students on entry (a charge levvied against Ofsted Supremo Wilshaw when he was a head) and producing ‘good results’ based on a very limited set of criteria. 

Others are doing very poorly - not to mention those run by fundamentalists of several faiths and others are downright crap. We do not hear enough about those schools because they do not fit the agenda. 

‘Remember that the DfE is headed by a run-of-the-mill journalist with no discernible expertise in anything other than being a twat, with his second in command being an expenses fraudster.’ TheGreatRonRafferty Guardian online 16/9/13

Friday, 13 September 2013

Lehmann Brothers

(Updated 15/9/ below)
Five years ago the plug was pulled on Lehmann Brothers setting in train a series of banking crises that nearly broke the financial systems of the world. Listening to the Tory propaganda anyone would think that it was NewLabour who were responsible. There were many reasons to condemn NewLabour but this was not one of them. Underestimated Alistair Darling quickly grasped the enormity of the problem and resisted calls to allow the banks to go bust. At one point RBS – at that time the world’s biggest bank – was three hours away from collapse. At great cost to the public purse, the banks were bailed out and the financial system survived. So far so good?

Well no. The greedy chancers who brought the financial world to its knees are still in business. In fact they have just awarded themselves more massive bonuses again this year. Where were the howls of outrage from our government? 

There weren’t any. They could not really say much because the Conservative Party receive between 60-70% of its funding from these conmen who by now should be in jail. And by lying big and often to their media chums about how NewLabour caused the financial crash they have deflected blame from where it should truly lie. 

Trebles all round!

Update 15/9/13
Listening to a world service discussion in the wee small hours about the collapse of the bank, several points emerged.

  • ‘Too big to fail’ still applies - nothing has been done to curb these massive banks despite much huffing and puffing by the politicians.
  • Sarkozy asked this at the time, “How come bankers can work out who deserves the huge bonuses but are incapable of answering who was responsible for the meltdown?” The stock response "It is the system's fault" does not wash.
  • Private investment banks went public in the 90’s - with ‘limited liability’ which meant when the thing went belly up those responsible did not suffer - it was left to the taxpayers to pick up the bills. These companies should be ‘unlimited liability’ which would mean bankers  would lose their homes, private jets and yachts. 
  • Very little has changed because the problem needs global regulation.

In the meantime the poorest in our communities continue to pay the most proportionately. 

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Grant Shapps (or is it Michael Green?) in a tizzy.

The identity crisis MP and Tory Chairman was on Radio 4 this morning saying he was very unhappy. So unhappy, he was going to write to the secretary general of the UN to complain about what a UN official had said about the Tory’s beloved ‘bedroom tax.’ 

He was especially unhappy about her calling it the ‘bedroom tax’ when its official title is the ‘spare room subsidy’ policy. She quite rightly said that it had been called ‘bedroom tax’ by all the people she had met when investigating whether it was unfair.

“Ms Rolnik told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that she had received "hundreds of testimonies" and said there was a "danger of a retrogression in the right to adequate housing" in the UK.

She cited examples of disabled people, or grandmothers who were carers, and said the measure seemed to have been designed "without the human component in mind".
She said her recommendation was "that it should be suspended" to allow time to better assess the human rights implications, and so it could be redesigned.” BBC Online 11/9/13

Fair comment,  any reasonable human being may think. 

Mr Shapps though was really unhappy:

“Mr Shapps, responding to her comments on Today, said that she had not been invited by ministers and "she has clearly come with an agenda".
He thought the  Report is "biased and one sided"
"That is why I am writing to the secretary general today to ask for an apology and an investigation as to how this came about."
He also said that she came from a country, Brazil, "that has 50m people in inadequate housing".

The subtext of his splenetic outburst seemed to be, ‘How dare this poor person from a country that is almost third world come over here and tell us that my government is not truly wonderful?’ 

Shapps aka Green aka Fox is not what he seems. He has had an identity crisis for many years.

According to Wikipedia:

'Shapps has founded a number of businesses, sometimes under pseudonyms. He has been photographed as 'Michael Green', a self-help guru and has used other pseudonyms including 'Sebastian Fox'. He has reportedly said that his use of a pseudonym was to keep his business separate from his political work and said in October 2012 that he had stopped using the alter-egos "a long time ago".
In 2004 Shapps attended an internet conference posing as 'multimillion-dollar web marketer' Michael Green. In 2006, using the same pseudonym, he gave a tour of the Houses of Parliament to his business partners.
Another instance of Shapps pretending to be someone else occurred during the Ealing Southall by-election in 2007. A comment was made under a YouTube video made by the Liberal Democrat party purporting to be from a party member. The comment urged Liberal Democrat supporters to admit defeat and praised the Conservative Party. But the comment was made by the YouTube account belonging to Grant Shapps, leading website Liberal Democrat Voice to conclude Shapps was attempting to misrepresent himself as a Liberal Democrat but had forgotten to sign out of his account before making the comment.

In September 2012 it was reported in the Daily Mail that campaign leaflets published on behalf of Shapps when he was standing for election in North Southwark and Bermondsey stated he was born in London, while those published after he won his Welwyn Hatfield seat claimed he was born in Hertfordshire. A Conservative Party spokesman said: "Grant lived in London at the time and this was a genuine mistake in the literature that was later corrected."
Also during September 2012 The Guardian reported that Shapps had been surreptitiously editing his Wikipedia biography, removing a list of "unfortunate gaffes", details of his school qualifications (it was said this was done because the Wikipedia article originally incorrectly listed him as having four instead of five O levels) and the identity of financial donors to his private office.

Further confirming his association with misrepresentation of his own and other peoples' identities, in April 2013 Shapps was caught lending his image to a Conservative Party website article presenting a found photograph of Australian students as young Conservative Party volunteers.

Shapps's publications include How To Bounce Back From Recession (2010), a self-help book sold through HowToCorp and written under the pseudonym Michael Green.

In 2012, it was discovered that the Shapps' HowToCorp Internet company was selling software, TrafficPaymaster, that violated Google's policies by "spinning and scraping" of content from other people's websites, a practice also used at the time by criminal organisations to increase the ranking of their malware infested websites in search engines such as Google. Due to the plagiarism of other people's content, use of the software by any of the Shapps' clients could constitute a violation of copyright in many jurisdictions thus putting them at risk of breaking the law. A spokesman for Shapps stated, "Grant Shapps derives no income, dividends, or other income from this business, which is run by his wife Belinda," on the basis that the ownership of the company was transferred into his wife's name in 2008.'

Well! What a rum how-do-you-do.

To whom will the secretary-general reply with a politely worded, elegantly phrased rebuttal? Shapps? Green? Fox? Swivel-eyed loon?

Or spiv?

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

United States Duplicity and Mendacity

George Monbiot is not impressed by US propaganda. He exposed the rampant hypocrisy of the present Syria situation in a Guardian article this week. 

“Obama warned last week that Syria's use of poisoned gas "threatens to unravel the international norm against chemical weapons embraced by 189 nations". Unravelling the international norm is the US president's job.

In 1997 the US agreed to decommission the 31,000 tonnes of sarin, VX, mustard gas and other agents it possessed within 10 years. In 2007 it requested the maximum extension of the deadline permitted by the Chemical Weapons Convention – five years. Again it failed to keep its promise, and in 2012 it claimed they would be gone by 2021. Russia yesterday urged Syria to place its chemical weapons under international control. Perhaps it should press the US to do the same.

In 1998 the Clinton administration pushed a law through Congress which forbade international weapons inspectors from taking samples of chemicals in the US and allowed the president to refuse unannounced inspections. In 2002 the Bush government forced the sacking of José Maurício Bustani, the director general of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. He had committed two unforgiveable crimes: seeking a rigorous inspection of US facilities; and pressing Saddam Hussein to sign the Chemical Weapons Convention, to help prevent the war George Bush was itching to wage.
The US used millions of gallons of chemical weapons in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. It also used them during its destruction of Falluja in 2004, then lied about it. The Reagan government helped Saddam Hussein to wage war with Iran in the 1980s while aware that he was using nerve and mustard gas. (The Bush administration then cited this deployment as an excuse to attack Iraq, 15 years later).

Smallpox has been eliminated from the human population, but two nations – the US and Russia – insist on keeping the pathogen in cold storage. They claim their purpose is to develop defences against possible biological weapons attack, but most experts in the field consider this to be nonsense. While raising concerns about each other's possession of the disease, they have worked together to bludgeon the other members of the World Health Organisation, which have pressed them to destroy their stocks.

In 2001 the New York Times reported that, without either Congressional oversight or a declaration to the Biological Weapons Convention, "the Pentagon has built a germ factory that could make enough lethal microbes to wipe out entire cities". The Pentagon claimed the purpose was defensive but, developed in contravention of international law, it didn't look good. The Bush government also sought to destroy the Biological Weapons Convention as an effective instrument by scuttling negotiations over the verification protocol required to make it work.

Looming over all this is the great unmentionable: the cover the US provides for Israel's weapons of mass destruction. It's not just that Israel – which refuses to ratify the Chemical Weapons Convention – has used white phosphorus as a weapon in Gaza (when deployed against people, phosphorus meets the convention's definition of "any chemical which through its chemical action on life processes can cause death, temporary incapacitation or permanent harm").

It's also that, as the Washington Post points out: "Syria's chemical weapons stockpile results from a never-acknowledged gentleman's agreement in the Middle East that as long as Israel had nuclear weapons, Syria's pursuit of chemical weapons would not attract much public acknowledgement or criticism." Israel has developed its nuclear arsenal in defiance of the non-proliferation treaty, and the US supports it in defiance of its own law, which forbids the disbursement of aid to a country with unauthorised weapons of mass destruction.

As for the norms of international law, let's remind ourselves where the US stands. It remains outside the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, after declaring its citizens immune from prosecution. The crime of aggression it committed in Iraq – defined by the Nuremberg tribunal as "the supreme international crime" – goes not just unpunished but also unmentioned by anyone in government. The same applies to most of the subsidiary war crimes US troops committed during the invasion and occupation. Guantánamo Bay raises a finger to any notions of justice between nations.” Guardian 9/9/13

Monbiot is not alone. Do the Yanks not listen to themselves and compare what they say with what they do?

Monday, 9 September 2013

BBC Cash and Carry

There are a great many decent people working at the BBC. There are a great many decent, talented and creative people working at the BBC. Like any large organisation there will be a number who do not pull their weight and some who are creatively challenged.

Then there are the tossers at the  top.

They seem to regard their job as cash and carry. To get as much cash as possible from us, the licence-fee payers, and then carry it off - probably to an offshore tax haven. 

Public service does not trouble their grey matter. What matters to them is self-service. Trousering as much cash as they can get their grubby little hands on while justifying their existences in a constant round of arse-covering. 

The poor buggers lower down the food chain must feel absolutely awful at all the shenanigans emerging. And also quite shocked at just how crap the ‘suits’ are. 

The (soon to be ex) Head of Human Resources has apparently remembered that an email she was challenged about  when last before the Public Accounts Committee – and which at the time she claimed to have no knowledge of – was in fact part written by herself. Bless!

We are told that all these huge pay-offs given to the departing suits has saved the BBC money. That message fits alongside ‘humanitarian bombing’ as an example of an oxymoron. ‘Expensive savings’ does not ring true. 

The grilling at the Public Accounts Committee is about to start. 

It could be the start of a new spectator sport with suit v suit in an anything goes scrap.

Friday, 6 September 2013

G20: who is really pulling the strings?

The latest revelations from Snowden are truly astonishing and chilling. It is now clear that NSA and GCHQ can gain access to your bank details and your health records.

Just think about that for a second or two. 

The implications are profound and threaten the existence of democracies around the world. 

Why so you say?

If the spooks can find out bank details and health records for us oiks – then they can also find out the bank details and health records for our ‘leaders.’ And our opinion formers and columnists. And our police chiefs. And Judges. And Generals and and and.

It was a shock when the Bolivian premier's plane was forced to land in Vienna on the rumour that Snowden was on board. 

Who or what could possibly have ‘persuaded’ France and  Austria to co-operate?

How about a menacing phone call to several leaders that NSA/GCHQ knew about their peccadilloes.... and their offshore bank accounts..... and that the spooks have a couple of tame journalists lined up to spill the beans.....

It is not such a shock now.

Even today when the latest revelations have been alive for over 20 hours it is astonishing to see just how quiet our media are. The BBC mentioned it on their noon Radio 4 news bulletin but it did not feature on the flagship World at One. Or on the 2.00 pm and 2.30pm Radio 5 bulletins. Odd that. 

They covered the G20 fiasco at some length - without bringing into focus what was going on behind the scenes. How many of the rulers present at the G20 knew they had been tapped – and had some really dirty washing they did not want out in the public? How many news directors/editors received a phone call or text today from a spook warning them of certain ‘consequences?’ 

Most of our ruling class are venal and shallow. They will do anything to stay in power. They are easy meat. They cannot be trusted whether it is Bankers, the NHS, the economy, Syria or more especially security.

The scale of what is going on is breathtaking. So far the response has been limited and muted. 

It is time to turn up the volume. 

Image courtesy of Liberty - an organisation well worth supporting.

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Yet more Snowden revelations

US and British intelligence agencies have successfully cracked much of the online encryption relied upon by hundreds of millions of people to protect the privacy of their personal data, online transactions and emails, according to top-secret documents revealed by former contractor Edward Snowden.
The files show that the National Security Agency and its UK counterpart GCHQ have broadly compromised the guarantees that internet companies have given consumers to reassure them that their communications, online banking and medical records would be indecipherable to criminals or governments.
The agencies, the documents reveal, have adopted a battery of methods in their systematic and ongoing assault on what they see as one of the biggest threats to their ability to access huge swathes of internet traffic – "the use of ubiquitous encryption across the internet".
Those methods include covert measures to ensure NSA control over setting of international encryption standards, the use of supercomputers to break encryption with "brute force", and – the most closely guarded secret of all – collaboration with technology companies and internet service providers themselves.
Through these covert partnerships, the agencies have inserted secret vulnerabilities – known as backdoors or trapdoors – into commercial encryption software.” Guardian, New York Times, ProPublica 5/9/13

Observant readers will recognise that the leaks are now being published simultaneously on both sides of the Atlantic. Thanks to the heavy-handed threatening behaviour of our security services, the Guardian runs stories such as this from outside the UK. What an indictment. 

As each disclosure hits the news-stands it becomes a game to see for how long the story can be ignored by major media organisations. Thankfully wheels are turning in other parts of the world. The EU debated the matter last week in the European Parliament - and they were not happy. 

One MP in this country proudly told one of his constituents that he was unaware of all these revelations because he does not read the Guardian. 

Nice to know our democracy is in such safe hands......

Now what do we need to get this story off the front pages?

How about a nice little war......?

Monday, 2 September 2013

Angus – Weaver of Grass

One of the unexpected delights of spending time on Islay is the opportunity to see music and drama of the highest class. Last Saturday, an audience of 70 - 80 people gathered to watch a delightful little gem about the life of a chap from Uist. The production was mainly in Gaelic with english additions although the story was told without dialogue. Instead gaelic songs punctuated the narrative in an understated yet highly effective way. The singer had a lovely voice. We, the audience, had to work and contribute because the production had several layers to it. We were not spoon-fed and this too added to the power of the piece.

Masks, puppets, slides, visuals, mime and atmospheric backing music produced a potent and very moving mix. The set design was low-tech yet the production employed high tech effects to advantage. The masks were really good and conveyed a wide range of emotion with the slightest movements. 

The tale is that of a young man pitched from the tranquility of the outer Hebrides into the maelstrom of WW1. He, like so many more, ended up with shell shock. He was  hospitalised, and there received electro-shock treatment. This was a powerful and moving story. His claim to fame came from his ability to weave strands of grass into a wide variety of usable objects from bonnets, to boots to halters for the horses. Unfortunately, despite interest from the arts world, his material naturally rotted away. The play also had moments of real humour which reinforced the powerful elements.  

Watching this terrific piece of theatre in a week when we finally voted not to bomb folks made it even more resonant. 

It was a surprise at the end to find the excellent company - only 4 on stage - were actually from Lancashire, although the singer was from Lewis. They are the ‘Horse and Bamboo Theatre’ and are currently touring in Scotland. Look out for them. They are special.

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Humanitarian Bombing

Oxymoron: a figure of speech in which apparently contradictory terms appear in conjunction eg Humanitarian Bombing

Listening to the torrent of outrage outpouring from various nabobs and Bufton-Tuftons it would be an easy assumption to make that the end of the world is nigh. And why would that be? What is it that has set these bellicose buffoons a-spluttering and a-harrumphing across the media ?

The vote not to attack Syria.

For some discreetly paid corporate whores, (Howard, Reid et al) who sit on the boards of arms and security companies, they represent the anguish of their masters who see the gravy train leaving without them on board. For others, physically challenged by the dimensions of their ‘one-eyed trouser snake,’ they feel their very manhood is threatened. Then there are those who physically inhabit the 21st century yet mentally reside in the 19th.

Why are such antiques given such prominence on the nation’s airwaves? 

Anyone who has ever travelled far enough from Britain to rely on BBC World for their daily fix will appreciate that the daily doings of the UK figure infrequently on the world stage. All this guff about us losing our position in the world is just that, guff. 

A country ranked 19th in the U.N. Human Development Index yet spends the fourth largest amount on its military every year is clearly out of sync with itself. The vested interests, those who benefit from the military spending, will not go quietly (see below).

And so we come to ‘Humanitarian Bombing.’ A concept that fair boggles the mind. To help the Syrian people overcome the trauma of being attacked with chemical weapons we will attack them with conventional weapons. To help the Syrian people trapped between the brutality of their ruling tyranny and the barbarity of many of the disparate rebel groups, we will help bring order to the area by launching a wave of air attacks. 

One of the chief advocates of this lunacy is little Willy Hague. He has had a bad few days with his tub-thumping bellicosity. He is currently trying to deflect the justifiable negative attention he is getting onto Miliband in the hope that people will forget exactly how bad (and mad) he has been.

What a tosser.

Unfortunately he is not alone. Consider this from Craig Murray about news coverage last Thursday.

Having sat through 25 minutes of intensive propaganda for bombing Syria called the BBC Ten O’clock News – which did not feature a single interviewee against bombing – it was delightful to see them have to report at the end that the Commons has now rejected the Government’s motion to authorise military action.

It will, Nick Robinson quickly assured us, take a few days to work out what this vote means.  He means it will take a few days for those who profit from war to work out how to spin the vote against military action as a vote for military action.  That process will start in the next few minutes.”

You have been warned.