Wednesday, 9 September 2015

George Monbiot takes on the City

This article needs to be read by everyone concerned about the state of our 'democracy'.

"The City’s stranglehold makes Britain look like an oh-so-civilised mafia state

Be reasonable in response to the unreasonable: this is what voters in the Labour election are told. Accommodate, moderate, triangulate, for the alternative is to isolate yourself from reality.

You might be inclined to agree. If so, please take a look at the reality to which you must submit. To an extent unknown since before the first world war, economic relations in this country are becoming set in stone. It is not just that the very rich no longer fall while the very poor no longer rise. It’s that the system itself is protected from risk. Through bailouts, quantitative easing and delays in interest-rate rises, speculative investment has been so well cushioned that – as the Guardian economics editor, Larry Elliott, puts it – financial markets are “one of the last bastions of socialism left on Earth”.

Public services, infrastructure, the very fabric of the nation: these too are being converted into risk-free investments. Social cleansing is transforming central London into an exclusive economic zone for property speculation. From a dozen directions, government policy converges on this objective.

The benefits cap and the bedroom tax drive the poor out of their homes. The forced sale of high-value council houses creates a new asset pool. An uncapped and scarcely regulated private rental market turns these assets into gold. The freeze on council-tax banding since 1991, the lifting of the inheritance tax threshold, and £14bn a year in tax breaks for private landlords all help to guarantee stupendous returns.

And for those who wish simply to sit on their assets, the government can help here too, by ensuring there are no penalties for leaving buildings empty. As a result, great tracts of housing are removed from occupation. Agricultural land has proved an even better punt for City money: with the help of capital gains, inheritance and income tax exemptions, as well as farm subsidies, its price has quadrupled in 12 years

Property in this country is a haven for the proceeds of international crime. The head of the National Crime Agency, Donald Toon, notes that “the London property market has been skewed by laundered money. Prices are being artificially driven up by overseas criminals who want to sequester their assets here in the UK.”

It’s hardly surprising, given the degree of oversight. Private Eye has produced a map of British land owned by companies registered in offshore tax havens. The holdings amount to 1.2m acres, including much of the country’s prime real estate. Among those it names as beneficiaries are a cast of Russian oligarchs, oil sheikhs, British aristocrats and newspaper proprietors. These are the people for whom government policy works – and the less regulated the system that enriches them, the happier they are.

The City is a semi-offshore state, a bit like the UK’s crown dependencies, tax havens legitimised by the Privy Council

The speculative property market is just one current in the great flow of cash that sluices through Britain while scarcely touching the sides. The financial sector exploits an astonishing political privilege: the City of London is the only jurisdiction in the UK not fully subject to the authority of parliament. In fact, the relationship seems to work the other way. Behind the Speaker’s chair in the House of Commons sits the Remembrancer, whose job is to ensure that the interests of the City of London are recognised by the elected members. (A campaign to rescind this privilege – Don’t Forget the Remembrancer – will be launched very soon.)

The City is a semi-offshore state, a bit like the UK’s crown dependencies and overseas territories, tax havens legitimised by the Privy Council. Britain’s financial secrecy undermines the tax base while providing a conduit into the legal economy for gangsters, kleptocrats and drug barons.
Even the more orthodox financial institutions deploy a succession of scandalous practices: pension mis-selling, endowment mortgage fraud, the payment protection insurance con, Libor rigging. A former minister in the last government, Lord Green, ran HSBC while it engaged in money laundering for drug gangs, systematic tax evasion and the provision of services to Saudi and Bangladeshi banks linked to the financing of terrorists. Sometimes the UK looks to me like an ever so civilised mafia state.

At next month’s Conservative party conference, corporate executives will pay £2,500 to sit with a minister. Doubtless, because we are assured that there is no link between funding and policy, they will spend the day discussing the weather and the films they have seen. If we noticed such arrangements overseas, we might be inclined to regard them as corruption. But that can’t be the case here, not least because the invitation explains that “fees associated with business day & dinner are considered a commercial transaction and therefore do not constitute a political donation”.

The government also insists that there is no link between political donations and seats in the House of Lords. But a study by researchers at Oxford University found that the probability of so many major donors arriving there by chance is 1.36 x 10-38: roughly “equivalent to entering the National Lottery and winning the jackpot 5 times in a row”. Why does the Lords remain unreformed? Because it permits plutocratic power to override democracy. Both rich and poor are kept in their place.
Governed either by or on behalf of the people who fleece us, we cannot be surprised to discover that all public services are being re-engineered for the benefit of private capital. Nor should we be surprised when governments help to negotiate, without public consent, treaties such as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, which undermine the sovereignty of both parliament and the law. Aesop’s observation, that “we hang the petty thieves and appoint the great ones to public office”, remains true in spirit, though hanging has been replaced by community payback.

Wherever you sniff in British public life, something stinks: I could fill this site with examples. But, while every pore oozes corruption, our task, we are told, is merely to trim the nails of the body politic.

To fail to confront this system is to collaborate with it. Who on the left would wish to stand on the sidelines as this carve-up continues? Who would vote for anything but sweeping change?"  

George Monbiot 8/9/15 Guardian

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

How Safe are Nuclear Weapons ?


Obviously when used as a weapon, a nuclear bomb is just about the most deadly piece of military equipment devised. It is a weapon with the capability of destroying all human life on the planet when used as part of a mass attack. This piece concentrates on the handling, movement and storage of nuclear weapons. From their creation and first use in 1945 there have been innumerable incidents where a catastrophic accident has been avoided as much by luck as by intention.

In Eric Schlosser’s history of nuclear weapons ‘Command and Control,’ he details some of the worst incidents. Although the following happened in the 60’s, it is still very scary. 
“On January 23, 1961, a B-52 bomber took off from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in Goldsboro, North Carolina, for an airborne alert. The flight plan was a long, circular route along the East Coast. At the end of the first loop, the B-52 met its tanker and refuelled. At the end of the second loop, after more than ten hours in the air, the bomber refuelled again. It was almost midnight. Amid the darkness, the boom operator of the tanker noticed fuel leaking from the B-52’s right wing. Spray from the leak soon formed a wide plume, and within two minutes about forty thousand gallons of jet fuel had poured from the wing. The command post told the pilot to dump the rest of the fuel in the ocean and prepare for an emergency landing. But fuel wouldn’t drain from the tank inside the left wing, creating a weight imbalance. At half past midnight, with the flaps down and the landing gear extended, the B-52 went into an uncontrolled spin. …..the crew were ordered to bail out. 

The B-52 was carrying two Mark 39 hydrogen bombs, each with a yield of 4 megatons. As the aircraft spun downward, centrifugal forces in the cockpit pulled a lanyard in the cockpit. The lanyard was attached to the bomb release mechanism. When the lanyard was pulled, the locking pins were removed from one of the bombs. The Mark 39 fell from the plane. The arming wires were yanked out, and the bomb responded as though it had been deliberately released by the crew above a target. The pulse generator activated the low-voltage thermal batteries. The drogue parachute opened, and then the main chute. The barometric switches closed. The timer ran out, activating the high-voltage thermal batteries. The bomb hit the ground, and the piezoelectric crystals inside the nose crushed. They sent a firing signal. But the weapon didn’t detonate.

Every safety mechanism had failed, except one: the ready/safe switch in the cockpit. The switch was in the SAFE position when the bomb dropped. Had the switch been set to GROUND or AIR, the X-unit would’ve charged, the detonators would’ve triggered and a thermonuclear weapon would have exploded in a field near Faro, North Carolina. 
The other Mark 39 plummeted straight down and landed in a meadow…near the Nahunta Swamp. The high explosives did not detonate, and the primary was largely undamaged. But the dense uranium secondary of the bomb penetrated more than seventy feet into the soggy ground. A recovery team never found it, despite weeks of digging. 
  
The Air Force assured the public that the two weapons had been unarmed and that there was never any risk of a nuclear explosion. Those statements were misleading. The T-249 control box and ready/safe switch, installed in every B-52 bomber had already raised concerns at Sandia1. The switch required a low-voltage signal of brief duration to operate — and that kind of signal could easily be provided by a stray wire or a short circuit, as a B-52 full of electronic equipment disintegrated midair.

A year after the North Carolina accident, a SAC2  ground crew removed four Mark 28 bombs from a B-47 bomber and noticed that all of the weapons were armed. But the seal on the ready/safe switch in the cockpit was intact, and the knob hadn’t been turned to GROUND or AIR. The bombs had not been armed by the crew. A seven month investigation by Sandia found that a tiny metal nut had come off a screw inside the plane and lodged against an unused radar-heating circuit. The nut had created a new electrical pathway, allowing current to reach an arming line — and bypass the ready/safe switch. A similar glitch on the B-52 which crashed near Goldsboro would have caused a four megaton thermonuclear explosion. ‘One simple, dynamo-technology, low-voltage switch stood between the United States and a major catastrophe.’
The groundburst of that 4-megaton bomb would have deposited lethal fallout over Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York City…..
..Robert McNamara, the new secretary of defense, learned about the accident during his third day on the job. The story scared the hell out of him.”

Schlosser also identifies concerns over the way the weapons are managed:
“On February 26, 1988, Peurifoy3 wrote to the assistant secretary for defense programs at the Department of Energy and invited him to Sandia for a briefing on the dangers of the SRAM [Short-Range Attack Missile]. The assistant secretary never replied to the letter. The president of Sandia raised the issue with another official at the DOE, who suggested that the secretary of energy and the secretary of defense should be briefed on the matter. But nothing was done…. A few months later an independent panel was commissioned to look at management practices at the Department of Energy, and Peurifoy was asked to serve as a technical adviser….the panel wound up using the SRAM’s safety problems as a case study in mismanagement. [They] were shocked at the lack of attention to nuclear weapon safety and its implications. Almost fifteen years had passed since concerns about the SRAM were first expressed — and yet no remedial action had been taken. ‘The potential for a nuclear weapon accident will remain unacceptably high until the issues that have been raised are resolved,’ the panel said in a classified report. 
So what were the safety issues?
“The high explosives used in the primary of the SRAM were found to be vulnerable to fire. As the missiles aged, they also became more hazardous. The propellant used by their rocket motors had to be surrounded at all times by a blanket of nitrogen gas. When the gas leaked, the propellant became a ‘contact-sensitive explosive’ that could easily be set off by flames, static electricity or physical shock. If the SRAMs were poorly maintained, simply dropping them on the ground from a height of five or six feet could make them explode — or take off. ‘The worst probable consequence of continued degradation …is spontaneous ignition of the propellant in a way similar to a normally initiated burn,’ an Air Force nuclear safety journal warned.

For those of you thinking all of this is ancient history consider the following from Navy whistleblower William McNeilly. He recently leaked details of safety issues in Trident submarines. 
‘The Trident safety whistleblower, William McNeilly, says he has been dishonourably discharged from the Royal Navy to protect its public image.
In a nine-page report posted online, the former nuclear submariner attacks “military deceivers” and naval “spin doctors” for downplaying his allegations about multiple safety and security lapses.
“It is shocking that some people in a military force can be more concerned about public image than public safety,” he says.’ Guardian 17/6/15

Notes
  1. Sandia - an organisation set up as a research engineering and science laboratory currently operated by Sandia Corporation, a Lockheed Martin Company, for the US Department of Energy.
2.   SAC - Strategic Air Command

3.   Bob Peurifoy - a scientist who spent his working life devising ways of      making the handling of nuclear weapons safer.

Sunday, 6 September 2015

Trident: secrecy and safety



There are many people in the UK who believe that nuclear weapons have kept us safe all these years. Thanks to a compliant media and a political consensus among the Westminster bubble that statement remains relatively unchallenged. The SNP brought the issue into the spotlight with questions about the future of the Faslane submarine base being raised during the referendum campaign. Recently George Osborne raised the stakes talking about pouring a massive investment of taxpayer’s money into the base. 

What is missing from the rhetoric and supine ignorance is an overview from an objective observer. Eric Schlosser made his name as an investigative writer with an excellent expose of the fast food industry.  ‘Fast Food Nation’ revealed sordid details of how chickens and cattle were treated on their way to becoming part of our diet.

He recently turned a forensic eye to the history of nuclear weapons in another admirable work — ‘Command and Control’. A major theme running through the book is that governments lie about nuclear incidents. Their default position is to lie, to cover up what has happened and to play down any potential harm to the public. The Soviet Union kept all their many incidents under wraps by ruthless means. It was Sweden who detected the radioactive plume from the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. The ‘good guys’ used news management and threats of security breaches to ensure the mass media told a predominantly benign tale. There have been many, many incidents which almost caused a complete disaster, plus countless others of a minor nature. Many involved storage and loading incidents e.g a nuclear weapon armed US fighter plane at Lakenheath in the UK catching fire when being refuelled, fortunately without the high explosive detonator in the warhead going off. This was not mentioned in the UK press. Similarly, many other incidents were not reported in official media. 

The culture of secrecy is all pervasive with good reason. Giving away details of how your thermonuclear warhead works would fall under ‘Aiding the enemy’ regulations. However there is a massive downside to the secrecy as Schlosser makes clear.

“Secrecy is essential to the command and control of nuclear weapons….In the years since Congress passed the Atomic Energy Act of 1946, the design specifications of American nuclear weapons have been ‘born secret.’ They are not classified by government officials; they’re classified as soon as they exist…..it is intended to keep valuable information away from America’s enemies. But an absence of public scrutiny has often made nuclear weapons more dangerous and more likely to cause a disaster.
Again and again, safety problems were hidden not only from the public but also from the officers and enlisted personnel who handled nuclear weapons every day. The strict compartmentalised secrecy hid safety problems from the scientists and engineers responsible for weapon safety. ….
…’Accidents and Incidents Involving Nuclear Weapons’ [obtained by the author using Freedom of Information] covered the period from the summer of 1957 until the spring of 1967. It was 245 pages long. It gave brief accounts of the major Broken Arrows [serious nuclear weapon incidents] during that period. It also described hundreds of minor accidents, technical glitches, and seemingly trivial events…..I shared the document with Bob Peurifoy and Bill Stevens [both experts heavily involved with making the handling and storage of nuclear weapons safer] —who had never seen it. Both were upset after reading it. The Defense Atomic Support Agency had never told them about hundreds of accidents.”

Frequently it is only the sight of protection-suited military personnel carrying Geiger Counters after an incident which blows a hole in the official line. As for incidents in remote spots who is to tell whether plutonium dust has contaminated the land around an accident site? 

Tony Benn told the story of when he was the Minister of Technology in Harold Wilson’s Labour government (1966-70). He said he was not informed by his top civil servants about the great fire at Windscale in 1957 (now re-named Sellafield). One outcome was that thousands of gallons of contaminated milk from farms as far away as north Lancashire were destroyed amid strict security. Senior civil servants at the ministry clearly knew about the fallout risks but felt under no obligation to tell their Minister, even while he was pursuing his policy of nuclear power expansion. The fact that Windscale was involved in producing plutonium for the UK’s nuclear weapons wrapped the plant in massive secrecy. 

As for Trident, this is what Schlosser has to say:

“The only weapons in today’s stockpile that trouble Peurifoy are the W-76 and W-88 warheads carried by submarine launched Trident II missiles. The Drell panel expressed concern about these warheads more than twenty years ago. Both of them rely on conventional high explosives, instead of insensitive high explosives. The Navy had insisted upon use of the more dangerous explosive to reduce the weight of the warheads, increase their range, and slightly increase their yield. The decision was unfortunate from a safety perspective, because the multiple warheads of a Trident II don’t sit on top of the missile. They surround the the rocket motor of its third stage, as a space-saving measure. And the Navy chose a high-energy propellant for the rocket motor that’s much more likely to explode in an accident — simply by being dropped or struck by a bullet — than other solid fuels. A Trident submarine has as many as twenty-four of these missiles, each carrying between four to five warheads. An accident with one missile could detonate the third-stage propellant, set off the high explosives of the warheads, and spread a good deal of plutonium around the ports in Georgia and Washington State where Trident submarines are based.”

The UK keeps a stockpile of thermonuclear weapons at the Faslane site, which is approximately 25 miles west from Glasgow. An explosion on a Trident submarine at Faslane could send a mass of highly radioactive particles towards the conurbation of Glasgow given a malign wind. The outcome would be catastrophic. 

Perhaps Osborne should invest taxpayers money into a nuclear base on the Thames if he is so confident of their safety. It is not difficult to imagine the outcry from Tory supporting Russian oligarchs who have invested some of their millions buying property in London. They may want their donations to the Tory party back.


Anyone still feeling sublimely relaxed about the safety of nuclear weapons is  asked to review their thinking. Begin by reading ‘Command and Control’.

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Ashes Won at Trent Bridge: August 2015

Difficult to believe

Arrived in plenty of time in faint drizzle to hear England had won the toss and had put Australia in to bat. The sky was overcast although the cloud cover was quite high. The forecast was for conditions to improve. The sight of ground staff using a rope to reduce moisture on the outfield was a concern. Would the ball lose its hardness and shine? 
The first over bowled by Stuart Broad was a bit special and set the tone for what followed. A leg side delivery hit Roger’s pad and scuttled off for 4 leg byes. Next ball a dot. Third ball took the edge and was well caught by Alistair Cook at first slip. This was the first time in his test career Rogers has been out for a duck. The decision to put the Aussies in was looking less of a gamble. 
Smith - rated number one batsman in the world - came in and smote his first ball for 4 through the covers. He then pushed a two off the the next ball. Just the man for a crisis…….until he was out off the last ball edging again to slip. 
It was odd watching and difficult to comprehend: 10-2 at the end of the first over, which quickly became 10-3 after 8 balls when Wood joined in the fun by having Warne caught behind off an inside edge!
The crowd were strangely muted, not the roaring baying mob of Edgebaston. Most people like us were watching in disbelief. The catching was first class and Broad bowled really well and made the most of the helpful conditions. The nagging suspicion grew that this was not a fit test pitch and that England too would struggle. The feeling of unreality grew as wickets continued to fall. The wicket of Voges was special - an edge from Broad was brilliantly caught by Stokes at gully. As each new batsman turned up we waited for the expected resistance and ‘up yours’ attitude. It did not happen. All eight wickets taken by Broad in his spell of 8-15 in 9.3 overs were caught in the slips. Glen McGrath said later that of all Broad’s deliveries only 3 would have hit the stumps. 
All out for 60 in 93 minutes. 111 balls. The quickest in terms of balls bowled in test history. A team rated best in the world dismissed for 60 on the first morning of a test match. Even writing this a week later it is still difficult to comprehend. Extras (14) were top score and some wags suggested they should be promoted up the batting order.
England had an awkward 3 overs to negotiate before lunch. This was achieved by not playing at most offline deliveries - something the Aussies singularly failed to do - and by putting away half volleys for 4. 
The ball was still doing a bit when play restarted but it was by no means a minefield. Lythe played well judging what to hit and what to leave until he got a cracker from Starc. Bell was adjudged LBW to another good Starc delivery, although on first and second viewing it looked like it would miss leg stump. The decision was upheld by the tracking system which showed it hitting leg stump full on which was a nonsense. No wonder India have their doubts about the system. 
Australia had a sniff when they had England at 34 - 2 but Cook, despite not being fluent and especially Root took the game away from them. Cook received another good yorker from Starc to leave England at 96-3. Barstow rode his luck a bit to help Root put on 175 for the next wicket. The sun came out and the wicket eased. Root batted brilliantly. The groundsman could relax. The Aussies were sagging. Root had a problem with his shoulders or upper back and had to be mangled by the physio twice. Bairstow limply clipped a ball into square legs hands as he was looking settled for a much larger score than his 74. England sent in Wood as nightwatchman and ended the day at 271-4. A lead of 211. The following morning initially belonged to Australia as they quickly removed Root for an excellent 130, Wood for an impressive 28 and Stokes and Butler cheaply. Moeen Ali came in at number 9 and proceeded to play with freedom assisted by a re-born Stuart Broad. Moeen was brilliantly caught for 38 by Smith and Cook declared the innings closed a few minutes later at 391 - 9. Broad 24 not out. Starc was the best of the Aussie bowlers with 6 - 111. 

An edgy few minutes until lunch were survived by Warner and Rogers. They prospered after lunch thanks to catching that did not reach the heights of the day before. Warner was missed twice - once by Cook and a more difficult chance by Bell. Both played and missed several times and the partnership reached 100. The Aussie supporters had something to cheer at last. All this changed when Ben Stokes was introduced into the attack. He immediately got the ball swinging both ways and posed major problems to both batsmen despite being well set. Rogers was the first to go at 113, Root taking the catch at slip. Smith failed again driving a ball from Broad to Stokes - carefully positioned at a close square cover. Warner played a poor pull shot off Stokes which went to mid-off and Marsh completed a miserable match by edging Stokes to slip. In the 25 minutes before tea Australia had lost 4 wickets for 23 runs. Reminiscent of the first morning and a sign that all was not well in the Aussie middle order. 
Clarke, under great pressure following a run of low scores and shaky performances, struggled for a while. He was put out of his misery when Wood had him snaffled by Bell at slip. Nevill was plumb LBW to Stokes at 224 - 6 and the chances of a two day finish loomed large. Johnson was caught by Cook off Stokes at 236-7. Play was called off for the day when invisible bad light came to the help of the Aussies. Was this an attempt by the authorities to take the game into day three to help reduce financial losses? A view held by many present. Australia 241 - 7. 
An overcast morning did not bode well for the Aussies despite Starc’s brave commitment to resistance earlier in the day. The omens proved correct. Stokes added to his tally of the previous day by removing Starc early on 242 - 8. Wood then continued to pile on the misery bowling Hazelwood neck and crop: 243 - 9. Voges meanwhile achieved a small milestone by scoring a 50. At 253 it was all over when Lyon dragged a fast ball from Wood onto his stumps. 40 minutes after the start. England, despite being hammered 5-0 in Australia, had regained the Ashes and were 3-1 up.
Stokes bowled well to get the remarkable figures of 21 overs, 6 - 36. 
The word had slipped out before play began that Clarke, the Aussie skipper, was standing down after the last test at the Oval. Cue much emotion at the post-match chats. 
The match lasted 10.2 overs on the 3rd day - just enough to stop the authorities from paying full whack on refunds for the day.
Broad was rightly declared Man of the Match for his 8-15. A record only surpassed by Jim Laker in 1956 when he took 19 wickets for 90.


Monday, 27 July 2015

Lord Sewel is a plonker - - - -


- - - -there are far worse things going on in government

Good to see that bastion of morality the Sun claiming the moral high ground. Nothing sleazy in their cupboards. Going to the lengths of setting up the latest plonker to fall for yet another sting then having it make number one story in the mainstream media gives pause for thought.

While folk are chuckling and nudging each other in the ribs there are some pretty massive stories sliding under the radar.

For instance, how about Ian ‘Loathsome’ Smith’s ruse to rename child poverty? Struggling and hungry children are to be suddenly re-classified as thriving. Straight out of Dr Osborne’s school of politics. Remarkable how the ‘minimum wage’ has suddenly become the ‘living wage.’ But not for the Tory toffs…..they need a few bob more than that as evidenced by that not-so-nice but still very dim Minister who claimed to be struggling on £90k a year.
Or how about MPs having all their communications tapped by the security services? Something that goes right to the heart of our democracy. Barely a whiff reached the popular news outlets.
Or even the way the Tories walked away from an election promise to help the elderly with their care bills. Must have been worth a few votes among the aged that one. Last week it emerged that it has been scrapped until “2020” when no doubt it will re-appear on that screed of election bullshit aka the Tory manifesto. 
Not to mention the way the warplanes are revving up again despite not having one ounce of coherence in their strategic thinking. Are we for or against Assad this week? What happens if an embedded pilot gets shot down…..Oh, and did we really spend £330 million bombing Libya and barely £25 million helping them rebuild? We surely did. 

Never mind. There is some old fool with his kit off tooting up on a grainy video to entertain us and keep our brains anaesthetised. The collusion of the so-called serious media in all of this justifies Shamocracy’s advice to avoid our major news channels. 



Friday, 24 July 2015

An Open Letter to my MP: Mr Andrew Bingham

The revelations from the Investigatory Powers Tribunal that all MPs communications have been intercepted has barely raised a mention in the mainstream media. Set out below is a copy of an email sent tonight to my MP. It also has a message for the spook (or spooks) who will also read it.

For the urgent attention of my MP: Mr Andrew Bingham, Conservative, High Peak. 
I have spoken to you before about the way our democracy has been undermined by the security services. You were more sanguine than me about their motives and operational routines but accepted that technology has moved on apace and that there needed to be an updating of procedures. 
The news today that the Wilson Doctrine has been ignored by the spooks is chilling. Exactly who is effectively watching these watchers? 

Set out below are a series of points from the Guardian today covering events in court.

Point 1) The 50-year-old political convention that the UK’s intelligence agencies will not intercept the communications of MPs and members of the Lords cannot survive in an age of bulk interception, government lawyers have conceded.
The so-called Wilson doctrine “simply cannot work sensibly” when bulk interception is taking place, James Eadie QC told the investigatory powers tribunal, the court that hears complaints about the intelligence agencies.
Moreover, Eadie said on Friday, the doctrine does not have force in law and cannot impose legal restraints on the agencies. 
So the spooks can do as they please without ‘legal restraints’. Shocking and scary.

Point 2) …the IPT has heard that MI5, MI6 and GCHQ were all operating their own internal policies that did not require them to inform the prime minister when parliamentarians’ communications were captured. Those polices were said to have been rewritten after Caroline Lucas and Lady Jones launched their legal challenge last year.
Even the PM does not get to find out! Who does then - the Queen? Rupert Murdoch?

Point 3) ….  Lawyers for Lucas and Jones argue that MPs need to have private conversations with constituents and whistleblowers, and must be protected from intrusion by the intelligence agencies. 
Suppose I have recently discovered a hoard of documents from the 80s detailing the involvement of MI5 and MI6 in blackmailing perpetrators of the most evil child abuse. The spooks considered it was more important to have control of politicians than arresting them for crimes against young boys. This is alleged to have happened in Northern Ireland at the Kincora Boys Home. Having put this information in an email to you as my MP, what am I expected to do now I know that all of your correspondence is under scrutiny? What will you do when you discover a couple of weeks after receiving evidence of the spook’s involvement, you learn that I have died in a ‘strange’ accident? This is not hyperbole - there is too much documented evidence of MI5 , MI6 and Special Branch all acting to suppress revelations about Cyril Smith among others. The four ‘found’ this week in a Home Office document detailing their sexual deviancy are all luckily dead. Their activities were all known about at the heart of government and regarded as a potential political embarrassment. Are you still sanguine?

Point 4) …Jones said later that she could not believe it was a coincidence that the hearing at the IPT was held after both houses of parliament went into summer recess. 
This follows a pattern such as Liz Truss permitting bee-threatening neonicotinoid pesticides to be used again as Parliament cleared off on their hols. I have just heard she wants to start badger culling again too. How convenient that there is no-one in the Commons to point out the error of her ways. Rotten and stinky politics.  

Point 5) ….The Labour MP Tom Watson, who successfully brought a high court challenge against emergency surveillance legislation with Tory colleague David Davis, said he had received assurances from the home secretary Theresa May last year that the Wilson doctrine applied to all MPs.
“Either government policy has changed in the last year or Theresa May misled parliament,” Watson said. He added that prime minsters have for decades reassured MPs the Wilson doctrine stands. “It’s particularly interesting to read the lawyers argue the doctrine has no force in law. MPs have been treated like fools. Either Theresa May was telling the truth last year or the government lawyer was telling the truth today - and we need to find out.”
In a nutshell. Do you feel a fool? Who was telling the truth? The lawyer acting on behalf of the government or the Home Secretary? 

Conclusion
What the hell are you personally going to do about reigning in the spooks? Which of your colleagues in the Commons do you feel are squeaky clean and not susceptible to being leant on by the spooks? Can you gather sufficient concerned MPs from across the House to put together a plan to restore a degree of democratic accountability and transparency? Tricky. 
We are supposed to live in a democracy - it is a prime function of your role to safeguard our liberties. Time to pull your finger out. 

[PS: To the spook whose job it is to monitor this email. 
Were you prepared for this bombshell? Do you get frustrated in your work to the point you want to blow something up? Did you feel this was an explosive revelation? 
Are you happy in your work? Do you feel you are serving or undermining democracy? Do you consider Edward Snowden to be a hero? If so, how about doing something similar and helping expose the amount and extent of surveillance in the UK?]


Words in red are ‘trigger words’ which activate the gathering of emails etc. But you know this already don’t you? This last point is to help my MP.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

What is Labour for?

Wherethefuckarewe?

One of the earliest playground jokes to make its mark concerned a rare tribe in deepest Africa. The tribe were known as the Wherethefuckarewe tribe. They got their name because they were a short people living in an area with very tall grass. Explorers reported regularly seeing a small body jumping clear of the grass, at the same time calling wherethefuckarewe? 
Exactly like the Labour party today. 
Yesterday’s debacle over the Welfare Bill highlighted the existential problems the party faces. Thanks to the IFS who skewered Osborne’s rhetoric (aka ‘lies’) it emerged that 13 million people will be at least £200 a year worse off after the budget. Of those 13 million, the poorest 3 million will be worse off by £1000 per year. Meanwhile the wealthiest enjoy further tax cuts.
Relatively straightforward you would think to establish a position based on such inequality and inequity. Not for Labour. 
Acting leader Harriet Harman came out with a remarkable line that the party would not oppose the budget on first reading because ‘the tories had won the election and it is what the electorate want.’ 
Barely 1 in 4 of the electorate supported the Tories. That means 3 in 4 did not. This fact seems beyond the current crop of political numpties leading Labour. Of the four leadership candidates, three of them supported the abstention decision. Only Jeremy Corbyn put his principles first. He is derided by the Tory media as a ‘loony leftie’ yet says things which many electors agree with.
Compare and contrast with the Blaire-ite faction, Kendall, Umuna et al. Former Tory Chancellor Nigel Lawson said of Blair, “he paid the greatest complement to Mrs Thatcher by maintaining her policies when in power.”
Labour is in danger of disappearing. It was wiped out in Scotland for being ‘Tory-lite’ or ‘Tories with red ties’ and lost thousands of core supporters to UKIP in the north of England for similar reasons. The execrable election campaign targeted middle-class voters in the south-east to little effect. Tory lies, bribes and fear mongering were not challenged, allowing them to set the agenda. 
All this chaos and confusion over its purpose and raison d’ĂȘtre goes back to when the party changed leader from Blair to Brown. Senior figures in the party were well aware that Brown was deeply flawed. Reports of his anger, even throwing mobile phones at colleagues circulated. There should have been a leadership contest, not a coronation. Later, as the election neared there were several threats of a leadership challenge which fizzled out. David Milband figured in some of them but did not have the nerve to carry it through.
The party is now in a mess. It has far too many professional political whores who lack principle and who are in politics for what they can get out of it. It has lost touch with its supporters and is thrashing around chasing Tory voters - the greedy and mendacious who are least likely to change their allegiance. 
The welfare debacle crystallised the issue. What is Labour for? 

Thankfully at least 48 Labour MPs had some bottle.

“I would swim through vomit to vote against this Bill and listening to some of the nauseating speeches in support of it, I might have to.” John McDonnell, Labour, Hayes and Harlington

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Sunday Times 'Official government mouthpiece' - confirmed

Editor makes it clear

Craig Murray is a former member of the diplomatic corps. He knows of what he speaks. He was singularly unimpressed by the Sunday Times headline story about Snowden.


'Five Reasons the MI6 Story is a Lie
The Sunday Times has a story claiming that Snowden’s revelations have caused danger to MI6 and disrupted their operations. Here are five reasons it is a lie.
1) The alleged Downing Street source is quoted directly in italics. Yet the schoolboy mistake is made of confusing officers and agents. MI6 is staffed by officers. Their informants are agents. In real life, James Bond would not be a secret agent. He would be an MI6 officer. Those whose knowledge comes from fiction frequently confuse the two. Nobody really working with the intelligence services would do so, as the Sunday Times source does. The story is a lie.
2) The argument that MI6 officers are at danger of being killed by the Russians or Chinese is a nonsense. No MI6 officer has been killed by the Russians or Chinese for 50 years. The worst that could happen is they would be sent home. Agents’ – generally local people, as opposed to MI6 officers – identities would not be revealed in the Snowden documents. Rule No.1 in both the CIA and MI6 is that agents’ identities are never, ever written down, neither their names nor a description that would allow them to be identified. I once got very, very severely carpeted for adding an agents’ name to my copy of an intelligence report in handwriting, suggesting he was a useless gossip and MI6 should not be wasting their money on bribing him. And that was in post communist Poland, not a high risk situation. 
3) MI6 officers work under diplomatic cover 99% of the time. Their alias is as members of the British Embassy, or other diplomatic status mission. A portion are declared to the host country. The truth is that Embassies of different powers very quickly identify who are the spies in other missions. MI6 have huge dossiers on the members of the Russian security services – I have seen and handled them. The Russians have the same. In past mass expulsions, the British government has expelled 20 or 30 spies from the Russian Embassy in London. The Russians retaliated by expelling the same number of British diplomats from Moscow, all of whom were not spies! As a third of our “diplomats” in Russia are spies, this was not coincidence. This was deliberate to send the message that they knew precisely who the spies were, and they did not fear them.
4) This anti Snowden non-story – even the Sunday Times admits there is no evidence anybody has been harmed – is timed precisely to coincide with the government’s new Snooper’s Charter act, enabling the security services to access all our internet activity. Remember that GCHQ already has an archive of 800,000 perfectly innocent British people engaged in sex chats online.
5) The paper publishing the story is owned by Rupert Murdoch. It is sourced to the people who brought you the dossier on Iraqi Weapons of Mass Destruction, every single “fact” in which proved to be a fabrication. Why would you believe the liars now?
There you have five reasons the story is a lie.'
In a quite astounding development the article above was sent to the editor of the Sunday Times (Martin Ivers). This is his incredible response and Craig Murray's reaction.

'A gentleman called William Douglas sent my analysis to Mr Ivers, asking him for his views. Ivers replied:
"Dear Mr Douglas,
:
: I think you should address your remarks to
: 10 Downing St. If you think
: they have lied to us then so be it.
:
: Yours faithfully
:
: Martin" 
That really is it. The editor of a once great newspaper does not think it is any business of his whether he publishes lies or not. He does not consider that there was any responsibility on himself or his journalists to find out whether the story was true before they published it. They did not attempt to take any other views or do any checking. And now they claim that what the Sunday Times publishes is not the responsibility of the Sunday Times, but rather it is the responsibility of government.

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

The Sunday Times is the new Pravda


Once a great campaigning paper under the editorship of Harold Evans, the latest debacle reflects how far the paper has fallen under Murdoch’s malevolent control. Far from telling truth to power, the S.T. now licks power’s boots.

The lead ‘story’ masquerading as journalism telling us that Snowden had done massive harm to our intelligence services turned out to have been based on a ‘government source in the Home Office’ and verified by yet another unnamed ‘government source’. No evidence. No challenging questions and full of lies and errors. Glen Greenwald has been all over the media excoriating the journalists for their gullibility and for acting as government stooges.

Tom Harper was one of the co-authors of the ‘story.’ He appeared on CNN to defend it. Badly. 
edition.cnn.com/videos/us/2015 shows the full horror.  

CNN “Were the files hacked or did Snowden hand them over?” 
Harper “We don’t know.”
“Were MI6 agents directly under threat?”   
“We don’t know”
“How did the government know what was in the files”
 “That’s not something we’re clear on”
“Can you substantiate the claims?” 
“No.”

It is no coincidence that this garbage appeared immediately after a reasoned report into internet surveillance was published to general approval. David Anderson QC condemned the status quo under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA) as “undemocratic, unnecessary and – in the long run – intolerable”, and advises it be replaced with a comprehensive new law that can be properly understood by people and parliamentarians.
“The recommendation is in glaring contrast to the Government’s repeated claims since 2013 that the current legislative framework provides effective safeguards to properly protect British people’s privacy.” Liberty


Telling truth to power or acting as power’s pawns?

The whole shabby tale reflects very badly on the government. Just as it wants us to accept extra snooping powers - the snooper's charter - it sinks to these desperate measures.

Trust us they say. No way.

Saturday, 13 June 2015

Snoopers, spooks and accountability…

Who watches the watchers?  Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

Tory MP David Davis  was on the radio this week making sense about the issue of surveillance and in particular the powers of the Home Secretary and the Foreign Secretary to approve the bugging of communications. He said that the number of applications from the security agencies run at between 5 and 6 a day. He thought it would be impossible to process each application fairly given time constraints and workload. Yet it now appears that each Minister will fight to retain their right to sign the papers. Why should we trust them?
He also said that whenever questions are asked in Parliament to Ministers about a security matter the reply is always ‘we do not comment on security matters!’ So much for Parliamentary accountability. 

Try this insight from the Guardian Comment pages written by someone who describes themselves as a former security official. 

“As someone who has been involved in the past, with both sides of security surveillance operations, I can hopefully understand to some extent the legitimate need for limited surveillance, which will always be required, but which must come with very strict requirements and responsibilities; this I can agree with. Unfortunately the present situation appears to be that just because it can be done, it must be done, hence the mass gathering of mostly useless information that does nothing to improve security either at a government or a personal level.
If this is the case why are governments so keen on mass surveillance of their populations, if it does not in any meaningful way increase security; which is the stated aim always given when new surveillance powers are proposed? Well the simple answer is that governments have always wanted to “control” their populations, by this I mean that they want to be the primary source of providing information, whether it is via the media of TV, newspapers or on-line. This used to be fairly difficult to do, especially in times of peace; when there are no overt restrictions in place, to manage (or control) information and it used to take some effort to feed stories to the media, in such a way that the primary source (i.e. the government) could be easily concealed.
Today, in our Smart phone generation it is very simple to both feed stories and to also manage the required outcome. This can be done for example by firstly creating a story and then using multiple pre-created Facebook or Twitter accounts (which are later deleted) to support the story and then stand back and watch the reaction, as genuine Facebook or Twitter accounts make comments, which very quickly gets the story noticed and commented on by the likes of the media. The original creator of the story (such as the government) can when questioned, either deny all knowledge, or more likely point to the public reaction to the story and use this for their own means. 
One simple example is to create fear in the general population of terrorism and use that fear to put in place new regulations and laws that promise to protect the public from acts of terrorism, but instead have the real objective of further controlling or managing the population. 
This is what is happening at the present time, where barely a day goes by without some story of an impending or immediate terror attack and how the authorities have prevented this happening. We hear about numbers of people being arrested for suspected involvement in terrorism, but what we don’t hear about is the number that are later released without charge. Terrorism, by its very nature, will never affect more than minuscule numbers of the general population, crossing the road is certainly more dangerous; but the overall impression given is that we are all under constant threat of mass terror acts. 
It used to be the government’s accepted approach to threats or even acts of terrorism, that the population should just go about its normal business, otherwise the terrorists have won. Now the opposite approach seems to be the norm, with the government seemingly quite happy to frighten the entire population into believing that they could be the victims of terrorism.” Iain Exile Scot

We seem to have Ministers in charge who are unable to see beyond the next tabloid headline. They fail to recognise the bigger picture. The government claims that in order to preserve our long held freedoms we must sacrifice our long held freedoms. 

Mmmm. 


Anyone remember the Americans flattening Vietnamese villages to ‘pacify them’?

Thursday, 4 June 2015

Coulson Cleared of Perjury

‘Not every lie amounts to perjury’

Tommy Sheridan maintained the core of his defence in his perjury trial in 2010 was that the News of the World had engaged in a conspiracy to bring him down. Central to that accusation was that the News of the World had hacked Sheridan’s phone. This had been put to Andy Coulson when he appeared as a witness in the case. He had denied on oath having any knowledge of hacking. Three former colleagues stated in the recent case that this was untrue - they claimed he knew full well that the paper used hacking to get stories. Last week the jury were sent home as legal arguments were put before the judge. Yesterday the result of those arguments became clear. The perjury case against Coulson collapsed. 

In a quite remarkable ruling the judge, Lord Burns, said: "Not every lie amounts to perjury.” Apparently under Scottish law for a lie to be classed as perjury, the lie must have had a significant bearing on the outcome of the case. The judge felt the lies had not been relevant to Sheridan’s conviction.

Coulson emerged triumphantly from the courtroom and claimed he had been vindicated and that he had not lied. Not so Mr Coulson. Cleared of perjury but not of lying. After thanking the judge Coulson thanked his “brilliant legal team”.  You bet he did. Whoever persuaded a judge to accept that lying in court was somehow acceptable deserves every squillion coming their way.

Coulson now goes down in history as the man who lied in court yet walked away Scot free. 

He joins other paragons such as Ernest Saunders. He was convicted in 1990 in the Guinness share trading fraud case. Among his convicted colleagues was property developer Gerald Ronson. He claimed in his book ‘Leading From the Front’ that it was him who suggested the Alzheimer’s defence when they were in an open prison together. 

"I joked, 'Make out that you're mentally ill. It wouldn't be difficult for you because besides being a psychotic liar, you are mentally deranged ... If you made out you've got Alzheimer's, nobody could ever prove it, because if they looked inside your head, what are they going to find?' "
Mr Saunders replied that he liked the idea. When he left, Mr Ronson remarked to his cellmate: "I bet he'll do that, tricky bastard that he is."

In an appeal, the judge reduced Mr Saunders' sentence to two and a half years, after hearing evidence that Mr Saunders was suffering from pre-senile dementia. With parole, Mr Saunders qualified for almost immediate release, having served just 10 months. As soon as the former Guinness chairman was free, Mr Ronson recalls, "Saunders miraculously 'recovered', apparently the first person in medical history ever to do so.” Independent 6/6/2009

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

USA v UK


The US Senate have just passed the Freedom Act - a withdrawal from the catch-all activities of the notorious Patriot Act passed after 9/11. The Snowden revelations about the amount of state snooping has raised genuine alarm in the good old US of A. Compare and contrast with the increase in state snooping here in the Mother of Parliaments ….the UK. 

Not only do our new leaders want to increase state snooping, they also want to do away with fundamental protections enshrined in the Human Rights Act. Fancy that. Theresa 'Manic' May also wants TV programmes censored for ‘extremism.’ Would that include programmes commenting on the fact that we have a government with a majority in the Commons despite only getting the support of 1 in 4 of the electorate? 

Perhaps this view of the future from ‘Bullingdonmorons’ commenting on the Guardian website may wake some people up. 

‘One day, in the not so far off future, I shall be awoken by the alarm in my bedroom shouting at me it is time to get up. I shall prepare myself for the day whilst listening to the radio as it barks out the Governments latest ‘austerity’ measures and anti-terrorist legislation.
The camera outside my front door will record my time of departure, whilst the street camera/microphones will pick up my muted ‘hello’ to the neighbour. I will drive to the rail station, passing beneath the numerous number plate recognition camera’s, my entire journey being recorded for posterity. At the station, the chip in my arm will register my arrival, opening the gate to admit me. I shall find a seat amongst the impassive passengers, all sitting in silence, ear phones in place.
The posters on the carriage walls tell us that all activity is filmed and recorded.
For our own safety, of course.
As I leave the train, the chip in my arm will record the destination and automatically deduct the cost of my journey from my bank account. I look up at the CCTV cameras that follow my every move. On entering my place of work, the chip releases the security doors and I am scanned, to make sure I carry no weapons, so they say. I then sit down at my computer. 7 turgid hours will pass, because all e-mail, conversation and time away from desk are monitored.
All conversation must be work based, any other topic is a sack-able offence.
Several e-mails remain unseen, because they are accompanied by a message, ‘ This mail has been blocked for your own protection’, and you while away the day wondering what monstrous evil they contained, so bad that I am not allowed to view them.
At the end of my shift, I shall return home, once more in silence, eat a revolting meal of processed shit and then watch several hours of mindless television, consisting of celebrity game shows, a sealed house harbouring 20 people in straight-jackets who keep trying to head butt each other, and ‘documentaries’ about multi millionaires leading empty, vacuous lives.
The news will inform me of how the latest Government anti-terrorist legislation has led to yet another terrorist plot being foiled, will inform me that there is yet another faceless enemy from a middle eastern country who threatens our very way of life and so must be destroyed, and finally they will release the latest results from the Governments ‘happiness’ survey, telling us how wonderful our lives are.
Then, just as I get up to retire for the night, I will tell the camera that is built into the set to go “f**k itself”.

I shall then go to bed, and cry myself to sleep, saying ‘How did we ever let them do this to us?’