UK-US Surveillance Regime was Unlawful ‘For Seven Years’

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The legal challenge was the first of dozens of GCHQ-related claims to be examined in detail by the IPT. Photograph: Ho/Reuters

 Courtesy of Owen Boycott @ The Guardian:

The regime that governs the sharing between Britain and the US of electronic communications intercepted in bulk was unlawful until last year, a secretive UK tribunal has ruled.

The Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) declared on Friday that regulations covering access by Britain’s GCHQ to emails and phone records intercepted by the US National Security Agency (NSA) breached human rights law.

Advocacy groups said the decision raised questions about the legality of intelligence-sharing operations between the UK and the US. The ruling appears to suggest that aspects of the operations were illegal for at least seven years – between 2007, when the Prism intercept programme was introduced, and 2014.

The critical judgment marks the first time since the IPT was established in 2000 that it has upheld a complaint relating to any of the UK’s intelligence agencies. It said that the government’s regulations were illegal because the public were unaware of safeguards that were in place. Details of those safeguards were only revealed during the legal challenge at the IPT.

An “order” posted on the IPT’s website early on Friday declared: “The regime governing the soliciting, receiving, storing and transmitting by UK authorities of private communications of individuals located in the UK, which have been obtained by US authorities … contravened Articles 8 or 10” of the European convention on human rights.

Article 8 relates to the right to private and family life; article 10 refers to freedom of expression.

The decision, in effect, refines an earlier judgment issued by the tribunal in December, when it ruled that Britain’s current legal regime governing data collection through the internet by intelligence agencies – which has been recently updated to ensure compliance – did not violate the human rights of people in the UK. Continue reading

The Benefits and Hazards of the Philosophy of Ayn Rand: A Personal Statement

Courtesy of Nathaniel Branden @ Redbarn:

Abstract: For eighteen years I was a close associate of novelist-philosopher Ayn Rand whose books, notably The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, inspired a philosophical movement known as objectivism. This philosophy places its central emphasis on reason, individualism, enlightened self-interest, political freedom — and a heroic vision of life’s possibilities. Following an explosive parting of the ways with Ayn Rand in 1968, I have been asked many times about the nature of our differences. This article is my first public answer to that question. Although agreeing with many of the values of the objectivist philosophy and vision, I discuss the consequences of the absence of an adequate psychology to support this intellectual structure — focusing in particular on the destructive moralism of Rand and many of her followers, a moralism that subtly encourages repression, self-alienation, and guilt. I offer an explanation of the immense appeal of Ayn Rand’s philosophy, particularly to the young, and suggest some cautionary observations concerning its adaptation to one’s own life.

Background

I was fourteen years old when I read Ayn Rand’s novel The Fountainhead for the first time. It was the most thrilling and emotionally powerful reading experience of my life. The only rival to that event might be the experience, some years later, of reading Atlas Shrugged in manuscript.

I wrote Miss Rand a letter in 1949 when I was studying psychology at UCLA and she was living in San Fernando Valley and was writing Atlas Shrugged The purpose of my letter was to ask her a number of philosophical questions suggested to me by The Fountainhead and by her earlier novel, We The Living. The letter intrigued her; I was invited to her home for a personal meeting in March, 1950, a month before I turned twenty.

By that time anyone could read any sentence in The Fountainhead and I could recite the essence of the sentence immediately preceding as well as the sentence immediately following. I had absorbed that book more completely than anything else in my life. Continue reading

How Bush’s Grandfather Helped Hitler’s Rise to Power

Courtesy of Ben Aris and Duncan Campbell @ The Guardian (2004):

George Bush’s grandfather, the late US senator Prescott Bush, was a director and shareholder of companies that profited from their involvement with the financial backers of Nazi Germany.

The Guardian has obtained confirmation from newly discovered files in the US National Archives that a firm of which Prescott Bush was a director was involved with the financial architects of Nazism.

His business dealings, which continued until his company’s assets were seized in 1942 under the Trading with the Enemy Act, has led more than 60 years later to a civil action for damages being brought in Germany against the Bush family by two former slave labourers at Auschwitz and to a hum of pre-election controversy.

The evidence has also prompted one former US Nazi war crimes prosecutor to argue that the late senator’s action should have been grounds for prosecution for giving aid and comfort to the enemy.

The debate over Prescott Bush’s behaviour has been bubbling under the surface for some time. There has been a steady internet chatter about the “Bush/Nazi” connection, much of it inaccurate and unfair. But the new documents, many of which were only declassified last year, show that even after America had entered the war and when there was already significant information about the Nazis’ plans and policies, he worked for and profited from companies closely involved with the very German businesses that financed Hitler’s rise to power. It has also been suggested that the money he made from these dealings helped to establish the Bush family fortune and set up its political dynasty. Continue reading

The Dark Side of Winston Churchill’s Legacy No One Should Forget

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Courtesy of Ishaan Tharoor @ Washington Post:

The statue of Britain’s former Prime Minister Winston Churchill is silhouetted in front of the Houses of Parliament in London, January 30, 2015. (Eddie Keogh/Reuters)
There’s no Western statesmen — at least in the English-speaking world — more routinely lionized than Winston Churchill. Last Friday marked a half century since his funeral, an occasion that itself led to numerous commemorations and paeans to the British Bulldog, whose moral courage and patriotism helped steer his nation through World War II.

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Today we remember our greatest ever Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, who saved our country. pic.twitter.com/uRkfSAy7ya

— David Cameron (@David_Cameron) January 30, 2015

Churchill, after all, has been posthumously voted by his countrymen as the greatest Briton. The presence (and absence) of his bust in the White House was enough to create political scandal on both sides of the pond. The allure of his name is so strong that it launches a thousand quotations, many of which are apocryphal. At its core, Churchill’s myth serves as a ready-made metaphor for boldness and leadership, no matter how vacuous the context in which said metaphor is deployed.

For example, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair earned comparisons to Churchill after dragging his country into the much-maligned 2003 Iraq war. So too Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose tough stance on Iran’s nuclear ambitions has been cast by some in Churchill’s heroic mold — the Israeli premier’s uncompromising resolve a foil to the supposed “appeasement” tendencies of President Obama.

In the West, Churchill is a freedom fighter, the man who grimly withstood Nazism and helped save Western liberal democracy. It’s a civilizational legacy that has been polished and placed on a mantle for decades. Churchill “launched the lifeboats,” declared Time magazine, on the cover of its Jan. 2, 1950 issue that hailed the British leader as the “man of the half century.”

But there’s another side to Churchill’s politics and career that should not be forgotten amid the endless parade of eulogies. To many outside the West, he remains a grotesque racist and a stubborn imperialist, forever on the wrong side of history. Continue reading

Researchers Confirm That Neonicotinoid Insecticides Impair Bee’s Brains

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Credit: Lilla Frerichs/public domain

Courtesy of Grant Hill @ Phys.org

Research at the Universities of St Andrews and Dundee has confirmed that levels of neonicotinoid insecticides accepted to exist in agriculture cause both impairment of bumblebees’ brain cells and subsequent poor performance by bee colonies.

The contribution of the neonicotinoids to the global decline of insect pollinators is controversial and contested by many in the agriculture industry. However, the new research, published in the Journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, demonstrates for the first time that the low levels found in the nectar and pollen of plants is sufficient to deliver neuroactive levels to their site of action, the bee brain.

Dr Chris Connolly, a Reader in the Division of Neuroscience at Dundee’s School of Medicine, has spent several years examining the risk from neonicotinoids and other commonly used classes of pesticides on both honeybees and bumblebees.

He and his colleagues at Dundee carried out combined laboratory and field studies and the data was analysed by Professor Steve Buckland at St Andrews. The results showed very low levels of neonicotinoids caused bumblebee colonies to have an estimated 55 per cent reduction in live bee numbers, a 71 per cent reduction in healthy brood cells, and a 57 per cent reduction in the total bee mass of a nest.

Dr Connolly says the paper represents the best scientific evidence to date connecting neonicotinoid consumption to poor performance of bees and that the effects of the pesticide must be considered by policy makers seeking to protect the abundance and diversity of insect pollinators.

Continue reading

“Government Is Waging A Perpetual War Against Human Nature… They Can Never Win”

Courtesy of Martin Armstrong:

The one war that never ends is how people constantly try to fight the trend. The ECB will buy bad government debt they created instead of doing what was necessary from the start – consolidate all state debt. That would have enabled the Euro to be a viable currency creating a reserve base that does not exist today. Instead, leaving each country with its own debt that was then reserve quality for the banking system was the greatest mistake in history. European banks are really in trouble. They do not mark-to-market sovereign debt. Government PRESUMES they are always the best.

Europe is a failure for they just will not reform Euroland. Instead, this is like a Chinese Water torture or an NSA Waterboarding vacation – a slow gradual and painful process. This Euro Crisis cannot be resolved in such a manner. Buying in sovereign debt is DEFLATIONARY for it is effectively retiring the debt that is worthless. It is bailing out banks, not inflating the economy, since the banks will not lend that money out again. The banks will crumble to dust for their reserves are worthless. This is a very interesting problem that nobody wants to discuss publicly for it is the biggest political manipulation in history gone really, really bad.

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Continue reading

UK Bail-in Powers Implementation

Courtesy of Gov.uk, because they care:

1. Introduction

The Special Resolution Regime (SRR) established in the Banking Act 2009 (“the Banking Act”) confers a number of resolution powers on the Bank of England and HM Treasury. The Financial Services (Banking Reform) Act 2013 (the 2013 Act) confers on the Bank of England a further option for the resolution for banks, building societies, investment firms, and certain banking group companies: the bail-in stabilisation option.

Since the financial crisis, a wide-ranging programme of financial sector reform has been underway at domestic, European and international levels. The government set up the Independent Commission on Banking (ICB), charged with considering structural and related non-structural reforms to the UK banking sector to promote financial stability and competition. It reported in 2011, and one of its key recommendations was the introduction of a bail-in tool. Bail-in powers were also recommended by the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards (PCBS) in its June 2013 report. The Financial Stability Board’s (FSB), ‘Key Attributes of Effective Resolution Regimes’ – endorsed by the G20 – has recommended that resolution regimes put in place a bail-in tool in order to improve the toolkit for dealing with the failure of large, globally systemic banks.

Bail-in involves shareholders of a failing institution being divested of their shares, and creditors of the institution having their claims cancelled or reduced to the extent necessary to restore the institution to financial viability. The shares can then be transferred to affected creditors, as appropriate, to provide compensation. Alternatively, where a suitable purchaser is identified, the shares may be transferred to them, with the creditors instead receiving, where appropriate, compensation in some other form. Continue reading

Oil, Power, And Psychopaths

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James F. Gibson Tent of A. Foulke, Horse Artillery, Brandy Station, Virginia 1864

Courtesy of Raul Ilargi Meijer @ Automatic Earth Blog:

Iran has a – very – long running dispute with the US about its nuclear technology. The US wants Assad (Bashar Al-Assad) out of Syria, while Iran and Russia support Assad (Russia’s sole proper base in the Middle East), who’s an Alawite (a Shi-ite branch), a people historically persecuted by Sunni’s. ISIS (or Daesh in the region) is Sunni. So are the Saudi’s. Iran is Shi’ite. Bahrain is ruled by Sunni but has a majority Shi’ite population. And I could go on for a while. A long while.

All this plays into the oil game, the falling oil prices. Blaming OPEC for the recent price fall is seeing the world from a child’s perspective. OPEC and its major voteholder, Saudi Arabia, are no more to blame for the plunge than the US, Russia or other non-OPEC producers. Everybody produces as if there’s no tomorrow, and the Saudi’s have merely concluded that their only choice is to do the same. It’s a race to the bottom.

The reason is the fast declining demand for oil; China is nowhere near as mighty as we seem to think, Europe is a basket case, emerging economies are being strangled as we speak by the surging dollar and the Fed taper, and we’re just getting started. It’s cute and all that nobody wonders how much virtual money has vanished into the great beyond as both oil itself and the companies that get it out of the earth have lost half of their ‘values’ in Q4 2014, let alone the countries that depend on oil for their very existence. But cute doesn’t cut it.

Oliver Stone talks about ‘Ukraine: The CIA Coup’. I’ve talked about exactly that all of last year. While on vacation, Obama declares new sanctions on North Korea for hacking a Japanese company only the FBI claims it was guilty of. While US sanctions against Iran are ongoing.

America is trying to control the world by throwing it into confusion, emboldened by poorly understood theories about military superiority, and creating conflicts all over the place that look like they will never be solved. Whereas all it would need to do is make sure it secures itself, its own territory, not control the entire planet. Continue reading

Cut benefits? Yes, Let’s Start With Our £85bn Corporate Welfare Handout

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Courtesy of Aditya Chakrabortty @ The Guardian:

Last week, as the Tory faithful cheered on George Osborne’s new cuts in benefits for the working-age poor, a little story appeared that blew a big hole in the welfare debate. Tucked away in the Guardian last Wednesday, an article revealed that the British government had since 2007 handed Disney almost £170m to make films here. Last year alone the Californian giant took £50m in tax credits. By way of comparison, in April the government will scrap a £347m crisis fund that provides emergency cash for families on the verge of homelessness or starvation.

Benefits are what we grudgingly hand the poor; the rich are awarded tax breaks. Cut through the euphemisms and the Treasury accounting, however, and you’re left with two forms of welfare. Except that the hundreds given to people sleeping on the street has been deemed unaffordable. Those millions for $150bn Disney, on the other hand, that’s apparently money well spent –whoever coined the phrase “taking the Mickey” must have worked for HM Revenue.

Politicians and pundits talk about welfare as if it’s solely cash given to people. Hardly ever discussed is corporate welfare: the grants and subsidies, the contracts and cut-price loans that government hands over to business. Yet some of our biggest companies and industries operate a business model that depends on them extracting money from the British taxpayer. The operators of our supposedly privatised train services are kept afloat by billions in public money. Or take the firm created by billionaire Jeff Bezos: last year it emerged that Amazon had paid less in corporation tax to the UK than it had received in government grants.

The bill for corporate welfare is huge – and largely hidden. We know a lot about the people who claim social welfare: we know how much each benefit costs the public, the government sets strict rules for eligibility – and we even have detailed estimates for how much cheating goes on. Between them, Whitehall, academia and NGOs have churned out enough surveys on social welfare claimants to fill a wing of the Bodleian library. But corporate welfare? The government has itself acknowledged: “There is no definitive source of data about spending on subsidies to businesses in the UK.” The numbers are scattered across government publications and there is not even any agreement on what counts as a corporate handout. Continue reading