£330,000 for a 20-minute speech at a world hunger event? Tony Blair is an inspiration to us all

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Courtesy of Michael Segalov @ The Independent:

Over the weekend, it was reported that Tony Blair pulled out of addressing The World Hunger Forum in Stockholm because his £330k price tag for turning up and talking just couldn’t be met.

According to one source, the food company organising the event, Eat, dropped Blair because “his star power is fast diminishing”. But regardless of whether this is true or not, many agree that he was wrong to ask for such an astronomical payment in the first place. It was apparently going to be given to The Cherie Blair Foundation. So if his claim that he didn’t turn up and speak due to “prior commitments” is true, that’s a real shame; it would have been a huge donation.

But either way, I think it’s time we give the man a break. His impeccable record as a selfless public servant aside, Blair’s approach to life after his Downing Street days display the exact same values that both the government and opposition want us to tattooed on our foreheads: “aspiration” and “wealth creation”.

The next Labour leadership favourite, Andy Burnham, last week suggested “wealth creators must be valued as highly as NHS staff”. Burnham reckons these wealthy people are “everyday heroes”, in which case Tony Blair is basically Superman, creating cash money left right and centre.

Since leaving Downing Street he’s had to deny reports that he has amassed a personal fortune of £100m, and has insisted that it’s closer to £20m – a far more modest amount. But regardless of how many millions he has, Tony’s real message to us all is that we shouldn’t be bothered by those bleeding-heart liberals who think we should be paying a fair level of tax – in fact, a company he set up managed to halve its tax bill to just £300,000 on an income of £14m. Continue reading

Britain’s Secret Terror Deals: ‘Truly disturbing’ BBC Panorama allegations of collusion must be fully investigated, says Amnesty International

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Britain’s Secret Terror Deals: Darragh MacIntyre investigates allegations that the state colluded with paramilitary killers and covered up their crimes

Courtesy of The Belfast Telegraph:

‘Truly disturbing’ allegations, revealed in a new BBC Panorama investigation, that UK security forces colluded with paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland on a vast scale leading directly to the deaths of hundreds of people must be fully investigated, Amnesty International has said.

In the documentary Britain’s Secret Terror Deals, screened on Thursday, investigative reporter Darragh MacIntyre investigates allegations that the state colluded with paramilitary killers and covered up their crimes.

MacIntyre meets the families who have been fighting for decades to uncover the government’s darkest secrets and confronts some of those believed to be complicit.

The murder of Sunday World reporter Martin O’Hagan in 2001 and two massacres, at Sean Graham bookmaker’s in 1992 where five people died, and the killings of nine Protestant men returning from work in Kingsmill village in 1976, are among the cases where state and paramilitary collusion is alleged to have been covered up.

Panorama also revealed an assault rifle used in the Sean Graham massacre in 1992, which police said had been disposed of, ended up on display in the Imperial War Museum.

The weapon was used in the UDA killing of five Catholics in a betting shop on the Lower Ormeau Road in Belfast. The police ombudsman has confirmed that the rifle has now removed from the museum for forensic examination. It is linked to other UDA murders during the Troubles. Continue reading

UK Government Goes Full Orwell: Snooper’s Charter, Encryption Backdoors, Free Speech Suppression

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Courtesy of Techdirt and from the 1984-wasn’t-a-manual dept:

The old joke goes “George Orwell’s 1984 was a warning, not a ‘how to’ manual.” But that joke is increasingly less funny as the UK really seems to be doing everything it can to put in place Orwell’s fictitious vision — just a few decades later. Right after the election a few weeks ago, we noted the government’s plan to push forward with its “extremist disruption orders” (as had been promised). The basic idea is that if the government doesn’t like what you’re saying, it can define your statements as “extremist” and make them criminal. Prime Minister David Cameron did his best Orwell in flat out stating that the idea was to use these to go after people who were obeying the law and then arguing that the UK needed to suppress free speech… in the name of protecting free speech. Really.

For too long, we have been a passively tolerant society, saying to our citizens: as long as you obey the law, we will leave you alone. It’s often meant we have stood neutral between different values. And that’s helped foster a narrative of extremism and grievance.

This government will conclusively turn the page on this failed approach. As the party of one nation, we will govern as one nation and bring our country together. That means actively promoting certain values.

Freedom of speech. Freedom of worship. Democracy. The rule of law. Equal rights regardless of race, gender or sexuality.

We must say to our citizens: this is what defines us as a society.

It’s a fairly amazing speech where Cameron can — within just a few sentences — both argue for the rule of law and that obeying the rule of law should not keep you out of trouble. Continue reading

Is This the Most Dangerous Queen’s Speech in Living Memory?

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The talk of coming out of the ECHR is all hot air because rights are natural and inalienable, it would therefore mean that these rights are not rights but privileges. Looking to the etymological origins of the word privilege, privi is private and leg is law, thus privileges are private laws which can and will be taken away. Courtesy of Mary Riddell @ The Telegraph:

Ten years ago this summer, I rode a motorbike through the eight countries newly welcomed into the European Union. As I travelled the 1250 miles from Estonia to Slovenia, a flourish of a British passport took me through frontiers closed for half a century by the Iron Curtain and the Cold War. New motorways were replacing farm tracks, and it seemed that hope had triumphed over repression.

A decade on, the European dream has soured so fast, for some at least, that Britain stands on the road marked EU exit. With an In/Out referendum enshrined in this week’s Queen’s Speech, our relationship with Europe will be one of the defining issues of this Parliament and this century. On a separate front, the Government is toying with another rupture.

The pledge to scrap the Human Rights Act and replace it with a British Bill of Rights, even if delayed for a year, is intended to break the “formal link” with the European Court of Human Rights and make our Supreme Court the ultimate arbiter. Though the Strasbourg court is independent of the EU, many Tories view it as a mechanism for European meddling in British justice.

It is possible that, by the end of this Parliament, Britain will not only be gone from the EU but will also have renounced the European Convention on Human Rights designed to bind together, in a universal code of decency, nations shattered by the Second World War. Two such momentous issues require a deft government and a valiant opposition. Britain can rely on neither.

Mr Cameron’s referendum campaign began badly, and possibly fatally, with evidence that France and Germany have made a deal for further eurozone integration without the need to re-open treaties. Our Prime Minister can only achieve his more ambitious aims, such as a Commons veto over EU legislation, through treaty changes which now look less likely than ever. Continue reading

We’re ruled by a cosy elite who all go to the same dinner parties, says former No10 policy guru chief Steve Hilton

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Courtesy of Daniel Martin @ The Daily Mail:

David Cameron’s former chief strategist has launched a stinging attack on the ‘insular ruling class’ threatening Britain’s democracy.

Steve Hilton said too many of those at the heart of government go to the same dinner parties and send their children to the same schools.

He said the UK’s political system is now in ‘crisis’ because the same type of people stay in charge whatever the outcome of the elections.

In what will be seen as a criticism of the ‘chumocracy’ of his former boss, Mr Hilton warned: ‘Our democracies are increasingly captured by a ruling class that seeks to perpetuate its privileges.

‘Regardless of who’s in office, the same people are in power.

‘It is a democracy in name only, operating on behalf of a tiny elite no matter the electoral outcome.’

This situation adds to disenchantment and has led to the rise of the SNP in Scotland and Ukip in England, he said. Mr Hilton also attacked the influence of political donors, saying: ‘It seems today that political legitimacy stems not from votes, but money. The more of it you have, the more that government pays attention to your concerns.’

Continue reading

Sajid Javid: Significant Changes to Strike Law

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It helps to keep the legal from the lawful and courtesy of BBC:

Newly appointed Business Secretary Sajid Javid has said there will be “significant changes” to strike laws under the new Conservative government.

A strike affecting essential public services will need the backing of 40% of eligible union members under government plans, he said.

Currently, a strike is valid if backed by a majority of those balloted.

Unions said the plans “will make legal strikes close to impossible”.

Mr Javid told the BBC’s Today programme: “We’ve already made clear, in terms of strike laws, that there will be some significant changes… it will be a priority of ours.

“We need to update our strike laws. We’ve never hidden away the changes we want to make. I think it’s essential to make these changes,” he added.

A strike affecting health, transport, fire services or schools will need to be backed by 40% of eligible union members.

There will also need to be a minimum 50% turnout in strike ballots.

The government will also lift restrictions on the use of agency staff to replace striking workers, he said.

The changes to the law are to be announced in the Queen’s Speech, he added, which will take place later this month. Continue reading

Lord Janner Criticised Justice System for Excusing Alleged Nazi War Criminal Who Had Dementia

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Does as I say not do as I do and courtesy of Lamiat Sabin @ The Independent:

Lord Janner, the Labour peer who escaped charges over alleged child sex abuse because he suffers from dementia had in the past criticised the justice system for excusing a suspected Nazi war criminal for the same reason.

Greville Janner has criticised the Old Bailey jury system for allowing an 86-year-old man to escape being questioned in 1997 over Nazi atrocities that had taken place in 1941 and 1942.

Szymon Serafinowicz, a retired carpenter from Surrey, was arrested in 1995 as the first British person under the War Crimes Act in connection with murders of three Jewish people during the Second World War.

He had denied the allegations but could not answer questions and put forth his case during a trial due to having dementia.

Lord Janner, a former Leicester MP and chairman of the Holocaust Educational Trust had said: “I am sorry that he was not tried while he was fit enough to stand. War criminals have managed to evade prosecution under our system of justice for decades.

“There were absolutely no reasons why he should have escaped charges for ever.”

“I don’t care what bloody age they are,” he said in 2012, according to The Jewish Chronicle. “These criminals should have been dealt with years ago.”

Lord Janner, who is also 86-years-old, was excused by the Crown Prosecution Service from being questioned over “some of the most serious sexual crimes imaginable” due to the “severity” of his dementia. He has also been suspended by the Labour Party.

He would have been charged with 14 indecent assaults on a male under 16 between 1969 and 1988; two indecent assaults between 1984 and 1988; four counts of buggery of a male under 16 between 1972 and 1987; and two counts of buggery between 1977 and 1988. Continue reading

Election 2015: What difference would proportional representation have made?

Courtesy of the BBC:

UKIP, the Lib Dems and Greens would have benefited from proportional representation
“The time has come for real, genuine, radical political reform,” Nigel Farage said after losing his bid to take Thanet South from the Conservatives.

The UKIP leader had increased his party’s share of the vote in the seat by 27%, and nationally UKIP’s vote share was up by 10 percentage points to a total of 3.9 million.

Still, the party won just one constituency under the UK’s first-past-the-post voting system.

The Greens’ ambitions were similarly thwarted: they won more than a million votes but just one seat.

The Electoral Reform Society, a campaign group, has modelled what would have happened under a proportional voting system that makes use of the D’Hondt method of converting votes to seats.

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The Conservatives would have won 75 fewer seats but would still have been the largest party in the Commons. Labour too would have taken fewer seats. Continue reading

UK Government Quietly Rewrites Hacking Laws to Give GCHQ Immunity

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GCHQ’s main building in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire.
GCHQ/Crown Copyright

If you can be held to account by a ‘law’, well just change the ‘law’ and hey presto it’s ‘legal’ though statutes are not lawful but the actions of psychopaths entrenching in for the long haul. Expect more ‘laws’ to give legitimacy to unlawful acts committed by the government against the citizenry but we are far from the nadir of where totalitarianism will take us.

Courtesy of Sebastian Anthony @ Ars technica UK:

The UK government has quietly passed new legislation that exempts GCHQ, police, and other intelligence officers from prosecution for hacking into computers and mobile phones.

While major or controversial legislative changes usually go through normal parliamentary process (i.e. democratic debate) before being passed into law, in this case an amendment to the Computer Misuse Act was snuck in under the radar as secondary legislation. According to Privacy International, “It appears no regulators, commissioners responsible for overseeing the intelligence agencies, the Information Commissioner’s Office, industry, NGOs or the public were notified or consulted about the proposed legislative changes… There was no public debate.”

Privacy International also suggests that the change to the law was in direct response to a complaint that it filed last year. In May 2014, Privacy International and seven communications providers filed a complaint with the UK Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT), asserting that GCHQ’s hacking activities were unlawful under the Computer Misuse Act. Continue reading

Israel is Losing the Debate – in More Ways Than One

Courtesy of Ben White @ Middle East Monitor:

Last night, I participated in a debate at the Cambridge Union on ‘This House Believes Israel is a Rogue State.’ Speaking alongside Ghada Karmi and Norman Finkelstein for the proposition, the motion was carried by 51 percent to 19 percent – with a 7 percent swing from the pre-debate vote.

The debating chamber was packed, and the atmosphere charged. At the end of the debate, cries of ‘Free, Free Palestine’ rang out. But my main takeaway from the proceedings was the sheer weakness of the opposition’s arguments – a microcosm of pro-Israel propaganda that simply no longer works.

In my opening speech, I pointed out that the issue was not about whether Israel is ‘perfect’, or makes ‘mistakes’. To concede that Israel is ‘not perfect’, as I suggested the opposition may do, is in fact no concession at all, and misses the point. The issue is whether Israel violates international law and human rights, and whether it does so systematically.

I also stressed that the debate was not about the record of other countries or actors, in the region or elsewhere. It was not about Iran or Syria, Hamas or ISIS, North Korea or Russia. The Cambridge debating chamber hosts debates about dozens of topics of international interest but last night, the subject was Israeli policy, and the question was plain – is Israel a rogue state?

Yet in the speech directly following mine, Vivian Wineman, president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, opened up for the opposition by stating exactly what I had predicted just minutes before: ‘Israel is not perfect.’ Such is the reliance of Israel’s apologists on predictable talking points.

Similarly, Wineman – like the other two opposition speakers – indulged in the familiar tactic of citing abuses by other states (Iran, Saudi Arabia, North Korea, etc.). The rest of his talk was a regurgitation of tired talking points about the Israeli army’s morality and so forth.

Joining Wineman in opposing the motion were Hannah Weisfeld, head of liberal Zionist advocacy group Yachad, and Davis Lewin, deputy director of the Henry Jackson Society.

Weisfeld’s approach was to immediately state she had no intention of defending the occupation or settlements. The bulk of her speech was an attempt to demonstrate that Israel could not be a rogue state because it has parliamentary democracy, an independent judiciary, a free press, and that critics of the government are not arrested.

She did not clarify if this wonderful list also applies to the millions of Palestinians living for half a century under a military regime. Continue reading