Please Don’t Shoot the Failing Fascist!

Yes, I know he’s earned it. Few assassinations have been so richly deserved. But a) Assassination is now the one thing that could salvage his reputation – and none of us want that! b) let nature take its course and c) think of the consequences. Specifically, another few months of banging his tangerine head against reality and I’m optimistic that the 70-year-old over-weight, over-stressed and under-exercised narcissist will either have a major meltdown, fire everyone and trigger the 25th Amendment or, more prudent, financially, suffer a major, probably fatal, heart attack. Shoot the bugger and not only do you end up with a somewhat more competent authoritarian, in Mike Pence, which, I grant, would happen anyway in the event of the natural death, but the assassination will have given the American Security Industrial Complex just the excuse they need to finally nail down the loose flaps of the Police State.

America, you’re not going to like this but you really have been extremely lucky. Your system is patently corrupt and broken and you really needed to be forced by the Trump election to confront exactly how broken and corrupt it is.  But it could have been so much worse. You could have ended up with a competent tyrant, like Putin, or Xi Jinping, or Lee Hsien Loong. That was my biggest concern. Autocrats who know what they’re doing and have visibly improved their countries’ lot are, by far, the biggest threat to democracy. They demonstrate not just why the world – or at least their part of it – doesn’t need what passes for democracy in the Western World, but they also make it difficult for those of us trying to promote the idea of genuine democracy to get a word in edgeways.

You might bristle as the suggestion that Putin has improved the Russian condition, but just ask the average Russian. And you might rush to point out the tight control of the media message being rammed down the throats of Russia, China or Singapore. It’s certainly a different message to those we’re fed in the West, with far less tolerance of criticism of the State. But no alert bitizen is under any illusion about how constrained western mainstream media really is, particularly the American mainstream. Just compare the daily analysis of major US networks (combined audience circa 100 million plus) to the routine work of Rachel Maddow (audience hovering around 2.5 Million and growing – over 4 million for the Trump Tax Show). And if you’re a regular member of her audience, you can’t have failed to notice how little effect some of her major revelations have had on the mainstream.

But, as I say,  you’ve got off lightly. The orange man-child playing at being your president doesn’t even know enough about the game to gather around him a team of competent advisors and executives who could make up for his own dire ineptitude. The most glaring illustration of this Beavis and Butthead approach was putting the All Trite Steve Bannon on the National Security Committee. That was like putting Cartman in charge of the School. “Respect Mah Authoriteh!”  Or perhaps, Alex Jones in charge of NASA.

Other examples include putting climate septic Scott Pruitt in charge of Environmental Protection;  enemy of State funded Education Betsy Devos in charge of her enemy; Rick Perry similarly in charge of the department of Energy he’s previously promised to abolish;  and Jeff Sessions – whose only objection to the Ku Klux Clan was that they smoked pot – in charge of Justice.

It came as no surprise when Bannon was kicked off the team. My guess is that McMaster delivered a simple ultimatum. “Either he goes, or we do”.  They got tired of  drawing cartoons to help him understand why it wouldn’t improve US national security to nuke North Korea and Iran. Still, he will, in his short stint,  have learned some of the deep state security truths and he must be coming to terms with just how little room for manoeuvre those facts leave him and his (ex) boss. He’s now got more time to think about those while he directs Breitfart’s attacks against the GOP.

But you don’t need me to tell you just how reassuringly incompetent Team Trump’s first year is shaping up. My real intent is to give cautious support for optimism. The first major positive sign was the explosion of political resistance. My loyal reader will know that I’ve kept a keen eye on the US of A since before 9-11 and I put the reaction to Trump on a par with the reaction to 9-11.

I’m not just talking about the Women’s march, the academic opposition, the calls for a general strike, the revolt within Republicanism, the leaks and protests from White House and State insiders, the Sanctuary Cities and States, The States’ Attorneys General, the Trump voters lamenting the outcome, the internet giants mobilising against the various fascistic proposals, the satirists giving up on satire because the real thing is far funnier, or any of the thousand other examples of the rising tsunami of opposition. None of that was ever going to have a serious impact until the mainstream journalists joined in.

The first sign of that was this LA Times piece back in April. I genuinely can’t remember the last time I read anything quite so honest or direct about matters of such importance in ANY mainstream western media. Even more encouraging has been evidence of Trump’s main media mouthpiece – Fox News – beginning to turn against its hero. Most recently they’ve reacted negatively to the President’s attack on the Free Press.

So, better late than never, there are signs the American mainstream meejer is now prepared to tell it like it is, without varnish or embellishment.  What we got in the early days were multiple half-assed attempts at “balance”,  impartiality or diluted criticism. Time Magazine got the ball rolling last year with their “Person of the Year” cover.

But the LA Times made it clear. There is no way you can be impartial regarding the political insult Trump – and his supporters – have inflicted on what used to be the United States of America

What’s also notable is the muted response from Trump’s  supporters. Alarmingly, there still are supporters. His approval rating has been  hovering around 36% for some months now (despite the almost weekly headlines claiming that his base is deserting him; if they are, they must be doing so one at a time). Given the calamitous performance to date, that 36% is remarkably high and somewhat disturbing, but if even the most potent authoritarian choir leaders, like Faux News, are struggling to hold up their end of the argument, it can’t take too many more obscenities like his threat to abandon Puerto Rico  while it struggles to restore power to 89% of its residents nearly a month after the hurricane, to make his most loyal supporters cock an eyebrow and surely it can’t take many more quotes like

I think I’m much more humble than you would understand.

to make even his best friends, assuming he’s got some, start to cringe.

But that 36% is a fourth reason why, however much you’d really like to pull the trigger, you mustn’t attack the wannabe tyrant. I’ve been assessing the probability of a second American Civil War for a couple of decades now, and given the volatility we’ve already seen on the streets since his inauguration and given that over a third of citizens still consider the imbecile to be a viable president, I genuinely believe a premature assassination could be the spark.

So no, if nature doesn’t come to our rescue, and someone has to shoot the president, let it be one of his trusted generals, perhaps when Trump tries, despite their attempts to dissuade him, to press the Red Button in an attempt to vaporise North Korea. And let that General, when he faces the inevitable trial for Treason, plead self-defence…

…on behalf of the Human Race.

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Timid Theresa Turns Tyrant To Tackle Terrorism

The weak and wobbly authoritarian prime minister, too scared to participate in genuine public debate, has bravely announced that she won’t let Human Rights obligations stand in the way of her struggle against Terrorism. This vacuous nonsense represents a clear victory for the Terrorists. Their strategy is simple. They cannot take on an advanced western nation militarily so they need to encourage it to self destruct. How? By encouraging it to attack itself through increasing police state measures such as sweeping surveillance and restrictions on liberty and privacy.

9-11 did an excellent job – for the terrorists – by providing all the excuse they needed for the American authoritarians to clamp down on privacy and liberty with draconian and virtually unrestrained surveillance against millions of its own citizens as well as the imposition of vast swathes of meaningless and intrusive Security Theatre (including, along the way, such delights as nude scanning of air passengers and State Rape by ordinary police against ordinary citizens). Combined with its ongoing subversive war against public education and its overt shooting war against, primarily, African-Americans, the American psyche has been cowed and dumbed so far down the scale that it has been rendered capable of electing, as its political leader, the single least qualified national political participant we’ve ever seen on the political stage anywhere in the world. As a consequence, the Police State of America is now in what we might call the early stages of its second civil war. How hostile that becomes is a matter of conjecture, but another nudge from one or two terrorist attacks might be all it takes to start a major conflagration and Bin Laden’s original strategy will be vindicated.

Theresa May is clearly incapable of understanding this process and doesn’t, therefore, understand that further attacks on our own liberties and privacy are exactly what the terrorists are playing for in the UK as well. Her kneejerk measures will, primarily, alienate the resident Moslem population and make it much easier for wannabe ISIS players to recruit assistance and much easier for existing recruits to hide in the community. All good conditions for feeding the fire.  This stupidity should disqualify her from public office.

Sadly, I don’t think the Labour opposition has a greater understanding of the enemy we’re up against but, in its favour, it isn’t proposing to march further down the Totalitarian road than we’ve already come. Corbyn has at least grasped the connection between our foreign interventionism and home-grown terrorism. That doesn’t qualify him to fix the problem, but it does at least mean he can look at the problem without blinkers, which gives him a much better chance of finding valid countermeasures and, ultimately, taking steps towards realistic solutions.

Vote Accordingly.

 

 

Self-Censorship; the legacy of RIPA – Vote Accordingly

Brighton – PFL Command Post May 22 2017: We were talking – as many now are – about how in the world it was possible for 60 million Americans not just to vote for Trump, but, after 120 days of demonstrated disaster and incompetence STILL to support him. He only scored 41% the day he was elected – an all time low – but 4 months in, he’s still fielding 35%, meaning that just 1 in 7 of those who were prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt in January, had seen the light by May. The other 6 in 7 are clearly impervious. They illustrate Trump’s own claim that he could have shot someone in the street during the campaign, and his base still wouldn’t desert him.

Which made us wonder what would (make the base desert him). Which took us onto the obvious and sinister parallel with Hitler. Although he was elected with minority support, over the next few years Goebbels’ propaganda machine steadily manipulated popular opinion to the point where, on invading Austria, Hitler was greeted as a conquering hero. Trump’s own propaganda specialists (Bannon, Spicer, Conway etc) have singularly failed to achieve any similar response and I said I would google “popular support for hitler” to see if there were any other clues as to what Trump must be doing right in order to retain support of the 60 million.

And then a thought came into my head, unbidden, which made me ashamed to be British.

Did I really want to type “popular support for hitler” into a google search, knowing that British ISPs are now obliged to keep all records of my browsing history for at least 12 months? And that our own politically motivated elected idiots will mandate the searching of such records in the hope they can find “extremists” before they bugger off to Libya and learn how to create viable IED’s in order to blow up a crowd of children and teenagers leaving pop-concerts…

Or should I err on the side of caution and either fire up my VPN and the Iron incognito browser (or Tor; one or two other reasonably secure browsers are available, but the VPN is essential) before mounting such a provocative search? Or just forget it altogether?

That constitutes the sinister effect of Parliament’s RIPA act, passed, in November 2016 with, as the Guardian put it: Barely A Whimper and, as Edward Snowden put it, in the same article:

The UK has just legalised the most extreme surveillance in the history of western democracy. It goes further than many autocracies.”

NB: I refer to Parliament’s Act, not the Government’s as the pitifully clueless Labour party – terrified of appearing “weak on Terrorism” – gave full support to this major attack on our civil liberties.

And it is not helped, when Chairman May announces, as her kneejerk response to the Manchester murders, her intention to set up a “commission for countering extremism” no doubt inspired by the spectacular success of the “Prevent” program, also widely criticised for it’s effect on free speech and complete absence of any verifiable benefits. Even friends of the Tories have long acknowledged its failure.

It amazes me that the establishment of the Stasi State isn’t even a minor issue in the forthcoming election. I can think of nothing with similar significance, nothing capable of inflicting greater long-term damage on the British way of life and its core “Values”. In a single bound we’ve overtaken the Police State of America, where direct surveillance of citizens on this scale still takes place, but remains illegal, which means, when the buggers are caught in the act, they can be prosecuted (though rarely are) We – alone among western nations – have legalised the most intrusive Snoopers’ Charter in history.

And I have to say that a great deal of the blame for this sorry state of affairs lies in the hands of the British voter. We can’t on this occasion, blame the media. They’ve been pretty open and accurate about the scale of the attack on our privacy and liberty. In any other country, this would have prompted riots in the streets. Here it went down with barely a shrug. That itself has to be a legacy of the failure of popular protests in the recent past to have the slightest effect on the State. Consider, for example the 2 million who marched against the Iraq War before the Blair government ignored popular opinion and collaborated with the Americans to assist the illegal invasion of Iraq.

One of the many reasons that we opposed the Iraq invasion was that we strongly suspected that it would lead, inexorably, to precisely the kind of global chaos we are now witnessing and, occasionally, suffering. It is utterly mind-blowing that twats like Fallon still refuse to acknowledge the link between our growing catalogue of disastrous overseas interventions and the wave of European Terrorism mounted by disaffected jihadis.

That refusal to face the facts renders May and her party demonstrably unable to confront global terrorism. After all, if you won’t even admit its primary causes, you can have no hope of implementing effective preventative measures against those causes. It’s a bit like the hopeless attempts of the Victorians to tackle the smallpox epidemics prior to Edward Janner’s insight into the concept of vaccination and its painfully slow acceptance.

In that respect, Labour, or, at least, Corbyn, scores well because he does acknowledge the link between our foreign adventures and home-grown terrorism. (As indeed did Boris Johnson, though the Tories would obviously rather he hadn’t) But at least that gives him a significant advantage when looking for solutions. He won’t exclude, on the basis of inconvenient geo-political truths, our own part in our own pain.

But given his, and his party’s, abject failure to oppose RIPA, I can’t endorse him or his party. I can only advise that, if you understand the gravity of what Parliament has done, you put just one question to the candidates running in your constituency for their part in the National Elective Dictatorship we naively refer to as “British Democracy”:

(to sitting MPs) “Did you vote for RIPA?”

Or to other candidates: “Would you have voted for RIPA?”

If the answer is yes, whatever other merits they may have, they clearly cannot be trusted to protect your most important interests. Vote accordingly.

Accountability Theatre

I doubt you’ll remember reading about “Security Theatre” in my 2005 ID Card paper so I’ll repeat the passage here: I was commenting on the Home Office’s naïve concept of their ID Card as being somehow self-verifying.

It is a classic example of what Bruce Schneier calls “Security Theatre” where we make users go through the motions to make it look like we’re “doing security” but the procedures are actually meaningless “snake oil”

It’s taken me a while but I now realise that the concept is a useful template for another political/commercial deception I’ve been trying to tackle for some years. Most recently I’ve been trying to pique the interest of the only MP I know well enough to trust. Unfortunately he’s rather busy trying to manage at least two portfolios in Corbyn’s shadow cabinet. Despite which I see that he’s taken up the struggle against the Parliamentary Expenses Watchdog – IPSA – and their overweening bureaucracy.

I learned about his (so far) one man campaign from this standard mud-slinging DailyWail story  I’m sure Paul knows he’s got absolutely zero chance of succeeding with his proposal for fixed allowances. But the real issue he’s trying to address is an example of how a system designed to avoid real accountability has no idea how to create it when they’re forced to.

The normal mode of (All) Governments is to avoid disclosing any information which might be used against them while trying to appear as open and transparent as their citizens demand. The result is what I have decided, henceforward, to call “Accountability Theatre”. It can be defined thus:

ACCOUNTABILITY THEATRE

1 Setting up mechanisms, in order to pacify public demands for accountability, which are supposed to audit sundry claims and reassure the public that proper consideration and due process have been applied. But…

2  The mechanisms lack any provision for realistic forensically verifiable means of validating such claims. So…

3 The public are required to Trust the declarations of the auditor and the auditor is required to trust the limited evidence s/he is permitted access to.

4 Specifically, there is no mechanism for ensuring that the evidence accessed by the auditor is both complete and unedited.

5 In the most egregious examples, the auditor is also a member of or closely allied with the organisation they are supposed to audit.

As regular readers will know, the claims I’m most concerned about are those made by the State, such as “we only tapped this suspect’s mobile phone, to obtain call and location history because we had reliable intelligence that he was involved in a potential terrorist plot”

The Accountability Theatre in that situation consists of the fact that, at no point, can any potential auditor either see the raw data without the consent and collaboration of its custodian, nor, even if permitted to see it, to verify that it is complete and unedited. The entire process, in other words, is based purely on faith that the State can do no wrong, a ship which sailed at least a century ago.

Returning, briefly, to Paul’s complaint:

What MPs are stuck with, regarding Parliamentary Expenses is a direct result of recognising that they cannot get away with the normal Accountability charade in respect of their expense claims. i.e. following the expenses scandal  they are now forced to jump through a ludicrous set of hoops in order to retrieve sometimes trivial sums of money which are often not worth the effort. They are, in the name of “Transparency”, effectively forced to stand on the “naughty step” every time they hold out their hand to get back some of the money they spend while doing their jobs. Hence, for example, we know that both Jeremy Hunt and Amber Rudd each submitted claims of just 27 pence for two short car journeys.  This level of disclosure is considered necessary so that the public can be convinced that proper scrutiny of expenses claims is taking place.

And, frankly, it looks like they do a pretty good job. In the sense that no frivolous claims are ever likely to make it through a pretty rigorous checking system. The “Quick Guide” to what they’re allowed to claim  is a mere 11 pages. The detailed version  weighs in at 75 pages. IPSA employs about 70 civil servants, full-time, and are run by an “independent” board which includes at least one judge, at least one ex MP and an at least one real auditor. All this to manage the Pay and Expense claims of just 650 MPs, at an annual cost of around £5 million.  In a typical commercial organisation of similar size, you’d expect 2 or 3 relatively junior staff to deal with that workload. They’d report to the Company Secretary or Financial Director. Total cost, probably less than £150k.

I hasten to add, in case it’s not obvious, that what IPSA are doing is most definitely NOT Accountability Theatre. It is Political Theatre, designed to demonstrate just how thoroughly we’re now watching our elected representatives. It is also a useful distraction from the unpublished detail of much more serious matters we ought to be demanding.

Contrast the obvious overkill effort they put into scrutinising what MPs claim on the Expenses, with the trivial and meaningless scrutiny put into examining the thousands of security requests  routinely dealt with by the Home Office. At her Mansion House speech, June 2014 Theresa May proudly proclaimed that her role as Home Secretary included:

“If the Security Service wants to place a device in the property of a terrorist suspect, or the National Crime Agency wants to listen to the telephone calls of a drugs trafficker, they need my agreement first. On the basis of a detailed warrant application and advice from officials in my department I must be satisfied that the benefits justify the means and that the proposed action is necessary and proportionate.

The warrant application gives me the intelligence background, the means by which the surveillance will take place, and the degree of intrusion upon the citizen. Neither the Security Service nor other intelligence agencies, nor the police, nor other law enforcement agencies, can undertake sensitive surveillance without providing these details and gaining my approval. Ministerial oversight – which I share with the Foreign Secretary and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland – is a crucial safeguard to make sure that the most intrusive powers are used only when they are necessary and proportionate.”

Now then, how long do you think it would – or should – take to make a thorough assessment of the validity of just one such warrant application? Checking the content of the intelligence and, if necessary, its provenance; considering whether that content, in context, justified spying on a citizen; considering the means and degree of espionage being recommended; investigating whether the individual has previously been targeted and what, if any parallels there are between the circumstances of that targeting and the one being proposed; verifying that the appropriate risk assessments have been made and properly recorded; verifying and justifying the proposed cost etc. etc.

It is impossible to answer such questions without a detailed academic study, which we will, of course, not be permitted to make, but an intelligent guess has to be between one and five days of pretty intensive study. Yet, as MP David Davis pointed out in 2015, Theresa May was required, during the previous year, to approve up to 10 warrants a day – and that was just for phone interceptions.

That speech was supposed to illustrate how seriously she takes her responsibility for “political oversight”. I have no doubt she was sincere and believed that what she was doing actually constituted meaningful oversight. It was obviously, in reality, just a box ticking exercise and classic “Accountability Theatre”. I doubt she has the faintest idea how to seriously examine the validity of those warrant applications. She’s been trained and advised to rely on her Civil Servants, who will do all the real work on her behalf. All she needs to do is feed the monkey.

Their defence against such a charge would likely be along the lines:

well of course the Home Secretary doesn’t research the applications herself, that’s what the “advice from officials in my department” is supposed to mean.

But that’s no more than one branch of the establishment giving the nod to another branch, with which it has closely entangled, even incestuous relations. Why on earth are we supposed to trust that arrangement?

Their ultimate answer to that is the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee, which, ostensibly has the power to question everybody and see everything. Yet the Snowden revelations came as a surprise to this ultimate oversight body (search the page for “Snowden”)

And their subsequent investigation of the revelations regarding GCHQ “rather promptly” resulted in an absolutely clean bill of health. So “promptly” that even a former Chairman of the same committee, Lord King, was moved to comment that:

“the decision by the Rifkind-led committee to swiftly endorse the work of GCHQ was “unfortunate” because the endorsement came while new disclosures from files leaked by the whistleblower Edward Snowden were still being published by the Guardian and other newspapers around the world.

“I think their response was pretty quick,” said King, a former Northern Ireland secretary. “It came at a time when revelations were still coming out. It is very important the ISC maintains public confidence as a scrutiny committee.”

Quite so.

Not only are the committee members obviously part of the establishment that they are supposed to police, but NONE have anything like the skills or expertise required to make a thorough examination of the work of GCHQ, especially “promptly”. They don’t even know the right kind of questions to ask.

The ISC is designed to be Accountability Theatre and, on this occasion, they panicked and fluffed their lines. Normally, they would have made a big show of visiting GCHQ, interrogating its mandarins in both public and private, and, after a few months of due consideration, announced their august whitewash. But the veil slipped for a few moments and those of us who were paying attention spotted the naked Emperor.

So now let’s turn to the serious shit.

The Government Case for Watching All of Us All The Time

The chief response of the Government, to being caught with its pants down over the unregulated Bulk Surveillance of its own citizens has been to frame new powers which retrospectively justify that outrageous invasion of privacy and to pretend it hasn’t already been going on, illegally, for years. If you’ve got the stomach for it, you can read their arguments here:

It may surprise you but I am not going to take issue with any of their arguments for Surveillance. Such objections are, in my view, the weakest argument made by the Privacy/Liberty lobby and the one most easily defeated by the State. Given the right circumstances, there is NOTHING which can be definitively ruled out as a legitimate counter-measure for a State to employ in defence of its citizens. I certainly include the occasional need to assassinate one or two citizens in order to protect other citizens. Perhaps the most recent unarguable example of the legitimacy of that counter-measure being the killing of the French lorry driver who deliberately ran down 86 of his fellow citizens in Nice on Bastille Day.

But given that such circumstances obviously have arisen from time to time and will, inevitably, arise again, it must follow that less dramatic circumstances will arise which will justify all manner of lesser measures like Surveillance and other intelligence gathering activities. Here, I include, for example, the highly controversial embedding of “deep cover” agents inside hostile organisations.

But if we’re prepared to delegate such powers to the State, then it ought to be obvious to any intelligent citizen that nothing and no one should be (digitally) watched more closely than those we delegate such powers to. Then we would be in a position, after the event at least, to determine whether their action was justified and proportionate. And THAT is where we’ve dropped the ball. Or, rather, that’s where the State has chosen to run off with the ball and not allow us even to see it.

I really don’t want to start giving examples of how often and how badly the State has made indefensible and often disastrous decisions in this field and how seldom anyone has ever been held truly accountable for them. This blog and my other writings contain hundreds of examples and if you’re reading this, you’ve probably already read a few of those and many other similar analyses dotted around the web.

I’ll just touch on one area; the embedded agents. We used them to penetrate the IRA. That was necessary and justifiable; even when our agents took part in some of the killings. Anything less would have blown their cover. We’ve almost certainly got or are trying very hard to get embedded agents inside ISIS and Al Qaeda and their more serious offshoots. Those agents too will have to participate 100% like the real thing. That means they’ll take part in recruiting other Jihadis and even occasionally have to kill innocent civilians just to maintain their cover. Some of those citizens might even be British.

But if and when something goes wrong with these operations, the agents are exposed, the shit hits the fan and everything goes titsup, who are we going to trust to tell us the whole truth about how and why it happened? The people who screwed up in the field or in the back office? The politicians who authorised it?  Or should we trust the half-tamed “Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation” who has just endorsed the Bulk collection of Private Data as having a “clear operational purpose” as they “play an important part in identifying, understanding and averting threats in Great Britain, Northern Ireland and further afield”?

He can’t, unfortunately, provide concrete examples but he does advocate “very considerable caution” without coming close to providing a meaningful mechanism for proving that such caution was exercised.

And if you study the government’s own case for such powers (see the link above), you’ll find 3 references to “Safeguards within the Bill” and in each case, those safeguards amount to an assurance that the powers can only be used for purposes specified (chiefly National Security related) and will be independently audited.

Real – Digitally Verifiable – Accountability

If ever a government gets serious about Accountability, here’s what it will need to do, not just for matters related to snooping on their own citizens but for ALL government decision-making processes; though the obvious starting place is “Watching the Watchers”.

The audit trail should contain digital copies of all evidence, relevant conversations, policy decisions and the operational recordings of implementation, pertaining to the events being audited. Each item should have been cryptographically fingerprinted (hashed) and the hashes lodged on a public accessible immutable database (blockchains or protected hash-chains) in real-time as the items were created.

Case folders or periodic snapshots of such data should be similarly hashed so that no item can be withdrawn after the event, without the gap in the data being obvious.

These techniques are not new. I’ve been promoting them for more than a decade myself but Bitcoin has done a much better job of waking people up to the significance of immutability.

Meanwhile, back in the real world, the government “Safeguards” contain no mention of real-time mandatory data storage on an immutable database, so there will be no way for the independent auditor to determine whether he is seeing the whole story and whether what he’s been  allowed to see is as it was when originally stored. The proposed safeguards are just routine Accountability Theatre.

In the optimally Accountable world, whenever an issue is raised regarding the validity of behaviour by the State, the audit team will include appropriate experts in the technical, legal and financial fields they are about to investigate. Their proceedings will be overseen by a Jury, not a Judge. It might be a specially vetted Jury and it may often choose to sit in Camera in order to protect genuine National Security. But Democracy requires the power to reside not in State Appointees who may have a vested interest in hiding incompetence or malfeasance but in  ad hoc representatives of the People who will, for the duration of the audit at least, have no other agenda.

The audit will have unfettered access to the data. With such a provably complete and unalterable (without detection) audit trail, the audit team and their Jury can now sift through the evidence and decide for themselves what questions need to be asked and whether the evidence fully answers them. If it doesn’t, they can establish culpability and publish the relevant facts, with due care to ensure sensitive secrets are not exposed. If all the questions are answered and the actions taken shown to be reasonable and proportionate in the circumstances, they can publish that finding and, unlike the situation today, we could safely believe them.

In such circumstances, for example, how do you suppose that process of true Accountability would have dealt with the disgusting overreach of the State in those other more famous embedding cases such as the 7 women who unwittingly had long-term relationships with undercover cops who were paid by the State to infiltrate legal political organisations like environmental groups, animal rights groups and Trade Unions? I suggest the mere knowledge that it would be impossible for the Police to hide such behaviour from the Audit would be enough to prevent that kind of abuse in the first place.

The Pitchford Inquiry  is supposed to be investigating a whole raft of other similar abuses. But many have already commented that unless the relevant Police could be compelled to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, it will be a waste of time. Given that none of the relevant material was immutably recorded at the time, we will never know how much, if any, of “the truth” they are telling. So the entire inquiry is bound to be just like all the other major inquiries. The Accountability Theatre Players will throw just enough meat to the baying wolves to make them think there’s been a real kill and then everything will return to normal.

The State already has vast Surveillance capabilities and total freedom to use them without any meaningful independent oversight. The crimes committed in our name in this century alone have illustrated the desperate need to eliminate Accountability Theatre with the relevant technology and the laws required to mandate its use. Yet, instead of moving in that direction, the government is intent on ramping up the extent of surveillance  to levels which make even the Police State of America’s USA PATRIOT Act look restrained.

If you’ve read this far can I suggest that if you wish to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem, you could make a useful start by demanding that your own MP explain how s/he is going to fight Accountability Theatre.

BOGOF. 1. Trump>Drumpf 2. House-training Windows 10

There is no obvious connection between the slow train wreck represented by Donald J Drumpf’s inevitable nomination and the almost equally irritating but, eventually, reasonably benign Windoze 10 upgrade, though some would no doubt beg to differ. The fact is I have spent the last 3 months fighting Microsoft’s paternalism and finally cracked the last major problem which was holding me back from recommending it to anyone else. Didn’t even touch it, till Spybot had issued their fix for the privacy breaches (see below), but was really pissed off by the forced Updates. It’s taken me that long to find the fix so we can get back to the kind of control we’ve been used to since Windoze 3.1. I had in mind to publish a quick guide as a public service for those who are banging their heads against the same wall. Not the sort of thing I normally do but, hey, you only live once; organically, at least.

And I couldn’t be arsed to write two blogs so you’re getting two for the price of one. We’ll deal with Drumpf first, then the taming of Windoze 10. It’s John Oliver’s fault. He interrupted my preparation of the guide and I couldn’t resist the urge to alert either of my readers who might have missed it. You really shouldn’t. If anyone has performed a better hatchet job on Drumpf, kindly let me know. In fact, if anyone’s done a better job on ANY politician, ever, please share. Meanwhile, for those of you who haven’t a clue what I’m talking about, check this out (Unfortunately, if you’re outside US, you’ll need a proxy):

Apparently a third of a million bitizens have already downloaded the Chrome Extension. Make that a third of a million and one.  We desperately need more John Olivers. I wish he’d come back to the UK and speak the necessary truth unto power here. The desperately sad truth, however, is that his intervention is likely to have zero effect on the Trumpsters. Yes, those of us who recognise the Viagra driven Authoriarianism and the howling pack it has awoken among the disaffected Redneck & Religious crowd, will hug ourselves with glee that someone has finally had the balls to say what needed to be said as brazenly, and publicly, as Drumpf makes all his own pronouncements, and yes, anyone with an IQ higher than their shoe size will glory in the surgical precision and (reasonably) restrained eloquence of Oliver’s delivery.  But it won’t change a single mind. Those minds that need changing are way – WAY – out of reach of abstract notions like truth, rationality, civilisation or even RealPolitik.

The only question now, is what percentage of American minds are in that feverish condition. I’ve been confident for more than a decade that only about 25-30% of American Voters (and about 70% of American Politicians) are certifiably insane. If I’m right, your next President is likely to be another Democrat. It won’t help. Neither Clinton nor Saunders will be permitted to do anything that might actually heal the growing rift in American Society. Is anyone offering odds yet, on a second Civil War? If so, put me down for 10 bucks.

But you’re not here to listen to me gloating over the disintegration of the United States, you’re here to seize back the control of your Privacy and their Updates which Microsoft, in their infinitesmal wisdom, have tried to take away from you, after virtually shoving Windoze 10 down your throats. Whoever is responsible for their commercial strategy should be made to listen to every speech and read every tweet that Donald J Drumpf has ever made. And then, they should be shot. Slowly, as usual.

I can think of no faster way to alienate your customers than to force them to accept a free upgrade that eliminates their privacy and does many other things in a way they’re not used to and/or don’t like. It is as insane as a Trumpster arguing that Drumpf “says it like it is”. Perhaps there is a connection after all.

The irony is that Windoze 10 is actually OK. Nothing special. No fantastic improvement over 8.1. But a reasonable step in the steady progress towards stability and reliability that might one day result in an Operating System we can trust. I’ve been using it for a few months now, with only a couple of BSODs on the 4 main machines I use and I’m now dragging a handful of my own clients into the (slightly) new world. And though it has to be said that it is designed with some horrendous defaults which would result in Microsoft knowing more about you than your mother, if you let it, and it’s tried to stop you using all sorts of useful tools that you can’t do without, we’ve managed to find cures for all of that shit. And once those cures are in place, it’s OK. And given that it’s for free, you might as well go for it. Not exactly a ringing endorsement, but after the way they’ve behaved, they don’t deserve one.

The single worst offence they committed was the change to the update policy. Completely unforgiveable and, had I not, at last, found the fix, I’d have said it was a deal breaker. No software author in their right mind would do what they have done. Forcing updates on users, without allowing for the billion different environments in which those users operate is as close to technological insanity as I’ve ever come across. I’d bet another 10 bucks that there isn’t a single windoze user on this planet whose past or present windoze system hasn’t been broken by at least one of their updates. Cretins.

So here are the two most important things you need to know in order to survive their stupidity.

Protect your Privacy. By default, W10 sends huge amounts of data, potentially revealing almost everything you do on your machine, back to base. No doubt for the purest of motives – to learn how they can help you even more than they always have. But given the fact that even if they were inclined to keep such intimate details from the more hostile eyes of the Police State, they’re not actually allowed to, and that we’re witnessing, as we speak, the proof of that Police State intention to go after that kind of interesting material whenever they see fit, now is not a particularly sensible time to force the masses into such total abject exposure.

The easiest solution is Spybot’s Anti-Beacon.  You need no technical skill or understanding. Just download and install it. With about 8 clicks, you can shield yourself against all the privacy breaches. Click “Immunize Now”. Then Click the Options tab and select all the options on that page, with the possible exception of the Bing IPs. It may be useful to keep that channel open in case you need to look up Windoze help online. You can’t do that if you shut off the Bing as well.  However, if you’re not prepared to concede even that much personal contact, it has to be said that googling windoze symptoms as they occur will usually turn up better and more readable results than Microsoft’s own turgid prose, so you’re not losing much.

I’ve read rumours that Microsoft has wised up to what’s going on with our blocking them in the hosts file and that they are beginning to hard code around the obstacle. I’m confident we’ll find or create the countermeasures as required.

Regaining Control of Windoze Updates is, I’m afraid, not quite so easy, so if any of the following instructions look like something you don’t already understand, you’re probably better off avoiding the fix, and, if you’ve got one, phoning a friend instead.

Let’s start with the heavy stuff. If you don’t know how to run something like gpedit.msc, it’s probably better that you don’t try. For those who are happy to proceed:

Run  gpedit.msc and go
Administrative Templates\Windows Components\Windows Updates\Configure Automatic Updates

Click “Enabled”

In the popdown list below “Configure Automatic Updating”

select “2 – Notify for download and notify for install”

Apply or OK

That’s enough to prevent Windoze doing any updating without your permission. It’ll notify you when downloads are available and it will put up a dimmed screen that makes it look like you don’t have a choice, but that’s a bluff. Just escape and carry on.

But it doesn’t deal with the remaining problem, which is that, by default, whenever you do realize, like it or not, that you need to update, at least to get the security glitches fixed, Windoze 10 will download ALL available updates, regardless of either your lack of need for them (eg, I use Office 2010. Word, Excel and, occasionally, Powerpoint ONLY. Despite which, I was getting updates for Outlook, One Note, Sharepoint, Publisher etc, none of which I have installed or intend to use. Ever.) Worse, some of their updates will break your system. Their recent Cumulative update broke mine because it failed to cope with the fact that I’d installed my SSD drive as something other than Drive Zero. (Good idea to do that, I now know. Or else disable UEFI in the BIOS, which is what I’ve now done) And thousands of other punters have had their systems broken by driver updates imposed on them without choice.

So here’s how you crack that problem.

2 DOWNLOAD WUSHOWHIDEDIAG.CAB from Microsoft. (that link active as of time of writing. I’ll change it or even post my own copy if they move the goalposts again)

Put a link to it on your desktop, you’ll be using it every time you decide its time for an update. I’ll get to “how” in a minute.

3 Amend the default settings for the Updates.

PC Settings\Update & Security\Advanced Options
You should see, given the changes you made above, that “the Choose how updates are installed” has changed to “Notify to Download” (might need a reboot before you see it)

Click the box “Defer Upgrades”. May not be absolutely essential but in principle allows you to avoid updates for ever (except, I believe for “Security Updates”). Which is not what you actually want, but it’s nice to know you can.

From this point on, you are back in the driving seat. You can either wait for Microsoft to notify you that there are updates available or do a manual check whenever it suits you.

The key step, which is essential if you want control of WHICH updates are downloaded is this:
Before you check for, or permit ANY updates, fire up the WUSHOWHIDE.DIAG  CAB you linked from the desktop

Microsoft has presumably been obliged to create this option to avoid being firebombed by irate users or, more likely, head off the major class actions from all those users whose machines have already been  borked by incompatible updates, like the examples above.

So it appears in the guise of a fault finder, but you’ll be using it as an update selector.

Let it initialise and it will go online to find any available updates. It will list them just like it always used to. and NOW you can tick all those you DON’T want and “hide” them.

Then go back to  PC Settings\Update & Security\ “Check for Updates” and let it update any it finds, which will not include those you hid.

Bingo, we’re back to normal control.

But while we’re at it, here’s a bonus fix for one of their tweaks that had thousands of us tearing hair out. The idiots have replaced the standard Windoze Photo Viewer with their “Photos” app. As soon as you try it, and realise you can no longer cursor back or forward to the next image, you think WTF? and kick the cat. After you calm down, you find that someone else has kicked their own cat before you and  created the quick(ish) fix.

Oh, and don’t forget to install Classic Shell, free, open source and a lot easier to  configure than any menu system windoze has ever included. And if you seek reassurance that you control how any third party software might be abusing your system, downstall at least the excellent free version of Spyshelter. And finally, nothing to do with Windoze 10 directly, this works on all windoze systems from 7 up. If you’ve ever lost a file that you know you haven’t deleted but just cannot find, you need the nearest thing to magic I’ve come across on the Windoze platform. Again, totally free, though if anyone deserves a donation, Everything, is my nomination. That 10 bucks, at least, has gone to a good cause.

Once you’ve got that lot installed, Windoze 10 can be almost fun to use…

 

Authority V Liberty (Round 4,287,541)

Nobody would contest the desirability of knowing exactly what was in the killers’ heads and history; preferably before they managed to gun down fourteen fellow American citizens in San Bernardino in December. The FBI obviously thinks this is a poster child for their demand for American tech companies to provide back-doors into our encrypted gadgets.

If you’re remotely inclined to sympathise with the FBI, consider this.

It is not just conceivable but highly likely that within 10-20 years, we will have technology capable of ferreting that information out of anyone’s  head. And if you think I’m exaggerating, take a look at this.

or this

or this

or this

or this

or this

or this (added 2016-06-15)

I could go on. The point is that those links illustrate the amount of effort being put into digital mind-reading and the extent to which it’s already been achieved; and that some people are already fully aware of the potential threat, which makes ALL other Privacy invasions pale into insignificance. My 10-20 year time-frame is probably conservative.

I’ve been taking a close personal interest in this technology since Dr Larry Farwell had his 15 minutes back in 2003 when he  managed to get his Brain Fingerprinting evidence accepted by a court which resulted in the release of Terri Harrington, who’d, by then, served 23 years after being wrongly convicted of murder.

I wrote to Farwell at the time, suggesting that his technology could offer the “perfect bio-metric”. I postulated, for example, that it could identify me, uniquely, by observing my neural reaction to seeing a photograph of my late father.  No one else’s brain could simulate my reaction so no one else could pretend to be me. I also suggested that another obvious benefit would be to solve the most intractable problem in secure authentication; viz: access under duress. “Yes they are entering the correct password or revealing the correct retinal scan, but are they only doing that because someone is holding a gun to their head?”

I’m still waiting for a reply!

But it’s obvious that, since then, the technology (and America’s military interest in it) has been marching on. So, whether you like it or not, it’s on its way.  And the authoritarians who are funding the most meaningful research don’t share my views on the use of the technology to prevent privacy invasion. Quite the opposite. They see it as the greatest possible advance in privacy invasion and you can expect laws to change to permit it as we get closer to it. In a sense, that’s exactly what’s happening today.

Once digital mind reading is possible, it will be plausible to argue that, for example, airlines should be allowed to put every passenger through such a mind scanner, in order to ensure that no-one with evil intent against the aircraft is permitted to board.

That’s not my fevered imagination either. Comes from the man himself, almost certainly, given the date of that article, as part of his personal reaction to 9-11.

A first reaction, given my fear of flying, is that I might even think its a good idea myself. Particularly if the “duress protection” was mandated as part of the technology, so that no one could be coerced into having their mind read. And if there was a formally agreed set of questions to which our brain responses would be measured, with no recording of data, alarms raised only on appropriate warnings etc etc, I’d certainly welcome the assurance that, provably, no one sharing that flight with me, had any intention, when they boarded at least, of bringing the plane down.

But as we’ve seen, in some detail, over the past decade, that’s not the way Authority works.   Duress protection, independently citizen audited surveillance of the process and strictly limited application are never on the authoritarian agenda. Instead, they demand back doors, weak encryption, surrender of passwords etc etc.

Society is divided into two groups. The authoritarians and their followers form one group and they will argue in favour of allowing the mind-scanners and insisting that we all step through them.

Once we’ve conceded that for something as serious as air travel, it will be only a matter of time before they mandate it for (in roughly descending order) weeding out Pedophiles, Rapists, Tax dodgers, Copyright cheats,  Trolls, Recreational drug users and Dissidents. Then, depending which level of authoritarianism you live under, they’ll move on to apostates, homosexuals, marital cheats, speeding motorists and other ne’er do wells.

Those who understand Liberty and the nature of threats like the above will probably have to fight the authoritarians literally to the death in what may come to be known as Humanity’s Final War.

The current Apple battle is an early skirmish in that war.

Pick your sides now and be sure of a good seat…

Finally, if you want to hear an intelligent presentation of the current state of the relevant science, and some of the issues, check this out:

Paris – another day at the office for the Death Cult

One of the truly shocking, but no longer surprising, results of Friday’s attack on Paris, is the huge difference in media and political response when the victims are innocent western citizens; in contrast to the apparently much less important, though no doubt equally innocent, victims being more regularly slaughtered in the “developing world” (almost exclusively African and Arab)

Paris experienced its first attack of the year on January 7th. You almost certainly don’t need me to remind you of the attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo leaving 12 people dead and the further 4 Jewish hostages killed in the Kosher supermarket as part of the same attack. But, be honest, do you remember what other, vastly more horrendous attack had begun just a couple of days earlier and was still in progress on the same day? It resulted in over 2000 dead. Embarrassed not to remember something on the scale of 9-11? If I remind you it was Nigeria, does that ring any bells?

The Guardian addressed this “differential reporting” issue in their report on that massacre

Friday’s attack on Paris was one of the worst this year. Over 100 victims is quite rare for a terrorist attack. How many others on that scale have we witnessed this year? Most comfortable western citizens haven’t a clue. The answer, in case you’re one of those, is 9 – including the horrendous lead example in the previous link. Friday’s attack is the 10th. How many of the others do we remember, with anything like the clarity of the Charlie Hebdo attack? Here’s a quick listing of the other 8:

142 killed in the coordinated suicide bomb attack on Mosques in Sana’a, Yemen (March 20)

147 were killed in the Garissa University College attack in Kenya (April 2)

146 Kurdish civilians killed in Kobani  (June 25-26)

146 more Nigerian civilians killed by Boko Haram in the same State as their earlier Baga massacre (July 2)

130 Iraqi shoppers were killed in the marketplace at Khan Bani Saad (July 17)

145 more Borno victims killed by Boko Haram (September 20)

102 Turkish protestors (mainly) were killed at a Rally 21 days before the recent Turkish Election. (October 10)

224 died in the bombing of Russian Metrojet flight KGL9268 over Sinai (October 31)

With the exception of that last attack on the Russian plane, which did receive a pretty thorough airing in the western media, I doubt if many of us will hold more than a vague awareness that these attacks are happening on a fairly regular basis.

So, with all those in mind, I’d be honoured if you’d join me in signing the online petition being organised by RootsAction. Its focus is on keeping these tragedies linked together in recognition that, one way or another, a large part of the human race is being threatened by the Death Cult calling itself Islamic State and its sundry sympathisers. It is also explicitly trying to insist that Paris and similar atrocities are not exploited as yet another excuse for comfortably profitable wars.

MIFT cannot kill or maim anywhere near as many as they would like to, but they don’t need to. A few dozen here, a hundred there, and they can cow entire populations into submissively accepting Police States who pretend they can offer protection when what they are truly after is control. Once most States have adopted that model, we’ll all live in a world where the Islamist Authoritarians begin to look not too different from our own Authoritarians. At which point I’d probably find it very difficult to write a blog entry like this.