PGP public key

So the GCHQ and the NSA are apparently teaming up to do a whole lot of extremely legal warrantless mass surveillance.

I am not against spying or surveillance per se. Anyone who lives in the UK and says "if you've nothing to hide you've nothing to fear" doesn't understand the purpose of judicial oversight and probably doesn't speak arabic. I believe in judicial oversight. An amoral-nerd-handler is not a judge. And political bias, false-positives and chilling self-censorship are the only outcomes of the GCHQ program I can see on the horizon.

So, if you're emailing me, please feel free to encrypt your message with my PGP public key.
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Registering to vote as an overseas US citizen

I've recently been pursuing the possibility of voting in the upcoming US presidential election, since I am a US citizen. The trickiness is that I have never lived in the US but am a citizen by virtue of my parent who was born there.

The UOCAVA protects absentee voting rights of some citizens overseas, including those who have never lived there.

Here's where I've been looking; perhaps it will help you if you're also considering voting absentee.
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Michael Meacher's letter

I saw this letter on Twitter this morning:

The annual Sunday Times Rich List yields four very important conclusions for the governance of Britain (Report, Weekend, 28 April). It shows that the richest 1,000 persons, just 0.003% of the adult population, increased their wealth over the last three years by £155bn. That is enough for themselves alone to pay off the entire current UK budget deficit and still leave them with £30bn to spare.

Second, this mega-rich elite, containing many of the bankers and hedge fund and private equity operators who caused the financial crash in the first place, have not been made subject to any tax payback whatever commensurate to their gains. Some 77% of the budget deficit is being recouped by public expenditure cuts and benefit cuts, and only 23% is being repaid by tax increases. More than half of the tax increases is accounted for by the VAT rise which hits the poorest hardest. None of the tax increases is specifically aimed at the super-rich.

Third, despite the biggest slump for nearly a century, these 1,000 richest are now sitting on wealth greater even than at the height of the boom just before the crash. Their wealth now amounts to £414bn, equivalent to more than a third of Britain's entire GDP. They include 77 billionaires and 23 others, each possessing more than £750m.

The increase in wealth of this richest 1,000 has been £315bn over the last 15 years. If they were charged capital gains tax on this at the current 28% rate, it would yield £88bn, enough to pay off 70% of the entire deficit. It seems however that Osborne takes the notorious view of the New York heiress, Leonora Helmsley: "Only the little people pay taxes."
Michael Meacher MP
Labour, Oldham West and Royton

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Police suppression of peaceful pro-NHS protest, March 17th 2012

Here's what happened when me and a few friends went to London to show our opposition to the atrocious Health and Social Care Bill 2011. The one currently being forced through parliament with a middle finger to all who look on.

I feel it's important to document what I witnessed at this demonstration since, as many have noted, there has been little-to-no coverage of this protest by the BBC and other UK mass media. A deeply worrying trend for anti-government protests, but one others are better placed to comment on than me.

The bottom line is: this was a completely nonviolent, unaggressive protest. The police action was hostile and totally unprovoked. There is no way we could have been seen as a threat to anyone.

The goal of the police did not seem to be to confront the protest or get into a fight. Each time a kettle was formed, it was dropped after a short time on some signal. The police were acting in a coordinated fashion, and their only goal seemed to be to suppress and disband the protest. By kettling and separating any big group which formed into smaller groups, they prevented the the crowd coordinating, communicating or decision-making properly. At its start, the protest was self-motivated, passionate, and made up of citizens trying to make a (last) stand for something they believed in. Through their action, the police successfully reduced it to separate groups of disconnected, scared, angry people who didn't know what to do and felt unable to continue.

The way the police acted was, while not actually violent in any cases I saw (grabbing, shoving and restraining, but no beating), extremely intimidating. They incited the crowd to run for safety on multiple occasions, though there were many elderly and disabled amongst us (this was a pro-NHS campaign after all). I did not see anybody get hurt, but if the crowd had been any denser, larger or had any rogue elements, things could easily have kicked off — if they had it would have been completely the fault of the aggression and intimidation tactics of the police. No attempt was made at dialogue, or even megaphoned monologue to warn the protest that action would take place. Instead, the riot police acted quickly and unpredictably, communicating with shouted codes, avoiding eye contact with the demonstrators.

There are other accounts online. Important points to note from my view of events that may contradict or corroborate other points of view:

  • All aggression I saw was on the part of the police.
  • All the protesters I saw were completely nonviolent, and not even aggressive.
  • I saw no signs of police firearms, though there have been alarming reports of this (including photos of police with automatic weapons within sight of the demo) from elsewhere.

Below the fold is my account in full, to the best of my recollection.

Edit: still no mainstream attention, but a great roundup of social media coverage by Steven Sumpter can be found here.

Edit: Since I complain here about a lack of media coverage of the protest, I should acknowledge that the Guardian's NHS Reforms Liveblog has just made mention of the protest and included a link to this post. I'm flattered that it's "worth a read" and delighted that they explicitly "don't endorse it's view" :P
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Letter to the government: drop the Health and Social Care Bill 2011

Everyone knows the shocking scale of the Tory-led coalition government's proposed changes to the NHS and degree to which they disregard public and expert concerns.

If you care about public healthcare in the UK, write to your MP. NOW.

Below the fold is the letter I have sent to my MP and to various members of the House of Lords, complete with references.

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Seeing the full picture?

Window smashed during 2010 student protests in London. Image "courtesy" of BBC.
Window smashed during 2010 student protests in London. Image "courtesy" of BBC.


I can't help seeing this image like this — a lone protestor doing something crazy and anarchistic surrounded by a semicircle of a hundred professional cameras — and wondering if this is anything like good journalism.  Sure, this event happened. But it sure looks like a stunt for the cameras, rather than an organic protest event.  Would this have happened were the cameras not there to see it? Continue reading "Seeing the full picture?"

UK stop and search powers are illegal

The Guardian reports:

The Strasbourg court ruled it was unlawful for police to use the powers, under section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000, to stop and search people without needing any grounds for suspicion.

The widely-drawn ruling said that not only the use of the counter-terror powers, but also the way they were authorised, were "neither sufficiently circumscribed, nor subject to adequate legal safeguards against abuse".

Vindicated!

Legal use of Terrorism Act 2000 44(2)

In follow up to my previous post. So I complained to the IPCC. After a number of initially dismissive letters back and forth, I started to get some thoughtful responses. One clarified that

"Under [section 44(2) of the Terrorism Act 2000] officers do not need to have reasonable grounds to suspect involvement in terrorism."

This prompted a measured response on my part and now I have received a final letter from a DI of the British Transport Police. The letter acknowledges the recent European judgements, claims that

the vast majority of officers do use the powers of search with a genuine belief that that they are protecting the public"

and that

“whether this as been the correct method of prevention perhaps only time and hindsight will tell".

(I’m not going to reproduce it here because the letter appears to be personally written, rather than stock or secretary written.)

Well, I’m happy with that. Not happy, exactly, but at least it’s honest. My beef is no longer with the BTP.