Tag Archives: avoid

U-turn and u-turn again as Boris Johnson first agrees, then refuses to meet bereaved Covid campaigners

Coward: Boris Johnson hid in a fridge once to evade difficult questions. Now he is resorting to flat-out lies.

How galling for the 14 million who voted for him to realise that Boris Johnson is such a craven coward.

He can’t even bear to meet people who have lost family members due to his mistakes – so he has made up a succession of reasons not to.

Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice UK may not have a snappy name but they do have a good reason for existence – they want an inquiry into the Johnson government’s decisions on the Coronavirus pandemic in the UK.

The organisation wisely distrusts Johnson’s claim that he will hold an inquiry “at the appropriate time” and has already issued a “letter before action”, warning that the group is considering litigation to secure an inquiry.

But a letter before action is not itself litigation.

So when Boris Johnson said, “It turns out that this particular group are currently in litigation with the government. I will certainly meet them once that litigation is concluded,” he was lying.

He had previously promised to meet them.

Perhaps he was hoping that most people would not know enough about court action to tell that he was telling a falsehood in order to run away from the potentially disastrous publicity a meeting would create.

It’s also possible that he was hoping his u-turn would not come to public attention.

This Writer is already on the record as saying it is unlikely an inquiry will take place. Politicians like Johnson say there will be one “at the appropriate time” when a crisis is ongoing and people are demanding it but, the instant the trouble is over, they insist that it would be better to put the matter behind us.

Let’s face it: Johnson is notoriously bad – embarrassing, in fact – when he doesn’t have a script to read out. He may be afraid he’ll say something that may be used against him later.

So he’s running away from a meeting he promised to attend.

And that, dear reader, is the act of a coward.

Source: Coronavirus: Campaigners reject PM’s ‘poor excuse’ for not meeting them – BBC News

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Russia report: If Russian influence over the UK is ‘the new normal’, shouldn’t someone be charged with treason?

Bosom buddies: Boris Johnson with Russian industrialist Alexander Temerko. All perfectly innocent?

Now we can all see why Boris Johnson did not want the so-called ‘Russia Report’ released before the general election last year.

The report – released today (July 21) by Parliament’s new Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) – shows that successive Conservative governments have welcomed Russian oligarchs “with open arms”, giving them access to political figures “at the highest levels” – and made absolutely no attempt to investigate Russian interference in referendums and elections; in fact, the Tories “actively avoided” doing so.

This has led, the report states, to the growth of an industry of “enablers” who are “de facto agents of the Russian state”. The report does not explicitly state that these enablers include Conservative government politicians, but its assertion that Russia had access to “the highest levels” of political figures certainly suggests that this is the case.

And the fact that Russia has influence “at the highest levels” seems to have made it almost impossible to organise a response.

The report refers to the defence of UK democratic processes as a “hot potato” over which no government organisation wanted to take the lead in conducting an assessment of Russian interference.

In its response to the report today, the Tory government has said it has seen no evidence of interference in (this is the example it gives) the Brexit referendum. It seems clear that there is a good reason for that: nobody was looking. The government has said it sees no reason to conduct a retrospective investigation into such interference, which looks like a tacit admission of guilt in the light of the report. Committee member Stewart Hosie said, “That is meaningless if they haven’t looked for it.”

The ISC states that “social media companies must take action and remove covert hostile state material. Government must ‘name and shame’ those who fail to act”. The latter demand seems unlikely to happen as it seems clear that the Tory government does not want to do anything.

One reason for that may be the fact that the Tories have been delighted to welcome Russian money and the oligarchs who owned it, “providing them with a means of recycling illicit finance through the London ‘laundromat’.”

It is unlikely that Russia actually interfered in the mechanics of voting in general elections or the Brexit referendum; the UK’s paper-based voting system “makes actual interference with the mechanism difficult” – but “we should not be complacent about other forms of interference”.

The report states that Russian influence seems to have been exerted prominently in the social media, whose bosses had no interest in preventing it.

It states: “There have been widespread allegations that Russia sought to influence voters in the 2016 referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU: studies have pointed to the preponderance of pro-Brexit or anti-EU stories on RT and Sputnik, and the use of ‘bots’ and ‘trolls’, as evidence.

“The actual impact of such attempts on the result itself would be difficult – if not impossible – to prove. However what is clear is that the Government was slow to recognise the existence of the threat – only understanding it after the ‘hack and leak’ operation against the Democratic National Committee, when it should have been seen as early as 2014.

“As a result the Government did not take action to protect the UK’s process in 2016. The Committee has not been provided with any post-referendum assessment – in stark contrast to the US response to reports of interference in the 2016 presidential election. In our view there must be an analogous assessment of Russian interference in the EU referendum.”

In their statement, the Tories have made it clear that they will not conduct a retrospective investigation: “The Intelligence and Security Agencies produce and contribute to regular assessments of the threat posed by Hostile State Activity, including around potential interference in UK democratic processes.

“We keep such assessments under review and, where necessary, update them in response to new intelligence, including during democratic events such as elections and referendums.

“Where new information emerges, the Government will always consider the most appropriate use of any intelligence it develops or receives, including whether it is appropriate to make this public. Given this long standing approach, a retrospective assessment of the EU Referendum is not necessary.”

This is hardly encouraging, given that the ISC report makes it clear that the Tory government has deliberately avoided looking for Russian interference.

Labour has delivered the weak-ass response that we have come to expect from Keir Starmer’s sub-Tory party, courtesy of Lisa “I wouldn’t disclose plans to sell off the NHS” Nandy.

“The report is very clear that the Government has underestimated the response required to Russia and it is imperative we learn the lessons from the mistakes that have been made,” she said. “The Labour Party calls on the Government to study the conclusions of the report carefully and take the necessary steps to keep our country safe.”

Fat chance! And she knows it. The people of the UK needed a much more robust response, calling out Prime Minister Boris Johnson over his extremely strong ties with Russians – he plays tennis with them in return for donations to the Tory Party, remember – and demanding a full-strength investigation into connections between Conservative government members past and present and Russians in the UK – both private citizens and representatives of that country’s government.

I’ll say it again, for clarity:

What we need now is a comprehensive and independent investigation by law-enforcement agencies into connections between anybody who has been a member of a Conservative government over the past 10 years (including members of other parties who have allied with the Tories – the DUP and the Liberal Democrats) and Russians in the UK who have been here either as private citizens or as representatives of that countries government. Did – and do – these relationships pose a threat to the UK’s security and to its democracy?

And if so, should those who have created that threat be arrested and charged with treason?

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Terrified Tories are running from media scrutiny

If the people of Peterborough return a Conservative to Parliament after this display, I would be very surprised.

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Wrong again, Graun! People ARE avoiding the news – except major developments. And for a good reason…

Propaganda: It seems people are avoiding the mainstream news outlets because they are seen as purveyors of fake – or at least severely slanted – news.

Brexit isn’t the reason people are avoiding the news – but The Guardian only touches on the real reason, perhaps because it is too close to home.

People are turning away from mainstream news outlets because they are perceived to be pushing a particular agenda:

Britons also say they are losing trust in the news, with the authors attributing this to increased political polarisation: “Even the most trusted brands like the BBC are seen by many as pushing or suppressing agendas – especially over polarising issues like Brexit and climate change.”

Doesn’t that seem more plausible than Brexit fatigue, when

according to one BBC insider, the BBC News website attracted 28 million unique visitors in January on the day of parliament’s first meaningful vote on Theresa May’s Brexit day, while 25 million checked the website the following day when it was covering the no-confidence vote in the prime minister?

Brexit certainly hasn’t harmed This Site’s audience. Vox Political‘s highest-ever visitor total was recorded on March 23 this year, when I reported on the ‘Revoke Brexit’ e-petition that became the most-signed petition on the government’s website: 93,008 views.

It’s certainly possible that some Britons are giving up on the news in order to avoid the blanket coverage of Brexit that has made it headline news practically every day since before the EU referendum.

But when

alleged Brexit fatigue among the British public has also been used by some news programmes to justify declining audiences,

it seems far more likely that the news media are trying to find an excuse that does not mention the possibility that they are pushing their own agenda.

Doesn’t it? Or is that paranoid conspiracy-theorising?

Source: Third of Britons say they avoid news out of Brexit frustration | Media | The Guardian

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Tax break for referendum campaign donors is nothing less than theft

Brexit-backing Arron Banks, seen here with Nigel Farage, donated £8.1m to his Leave.EU campaign group [Image: Matt Cardy/Getty Images].

“This is theft. They buy control of our country, then get tax relief on their investment.”

Damn straight.

This Writer can’t help but agree with ‘Brexit Job Losses’ (@MrHickmott).

All you have to do is look at the list of beneficiaries from this proposed law change. None of them are short of a few pennies.

And how many are looking forward to cashing in on Brexit?

Brexit-backing MPs as well as counterparts from the remain campaign have backed a controversial measure to extend a tax break to referendum campaign donors, after several billionaire donors received large demands from HMRC.

The shadow chief secretary to the Treasury, Peter Dowd, criticised the proposed amendment to the finance bill from prominent leave campaigners Charlie Elphicke, Jacob Rees-Mogg and Iain Duncan Smith, but which has also been backed by Labour MPs and remain supporters Alison McGovern and Caroline Flint.

It would extend a tax exemption for political parties to referendum campaigns – backdating it to cover the EU referendum.

Last month it was revealed that several prominent leave campaigners who donated large sums to the Brexit campaigns during the 2016 referendum received substantial tax demands from HMRC.

HMRC said it had applied the law equally across all donors, but senior UK cabinet ministers Boris Johnson and Michael Gove expressed concerns about the demands.

Source: MPs on both sides back tax break for referendum campaign donors | Politics | The Guardian


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Top Tory election donors appear to be tax avoiders, money launderers and private health bosses

The Canary has provided a handy copy-and-keep list of the top Tory election donors, and it’s a real rogues’ gallery. Check out these creeps:

The Tories’ top donors included:

  • JCB Service – £1.5m. It’s owned by Anthony Bamford, who was not only named in the Panama Papers, but who operates JCB out of tax haven Bermuda.
  • John C Armitage – £1.1m. Armitage is the founder of Egerton Capital, a hedge fund that enables [xml] tax avoidance for investors.
  • John Griffin – £1.03m. Griffin and his private hire firm Addison Lee were caught up in a lobbying scandal in 2012.
  • Mark J. C. Bamford – £750,000. The younger brother of Anthony Bamford, owner of JBC Service, he was caught up in a row over a JCB subsidiary, JCB research, which, while only worth £27,000, was the biggest Tory donor in the run-up to the 2010 general election.
  • Andrew E Law – £525,000. Law is a hedge fund owner [paywall] whose firm Caxton Associates is registered in the US tax avoidance state of Delaware.
  • David J Rowland – £312,500. The Canary conducted a major investigation into Rowland in 2016, and described his offshore tax affairs as “mind blowing”.
  • Lord Michael Ashcroft – £500,000. Ashcroft has been involved in several tax avoidance scandals. He also co-authored the book at the centre of the David Cameron ‘Pig gate’ scandal.

Other Tory donors [pdf p3-5] during the election period included:

  • Sir Henry and Lady Keswick – £150,000. Keswick’s company Jardine Matheson was linked to tax avoidance via Luxembourg and has numerous subsidiaries in tax haven Bermuda.
  • Charles ‘Julian’ Cazalet – £10,000. Cazalet is a non-executive director of NHS private provider Deltex Medical Group.
  • Malcolm Healey – £100,000. Healey was fined by HMRC in 2015 for making £8.6m [pdf] by using a tax avoidance scheme.
  • Bruce Hardy McLain – £100,000. McLain’s private investment firm CVC Capital Partners is currently embroiled in a £5m bribery and tax avoidance scandal involving Formula One.
  • Ayman and Sawsan Asfari – £100,000. Ayman is currently under investigation by the Serious Fraud Office. He also runs oil company Petrofac, which avoids tax via Jersey.
  • Rainy City Investments – £100,000. Owned by Peter and Fred Done, who were fined £800,000 by the Serious Fraud Office over money laundering allegations.
  • Investors in Private Capital Ltd – £150,000. Co-owned by James ‘Jamie’ Reuben, family friend of George Osborne, it paid no UK corporation tax in 2014 [pdf p13], despite a turnover [pdf p17] of £35m.

Source: Here’s the list of top Tory election donors Theresa May should be ashamed of | The Canary


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If you want to avoid Snoopers’ Charter scrutiny, look out; most VPN services are terrible

[Image: @richard_littler/Twitter.]

[Image: @richard_littler/Twitter.]

Typical.

Only days after I write an article saying Virtual Private Networks are the best way to avoid scrutiny by the government under its newly-approved Snoopers’ Charter, someone chimes in to say that they’re rubbish.

I’d normally say that is a business opportunity for someone, but in this case it seems they would need to be based outside the UK, in order to avoid falling under the jurisdiction of the Snoopers’ Charter themselves.

I don’t have anything against foreign nationals creating a decent service and offering it to UK citizens; it’s just that it won’t directly benefit the UK’s economy.

Anyway, you’d best read the information for yourself: Most VPN Services are Terrible · GitHub. The gist is:

My TL;DR advice: Roll your own and use Algo or Streisand. For messaging & voice, use Signal. For increasing anonymity, use Tor Browser for desktop, and Onion Browser for mobile.

Does anyone else have an opinion?

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It is still possible to protect your privacy from the government. Here’s how to do it

internet-surveillance

Do you have any idea who’ll be able to look at your browsing history soo?

After the Snoopers’ Charter – sorry, the Investigatory Powers Act 2016 – receives Royal Assent, your web history for up to a year will become available to almost 50 police forces and government departments. They’ll be able to see which sites and internet messaging apps you visited and used – but won’t know which pages you saw.

Police and intelligence agencies will be able to hack into your computer and access its data, and can order Communication Service Providers (CSPs) to help them with this – and it will be an offence for a CSP or an employee of one to reveal that your data has been requested.

Here’s the list of organisations that can view your history, courtesy of this site:

  • Metropolitan police force
  • City of London police force
  • Police forces maintained under section 2 of the Police Act 1996
  • Police Service of Scotland
  • Police Service of Northern Ireland
  • British Transport Police
  • Ministry of Defence Police
  • Royal Navy Police
  • Royal Military Police
  • Royal Air Force Police
  • Security Service
  • Secret Intelligence Service
  • GCHQ
  • Ministry of Defence
  • Department of Health
  • Home Office
  • Ministry of Justice
  • National Crime Agency
  • HM Revenue & Customs
  • Department for Transport
  • Department for Work and Pensions
  • NHS trusts and foundation trusts in England that provide ambulance services
  • Common Services Agency for the Scottish Health Service
  • Competition and Markets Authority
  • Criminal Cases Review Commission
  • Department for Communities in Northern Ireland
  • Department for the Economy in Northern Ireland
  • Department of Justice in Northern Ireland
  • Financial Conduct Authority
  • Fire and rescue authorities under the Fire and Rescue Services Act 2004
  • Food Standards Agency
  • Food Standards Scotland
  • Gambling Commission
  • Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority
  • Health and Safety Executive
  • Independent Police Complaints Commissioner
  • Information Commissioner
  • NHS Business Services Authority
  • Northern Ireland Ambulance Service Health and Social Care Trust
  • Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service Board
  • Northern Ireland Health and Social Care Regional Business Services Organisation
  • Office of Communications
  • Office of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland
  • Police Investigations and Review Commissioner
  • Scottish Ambulance Service Board
  • Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission
  • Serious Fraud Office
  • Welsh Ambulance Services National Health Service Trust

The same site adds that bulk collection and storage will also create an irresistible target for malicious actors, massively increasing the risk that your personal data will end up in the hands of:

  • People able to hack / infiltrate your ISP
  • People able to hack / infiltrate your Wi-Fi hotspot provider
  • People able to hack / infiltrate your mobile network operator
  • People able to hack / infiltrate a government department or agency
  • People able to hack / infiltrate the government’s new multi-database request filter

None of the above are likely to have your best interests at heart, and experience indicates that a major security breach will happen sooner, rather than later, “assuming, of course, that the powers that be manage not to just lose all of our personal data in the post.”

What’s to be done about it?

Well, according to The Guardian, not an awful lot. For a start, you can’t hide from the security services, and if they want to hack your devices, they will. But then, if they’re not out to get you, there’s no reason to behave as though they should be. Inconspicuousness could become the order of the day.

The paper advocates Virtual Private Networks (VPNs), which encrypt traffic between computers for a small monthly fee. Your service provider can’t see the final destination so its records should contain only the VPN company’s server addresses.

Apparently, when choosing a VPN, you should check the number of servers and where they are located, their privacy policies, the applications they support (Tor, BitTorrent etc), speed and price. Some have applications for different devices – Windows, MacOS, iPhone, iPad and Android.

If you are trying to avoid Snoopers’ Charter-related surveillance, choose a VPN that is not UK-based, and that does not keep any logs – because then they can’t hand them over to the government. TorrentFreak keeps an updated list of “which VPN services take your anonymity seriously”: The Best Anonymous VPN Services of 2016.

Some VPN providers accept payments by dozens of different methods including Bitcoin and anonymous gift cards – but a VPN cannot guarantee access to any particular website; Netflix has taken to blocking most VPN services, and problems may arise with Google’s geolocation, PayPal’s fraud detection software, and so on. And a VPN doesn’t protect you from phishing emails, keyloggers, and websites that try to install “drive by” malware.

Your web visits may still be logged – in your own web browser history and dozens of advertising services, including Google’s. You can block trackers with a browser extension such as Ghostery or the EFF’s Privacy Badger, but note that Privacy Badger only blocks trackers from third-party sites. GRC has a “forensics” page, which checks whether you are being tracked by cookies.According to the Graun: “For increased privacy, you could access the internet from a “virtual computer” loaded in your operating system, and then throw it away after use. VirtualBox is a good free example. VMware Workstation Player is also free for non-commercial use.

“This may be the only way to avoid being tracked by “browser fingerprinting”. This is when the tracking company (or government agency) gives your PC a unique identifier based on variables such as screen resolution, browser version, extensions, fonts, timezone and so on. If you use a virtual PC, every session starts with a more-or-less generic fingerprint. It may not be perfect, but it’s less identifiable than the alternative.”

Will This Writer be doing any of the above?

No. Or at least, probably not.

It’s a lot of hassle for someone who doesn’t actually break the law – even though I might say things the government would prefer people not to know.

But it’s good to know what the options are, just in case. Right?

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The super-rich may be avoiding billions in tax but HMRC has prosecuted just one of them

A specialist team at HM Revenue & Customs is examining the tax affairs of 6,500 super-rich individuals [Image: Alamy].

A specialist team at HM Revenue & Customs is examining the tax affairs of 6,500 super-rich individuals [Image: Alamy].

… And the story doesn’t say whether the prosecution was successful.

This revelation will certainly re-kindle claims that HMRC is concentrating far too much of its effort on tax avoidance among working- and middle-class people when it should be putting resources elsewhere.

But the simple fact is that it is easier to detect tax avoidance among the less wealthy classes – because they don’t enjoy as many – legal – opportunities for avoidance.

This is a story about corruption in Parliament, where super-rich MPs simply won’t simplify tax in a way that might disadvantage themselves. Or so it seems to This Writer.

Still, it is welcome to see that 40 of the people named in the Panama Papers are now under investigation.

Is it forlorn to hope that one of them is David Cameron?

Tax inspectors targeting Britain’s wealthiest people have identified potential evasion and avoidance worth nearly £2bn, but have pursued only one successful criminal prosecution, a National Audit Office report reveals.

It says the tax affairs of 6,500 super-rich individuals – each worth more than £20m – are being examined by a specialist HM Revenue and Customs unit. The unit is investigating outstanding receipts worth £1.9bn, a majority of which involve aggressive avoidance schemes.

However, just two individuals have been criminally investigated over the past five years, leading to a single prosecution, while another 70 were pursued through the civil courts.

In an indication of the scale of the task faced by the unit, the report discloses that each of the 6,500 super-rich taxpayers has had on average four serious tax issues looked at by the unit. Around 4,000 inquiries have been open for more than three years, it adds.

The report sheds a light on the scale of potential tax avoidance involving the super-rich and will prompt further claims that Britain’s wealthiest people are not being pursued with the same vigour as benefits claimants or small businesses.

Source: HMRC investigating £1.9bn in potential tax avoidance by super-rich | Business | The Guardian

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If banks want regulation costs cut, they should be more trustworthy

With people like this in charge of banks - and then going on to important roles in Conservative-led governments, can either the banks or the government be trusted to do what's right for UK citizens?

With people like this in charge of banks – and then going on to important roles in Conservative-led governments, can either the banks or the government be trusted to do what’s right for UK citizens?

Banks and other financial organisations want the Conservative government to slash the cost of complying with new regulations, according to the Confederation of British Industry. Doesn’t your heart just bleed for them?

Thse are the organisations that sucked the UK into the global financial crisis and allowed the Conservatives to form a government after the 2010 election (they didn’t win it) with a false claim that Labour overspent.

Now they want the regulations that prevent them from causing another crisis to be eased.

Considering the banks’ record, it would be madness to do so. Let’s see how long it takes the Tories to comply.

According to The Guardian, “As the City recovers from the financial crisis, companies are lobbying for an end to criticism of the banking industry and an easing of rules designed to prevent another crisis.

“They argue the sector is a big employer and that the City’s position as a financial centre is important for the UK’s economy.”

Finance is indeed a big employer, here in the UK – but only because Conservative-led governments since 2010 have utterly failed to build up any other industry while continuing to pander to the banks.

Meanwhile, the taxpayer has been supporting banks heavily, with 4.21 per cent of government spending – that’s £41 billion per year – being supplied to these very profitable institutions for no very good reason.

And they’re complaining about the cost of regulations!

It gets better. The regulations against which they are complaining include:

  • The ring-fence required by 2019 to separate retail and investment banking, so that bad investments cannot affect the safety of depositors’ money.
  • The introduction of criminal liability for senior executives whose reckless behaviour causes their company to fail.

That’s right – bank bosses are angry that the government is actually trying to stop them from penalising ordinary account holders for their gambling losses, and upset that they might have to pay a debt to society if their decisions harm the viability of their firms.

Clearly these bankers have not learned their lesson and want to inflict further debt upon the taxpayer while making off like the bandits they are.

According to The Guardian, “HSBC has taken the lead for the banks by threatening to leave the UK if it decides the cost of remaining is too great. Britain’s biggest bank listed ringfencing and the [bank] levy, which HSBC says affects it disproportionately, as important considerations.”

This is the bank that, earlier this year, was implicated in one of the biggest organised tax avoidance schemes to be uncovered in the UK in recent times.

It is important to note that the survey was compiled with accounting firm PwC, which has been singled out by HM Revenue and Customs as having created hugely lucrative schemes to help companies and the hugely wealthy to avoid paying their taxes.

Shouldn’t the government’s response be: “F*** off, then – but pay your back taxes first”?

The last thing the government should do is give in to these demands, and taxpayers across the country should write in to George Osborne, warning him against any such move.

There is no reason to trust the banks with any more responsibility than the bare minimum. They simply haven’t earned our trust back yet.

If the banks want more freedom, they should be told to bloody well earn it.

Follow me on Twitter: @MidWalesMike

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