Saturday, February 6, 2016

Slow Saturday Special: Brexit

Seems like the best way to begin and end today:

"David Cameron renews push to reach EU membership deal" by Stephen Castle New York Times  January 29, 2016

LONDON — With time running out if Britain is to schedule an early referendum on EU membership, Prime Minister David Cameron was fighting with renewed urgency Friday to win concessions that he hopes will persuade Britons to stay in the bloc.

The most contentious issue is a proposal to restrict welfare payments to non-British citizens of EU countries, who have the right to live and work in Britain.

Cameron wants the authority to limit those benefits, which typically supplement the income of people doing low-paid jobs, for EU migrants who have been in the country for less than four years.

Cameron scrapped a planned visit to Sweden and Denmark of Friday, heading instead to Brussels for talks with Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, the executive arm of the 28-nation bloc, and he will host a dinner in London on Sunday with another top European official, Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council.

The stakes are high because a British decision to quit — a so-called Brexit — could deal a devastating blow to the European Union, which is already struggling to deal with a huge influx of migrants.

For Britain, much is at stake, too, as it could find itself outside the bloc’s single market, and the United States and other major powers have already said they think the British would be better off remaining a member.

Cameron has pledged to hold a referendum by the end of 2017, but he will schedule an earlier vote, most likely for late June, if he can negotiate changes to Britain’s relationship with the bloc to get what he calls a “better deal.”

After the rig job regarding Scottish independence, whose going to believe the vote regarding EU integration if it passes? 

Cameron effectively needs to reach a deal in mid-February, when members of the European Union will hold a summit meeting in Brussels.

No terror threats?

If there is no agreement then or soon afterward, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to hold the referendum before September, if not later. A delay is regarded as likely to help those campaigning for Britain to leave the union, particularly if the migration crisis intensifies, making membership seem less desirable.

For some countries, Cameron’s effort to limit some benefits to migrants is anathema because it would breach a crucial principle: that all European Union citizens are treated equally across the bloc.

The latest proposal would allow Britain to apply an “emergency brake” by withholding the benefits if there was evidence that its welfare system was being strained by non-Britons from the bloc.

The details of the plan remained in flux. At one end of a range of possibilities is a solution under which the law would be changed so that Britain, or any European Union nation, could restrict welfare payments for four years without the agreement of the European Commission or other European Union nations, providing certain criteria were met.

Other models would give other nations more power to block such a change, an idea that is less attractive to Cameron.

The citizens of these nations don't like it once their governments agreed to be part of globali$t con$olidation for the benefit of bankers.

Cameron told BBC Radio Scotland on Friday that he was “encouraged that ideas are coming forward that have some force but we are not there yet, they are not yet strong enough.”

“The question with these brakes and ideas, it is very important how they are pulled, how long they last, how much strength they have and those are all of the things that I’ll be talking about in Brussels,” he said.

I may be pulling the brakes on this soon.

The talks Sunday may prove even more important because Tusk is expected to circulate a document on the proposals as early as Monday.

Tusk is a citizen of Poland, one of the Eastern European nations that sends many migrants to Britain and whose home nations are likely to oppose the changes sought by Cameron.

Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski of Poland said Friday said that his country would “not accept a mechanism that denies social benefits to Poles living in the European Union,” Reuters reported.

At home, Cameron is under pressure from lawmakers in his party who are critical of the European Union, and who argue that he is asking too little.

He has a higher ma$ter. 

To hell with parliamentary democracy, rule of the people, or any of the other fancy dre$$ names oppre$$ion is given.

John Redwood, a former Conservative Cabinet minister, told the BBC that the “emergency brake” plan was “an insult” and “just a sick joke.”

Lot of that going around lately.



Cameron outlines conditions for Britain to remain in EU

It's all in the rigged vote, 'er, timing.

Cameron to allow open EU debate

British prime minister claims ‘real progress’ on EU changes

Ironically, British exit vote could shore up the European Union

Will Britain leave the EU?

They will if the British voters have anything to say about it, and I'm dismissing the obvious propaganda, sorry.

Britain to keep 450 troops in Afghanistan through 2016

Not only thing they are losing at the moment:

Lords stall attempt to cut tax credit

UK reviews powers of House of Lords after tax vote

More of an uproar over that than the wars:

"UK backs off cuts to tax breaks for lower income households" Associated Press  November 26, 2015

LONDON — Britain’s treasury chief abandoned controversial cuts in tax credits for low-income workers and kept police funding intact Wednesday as he updated Parliament on government budget plans.

Where does Britain stand on the old wealth inequality meter, 'eh? Home of the Rothschild banking dynasty and all those prestigious institutions.

George Osborne said improvements in public finances made it possible to back away from the unpopular credit cuts his government had proposed earlier. As members of his party cheered, Osborne said he accepted the concerns of those who feared the impact on people making minimum wage.

Why aren't the leaders of the party repre$enting their con$tituen.... oh, wait, they are.

The move was made possible by higher than predicted tax receipts and lower interest rates. The Office for Budget Responsibility, an independent agency, estimated that public finances would be $40 billion better off than it had forecast in July.

A measure to eliminate $4.4 billion in tax allowances for the poor had been blocked in April in an unusual move by the House of Lords, the upper house of Parliament.

The vote was a stinging defeat for Prime Minister David Cameron’s government, which had contended that the cuts would be offset by a higher minimum wage.

Despite the U-turn on tax credits, Osborne promised to keep in place cuts from the welfare budget over the next five years. The cuts were promised by the Conservative Party during the last election.

They keep one promi$e and thi$ i$ it?

He also announced plans to help build 400,000 affordable homes.

Why would they be needed when the economy is recovering and.... never mind.


"Blair says war spurred militants’ rise" Associated Press  October 25, 2015

LONDON — Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair acknowledged Sunday that the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 was partly responsible for the emergence of the Islamic State militant group in the Middle East. But he insists that toppling Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was the right thing to do. 

I'm still waiting for that Iraq war report to be reported and arrests to be made, but in the meantime I would just heckle that war criminal.

Blair told CNN “there are elements of truth” in the assertion that the war in Iraq caused the rise of the Islamic State, which now controls a large swath of Iraq and Syria.

It's a limited hangout bunch of bs is what it is, one that supports the underlying narrative. 

Who do you think created ISIS™?

“Of course, you can’t say those of us who removed Saddam in 2003 bear no responsibility for the situation in 2015,” he said in an interview broadcast Sunday.

I don't. I say you bear all of it.

Blair added that the Arab Spring revolutions, which began in 2011, had also played a part by allowing the Islamic fundamentalist militant group to flourish in civil war-torn Syria and then Iraq.

That "movement" is looking more and more like an engineered effort to remove stale dictators and anoint a new crop of puppet rulers while sowing chaos amid the breakup of Middle East Muslim nations into smaller ethnic units -- those leaving one lone nuclear power as the hegemony of the region. And if it goes wrong, turn to Egypt for Plan B. 

But I digress.... 

And he said the “sectarian policy” of Iraq’s Shi’ite-led government was also a factor in destabilizing the country.

Uh-huh. Blaming Iran by implication while hanging that canard of a cover for covert intelligence operations.

Blair’s decision to take Britain into the Iraq war — based on what turned out to be false claims about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction — remains hugely divisive at home and contributed to his Labor Party’s loss of power in 2010.

They were not false claims, they were flat-out lies. 

All these years and still distorting and revising the past.


Back to the present:

"Britain approves airstrikes in Syria; Parliament OK’s increased role against ISIS" by Steven Erlanger and Stephen Castle New York Times  December 03, 2015

Problem is, government was already doing it even without approval. 

No one is making a fuss, though.

LONDON — Antiwar protesters outside Parliament booed as they learned the vote’s outcome.

I love 'em!!

The run-up to the vote also amounted to a low point for Jeremy Corbyn, the new leader of the opposition Labor Party. While Corbyn opposes British military action over Syria, some of Labor’s senior figures, including the party’s spokesman on foreign affairs, Hilary Benn, supported it, and Corbyn was forced to allow his lawmakers to vote freely on the issue in an effort to avoid an intraparty clash amid threatened resignations.

I think he has been consigned to the dust bin of history, no?

In an impassioned speech that won a rousing reception Wednesday night, Benn argued that “every state has the right to defend itself” and asked “why would we not uphold the settled will of the United Nations?”

Did he have an owned-by Israel stamp on his suit because that is there standard stock line for war crimes committed against Palestinians.

His contribution to the debate appeared to have helped Prime Minister David Cameron secure the “clear majority” he said he was seeking.

While there are serious questions about the extent to which British airstrikes would make a difference in the fight against the Islamic State — the military is already conducting strikes against the militants in Iraq — the issue has always been more about alliance solidarity and leadership than about strict military or strategic utility.

The Russians have answered that and exposed the fraud.

The vote came as Secretary of State John Kerry said NATO members were ready to step up military efforts against the Islamic State.

(Blog editor gives him the raspberry salute)

A day after Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said the United States would deploy a new special operations force to Iraq to step up the fight against the militants, Kerry said other countries could provide assistance that did not involve combat.

(See last comment)

He said the effort to expand operations would require more medical facilities, intelligence-gathering, military support structure, refueling operations, aerial defenses, and other action.

Almost as if we were building bases and jumping back in, huh?

The German Cabinet has approved plans to commit up to 1,200 soldiers to support the US-led coalition in Syria, though not in a combat role.

God, they have gotten Germany to commit troops (ignore the semantics of "combat" and "non combat" that is part of the lexicon of war)!

The vote also bolstered Cameron’s standing and reinforced his shift in strategy. In his first term, as head of a coalition government with the Liberal Democrats, he earned a reputation for lack of interest in foreign policy that seemed to contradict Britain’s history or its status as a nuclear power and a permanent member of the UN Security Council.

After Britain joined France’s military intervention in 2011, with NATO support, to overthrow Moammar Gadhafi in Libya, resulting in considerable chaos in North Africa, Cameron appeared to pull back from military action.

He didn't; it just "appeared" that way.


The vote was 397-223 because the “threat is very real.” 

And the proof of it:

"Elephant poachers in Tanzania fired on a helicopter on an antipoaching mission Friday and killed the British pilot, and authorities said Sunday that they had arrested three suspects. Tanzania has been identified as a key hot spot for elephant poachers. The Texas-based  Friedkin Conservation Fund, which oversees some wildlife areas in Tanzania, said on its website, ‘‘This tragic event again highlights the appalling risk and cost of protecting Tanzania’s wildlife.’’

"A US Marine fighter pilot was killed Wednesday when his F-18 crashed after taking off from a British air base in eastern England, US and British officials said."

Crap equipment or terrorists (they did find a passport, but from where it came no one knows.

All washed out with the tide anyway:

"Weeks of persistent rainfall has saturated the ground and swollen the rivers to record levels."

"Cameron says more money to be spent on UK flood defenses" Associated Press  December 28, 2015

LONDON — British Prime Minister David Cameron put on his waterproof boots Monday and waded into controversy, challenging critics who said his government has done too little to combat flooding in northern England. 

Excuse me while I put on a certain pair of boots myself.

Cameron donned his ‘‘wellies’’ — as the British call waterproof boots — to walk the flooded streets of York, 200 miles north of London, as some local leaders accused him of failing to take action.

Areas of northern England have been inundated with torrential rains in recent weeks, and rivers have crested past their banks, leading to thousands of evacuations in villages, towns, and even major cities like Leeds and Manchester.

As if the war migrants pouring in weren't enough. 

The whole world is becoming one large refugee camp.

The devastation prompted Leeds council leader Judith Blake to complain that cities in the less prosperous north of England are victims of a north-south divide in the allocation of government’s resources. ‘‘We’re beginning to feel that very strongly,’’ she said.

Cameron used his visit to York to deny that the northern region is overlooked in favor of London and the affluent regions surrounding the capital. ‘‘We spend more per head of the population on flood defenses in the north than we do in the south,’’ he said, vowing that expenditures would increase in the face of the increasing frequency of extreme weather events in Britain.

Speak up! I can't hear you over the sound of rushing water!

The flood waters have eased in many areas but forecasters say more heavy rain is expected Wednesday. The ground is heavily saturated, making the region vulnerable to fresh precipitation.

Some 500 British troops have been helping emergency workers and local residents in the widespread evacuation of towns and cities with 1,000 more on call if water levels rise.

Oh, it's so nice they could spare them from the campaigns in Afghanistan and Syria.

Thousands of people have lost power in recent days.... 

Seems like a problem.


Then the rain stopped, so to speak; otherwise, I would put it in here. 

Gotta get over to the hospital....

"Junior doctors’ strike in England disrupts care for thousands" by Stephen Castle Nwew York Times  January 12, 2016


Operations were postponed and appointments canceled in a bitter dispute over pay and working hours between employers and junior doctors

Yet the dispute over the National Health Service, a publicly funded health care system so revered that it was once likened to a national religion, carries risks for the government.

Yeah, for some silly reason people take their health very seriously.

The National Health Service, which is funded by taxes and payroll deductions but has faced years of financial strain, delivers most treatment without charge. Despite regular funding crises, there has been no similar strike since 1975.

Cameron’s Conservative Party has always found it hard to make changes to the health service, which was created by the Labour Party in the 1940s and is now creaking under the strain of an aging population and tightened budgets.

Always enough money for bankers and wars though.

In his memoirs, Nigel Lawson, a chancellor of the Exchequer under Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, wrote that health practitioners regarded themselves as “a priesthood,” making the sector “extraordinarily difficult to reform.”

The National Health Service, he wrote, “is the closest thing the English have to a religion.”

No wonder the floods came.

It is also a significant presence in national life, employing 1.6 million people which, it says, puts it in the top five of the world’s largest workforces, alongside the U.S. Defense Department, McDonald’s, Wal-Mart and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army.

Some might even say it is who we are as a people.

Weekend shifts are at the heart of the current dispute. The government insists that doctors would not be worse off under the new contract, but that is disputed by the British Medical Association, which represents more than 37,000 of the country’s 55,000 junior doctors and which describes the proposed conditions as “unsafe and unfair.”

The dispute has crystallized a broader set of worries and frustrations felt by many doctors working in a system in which demand for health care sometimes seems infinite, but for which resources are definitely not. When junior doctors were asked to authorize a strike last year, 98 percent voted in favor.

Some opinion surveys have suggested that public support lies with the medical professionals, at least in the initial phase of the walkout. The doctors are planning two more protests in the coming weeks: a 48-hour strike that would also affect nonurgent care, and another day’s walkout in which they would withdraw all treatment. 

Yeah, that's a real shock. 

Who wants an angry nurse or doctor looking at them? 

Give 'em what they want!

Several opposition politicians sided with the strikers Tuesday. Justin Madders, who speaks for the Labour Party on health issues, said that junior doctors had been left with “no choice but to take this action,” while the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, visited a London hospital picket line.

Like other aspects of the dispute, the scale of the strike in England was contested Tuesday. The British Medical Association said that “tens of thousands of junior doctors” were striking, but NHS England, which leads the health service, said that 39 percent of junior doctors, out of a possible 26,000, had reported for duty on the day shift. The current action is scheduled to end Wednesday morning.

Johann Malawana, who leads the medical association’s junior doctors’ committee, said that his members felt that they had no alternative but to strike, and appealed to ministers to address “concerns around safe working patterns and ensure the contract recognizes the long, intense and unsocial hours which junior doctors do.”

Anne Rainsberry, the national incident director for NHS England, apologized to all patients affected.

“It’s a tough day,” she said, “but the NHS is pulling out all the stops, with senior doctors and nurses often stepping in to provide cover.”


Ended up waiting in there a lot longer than I was thinking because, you know....

"Surveillance deal would allow British spies easier US access" by Ellen Nakashima and Andrea Peterson Washington Post   February 05, 2016

WASHINGTON — If US and British negotiators have their way, MI5, the British domestic security service, could one day go directly to American companies like Facebook or Google with a wiretap order for the online chats of British suspects in a counterterrorism investigation.

It will help each nation's spy service get around privacy laws. Has been happening for over a decade now, if not longer.

The trans-Atlantic allies have quietly begun negotiations this month on an agreement that would enable the British government to serve wiretap orders directly on US communication firms for live intercepts in criminal and national security investigations involving its own citizens. Britain would also be able to serve orders to obtain stored data, such as e-mails.

Yeah, tuck that into a Saturday. 

They tell you they aren't reading and listening, but they are!

The previously undisclosed talks are driven by what the two sides and tech firms say is an untenable situation in which foreign governments such as Britain cannot quickly obtain data for domestic probes because it happens to be held by companies in the United States. The two countries recently concluded a draft negotiating document, which will serve as the basis for the talks. The text has not been made public, but a copy was reviewed by The Washington Post.

The British government would not be able to directly obtain the records of Americans if a US citizen or resident surfaced in an investigation. And it would still have to follow Britain’s legal rules to obtain warrants.

So they tell us. 

Anybody believe them? 

Of course, if they indirectly obtained them, well, there will be a pre$$ report on that ten years from now.

Any final agreement will need congressional action, through amendments to surveillance laws such as the Wiretap Act and the Stored Communications Act.

They will sneak it through when you ain't watching'!

Senior administration officials say they have concluded that British rules for data requests have ‘‘robust protections’’ for privacy and that they will not seek to amend them. But British and US privacy advocates argue that civil liberties safeguards in Britain are inadequate.

Are there really any of those left, or are they just an illusion at this point, an arbitrary whim of criminal governments?

The negotiating text was silent on the legal standard the British government must meet to obtain a wiretap order or a search warrant for stored data. Its system does not require a judge to approve search and wiretap warrants for surveillance based on probable cause, as is done in the United States. Instead, the home secretary, who oversees police and internal affairs, approves the warrant if that cabinet member finds that it is ‘‘necessary’’ for national security or to prevent serious crime and that it is ‘‘proportionate’’ to the intrusion.

If US officials or Congress do not seek changes in the British standards, ‘‘what it means is they’re going to allow a country that doesn’t require independent judicial authorization before getting a wiretap to continue that practice, which seems to be a pretty fundamental constitutional protection in the United States,’’ said Eric King, a privacy advocate and visiting lecturer in surveillance law at Queen Mary University of London. ‘‘That’s being traded away.’’

It's a way around the Constitution (not that this government abides by that anymore).

Senior administration officials said they are seeking to relieve the pressure on US companies caught in a ‘‘conflict of laws.’’ The United States bars American firms from providing intercepts to anyone but its government after US law enforcement has obtained a court order.

They will give them immunity from law$uits is what they will do; then the telecoms will happily pile on board.

Britain wants to directly compel the production of the data and has already passed legislation to make that happen.

To obtain stored e-mails, a foreign government must rely on a mutual legal assistance treaty by which the country makes a formal diplomatic request for the data

Someone call John Kerry and get him to block this!

That is where my print copy ended it.

and the Justice Department then seeks a court order on its behalf — a process that is said to take an average of 10 months.

‘‘This has been an issue with the UK and other countries for a number of years,’’ said one senior administration official, who like several others spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the negotiations. ‘‘Because of technological changes, the UK can no longer access data in the UK like they used to be able to, and more and more, UK nationals — including criminals in their country — are using providers like Google, Facebook, Hotmail. The more they are having challenges getting access to the data, the more our US providers are facing a conflict of laws.’’

Administration officials and officials from several tech firms said the stakes are high if no agreement is reached.

They fear that if the trend continues, more foreign governments will force US firms to host their data in those countries, a practice known as ‘‘data localization.’’ 

As the world is globali$ed! 

They also fear passage of laws, like the one in Britain that has not yet been enforced, requiring foreign firms doing business in their country to comply with their surveillance orders, even if the orders conflict with US law.

‘‘We’re reaching a moment where the status quo is no longer workable,’’ said an official at a major tech firm. ‘‘We’re concerned about the mounting frustration and the inability of foreign governments, including the UK, to receive responsive data in law enforcement investigations in a timely manner.’’ 

Remember way back when all this was just to catch the terrorists?

Up to now, he said, US firms have ‘‘held their ground’’ when pressured to turn over data or conduct wiretaps in conflict with US law. ‘‘Increasingly, that’s not something we’ll be able to do,’’ he said.

Last week, the White House gave the State Department the green light to begin the formal negotiations. Officials stressed that they were in the very early stages of the talks, which probably will go on for months. They said they will seek to ensure that any agreement protects civil liberties.

Of course, governments have never given those and always sought to restrict them -- but don't let that ruin the underlying narrative of the WaPo.

But Gregory Nojeim, senior counsel at the Center for Democracy & Technology, a Washington-based privacy group, said: ‘‘I’m very concerned that this agreement could represent a dumbing down of surveillance standards that have always pertained in the United States. Enabling foreign governments to conduct wiretapping in the United States would be a sea change in current law. I don’t see Congress going down that road.’’ 

Israel has the sole exemption, of course.

Senior administration officials said the goal is to help a close ally investigate serious crimes, something that the United States has a shared interest in. 

Tyranny is always for the public good, the tyrants tell us.

One potential example: London police are investigating a murder-for-hire plot, and the suspects are using Hotmail to communicate, and there’s no connection to the United States other than the fact that the suspects’ e-mails are on a Microsoft server in Redmond, Wash. Today, the police would have to use the mutual legal assistance treaty process and wait months. 

Then they are idiots, aren't they? 

Or are they agents and actors?

‘‘Why should they have to do that?’’ said the administration official. ‘‘Why can’t they investigate crimes in the UK, involving UK nationals under their own laws, regardless of the fact that the data happens to be on a server overseas?’’ 


Jennifer Daskal, a national security law professor at American University and a former Justice Department official, said before US firms are asked to turn over data, they should be assured that the legal standard for the request is sufficiently high. It need not mimic precise US standards, she said, but should at least require that requests be targeted, subject to independent review and privacy protections that weed out irrelevant information. If the requirements are not in the agreement, Congress should mandate them, said Daskal, who is part of a coalition of privacy groups, companies, and academics working on the issue. 

Once it's collected.... weeded out to where?

A second administration official said US officials have concluded that Britain ‘‘already [has] strong substantive and procedural protections for privacy.’’ He added: ‘‘They may not be word for word exactly what ours are, but they are equivalent in the sense of being robust protections.’’ 

All of sudden the language of law doesn't matter and is all mushy. 

Not like they are hammering out a peace treaty, is it?

As a result, he said, Britain’s legal standards are not at issue in the talks. ‘‘We are not weighing into legal process standards in the UK, no more than we would want the UK to weigh in on what our orders look like,’’ he said. 

Then all this reporting up until this point is kind of deceptive, isn't it?

British Home Office officials declined to comment directly on the talks. ‘‘We are clear about the need for law enforcement and the security and intelligence agencies to have the powers they need in the digital age, subject to strict safeguards and world-leading oversight arrangements,’’ a representative said in a statement to the Post.

The agreement is intended to be reciprocal, so that the US government could directly request wiretaps or stored data of a British provider as long as the target is American and not a British citizen.

Almost missed that afterthought of a paragraph, and it's exactly what I said -- a way around the law for prying, spying government.


Also seeWikileaks founder faces arrest no matter ruling by U.N. panel

Enjoy the big game this weekend, British readers.

Good night and goodbye, folks.


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