Sci-Ence! Justice Leak!

Fifty Ways To Beat The Censor

Posted in politics by Andrew Hickey on December 19, 2010
Scott Adams pointed out the problem fourteen years ago

Scott Adams pointed out the problem fourteen years ago

Ed Vaizey has announced plans for UK ISPs to block porn sites, with them being unblocked only for those who get themselves put on an ‘opt-in’ list. This is apparently to protect children.
Now, I’m no fan of porn or the porn industry, but nor am I a fan of other people deciding what I can or cannot see or do, based on the presumed inabilty of others to control their children (a presumption that many parents of my acquaintance emphatically do not share). If you don’t want your kids looking at porn, then don’t give them an internet connection – though I must say that having grown up pre-net, I don’t remember pornography being particularly scarce or difficult to obtain.
And this change will prevent many people from accessing useful information – it is absolutely certain that, for example, many LGBT sites will be hidden behind this Great Firewall. What it *won’t* do, however, is prevent horny teenagers from viewing pornographic material. Just off the top of my head, some obvious ways round it:

Pretend to be your parents (or have an adult-sounding friend do so) and get put on the opt-in list
Share material via P2P networks
Private FTP sites
Anonymising proxies
Usenet
Photo-sharing sites like Flickr and video-sharing sites like YouTube
Get a Gmail account, share the password with a few dozen friends, and have any of them who are outside the firewall or who have other access to this material upload the files to that.
Share files through IM networks
Share files through ‘sneakernet’ – using USB sticks etc
TOR
Hop on a neighbour’s unprotected wireless network and use their connection

…and so ad infinitum.

Quite simply, no technical solution will work – social problems need social solutions. All this will do is make life slightly more difficult for a whole bunch of people, cause at least some people to lose their jobs (the ‘opt-in’ lists *will* get leaked, and those on them *will* be treated as suspicious), make further attempts at censorship of the web easier, and further encourage a tendency in the government to try to control every aspect of everyone’s lives.
There’s a simple way to tell if I want a piece of data – I send a HTTP GET request for it. It *should not* be necessary for me to specifically tell my ISP, separately, that I might want that data – sending the request is prima facie evidence that I want that data.
Prohibition does not work, has never worked, will never work, *CANNOT* ever work. Anyone with the most rudimentary knowledge of cybernetics, of human systems, of the things that politicians of all people should understand *KNOWS* this. Prohibition with added computer is still just prohibition – computers do not magically make the impossible possible. This scheme will damage free speech, prevent some LGBT teenagers from finding useful information, and have about as much effect on the ability of libidinous teenagers to find pornographic material as just asking them not to look would.
Stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid.

If I’d Wanted A Government That Attacked The Poor, I’d Have Voted Labour

Posted in Uncategorized by Andrew Hickey on October 20, 2010

I’m waiting for a few people who know more about economics than I do, and whose views I trust, to post analyses of the Comprehensive Spending Review today. On many fronts, it’s a damn sight better than I (and most people) had worried – cuts to science funding are minor – and some things that have come out of it are actually good. A Universal Credit benefit system is a huge improvement, and not replacing Trident this Parliament is a *huge* victory for the Liberal Democrats. As George Osborne pointed out, there is actually *less* being cut than Labour had said they would cut pre-election.

Of the charities I follow on Twitter, Scope and Shelter hated it, the mental health charities seemed cautiously optimistic, and Oxfam were positively enthusiastic.

However, there are several things that have come up which are, to me, absolutely abhorrent:

The removal of full housing benefit from those between the ages of 25 and 35. This is just *wrong*.

Removing benefits from non-single people who are too ill to work EDIT who are disabled and out of work but deemed ‘able to work take on work related activity’, but whose partner works, after a year of claiming benefit. This will destroy relationships, make sick people reliant on their partners, and push people into poverty who weren’t before.

The removal of mobility allowances for those in residential care.

And, hidden in the small print in the defence review yesterday, and possibly worst of all, every email, phone call and web visit in the UK is to be monitored by the government. Despite the coalition agreement saying this will not happen.

These things can be fought, and will be fought. But depending on how our (non-ministerial) MPs vote they will make the difference between me supporting the coalition with huge reservations and wanting us to pull out as soon as possible. I certainly won’t campaign for anyone who votes for these changes without at least trying to get them amended.

What absolutely *DISGUSTS* me is that Clegg is still following his ‘own the coalition’ line, claiming this Spending Review to be liberal and fair. The changes above are not ones that I – nor, I believe, any Lib Dem voter – voted for. I am becoming more and more convinced that Clegg – who I never voted for as leader, but who I thought did an amazing job at the election and immediately afterward – is everything his detractors claim.

Most of the cuts fall into the ‘harsh but fair’ category, and I could gladly support the cuts to Elizabeth Windsor’s household budget, or the cuts in ‘defence’ spending. And in general, a cut down to 2006 levels of spending as a percentage of GDP (or 2002 levels of staffing in the public sector, depending on how you want to look at it) is not an intrinsically bad thing – certainly not the ‘greatest attack on social democracy this century’ as someone (I thought Laurie Penny, but I can’t see it on either her personal or her New Statesman blogs, so it may have been someone else) said yesterday before the cuts had even been announced.

We also mustn’t let ourselves be fooled into thinking things are worse than they are – a couple of ‘cuts’ people seem most annoyed about are to a commitment to cut cancer waiting list times, and to provide free prescriptions for certain long-term conditions. Both those things were promises made in the dying days of the last government, that have never actually come into practise. Nothing’s been cut there because nothing’s being spent, the government are just not going to do something that Labour (who, remember, wanted to cut *MORE* than this review will) said they would have done had they stayed in power.

But those listed above are – unless I am mistaken about their impact and their consequences – disgusting, immoral, and something I cannot and will not support. I will be remaining a member of the Liberal Democrats – these changes are *NOT* Lib Dem policy, they are ‘coalition’ policy, and I’m not a member of the ‘coalition party’ – but examining *very closely* the voting records of any MPs before I decide which areas to campaign in next election. I don’t have a Lib Dem MP myself, but I wil be contacting Lib Dem MPs in local constituencies and letting them know of my views here.

The cuts I’ve listed are things we would expect from the Tories, and we might not be able to stop them, but the least we can do is not pretend they’re somehow fair or right. If my analysis of this is right (and I’ll be the first to admit it isn’t if I turn out to be overreacting), then Clegg has disgraced himself by supporting these moves.

The Coalition Three Months On

Posted in politics by Andrew Hickey on August 3, 2010

For those of you wondering why I’ve not done many ‘fandom’ type posts recently, it’s because I’ve had no money, so was unable to pick up my comics for a few weeks, or to replace my broken DVD player. Payday is Friday, so the balance should return then.

Anyway, this post is one of the few I’ve ever done that’s at someone else’s request. Penny Andrews (who is one of the more sensible Labour people I know) asked me as a Lib Dem to post my views on the coalition three months in. I’m not sure that three months is adequate time to form a judgement.

To start with, my basic position has remained unchanged from three months ago. I am a supporter of the Liberal Democrats. I think it was right for them to go into coalition. But I am *not* a supporter of the current government. Long before I figured out my own political philosophy enough to realise it’s a reasonable match for liberalism, I knew that “the opposite of what the Tories want” is a pretty good rule of thumb.

I believe this will be a bad government. It will make things worse. But I also see enough concessions in the coalition agreement that convince me that the coalition government, if it keeps to that agreement, will be significantly better than a Conservative government with no Lib Dem presence would have been. I’m not hoping for or expecting good government over the next few years, just that we make it a little less painful.

I’m going to split this into three areas – economic, civil liberties/constitution, and impact on the Lib Dems. I would have added an ‘environment’ one, but frankly I’ve not seen anything, good or bad, on the subject from the government yet. I’m going to skim over a lot of stuff – this government has done a *LOT* in its first few months

Economics

Well, this is the hard one, isn’t it? No question, the emergency budget was fairly horrible. It wasn’t quite as bad as Labour are making out – there are some important Lib Dem concessions in there which will make a real difference, like the rise in Capital Gains Tax and the rise in the level at which you start to pay income tax – but nor is it the ‘progressive’ budget the Lib Dem leadership were spinning it as afterwards. The cuts announced – and the rise in VAT – will cause immense damage to some of the most vulnerable people. People will *DIE* as a result of these cuts. No question of that.

The question is, would more people have died had things been done differently? I have no way of knowing. What I do know, however, is that all three main parties were agreed before the election that cuts were necessary (Alistair Darling told Nick Robinson that there’d have to be cuts worse than those Thatcher made) – they were only arguing over small implementation details, not over principle, however much Labour wish to give a different impression now.

I suspect there were *possibly* ways of cutting less and taxing more, but that’s just a suspicion, and economics is my weak point.

Some of the complaints, though, have been motivated by sheer partisanship. Take the cuts in Housing Benefit. I can see why people oppose the new rule that will mean people can only claim the thirtieth percentile rent in their area, rather than the median – that might well hurt a lot of people. On the other hand, it could also drive rent down and get rid of what is in effect a massive state subsidy of private landlords. We’ll have to wait and see. But people are complaining about the cap being placed on the top housing benefit payments, as if it was somehow horribly regressive. They’re capping the rent at four hundred pounds a week.

To put that in perspective, the government are saying they’re not going to give people more in rent than I earn after tax – and I earn more than the average wage. Quite frankly, I agree with that. My current – very nice and quite spacious – two-bedroom flat costs four hundred pounds *a month*. Given the choice to pay for four flats of that standard for people who actually need it, or pay for one mansion on housing benefit, I know what I’d choose. (Even in London it’s perfectly possible to get somewhere decent to live for significantly under four hundred a week, and if we shouldn’t be subsidising landlords, how much more should we not be subsidising absurd regional inequalities?).

But many of the cuts *will* hurt people, and this government will quite rightly be punished for that. I just hope people remember that Labour would have done the same, and at least turn their protest votes to smaller parties that genuinely wouldn’t have made those decisions, if they’re going to protest.

Some of the other changes, I don’t want to judge. The changes to the NHS sound like more Blairism, frankly, while the simplification of the benefits system depends so much on the implementation details that it could easily be one of the best things ever to happen to the country if done properly, or it could be a cock-up of such gargantuan proportions that it ends up with people starving to death for lack of money. I’m going to wait to see how those shake out before judging.

Civil Liberties and Constitution
This is *MUCH* better. We’re getting rid of child detention for asylum seekers, we’re no longer going to deport gay people back to countries where they’d face jail or execution (this was sped up by a High Court ruling, but was in the coalition agreement anyway). We’re bringing in an upper chamber elected by PR, and a referendum on AV for the Commons. We’ve got rid of the ID Card scheme (though there’s still work to do there).

The coalition’s attitude to prisons and crime has been a complete U-turn on the last twenty years of insanity, with Ken Clarke (who is a Tory arsehole of course, but one who’s surprisingly liberal on social matters) talking a huge amount of sense here. Lynne Featherstone is making huge strides in equalities (though there’s still a lot of work to do there). We’ve got the Freedom Bill coming soon. We’ve agreed to stop collaborating with torture (and how I wish that was something that didn’t have to be said).

Were it not for the (apparently temporary) extension of 28-day detention, and the stupid, unworkable, *EVIL* plans for an immigration cap, this government is shaping up to be truly *great* in the areas of civil liberties, freedom and democracy, something I never thought I’d say about a Tory-led government.

Impact on the Liberal Democrats
We’re fucked, electorally, for at least one election. That’s worth it, if we manage to do some good/prevent some harm, but the problem is the leadership seem intent on worsening the situation.

We’re working with the Tories, but we don’t have to pretend we like it, and so far Nick Clegg in particular has been doing just that. There has been almost no clear distinction between what is Tory policy and what is Lib Dem policy in the media, and Clegg has done nothing to make that distinction.

It’s got to the point where some Tories (but, thankfully, no Lib Dems I know of) have been talking of the possibility of electoral pacts at the next election. Let me make something clear now - if the Lib Dems decide not to stand an official candidate against some Tories, I will personally stand as an ‘independent Lib Dem’ against the most high-profile of them, and pay the deposits of at least two other people if they’ll do the same. But I can say this confident that there is no way the party would do something so mind-bogglingly stupid.

Luckily, the back benchers haven’t been so complacent. While not making a fuss or being an ‘awkward squad’, decent Lib Dem MPs like Adrian Sanders and John Leech have argued in Parliament against bad policies in the coalition agreement (while of course still having to vote for them) and voted against bad policies that are not in the agreement. I’m particularly proud of Leech as he’s been entirely sensible in his public statements, while taking what seems to me the correct line in balancing principle and pragmatism in Parliament. He’s no longer my MP, but I spent several years in his local party and campaigned for his re-election, and am very glad I did.

We need *QUICKLY* to start establishing ourselves as an independent voice, separate from the Tories. I suspect this will start to happen with Autumn Conference. The question at this point is whether we’re only going to lose the five to ten percent of people who voted for us because they thought we were Labour-lite, or whether we’re going to do such a poor job of putting forward liberal values that we alienate our actual real supporters.

So overall, the coalition – horrible and evil on the economy, but quite how horrible I’m not yet sure, just like I’m not yet sure if it’s better or worse than Labour in that respect, pretty damn good on social issues, and terrible for the Lib Dems as a party. Exactly as I expected.

Furious

Posted in comics, politics by Andrew Hickey on July 15, 2010

Too furious to blog about what I was going to, anyway. Two things have made me annoyed – one that matters, in the grand scheme of things, and one that doesn’t.

The one that matters is that the coalition government has voted that detention without charge for 28 days will be extended for another six months, while the policy is ‘reviewed’. They say they’ll get rid of it, just not yet. What kind of ‘review’ it takes to say “We’ll *NOT* lock people up for a month without charge or trial” I don’t know. And some Lib Dems voted for this! (Others, like Adrian Sanders, thankfully didn’t.)

I haven’t been able to find a list of who did and didn’t vote for this. And the reason for this is simple – nobody seems to care. It doesn’t seem ‘important’. The Lib Dem Blogs aggregator has more posts about Robbie rejoining Take That than about our MPs voting for a fundamentally illiberal law. There’s no mention of it on the BBC, or the Guardian or Independent websites. It’s got past without anyone really bothering, because it’s just an existing law being renewed, not a new infringement of what few liberties we have left.

The argument for renewal for now *almost* makes sense – if we’re having a Repeal/Freedom Bill in six months which will cover all civil liberties issues, and if the law isn’t getting used at the moment (and apparently it isn’t) then easier to let it carry on til then than to come up with something to replace it.

But I *WILL* be keeping an eye on this, and if it’s renewed for even an extra day after that I will no longer consider the junior coalition party to be the party I joined. There is *NOTHING* Liberal about locking people up without charge for a month.

And a warning to Labour trolls – your evil cloacal discharge of a party not only brought in this anal smearage disguised as legislation, this utter barbarism, but they wanted to extend it to ninety days, so you don’t get to have an opinion on this one.

The other thing about which I am annoyed is that Grant Morrison is not writing Batman & Robin after October. There are internet rumours that they’re creating another Batman title for him, but there’s an official announcement of a *fourth* Batman ‘in-continuity’ monthly which Morrison won’t be writing, so I doubt it.

(ETA Please note, I’m not doing a ‘tearing up my membership card’ thing here. But this is a *BIG* red line, and if continued will require *serious* action. Anyone fancy writing an emergency motion for conference or something? I’ve little motion experience so wouldn’t be able to do much, but would gladly help if someone wants to do this…)

Coalition: Lengthening The Spoon

Posted in politics by Andrew Hickey on June 9, 2010

I’ve noticed a rather worrying trend at the moment for Liberal Democrats to treat the Tories as our friends, since we went into coalition with them. People praising Cameron’s performance at Prime Minister’s Questions and so on. Some are even talking about how at the next election we should campaign on the basis of a continuation of the coalition.

I think this is *hugely* dangerous, both to the party and to the country.

For the party, if the coalition lasts more than a single Parliament, then effectively we become just a branch of the Conservative Party – we become the National Liberals. If we go into an election campaigning for a continuation of the coalition, we’re campaigning for a Conservative government, and we might as well be the Conservative Party.

For the country, it is *imperative* that we distance ourselves from the Conservatives as much as is possible while still working with them constructively.

I think going into coalition was the right thing to do given the circumstances. I think the coalition deal we got was, on the face of it, an extraordinarily good one. I think this government will be better by far than the Labour government that preceded it, if only because they set the bar so disastrously low – if this government just manages to *not* destroy the economy for a generation, *not* mortgage the birthright of everyone under forty in order to placate self-obsessed baby boomers, *not* roll back a ton of rights we’ve had since Magna Carta and *not* kill a million brown people because a Texan psychopath told them to, then we’re still ahead on points.

But the fact is, while this government is going to do many good things (for example dropping ID cards , though see NO2ID’s response to the proposed bill) of which we can be proud, there will also be things which are outright evil. I didn’t expect, for example, that the commitment to not detain child asylum seekers would mean they might be deported to Afghanistan instead…

We may have to go along with these things to some extent – we’ve been given a choice of either a government doing some evil things and some good things, or of one doing some evil things and some other even more evil things, and it’s pretty obvious which of those you choose if you’re in the business of actual practical politics rather than moralising, but that doesn’t mean that what we have done isn’t a deal with the devil, and one for which we will rightly be punished at the ballot box. (With luck we will also be rewarded, rightly, for the good we’ve done).

It is *especially* important that we retain a distance from the Tories because in general those who will be hurt worst if the Tories behave like Tories always do are *not* the typical Lib Dem member/supporter – we are, all exceptions duly noted, a mostly white middle-class party. It would be very, *VERY* easy for me to just look at the good side – things like AV, which will benefit me – while ignoring the bad. As a white, heterosexual, cissexual, English-speaking male in a good job with no visible disabilities it is extraordinarily unlikely that the Tories will do anything that will cause me any significant direct harm in the first term (I can’t say the same for my disabled unemployed bisexual immigrant wife though…). That’s probably true of most Lib Dems, and there’s a very real danger that we’ll start to think “well of course obviously the asylum seeker thing is bad, *obviously*, but no ID cards!”

We need to be able to VERY firmly make the case that we will vote in Parliament, short term, for bad things because that’s what the coalition agreement says, but that we will continue to fight against those things and try to overturn them as soon as possible. We have to do this politely, and our parliamentarians at least must never use the phrase “Evil bastard Tory scum” (although I will feel free to continue to do so) because we have to work with them. But we *MUST NOT* allow ourselves to become assimilated by the Tories.

Right now, both major parties have pretty much the same ideology – anti-poor, anti-foreigners, anti-freedom . We have managed to get the Tories to work with us to help implement the ‘not enslaved by conformity’ part of our constitution, but we mustn’t forget the parts about ignorance and poverty in the euphoria of this – because we’re the only party with any national presence who are even *considering* those things.

This is why, while not having a side in the deputy leadership race (I don’t know enough about the role to know who would be best), I *do* support Simon Hughes’ proposals for MPs, which seem to me a sensible way of retaining our distance from the Tories while still working constructively with them.

This government has the potential to be one of the great reforming governments of all time, especially with Nick Clegg in charge of constitutional reform. But it also has the potential to do a great deal of damage to the most vulnerable in society. We need, as Liberal Democrats, to work with every fibre of our being to ensure it’s the former rather than the latter.

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