13 December 2016

One Time Secret: a useful service

It may not be NSA resistant, but One-Time Secret is a useful and easy to use service for activists worried about state surveillance.

In information security there is often a trade off between ease of use and level of security. But here One-Time Secret is a winner. It is extremely easy to use (no setting up of new accounts or downloading apps), and provides a high level of confidentiality for your email.

Basically, you open the webpage, write a message in the composition box, click and get a link. Instead of sending your message in an email you send the link instead. The recipient views the message by clicking on the link.

So, what’s the point? Well, the message can only be seen once. After the recipient has accessed it, the message is wiped from the servers of One-Time Secret. Of course, you can paste/copy the message content, but there is no evidence of whom it is from, nor is anything left on the net.

If the recipient can’t access it, s/he knows that somebody else has. So if you and your correspondent discover that you are under surveillance - or if you don’t trust One-Time Secret - you have the option of passwording (i.e. encrypting) the message. You then, of course, need to communicate the password to the recipient by some safe channel.

Left activists worried about surveillance, but not needing an NSA level of protection, can easily make use this service. On 10 November 2016, presumably to protect itself from the British Investigatory Powers Act (which requires providers to store their customers' data and break their own encryption) One-Time Secret moved its servers from London to Frankfurt.


Please note: I am not a technical expert, so I am not able to vouch for any technical aspect. One Time Secret is open source software.

4 December 2016

Liberalism: two incompatible traditions

Social liberalism and neo-economic liberalism are largely incompatible. The former is under threat in the current wave of right-wing populism.

In the wake of Brexit and Trump, it is fashionable for political commentators to say that liberalism is in retreat. Yet what they fail to mention is that that there are two, and two largely incompatible, political traditions of liberalism. So talking about them as if they were one makes no sense.

The first, social liberalism, is the "good" liberalism, namely. In outline, this is a movement that gives rights to individuals to do their own thing, and argues for people not to be coerced by governments unless they are doing something which materially harms others. For social liberals the state exists to uphold personal and civic rights and to regulate the free market, and redistribute money, so that the operation of the capitalist economy doesn’t negate those rights in practice.

The second is the "bad" tradition of liberalism, which is called neo-economic liberalism - or otherwise known as market fundamentalism. The modern founders of this school were economists like Hayek and Friedman who argued for the untrammelled free market enforced by a nightwatchman state. The inequalities and injustices thrown up wherever this ideology has been allowed free rein are so large that it can only be imposed in illiberal regimes, such as Pinochet’s Chile after 1973, or in today’s Singapore with its hangman’s rope and rattan canes.

Quite clearly the Brexiters and Trumpists want to trash social liberalism, but the jury is still out on whether their intentions, rather than some of their rhetoric, will result in a full reversal of the neo-economic liberalism which has been the dominant world ideology and practice since the end of the 1970s.

1 December 2016

Blair's New Labour: Ending Labour as a progressive movement

The following comment, penned in October 2006 during the Blair New Labour years, remains an accurate description of the period, especially in predicting David Cameron's election in 2010. What I did not foresee was the Financial Crisis of 2008 or the rise of Jeremy Corbyn in 2015.

Blair's New Labour is a reactionary creed and has destroyed the Labour Party as a progressive party

There are some elections which mark a transformation in the body politic, such as 1945 and 1979. There are others which mark its continuation; I see 1951 and 1997 as elections which are mostly about new management teams to administer the status quo. Until Britain's two historic parties of left and right have both had a turn in Number 10, one cannot talk of a new consensus. Mr Blair's role was to consolidate the Thatcherite consensus; he has done so admirably well.

There are two practices of New Labour which stifled left and progressive forces. The first happened inside the Labour Party: the defeat of social democracy and the establishment of a top-down, managerial non-democratic party structure. The second is ongoing: the political practice of triangulation; i.e. moving so far to the right on policies (e.g. civil liberties) that the Conservative opposition can only utter me-tooisms, (like David Cameron) or else take refuge in lonnyland (like John Redwood). Triangulation, though, is only possible because Blair faces no threat to his left flank (Cf. Schroeder with the Greens and the Linkspartei/PDS).

Some people point out that Labour's social and educational policies have improved the lot of the worst-off in the inner cities. I acknowledge the point that vis-à-vis the Tories New Labour has higher social spending because if it did not there would little to sustain New Labour's electoral base. Yet, it should be noted that inequality in the UK continues to grow, and the commercialisation of every aspect of social service provision undermines the collectivist universalistic philosophy on which that social provision was based.

Social democracy sought to modify capitalism so that it functioned at least to some degree in the interests of working people. New Labour has reversed the logic: people need to be modified so that they function for globalised capitalism. While it might often be better to be employed on the minimum wage than to be on the dole, Blairism is a revolting enslaving philosophy that is an anathema to everything the left ever strove for.

Most people in Britain in Blair's decade have experienced rising living standards so there has been a period of political peace and political disengagement. What Iraq did was to thrust the rottenness of New Labour in front of people's faces, and, once the teflon had cracked, mud stuck everywhere. Discontent there is, but sadly it is not channelled constructively, and is it is likely to end up propelling Mr Cameron into government.