Democracy V Politicians. Who or Which is more stupid?

My wife suggested I sign the petition. I thought about it. Then signed. Reluctantly. Why, given my recent posts and obvious disappointment with the result, the reservations?

The first point to make is that there is no intelligent argument to justify moving the goalposts after the game is over and that, if the Remain side had won by a similar margin and the Leavers had launched a similar attempt to overturn the result (as Farage threatened before the vote), they too would have been met with howls of derision. Hypocrisy isn’t restricted to the other side. That held me back for almost five seconds. Then I remembered that Politics has buggerall to do with Intelligent Argument whereas hypocrisy is it’s bread and butter.

My second objection, however, is the naïve wording of the petition. It demands “a rule that if the remain or leave vote is less than 60% based a turnout less than 75% there should be another referendum.”

This hints at what might be a reasonable principle – that for important decisions, nothing less than support from an absolute majority (of the electorate, not just the voters) should be required before anything changes – but still leaves the possibility that the decision could be carried by as little as 45% of the electorate (75% of 60%=45%) which isn’t, philosophically, any more defensible than what has actually happened (37.5% of the Electorate voted to leave).

It’s no surprise, of course, that the political class didn’t even consider the “true majority” question when framing the relevant Referendum law as, were they to concede such a principle for this issue, they might find themselves having to defend their own elections, which have NEVER achieved true majorities. Last year, for example, the present Tory Government achieved power with the support of less than a quarter of the Electorate. But so wedded are they to the need to be able to claim “mandates” on the basis of winning a corrupt electoral game with mediocre participation, that they are obliged to concede that, under similar “first past the post” rules, the Leave camp can now claim a mandate (50% bigger than their own) for our departure from the EU.

It’s not that they don’t understand the need for much more credible levels of democratic support. It’s just that they don’t think such restraints should apply to themselves. They should only apply to lesser mortals, like striking workers, whom the Tories would like to force to require a minimum 40% (electorate) support for any strike action.

In other words, shutting down London’s transport system or the Power Stations, or whatever, is regarded as so potentially disruptive that the workers should not be allowed to do it unless at least 40% of those entitled to vote support the call for (in)action. That, in my view, is actually a perfectly reasonable proposition and I have long been critical of my Trade Union friends for not treading the more democratic path.

But it is hypocrisy (or stupidity) on a truly gargantuan scale to suggest that shutting down the London Underground should require a democratic hurdle higher than shutting down the most important Political, Economic and Social Alliance in British history.

So that condition should have been part of the Referendum bill when it was enacted. And let’s just emphasise how little consideration was given to this aspect of the problem. There isn’t even a MINIMUM participation level specified in the Act. In other words, in principle, if just one person had bothered to turn up and cast their vote, that person could have, legally, at least, decided the referendum. And even that doesn’t plumb the depths of inanity in the legislation. Despite passing a law to enable the Referendum to take place, they deliberately excluded any obligation to obey the result.

Yes that’s right, it’s not even legally binding! (although they clearly don’t dare to hide behind that escape non-clause)

Now, you could argue that this was their backassed way of protecting themselves against the ludicrously low turnout scenario imagined above, but it’s not like they haven’t thought about such things. As you’ll read in that link, in 2011, when they held the referendum on the “Alternative Vote” proposal, it contained the explicit instruction for the Government to act on the result.

And it’s been interesting to hear how vociferously the Petition has already been rubbished by at least one member of the Leave campaign, Charles Walker, chairman of the Tory 1922 committee, who said on the “World this Weekend” (relevant snippet starts at 34 mins 20 seconds)

”That petition is not going to have any chance, whatsoever, no matter how many people sign it, of impacting the result that we heard about on Friday morning” [emphasis added]

Really?

As of 5 minutes ago that petition had gathered just over 3.2 million votes. This is already, by far, the largest ever response to an official Parliamentary Petition, since the scheme was set up a few years back, as a sop to make voters believe they can actually influence the political process WITHOUT something truly democratic like a referendum.  If you sit and refresh the page a few times, you can actually see the total shooting up at the rate of between 50 and 100 signatures per second.

It’s not going to happen, of course, but just suppose that reached a total of 18 million votes in the next few days. On what intellectually coherent basis could any politician argue that it should not be heeded?

Indeed, that’s the basis on which I finally decided to sign it. I would love to see the bastards wriggle to get off that hook! So, if you’re a UK voter and would be similarly entertained by the sight of wriggling politicians, pop along to the petition and add to the pressure.

But the overall conclusion we must reach is that the whole debacle is merely another illustration of how tenuous is the public or political grasp of the true meaning of “Democracy”.  Nothing since the Athenian model, has come close. The political class is fully aware of this and would rather like to keep it that way. Indeed, ironically, one of the biggest objections to edging back in the direction of true Democracy is the derogatory term “Tyranny of the Majority” – particularly in the USA, whose constitution was explicitly designed to AVOID Democracy in favour of Liberty (which they obviously perceived/perceive as natural enemies).

As the United States demonstrates better than most, the consequence of this historical and ongoing Patriarchal and Paternalist dictat, is that we all continue to suffer “Tyranny of the Minority”, which is exactly what Athenian Democracy was explicitly designed to avoid.

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Vote “Remain” to Restrain (the Little England Authoritarians)

That’s the only criterion by which I decided which way to vote on June 23rd. As regular readers will be aware, I regard all forms of government as among our most dangerous enemies and in need of serious restraint.  The single most important advantage of our continued EU membership is that it is much more difficult for 27 governments to agree on an evil authoritarian policy than for any lone wolf government. The obligation to achieve consensus is a very effective constraint.

Consider, for example, which regime is more likely to concede threats to our privacy; the British government acting alone, with it’s already legislated criminalisation of password privacy, its already demonstrated craven submission to American demands for information and its naive echoing of childish American demands for cryptographic back doors somehow available only to “good guys” like them; or the EU collective which, in its various forms, is engaged in fairly significant resistance,  to similar American demands, following the demise of the “Safe Harbour” fig leaf.

TTIP is another instance where the EU Consensus requirements are proving a major obstacle to a cosy deal between the bureaucratic elites on both sides of the Atlantic. Can’t see the isolated Brits fighting anywhere near so hard to resist US demands for corporate control of trade legislation (for example). In fact, having left the biggest trading bloc in the world, British politicians will no doubt gladly bend the knee (or the back) to do any deals they can get with the likes of authoritarian China and the USA, just to preserve some kind of economic wellbeing.

But the most obvious area in which the Little Englanders have revealed their wet dream ambitions is the area of Human Rights; specifically those protected by the European Convention on Human Rights. Even some of the Tories campaigning to stay in the EU have declared their intent to divorce the UK from it’s obligations to operate under that convention, for the understandable reason that those laws already constrain our politicians authoritarian tendencies more than they are prepared to concede.

Even if we vote to stay in, it won’t stop the bastards from trying but the likes of Terroresa May will find it extremely difficult, for mundane legal reasons, to implement our withdrawal from that reasonably civilised and protective convention and they will probably be forced to back down. Conversely, if we’re stupid enough to vote to leave, then there will be no serious obstacle to that immediate assault on our rights and the many others to follow.

Concluding in haiku,

So Please Vote Remain
Let the Collective Restrain
It’s just a No-Brain
er

 

 

 

Authority V Liberty (Round 4,287,541)

Nobody would contest the desirability of knowing exactly what was in the killers’ heads and history; preferably before they managed to gun down fourteen fellow American citizens in San Bernardino in December. The FBI obviously thinks this is a poster child for their demand for American tech companies to provide back-doors into our encrypted gadgets.

If you’re remotely inclined to sympathise with the FBI, consider this.

It is not just conceivable but highly likely that within 10-20 years, we will have technology capable of ferreting that information out of anyone’s  head. And if you think I’m exaggerating, take a look at this.

or this

or this

or this

or this

or this

or this (added 2016-06-15)

I could go on. The point is that those links illustrate the amount of effort being put into digital mind-reading and the extent to which it’s already been achieved; and that some people are already fully aware of the potential threat, which makes ALL other Privacy invasions pale into insignificance. My 10-20 year time-frame is probably conservative.

I’ve been taking a close personal interest in this technology since Dr Larry Farwell had his 15 minutes back in 2003 when he  managed to get his Brain Fingerprinting evidence accepted by a court which resulted in the release of Terri Harrington, who’d, by then, served 23 years after being wrongly convicted of murder.

I wrote to Farwell at the time, suggesting that his technology could offer the “perfect bio-metric”. I postulated, for example, that it could identify me, uniquely, by observing my neural reaction to seeing a photograph of my late father.  No one else’s brain could simulate my reaction so no one else could pretend to be me. I also suggested that another obvious benefit would be to solve the most intractable problem in secure authentication; viz: access under duress. “Yes they are entering the correct password or revealing the correct retinal scan, but are they only doing that because someone is holding a gun to their head?”

I’m still waiting for a reply!

But it’s obvious that, since then, the technology (and America’s military interest in it) has been marching on. So, whether you like it or not, it’s on its way.  And the authoritarians who are funding the most meaningful research don’t share my views on the use of the technology to prevent privacy invasion. Quite the opposite. They see it as the greatest possible advance in privacy invasion and you can expect laws to change to permit it as we get closer to it. In a sense, that’s exactly what’s happening today.

Once digital mind reading is possible, it will be plausible to argue that, for example, airlines should be allowed to put every passenger through such a mind scanner, in order to ensure that no-one with evil intent against the aircraft is permitted to board.

That’s not my fevered imagination either. Comes from the man himself, almost certainly, given the date of that article, as part of his personal reaction to 9-11.

A first reaction, given my fear of flying, is that I might even think its a good idea myself. Particularly if the “duress protection” was mandated as part of the technology, so that no one could be coerced into having their mind read. And if there was a formally agreed set of questions to which our brain responses would be measured, with no recording of data, alarms raised only on appropriate warnings etc etc, I’d certainly welcome the assurance that, provably, no one sharing that flight with me, had any intention, when they boarded at least, of bringing the plane down.

But as we’ve seen, in some detail, over the past decade, that’s not the way Authority works.   Duress protection, independently citizen audited surveillance of the process and strictly limited application are never on the authoritarian agenda. Instead, they demand back doors, weak encryption, surrender of passwords etc etc.

Society is divided into two groups. The authoritarians and their followers form one group and they will argue in favour of allowing the mind-scanners and insisting that we all step through them.

Once we’ve conceded that for something as serious as air travel, it will be only a matter of time before they mandate it for (in roughly descending order) weeding out Pedophiles, Rapists, Tax dodgers, Copyright cheats,  Trolls, Recreational drug users and Dissidents. Then, depending which level of authoritarianism you live under, they’ll move on to apostates, homosexuals, marital cheats, speeding motorists and other ne’er do wells.

Those who understand Liberty and the nature of threats like the above will probably have to fight the authoritarians literally to the death in what may come to be known as Humanity’s Final War.

The current Apple battle is an early skirmish in that war.

Pick your sides now and be sure of a good seat…

Finally, if you want to hear an intelligent presentation of the current state of the relevant science, and some of the issues, check this out:

Authoritarians Attempt Coercion Against 45,000 Doctors

The imposition of a new contract by the Hunt responsible for NHS Policy is the single most authoritarian action by a western government since Reagan’s dismissal of 11,345 striking Air Traffic Control staff in 1981.

I never figured out how he got away with that. If there was ever a case for citizens owning and using guns, that was a true Casus Bellum.  But then I’m just a woolly liberal, woddoIknow?

The labour movement has all too often been led by donkeys who have the strategic comprehension of a parking meter, so it is not unusual for them to lose the fight against their capitalist overlords.

The BMA – the junior doctors “trade union” – might be a different proposition. Qualifying as a doctor does require above average intelligence and ability to focus. So perhaps we can expect a more intelligent response to the government diktat in this instance.

Here’s my suggestion for what it’s worth.

Every junior doctor who is not prepared to toe the employer’s line should, in planned coordination with every other similarly minded junior doctor, hand in their conditional notice to quit in, say, 3 months time, and simultaneously lodge a formal complaint at an industrial tribunal, for compensation in respect of their constructive dismissal. (For those unfamiliar with that term it is a charge against the employer that the employee was forced to resign on the grounds of unreasonable behaviour by the employer)

40,000+ simultaneous Junior Doctor resignations and tribunal cases would, I suspect, bring the Hunt gently jogging back to the table.

 

David Anderson takes a Step In the Right Direction

With David Anderson’s report, we finally look like we may be moving in the right direction.

However, his solution to over-reach is aiming at the wrong target. Prior authorisation by his proposed new judicial body is really no more than a band-aid on the amputated limb.

The 2800 authorisations issued last year are enough to illustrate the limitation of “control by authorisation”

There is no way that serious consideration of the facts and arguments underpinning any relevant surveillance request can possibly be conducted, at that rate, by the small organisation implied by a Judicial Commission. In fact, as David Davies argued on Radio 4, it’s not credible that the Home Secretary, Theresa May, even with the resources of the Home Office, can give genuinely appropriate levels of attention to such requests at the rate of 7 a day. Especially on top of her day job.

Frankly, however, we shouldn’t really care who signs off the authorisation for any given task. All they need to authorise is that the new rules I’m about to propose are being followed to the letter. That, in short means that a new digital case file has been opened and that everything related to the case will be stored in that file and made available, on demand to the independent oversight body and/or political authorities.

What matters far more – and is absolutely vital to ensuring true democratic control of the State’s surveillance apparatus – is the complete and routine data-capture (to an immutable audit trail) of the entire surveillance decision-making process and subsequent implementation of those decisions. In other words, nobody should be watched more closely and comprehensively than the watchers themselves. Think helmet cams, body cams, discreet microphones, Smartphone and GPS location tracking, Google glass and a host of similar technologies. Think ubiquitous CCTV and Webcam coverage in all secure areas and offices.

These are the experts in surveillance. They know exactly how to ensure that everything they say and do, in the line of duty, is captured to that immutable audit trail. They know how to keep their own data safe and secure and available only to those who have legal authority to access it. (If they don’t, they have no business keeping ours) It would probably be cost neutral or slightly beneficial.

Most importantly it will facilitate precisely the democratic oversight which is needed to ensure that everything the authorities do is on the record (or is automatically a criminal offence) and available for review by whatever oversight body we determine is necessary to earn the Trust of the British People.

That body must have untrammelled authority to inspect ANY relevant data at ANY time from the moment of authorisation forward. Indeed, it must even have authority to conduct spot inspections of anything relevant to their oversight with the sole and reasonable limitation that they can watch but not impede an ongoing operation. They must also be allocated resources which permit independent and trusted expert evaluation of what they find.

The technology will allow them to rewind any operation and see for themselves what evidence justified the operation and whether the implementation of the operation was entirely necessary and proportionate. Note, I don’t even insist that it was “legal”.

What matters is that We The People would agree that it was justified. Not that a “here today gone tomorrow” politician – with a potentially hidden agenda – asserts that it was justified and demands that we trust them.

The oversight body would be empowered to disclose whatever they thought necessary to the British Public. We need to be completely confident that if they say the operation was clean and justified, but that the details need to remain secret, we would probably have agreed with them if we were in possession of all the facts.

By the same token, where they clearly uncover illicit behaviour, we must be equally confident that they are able to disclose everything we ought to know, however embarrassing for the State, that disclosure may be.

Personally I don’t trust unelected Authoritarians, even relatively tame ones like most Judges, to wield that disclosure against the elected Authoritarians and I would much prefer that Oversight body to take the form of a Standing Jury with a few dozen members selected randomly from a national pool of civic-minded volunteers.

I don’t think we should object if the Security services wanted to Vet those volunteers and weed out any that might be a threat to the necessary discipline and security that such a Jury would have to work under. But the Jury itself would be the final arbiter on any such exclusions from Jury Service.

Such an arrangement would render the process truly democratic.

We should, perhaps, have no objection to a tribunal of experienced judges being available to advise and guide the Jury on all points of law and precedent, but the Jury itself should be sovereign and make the final judgements.

With all that in place, you can perhaps see why we needn’t care so much about who authorises the actual operations.

Provided we can see, after the event, who was asked, why they were asked, why they agreed, what the consequences were and how it was handled, frankly I don’t give a give a damn what it is they actually authorise – up to and including the assassination of a fellow citizen – or even an attack on a wedding party in Pakistan. There are potential legitimate reasons for any of these activities.

But where the consequences are that extreme, nothing less than a Jury of our peers, taking an entirely uninhibited look, on our behalf, at what went on and why, will satisfy any rationally sceptical citizen that the decisions were reasonable and rationally based on reviewable evidence; or that the implementation of those decisions was carried out in the least destructive and damaging way possible in the circumstances.

To be blunt; how many of the USA Police brutality incidents we have been bombarded with for the past few decades would have survived that level of scrutiny? Or, to put it another way, how much of that brutality would we have eliminated, how many lives would we have saved, had they been under that level of scrutiny?

Yes, the American Police are a far easier target for our opprobrium than the British Security Services.
We’d rather like to keep it that way!

Christianity – Genetic Blowback?

Just a thought.

Just watched the excellent “Sex and the Church

Learned a lot. Highly recommended.

But although it explained – very well – what we know about the history of the Christian church’s embarrassing obsession with sex, it didn’t explain how or why the ideas which formed the core of the meme managed to survive past the “raised eyebrow” stage. And they are so psychotic that an explanation is required.

Clearly by the time Augustine had “clarified” the doctrine of sexual sin, the only logical conclusion that can be drawn is that a truly sinless human race – which is, ostensibly, what the Christian church would have liked to achieve – would, by virtue of complete sexual abstinence, have made themselves extinct within about a century.

Is it conceivable that no one understood that at the time? Not for me it ain’t. For me, it’s bleedin obvious that it would have been bleedin’ obvious to any sentient human hearing that proposal at any time. So how did it get past the snorts of ridicule? What on earth made so many meekly accept – at least in public – such a message as meaningful ethical guidance?

Not, of course, that they paid anything but lip service to the resultant edicts; or else there wouldn’t be so many of the buggers around today. So the first tactical error (in this context) made by the authoritarian church had the effect of making private disobedience an essential tool of survival. That’s not a good trait to encourage in a “subject.”

More significantly, if the tendencies to either disobedience or submission (to the demand for sexual abstinence) had any basis in genetic predisposition, their strategy also ensured the evolution of increasingly sceptical and disobedient Christians, whom – inevitably – learned to value autonomy over authority and, eventually, to reject authority altogether. Delicious irony?

I know. It’s a fairy story. Nice one though.

Today is October 10th, 2012 and I am ready to go to prison.

Thus spake Leah Lynn Plante just over a year ago.

The Empire obviously broke her spirit because they let her out again a few days later, while the other two refuseniks who were kidnapped by the State at the same time, were only released five months later, when the judge admitted that the State bullying had failed to break their spirits and that he could see no further point in detaining them.

Leah, it is rumoured, co-operated with the grand jury and has thus, apparently, since been shunned by her erstwhile anarchist companions. I, for one, salute her bravery. Not many of us would dare to confront the Bully State to the extent she did and the fact that their bullying and intimidation appears to have frightened her into compliance is certainly no basis for condemnation or even disdain.

But I’d be fascinated to know what she revealed. I’m betting it was buggerall because she obviously isn’t any kind of terrorist – unlike the state employed thugs who broke into her home, kidnapped her and locked her up in the name of the scandalous “War on Terror”

So…read the statement, watch the video, then ask yourself, “who, exactly, are the terrorists in this story?”

here’s a more detailed discussion of the implications of what the modern McCarthyites are up to:

now consider the irony of the source of that video. And in case you distrust the message because you might distrust the messenger, remember that the story is on the public record because at least one “proper” newspaper did report the facts and even the negative and seditious comments by Neil Fox, president of the National Lawyer’s guild. It’s also quite well summarised, with references,here as usual. So we know it really happened. Yet hardly any of us DO know…

I was, initially, concerned that this was old news. A year old to be almost precise. Then I thought, well I didn’t know about it before I “stumbled” it tonight and it’s right in my target zone. Then I looked around for other coverage of what ought to have been fairly major police state outrage and found almost nothing. Fewer than 150 people have watched that video before now, so you’re an early adopter. I couldn’t find any evidence of more than a few thousand views of other versions of the same thing and, as for the mainstream, as usual, nada… Indeed just google “leah-lynn plante” “grand-jury” which terms ought to appear in any serious reporting of the story. It returned a little under 37,000 results, none of which included, in the first five pages, any recognisable commercial or state media. Bizarrely not even that Seattle Times piece appears in the early pages and it definitely contains those search terms!

Somehow they’ve managed to hide the story in plain sight. Which is why it’s probably as much news to you as it was to me.

I find this particular disturbing. One of the observations I made, back in 2005, in the first comment I wrote for my original “Police State of America” collection was that one feature that gave us “hope” for the American condition was that – at least – all its problems were being reported by other Americans, revealing a considerable level of resistance and dissent.

Will we now have to start relying on the Russians to host discussion of the continuing American descent into State brutality against its own citizens?