Why Grenfell Tower Went Up Like A Torch – Many Heads Need To Roll

It is extremely rare to get such a condensed, detailed and articulate explanation of why a tragedy has occurred. And even when we do, it’s usually years later; after tribunals, public inquiries, inquests and all the other bureaucratic masturbation has been given full rein (and millions of pounds in public funding) to try to produce a credible excuse for government or local government or corporate failure. Today, we’ve got one incredibly controlled woman speaking laser sharp truth to power in all three sectors; National, Local and Corporate are going to have to find sacrificial goats to compensate for this lethal clusterfuck. What Pilgrim Tucker reveals is nothing less than criminal negligence at all levels of relevant authority.

 

 

For the full horror, if you can, watch Newsnight here

But in summary:

No sprinkler systems
A lethal “Stay Put” policy (the flats are supposed to resist fire for at least an hour)
No Communal Fire Alarms
FLAMMABLE CLADDING!!!  Apparently this is NORMAL!

It’s “fire retardant” – “up to a point” – a point obviously dangerously below the point at which there would be any point in calling it fire retardant.

and before the disaster:

Sham consultation
Substandard work
No response to formal complaints
Legal threats against their action campaign seeking to improve fire resistance
Poorer (and even “normal”) citizens can’t afford the Law
and Legal Aid has been withdrawn from “civil” cases

Well at least that last item shouldn’t be an issue from this point on. The criminal prosecution which MUST follow will no doubt be fully funded.

The worst twist this tale could now take would be convincing evidence that a Moslem jihadi started the blaze either accidentally while trying to put together a bomb, or deliberately.  Make damn sure you examine any such claims with forensic care, because if the authoritarians can focus on that angle, the appalling neglect of the welfare of the residents could be swept under the carpet. Bomb or no bomb, that building should never have died like it did.  And while we’re on possible links with MIFT, yes it did burn far more intensely than WTC 7. And no, there’s no sign of it collapsing.

There must be at least a dozen key individuals guilty of some level of criminal negligence and “endangerment” in the progress of this scandal. Those political and corporate heads will, hopefully, roll, but even if they do, it will be far too little, far too late

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Timid Theresa Turns Tyrant To Tackle Terrorism

The weak and wobbly authoritarian prime minister, too scared to participate in genuine public debate, has bravely announced that she won’t let Human Rights obligations stand in the way of her struggle against Terrorism. This vacuous nonsense represents a clear victory for the Terrorists. Their strategy is simple. They cannot take on an advanced western nation militarily so they need to encourage it to self destruct. How? By encouraging it to attack itself through increasing police state measures such as sweeping surveillance and restrictions on liberty and privacy.

9-11 did an excellent job – for the terrorists – by providing all the excuse they needed for the American authoritarians to clamp down on privacy and liberty with draconian and virtually unrestrained surveillance against millions of its own citizens as well as the imposition of vast swathes of meaningless and intrusive Security Theatre (including, along the way, such delights as nude scanning of air passengers and State Rape by ordinary police against ordinary citizens). Combined with its ongoing subversive war against public education and its overt shooting war against, primarily, African-Americans, the American psyche has been cowed and dumbed so far down the scale that it has been rendered capable of electing, as its political leader, the single least qualified national political participant we’ve ever seen on the political stage anywhere in the world. As a consequence, the Police State of America is now in what we might call the early stages of its second civil war. How hostile that becomes is a matter of conjecture, but another nudge from one or two terrorist attacks might be all it takes to start a major conflagration and Bin Laden’s original strategy will be vindicated.

Theresa May is clearly incapable of understanding this process and doesn’t, therefore, understand that further attacks on our own liberties and privacy are exactly what the terrorists are playing for in the UK as well. Her kneejerk measures will, primarily, alienate the resident Moslem population and make it much easier for wannabe ISIS players to recruit assistance and much easier for existing recruits to hide in the community. All good conditions for feeding the fire.  This stupidity should disqualify her from public office.

Sadly, I don’t think the Labour opposition has a greater understanding of the enemy we’re up against but, in its favour, it isn’t proposing to march further down the Totalitarian road than we’ve already come. Corbyn has at least grasped the connection between our foreign interventionism and home-grown terrorism. That doesn’t qualify him to fix the problem, but it does at least mean he can look at the problem without blinkers, which gives him a much better chance of finding valid countermeasures and, ultimately, taking steps towards realistic solutions.

Vote Accordingly.

 

 

Self-Censorship; the legacy of RIPA – Vote Accordingly

Brighton – PFL Command Post May 22 2017: We were talking – as many now are – about how in the world it was possible for 60 million Americans not just to vote for Trump, but, after 120 days of demonstrated disaster and incompetence STILL to support him. He only scored 41% the day he was elected – an all time low – but 4 months in, he’s still fielding 35%, meaning that just 1 in 7 of those who were prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt in January, had seen the light by May. The other 6 in 7 are clearly impervious. They illustrate Trump’s own claim that he could have shot someone in the street during the campaign, and his base still wouldn’t desert him.

Which made us wonder what would (make the base desert him). Which took us onto the obvious and sinister parallel with Hitler. Although he was elected with minority support, over the next few years Goebbels’ propaganda machine steadily manipulated popular opinion to the point where, on invading Austria, Hitler was greeted as a conquering hero. Trump’s own propaganda specialists (Bannon, Spicer, Conway etc) have singularly failed to achieve any similar response and I said I would google “popular support for hitler” to see if there were any other clues as to what Trump must be doing right in order to retain support of the 60 million.

And then a thought came into my head, unbidden, which made me ashamed to be British.

Did I really want to type “popular support for hitler” into a google search, knowing that British ISPs are now obliged to keep all records of my browsing history for at least 12 months? And that our own politically motivated elected idiots will mandate the searching of such records in the hope they can find “extremists” before they bugger off to Libya and learn how to create viable IED’s in order to blow up a crowd of children and teenagers leaving pop-concerts…

Or should I err on the side of caution and either fire up my VPN and the Iron incognito browser (or Tor; one or two other reasonably secure browsers are available, but the VPN is essential) before mounting such a provocative search? Or just forget it altogether?

That constitutes the sinister effect of Parliament’s RIPA act, passed, in November 2016 with, as the Guardian put it: Barely A Whimper and, as Edward Snowden put it, in the same article:

The UK has just legalised the most extreme surveillance in the history of western democracy. It goes further than many autocracies.”

NB: I refer to Parliament’s Act, not the Government’s as the pitifully clueless Labour party – terrified of appearing “weak on Terrorism” – gave full support to this major attack on our civil liberties.

And it is not helped, when Chairman May announces, as her kneejerk response to the Manchester murders, her intention to set up a “commission for countering extremism” no doubt inspired by the spectacular success of the “Prevent” program, also widely criticised for it’s effect on free speech and complete absence of any verifiable benefits. Even friends of the Tories have long acknowledged its failure.

It amazes me that the establishment of the Stasi State isn’t even a minor issue in the forthcoming election. I can think of nothing with similar significance, nothing capable of inflicting greater long-term damage on the British way of life and its core “Values”. In a single bound we’ve overtaken the Police State of America, where direct surveillance of citizens on this scale still takes place, but remains illegal, which means, when the buggers are caught in the act, they can be prosecuted (though rarely are) We – alone among western nations – have legalised the most intrusive Snoopers’ Charter in history.

And I have to say that a great deal of the blame for this sorry state of affairs lies in the hands of the British voter. We can’t on this occasion, blame the media. They’ve been pretty open and accurate about the scale of the attack on our privacy and liberty. In any other country, this would have prompted riots in the streets. Here it went down with barely a shrug. That itself has to be a legacy of the failure of popular protests in the recent past to have the slightest effect on the State. Consider, for example the 2 million who marched against the Iraq War before the Blair government ignored popular opinion and collaborated with the Americans to assist the illegal invasion of Iraq.

One of the many reasons that we opposed the Iraq invasion was that we strongly suspected that it would lead, inexorably, to precisely the kind of global chaos we are now witnessing and, occasionally, suffering. It is utterly mind-blowing that twats like Fallon still refuse to acknowledge the link between our growing catalogue of disastrous overseas interventions and the wave of European Terrorism mounted by disaffected jihadis.

That refusal to face the facts renders May and her party demonstrably unable to confront global terrorism. After all, if you won’t even admit its primary causes, you can have no hope of implementing effective preventative measures against those causes. It’s a bit like the hopeless attempts of the Victorians to tackle the smallpox epidemics prior to Edward Janner’s insight into the concept of vaccination and its painfully slow acceptance.

In that respect, Labour, or, at least, Corbyn, scores well because he does acknowledge the link between our foreign adventures and home-grown terrorism. (As indeed did Boris Johnson, though the Tories would obviously rather he hadn’t) But at least that gives him a significant advantage when looking for solutions. He won’t exclude, on the basis of inconvenient geo-political truths, our own part in our own pain.

But given his, and his party’s, abject failure to oppose RIPA, I can’t endorse him or his party. I can only advise that, if you understand the gravity of what Parliament has done, you put just one question to the candidates running in your constituency for their part in the National Elective Dictatorship we naively refer to as “British Democracy”:

(to sitting MPs) “Did you vote for RIPA?”

Or to other candidates: “Would you have voted for RIPA?”

If the answer is yes, whatever other merits they may have, they clearly cannot be trusted to protect your most important interests. Vote accordingly.

Accountability Theatre

I doubt you’ll remember reading about “Security Theatre” in my 2005 ID Card paper so I’ll repeat the passage here: I was commenting on the Home Office’s naïve concept of their ID Card as being somehow self-verifying.

It is a classic example of what Bruce Schneier calls “Security Theatre” where we make users go through the motions to make it look like we’re “doing security” but the procedures are actually meaningless “snake oil”

It’s taken me a while but I now realise that the concept is a useful template for another political/commercial deception I’ve been trying to tackle for some years. Most recently I’ve been trying to pique the interest of the only MP I know well enough to trust. Unfortunately he’s rather busy trying to manage at least two portfolios in Corbyn’s shadow cabinet. Despite which I see that he’s taken up the struggle against the Parliamentary Expenses Watchdog – IPSA – and their overweening bureaucracy.

I learned about his (so far) one man campaign from this standard mud-slinging DailyWail story  I’m sure Paul knows he’s got absolutely zero chance of succeeding with his proposal for fixed allowances. But the real issue he’s trying to address is an example of how a system designed to avoid real accountability has no idea how to create it when they’re forced to.

The normal mode of (All) Governments is to avoid disclosing any information which might be used against them while trying to appear as open and transparent as their citizens demand. The result is what I have decided, henceforward, to call “Accountability Theatre”. It can be defined thus:

ACCOUNTABILITY THEATRE

1 Setting up mechanisms, in order to pacify public demands for accountability, which are supposed to audit sundry claims and reassure the public that proper consideration and due process have been applied. But…

2  The mechanisms lack any provision for realistic forensically verifiable means of validating such claims. So…

3 The public are required to Trust the declarations of the auditor and the auditor is required to trust the limited evidence s/he is permitted access to.

4 Specifically, there is no mechanism for ensuring that the evidence accessed by the auditor is both complete and unedited.

5 In the most egregious examples, the auditor is also a member of or closely allied with the organisation they are supposed to audit.

As regular readers will know, the claims I’m most concerned about are those made by the State, such as “we only tapped this suspect’s mobile phone, to obtain call and location history because we had reliable intelligence that he was involved in a potential terrorist plot”

The Accountability Theatre in that situation consists of the fact that, at no point, can any potential auditor either see the raw data without the consent and collaboration of its custodian, nor, even if permitted to see it, to verify that it is complete and unedited. The entire process, in other words, is based purely on faith that the State can do no wrong, a ship which sailed at least a century ago.

Returning, briefly, to Paul’s complaint:

What MPs are stuck with, regarding Parliamentary Expenses is a direct result of recognising that they cannot get away with the normal Accountability charade in respect of their expense claims. i.e. following the expenses scandal  they are now forced to jump through a ludicrous set of hoops in order to retrieve sometimes trivial sums of money which are often not worth the effort. They are, in the name of “Transparency”, effectively forced to stand on the “naughty step” every time they hold out their hand to get back some of the money they spend while doing their jobs. Hence, for example, we know that both Jeremy Hunt and Amber Rudd each submitted claims of just 27 pence for two short car journeys.  This level of disclosure is considered necessary so that the public can be convinced that proper scrutiny of expenses claims is taking place.

And, frankly, it looks like they do a pretty good job. In the sense that no frivolous claims are ever likely to make it through a pretty rigorous checking system. The “Quick Guide” to what they’re allowed to claim  is a mere 11 pages. The detailed version  weighs in at 75 pages. IPSA employs about 70 civil servants, full-time, and are run by an “independent” board which includes at least one judge, at least one ex MP and an at least one real auditor. All this to manage the Pay and Expense claims of just 650 MPs, at an annual cost of around £5 million.  In a typical commercial organisation of similar size, you’d expect 2 or 3 relatively junior staff to deal with that workload. They’d report to the Company Secretary or Financial Director. Total cost, probably less than £150k.

I hasten to add, in case it’s not obvious, that what IPSA are doing is most definitely NOT Accountability Theatre. It is Political Theatre, designed to demonstrate just how thoroughly we’re now watching our elected representatives. It is also a useful distraction from the unpublished detail of much more serious matters we ought to be demanding.

Contrast the obvious overkill effort they put into scrutinising what MPs claim on the Expenses, with the trivial and meaningless scrutiny put into examining the thousands of security requests  routinely dealt with by the Home Office. At her Mansion House speech, June 2014 Theresa May proudly proclaimed that her role as Home Secretary included:

“If the Security Service wants to place a device in the property of a terrorist suspect, or the National Crime Agency wants to listen to the telephone calls of a drugs trafficker, they need my agreement first. On the basis of a detailed warrant application and advice from officials in my department I must be satisfied that the benefits justify the means and that the proposed action is necessary and proportionate.

The warrant application gives me the intelligence background, the means by which the surveillance will take place, and the degree of intrusion upon the citizen. Neither the Security Service nor other intelligence agencies, nor the police, nor other law enforcement agencies, can undertake sensitive surveillance without providing these details and gaining my approval. Ministerial oversight – which I share with the Foreign Secretary and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland – is a crucial safeguard to make sure that the most intrusive powers are used only when they are necessary and proportionate.”

Now then, how long do you think it would – or should – take to make a thorough assessment of the validity of just one such warrant application? Checking the content of the intelligence and, if necessary, its provenance; considering whether that content, in context, justified spying on a citizen; considering the means and degree of espionage being recommended; investigating whether the individual has previously been targeted and what, if any parallels there are between the circumstances of that targeting and the one being proposed; verifying that the appropriate risk assessments have been made and properly recorded; verifying and justifying the proposed cost etc. etc.

It is impossible to answer such questions without a detailed academic study, which we will, of course, not be permitted to make, but an intelligent guess has to be between one and five days of pretty intensive study. Yet, as MP David Davis pointed out in 2015, Theresa May was required, during the previous year, to approve up to 10 warrants a day – and that was just for phone interceptions.

That speech was supposed to illustrate how seriously she takes her responsibility for “political oversight”. I have no doubt she was sincere and believed that what she was doing actually constituted meaningful oversight. It was obviously, in reality, just a box ticking exercise and classic “Accountability Theatre”. I doubt she has the faintest idea how to seriously examine the validity of those warrant applications. She’s been trained and advised to rely on her Civil Servants, who will do all the real work on her behalf. All she needs to do is feed the monkey.

Their defence against such a charge would likely be along the lines:

well of course the Home Secretary doesn’t research the applications herself, that’s what the “advice from officials in my department” is supposed to mean.

But that’s no more than one branch of the establishment giving the nod to another branch, with which it has closely entangled, even incestuous relations. Why on earth are we supposed to trust that arrangement?

Their ultimate answer to that is the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee, which, ostensibly has the power to question everybody and see everything. Yet the Snowden revelations came as a surprise to this ultimate oversight body (search the page for “Snowden”)

And their subsequent investigation of the revelations regarding GCHQ “rather promptly” resulted in an absolutely clean bill of health. So “promptly” that even a former Chairman of the same committee, Lord King, was moved to comment that:

“the decision by the Rifkind-led committee to swiftly endorse the work of GCHQ was “unfortunate” because the endorsement came while new disclosures from files leaked by the whistleblower Edward Snowden were still being published by the Guardian and other newspapers around the world.

“I think their response was pretty quick,” said King, a former Northern Ireland secretary. “It came at a time when revelations were still coming out. It is very important the ISC maintains public confidence as a scrutiny committee.”

Quite so.

Not only are the committee members obviously part of the establishment that they are supposed to police, but NONE have anything like the skills or expertise required to make a thorough examination of the work of GCHQ, especially “promptly”. They don’t even know the right kind of questions to ask.

The ISC is designed to be Accountability Theatre and, on this occasion, they panicked and fluffed their lines. Normally, they would have made a big show of visiting GCHQ, interrogating its mandarins in both public and private, and, after a few months of due consideration, announced their august whitewash. But the veil slipped for a few moments and those of us who were paying attention spotted the naked Emperor.

So now let’s turn to the serious shit.

The Government Case for Watching All of Us All The Time

The chief response of the Government, to being caught with its pants down over the unregulated Bulk Surveillance of its own citizens has been to frame new powers which retrospectively justify that outrageous invasion of privacy and to pretend it hasn’t already been going on, illegally, for years. If you’ve got the stomach for it, you can read their arguments here:

It may surprise you but I am not going to take issue with any of their arguments for Surveillance. Such objections are, in my view, the weakest argument made by the Privacy/Liberty lobby and the one most easily defeated by the State. Given the right circumstances, there is NOTHING which can be definitively ruled out as a legitimate counter-measure for a State to employ in defence of its citizens. I certainly include the occasional need to assassinate one or two citizens in order to protect other citizens. Perhaps the most recent unarguable example of the legitimacy of that counter-measure being the killing of the French lorry driver who deliberately ran down 86 of his fellow citizens in Nice on Bastille Day.

But given that such circumstances obviously have arisen from time to time and will, inevitably, arise again, it must follow that less dramatic circumstances will arise which will justify all manner of lesser measures like Surveillance and other intelligence gathering activities. Here, I include, for example, the highly controversial embedding of “deep cover” agents inside hostile organisations.

But if we’re prepared to delegate such powers to the State, then it ought to be obvious to any intelligent citizen that nothing and no one should be (digitally) watched more closely than those we delegate such powers to. Then we would be in a position, after the event at least, to determine whether their action was justified and proportionate. And THAT is where we’ve dropped the ball. Or, rather, that’s where the State has chosen to run off with the ball and not allow us even to see it.

I really don’t want to start giving examples of how often and how badly the State has made indefensible and often disastrous decisions in this field and how seldom anyone has ever been held truly accountable for them. This blog and my other writings contain hundreds of examples and if you’re reading this, you’ve probably already read a few of those and many other similar analyses dotted around the web.

I’ll just touch on one area; the embedded agents. We used them to penetrate the IRA. That was necessary and justifiable; even when our agents took part in some of the killings. Anything less would have blown their cover. We’ve almost certainly got or are trying very hard to get embedded agents inside ISIS and Al Qaeda and their more serious offshoots. Those agents too will have to participate 100% like the real thing. That means they’ll take part in recruiting other Jihadis and even occasionally have to kill innocent civilians just to maintain their cover. Some of those citizens might even be British.

But if and when something goes wrong with these operations, the agents are exposed, the shit hits the fan and everything goes titsup, who are we going to trust to tell us the whole truth about how and why it happened? The people who screwed up in the field or in the back office? The politicians who authorised it?  Or should we trust the half-tamed “Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation” who has just endorsed the Bulk collection of Private Data as having a “clear operational purpose” as they “play an important part in identifying, understanding and averting threats in Great Britain, Northern Ireland and further afield”?

He can’t, unfortunately, provide concrete examples but he does advocate “very considerable caution” without coming close to providing a meaningful mechanism for proving that such caution was exercised.

And if you study the government’s own case for such powers (see the link above), you’ll find 3 references to “Safeguards within the Bill” and in each case, those safeguards amount to an assurance that the powers can only be used for purposes specified (chiefly National Security related) and will be independently audited.

Real – Digitally Verifiable – Accountability

If ever a government gets serious about Accountability, here’s what it will need to do, not just for matters related to snooping on their own citizens but for ALL government decision-making processes; though the obvious starting place is “Watching the Watchers”.

The audit trail should contain digital copies of all evidence, relevant conversations, policy decisions and the operational recordings of implementation, pertaining to the events being audited. Each item should have been cryptographically fingerprinted (hashed) and the hashes lodged on a public accessible immutable database (blockchains or protected hash-chains) in real-time as the items were created.

Case folders or periodic snapshots of such data should be similarly hashed so that no item can be withdrawn after the event, without the gap in the data being obvious.

These techniques are not new. I’ve been promoting them for more than a decade myself but Bitcoin has done a much better job of waking people up to the significance of immutability.

Meanwhile, back in the real world, the government “Safeguards” contain no mention of real-time mandatory data storage on an immutable database, so there will be no way for the independent auditor to determine whether he is seeing the whole story and whether what he’s been  allowed to see is as it was when originally stored. The proposed safeguards are just routine Accountability Theatre.

In the optimally Accountable world, whenever an issue is raised regarding the validity of behaviour by the State, the audit team will include appropriate experts in the technical, legal and financial fields they are about to investigate. Their proceedings will be overseen by a Jury, not a Judge. It might be a specially vetted Jury and it may often choose to sit in Camera in order to protect genuine National Security. But Democracy requires the power to reside not in State Appointees who may have a vested interest in hiding incompetence or malfeasance but in  ad hoc representatives of the People who will, for the duration of the audit at least, have no other agenda.

The audit will have unfettered access to the data. With such a provably complete and unalterable (without detection) audit trail, the audit team and their Jury can now sift through the evidence and decide for themselves what questions need to be asked and whether the evidence fully answers them. If it doesn’t, they can establish culpability and publish the relevant facts, with due care to ensure sensitive secrets are not exposed. If all the questions are answered and the actions taken shown to be reasonable and proportionate in the circumstances, they can publish that finding and, unlike the situation today, we could safely believe them.

In such circumstances, for example, how do you suppose that process of true Accountability would have dealt with the disgusting overreach of the State in those other more famous embedding cases such as the 7 women who unwittingly had long-term relationships with undercover cops who were paid by the State to infiltrate legal political organisations like environmental groups, animal rights groups and Trade Unions? I suggest the mere knowledge that it would be impossible for the Police to hide such behaviour from the Audit would be enough to prevent that kind of abuse in the first place.

The Pitchford Inquiry  is supposed to be investigating a whole raft of other similar abuses. But many have already commented that unless the relevant Police could be compelled to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, it will be a waste of time. Given that none of the relevant material was immutably recorded at the time, we will never know how much, if any, of “the truth” they are telling. So the entire inquiry is bound to be just like all the other major inquiries. The Accountability Theatre Players will throw just enough meat to the baying wolves to make them think there’s been a real kill and then everything will return to normal.

The State already has vast Surveillance capabilities and total freedom to use them without any meaningful independent oversight. The crimes committed in our name in this century alone have illustrated the desperate need to eliminate Accountability Theatre with the relevant technology and the laws required to mandate its use. Yet, instead of moving in that direction, the government is intent on ramping up the extent of surveillance  to levels which make even the Police State of America’s USA PATRIOT Act look restrained.

If you’ve read this far can I suggest that if you wish to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem, you could make a useful start by demanding that your own MP explain how s/he is going to fight Accountability Theatre.

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.

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: