Posts Tagged ‘Private Corporations’

Vince Cable Shows Contempt for Democracy with Non-Aggression Pact with Independents

February 22, 2019

I caught the headline in the I today, stating that Vince Cable has decided to go into a ‘non-aggression pact’ with the so-called ‘Independents’. This means that the two parties won’t put up candidates against each other.

Apart from reminding me of the Liberal-SDP Alliance in the 1980s, it also shows Cable’s absolute contempt for democracy, and how far his party has fallen from the ideals of John Stuart Mill. Mill’s book, On Liberty, is one of the great philosophical examinations of freedom and democracy. It’s also the foundational text of political Liberalism. Until very recently, every leader of the Liberal party received a copy of it at his election to office.

However, when the Lib-Dems were part of the coalition with Dave Cameron’s Tories, they fully supported the legislation providing for secret courts. These were special courts, where cases would be tried in camera for reasons of ‘national security’. This meant that the press and public would be excluded, the identity of witnesses could be concealed, and evidence withheld from the defendant and their lawyers.

It’s the classic kangaroo court system Kafka described in his novels The Trial and The Castle, where the accused is arrested and tried without knowing what in fact he’s being charged with. It’s the judicial system every tyrant and despot has used since the days of the Roman emperors, and which returned in the 20th century with the horrors of the Nazi and Stalinist judicial systems.

And then there’s the anti-democratic nature of the Independents themselves. This is a group, who have incorporated themselves as a company rather than a political party. They have done this in order to avoid the electoral law that demands that political parties reveal who their donors are. It also allows them to evade the laws limiting expenditure on election campaigns.

Additionally, the group is determined not to call bye-elections, despite no longer being members of the parties that got them elected in the first place. Arguably, their constituents voted for them as members of the Labour or Tory parties, and should be given the choice of whether they want to re-elect them as Independents or choose someone else to represent them from their former parties instead. But despite all the sweet-sounding stuff about respecting democracy and parliament as the best method for representing the will of the British people, the Independents definitely do not want to hold bye-elections. For the simple reason that they’d lose.

We therefore have a party that supported anti-democratic secret courts, going into a ‘non-aggression pact’ – which sounds very much like the pact Nazi Germany signed with Stalin’s Russia before they invaded the latter – with a party that withholds the identity of its donors and refuses to hold bye-elections that would give the voters their opportunity to say whether they still want them in parliament or not.

This is an ominous warning. If these two parties are starting off together with such an open contempt for democracy, what would they be capable of doing if they were to get any kind of government?

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India Unveils Their Robocop

January 7, 2018

And it’s less than impressive. In Paul Verhoeven’s violent and satirical film, the Robocop of the title was a cop, Murphy, who had been set up by the company now owning the Detroit police force, Omni-Consumer Products, to be gunned down by hoodlums so that he could be re-engineered into a ruthless crime-fighting cyborgs. Of course, Murphy then rediscovered his true, human identity through a dream his human handlers were too slow to suppress. Furious, he then went off to wage his war to bring the men, who attacked him to justice and overthrow the corrupt and ambitious corporate intriguer, who had authorised the whole illegal programme and was now trying to overthrow the wise and kindly paternalistic company head.

It was violent and like Verhoeven’s later Starship Troopers, sharply satirical, with fake adverts for slickly insincere medical companies and sadistic home and car security devices running alongside a depiction of a city rapidly running out of control, overrun by gangs and terrorists. An exaggerated image of Reagan’s America.

This robot, by contrast, is much more staid and limited. The first part of this video starts more or less like a rock promo, with the machine trundling forward to a pop soundtrack. It has now legs, and consists of a human-like torso with arms and a head, supported on a pillar-like extension, widening at the base. There are clearly wheels inside, allowing it to move. It’s Indian inventors are clearly proud of it, as well they should, but its applications are strictly limited. It’s to help in only certain types of crime, and, er, traffic direction. But it does have a touchscreen and keypad to get you in touch with real cops for more serious offences. The company spokesman states that it’s not intended to put real people out of work. Which is a relief, given the grinding poverty in India itself, and over here.

However, this whole invention does remind of yet another story from the hallowed pages of 2000 AD. Remember Abelard Snazz, the Man With the High-Rise Head? The Double-Decker Dome genius problem solver, with two sets of eyes, one above the other on his enormous forehead? Snazz was an interstellar problem-solver, called upon by planets to find solutions for pressing issues. And whatever he did, always made the situation worse. Much worse. In his first outing, he was called upon by the authorities of a world suffering a massive crimewave. He solved that by building an arm of police robots. Who were too successful. Not only did they eradicate crime by arresting all the criminals, they start arresting ordinary people for completely imaginary offences. Like wearing brown shoes as a crime against fashion.

How do you deal with out of control robot cops? Easy. Snazz then builds an army of robotic crooks, to keep the robot cops occupied solving real crimes. These have the stereotyped striped jumpers, masks and hats, worn by all thieves in comics of a certain vintage.

However, there’s a problem with this. Human bystanders are being injured in the conflict between the robo-crims and the robocops. So how does Snazz solve this conundrum? He has another drink of his favourite tipple, the Syrian sentient milkshake, before designing an army of robotic innocent bystanders, who cry out electronically for the cops’ help as the robo-crims commit their skullduggery.

At which point, the whole situation is well out of anyone’s control, the maniac machines have well and truly taken over. Thanks to them the planet is absolutely uninhabitable for sane, humanoid life, and the planet and its inhabitants are forced to leave in an exodus of spacecraft. All the while blaming Snazz, who they manage to get rid of.

Every one of Snazz’s adventures ended this way, with his irate former clients shoving him out of an airlock, or forcing him down a giant Jacuzzi, or stranding him on top of a giant rubic’s cube, which it then takes him six million years to solve. Or falling into a Black Hole. The tales were hilarious, and written by Alan Moore when he could still write ha-ha, rather than turn to the serious issues, which have made him one of the foremost figures in British and American popular literature.

It’ll be a very long time before we have police robots anywhere near as efficient, or even as autonomous, as those of Robocop and Snazz. But there are serious issues. There’s a video by The Young Turks about how the authorities in one American city are using robots to harass rough sleepers. And a few years ago scientists around the world were alarmed by plans to develop automatic robot soldiers, which would kill a programmed, without conscience or mercy. Kevin Warwick, the head of robotics at Reading University, warns about such machines in his book, March of the Machines. On the top floor of his building, they’ve got a robot firefighter. It’s armed with a fire-extinguisher, and a neural net to help it recognise fires. But he points out, that all you need to do is replace the extinguisher with a gun, and programme it to recognise and kill people with blue eyes, and it will go off and execute its murderous work remorselessly. The threat is there, and genuine.

As was shown in the original Robocop movie. In that film, OCP turns to using cyborgs because the wholly robotic law enforcement machine suffers from a series of severe computer flaws. Most obviously when it fails to recognise that the board member, who has been waving a gun at it as part of a demonstration has actually complied with its wishes and put the gun down. It then shoots him multiple times before leaving him for dead.

We haven’t got there just yet, and the Indian robotic policeman ain’t heading in that direction. But the threat is there, nonetheless.