Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Ongoing oligarchy

First of all, some good news. Boyd and Beyond 2013 will be happening on the 11th and 12 of October. Barring accident or injury I look forward to a couple of days of stimulating conversation, and then hopefully on to a longer break in the US. Fingers crossed this time I will be functioning on more than just sleeping tablets and coffee. No promises though.

ZenPundit has another of his excellent pieces on the creeping Oligarchy in the USA, this time looking specifically at moves afoot to create a centralised database of citizens, with images and potentially other information contained within. This is drawn from a Wired piece on the topic:

This provision is flatly unconstitutional, but the Bill of Rights is not held in high esteem by most members of Congress or the largest donors to the Democratic and Republican parties. Big Data  corporations intend to make enormous profits helping advocates of Big Government transform the “normal” of American life into what formally used to be considered appropriate for inmates in a minimum security prison.
Could a far less intrusive scheme be devised to validate employment status? Sure, but that would not hand bureaucrats and stringpullers of the Oligarchy enormous leverage to use someday over every man, woman and child in the United States.
Imagine, you have offended some local worthy with your letter to the editor or your campaign donation to their opponent and suddenly….your debit and credit cards stop working, your employer can no longer issue you your paycheck, you can’t enter any public facilities (the biometric scan rejects you as a “security threat”), the local hospital can’t provide you with medical care (“Access to records denied”). Maybe your driver’s license is suddenly void and the authorities therefore remotely disable your “smart car”. In a keystroke, you can be cyberoutlawed.
To where will you go to escape a powerful person manipulating an omnipresent data system? Or fix a “simple” computer error that is putting your entire life on hold? Or if a hacker gains access to your biometric records?  There are few good and reasonable uses for this kind of system, an enormous number of bad ones and none at all that justify being incorporated into an even a semi-free society.
Similar systems have been proposed in the UK on a number of occasions but have always fallen flat, largely because of the technical difficulties of creating a centralised database, although some lip service has been paid to the privacy implications. Ultimately, lining up a nation's worth of people to have their photo taken has proven time and again to be a pain.

In the UK we have our own Oligarch problems, with growing evidence that petrol prices have been rigged for some time by BP and Shell:
The European Commission raided the offices of BP and Shell on suspicion that they are playing a central role in what could be the next price-fixing scandal – colluding to inflate oil prices and, in turn, the cost of petrol.
In the wake of the Libor interest rate and gas price manipulation scandals, the EC has launched an investigation into whether oil producers and traders are colluding to rig oil prices in a move that inflates their profits at the expense of consumers.
“The commission has concerns that companies may have colluded in reporting distorted prices to a price reporting agency to manipulate the published prices for a number of oil and biofuel products,” an EC spokesman said.
“Officials carried out unannounced inspections at the premises of several companies active in and providing services to crude oil, refined oil products and biofuels sectors,” he added.
“Even small distortions of assessed prices may have a huge impact on the prices of crude oil, refined oil products and biofuels purchases purchases and sales, potentially harming final consumers,” the spokesman said.
As the article notes this comes on the back of price fixing scandals galore, and almost inevitably with more to come. As large businesses have largely moved beyond the ability for regulation and where punishment is meted out it is in the form of fines, which are too small to provide a real disincentive to continue undertaking illegal actions. Unfortunately so many institutions are considered too big to fail (with very flimsy evidence, except for their protestations) that the lion's share of our legal system doesn't apply to them.

It is scant wonder that people have become disinclined to "believe" in the political process when it appears to be run for institutions rather than individuals. But that's the world we live in.
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