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Privatisation of Security

Privatisation of Security

                                         – by Saumitra Pant

                                                              

One of the most conspicuous fallouts of the Mumbai terror attacks is this new phenomenon of Privatization of Security. But before we get down to discussing the concept, let’s understand the background from which it arose in the first place. Our security personnel can best be described as ‘Fat, unfit and lacking in teeth’. It’s deplorable, but true. Mr. Hemant Karkare, head of the anti-terror squad succumbed to the bullets of the perpetrators, because his bullet proof jacket, among other things, was as porous as plaster, and allowed bullets in like they were esteemed guests of the state. His death stands as a glaring reminder of the failure of our system, and of us as a nation.

 

The security personnel in the Chatrappatti Shivaji Terminal were equipped with rifles from the First World War. They had their .303 rifles to combat the terrorists with sophisticated weapons like AK-47’s. It was like watching Harry Potter trying to fight a Basilisk with Mrs. Weasley’s hair dryer. Amusing as it may sound, it is both grotesque and horrifying, and serves as a very real eye opener to us.

 

Now, keeping these facts under consideration, the rich and super rich do not like to depend on our police forces to defend us, and I don’t blame these people. I mean, what good is a policeman with a weapon, which was made when my great grandfather was conceived, against these Jehadi forces who don’t hesitate even for an instant before blowing up buildings, cars and even themselves. Privatization of security is a very real concern and it could have very serious implications if not redressed effectively through appropriate action. Try picturing people carrying live and loaded firearms with them for protection. The very thought of having millions of people with loaded weapons reminds me of the worst excesses of the Fascist era. Tempers are running short, and tolerance lower, which could precipitate into an extremely volatile situation on the ground.

 

Privatization of security is scary because of the scale at which it is being considered. The average citizen in the metros, who does not take any more than a passing interest in politics and elections, has realized that things cannot be allowed to carry on as they are, and (s)he must do something about it. But is this how we ensure our safety? Aren’t there better ways of ensuring that we have efficient law enforcement agencies that can restore some of our lost confidence in the system? Public anger has degenerated to a point where words have become devoid of meaning, and government assurances pass the people as the idle wind. Perhaps its time that our system was made more responsible to the people, and the corruption and rot was dealt with effectively by independent bodies which are both unbiased and non partisan.

 

People are thinking in micro terms, and the common fallacy of ideas is that it doesn’t have the same effect in macro terms. Common citizens with firearms pose a threat to our law and order situation. We need leaders like Barack Obama who are such fountainheads of progress that they are able to make people see the light, even when none exists. Public opinion needs to be moulded, and moulded fast. The pace at which the situation is decaying from bad to worse is alarming, and the Government itself finds itself confounded as to how to deal with the scourge of terrorism and eradicate it from its roots. Blame games among political parties aren’t helping either, in fact they are adding fuel to the whole concept of Privatization of Security. People are tired of the same old people doing the same old things over and over again. There seems to be no direct or transparent action on the ground.

 

Privatization of security has another great fallout. The whole concept would be playing into the hands of the terrorists who want to disrupt normal life and create terror and panic among the masses. And we are helping them in their cause without even realizing that what we think is meant to serve as protection, is just serving as a greater motivation to the terrorists who have wanted this in the first place. I, as a citizen of my country would like to implore the people to bury their weapons, and take steps to ensure that our security personnel do their jobs, and we should not do their job for them. We need to get involved in public life and administration to bring about a change. The system will change only when we get involved in it, and the time has come to get involved. Weapons are not the solution, but action is. We need to act fast, and in the right way to combat these forces. We need to think micro, and act macro, if we want a lasting change for the better. I hope people realize this before they take any steps which will jeopardize them as individuals and us as a nation.  

 

 

 

The writer is a student of Business Administration at Amity University, New Delhi, India.

 

 

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We can defeat I.D. Cards

We can defeat I.D. Cards

                                  – by Joe Rinaldi Johnson

 

From 25th November 2008, any student or foreigner requiring a grant of leave to remain in the UK has been required to attend a government centre (the nearest to Cambridge being Croydon) to be fingerprinted and photographed as part of their visa application. This is Phase One of the Labour government’s ID Card and National Identity Register scheme.

 

Choosing ‘foreigners’ as guinea pigs is not accidental – the Labour government is invoking, and encouraging, fears and stereotypes in order to gain public support. Contrary to the narrative of the popular press, very few migrants to this country are ‘illegal’ and those that are would have no incentive to register for an ID Card anyway. At Cambridge we recognise the immensely valuable cultural, intellectual and economic contributions throughout history that foreign nationals have made to our country. We should not be treating them as criminals or as pawns in political games. The world’s best and brightest can easily choose, to our detriment, to go elsewhere.

 

The government’s other potential first targets have vocally rejected their plans. They are worried that this scheme gives the government too much power to intrude in their daily lives. The National Identity Register will amount to a huge government database linking up and cross-referencing all pieces of government data (medical, educational, tax, etc.) to a single source – providing them with an easily-accessible total life fact-file. This will amount to constant central government surveillance from the cradle to the grave. Once you are on the register you will not be able to get off it. Soon you will not even have a choice as to whether you register – you will be forced to do so. And when you are, if you so much as forget to keep their database updated – such as when you move address – you will be liable for a £1,000 fine. The Cambridge Student Liberal Democrats, and I, believe that this is an attack on our supposedly liberal democracy.

 

Some people say that they have nothing to hide. They would give up their right to privacy in order to gain security. But these people will not get what they pay for. As the government cannot stop issuing thousands of genuine passports each year to false applicants today, they will not be able to stop criminals and terrorists obtaining ID Cards tomorrow. And as the government is able to lose millions of people’s personal data today, they will not be able to keep our data safe from criminals and the eyes of nosy government officials tomorrow. Even in the unlikely scenario that they did manage to protect us from these failings, they ignore the fact that tackling criminals and terrorists has never been a problem of failing to identify people. The 7/7 and 9/11 bombers all had valid forms of government identification and would not have been stopped by this scheme. Registering for an ID Card will not reveal any criminal motivations. The problem we should be trying to solve is catching them in the first place. To do that, we need police officers, not plastic. This scheme will give us neither liberty nor security and will cost us a colossal amount in the process.

 

In the midst of a potentially lengthy recession, now is not the time to force people to pay between £93 and £300 to obtain a worthless ID Card. This is not the time to drive away the foreign nationals that so enrich our nation. The Labour party are intimately complicit in this scheme and the Conservatives have only recently pulled on a cloak of principled opposition – they wanted ID cards long before Labour did. The two main parties have lurched about so violently on this and many other issues it is no wonder they both suffer from ideological motion-sickness. Consider this quote from Tony Blair in 1995: “Instead of wasting hundreds of millions of pounds on compulsory ID cards as the Tory Right demand, let that money provide thousands of extra police officers on the beat in our local communities.” We totally agree. We should scrap this scheme and spend the savings to bolster our police force. ID Cards and the National Identity Register are expensive, intrusive, ineffective, and risk alienating those foreign nationals upon whom our society depends. A liberal activist (and dry cleaner) brought down the last British ID card scheme in 1952 by refusing to produce his card, announcing “I am a Liberal and I am against this sort of thing.” If you join CSLD in refusing to register for an ID Card today, we can do it again.

 

 

 

The writer is a student of Social and Political Sciences at Cambridge, and the current CSLD Chair.

 

 

A Calling

A Calling …

     – by Simon Radford

 

It’s easy for students to think that essays should take up the vast majority of their time. Students, however, have always been at the focal point of radical, progressive change. The challenge of those who are interested in tackling the great moral problems that face us is trying to connect what people do in our day to day lives with the tragedies that happen in the other part of town, to people who look different from you or me, to what will happen to our grandchildren if we don’t take action, or to something that is happening on the other side of the world.

 

Take the genocide in Darfur. Like the vast majority of students, I was well versed in the facts of the Holocaust and other similar tragedies. I’d seen Hotel Rwanda and Schindler’s List. I’d read Samantha Power’s Pulitzer Prize winning book on Genocide. When I heard that 400,000 people had died in Darfur and 2 million – 2 million! – people had left their homes in a region in the Republic of Sudan, I started thinking of what I could do. I was at Brown University at graduate school, after Cambridge, at that time and joined their divestment campaign. Brown divested in 2006-07.

 

So, now Liberal Youth is running a campaign to help other universities divest from companies doing business with the genocidaires in Khartoum. Cambridge has recently joined in with an Ethical Divestment campaign as well, which I hope CSLD is playing a full part in, but Liberal Youth can always use your help and support to help build a functional, exciting youth wing to campaign on issues that matter to campuses and to the most vulnerable in our society. Do join the Liberal Youth forums, join the facebook groups and e-mail the executive to get involved and play your part. I might be biased but Cambridge has always been a little ahead of the curve on liberal campaigning: don’t forget that there are always others who could learn some of the lessons in running campaigns that we had to learn some time ago.

 

What better way to start than by helping other universities focus on those to whom we pledged ‘Never Again’?

 

 

 

The writer was at Peterhouse, University of Cambridge in the period 2000-2004, and is a former Chair of CSLD.

Behind the Aluminium Curtain

Behind the Aluminium Curtain

(Castro’s Changing Cuba)

                                          – by Joshua Blanchard Lewis

 

“Corruption is a part of the system. We all have to participate, even if we would prefer to be honest; otherwise we don’t eat”, Daniel tells me, his hand on my arm as his big eyes stare earnestly into mine. “In Cuba money does not talk; it shouts.”

 

Daniel is a local garbage collection supervisor, and a reluctant member of the CDR, the local branches of the Party which maintain a permanent vigil on their neighbours. I am conscious that he is attempting to engage me so that he can persuade me to give him some money. He is not unique: every Cuban knows that one chance encounter with a generous, wealthy European could obtain them money for months.

 

This is however but one of the unfortunate side consequences of Fidel Castro’s decisions during the time known as the Special Period which immediately followed the collapse of the Soviet Union. The U.S.S.R. was for many years Cuba’s main trading ally and partner in maintaining authoritarian Socialism, and when its regime fell apart so did their favourable deals with the Caribbean island state. The years that followed are well-documented and are a testament to the strength of the Cuban people. Everything and anything at their disposal was used and reused to shore up their dearth of equipment and fragile agricultural infrastructure.

 

It soon became apparent to Castro and his close advisors that this position was unsustainable, so the decision was taken to open up the country to tourists and other foreigners; in turn providing a new source of income to supplement sales of rum, cigars and money sent back from Cubans abroad (the third largest source of national income). A dual economy was established with convertible pesos (CUC) making the exchange rate far more favourable to the local economy, and a new branch of police was created to watch over the new visitors. Apart from a few minor problems, most notably the tourist-targeting conmen whose rise was so swift and prominent that they even carry a specific name – jineteros – it was possible that this could have worked.

 

However, Castro at this point made a huge mistake. Although he had allowed for the construction of hotels, part-owned by foreign agencies (but by law at least 51% Cuban ownership), this did not cover the demand that soon followed as foreigners flocked in. As a result, new legislation had to be introduced which allowed Cubans to host tourists in their houses. Even with limitations in place, such as an upper limit of two rooms used for the purpose, and frequent and strict checks by authorities, the income generated by these rooms proved to be dramatically more than a typical wage. For comparison, a typical room costs a tourist around 25 CUC per night, while a standard wage for a professional falls in the range of 20-22 CUC per month. Even with a 100 CUC tax per room per month, it rapidly becomes obvious that renting out rooms can be disproportionately more lucrative.

 

The consequences of this disparity among fellow socialists is clear: all officials can be bribed, particularly because of their own lack of pecuniary strength, from medical personnel to police, and more food supplies can be bought by offering shopkeepers enough cash in stead of ration booklets. As the money piles in, the budding entrepreneur can even persuade others to exchange houses in their favour (permissible) but with a financial incentive (technically illegal). A better house, perhaps a more central one or with better facilities, draws more tourists and the cycle cements.

 

Ultimately what Cuba has been experiencing in the last decade is a rapidly expanding divide in personal finance and an effective creation of a nouveau riche bourgeoisie. This situation has only been aggravated by new commander–in–chief Raul Castro’s decision to allow Cubans to use formerly tourist–exclusive hotels and own mobile phones, since for obvious reasons only the very wealthy can afford these.

 

The ordinary Cuban on the street is not stupid, however; disgruntled comments and more and more outspokenness are frequent, in a country traditionally shackled by the watchfulness of a notorious secret police. The party continues to pass votes of confidence, but these are not by secret ballot and any dissenters mysteriously find themselves arbitrarily losing their licenses and jobs – which is hardly surprising. Following the recent spate of hurricanes, which have destroyed most of the country’s cigar crop for the year and which have driven food prices up to triple and even quadruple than what they were before the summer, tensions are high. Although the slogans of the revolution are ubiquitous in proclaiming their Socialist principles, one cannot help but wonder whether Cuba is really seeking a new Revolution, one brought about not by bloodshed or military intelligence, but rather one which is internationally driven.

 

With an increasingly capitalist awareness and hints of a freer society exuding from the fact that foreign Cubans are writing home with money packets, it would be extremely interesting to observe the ramifications of, say, a change in the U.S. policy on Cuba, in particular the trade embargo which has stood since the 1960’s. It may be that following the recent elections such a move may take place, and an influx of merchandise undoubtedly would send shock waves through the fabric of this supposedly Socialist society.

 

 

 

The writer is a student of Modern and Medieval Languages at Cambridge.

 

Why I am a Liberal Democrat

 

Why I am a Liberal Democrat

                                                           by David Howarth

No-one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance, or conformity

A phrase from the preamble to the old Liberal Party’s constitution, now happily transferred to the Liberal Democrats’, says best what the Liberal Democrats stand for. Liberals, it declares, work to build a society in which ‘No–one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance, or conformity.’

 

Not even the opening page of Mill’s On Liberty, with its assertion that no-one should be coerced, except to prevent harm to others, expresses so accurately the essence of Liberal politics. Liberalism is not just a shield to ward off an over–mighty state. It is a sword, a weapon for change towards a distinctive, and distinctly better, society.

 

Poverty

 

Plainly, economic improvement is not a distinctively liberal aim. But ensuring that none shall be enslaved by poverty is. It focuses not on increasing material wealth for its own sake, but on eliminating the repression poverty causes. Poverty prevents people from being free – free to make choices and even, when the struggle to survive is paramount, to think their own thoughts.

 

This focus on the political effects of poverty, rather than just on inequality, allows Liberal Democrats to hold wide, non–materialistic views of economic questions. It allows, for example, advanced views on environmental protection. Conventional measures of prosperity notwithstanding, where the environment has been destroyed, vast numbers of people experience political conditions equivalent to absolute poverty. Where the struggle to ward off ill–health and find physical safety become all-important, freedom, autonomy and dignity disappear. But the same non-materialistic view inoculates Liberal Democrats against claims that any sacrifice of liberty is worthwhile if it increases material well–being. Material welfare, including health, is a means to an end, not the end itself.

 

Ignorance

 

Creating a society free of ignorance dominates Liberal Democrat thinking to an extraordinary degree, from the Party’s central 1990s sound-bite – ‘a penny on income tax for education’ – to opposition to censorship and support for open government and freedom of information.

 

Liberals still believe in what is fashionably called the ‘Enlightenment Project’. Not only should everyone be capable of participating in political discussion, but also, reason and knowledge, especially scientific knowledge, should form the basis of that discussion. Liberals instinctively reject the reliance on traditional authority and the cynical manipulation of myth and superstition which are fundamental to conservatism, including its modern ‘communitarian’ forms. Critics say that the Enlightenment Project has led to arrogant and ultimately disastrous attempts, such as Marxism, to claim to apply scientific methods to politics. But Liberals have never claimed, as socialists did, that they possess knowledge that authorises them to reconstruct society. They claim instead only that a society is rational to the extent that its members debate the future in a rational way.

 

Critics also say that the Enlightenment Project leads all values to dissolve into relativism. But there is a big difference between saying that there is no moral and political truth, as relativists claim, and saying that although objective truth exists, we cannot be certain what it is, and so the state should not impose all-embracing moral, religious or political views. Indeed, relativism underpins not liberalism but its enemies, the power-worshipping doctrines of Leninism and fascism and the reactionary inertia of ‘post-modernism.’

 

Conformity

 

Creating a society in which no-one is enslaved by conformity is perhaps the most distinctive liberal aim of all. It expresses a fundamental commitment to protecting individuality. Human creativity is the ultimate resource, and its shackling by convention and prejudice the ultimate extravagance. Moreover, this same aim is central to the Liberal Democrat conception of human rights. Freedom of speech and religion are forms of the freedom to be different.

 

But freedom from ignorance and freedom from conformity counterbalance each other. Traditional authority is subject to rational criticism, not to romantic but irrational revolt. Freedom from enslavement by conformity means not that it is wrong to criticise others, only that it is wrong to criticise others because they are acting unconventionally. Ignorance of the consequences of one’s actions for others is one of the most serious forms of ignorance. Liberalism is for individuality, not individualism – at least if individualism means that existential individualism in which no-one is accountable to anyone else.

 

Ultimately, one can divide political ideologies into those that appeal to fantasies of control and those that appeal to fantasies of liberation. Socialism appeals to people offended by the disorganisation of markets and by apparently never-ending political debate. Liberalism, by contrast, appeals to those who wish for themselves and others to be free.

 

 

 

The writer is MP, Cambridge.

ID-Day Report

During a bitterly cold week, late in November, CSLD’s committee and its volunteers braved arctic weather conditions and battled porters covetously guarding their pigeon-holes to deliver 8,000 leaflets for our Michaelmas campaign: ID-DAY. Even before the day itself, interest had surged; press enquiries were coming in from Falmouth to Leeds and over 100 people had signed our petition online. The message was simple: the ID Cards scheme is expensive, intrusive, ineffective and unfair, but it can be defeated. We asked people across Cambridge to sign our petition calling on the government to drop plans for ID Cards and, more controversially, to refuse to register for an ID Card. Overwhelmingly, people on the streets of Cambridge were supportive of our campaign, reflected in the number of signatures we managed to collect – 500 in total. But more worryingly for the government, nearly 150 people pledged to refuse to register for an ID Card. On ID-DAY, CSLD sent out a stark message to the government: Cambridge will not comply.