Bad Law - Paul Chambers, TwitterJokeTrial - Judge Made Law

11:25 PM / Posted by David Hartery / comments (0)

DISCLAIMER: NOTHING CONTAINED HEREIN SHOULD BE CONSTRUED AS LEGAL ADVICE, IT IS MERELY MY OPINION ON A PARTICULAR JUDGEMENT AND THE STATE OF ENGLISH LAW AT PRESENT. I AM NOT QUALIFIED TO PROVIDE ADVICE ON LEGAL MATTERS (Especially not UK law). IF YOU FEEL THAT ANY PARTICULAR PART OF THIS POST STRAYS TOO CLOSE TO LEGAL ADVICE PLEASE CONTACT ME @shabouwcaw AND I WILL REMOVE THAT SECTION AS SOON AS POSSIBLE.


I was really interested when David Allen Green (@JackOfKent) started posting about the #twitterjoketrial. To me it seemed an anachronistic judgement that displayed both ignorance of the medium and of the law Paul Chambers was prosecuted under. For background do check out Davids blog, it really is excellent. The judgement can be found here and the details of his upcoming appeal are here



Public policy issues are often overlooked when articulating judgements, I think there has been a separation of powers misunderstanding here.


If you examine the burden created by the present judgement it is too onerous to be intention of the legislation. This is, in effect, the creation of a new scope and breath to the legislation that cannot possibly be in the interests of public policy.


Firstly, the law is obviously (by common sense and as a reasonable person would interpret it) intended for closed and monitored mechanisms of public communication, more akin to the traditional radio broadcaster or telephone network, where both input and output can be monitored easily and there is a recognised end user and intended target. (I will return to intentionality later)


The reason for this is purely public policy. In these closed systems there is relative inability to select away from this particular communication method if it should turn offensive or threatening. The personal or controlled nature of these technology (and the pernicious harms arising from the invasion of life using them) imputes a higher standard than mere free speech, which is the intended problem that this legislation is to fix.


Secondly, the burden placed on the courts, the police service and the public to carry out the duties placed on them by this judgement necessitates clear language to give them that burden. If the intention of the legislation was to create such a burden it would explicitly state that. The act makes no such explicit imperative. What imperative am I talking about?


There is a plethora of content on the internet that is offensive, malicious, intended to provoke hate, intended to provoke criminality and that is pornographic or in other ways “immoral”. Where appropriate the State has taken steps to criminalise such activities on the internet. However, if this judgement is allowed to stand it places a burden on the police to monitor and record all tweets that could full under the banner of being “malicious” and to press charges. Otherwise they are not doing their duty to uphold the law and leaving Twitter users to flout our legal rules with impunity.. Obviously had this been the intended consequence of this legislation it would be expressly stated. This is a ludicrous burden to place on the police and amounts to nothing more than judge made law in the manner of DPP v Shaw (1962) HL and an ex post facto re-jigging of the law for convenience.


The vigour of [the] juristic and professional controversy [after Shaw's case] is a salutary reminder that ex post facto punishment is still a problem even in the legal order which was the progenitor of 'the rule of law' ” - Stone


Thirdly, examine the internet. Examine Twitter in particular. It is not akin to radio broadcasting, if anything it is the nearest thing to a conversation in a pub that technology has been able to replicate. There are two things that flow from this – the interpretation of the word “menacing” that is appropriate in this sphere and the end user/blue sky dichotomy.


Mr Justice Jonathan Bennett submits that in order to be “menacing” something must just be of an inherent “threatening” quality. I would politely disagree, using loitering as an analogy. The vague “threatening” quality of remaining in one area was seen as not sufficient to override the constitutional rights of citizens in Chicago v. Morales, 527 U.S. 41(1999) to stand around in any area of the United States. However, loitering with intent is still held to be constitutional. Why is that? Because merely looking scary is perfectly within your rights. In order for something to move beyond an acceptable subjective interpretation of “threat” - we examine the intention of the act that is being called “threatening” and see if it is to cause a threat that is unacceptable. The reason for the emergence of mens rea in the criminal law is to stop subjective misunderstandings taking shape in the legal system and convicting people of “threats” that were in fact completely innocuous. The public hysteria that surrounds so many aspects of the criminal law is just one reason for needing such protections. I would propose that in this instance the mere existence of the form of the tweet is not an inherent menace. The intention of the tweet must be considered when examining the menacing qualities of the communication, again for public policy reasons.


Lastly then, the difference between an end user and a blue sky based communication. In the case of menacing phone calls there is obviously an intended target and a pernicious harm to that person that they cannot opt out of. In the case of a menace transmitted by conventional television or radio there is a reduced ability to select away from this menace, to ignore it and to go about your business. This is the reason why there is an enhanced duty on people who operate and use these services to prevent against the transmission of content that may be construed as menacing. However in this instance, the point of Twitter is to communicate with a void. Tweets, other than @replies, are aimed at the cloud and not to any one particular person. They are intended to be read by any one of the rag tag bunch of people who follow you. It is as if Paul Chambers had written his message on a sheet of paper, put it in a bottle and let it drift out to sea. Should he be accountable for the emotions of the person who chances upon it and reads it? If a tweet falls in a forest, does it make a sound? What Paul Chambers is in reality being penalised for is not making the tweet, but for being unfortunate enough that a certain individual read it. This is hardly a fair basis on which to put forward criminal charges.


The final characteristic of the Internet, and Twitter in particular, is that content is easy to ignore or screen out. This is completely dissimilar to the types of communications that were intended to be covered by the act. The particular “menace” of this tweet is obviously understood by Bennett J to be the causing of externalities to those who read it, namely fear and unease. “The context is we live in a society where there are huge security concerns particularly in relation to airports and air travel.” However it is completely disingenuous to suggest that a tweet would bring about these reactions. If this was said on the radio or if Paul Chambers had rang Robin Hood airport to make the threat there would be a sufficient proximity between the general public and his act to say that any fear caused was his fault. It is also incredibly difficult to put distance between the chance of you encountering the tweet (should you not wish to) and yourself due to the limited number of radio stations or the fact that he is targeting your individual phone. But in the case of Twitter, you must take active steps to encounter the tweet. As I said earlier, it is like a conversation in a pub. If you were a particularly devout person, it would be remiss of you to scold someone for swearing if you were eavesdropping on their conversation, because had you not taken the step of listening in, you would not have overheard the swearing. That's not a perfect analogy, but it is close enough. In order to have encountered Paul Chambers tweet you would have to follow him, google him or google something sufficiently close to the content of the tweet and, in addition to that, choose to read that particular entry. Rather than being forced into the “menace” by factors beyond your control, you have taken active steps to encounter that menace. I don't think it is too much to ask that a certain spirit of caveat emptor should apply.


Bennett J has only succeeded in formalising the burden on twitter users into an unwieldy pseudo-journalistic code of conduct that he has not even had the grace to define. He has left the law regarding these “breaches” wide open with no clarification as to what defines an unacceptable tweet and what defines a menacing tweet. He has placed a ridiculous burden on law enforcement, used powers that do not exist within the legislative framework he is working in and created the worst kind of judge-made law. I leave you with a quote I think is pertinent.



Some think that the law already goes too far, some that it does not go far enough. Parliament is the proper place, and I am firmly of opinion the only proper place, to settle that.”


Lord Reid, DPP v Shaw

Green Party Bully SME and YOU

10:07 AM / Posted by David Hartery / comments (0)

So Senator Dan Boyle, Eamon Ryan and the rest of the Green Party economic incompetents club have decided to keep pummeling SME like a small fat kid at lunch time. First they decided to implement a 5% PSO levy (more on that later) but now they have decided to add another ridiculous SME and small household targeting charge – the new system for commercial vehicle road tax.

In a climate where business is under more threat than it has been in a decade, they want to increase costs for small business owners, firstly to use electricity and secondly to own a van. They’re attempting to sell this as progressive Green policy. So if I use a van for personal use I either have to pay a fee or buy another vehicle. I have 2 problems with this. Firstly, it’s my damn property. If I want to drive it to the shops, that should be my prerogative. It’s not a loophole in the commercial tax system, it’s a recognition that commercial vehicles have a role outside of merely being workhorses. What they're doing is closing a “loophole” by ignoring a fact of life.

Secondly, how is this a Green policy? If it forces people to buy a car for normal use it achieves nothing other than more CO2 spewing tin cans wandering our streets, if people decide to pay the fine, it is more of an incentive to use the van as much as possible to get your moneys worth. There’s no logic here.

Speaking of lacking in logic, Eamon Ryan is back from his holliers today and jumped straight into dealing with the reporting of the 5% PSO levy. In their infinite wisdom, the Green Party spindoctors are emphasizing that this is not being introduced by the Green Party. It’s been around for years, we’re told, it’s just that that it was set to 0%. Well, Mr Ryan, just because it’s not new, doesn’t mean it’s not STUPID. Apparently the whole thing is caused by the energy companies not having enough revenue to cover their costs. Know what happens in normal industries when their revenues are too low? They make a loss. Christ, we’re pissing 33 billion into Anglo, surely the Government can come up with a mechanism of finding the money from somewhere else, without hitting households and SME owners AGAIN. Their taxation policy is cowardly and lacking in imagination. What will they do when they can’t hit the soft targets anymore? When they have dripped pensioners, public servants, small business owners and households dry? Will they finally man the fuck up and start coming up with a coherent policy to tackle the massive central government inefficiencies? Contemplate increasing corporation tax? Stop throwing money at the black holes that are Irish Nationwide and Anglo Irish Bank? I called them bullies at the start of this blog and I stand by that. But I wish they would stop taking my lunch money.

Mr Ryan had this to say to the Irish Independent

“With the recent introduction of the carbon tax and the likelihood of water charges on the horizon, the minister said he was concerned there was a perception that the Greens were seen as a party of tax.”

No, I think it’s safe to say, they’re seen as a party of morons.

“Refudiating” Tolerance - the Right and Park51

10:06 PM / Posted by Harry McEvansoneya / comments (0)

I have in the past blogged about the apparent obliviousness of the American right towards the hypocritical manner in which it views the US Constitution – a document sacrosanct insofar as it supports their worldview and lifestyle, but one that can be conveniently ignored when it does not. Once again, this attitude has come to the fore in the explosion of controversy over what should have been a non-issue, nominally the construction of a community centre that will incorporate a mosque in the vicinity of ground zero.

This project, known as Park51, the Cordoba Initiative or the ground zero mosque, depending on who you listen to, has been at the centre of a political maelstrom that has been growing in scale for the last few weeks, and has got to the stage where Obama himself has felt the need to comment on the situation. But what exactly is this project, and what exactly is the opposition to it based on?

The names themselves are important. Calling Park51 the “ground zero mosque” is in and of itself a manipulation of the truth for two reasons. Firstly, while the building will incorporate a mosque, it is not the sole or even primary function of the project. The idea is to create a community centre run by moderate Muslims, headed up by an imam, Feisal Abdul Rauf, who has worked in a diplomatic capacity and as a spokesman for moderate Islam under former President George W. Bush, and has a long and distinguished track record in improving relations and promoting positive engagement between the Muslim community and the rest of America.

The idea behind the centre is to help with interfaith dialogue and activities, as well as with a broader integration across religious lines in Manhattan on a community level. This includes and auditorium, a performance centre, art exhibition spaces, a restaurant and many other facilities, all designed and intended to be readily accessible to members of the public of any faith. The planned prayer space was also intended to be open to visitors. The thrust of the project was not to create an exclusively Muslim location, but to provide a service centre for the entire community of Manhattan, run by Muslims.

These are moderate, progressive people with a modern outlook, nothing at all like the fundamentalist lunatics the right have tried to paint them as sympathetic towards. The briefly favoured canard of the right about their support for Hamas has been categorically refuted, both by the organisers of the project themselves and by people close to Rauf – including Jewish journalist Jeffrey Goldberg, scarcely a man likely to cover for Hamas sympathisers.

It is worth remembering, in light of what the centre actually is and what it is actually intended to do, that the right-wing detractors initially described the project as a “mega mosque” – a reminder that many critics are perfectly happy to put hysteria and controversy ahead of facts and integrity when it comes to dealing with this issue. This is something that will become much clearer when this post examines the opposition to Park51.

The second reason that this name is inaccurate is that it implies that the centre is being built directly on the location where the twin towers were attacked and destroyed, allowing critics to accuse this of being some kind of triumphalist project to show Islamic dominance over America, or something along those lines. This is, not to put too fine a point on it, paranoiac, fear-mongering bullshit of the highest order. Regardless of the obviously non-threatening nature of the project, as elaborated on above, it is not being built on ground zero, but rather two blocks away – about 180 metres from where the twin towers stood. For those who say that is still too close, I can only ask what an acceptable distance is. Is there to be a certain defined radius from ground zero within which Islamic culture is forbidden?

Similarly, the name “Cordoba” has been seized upon by those with an extremely poor understanding of history, like Newt Gingrich as being a name reminiscent of the Muslim domination of Iberia, showing that this is a colonising project. This is utter nonsense. Cordoba was the cultural heart of Muslim Spain, and the name is chosen for that reason – it hearkens back to a great cultural boom, under a dynasty that was far more tolerant of Jews and Christians than the Christians of Iberia were to be of the Muslims and Jews under their rule, both at the time and in the aftermath of the reconquista. To suggest otherwise is an attempt to prey on fear and ignorance.

Also, significantly, the reason this location was chosen has very little to do with the apparent symbolic nature of the vicinity. The community centre is being built here, with its prayer space, because the site was already being used for that purpose – the building is already being used for this purpose, accommodating those unable to fit into a nearby mosque. To put it into very simple terms, since the place is currently serving as a prayer space, it makes perfect sense to integrate one into the Muslim-run community centre being constructed there.

Those jumping up and down, banging on about how this is a Muslim invasion and affront of some sort ignore that fact that Muslims have been praying there for years without causing any apparent harm or offense to the people of New York. Attempting to further integrate this with the broader community is not in any way negative – once again, the basic facts expose the irrational hatred, sheer ignorance or sinister opportunism of the opposition to the project.

And make no mistake, sinister opportunism is playing as big a part in this dispute as small minded bigotry is. Politico recently quoted a senior White House staffer as saying “When I start to view religious freedom through the prism of midterm elections, I’m just going to quit”, which is a fairly succinct analysis of why the Republican party, through the voices of several of its most prominent members has thrown its weight wholesale behind an inequitable, frothing campaign that essentially focuses around denying Muslims their first amendment rights on the basis of the fact that some people with an ignorant and warped view of events might get a bit offended.

This whole scandal was essentially kick started by Pamela Geller, a far-right islamophobic blogger, who genuinely believes, among other things, that Barack Obama is the biological son of Malcolm X, that Obama supported the 9/11 attackers, supports English and Dutch fascist groups, is convinced that the US census bureau is stalking her so the Democrats can fix the next election (yeah, I don’t get the logical leap there either), thinks Obama wants to put the Jews in a ghetto and believes the Dome of the Rock should be torn down – in short, we’re dealing with a raving, racist, politically extremist lunatic.

Geller was the one who used the phrase “mega mosque”. She was the one who falsely claimed it was being built on ground zero. She was the one, long before Palin, who declared this to be an affront to the American people. Her message resonated with a deeply bigoted, anti-government, islamophobic audience, who began to spew out anti-Muslim vitriol. This was picked up on, she began to be brought onto network news as a talking head on the issue, and evidently someone at the GOP HQ looked at this and thought “hey, we can ride this wave of anti-government sentiment for electoral gain, morals be damned”. It’s cynical and disgusting – and the hollowness and opportunism of the mainstream face of the movement becomes apparent when one looks at what the Republicans actually have said about the project.

Sarah Palin has, as well as famously calling for the project to be “refudiated”, has described it as a “provocation” and “stabbing at the hearts” of Americans. Newt Gingrich claimed that it shouldn’t be built as long as there were no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia and that it was “hostile to our civilisation”. Mike Huckabee called it “offensive”, Tim Pawlenty said it “degraded” and “disrespected” the “hallowed ground… sacred ground” of ground zero, Mitt Romney’s office claimed it would be used by extremists for recruiting purposes, and a whole bunch of other, less prominent members of the party have chipped in with statements of similar derangement and hatred.

These people are clearly not stupid. Anyone with even a modicum of sense and intelligence can look at their remarks and see why they are nonsense. To run over it briefly: Palin and Huckabee somehow assume a community centre is a “provocation”, in which case they are setting a frightfully low barrier, and by suggesting that the presence of Muslims in the vicinity of 9/11 is somehow offensive to them, they are effectively taking an appalling tack whereby they’re tarring all people of that faith as evil for the actions of some extremists. Gingrich is suggesting that the USA should sink to the level of an oppressive theocracy and deprive people of their basic constitutional right in order to prove some kind of point about tolerance, which is ironic and horrifying in equal measure, all while invoking a clash of civilisations. Pawlenty is calling an area full of strip clubs, gambling dens and other businesses of ill-repute hallowed; Muslims wishing to integrate and provide community services are somehow more of a desecration than this, and Romney is frankly being idiotic – what better fodder to give extremists than an indication that America really hates them and hates their religion and will even go so far as to undermine its own constitution to deprive them? Their ill-conceived arguments are those of populist cynics, preying on fear and ignorance, not ones of genuine conviction – compare, for example, the powerful speech in favour of the project by Michael Bloomberg, who unlike the aforementioned Republicans is actually from New York.

A large amount of this, when stripped of the bigoted invective and political meanderings, comes down to a very simple question – what is more important? The exercise of the basic first amendment rights of Muslims, or the right of people to be offended (or in the case of Palin et al., be offended on behalf of others, given that several of these “stabbed in the heart” 9/11 victims’ families have come out in favour of the project)? This simply isn’t a question. If you are so divorced from reality that the mere presence of Muslims is something that “offends” you, then your opinion is not only wrong, it is getting into very dangerous territory, where you threaten to make imagined threats and negative situations into a reality. In spite of this, some critics have tried to argue that while they are legally permitted to do it, the project organisers shouldn’t go ahead anyway as it isn’t the “right thing to do”. Is this so? What exactly are the effects of building such a community centre?

The answer is that there will be no negativity inherent in the building. The offensive part to so many people, the praying Muslims, already happens at that site. A move towards integration and the provision of facilities for the whole community cannot realistically or rationally be painted as a bad thing. What’s actually causing harm here is the virulent attacks on the community centre. The presence of Muslims practicing their faith is being painted as offensive. They are not part of America in the them-and-us narrative being created by the Republicans. They are separate, they are not on our side in all of this – they are tolerated to a point but their rights and desires are subservient to ours. All Muslims are collectively guilty for the actions of extremists. If I were a Muslim, I imagine I would find this to be pretty offensive.

The hatred and division that the right are accusing the eminent diplomat and peacemaker Rauf of fostering is in fact emanating from the right themselves. The entire thing is a hypocritical sham, that is doing damage to inter-community relations and pushing people into buying into a clash of civilisations narrative (remember Newt’s comments above?) whereby they must choose between being a Muslim and being American. In the aftermath of 9/11, President Bush, for all of his flaws, did his best to ensure that this was not seen as a sin of Islam, as an act representative of Muslims everywhere. The hysterical response of the critics of the project have tossed this laudable point aside in their fury. This is a victory for division and for those who wish to bring down America, especially those within Islam – they can now point and say “look, they truly do despise us”. When the most moderate Muslims are treated like this, what else can we expect? The bigots and the oppositionalists may win a victory in the short term, politically, but the long term social ramifications, as well as the damage to America’s international image that come from this kind of behaviour will make them come to regret it.

To close, here’s a final thought. The movement against the centre places collective guilt on Muslims by arguing that they shouldn’t practice their religion near ground zero because that faith was the thing the 9/11 attacks claimed as the reason behind their horrendous actions. Timothy McVeigh claimed he was defending America when he attacked the Alfred P. Murrah federal building. Do Palin and company believe that all those who consider themselves patriots, no matter how far they are from McVeigh in all realistic senses, shouldn’t be allowed to express their patriotism with a certain radius of where that attack took place? Of course not – because such a suggestion wouldn’t be politically populistic, or fit into the worldview they are trying to foster. Until they do, they have no moral consistency and no basic principle. They are nothing but hypocrites, cynics and bigots.

Thoughts on the Energy Levy

3:34 PM / Posted by David Hartery / comments (0)

Just some quick thoughts on the new energy levy being introduced by the Government. Ronan Lyons posted an incredibly interesting blog post on the tiny harms it would do to FDI in Ireland. I agree with most of what he says. However, I have some problems with it that are unrelated to FDI, and then I am going to look at some of his assumptions.

The first of my problems is with the indigenous SME sector in Ireland. Is it insane of me to think that we should probably stop fetishising FDI and look at what is best for sustainable Irish jobs. The fact of life in the 21st century (in, as Lyons concedes a massive services based economy) is that supply of services are incredibly footloose. FDI can up sticks and leave when things go bad. However, indigenous industry through normal bounds of rationality tends to stay in its country of origin, putting up with a larger hit to revenue before it offshores. The RTE article that Lyons links to in his post is almost half comprised of warnings from ISME about the harms to SMEs.

Secondly are households. Already hit by unemployment, interest rate hikes and falling wages they are now being milked to subsidise the failings of a semi-state company. Normal people should not be penalized more for the inability of the ESB to modernize or run its business effectively and competently. The ESB should be forced to reform and improve without taxpayer assistance, even if the introduction of “competition” has not yet managed to do this.

Thirdly then, what exactly is the subsidy for? It is to pay for energy security, in the form of subsidies to the peat industry and the creation of more windfarms and other sustainable energies. Firstly, why are we subsidizing the peat industry? Karl Deeter put it very succinctly in this tweet.

Peat subsidy (part of
PSO) is behind ESB price increase, here's an idea: Fuck off. stop digging up co2
reducers & subsidize something else

Peat bogs are very good at fixing CO2 in the atmosphere, due to plants and stuff that live in them. Instead we give subsidies to people to dig them up and burn them, releasing CO2. And this is a progressive “Green” policy? Madness. At the same time any thought of investing in nuclear technology is laughed at. While I have read that Ireland is too small to make investing in nuclear technology feasible, we could at least build a couple of interconnectors to the UK and, if we’re going to subsidise anything, part fund a nuclear reactor over there. One nuclear reactor could provide the energy needs for the whole country, cheaply (After the admittedly massive capital costs) and cleanly.

So lastly then, to things I didn’t agree with in Ronan Lyons post. He basically used an argument of relative irrelevance. That since energy costs are the 4th most important factor in attracting FDI it doesn’t matter that they’re going up, since everything else is so high already. I don’t agree with him that getting upset about the harm to competitiveness of utilities hikes will distract from fixing the overpricing problems of the other 3. I don't think that just because land and labour are overpriced in Ireland it gives a free pass for the government to make utilities overpriced also. If anything it is more of an argument to not introduce the levy, since it is merely compounding the overpricing problem. He quite clearly argues that Ireland has a competitiveness problem particularly among the 3 more important factors Lyons identifies. That problem isn’t going to go away if it is compounded by a disregard for other factors (no matter how small).

Satire: Landmark Ruling

10:44 AM / Posted by David Hartery / comments (0)

4 August 2010

Sacramento, CA.
In a landmark case, Justice William Kennelly has ruled that a ban on heterosexual marriage will not be repealed. Kennelly J made reference to the massive amount of male bias in the 223 year old document. Citing statements such as “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal” in the Declaration of Independence as highly persuasive; as well as the 14th Amendments historic restriction of rights to “male citizens”. Commenting on a long history of patriarchy in interpretation and drafting of the Constitution, Justice Kennelly pointed to the 15th Amendment (passed in 1870) only granting the right to vote to men. He continued to argue that since the framers had so obviously meant to exclude women from all auspices of power and authority, they would obviously prohibit their inclusion in a structure that people argue is as integral to society as marriage. Kennelly J finished his judgment by stating that “from this day on, only marriage between 2 men can be said to be consistent with the wishes of the US constitution”. When questioned if he is also in favor of lesbian marriage, Justice Kennelly stated “Only if they’re hot”.
Straight-Marriage campaigners are complaining that the judgment relies on “anachronistic interpretations that do not apply in the modern world” as well as attacking what they see as Justice Kennelly’s “aggressive conservative agenda”.
LGBT campaigners were unavailable to comment.

Labels:

Free the Weed or Ban the Woo

3:00 PM / Posted by David Hartery / comments (8)

Much shorter post than last time. Just a quick thought.

We ban headshops selling “legal highs” in Ireland because we don’t know what is in them and the owners are misleading as to their effects and efficacy.

Yet, all over Ireland people are free to purchase and consume alternative medicines of all sorts without a problem. Homeopaths and Chiropractors are free to operate out of any premises, purveyors of dubious Chinese medicine can claim to cure cancer in take-aways – and yet no action is taken. Where are the angry grannies ringing into Joe Duffy and threatening to burn down the Health Food shops?

These “medicines” and “treatments” are conclusively proven to be no better than placebo. We continue to allow these quacks to profit from exploiting the vulnerable. Why do we ban drugs and things that teenagers buy in headshops? To prevent someone making a stupid decision that could harm them now and remove choice in the future, to prevent against 3rd party harms (like anti-social behaviour or stealing to feed the habit) and to stop them from becoming a drain on the state as they wallow in addiction and take millions of dollars to treat from complications. I’m going to examine each of these in turn.

Firstly, to stop people doing stupid stuff. Sometimes people make decisions that even by their own metrics are stupid. Subjectively stupid that they regret doing. So we stop them, as much as possible from doing stupid stuff that would have lasting consequences. We place restrictions on risky behaviour, we don’t let you cut your own arm off, we don’t let you consent to cannibalism or becoming a slave. Because down the line, this choice takes away future choices. The NHS in the UK recently released a report where it (and I’m paraphrasing) said “Homeopathy is of dubious scientific merit, but we will keep it anyway in the interest of patient choice”. The thing is, in this instance, like taking the first hit of crack cocaine, this is a choice we shouldn’t allow. Because when you have cancer and you choose homeopathy, it isn’t a choice that allows you a lot more choices.

Secondly, 3rd party harms. In short, your friends and family have to watch you drink water instead of something that can actually help you. Then if by some random luck you spontaneously get cured, you become a walking anecdote for the success of these treatments, perpetuating the harm to other people. Those are two harms to other people of your choice to use CAM. I could think of more, but I digress.

Thirdly then, becoming a drain on the state. In instances where the state is funding CAM, it is already a drain on the state. The taxpayer is ultimately funding the ultimate white elephant, even more useless than an 80,000 seater football stadium in a one street town is funding millions for “doctors” to give people glasses of water. Secondly, if you don’t take real treatments and then get worse, the cost of treating you increases. So not only has the state paid for you to receive pretend medicine, it has now paid for you to get pretend medicine AND more real medicine than you would have needed had you got the good stuff in the first instance.

So what is my conclusion. CAM is just as harmful to choice and society as illegal narcotics. So either free the weed or ban this sick filth.

Borders n' Stuff - Let Immigrants In

9:46 AM / Posted by David Hartery / comments (0)

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and
expecting different
results – Albert Einstein

This will be the first and only time I link to a socialist blog for a purpose other than ridicule. But this post is inspired by a post by Aidan Rowe over at http://redwriters1.blogspot.com/2010/07/fences-borders-and-dehumanization.html and the discussion I had with people about it. For once I agree with my Anarcho-Communist friend. Though for different reasons. I’m going to loosely stick them into 3 main headings; Moral, Economic and Cultural. I will try my best to be brief but this is going to be a long post (8 pages of A4 I’m afraid). I would also recommend reading “Immigrants – Your Country Needs Them” by Phillip Legrain for more detailed analysis of what I’m saying. I will link to World Bank reports later that are also useful.

Before I get onto the heavy stuff, a little history. Anti-immigration legislation is a relatively new phenomenon. The British had a absolute right to come to England for anyone who lived within the Commonwealth. This persisted until the 20th century, when laws were enacted to prevent German Jews from coming over to England. So the origins of immigration laws are shrouded in xenophobia and anti-Semitism. Other countries followed suit for a variety of reasons, mostly Mercantilist and ideological, as the concept of modern statehood became more defined. Mercantilism has since been shown to be bollocks economic policy and I hope to show why their labour protectionism is as illogical as their “beggar thy neighbour” policies.

Firstly, morality. By maintaining our current immigration policy we damn hundreds of people a year to suffocate in containers, be shot by border police or be exploited by unscrupulous employers once they get there. We have tried ever and ever more elaborate mechanisms to prevent people getting into our countries. As Matt Santos from the West Wing points out, the US government tripled the border patrol on the Mexican border, to no avail. East Germany constructed a massive wall with armed soldiers shooting people, and yet people got through. No country in the developed world is willing to go that far to deter people, so it is inevitable that people will get through. Perhaps it is time to try a different tactic. Because an action can’t possibly be moral when it creates such immoral outcomes. Hundreds of people die for negligible benefit every year. Is a vague sense of economic security (which is a fallacy in and of itself, as I will explain) worth these peoples lives, when it doesn’t even solve the problem and never will?

The second moral issue is the fact that we owe them. We built up our country through exploiting their resources, taking their gold, using them as slaves and generally treating them like crap. And we still owe them, because we haven’t stopped. Developed countries interfere in LDCs like Rwanda and the Congo, stirring up antipathy and strife so they can (in this particular example) exploit coltan reserves. You can’t say you have never oppressed an LDC, because coltan is an ingredient in mobile phone batteries. Anyone and everyone who owns a mobile phone has blood in their pockets.

Moreover, our trade policies continue to subjugate the developing world. We band together in rich country clubs like the EU and dump our excess on them, undercutting their development in a way that they cannot reciprocate. We use our clout to get better and better trade deals. The IMF in the 1980s gave out loans on the caveat that LDCs open themselves to the free international trade market and we plundered them mercilessly. Even countries like Germany with their export led economies are harming LDCs. Trade is a zero-sum game. You don’t just push your exports over the border and hope someone finds them. There has to be a buyer and a seller in every transaction. And by continuing to run massive trade surpluses, we crowd out the developing countries. So we owe them a duty to come over here and at least profit from some of the employment generated by their misfortune.

Secondly then, economics. Freeing up immigration will help us and it will help them. Before I go on to explain all the wonderful, world economy quadrupling effects that immigration would bring, I want to dispel some untruths – namely that our economy and services would not be able to cope, they will take all our jobs and our wages will be deflated.

Israel operates an absolute “right of return” for Jews all over the world. This is all fine and dandy unless it is 1989 and the Soviet Union is collapsing. Between 1990 and 1994 Israel accepted 1.4 million immigrants. This did put a short term strain on infrastructure and it did lower wages temporarily. But by 1997 all 1.4 million of these immigrants had been housed and wages had returned to their pre-1990 levels, adjusted for inflation. The economy even grew, due to the massive capital inflows caused by the surge in demand.

Secondly, the “DEY TUK AWR JAWBS” argument. Two problems with this, namely A. that there aren’t a constant fixed number of jobs in the economy at any one time and B. immigrants do different work to natives.

this is relatively intuitive. If economies were bounded by only having like 10000 jobs, every time someone had a baby they would be forcing someone into pensioner status 18 years later. Employment is cyclical governed by boom and bust cycles, just like other business cycles, not influenced by immigration.

A Mexican high school drop out is not competing with a Texan steelworker. Most unskilled immigrants have a low grasp of the language and because of that are consigned to the lowest forms of labour. So immigrants naturally gravitate towards jobs that natives don’t want to do. Even skilled workers (who would be directly competing for jobs) are a benefit, why do you think those are the kind of immigrants that Western Governments are actively seeking?

Ok then, on to the main constructive reasons as to why letting immigrants in would be good for the economy; benefits of globalization, benefits of transient workers and the changing age profile and economic needs of the first world.

So, I mentioned mercantilism earlier. It was bad. It favoured protectionism and tariffs to try and grow each countries economy at the expense of one another. But what it ignored was the laws of comparative advantage and also the ability that people being free to move their factors of production gives to compliment the production of goods and services. When free trade took over as the dominant force in orthodox economics and globalization was given free rein, the world economy grew faster than it ever has in human history; it has more than doubled since 1950.

So what effect would opening the border have? Some economists predict that the world economy would quadruple if labour was given the same mobility as other factors of production. The World Bank was not quite as optimistic, but thinks that it would lead to massive increase in global prosperity. In fact if you have any issues with migration, I would recommend reading all the PDFs on this page http://econ.worldbank.org/WBSITE/EXTERNAL/EXTDEC/EXTDECPROSPECTS/0,,contentMDK:21121930~menuPK:3145470~pagePK:64165401~piPK:64165026~theSitePK:476883,00.html

Since pretty much every single one of them explains a benefit of migration.

Onto the benefits of transient workers then. Basically, existing economies have unemployment because of structural deficiencies. Some jobs are for certain skilled individuals that we have not trained yet, some jobs are too unpopular with the natives or some jobs are in locations that there isn’t a high enough indigenous population to fill. Every job vacancy is a drain on the economy – the wages they would have received are not entering the economy and costing other people business. Migrants enable us to fill all these jobs – they can fill jobs like nurses or doctors, which we have not enough graduates to satisfy. They can take jobs cleaning streets or toilets, which Irish people turn their noses up at and they will gladly move to smaller towns and cities in search of work, not stay in Dublin, just because they are born there. And when they earn the wages in their new jobs, they spend them – boosting consumption and generating more jobs. Consumption that would not happen otherwise, as these jobs would remain unfilled.

Also, cheap services like childcare (lots of foreign nannies providing competition) enable natives such as career women and single mothers to go back to work in higher paid (relative to the immigrant) employment. One of the main reasons for voluntary redundancies resulting in long term unemployment presently is the high cost of childcare. (which bizarrely is still at pre-recession levels) By reducing or mitigating against these costs we can help facilitate a stronger economy.

Immigrants are also more likely to become entrepreneurs. Nigerians are statistically the highest ethnic group for starting their own businesses in Ireland. There are many reasons for this; Irish people being attracted to stable jobs in public services and academia, Irish people not having the drive due to being overly comfortable, the relative loss of earnings being lower if a Nigerian business fails or the business opportunities presented by catering to their fellow immigrants. New business is something we should be advocating and if Irish people won’t do it, perhaps letting our immigrants innovate for us is a positive step.

Diversity is also proven to boost productivity. Cities with a high level of ethnic diversity have a higher standard of living and production. Some of this is the availability of ethnic cuisine and services, as choice increases standards of living. But a lot of it is also the clash of ideas and backgrounds resulting in new better ideas. One of the reasons touted for Japans stagnation and deflation is its restrictive immigration policies and ethnic homogeneity. Cities like London and New York on the other hand are vibrant and highly productive. The diversity of the workforce also helps grow trading links. The growth of Taiwan as a microprocessor centre is due in part to the huge Taiwanese diaspora located in Silicon Valley. These kind of links are beneficial to both parties.

Finally then (on this topic) to the changing age profile of the Developed World. We’re getting older and our birth rate is falling. We need immigrants to just keep our economy ticking over. We need hundreds of thousands more than we presently let in, just to keep the EU in the same shape as it is today. Italy needs 650,000 immigrants a year to stop its economy plummeting by 2050. We need them to earn money to pay our pension, to act as doctors and nurses and to staff our care homes when we’re old and incontinent. The workforce to do all this is out there and willing, we just wont let them in because of our jingoistic attitude.

So now that I have covered all the selfish stuff about how we will be better off, I’m going to quickly chat about why it will help 3rd World Economies (more on this on the World Bank links earlier). After that I’m going to have a quick look at the benefits to culture then I will stop typing, I promise.

Going to look at the benefits under a controversial two headings; Remittances and Brain-drain.

Firstly remittances – wages in the Developed World are on average 14 times higher than those in the developing world. Immigrants generally send one sixth of their wages home in remittances. Some countries can have up to 40% of their economy based on the receipt of remittances (such as Poland until recently). The benefits of this are obvious – the increase in demand, increase in wealth within the economy and the ability to pay for things like education and healthcare that they would otherwise be unable to afford. Remittances also increase after natural disasters, as the diaspora send more to combat the increase in reliance. Facts from after the Haiti earthquake and the Boxing Day Tsunami back this up. These payments are also more reliable than the often ad-hoc employment offered in LDCs. The benefits of certain payments are explained quite well in The Economists article on conditional cash transfers. Some countries, like the Phillipines (again see the World Bank links for more details) have programs designed to maximize emigration and remittances to grow their economy, such is the benefit to the recipient country. Remittances take the best factors of foreign aid and microloans and then make them self perpetuating and targeted. As for any arguments regarding the use of remittances for consumer goods and television, television ownership is firstly proven to increase womens liberty and reduce domestic violence in LDCs, as well as increasing popular democratic involvement, and secondly, think for a second about the irony of the first world consumer like yourself critiquing what a poor African spends their 20 dollars on.

Secondly then to brain-drain. Yes, the best and the brightest will leave. Some of them at least. But that is not the end of the world. In a world without borders, it is easy to return to your country of origin. That is where your family is, your roots are. The best skilled people will go abroad, but figures show that most of them will return. Most illegal immigrants say that they would return to their country of origin if they could. Once they have saved enough to return they generally wish to. Most immigrants are unaccompanied males, who leave to earn money to put their kids through college and then wish to return home. Most immigrants to the US from Honduras that were surveyed expressed a wish to return home some day. When they do, they return with new skills picked up in the developed world, as well as the capital and resources to start projects and companies in the LDC as well as the ability to forge trade links with their former host country as I discussed earlier. So it is not all terrible, in fact it can often be beneficial to the native country. Again the Phillipines is an example of a country using brain drain to their advantage, purposely training doctors and nurses for “export”.

Lastly then to culture. No hard facts here, just an ideal. What is a national identity? How do you sum up what it means to be Irish? Catholic, Anti-Abortion, Rural, Farmer? Only one of those applies to me (and only insofar as I refuse to consider Waterford “urban”), The reality is that we share very little with our fellow compatriots, disagree with them on most things and only have a bond because we were randomly thrown on the same piece of rock with them. A respect for our differences and embracing other culture can only enrich us all. The ability to have a full Irish breakfast, Subway for lunch and a Chinese for dinner is something that most people would not have conceived of 50 years ago and it is something that is fundamentally enriching for all parties. We have to stop seeing foreigners as the enemy, invite them over here to be equal partners in our success and we will all benefit from the results.