Liberty in Britain and Australia – a reply to John Galt

On Monday regular commenter John Galt left a comment on the female bishops post after I’d replied to someone else saying that despite everything I still feel that overall Australia is a marginally less illiberal country than the UK. Not in all respects to be sure, and I’m not denying that Australia is a slightly worse place to live than the UK if you are, say, an overweight smoker who likes a beer while getting a suntan. And I emphasise that I think it’s only slightly worse. But more than once I’ve expressed the thought that if I were to grade all aspects of life in both countries from a libertarian perspective and come up with an overall score then Australia would come out a bit ahead. When I first said this I also said that I thought Australia was probably only five years behind the UK, but I’ve been for longer than that now and it still doesn’t feel quite as under the government’s heel as the UK did when I left it.

But in a short comment reply there wasn’t room for that kind of detail so all I said was that for all that Australia can be pretty illiberal I maintain that in a broad sense the UK is worse, though like most of the nominally free world both nations have got noticeably less free in recent years. To which John Galt said:

Obviously you’ve not bought any cigarettes in Australia recently.

Not to pour scorn, I expect the same bollocks in UK by 2015.

True, I haven’t bought cigs lately, though both my regular readers (hi, Mum) will know that I have watched and blogged on the topic over time. For example, this time last year I blogged on how the smoke ban has led to notices outside doorways claiming to extend the property rights of building owners ten metres out into the street. At least that’s how far away from their doors they say smoking is banned, and of course that includes part of the road and any private car that are on it too. I’m pretty sure I’ve also mentioned that the tobacco display bans contained an exemption for tobacconists in most places, but not in the ACT where they are mad and insisted that even shops that sell little else but tobacco hide the products behind cupboard doors even though you have to open a door on the street to get in there in the first place. I have not mentioned that just a week or so ago I saw what I assume is an infringement of the tobacco display ban in an outlet somewhere in Victoria – I’m not saying where – and nobody seeming to give much of a shit about the smokes being >sharp intake of breath< visible to anyone who happened to look over the counter.

But yes, of course I realise that anti-smoke nannyism is rife here and exceeds that of the UK, and as I touched on at the top other forms of nannyism such as alcohol, drugs, healthy eating, tanning beds and so on are as bad or worse than in Britain. I've come to believe that lobbyists and politicians here are actually addicted to telling other people off about their assumed addictions.*

But there are a few other points to consider here, which taken together are why I say that overall the UK is less free. Firstly, some of the disposal of individual liberty has been done by Australia to keep up with other nations doing the same thing, and some has been done first for the sake of not wanting other countries, including Britain, to be the first to do it. In the case of plain cigarette packs this has been stated openly at least once. I think it was then Health Minister and current AG Nicola Roxon and it was words to the effect of "If we don't act now and bring in plain pack legislation there is a real danger that the UK will beat us to it." I really should have that in the bookmarks because it shows it to be less about health and more about political vanity (and possibly some lingering pain over losing the Ashes).

Yes, doing something to be first to do something is a moronic reason to have a policy, but with so much of western politics revolving around vainglorious dickheads talking about how under their leadership their country is leading the world it's neither a surprise nor unique to Australia. Britain is leading the world with CCTV monitoring of its citizens, the US is leading the world with making flying anywhere less fun than being waterboarded between episodes of The X Factor, Australia are leading the world with nonsense about plain tobacco packaging, and so on. I never claimed that Australia's government is leading the world in minding its own fucking business, just that I think its current obsessions are less intrusive and illiberal than those of its UK counterpart.

The second thing I want to point out is that Australia has no relationship with an external body along the lines of the UK's relationship with the European Union etc. The relationship of the states to Canberra may be a bit similar but Canberra is still in Australia and Australians vote for the federal government there. A convicted criminal such as Haigh can appeal his case as far as the High Court of Australia and no further because there is no equivalent of the ECHR to which Australia has given the power to overturn domestic laws and legal decisions. There are still lingering ties with the UK that are kind of similar but seem mostly to revolve around Mrs Windsor being queen of both countries.

I suppose it could be argued that UK law would therefore take precedence over Australian law if, say, a change from male primogeniture to unisex primogeniture was desired by one country and not the other. "Sorry, colonial types, but you've agreed to have our Sovereign as your head of state too, and if we say boys take precedence and you don't like it or vice versa then you have to put up with it." But despite the current news of buns in ovens (I was determined not to say any more on that than I've said already) that's all theoretical at this point. If Kate does have twins and if there's one of each flavour the future head of state could be decided by the handful of people in the room at the time and whether they agree to tell a porky about who emerged first – all aboard the tinfoil hat express but remember I have first dibs on this particular conspiracy theory.

In any case it's not in the same league as having daily influence over domestic law. Britain does not, for instance, tell Australia whether its supermarkets can sell produce in grams or ounces or how long the employees of those supermarkets may work each week. Such things are decided in Australia, end of. The head of state stuff can also be done away with as soon as enough Australians want it binned and some Oz only arrangement made instead. I'm still hoping for Her Royal Australian Highness Queen Kylie the First, because why the fuck not.

Then there's the issue of economic liberty. Like the governments of all nominally free countries both the Australian and UK governments do not allow any but a handful of their citizens the freedom to keep all the products of their labour. In Australia this is currently anyone who earns less than $18,000 or so, which I'mtv sure isn't very many people but I'm equally sure is probably a hell of a lot more than the number who earn under £8,105 in the UK. Beyond those thresholds both governments feel that they and not the individual who earns it have an increasing right to the product of labour. Further, a comparison of Tax Freedom Days shows that British residents work for the state for 150 days a year while Australians only work 112 days before earning for themselves. I’m pretty sure this is before considering that all governments also agree that states have the right to run up massive debts and unfunded liabilities on behalf of their citizens, and the relevance to a discussion of liberty in the UK versus liberty in Australia is that British governments have lately been considerably more profligate than even the most spendthrift Australian ones. In other words 150 days and 112 days of working for the respective states are probably both underestimates, but when considering the size of Britain’s debt, unfunded liabilities and continued deficit the former is probably a larger underestimate than the latter.

Then there are those laws I mentioned. If he felt like it David Cameron could suspend almost any UK law, up to and including habeas thanks to Blair-era legislation that neither Cameron nor anyone else in politics seems remotely interested in repealing. Despite my low opinion of politicians I think that most or all of the ones in Westminster now can be trusted not to abuse this power, but since the future is always unknown I maintain that this is a power that no government should ever have. Other powers the government granted itself and its successors in the Blair days have already been extended beyond their initial intended remit and, predictably enough, abused to the detriment of individual liberty in the UK. I’m not aware of similar ‘mini-Enabling Acts’ (h/t to the sadly closed Devil’s Kitchen blog for that term) in Australia – yet.  I’m no lawyer so for all I know there could be something, but if so I’ve not heard of it. And I’d have expected Australian libertarians who know far more about Aussie law than I could ever hope to learn to have made enough noise that I would have heard about it if habeas corpus could be suspended by ministerial fiat here the way it can be in the UK.

And while we’re on the topic of illiberal laws in Australia, and coming somewhat tangentially full circle back to anti-smoking laws and similar nanny state legislation, there’s the point that I’ve made once or twice before that no matter how under Nanny’s thumb people who live in Australia’s cities might be this becomes increasingly theoretical as you get into more rural parts of Australia. I’m not saying that everything is different there but as a practical matter enforcement becomes harder in the more remote parts of the interior. When the nearest cop, local government officer concerned with tobacco legislation, or just baccyphobic busybody might be hundreds of miles away what the law says people may do and what they actually agree between themselves might be different things. It’s not unlike the old traditional ‘lock in’ that went on in many British pubs who were prepared to quietly ignore the then law that said no drinking after 11pm, except that I expect local law enforcement often knew about the lock ins and turned a blind eye provided nothing too blatant went on. Is there scope for for those who’d cock a snook at an unnecessarily intrusive and illiberal law to an even greater degree in those parts of Australia where hardly anybody lives?

Let me me put it like this. Back in 1993 something strange happened in Western Australia about 350km north of Kalgoorlie. Just after 11pm on 28th May there was a large ‘seismic disturbance’, and the handful of truckies and gold prospectors in the area at the time reported seeing what was described variously as a flash or a fireball and hearing a distant explosion or a low frequency rumble. It was found to be way too large for a mining explosion (which wouldn’t take place at night anyway) but it was consistent with seismic activity in region, though of course that wouldn’t explain the flash. A meteor would but there was no sign of a crater so flashes notwithstanding it was put down to an earthquake. And for a while nobody thought further of it until a few years later when someone investigating the Aum Shinrikyo nutters who’d attacked the Tokyo metro with sarin gas noticed that the cult owned Banjawarn Station, a sheep station of half a billion hectares about 350km north of Kalgoorlie. And which sat on a uranium deposit. Suddenly people looked at the mysterious seismic event with flash and explosiony sounding rumble again, and there was serious speculation that Aum Shinrikyo had actually tested a small nuke of a couple of kilotons or so in Western Australia. Right under everyone’s noses, only not really right under everyone’s noses because the only noses anywhere near were those of Aum Shinrikyo.

Now it has to be said that they probably didn’t. I can’t find anywhere that’s positively identified exactly what the event was but the AFP investigated Aum Shinrikyo and the bottom line is that there’s no evidence that they tested a nuke there. All the same, something bloody big happened and almost nobody noticed. As Bill Bryson wrote about it much later:

This is a country […] so vast and empty that a band of amateur enthusiasts could conceivably set off the world’s first non-governmental atomic bomb on its mainland and almost four years would pass before anyone noticed.

So if an event on a similar scale to a 2 kiloton explosion can go almost unnoticed for two years and its cause not completely settled to this day, I reckon you could say hang what the law says and hold a gay wedding indoors with the entire party smoking cigarettes from Marlboro branded packets with no health warnings.

And Canberra might never know.

* This is based on what appears to be the neo-prohibitionists’ definition of addiction, which is any activity, pastime or habit that gives some people any kind of pleasure or enjoyment. And since so many neo-prohibitionists have such a massive hard on for telling everyone else to stop doing things they like doing I can only assume at this point that the nannies themselves are, ipso facto, addicted to nannying.**

** I concede that more research is probably needed into this apparent addiction, and if the federal government would like to give me a multi-million dollar annual budget I’ll be all over it like a fat kid on a cupcake.

Nothing else will happen this week, and nothing at all for several weeks round next June

In the same way that I didn’t care about two people I’d never met and and am not likely to meet getting married and was really quite sick of hearing about it by the time it actually happened, I don’t care that they’re now expectant parents. I’m not being curmudgeonly here. I’m delighted when people I know break the happy news that they’re having a baby, but I manage the disappointment of not hearing about it from the >99.9999% of the world I’ve never met and am overcome with indifference when it’s a sleb. What I said of the weddingathon is just as applicable now:

Despite my long standing republicanish tendencies I don’t harbour any ill will towards William and Kate. Okay, it does annoy me slightly that unless Australia ditches the monarchy he’ll be ‘my’ king one day, but that’s not his fault. The poor bugger never asked for the job and for all any of us know may turn it down when the time comes. So no, I have nothing against them, but I don’t know them and they don’t know me and it’s vanishingly unlikely that that will ever change, which means I have nothing but indifference towards them either. Sorry if this isn’t entering the flag-waving spirit that seems expected of everybody British born, but I’m just not prepared to jump on the bandwagon and sit here pretending that it’s in any way meaningful to me.

And there’s no reason anyone else should apart from the fact that millions are adherents of the cult of celebrity, of which the British Royal family is very much a part. Somewhere in Vietnam there’s probably a Mr and Mrs Nguyen who are also expecting their first child, and the indifference of rest of the world is such that not only does it not care, it doesn’t even know whether or not Mr and Mrs Nguyen exist. Worse, parts of it are probably only dimly aware of the country they live in because some good movies have been made about a bad war there.

Putting it another way, have a look at this screencap of a Google image search.

Screen shot 2012-12-04 at 11.14.00

Do you personally know any of the people in the images? Do you feel the need to express joyous feelings towards the ones you don’t know? Obviously you hope people’s pregnancies go well because you’re a weapons grade shit if you sit there wishing all the various horrible pregnancy complications on someone, but do you feel like e-mailing photo libraries asking for your congratulations to be passed along to any of the couples in the images? No? No inclination at all? So why will millions be mailing St James’ Palace?

This is something that happens to most people sooner or later and I don’t get why I should be expected to express happiness, or any emotion at all, for Wills and Kate when nobody thinks I should for any of the other 7 billion people who aren’t in my own social circle. I do get that it’s welcomed by some who can expect to get away with releasing bad news while most of the world and media are distracted for several months, and I do get that it’s welcomed by the media themselves who can milk it thoroughly for cheap news of poor Kate’s latest bout of morning sickness.

But I don’t get why it’s of more than academic interest to the rest of us and why any couple expecting a child should also expect to have to release images of the fucking sonograms to the press. Or for that matter break the news much earlier than planned because a hospital admission would only lead to press speculation otherwise.

So now we all know, okay? Any chance we can leave it there and just have the one day of multi-page coverage when the royal sprog/s is/are dropped? I ask in hope, but no real expectation, of not seeing the news filled with speculation of the baby’s name, sex, weight and eventual height and fashion preferences for the next several months.

“I’m not a monster anymore…”

… says convicted serial killer Paul Steven Haigh, representing himself in his appeal to have a minimum prison term applied to his sentence, sorry his life sentence, make that his six life sentences so he can have a chance of parole.

Over a period of nearly two hours on Monday, Haigh read a series of essays to the court about topics such as remorse, callousness and sympathy.

He described his six murders as “horrendous”, “abominable” and “repulsive”.

“What I am today [is] a far cry from the monster of yesteryear,” he told the court on Monday.

Haigh said he was not incorrigible and should not be denied his freedom.

I’m not one for writing off and denying even the hope of eventual freedom to even the worst criminals. I’m not saying let ’em out – not denying awful criminals the hope of eventual release is not the same as actually releasing them. They should still have to earn their release and satisfy everyone that they’re not a danger. That many have apparently pulled wool over the eyes of those who make the decisions doesn’t say the principle’s wrong, just that it’s not always being done all that well.

So it’s not for me to say whether Haigh is or isn’t incorrigible and should have a chance of (as opposed to a guarantee of) freedom one day, but is it for him either? I realise this is a bit Catch 22 but I’ve always felt that someone who really is completely overcome with remorse for their crimes would accept that their punishment by incarceration is appropriate. On the plus side he hasn’t killed anyone since he’s been inside… apart from just that one guy:

Haigh, who has spent more than 30 years in prison, was also convicted of killing sex offender Donald George Hatherley, whom he helped hang in a jail cell at Pentridge Prison in 1991.

He told the court on Monday he was assisting Hatherley to commit suicide.

And of course that’s also illegal anyway. Still, he hasn’t killed anyone for more than 20 years, which is nice. So should he have a minimum term and therefore a chance of parole? Like I said, I don’t have the answer but I think dim prospects of release are fairer than all hope removed. However, I think he probably should spend some more time in the prison library. In the biology section.

He told a story about a butterfly becoming a caterpillar and said: “Though I don’t claim to be a perfect butterfly yet, I am not a caterpillar either.”

A butterfly becoming a caterpillar would be an example of regression, surely? Though to be fair there are enough examples of journos fucking up the basics of the animal kingdom that he mightn’t be guilty of that at all.

On faith, freedom and female bishops

So the Church of England has debated the issue and ending up saying no to the idea of women bishops. This, we’re told, is a final no, but it strikes me that at some point in the past it was probably almost equally definite that there would no be women vicars, and yet today the Anglican church both in and outside of England has plenty of women priests who are not Dawn French. The article even says that it’s killed the prospect off for at least five years, which doesn’t sound all that final to me. For now though it does look like this has put the kybosh on the idea in the CofE.

And I say this: so bloody what?

There will now almost certainly be calls in Parliament for the Church of England’s exemption from equality legislation — effectively allowing it to discriminate against women by barring them from becoming bishops — to be removed, opening the way for women to bring a legal challenge.
[…]
Ben Bradshaw, a former Labour minister, said: “This means the Chruch is being held hostage by an unholy and unrepresentative alliance of conservative evangelicals and conservative Catholics.
“This will add to clamour for disestablishment, there is even talk of moves in Parliament to remove the Church’s exemption from the Equality Act.”

Look, it’s their religion and if freedom of religion is to remain in Britain then we all have to accept that practitioners of a given religion can run it however they like providing it doesn’t actually harm anyone else. And no, not providing an opportunity to be bishops is no more harming women than the lack of opportunity in Britain for people of either gender to become astronauts. The bottom line is it’s their god-club and their rules, and whether the first rule of god-club is not talking about god-club or no mitres are men only or no gay weddings in our buildings it’s still their rules. I’m for gay weddings if gays want to marry and I’m for female emancipation and the opportunity for the girls to seek any work they choose up to and including that of sperm donor. But as with the obvious case of sperm donation, freedom to seek doesn’t mean that there must be a guarantee that the position must be made available to women.

Is it silly that women shouldn’t be bishops? Yeah, I’d agree with that, but I’d add that I find it no more so than many other aspects of religion in general and Anglican Christianity in particular. If it’s sillier I’d say it’s only because some other parts of the Anglican Communion have gone ahead and allowed female bishops. But is it unreasonable? Should the CofE be compelled by secular law to allow female bishops? No, I don’t think so. If you want to remove the exemption on the principle that all are equal before the law I’d be all for it, though I’m really for laws that dictate and restrict how one is allowed to think and choose to be ditched as fundamentally anti-liberty. And if you wanted to disestablish the Church on the grounds of separation of Church and State I’d support that too. But this isn’t about applying the law equally or any such noble notions. This is just punishing a religious minority (I’m guessing CofE regulars are in a minority these days?) because their world view isn’t modern enough for you.

It’s a religion, yes? An unscientific and untestable faith in a 14 billion year old entity as explanation for literally everything? It’s not supposed to be modern, surely? So let them have their rules, outdated as some of us may think they are, and let those ladies who want to be bishops apply to those parts of the Anglican Communion that are open to the idea. Or start their own church if competition for positions is too intense in Scotland and visas for anywhere further are too much hassle. If, as we’re told, the big worry for the Church was a schism with traditionalists and evangelicals leaving then why don’t the pro-female modernisers leave instead. This is how freedom and tolerance actually works, you see. Their god-club means their freedom to set their rules, as I said before, and the rest of us tolerate that since we know that freedom also means that nobody who disagrees has to stay in the god-club.

Or are we admitting that Britain isn’t a free country after all? If so that might be a start toward becoming one.

 

PS A brief apology. Obviously I intended making a joke about bashing the bishop but I just couldn’t think of one. To anyone who is offended by this oversight, please take 50¢ and phone someone who gives a shit.

Remembrance

 

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries for them; no prayers nor bells,
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,—
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.
The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

Anthem for Doomed Youth – Wilfred Owen, 1917

One for the Ambush Predator’s zoo

I’ve noted before that with the move online newspapers have found they have far more space than they used to, and on slower news days seem to have often given in to the temptation to fill up some of that vast space with, well, shit. To be fair they always did this with the dead tree editions before there was an internet and they’ll probably continue for as long as the cult of Sleb exists no matter what the medium. No major crimes, wars, political stupidity and/or ill advised affairs? No problem, just write half a page of repeated gossip about some soap actress and follow it up with a page and a half of speculation.

But with the move to the digital media newspapers came up with a brand new form of crap padding: images. Almost every article, no matter how mundane, must be accompanied by a picture. David Cameron made a speech? Quick, get me a photo of David Cameron in case everyone’s forgotten what the fucker looks like. And make sure it’s a picture of him talking in case the readership has forgotten what making a speech is as well. Shooting incident? Get me a picture of a gun right now, even if it’s the wrong gun. Yes, even if it’s not the right kind of gun. Warble gloaming and claims about the hottest decade on record? Get me an image about something hot… yeah, of course a stock photo of a hot girl will do just fine. I’ll be in the gents for ten minutes if anyone’s looking for me.

But where they often smash through the bottom of the barrel is with filler in the form of a pointless picture gallery, such as this one about a train crash yesterday south of Melbourne. Why? What extra information does The Age think we’ll get from 16 photos of train wreckage that we can’t already glean from one of the initial articles plus follow ups and video? Worst of all is when the gallery exists solely because of some minor entertainment story or for no apparent reason at all, because that’s when they seem to give the job to work experience kids, bored couriers waiting for someone to sign for a delivery and, perhaps in the spirit of Douglas Adams’ Megadodo Publications, random people who wandered into the building by mistake and haven’t found their way back out yet.

Why the fuck I even click on these sometimes is beyond me – I’m sure someone will say it’s an addiction, which may be the topic of an upcoming blog – but from time to time I do. And just now I spotted one that belongs in JuliaM’s collection of wolverines labelled as bears, deer standing in for moose, jaguarundis with ambitions of being jaguars, and infinitely interchangeable buffalo and bison. The gallery is about celebrities who look like animals, and in it Liza Minelli is somewhat unkindly compared with an emu.

Personally I don’t see much emu-ness about her in that picture but these things are necessarily subjective. The thing is I don’t see much emu-ness about the picture on the right either, and that might be because I’m pretty sure that it’s a fucking ostrich.

The neck of the Emu is pale blue and shows through its sparse feathers. They have brown to grey-brown plumage of shaggy appearance; the shafts and the tips of the feathers are black.

Wikipedia

This would be bad enough if it was The Teletubbygraph and its dyslexic approach to zoology again, but in this instance it’s an Australian website stuffing up the identity of a bird that doesn’t exist anywhere apart from Australia, the coat of arms of Australia and, until he died, under the fake arm of an Australian entertainer. So for people everywhere chained to desks without food until they’ve made a pointless photo gallery for the online edition of some newspaper here’s a very easy way to tell the difference: ostriches are the ones with the teeth.

This is an ostrich

You’re welcome.

Money money money

I saw this headline and had a brief moment of confusion. How on earth could the black economy make Victoria lose $620 million a year? Was all the money going abroad or interstate? I read on to find out and it wasn’t long before the answer was apparent. Victoria isn’t losing $620 million a year at all.

A report by the Australia Institute think tank says cash-in-hand payments are stripping at least $2.7 billion from state governments each year by reducing the pool of goods and services tax with a cost to the Victorian government of at least $620 million this financial year. The federal government is also being deprived of billions in income tax revenue.

So what’s happening here? Is this equating of the state of Victoria with the government of Victoria as if they were one and the same just a bit of journalistic licence to save space? I’d grant the possibility but for the fact that there seems to be enough room there to add an ‘n’ to the end of ‘Victoria’ and follow it up with ‘govt’. Who knows, perhaps it was necessary to accommodate the article in the print version. But is there also some tinfoil-hatted theory that we’re being subtly programmed to accept that they are one and the same thing after all? Or worse (because it seems so much simpler and thus more likely) do so many people really not see the difference that there’s actually not much point in adding ‘n government’ to any part of that headline?

I worry that even if there are sound journalistic reasons for not distinguishing between Victoria and the government which rules sorry, I mean serves it, there might actually be something in that last one. And that’s a depressing thought because it means that few people will challenge what’s being said and point out that there’s an alternative way to view this situation:

Victoria is retaining $620 million a year that would otherwise be lost to the state government.

That is, of course, a huge oversimplification. Firstly, it ignores the possibility of value coming back in exchange for that money. We might criticise the efficiency of a system where a sales tax to create income for the states involves the rate being set for all states by the federal government in Canberra and the money being sent there by taxpayers before being sent back to their respective state governments – less various deductions for the feds, no doubt. We might argue about how much value comes back from government and how much it spunks away on needless crap and vanity projects (I’d say way too much of the latter – the $50+ million p.a. Grand Prix springs to mind – but I wouldn’t claim nothing at all for the former) but if you want a government that does stuff then it needs income. Even the very smallest government providing the most minimalist services would require a certain amount of income, and it’s naive to think that taxing something wouldn’t be the way to provide it. Even the Break Glass In Case Of Emergency minarchist state of my fantasies would need a tax, and GST might be it.

Secondly, it ignores the fact that governments are all too happy simply to run up debts to be repaid by future taxpayers when the tax revenue isn’t as much as they hoped. Government running on deficit spending is practically a hallmark of the evolution of western democracy as electorates have learned to vote for whoever most convincingly promises to give them expensive stuff to be paid for by someone else. State and local governments are different from national ones only in scale, and Victoria is no exception.*

But allowing for that, and assuming (incredibly generously) that every dollar of tax returns somewhere near a dollar of value, it’s still nonetheless a fact that individuals in Victoria are better off in the short term by an average of about $125 each. More realistically, many aren’t GST registered and more of us probably pay our taxes than don’t anyway, so some are thousands better off while others gained a big fat $0.00.** And, of course, that too is an oversimplification since it ignores the fact that those individuals will have more to spend. Even if it’s at second or third or Nth hand some of will end up with those of us who didn’t pay cash in hand to cheat the taxman. The builder who gets paid $1,000 cash in hand this week will have $91 more to spend on whatever he likes in November after he’s sent the Australian Tax Office a cheque for the GST he collected for them.*** Or he does the job for, say, $950 and both parties benefit.

Am I saying we should all not pay our taxes or that I approve of or condone tax evasion? No, not at all. Never mind the rights and wrongs, the morality of abusing a monopoly on force to take money at gunpoint from millions of people, many of whom are on below average incomes, to do what the government has decided in the hubris and arrogance it often mistakes for all knowing wisdom is in the best interests of everybody, tax evasion is a crime and you will never hear me say that anyone should do it no matter how much it might leave in the economy. If you believe there should be more money out there instead of wasted by vainglorious but clueless politicians then look at legal tax avoidance or vote for politicians who’ll actually shrink the state instead of the usual left/right dickheads. Dodging what  current laws say you absolutely must pay is Not A Good Idea.

But what I am saying is that money hasn’t just vanished from the economy, and that even if a government or supporters of big state government in general want to think that lost tax revenue is the same thing actually it isn’t. It really isn’t.

The average official salary in 2011 was equivalent to $2 per month while the actual monthly income seems to be around $15 because most North Koreans earn money in illegal small businesses: trade, subsistence farming, and handicrafts. The illegal economy is dominated by women because men have to attend their places of official work even though most of the factories are non-functioning. It is estimated that in the early 2000s, the average North Korean family drew some 80% of its income from small businesses that are legal in market economies but illegal in North Korea.

Wikipedia

And I’m also saying that maybe, just maybe, we might be a bit better off if that $620m a year could remain out there legally.

* The article does mention that the Victorian government is on track to return to a surplus of about $144 million this financial year, but since its debt is currently $15.2 billion the remaining debt will still be well over 100 times greater than the predicted surplus.

** I am scrupulously honest for several reasons, not the least of which is that I feel it gives me more right to bitch about taxes if I pay all I owe.

*** Yes, this does mean I have a quarter of records to go through, an ATO form to fill in and a cheque for GST to send by the end of the month, hence my current inclination to punch cute kittens until my own fists are bloody stumps when the subject comes up in the news.

Savile row suit

Whatever we all know, think we know, suspect, believe, saw something on the web or have heard about the late and now (then, now then) largely unlamented Jimmy Savile I can tell you two 100% incontrovertible facts about him:

  • He was never convicted of a sex offence while he was alive.
  • He’s never going to be convicted of one now that he’s dead.

Personally I wouldn’t be all that surprised if there was something in some of the allegations. I’d heard there were rumours about him and I remember watching that episode of HIGNFY in which Paul Merton seemed pretty off toward Savile, though not to the extent claimed in the debunked but still occasionally mentioned hoax transcript – come on, everybody, you can’t seriously believe that if all that had been said in front of a studio audience of several hundred or more back in 1999 it wouldn’t have been all over the papers and Savile tortured to death by the Paedofinder-General long before now.

Jimmy Savile, by the Power vested in me by what’s been trending on Twitter, I find you GUILTY of PAEDOPHILIA.

It’s the BBC we’re talking about here, not the CIA. And even the CIA would have found that impossible to keep under wraps unless they’d borrowed some memory erasers off of the MIB. So I’m prepared to believe that what happened at the recording wasn’t vastly different from what was broadcast, which if you look for it online shows Paul Merton largely being his usual self. I remember at the time having the feeling Merton didn’t particularly like Savile but funnily enough there’s far less hostility than I thought I remembered. BBC cover up or just influence of that hoax transcript? And even if Merton was a bit offish was it because he knew, as many in the BBC are now claimed to have known, that Savile was a nonce but for the sake of his own job was keeping quiet about it beyond a couple of snide remarks? Or was it just because he didn’t like him much? Or, again, am I reading more into it than there ever was?

Certainly there’s a fair amount of reading stuff into things. Take something Savile said on that episode of HIGNFY that has been repeated a lot lately.

“I’m feared in every girls’ school in this country.”

The subtext of which, parts of the interwebs now tell us, is that Jimmy was boasting that he liked to screw schoolgirls. Which is a strange response given that the conversation actually goes like this:

Angus Deayton: You used to be a wrestler, didn’t you?
Jimmy Savile: I still am.
AD: Are you?
JS: I’m feared in every girls’ school in this country.
Audience laugh
Ian Hislop: You didn’t have a nickname or something?
JS: Yes: “loser”.

So let’s replay that with the interwebs’ alleged subtext in place.

Angus Deayton: You used to be a wrestler, didn’t you?
Jimmy Savile: I still am.
AD: Are you?
JS: I like to screw schoolgirls.
Audience laugh
Ian Hislop: You didn’t have a nickname or something?
JS: Yes: “loser”.

Bit of a non sequitur, isn’t it? Whatever we might suspect about Savile – and as I’ve said I wouldn’t be surprised – this isn’t any kind of evidence, much less proof. It doesn’t look like he was saying he was feared in every girls’ school because he was a 72 year old nonce with wandering hands but that he was such a shit wrestler that a girls’ school was the only place he had a chance of winning a wrestling match (and during the show Deayton does mention that Savile lost nearly every match).

But this and just about everything else he’s said, everything he’s done, every event in the man’s life is being seized upon and examined to see if there’s any possible way it can be interpreted as being an indicator confirming what we want to believe: that Savile was a pervert who’d do anything to anything. Visit to Broadmoor? Well, he liked to fuck mental patients, innit? Went to a funeral in a nice suit? Of course, Savile was a well known (to everyone but the person being told) necrophile and he always liked to dress well for his dates. Stoke Mandeville? Ah, spinal injuries patients can’t run away.

If all the rumours (and even some of the allegations) are to be believed Savile wasn’t merely a common or garden nonce but some-kind of überdeviant whose tastes in perversity went beyond pubescent girls but also included pederasty and necrophilia. Look, he was certainly a creepy old bastard but – and apologies for bringing up the Paedofinder-General again – I think we’re getting into exactly the kind of incessant hunting for evidence to the point of out-of-context twisting of things that Monkey Dust was satirising.

Was he a pervert? Was he smart enough to pick victims that were easier for the BBC and police to ignore or dismiss as unreliable? Did the police fuck up investigating the complaints that were made and, with no police action ever being taken, did an in denial BBC persuade themselves that there was nothing to the rumours? Did some at the BBC even turn a blind eye? I’m prepared to believe it’s possible, and Christ knows there’d be enough even if half of it’s true, but I’d be lying if I said I knew. And in a strict legal sense we’re never going to know because, as I said at the beginning, there are two facts that are beyond argument.

  • He was never convicted of a sex offence while he was alive.
  • He’s never going to be convicted of one now that he’s dead.

The former can’t be changed, and it’s very much to be hoped that nobody starts talking about the latter so that the allegations against Savile can be turned into formal charges and he can be tried in-very-permanent-absentia. A world in which someone can be convicted when they’re unable, rather than merely unwilling, to appear in court to defend themselves is far nastier, more frightening and dangerous to contemplate than one in which a combination of celebrity, value to a national broadcaster and police incompetence can shield a pervert. If it can be done to a dead man then why can’t it be done to someone who the police just can’t be arsed to go and find. Unless we’re crazy and knee-jerk prone enough to change that legal principle there will never ever be a trial in which evidence against Savile can be tested.

That ship has sailed, the chance for justice to be done and seen to be done lost forever. You will never read of Jimmy Savile the convicted child molestor because under any sane legal system – and for all its faults ours strives to be at least relatively sane – a conviction is now impossible. Even if it was legally possible it’s still pointless as even Hitler became untouchable once the son of a bitch was good and dead. His works have been torn down, he’s a near universal hate figure, his memory is reviled and his name spat upon. And he doesn’t care in the slightest. Death is the perfect statute of limitations.

We can, however, bring a civil suit against those who are said to have been involved in something, in this instance the BBC for allegedly sticking its corporate head in the sand (or worse) and letting him carry on and the NHS for letting him into Stoke Mandeville and other hospitals (I’m not clear on whether they knew anything or not makes much of a difference).

Liz Dux, a personal injury lawyer who has acted for people with severe spinal injuries and amputees, has been contacted by several woman who want to sue over the Savile allegations.

She is preparing cases against the BBC and the hospital on the grounds that they both have a duty of care to anyone who came into contact with their staff or agents.

“The case would be against the BBC or the hospital because they would be held vicariously liable in law on behalf of someone like Savile who was acting as their agent,” Dux told BBC Radio 4’s World at One on Friday.

“So in the case of the BBC where he abused people through his connection with programmes, for example the case about the girl who alleges she was abused in his changing room, then because of the close connection with the BBC, the BBC would be what we call vicariously liable in those circumstances,” she added.

“Likewise in the hospitals. He may not have been paid by the hospital but he’s there as their agent, then they owe a duty of care to those he abused.”

I’m not saying that those who say they were attacked have seen potential pound signs and have gone out shopping for a decent ambulance chaser to get some compo. If they were assaulted and someone deliberately or otherwise protected the assailant then they deserve some kind of reparation. But more than that they’d deserve some justice, and though anyone who was assaulted would probably feel some comfort through finally being believed (unless they hand’t ever said anything) what I am saying is that actual justice ain’t going to happen.

We can also say what we like about even the most wealthy and powerful dead people without fear of libel, which is why it’s not surprising that unpleasant stuff about such people can fail to emerge until too late. Alive, they’re intimidating: they can fight back, and in the form of expensive lawyers they’ll probably be able to hit harder than anyone who feels they were wronged. Not unreasonable, then, that many of Savile’s alleged victims have waited until now. But it is unfortunate because had those who complained at the time only to be brushed off been joined by enough other voices then perhaps it might have been possible to bring a criminal case against a living man. And maybe then he’d have been found guilty, but then again maybe he wouldn’t have. But assuming for the moment that he would have then I have to ask if someone who’s said nothing until now also failed those who said something at the time? Yes, silence is understandable, but if it’s true that even one investigation stalled through lack of evidence then any corroborating accounts that were never given…

Academic now: as I keep saying, we’ll never know. While we can call him a paedo, nonce, kiddy fiddler, wrongcock etc. we will never be able to call him a convicted sex offender. Jimmy Savile won’t care. Depending on whether he was guilty or innocent he went to his grave either unaware that his name was about to be blackened or aware that he got away with it. He is beyond justice, both the kind that exonerates the innocent and the kind that punishes the guilty. Apart from making everyone in the UK pay a little bit more for the NHS and the BBC than they do already (or take some of what’s already been taken – take your pick) all that we’re left with is, well, this.

I AM THE SAVILE-FINDER GENERAL, AND I FIND YOU GUILTY…

A plague on both their houses

Despite still being fairly busy I’ve made time to return to blogging, and the theme of this somewhat lengthy comeback is the perennial one of nearly all politicians and their parties being nigh on inseparably awful. Inspired by some recent Twitter and email conversations with people who (I’m guessing) might not particularly support Mitt Romney but fear Obama* and with people who (I’m also guessing) might not particularly support Obama but fear Mitt Romney** I thought I’d spend a little time doing some comparisons. And I think the fairest way to compare is to see how often they do things that, depending on your left vs right politics, are frightening or A Good Thing.

Starting with the easiest to find and one of the most recent things I got into on Twitter, use of the Presidential veto. I’m not going into threats to veto legislation as firstly that’s going to be something they all do, secondly it’s only politicking, and thirdly it’s not going to be consistently reported. Actual vetoes are a matter of record so we’ll go with that, and it is a fact that Obama is extremely reluctant to use his veto. At the time of writing he’s been President for 1,329 days and has vetoed only two pieces of legislation, and in neither case did Congress overrule it and pass the law anyway. That’s an average of one use every 21 and a half months. Quite a contrast, say some Obama supporters, with Bush’s 12 vetoes (about a third of which were overruled by Congress), and in fact excluding the half dozen or so US Presidents who never used their veto Obama is the least veto prone President they’ve ever had.

But Bush was in office for 2,922 days, making his veto record about once every eight months. Much more frequent, yes, but objectively it’s hard to accuse Bush of having his veto button on a hair trigger, especially when you consider that Clinton, Bush the Elder, Reagan, Carter, Ford, Nixon, Johnson, Kennedy, Eisenhower and Truman – all the Presidents since Dubbie was born – all used the veto with much greater frequency. In fact, and again excluding those who never vetoed anything at all, Dubya is the second least veto prone President behind Barack H. Obama. The third place, in case anyone’s interested, goes to Warren Harding, who was in office ninety years ago, while the most frequent vetoers were Grover Cleveland, a Republican, and FDR, a Democrat, who vetoed legislation on average once a week and once every five days respectively.

The bottom line there is that there is no relationship between a President’s party affiliation and his use of veto powers, not even when you take into account an opposition controlled Congress. The most and least veto happy Presidents are/were Democrats while the runners up in both categories were Republicans. Romney has not been President so we can only go on his record as Governor of Massachusetts, in which he used his veto about 800 times, more than twice as frequently as even FDR, though this is likely to be due in large part to a heavily Democratic state legislature which, predictably enough, overruled nearly all the vetoes anyway. Did he veto all that legislation for good reasons, or just because it made him look like he was trying his best to stick to policies in the face of determined and overwhelming opposition from the legislature? Does it mean that as President Romney would be even quicker on the veto draw than FDR? Probably not, but who knows?

So what do these numbers tell us? Not a bloody thing. If you don’t look at exactly what got vetoed by whom you can’t say whether you agree or disagree with its use, and once you do look it becomes subjective anyway. About all we can say objectively is that apart from the reasonable expectation of more vetoes when Congress is controlled by the other party there’s really no reason to suppose a President of one party is any more or less likely to veto legislation than a President of the other party.

Okay, so how about Executive Orders, something else that all Presidents can use and something I brought up in a Twitter conversation. Bush’s were Executive Order numbers 13198 to 13486, which makes 288 over his term or about one every ten days. Clinton managed 363 – one every eight days – over the same period of time, while Bush the Elder managed 165 – one every nine days – in his single term and Reagan’s record (380) over his two comes out at one every eight days. So far so similar. Carter was a bit keener, with 319 in a single term working out to one every 4-5 days. As of now Obama has issued 134, or one every ten days, about the same as his predecessor. Again, hard to get a comparable record for Romney but I can’t see any reason for thinking he’d buck this trend, and again I don’t think the bare numbers say much anyway. An Executive Order supporting a pet project or fulfilling a campaign promise is one thing, albeit something that arguably is not overtly supported by at least the majority who didn’t vote for the President (when was the last time any President had a majority of those eligible to vote, not just those who actually did vote?) but once more this becomes subjective. And while it’s subjective of me to maintain that Obama’s use of this tool to authorise the extra-judicial killing of his own citizens by means of drone launched missile attacks inside the borders of nations with whom there’s no formal declaration of war is pretty fucking iffy, not to mention beyond even where Dubya took the War on A Vague Feeling of Unease, I’m sure I’m far from alone. To be fair he issued one to close down the camps in Guantanamo Bay as well, but it’s hard to credit him for something that still hasn’t  happened yet and when the US continues to add to the numbers held without trial by sticking them somewhere else.

Among Obama’s inaugural executive decrees was a pledge to close the Pentagon’s notorious military prison camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, within a year. Today it’s still open with 169 prisoners. The administration’s policy has been to send no new prisoners there, but instead to expand its prison at the U.S. airbase in Bagram, Afghanistan, where some 2,000 languish further from public attention and without a pretense of any rights.

The order’s fine print made clear the president was not challenging the indefinite detention of detainees without charges. Inmates “not approved for release or transfer,” the order said, “shall be evaluated to determine … whether it is feasible to prosecute” them.

Two months later the administration was filing its first court brief defending indefinite military detention for Guantánamo detainees under executive wartime powers. In May of that year Obama defended his prerogative to indefinitely hold those “who cannot be prosecuted yet who pose a clear danger.” His administration has designated 46 prisoners for detention without trial.

And then there’s those drone strikes, on which, unusually for me, I’ll turn to CIF (links are CIF’s, emphasis is mine):

Yet, contrary to his campaign promises, Obama has left most of the foundations of Bush’s counterterrorism approach intact, including its presumption of executive privilege, its tolerance of indefinite detention in Guantánamo and elsewhere and its refusal to grant prisoners in America’s jails abroad habeas corpus rights. While the language of the “war on terror” has been dropped, the mindset of the Bush approach – that America is forever at war, constantly on the offensive to kill “bad guys” before they get to the United States – has crept into this administration and been translated into policy in new and dangerous ways.

This fact is clearly demonstrated in a recent New York Times article, which details how President Obama has become personally involved in an elaborate internal process by which his administration decides who will be the next victim of America’s drone strikes. The article itself – clearly written with the cooperation of the administration, as the writers had unprecedented access to three dozen counterterrorism advisers – was designed to showcase Obama as a warrior president, thoughtfully wrestling with the moral issues involved in drone strikes, but forceful enough to pull the trigger when needed.

What it instead revealed was that the president has routinized and normalized extrajudicial killing from the Oval Office, taking advantage of America’s temporary advantage in drone technology to wage a series of shadow wars in Afghanistan, PakistanYemen, and Somalia. Without the scrutiny of the legislature and the courts, and outside the public eye, Obama is authorizing murder on a weekly basis, with a discussion of the guilt or innocence of candidates for the “kill list” being resolved in secret on “Terror Tuesday” teleconferences with administration officials and intelligence officials.

The creation of this “kill list” – as well as the dramatic escalation in drone strikes, which have now killed at least 2,400 people in Pakistan alone, since 2004 – represents a betrayal of President Obama’s promise to make counterterrorism policies consistent with the US constitution. As Charles Pierce has noted, there is nothing in the constitution that allows the president to wage a private war on individuals outside the authorization of Congress.

[…]

Together with the bland assertion that the US has the right to self-defense against al-Qaida under international law, these legal arguments have enabled the president to expand drone operations against terrorist organizations to Yemen and Somalia, as well as to escalate the campaign against militant networks in Pakistan. To date, Obama has launched 278 drone strikes against targets in Pakistan. The use of drone strikes is now so commonplace that some critics have begun to wonder if the administration has adopted a “kill, not capture” policy, forsaking the intelligence gains of capturing suspects for an approach that leaves no one alive to pose a threat.

This vast, expansive interpretation of executive power to enable drone wars conducted in secret around the globe has also set dangerous precedent, which the administration has not realized or acknowledged. Once Obama leaves office, there is nothing stopping the next president from launching his own drone strikes, perhaps against a different and more controversial array of targets. The infrastructure and processes of vetting the “kill list” will remain in place for the next president, who may be less mindful of moral and legal implications of this action than Obama supposedly is (I’m far from convinced Obama is all that mindful – AE).

[…]

Also in contravention of his campaign promises, the Obama administration has worked to expand its power of the executive and to resist oversight from the other branches of government. While candidate Obama insisted that even terrorist suspects deserved their due process rights and a chance to defend themselves in some kind of a court, his administration has now concluded that a review of the evidence by the executive branch itself – even merely a hasty discussion during one of the “Terror Tuesdays” – is equivalent to granting a terrorist suspect due process rights. With little fanfare, it has also concluded that American citizens may now be killed abroad without access to a “judicial process”.

Oh, and those American citizens don’t even need to be of voting age. Not even a year ago one US citizen, Abdul Rahman al Awlaki, died on the receiving end of a drone launched missile at the age of sixteen years, though the administration initially suggested he was around twenty and therefore of fighting age as if being older and able was the same thing as being found guilty of an actual terrorist offence by a court and jury. Turns out that one birth certificate, issued in Colorado, did exist to trouble the Obama administration. Might al Awlaki have been involved even at that young age, especially as his dad and uncle were – or at least were also killed by drone strikes, which is as much due process as Abdul got? Possibly, who knows? The point is that Saint Obama of Democrats has been at least as keen to use the same tools, legal and technological, to blow up brown kids as teh ebil demon Bush of GOP. In fact so keen has Obama been on drone strikes that he’d authorised more of them by the time he accepted his Nobel Peace Prize less than a year into his presidency than Bush did in his whole eight years in the White House.

Nor is it just extra judicial killing via drone strikes. Obama has used Executive Orders to impose sanctions, “block” property and freeze assets, just as Bush did before him. Having been only a state Governor it’s hard to compare Romney but again I struggle to see any reason to expect him to be noticeably different.

Okay, so what about money and the economy? Republicans in general and Bush in particular are blamed by supporters of Obama and the Democrats for creating the GFC because it’s generally assumed that Republicans are the same thing as free market capitalists, and it’s strongly implied that Romney would be more of the same. Although I don’t doubt that Romney would be broadly similar the rest is bullshit for two reasons. Firstly, Republicans like Bush and Romney, big government Republicans, are no more capitalists than Obama is. Call them corporatists if you like and I’d be inclined to agree. Call them crony capitalists and I’d certainly be nodding. But free market capitalists? Let me put it this way, would a real free market capitalist bail out corporations who’ve fucked up so badly that they’ll go to the wall without state help? Would a real free market capitalist reward failure with money either taken by force from taxpayers or borrowed in their name without asking them?

Secondly, what free market are we even talking about here? The banking and finance industry? The one regulated by the SEC, FSA, ASIC and so on and strongly influenced if not controlled both by governments (both Dems and GOP in the US and both left and right of centre elsewhere) and by their various central banks plus a couple of supranationals? Free market my left ball. Amidst all that regulation and oversight where’s the free bit? It’s a myth – there is no free market. Freeish is not free, and operating under the strong, and as it turned out 100% correct, assumption that there’s a government provided taxpayer funded safety net is certainly not even remotely free for the simple reason that freedom necessarily includes the freedom to fail. Risk assessment changes not just with the risk itself but with the consequences of things going wrong, and when governments allowed corporations (it’s not just banks that have been bailed out or allowed to run for many years on subsidies) to believe they were protected from failure it was inevitable that they’d view risks differently and make products without customers or, as in the case of the banks, lend money to people who could never repay it. Absent the government protection there might be a few less options to choose from when buying a car due to unpopular models being dropped, but there probably wouldn’t have been as many subprime mortgages either. Blaming the free market for the GFC is like blaming Santa Claus for not getting the pressies you wanted at Christmas or complaining that the tooth fairy is getting stingy.

That didn’t happen on Bush’s watch or on Obama’s, yet they’ve played their part in the crisis all the same. There’s no doubt that Bush spent a hell of a lot of money, firstly on the War on Tourism*** and then on those bailouts. But then 2009 came and he left, and Barack Obama arrived promising change… and four years later he’s saying there’ll be some, honest, if America just sticks with him. Seriously? I know Congress hasn’t always been on his side but the last four years have been largely characterised by carrying on where Bush left off: spending a hell of a lot of money on war and bailouts for corporate fuck ups.

It’s harder to argue that the president hasn’t been a radical departure from previous presidents with respect to spending, debt, and deficits, but here goes. As a starting point, let’s have a look at the chart below, which shows federal outlays as a percentage of GDP.

The first year of the Obama presidency, 2009, is the largest year in decades, with federal outlays totaling a whopping 25.2 percent of GDP. Since then, federal outlays relative to GDP have fallen, but they are still incredibly large. In fact, you have to go back to 1946 to find a year when federal outlays were as large as they have been every year of the Obama presidency.

Having said that, it is impossible to look at the chart and not to see a large ramp up in outlays under George W. Bush — the president who reversed the direction of federal outlays, which had been falling. Indeed, it is perfectly reasonable to argue that much of the responsibility for 2009’s 25.2 percent rests with President Bush, and not with President Obama; in January 2009, before President Obama took office, the CBO released its forecast that fiscal year 2009would see outlays of 24.9 percent of GDP based on pre-Obama policies.

Don’t get me wrong: President Obama bears responsibility for federal outlays being larger for each year of his presidency than at any time since 1946. If George W. Bush bears a lot of responsibility for FY2009, then Mr. Obama bears even more responsibility for the three years that followed — responsibility for both the very high spending and the questionable composition of the spending.

So is Mr. Obama’s performance on spending quite bad? Yes. But a difference in kind rather than in degree? Over his four fiscal years as president the average outlays-to-GDP ratio is 24.4 percent. During the Reagan years the average was 22.4 percent. Given the Great Recession, this two percentage point difference, though deceivingly very large, isn’t enough to claim that President Obama represents a radical departure from post-war presidents with respect to spending.

What about the deficit? Here’s the picture.

This chart is startling. It shows that President Obama walked into a massive budget deficit and he made the situation worse. Prior to President Obama’s inauguration, and in the absence of any of his policies, the CBO estimated that the FY2009 budget deficit would be an incredible 8.3 percent of GDP. George W. Bush again bears a lot of the responsibility, and as with spending, President Obama turned bad into worse.

Each of Mr. Obama’s annual deficits has been larger than any since the 1940s. Deficits aggregate into debt, and as I have previously written it is reasonable to think of President Obama and George W. Bush as each being responsible for roughly one-third of the debt — with all presidents from George Washington through Bill Clinton responsible for the remaining third. (In the absence of George W. Bush, it would of course be much harder, perhaps impossible, to argue that President Obama has not been a radical departure from previous presidents on debt.)

 

Get that? Obama’s administration is responsible for about a third of America’s debt, and Bush’s for about another third. But Bush isn’t the GOP candidate, Mitt Romney is. And Mitt Romney delivered on his promise to get the deficit under control in Massachusetts, and claims he did so without raising taxes. Whether you consider a government imposed fee a tax or not probably determines whether you entirely buy his claim, as does your view on Romneycare, the Massachusetts health insurance scheme that has been likened to and even described as a predecessor to Obamacare, and whether federal money Massachusetts received (this is during the Bush era, remember) to help with this means that Romney is not the fiscal conservative some would like to believe. On top of that Romney has said little to nothing about rolling back the size of America’s federal government apparatus and come out in favour of things that seem likely to maintain if not increase it. PATRIOT Act? Yeah, he’s a fan. Bailouts? Well, he may have opposed Obama’s but he supported Bush’s so he’s clearly alongside the principle of rewarding failure with money taken from taxpayers. War and foreign policies? According to Wikipedia he “has stated that Russia is America’s ‘number one geopolitical foe’, and that preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear capability should be America’s ‘highest national security priority’. He plans to label China a currency manipulator and take associated counteractions unless that country changes its trade practices. He has supported the War in Afghanistan Romney supports thePatriot Act, existence of the the Guantanamo Bay detention camp and indefinite detention of suspected terrorists without trial, and use of enhanced interrogation techniques for interrogation of suspected terrorists.” As far as I can tell he, like Bush and Obama – and Clinton and Bush the Elder and Reagan etc – would also continue America’s ludicrously expensive and pointless War on Drugs Which Aren’t Ciggies Or Booze Because America Still Hasn’t Got Over The Last Time It Tried That. As a devout Mormon he may even want to extend it, but again with Obama attacking medicinal marijuana usage it’d stil be a case of meet the new boss, same as the old boss. Just like it was 1,329 days ago.

All of which I’d call change I can believe in – namely none whatsoever. America decides, as does Australia and the UK next year and the year after, but we need to wake up to what we’re really deciding. If all we’re voting for is who gets to be warden of our multi-million square mile prison camps then what’s the fucking point? Bush or Obama, Obama or Romney, Gillard or Abbott, Cameron or Miliband… all will change details, yes, but it’s clear that all will maintain vastly more just as it is now. One or other of them may do a slightly better job at maintaining the gilding on the bars but none of them wants to, probably can’t even conceive of, doing away with the cage.

Well, almost none.

So am I saying Americans should vote for Johnson? No, it’s their choice to make, but I will say that at this admittedly long distance it really does look to me that voting for Obama because you fear Romney or voting for Romney because you don’t like what Obama’s done really isn’t going to change a great deal. No criticism of America intended as both the country of my birth and the one in which I’ve made my home suffer from the same problem. Christ, on some issues you can’t get a fucking cigarette paper between them. My personal opinions may be slightly closer to Ron Paul’s than Gary Johnson’s, but he’s not on a ticket and as I have no say in America’s elections this is all academic anyway.

But crazy ideas like politicians not bankrupting their countries and not accumulating debt for taxpayers not yet even born and fighting unnecessary wars and letting us all live the one life that each of us get as free individuals… well, I’d vote for Australia’s or Britain’s Gary Johnson in a picosecond. And I can’t help but feel the best chance of there being an Aussie or British Gary Johnson to vote for is if a fair number of American voters decide to reject the usual Republocrat/Demlican suspects this November. I don’t imagine he’ll actually win, but at this stage getting noticed and getting on the ballot has been enough an achievement that just taking a decent number of votes off the other two would be a small victory.

Good luck @GovGaryJohnson, and if you don’t win is there any chance you could move here and not win as well. Because at least you’re getting the idea of real change into people’s heads.

* He’s a muslim/commie/wasn’t born in the US/pot smoking hippy/Chicago lawyer/socialist healthcare advocate/pinko/freedom hater/terrorist sympathiser/Zionist – circle all those you personally believe in and which you think make him unfit to be President.

** He’s a mormon like Bill Paxton in Big Love/rich guy’s friend/socialist healthcare advocate/as bad as Bush because they’re both from the same party, you know, so despite  differences in the way Romney ran his state as Governor he’d run the country the same way Dubya did/terrorist sympathising Zionist… I’m going to stop taking the piss out of Obama and Romney’s respective detractors now. You get the picture – as far as I know nearly all the guff I’ve written in both these footnotes is complete bollocks and what isn’t is irrelevant, but all of it or stuff very much like it has been said either online or in the MSM. What amuses me is how some of the things they’ve been criticised for are actually things they have in common.

*** Not a typo: fly through Los Angeles airport and you’ll see what I mean – seriously, America, I’d love to visit again and spend money seeing various bits of your country but last time there the TSA made me feel about as welcome as a tumescent priest in a boy’s dormitory.

Lightbloggingitis – a very acute case

Prompted by a couple of emails in the last two days…

For various reasons which are both too boring and too time consuming to go into I’ve been too busy to blog lately. Too far away from my computer for much of the time and too knackered to put brain to keyboard back at home. Exiled anger has not gone anywhere since there’s plenty that still gives me the arse almost from the minute I open my eyes in the morning. I just haven’t had much opportunity to write about it and the back rooms of this blog have become a mess of half formed thoughts and half written, probably never to be finished, posts about various things.

However, my old dumb phone tragically died – really died, I mean, not Gordon Browned at someone in an incoherent rage – and I’ve reluctantly joined the ranks of the smartphone set. The upside of this means that I can at least put out morsel sized chunks… yes, your humble potty mouthed libertarian British expat Down Under is on Twatter as @AngryExile, and the level of anger is diminished only as much as being expressed in 140 characters makes necessary. But they’re 140 quite angry characters.

Wonder if there’s a tweet widget I can put on here somewhere so that it doesn’t keep looking like I’m dead in the outback somewhere.

Edit: yes there is. Shame I didn’t think of looking earlier.

The bansturbators’ latest attack on liberty

Imagine prohibiting cigarette sales to people born after 2000.

Phasing out tobacco will stop the next generation taking up smoking.

Actually I’d be surprised if this is really new and hasn’t been bandied around nannying and anti-tobacco circles previously, but this is the first time I’ve seen something like it being seriously mooted in the pages of a major newspaper. And I have to say that not only is it one of the most illiberal and unjust (when something is legal for one person and not for another for no better reason than the lottery of birth we have begun to wave bye bye to equality of law) ideas I’ve seen but also one of the most breathtakingly naive, if not downright stupid and verging on self-fisking.

Let’s start with that subheading (yes, the stupid really does start that early):

Phasing out tobacco will stop the next generation taking up smoking.

Well, yes it would… if that’s what you were actually doing, or indeed is even possible with a product made from a plant that grows readily in the wild and is fairly easy to cultivate, and was to be attempted in a sparsely populated country with 25,000 kilometres of mostly uninhabited coastline. Before even reaching the body text the author, Cameron Nolan, has confused making something unavailable with merely changing its legal status and blithely declaring that as a result nobody will ever use it again. It seem unlikely that he has given any thought to the date on which various proscribed drugs were, to use his term, phased out. For many drugs currently outlawed this was before most users were born: heroin, for example, was last available in Australia legally in 1953, and even then required a prescription.* Hardly a ringing success at preventing the next generation from taking it, and since heroin laws here go back to the 19th century it can be argued that in fact they’ve failed for several generations. With such serial failure a hallmark of prohibition why should anyone but the congenitally clueless and/or nanny-prone believe that tobacco would be any different?

Imagine that cigarettes did not exist. Now imagine that some plucky upstart – let’s call them Philip Morris – invented them and went to the regulators for approval to sell their product in the Australian market.

You can hear the laughter coming out of the offices of Product Safety Australia as these new inventors explain that they want to commercialise a product that has the perverse combination of being both highly addictive and highly deadly.

Again, yes, though my personal experience with quitting smoking – hard when you’re doing it because others are laying the guilts on you about it, ridiculously piss easy when you’re doing it because you’ve stopped enjoying it – casts doubt on the addiction thing, and since there may be a tendency to label any death as smoking related that ticks some of the right boxes even if it’s from something with multiple causes I suspect the dangers are equally overblown. But in any case why should it concern Product Safety Australia or anyone else? Does Product Safety Australia claim ownership of the living bodies of smokers? Does ASH? Does the Health Department? Does Cameron Nolan? Can any of them or anyone else show that they have legal title to, and therefore responsibility for, anyone else’s body?

If the answer is yes then slavery is alive and well and operating in Australia. If the answer is no then Product Safety Australia can limit itself to making sure that potentially harmful/addictive products aren’t slipped into Australia’s markets pretending to be harmless and non-addictive. With tobacco this is probably not even necessary – we all know what it can cause, or at least what it gets blamed for, and if smokers choose to accept that risk because they enjoy smoking then that’s entirely up to them. If they’re not smoking me out – and that simply never happens – then I have no reason or right to tell them what to do with/to their bodies.

Yet this is not the world we live in.

It isn’t? So the state doesn’t arrogate ownership of people’s living bodies and an opium producer can go to Product Safety Australia and not be laughed at, or even arrested as soon as they’ve set foot in the door? The only sense in which it’s not the world we live in is that the nannies have not quite yet added tobacco – and alcohol, and fatty foods, and sugar, and Red Bull, and red meat, and Christ knows what next – and maybe it’s just me but I kind of get the sense that this disappoints Nolan.

We live in a world in which the mass commercialisation of cigarettes in the early 20th century rapidly outpaced our understanding of their health consequences.

Relevant only to those who wish to arrogate ownership rights over the live bodies of others. As understanding of the health issues grew that information has been made widely known. Not always with the willing cooperation of the tobacco industry, true, but it’s happened nonetheless. Nowadays who even reads the health warnings? Everyone knows what they say and we can’t ask for more than that, yet more is what the nannies always demand

We live in a world in which 15,500 Australians die every year from smoking-related diseases – more than road accidents, murders, alcohol and other drugs combined.

And here we have our first suspect figure. It’s almost Holy Writ that smoking causes lung cancer, and it’s frequently assumed by the lazy that it causes all lung cancer. Yet smoking is on the decline and lung cancer is on the rise, including among non-smokers. Assuming that the passive smoking scare is not bullshit the dwindling numbers of smokers must surely be smoking far more than the combined efforts of larger number of smokers in the past. Yeah, doesn’t seem real likely, does it? And that being so there’s reason to doubt the number of deaths caused by smoking, even when weasel words like ‘smoking-related diseases’ are used.

We live in a world in which every year three foreign companies are allowed to take a combined profit of more than $500 million from the Australian market while leaving us with a combined social cost of over $31 billion.

$31 billion according to a study which in fact conceded that the tax raised is greater than the medical costs to taxpayers, and came up with the remainder of the ‘social cost’ by means of some assumptions and a few seemingly highly arbitrary values being assigned to various things. Over to Chris Snowdon of Velvet Glove, Iron Fist.

This same study did indeed come up with a figure of $31 billion, but it did so by including ‘costs’ that no reasonable person would consider to be costs. Lost productivity both at work and at home gave them an extra $8 billion (p. 64). Aside from the obvious problem of coming up with a suitable cash equivalent for domestic work, all lost productivity figures are questionable because they rely on an assumption that an individual is capable of a set amount of work in a lifetime and that he/she has a duty to fulfill that quota, otherwise they are somehow costing other people money. It’s as if someone dies and you have to go round and clean their house for the next ten years. It’s a nonsense.

Still more dubious is the remaining $19.5 billion which is made up of ‘intangible’ costs (p. 65). This relies on the entirely arbitrary valuation of a life at $2 million, or a loss of one year’s living of $53,267. This kind of psychological evaluation is practically meaningless and has no place in economics. You might as well say that the value of life is priceless and, therefore, the costs of smoking (or alcohol, or drugs) is infinite.

In other words, what Cameron Nolan is referring to here is policy based evidence. Anything with arbitrary values shouldn’t even be part of an adult discussion on the issue, but since it’s headline figure appeals to nannies, paternalists and neo-puritans alike it’s reached for with depressing regularity. Cameron Nolan isn’t the first and won’t be the last. And speaking of which…

With this Gordian knot tied, the government seems content to pull as hard as it can on one end as the considerable might of the tobacco industry pulls on the other. The government bans cigarette advertising on television and radio; the tobacco industry increases its print media advertising. The government bans cigarette advertising in print media; the tobacco industry increases its sponsorship of sporting events. The government mandates graphic health warnings on cigarette packets; the tobacco industry adjusts the attractiveness of their packaging designs. The government mandates plain packaging; the tobacco industry hires a battalion of silks and runs to the High Court.

Oh, please. The tobacco industry adjusts the attractiveness of their packets? Seriously? This garbage can only come from the pen of someone who believes, as do the plain pack pod people, that people smoke because of what’s on the box. As I’ve said repeatedly on this subject, chop-chop, Australia’s illegal and regulated and QC free tobacco, is unbranded and comes in whatever the supplier has to hand, and it has no problem in maintaining a market for what it produces. What matters to smokers is how the cigarette tastes, not what the box looks like. Nannies are apparently incapable of understanding this so I’ll draw a parallel: try to remember the most delicious food you’ve ever had, and consider whether those sublime flavours are materially altered by the plate it’s served on and the cutlery you’re provided to eat it with. Alternatively, imagine if Michel Roux shat on the plate and served it, would being on a gold rimmed plate in a multi-starred restaurant that you had to book weeks ahead make it any more than a warm turd with some imaginative garnish? That’s how much packaging matters to smokers, and if it’s really true that it’s the nicotine that they’re hopelessly addicted to (coughs – bullshit) it should be no surprise to the nannies that packaging is barely even on the average smoker’s radar.

And indeed the boxes have really not changed all that much as the health warnings and horror pics have gradually taken over. Marlboro have always had the same font black lettering on white with red triangles meeting above, B&H have always been the same gold background with the name in the preferred font, etc. They adjusted bugger all in response to health warnings and horror pictures, they just conceded some of the background to them. Since the intended result, every smoker in the world throwing up their hands and quitting immediately, did not happen the nannies are desperately casting about for something to blame for people still sparking up. The health warnings and pictures are not allowed to have been a pointless waste of time, ergo it must be the ebil cigawette makers changing the designs, even though the only designs are broadly the same as they always were.

There is of course another way to untie a Gordian knot: by cutting it. The government could mandate that cigarettes can only be sold to a person who is over 18 years of age and was born before the year 2000. This would gradually phase out cigarettes in Australia by forever prohibiting their sale to the next generation – those who are currently 12 years old or younger.

And I’ve already explained that we should not expect this to be any more successful than prohibition of heroin has been at preventing anyone born in 1965 or later from trying it.

This proposal balances the rights of existing smokers and the need to protect children born in this century from the pernicious effects of tobacco addiction.

Ah, suddenly Nolan’s all concerned for people’s rights. But only the rights of those born before 2000 – people born in the 21st century have, ipso facto, fewer rights under his proposal than those of us born later. This disparity of rights is an essential part and I have no idea if Nolan is even aware of it. If he is he certainly does see, to mind some, to use Orwell’s infamous expression, being more equal than others.

Many of us will still be concerned that such a prohibition – as with alcohol in America in the 1920s – will lead to a proliferation of the black market.

Finally!

However, the aim here is not to criminalise cigarettes but to drastically reduce consumption by as yet unaddicted future generations.

Yet the prohibition of heroin lead to the same disastrous results despite it being a more gradual process designed to reduce future consumption. Again, why would it not happen with tobacco? Why would the criminals behind the illegal tobacco industry not take up as much of the slack as legislation progressively makes available to them? There is simply no reason for them not to as long as a demand exists.

A teenager would inevitably still be able to source a packet or two of cigarettes from the black market or an older sibling, but they would be much less likely to form or sustain a ‘packet a day’ addiction lasting many years without easy access.

Just the same as how nobody can form a heroin addiction these days and how you don’t find needle bins on the walls of petrol station toilets, right? Oh, wait…

If we are trying to reduce cigarette-related deaths by 90 per cent, gradually withdrawing their sale from our petrol stations, supermarkets and 7-Elevens is a sure-fire way to get us there.

What? For fuck’s sake, where the hell does Nolan think chop-chop is sold now? Sure, out of the back of vans and through mates at work, but if he thinks none at all is going under the counters of dodgy shops and petrol stations then I have a bridge he might be interesting in buying.

Many of us will also be worried about the effect this will have on the tobacco industry and retailers.

Actually no, I couldn’t give less of a shit if I’d spent the past week on an Immodium only diet. As long as they have a market, by which I mean people aware of the risks freely choosing to buy the products anyway, they deserve to survive and the day they don’t they deserve to go the way of the dinosaurs. I’m vastly more worried by Nolan’s uneven approach to individual liberty.

Finally, what about those words that sit permanently perched at the tip of any tobacco company’s tongue – what about the “nanny-state”?

Who are you calling a tobacco company? I’m no fan or friend to them and I resent the association.

By that measure, the government should get out of the way and allow companies to start selling heroin, cocaine and other highly addictive and highly deadly drugs at everyday retail outlets. After all, they are consumed by people exercising free will and their commercialisation would create thousands of jobs.

Well, yes. And if that resulted in regulation, consumer legislation, quality control etc – all of which can be expected to reduce deaths and health problems – as well as the reduction of the black market and hence prices and crime (provided government restrains its greed and doesn’t go crazy with the Pigovian tax that’s widely accepted as being an inevitable part of legalisation) then what would be wrong with that? If nothing else it would remove the risk of prison and criminal records currently run by the large numbers of people who are able to hold down a job and remain productive members of society despite using drugs. If this state of affairs is less desirable to the Nolans of this world it surely can be only because there’s less control involved.**

Fortunately, most of us accept that such profits fall into the category of “ill-gotten gains” and demand that our government prohibit the creation of such unscrupulous markets.

And the only reason I don’t make some snarky remark about sheeple at this point is because Nolan is probably wrong about this as well. More and more articles are being written saying that the war on drugs has failed and suggesting at the least a rethink and softening of the stance on prohibition, if not decriminalisation and eventual legalisation. Yes, even in the very same newspaper that published Nolan’s piece (for instance see here and here and here), and polls on such articles (like the one at the end of this one) frequently show that most support it. So much for most accepting yadda yadda and demanding our government continues to make our decisions for us.

Ultimately, it is very difficult to come up with a good reason that justifies the premature deaths of 15,500 Australians every year. […] The phase-out proposal ensures that current smokers will be unaffected while future generations will be protected.

And in his very last point Nolan is wrong once again – it is very, very easy to come up with a good reason, and I can do it by quoting someone other than Cameron bloody Nolan.

Freedom is not worth having if it does not include the freedom to make mistakes.

Mohandas Ghandi.

If you’re not free to put whatever you like into your body in the knowledge that it may harm you then you’re not free. If you are not free to make bad decisions then you are not free. If you are protected from the consequences of your actions then you are not free. Everything about Cameron Nolan’s proposal involves people, initially just some but in time everyone, being less free and having less say and less ownership of their own bodies and lives. Christ, Cameron, the first two lines of the national anthem is about Australians rejoicing because they’re young and free. Aside from being young and carefully monitored for our own good not being anything worth singing about it’s a bugger to find a rhyme for it.

And really, does anyone believe it’ll stop with tobacco? Alcohol prohibition in the US may have been largely reversed after a decade or so but on the whole prohibition has been growing. Smokers and drinker and those who love liberty in general are fond of paraphrasing Niemöller’s famous poem (and I’m delighted and relieved that someone in the comments on Nolan’s piece in The Age had already done so by the time I found it – I’ve been getting a little worried about Australian attitudes to liberty lately***), but the truth is tobacco wasn’t even the first. It wasn’t even the first thing attacked that was once something many, if not most, adults did. The only difference from America’s Temperance led experiment with banning alcohol is that a more invidious salami slicing approach is preferred now.

The lesson most draw from Prohibition was that in hindsight it was unwise to have done it at all, while the lesson the nannies and neo-puritans drew was that it wasn’t implemented the right way. And I can’t help but suspect that in the back of many minds is the unspoken thought:

If only we’d been in charge of it…”

P.S. Those who’ve read the article will probably have noticed this at the bottom.

Cameron Nolan is a Masters of Public Administration Candidate in the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. This article won the Australian Fabians Young Writers Competition for 2012.

The Fabians, eh? Can anyone say it’s a surprise? And incidentally, the prize Cameron Nolan got from the Aussie Fabians was a thousand bucks, so if anyone wants to get their wallet out and pay me for fisking it I’ll take $500.

However, when a Republican mayor in New York is banning soft drinks over a certain volume (wasn’t popcorn mentioned too or was that somewhere else) and Conservative councillors in London boroughs talk about charging people whose lifestyles aren’t approved off extra for services they’ve already paid for in advance through their taxes, and also since historically their leaders have frequently been the worst kind of self-righteous, illiberal arseholes, the Right have got absolutely nothing to boast about and more than a bit to be ashamed of. When it comes to nannying, control freakery, big statism and generally being self righteous paternalist pricks the left and right are absolutely as bad as each other.

A plague on both their houses.

* We should ignore the point that morphine is, pharmacologically speaking, very nearly the same thing and is used by hospitals in large quantities every day. As I understand it the effect is the same as heroin but less rapid.
** It should go without saying that as well as being a non-smoker and teetotaller I am also not a user of any prohibited drugs. Been exposed to a number of them but was never interested.
*** Actually when I looked there seemed to be roughly as many comments opposing it on anti-nannying grounds as there were frothing tobaccophobic venom and smoker untermenschen stuff that Dick Puddlecote’s been collecting.

Saving, not drowning

Why do people get fired? Yes, I know that in many areas legislation seems to protect anyone from getting fired at all these days and that, say, fiddling your expenses might get you fired in your job but not if you were an MP, but I can’t think of anywhere where there isn’t something you can do that will get you instantly fired on the spot even if it’s hacking your bosses’ heads off and serving them up in the staff canteen.

So accepting that people do still get fired why, in general, does it happen? I’m sure we could come up with a million different reasons why someone would get the Spanish Archer, but we’d probably all agree that almost all of them boil down to some variant of not doing the job for which that individual was hired. I say ‘almost’ there because it turns out it’s also possible to get the sack for what most normal people, but not lawyers, would consider doing exactly the job you were hired to do, as a bloke in Florida found out this week when he was fired from his job as a lifesaver for the gross misconduct of, er, doing some lifesaving.

Liability issues? What the hell are they on about? The only thing I can think of is that because Thomas Lopez left the area of beach and water he was responsible for to rescue someone outside it the company paid by the city to provide lifesavers on the beach might theoretically have been sued if someone else got into difficulties in Lopez’ bit of beach. The signs are there for a reason and I guess that reason is reflecting the reality that help can’t be everywhere at once, and beyond a certain point you can’t necessarily expect there to be any – in this area we will try to help, but beyond it assume that you’ll be on your own. Well, fair enough, but there’s a huge difference between not expecting that there’ll necessarily be help and expecting that perfectly capable help will be instructed to sit on its arse. If I go off camping in the bush to get away from it all for a bit I don’t expect the full range of emergency services to be available, but I’d like to think that if we don’t come back everyone wouldn’t just go “Oh, they went outside our usual area so meh, we’re not even going to go have a look just in case something happens here.” Yet that seems to be roughly the policy at Hallandale beach.

We’re fucked, aren’t we? Seriously, properly, fucked. Western society’s doom is not going to come from outside but from within: a self inflicted death of a thousand3 cuts that come about when nobody has any idea what they’re allowed to do anymore and end up standing there and doing nothing at all, terrified of unwittingly committing some ridiculous but all too real offence or being sued into penury by some tediously thin skinned prick who can’t deal with the fact that the universe isn’t there to give him a blow job every day and that it’s not necessarily someone’s fault when things don’t go his way. This, folks, is our future if we insist on hiring people to save lives but tell them that under no circumstances must they save lives that are in danger in a slightly different place from where they’re on duty, and that in such circumstances they must stand there as those lives are lost to the water. Because ‘liability’.

Did I say the future? Oh, shit.*

I understand that there’s an obligation to provide lifeguard cover on the section of beach marked as having lifeguards, and that if someone drowned because a lifeguard should have been there but wasn’t then calls from the nearest ambulance chasing law firm are practically certain, but as Lopez’ colleagues point out in other videos (e.g. this one) the beach was still covered.

While he was off we had two other guards watching the zones, so the beach was secured.

No doubt some corporate bellend seeking to justify the sackings and hand wave the resignations would say what if those two guys had to do rescues in their own areas or failed to spot someone else in trouble because they were having to mind an extra part of the beach. I can kind of see this but surely you need to consider how likely is the hypothetical situation where every lifeguard is suddenly going to be needed simultaneously at the a time when one of them has left the patrolled area to save someone who’s really in trouble, and in that highly unlikely scenario how is it any different from having x lifeguards employed and x+1 people screaming for help in the patrolled area? If the signs reflect the fact that assistance can’t be everywhere then we have to acknowledge the tiny possibility that it really can’t even be guaranteed to be everywhere in the area that is intended to be covered.

Unfortunately corporate bellends and uber-litigiious types desperate to find blame when life hands out lemons and death hands out calling cards often don’t see things that way, being almost congenitally unable to look beyond the potential for lawsuits and not sufficiently discouraged by courts from doing so. Happily for that one person who got into trouble in the water, Thomas Lopez and his colleagues who resigned or were also sacked have no truck with this nonsense. The courage of lifeguards is to be admired anyway, but the principled stand these half dozen or so have taken is to be admired even more. Doubly so for Thomas Lopez if he even stopped to think about the rules and decided that the rules could go piss, though it seems quite possible that he thought of nothing beyond helping the drowning man stop drowning. Which is what you’d imagine is the key quality you’d be looking for if you were hiring lifeguards.

May they or people very much like them find jobs on beaches where you and your loved ones go. The kind of lifeguard who really would sit on his platform and watch while someone who didn’t fit the to-be-saved criteria drowned should be hired exclusively to patrol beaches frequented by the type of shitwit who’d fire the other kind for rescuing someone beyond the flags.

* I realise I may be being a little unfair there, as I recall that in the infamous ‘PCSOs stood by as someone drowned because of elfinsafetee rules’ story they’d arrived after the victim had gone under, couldn’t be certain where the victim had ended up, and genuinely weren’t equipped or trained to do much more than call for help from people who actually knew what they were doing – since that’s much what a random passerby would have been capable of it’s perhaps more a failure of the concept of PCSOs than the individual PCSOs in that case. On the other hand I did see a few weeks back that a couple of PCSOs went into cold water to save a drowning man, and in the article their superiors were smart enough to avoid any suggestion that this was somehow not the done thing.

Remember this guy?

From about six weeks ago.

Well, sure enough

A man has been charged with extinguishing the Eternal Flame at Melbourne’s Shrine of Remembrance.

The 36-year-old Yarraville man allegedly climbed over barriers and used a fire extinguisher to put out the flame on May 25.

The man has been charged with theft, criminal damage and a number of other offences under the shrine regulations, including behaving in an offensive manner.

Still no word on the motive (alleged motive?), which is the thing I’m most curious about, so it remains to be seen whether this guy is a nutcase, a common or garden dickhead, or someone with a real axe to grind and was carrying out some kind of weird personal protest. Since he’s not even been named and is just referred to as an anonymous 36 year old Yarraville man I’m starting to wonder if loony is right after all. In any case the fact there are such things as shrine regulations – in contrast to the US where I believe attempts to legally prohibit flag burning have been long declared a breach of the First Amendment and unconstitutional – means the criminal case is probably going to be over pretty quickly if the police can prove that the guy they’ve nicked is the guy in the video. Watch this space.

And in other news…

Nice to see that the media are all over the hugely important issue of Tom Thumb, er Cruise being divorced by Katie Thingy… not Perry, the other one… Holmes! Yes, that’s it, now where was I? Oh yes, being divorced by Katie Holmes and wanting sole custody of the kid (unless it’s kids). The state of the marriages of all actors should be a matter of huge concern to absolutely everyone and far more important than such trivialities as, say, some uncontrollable wildfires in Colorado that have destroyed hundreds of homes, caused millions of dollars of property damage and appear to have resulted in at least one death. In fact this prioritisation of the coverage of news events is such that I have just one question for the media and everyone in it:

 

WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE?

 

 

Before anyone suggests it…

No, the Melbourne earthquake has got nothing to do with the 2012 Mayan doom apocraplypse predicted to occur in 184 days by some swivel eyed lunatics and roughly never by actual Mayans. The one event that has happened is not related to the other event which won’t. Anyone who thinks otherwise should seriously consider getting a friend to drive them to the doctor for a long talk about a prescription for chlorpromazine. Alternatively being twatted lightly about the head and neck with VHS copies of the complete works of Roland Emmerich might do the job.

That is all.