tag: Drug policy

Aug 2006

Frances Fitzgerald: candidate for The Man

A leaflet fluttered through my letterbox yesterday. It was from a local politician… a prospective Fine Gael (Fee-neh Gale) candidate in next years General Election. Her name is Frances Fitzgerald and her leaflet is a bit of early canvassing for next year, outlining some of her policies on mostly local – but also some wider – issues.

It took all of five seconds to establish that she has a whelk’s chance in a supernova of ever getting my vote. But that was never likely let’s face it. Fine Gael are a conservative centre-right party with a capitalist ideology. If there’s a mad independent candidate with staring eyes who is running on a ticket of whatever the aliens tell him… then he will better represent my views than Frances Fitzgerald. Because if Frances is standing for a party which seeks to perpetuate our rampant over-consumption and unsustainable economic growth, then she’s standing on the opposite side of the barricades to me.

The policy part of her leaflet opens with a section on crime. It’s beyond predictable; real mass-psychology 101 stuff, y’know? Open with fear. Scared people are more compliant… more receptive to any future statements you make once you’ve adopted the guise of “protector”. And what better way to do this than talk about…

  • “more Gardaí­ on the beat”;
  • “more [Garda] cars and CCTV”;
  • “implement a policy of zero-tolerance”; and
  • “ensure that criminals serve their time… not back on the streets posing a threat”.

That’s a distillation of the first four items in her 5-point plan to “restore law and order to all our communities”. The fifth and final point talks about investment in “recreational facilities for young people”. In the name of all that’s sacred! Does a politician who thinks in such an unimaginative and insultingly simplistic way honestly believe she can represent my views?

Solving crime

Look, if there is indeed a crime problem then let’s make a serious attempt to solve it. No, no, I’m not suggesting that we’re ever going to stop murder and mayhem. That’s never going away. We’re apes, and there’ll always be plenty of folks willing to act as a reminder. But despite this, clearly we could choose to address the crime problem more rationally than we’re doing at present.

I mean, tell me; has “more CCTV” ever resulted in “restoring law and order”? I lived in the UK for a while… land of the everpresent cycloptian eye. Everywhere you turn in London there’s a half dozen CCTV cameras peering at you accusingly. Yet they appear not to have eliminated crime in London as yet. Presumably, therefore, to have the desired effect we’ll need more than they’ve got in London. How many more Frances? Do you want us living in a world where our every moment is scrutinised by the lens?

I know a book about that.

And when you proudly proclaim your intolerance Frances, like a badge of honour, then I shudder at the thought of being represented by someone with so little compassion. Zero tolerance, eh? Whenever I hear a politician utter that phrase I hear a distant response… “let he who is without sin cast the first stone”. And I want to demand that politician imagine their life today if their every past transgression had been treated with zero-tolerance. Demand they tell me whether the compassion and forgiveness of others had any part at all in forming the person they are today. And why they seek to deny that to others.

Zero-tolerance is not a policy. It’s a way of looking at the world. And one that I will never vote for.

Of course I’m well aware of how difficult it is to accurately trace lines of cause and effect when it comes to something as complex as a social system. There’s just too many damn variables. Nonetheless, there’s a phrase from systems engineering… “predictable consequence”. It’s important to read that phrase as a technical term; one which is ever-so-slightly different to the literal. Think of it as a defined as “on the balance of probabilities and based upon what we know of the most influential factors of the system, this is a likely outcome”.

The point of the phrase is that it’s how the analyst identifies something that requires action. If I say that a predictable consequence of running a system at the required pressure would be blown valves; I’m not saying that the valves will blow. I’m saying they need to be replaced. It may sound like splitting hairs, I guess, but the distinction is a real one.

Now, to describe our drug policy as counter-productive is like describing the sun as warm. We have decided, voluntarily, to place one of the world’s largest and most lucrative industries entirely into the hands of violent criminals. We have voluntarily surrendered all control over the manufacture and distribution of some of the world’s most addictive substances. We have passed laws to ensure that the consumption of these substances is made vastly more dangerous than is necessary. And we have entire government agencies working tirelessly to drive up the price of these addictive substances.

The predictable consequence of that set of policies is a crime wave. It would not be stretching it too much to suggest that we’ve somehow managed to implement a set of drug policies which maximise the social damage of drugs. Rational drug law reform will not “solve crime”. However it will radically reduce the amount of violent and acquisitive crime in our society. So as a first step, I’d argue that’s the sensible place to start.

It’ll certainly do more to reduce crime than extra policemen and a couple of youth centres.

Improving public transport

Fine Gael is committed to introducing competition in the Dublin Bus market. By allowing private operators to tender competitively for licences…

Ohhhhhkaaaayyyy… I guess she’s really not after my vote. Well, it’s nice that she’s upfront about it.

Here’s my thing… this is what I actually want my bus to be. First and foremost, I want it to be a public service. Now that may sound selfish. “What about all those millions of people who want it to be a profitable business, eh?” you ask. But the thing is… are there really that many of them? Because I’ve yet to actually meet one, despite their prevelance in the political media circus.

I want a bus that leaves Rathcoole every half hour and takes me straight into the city centre bypassing the bottleneck that is Clondalkin. I don’t want the bus to make any profit, merely cover costs* and I want it to run 24 hours day (though the frequency can drop to one an hour between midnight and 5am).

That would be a public service. The fact that Frances Fitzgerald believes it would be a bad idea (or, mindbogglingly, that such a service is actually beyond the ability of Fine Gael to organise) suggests that her first desire isn’t to be a public servant. Rather she seeks to serve the interests of that portion of the population who would genuinely prefer the bus to be run primarily as a profitable business.

That can only mean the shareholders of the corporations tendering for the rights to make money out of our public transport. Good to know. All I need to do is become a wealthy shareholder in a predatory corporation seeking to run my bus service at the lowest possible cost to themselves and the highest possible cost to me. Then Frances Fitzgerald might want to represent my interests. Yay Fine Gael!

Almost time to take to the streets

Oh there’s plenty more, but really, who cares? If this is the best that mainstream politics can offer us… well, it’s clearly time to look outside mainstream politics for the solutions we need to the problems we’ve created. It’s time we swept aside the empty nonsense of the Frances Fitzgeralds of this world.

Woe betide the next politician to leaflet my street…

* In fact, I would like it subsidised by the taxpayer. But I’ll leave that last demand until a future election (one step at a time).

3 comments  |  Posted in: Opinion

May 2006

NuLabor Meltdown

I’ve had a pretty shit couple of weeks. Nothing in particular worthy of remark; just general shitness. The kind of lumpen malaise that inspires deep disillusionment with the world. And which, in turn, generates a “why bother” attitude towards writing. So, I’m sorry it’s been rather slow here, but whatchagonnado?

Mind you, I did spend a couple of evenings listening to Hounds of Love and fleshing out an idea for a novel I’m thinking of writing (with the provisional title; “The Stockhausen Manuscript”). I envision it as inhabiting that rarely-visited netherworld between James Joyce and Tom Clancy. More about that should anything come of it. (Incidentally, the always reliable Onion recently published one of their funniest pieces in a long time. Check it out. And while you’re at it, there’s a new Get Your War On.)

Thankfully though, the grim mood is passing for now. This could have something to do with the weather which has a distinct hint of summer about it. Or perhaps it’s astrological, or neurochemical, or biorhythmical. Who knows?

Another result of the deep blue funk (on top of turning this place into a ghost-town) was the fact that – by and large – I avoided the news media during the past 14 days or so. I was getting grimmed-out by everything, and current affairs programming was guaranteed to make things worse. Janet Daly (obnoxious rightwing columnist) on Question Time a couple of weeks ago was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I vaguely considered taking out a civil lawsuit against her for incitement to violence (it only took a minute of her capitalist cheerleading before I was in the mood to kick puppies and kittens). But in the end I decided to boycott politics for a wee while.

I can’t say I feel any different because of my news-avoidance, but the fact that the British government spontaneously went into meltdown as soon as I turned my back suggests that I may be boycotting more things more often. Seriously, what’s up with that? The last thing I saw before my break – politically speaking – was Charles Clarke nodding sagely at Daly’s buffoonery. Then upon my return, less than a fortnight later, the Safety Elephant has handed in his resignation (but had it refused) and stands accused of smuggling a thousand convicted murderers and rapists and drug-dealers into the country while nobody was looking.

Leastways that’s how the tories are painting it.

At the same time, the deputy prime minister John “Two Jags” Prescott is being hounded out of office because he shagged somebody. I’m utterly opposed, on principle, to the idea that politicians should be held to account for their sex-lives. But at the same time I have to admit, after nine years of nuLabor there’s a temptation to take any shot you’re offered. So in that context…

Certainly there’s a view that politicians; because they choose the job of representing tens of thousands of people at a national level; should be expected to have some level of personal integrity.

Who Prescott has sex with doesn’t affect his personal integrity in my view (I’m not a puritan in any sense). But the fact that he had affair(s) behind the back of his wife, does. Sorry, but that’s the way I see it. If you claim you’re being faithful, and are aware that your fidelity is important to the person you claim to love, then having affairs is a stain on your integrity. I know, I know, these situations are complicated and emotions often rule our decisions in this area… but cheating is still cheating whatever way you look at it. Prescott had an affair in the full knowledge that the revelation would hurt his wife dreadfully. And he did it knowing that the affairs of politicians (a job he chose, not one he was forced into) are far more likely to be exposed than those of most other people. On top of “cheat” you can add “stupid”.

So ultimately the question becomes whether or not it’s a good idea to give power to someone willing to lie to, and cheat on, the person he claimed to love most in the world. It begs the question; if he cared so little about her feelings (or was too fricking dumb to realise that his affair would eventually hit the tabloids) then how much less does he care about the feelings of those he represents?

Yes, yes, yes. It’s a cheap shot… and one I make with little enthusiasm. But so long as he’s deputy prime minister of a government with nuLabor’s track-record, then I humbly submit; he’s fair game.

And while both the Safety Elephant and Two Jags are being savaged in the press, up pops “Doctor John” Reid (Phd in Apologism and Revisionism) and The Mysterious Case of the Guest’s Cannabis. Turns out folks, you simply have to hide your stash in “a guestroom”. Then if you get busted, there’s no illegality involved. If the police question you about it, you must reply (and I quote) “I have no idea where it came from, or when”. Amazing the things you can learn from the news.

The police statement was also revealing… Dr. John was said to have “co-operated fully with police and is not suspected of having committed any crime or offence”. Apparently there’s a whole other set of laws for politicians. Because he clearly isn’t covered by the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act which makes it an offence to allow your premises to be used for the consumption of cannabis. It’s a curious piece of legislation which also applies to the smoking of opium, but not the injecting of heroin (yes, yes, I know. It makes as much sense as the rest of drug policy).

So whether or not Dr. John owned the stuff, the fact that it was found in his house clearly puts him under suspicion of committing a crime. Class C or not.

Of course, in an ideal world, nobody would have to be paranoid about the discovery of some plant matter in their home. It makes me rather irate, though, that the very people who insist that a draconian law like the Misuse of Drugs Act should be enforced, are apparently the only people to whom it doesn’t apply.

1 comment  |  Posted in: Opinion

Mar 2006

Drug policy

I predicted equal parts infuriating, confusing and enlightening. I was right about the first two.

Questions and Answers

I watched Questions and Answers last night. It’s a fairly conventional political panel show… five people – some or all of whom are politicians – answer questions posed by a studio audience, while a chairperson oversees the debate which develops. It’s a tried and tested formula, giving the public a limited opportunity to express opinion and provide feedback on policy to those who shape or influence it.

The chairperson in this case is John Bowman; an amiable enough man, but with enough forcefulness to take control of the debate when it threatened to drift. He also successfully cut off the politicians when they slipped into prepared party-political broadcasts. Overall he acquited himself well, though he wasn’t ever really challenged by a guest, nor had to deal with any serious arguments amongst the panel. So I’ll have to reserve judgment a while longer.

Incidentally, “well done!” to Ireland’s Public Service Broadcaster, RTÉ (Radio Telefí­s Éireann). I was very impressed when the BBC started to keep their news and current affairs programmes online to download for a full week after broadcast. While the RTÉ site is – in general – extremely limited compared with the BBC, it appears that they keep an archive of weekly broadcasts going back at least two months. Very groovy.

But what about the actual content of the show?

For me it was notable for two things. One, the fact that a government minister made an intelligent and perceptive remark during a debate on natural resources. Most government ministers go their entire time in office without making a single intelligent or perceptive remark on any subject.

The second thing it was notable for was the fact that (always assuming Questions and Answers is representative of mainstream political debate), it appears mainstream debate on drug policy is mired in ignorance and idiocy in Ireland. Even more so than in the UK. Which gives me the head-staggers.

Ignorance and idiocy

Between 1989 and 1992 three of my friends died as a result of drug misuse. In all three cases it was ignorance of what they were taking that was directly to blame. My views on drug policy spring directly from this. And I’m fortunate in that my gut feeling on this issue is backed up by reason and precedent. It’s always difficult when that’s not the case.

In the case of drug policy, however, the issue is so murky – obscured by decades of lies, emotion, bad policy, ignorance, idiocy and vested interests – as to make “reason” quite difficult to recognise. The arguments against a blanket prohibition of drugs can – as a great man once said – be proven on an etch-a-sketch. I have walked intelligent, rational people step-by-step through those arguments and been met sometimes with blank stares, though often with outright hostility. It’s too obvious. Too clear. It kicks the legs from under people. “If that rock-solid truth can be incontravertibly shown to be just an absurd belief, then what the hell’s next?”

The War on Some Drugs is demonstrably counter-productive. Treating society’s relationship with psychoactive substances via the criminal justice system creates vast amounts of preventable suffering, and wastes significant resources. Drugs, when they are misused, can be dangerous. This goes for aspirin as much as heroin. But dealing with any dangerous substance by placing its marketing and supply into the hands of violent criminals is clearly insane. People talk about “controlled substances”. It’s a phrase right out of Orwell. Do people understand, I wonder, when they use that phrase… when they say “controlled substances”… that they are talking about precisely those substances over which we have relinquished all control?

Yes, guns and illegal drugs are tightly bound together in modern Irish society. But that’s only because of that word “illegal” that sits before “drugs”. Guns and aspirin aren’t tightly bound together. Neither (by and large) are guns and alcohol. I wonder how long that would remain the case if we were to introduce alcohol prohibition though? How long before the armed gangsters started smuggling in Russian vodka… or making their own? So it’s vital to bear in mind, when linking “cannabis and ecstasy” to gun crime (as most of the panel succeeded in doing on the show last night), that the actual link is forged by the law.

What lunatic honestly believes that gun-wielding criminals are the best people to handle the importation and distribution of highly addictive drugs? People with a vested interest in getting as many people using as much of their product as possible. Instead, why not take half the money we spend on drug prevention and invest it in safe, clean, medically supervised distribution of addictive drugs at cost price to the end user? In one stroke, addicts have to carry out far less crime (if any) to feed their habit. A huge benefit to society and another massive saving of resources. At the same time, they are getting medically pure drugs and therefore suffering far less illnesses as a result of their drug use. This places a lesser strain on the medical system, and gives the addict the strength to move towards a more healthy lifestyle. And finally, though no less significantly, the addict is purchasing their drugs from a professional trained to offer support, advice and encouragement to seek help in quitting.

Taking drug users out of the criminal justice system then frees up additional police resources to deal with any violent or acquisitive crime still resulting from problem addicts. I’m not suggesting that a burglar escape prison because they’re an addict. Merely that they be sent to prison for their crime. Not their illness.

Because let’s not avoid this point. One day history students will look back at our time and be horrified at the barbarity with which we treated drug addicts. They’ll wonder, idly, why cigarette smokers and alcoholics were spared prison time. The explanation that’ll make most sense to future historians will be that vested interests… the tobacco companies and big drinks businesses… had enough influence to ensure their users avoided the punishment heaped upon users of other substances.

But the fact remains; a heroin addict is sick. In the same way an alcoholic is sick. For some reason though, we think that persecution and incarceration is the best way of dealing with one; while we accept that support and counselling is almost certainly the best way to deal with the other. I can’t imagine the alcoholic who would benefit from a spell in prison as punishment for possessing a can of beer. I can only imagine that person would have a bigger drink problem upon emerging from prison, and will also have probably lost whatever form of income they had prior to their prison time. In other words, by locking them up we damage them. And we damage society.

On last night’s show however, there was apparently universal belief, among panel and audience, that a zero-tolerance prohibitionist approach to drug possession (accompanied by mandatory minimum prison sentences) is the best way to deal with “the reality of Ireland’s gun culture”.

I find it bizarre that so many people can fail to see that the approach used for the last few decades – prohibition – has clearly created the current situation, and will continue to make it worse so long as we keep at it. Albert Einstein once said that “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. How long before Ireland realises its attitude towards drug policy is insane?

1 comment  |  Posted in: Opinion