They’re All Bastards

Reaction to Irish banking and financial crises...
The people do not feel well served

Jesus. The UK’s Channel 4 had a documentary this evening called “The Man Who Killed Michael Jackson“. Did they make that last night? Maybe they went through a documentary they already had, bleeping out the word “allegedly”.

News has been extra weird today. A US Presidential candidate vows to shut down the Department of Education, and the most remarked thing is that he couldn’t remember the name of another agency he wanted to close down? Under the influence of the Tea People the Republicans are turning from the party of the American rich into the party of American national suicide.

In France meanwhile, Sarkozy is mooting a two-speed Europe. In this version there will be an ‘inner’ group of stronger economies using the euro, and an outer using… something else. There are merits to this idea. The part that makes least sense is his assumption that France belongs on the inside.

Who owns the banks in Ireland? You would be forgiven for thinking that we had some sort of controlling interest, after having mortgaged our children’s lives to save them from bankruptcy. Apparently not though, because both Bank of Ireland and AIB have point-blank refused a government request to pass on an ECB interest rate cut. You see, they have to obey the laws of the free market. Or all except the one where losing incredible sums of money means you can’t be in business any more.

We should send them a signal. One bank – selected at random – should be allowed to collapse. Just to remind the rest what reality is.

Just Sign Here Here Here And Here

Shelby County Courthouse, Memphis, Tennessee, USA
"So what's the surpri... Was that a click?"

This is worrying stuff.

You’d hardly notice, but we’re being asked to change the Constitution this Thursday. Twice. Yet nobody is acting like this is much of a deal. The amendments are being thrown in with the Presidential election like some sort of democratic side order, and getting about as much attention. This despite the fact that a Constitutional amendment actually, you know, changes something, while a ceremonial President – in spite of the impression they try to create in their election campaigns – can change about bugger all.

These are not trivial matters either. One would remove the bar on reductions to the pay of judges, something placed in the Constitution deliberately to prevent the sitting government pressuring the judiciary. The other would allow the houses of the Oireachtas¹ to conduct their own quasi-judicial investigations. That would seem to give them quite a lot of power. How much? Well according to part of the proposed amendment:

4º It shall be for the House or Houses concerned to determine, with due regard to the principles of fair procedures, the appropriate balance between the rights of persons and the public interest for the purposes of ensuring an effective inquiry into any matter to which subsection 2º applies.’

So only the Oireachtas can say how much power it can give itself. Though it is of course restricted by law. Which the Oireachtas also creates.

Yes parliaments often have powers of investigation, but this seems very broadly drawn, and likely to make power in this country even more unbalanced. Government in a democracy is generally divided into three main branches: The executive, the legislature, and the judiciary. There is meant to be a measure of conflict between these roles, in order to ensure that everyone is watching what everyone is up to.

We’re a parliamentary democracy though; that immediately reduces internal contention because it means there is no effective difference between the executive and the legislature. Unlike countries with an executive presidency such as France or the US, the legislature elects the executive – which then pretty much dictates everything else the legislature does.

Another safety mechanism is a bicameral legislature; two houses each with oversight of the other – House/Senate, Commons/Lords, etc. Our upper house though is effectively the creation of the executive, which appoints the majority of its members. So no balance there either; whatever party wins most seats in an election just sweeps the board of executive and both houses.

That only leaves the judiciary as an independent power, and we are being asked to pass two amendments to our constitution, one of which will take away its chief protection against undue government pressure, the other of which will usurp some of its functions. Still wonder why I’m worried?

 

  1. Parliament/Congress

Patents – The New Rock ‘n’ Roll

Phone patent litigation in US courts alone ©The Daily Beast

With what I want to believe was ill-disguised glee, Samsung has taken out injunctions against sale of the iPhone 4S in France and Italy over alleged patent infringement. Why just there? It’s difficult not to believe that they’re keeping it commensurate with Apple’s blocking of Galaxy Tab sales in Germany and the Netherlands, that basically they’re saying “If you want to go there, we can go there”.

Do they have a case? Who can tell. The only thing certain is that patents are the new Rock ‘n’ Roll.

And not in a good way. Like Rock ‘n’ Roll in its heyday, the mobile technology world is turning into a filthy quagmire, with pretty much everybody accusing everyone else of stealing about everything – as the illustration shows. The main reason Google purchased Motorola‘s mobile arm was that otherwise the two companies could have sued each other out of existence¹. R&D is rapidly becoming the new A&R, with phone makers patenting about anything in the hope of finding the one elusive hit technology that will rake in unimaginable sums. This wasn’t very good for music, and it won’t be so good for technological innovation either.

While being able to profit from research and invention is a good thing, current law allows companies to charge exorbitant fees or even refuse to license their patents, essentially granting them a monopoly to a lucrative technology. While this was fine in the days when you might patent a tangible device like a mousetrap, now they can be used more or less as intellectual property land-grabs, claiming rights to possible designs. A cause célèbre of course is the granting to Apple of patents so fundamental to a multitouch interface on a mobile touchscreen device that it is hard to see how anyone can now create one without infringing them. Yet Apple did not invent either the multitouch interface or the mobile touchscreen, they were merely the first to put one on the other. Does that really mean they deserve to control the entire concept for the next twenty years?

What might work much better is a short period – maybe only a year or two – of exclusive use. That would decrease the incentive to take out speculative patents on everything, and greatly increase the incentive to, you know, innovate.

  1. To give the actual science of this: When two corporations collide at sufficiently high financial energies, they either fuse into a single entity or annihilate one another in a shower of fundamental business particles known as “happy lawyers”.

France Unveils A Darker Side

Anti-Muslim and anti-women, or pro-freedom and pro-women? Or indeed, anti-Muslim and pro-women, or (here’s a combo) pro-freedom and anti-women?

It’s hard to take sides on this unusually crucial issue of French couture. I am against people hiding their faces in public, whether they choose to or are forced. I’m against Islam – and indeed religion in general.

But I am in favour of the freedom to practise whatever religion you choose, no matter how strongly I disagree with that choice, as long as you do no harm to anyone else. And I can’t really accept that hiding your face in public is harmful to others. Rude certainly, but France isn’t introducing any law against rudeness.

I will have no truck with When-in-Rome arguments. In this Rome, they do religious freedom. Or did. And it is a matter of religious freedom. There is no point claiming that the veil is not a genuinely Muslim practice. Are you really going to say to someone “Your religion is not what you think it is”? Your beliefs are what you believe they are, I think.

Does the veil oppress women? Certainly if someone is forcing a woman to veil herself that is oppression, but there is no need for a law against forcing people to do one specific thing. Indeed, it’s a very poor precedent – do we need separate laws for everything you can’t force people to do? And if she chooses it herself, then this law is oppressing her. In practice there will be winners and losers. While some may seize on this as an opportunity to unveil, it will make others prisoners in their homes. No one can say that the net effect will be liberating.

When it comes down to it, the real motivation for this law is discomfort. France is uneasy with the number of Muslims who live there, but is willing to tolerate them – as long as they aren’t too blatant about it. So they ban the practice of a small minority, basically because it’s highly visible. A country has a right to outlaw things it considers foreign to its way of life I suppose. But rather than protecting France’s revolutionary ideals, this betrays them.