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Democracy Everywhere

indonesia_akkuzaJoseph Muscat’s positively progressive band of meritocratic men announce the scrapping of Local Council Elections as a cost cutting exercise and practically nobody other than the opposition bats an eyelid. Ah but the opposition is negative isn’t it? And we need to save money because this administration has turned the very business of government into an expensive enterprise by exploding the emoluments bill for the meritocratically selected mandarins that have been absorbed within its ranks (and thus artificially adjusting unemployment figures).

Muscat speaks so proudly of legislative reform and second republic and emancipation of younger voters but then takes a right royal crap on democratic representation. We should be used by now to his Carollian interpretation of all the mechanics of democratic representation and how the constitution really works. So long as the newspeak keeps the sheep happy.

Not so in the fourth most populous democracy in the world. An Islamic democracy to boot – with all the perceived connotations of a feeble grasp of how representation really work:

The Indonesian parliament voted to scrap direct elections for regional office-bearers early Friday — a decision that critics say is a step backward for democracy in the world’s fourth most populous nation and biggest Muslim-majority country.When Indonesians woke up to the news, many reacted with anger and fury. “A Democratic Betrayal,” read the Jakarta Globe headline on Friday. (TIME)

Indonesia must be replete with “negative thinkers” who are ready to pounce on and criticise a progressive and positive government. I am sure Muscat would have a word or two for the people gathering out of the Indonesian parliament: to protest the scrapping of local elections.

Wake up and smell the coffee indeed. Rather than hanging onto tired clichès about Simon Busuttil’s negativity, the electorate would do well to listen to the dangerous warning signals that he highlighted during the Independence Day speech. The erosion of a culture of democracy and democratic representation begins when the electorate is prepared to allow people like Muscat’s band to take them for a ride.

Scrapping local elections should never be on the cards. No excuse is good enough – particularly the ridiculous cost-cutting exercise that Muscat seems to be clinging to as a lame excuse.

 


The Hunters and the Palace

hutners_akkuzaAll the love that Labour’s lost. Well in many ways it is just desserts. Whenever I asked how sustainable Muscat’s populist politics I always seem to be given confident answers in the positive. Of course it is sustainable – people are happy and happy people will generate wealth. Really?

On a recent visit to the island I had a chance to speak to persons active within the Labour party. They were overwhelmed by what they described as the triumph of different strands of progressive thought that were being allowed to express themselves. To me it seemed like a particularly strong attack of drug induced delirium but they were really convinced that the progress made in different legislative fields and the introduction of “rights” was the result of some progressive dialectic that was taking place within the Labour party and finding itself baked into government policy.

Blinded by such laudable successes as the belated introduction of gay partnership rights they actually believed that this was the beginning of the unraveling of a great programme of Labour social and civic policy.  At no point did they suspect that this was Labour allowing all the mini-sectors of society who had provided the much needed votes to cash their hard-earned cheques. No one was suspecting that this peppering of ex gratia interventions had no foundation in solid planning.

Trust the hunters to be the first to call the bluff. They had to be. The unruly lot are mired in twisted self-perception based on misconstruction of such terms as “conservation”. They have always laboured under the illusion of constituting a veritable block vote that will first and foremost back their “namur”. What was that daubed in paint on the Mnajdra Temples way back in less suspicious days? “Namur jew intajru”?

Muscat had wooed them with vague accommodating signals. Relaxing of licensing rules, a not too helpful approach with the nature wardens – including mass transfers of experienced personnel. Even the courts joined in the surreal dance by arraigning bird lovers for having displayed dead carcasses. Could you blame the Kaccaturi for thinking “Illum il-gvern taghna u naghmlu li irridu”? I wonder which strand of socialist progressivism leads to that kind of thinking. Not that the kaccaturi ever seem to care which party is sucking on their immense balls in order to pander to their vote-winning quality.

Yet here was their latest hero. Muscat’s government even went so far as to propose the sabotaging of the democratic process of local elections in what was too suspiciously a ploy to facilitate the hunters’ hand in the forthcoming referendum on spring hunting. How could they imagine such a paladin ever turning against them? He had dangled enough carrots to woo even the most hardened of donkeys onto his side.

Then they overdid it. The kids who had been handed air guns and catapults for Christmas suddenly found themselves in detention for shooting the neighbours cat and skinning it for good measure. Suddenly generous daddy who had won their kisses and praise became an irrational punisher. They could not fathom why. So they burnt the labour tesseri on youtube and yelled “No Kacca, No Party”. Oh how heavy handed Muscat seemed. Un pugno di ferro. And this after his monumental “moral” decision to keep out a sailor who was sick with hepatitis (it could have been ebola you know… and our hospital is prepared for an outbreak but not one that involves foreigners).

Of course Muscat’s bark could very well be a handy decision to boost Karmenu Vella’s chances during his commission grilling as a potential Environment Commissioner. If he is asked about Armier Boathouses and the raping of public land in order to get votes he may feign not having understood and repeat “But we stopped hunting abruptly” ad infinitum. You’d be surprised what percentage of gullible persons exist in any random collection of homo sapiens.

Once the grilling is over Muscat may yet return to the table with the Kaccaturi San Isplodu and hand out a few more carrots. He is also safe in the knowledge that the hunters cannot really threaten with votes since if his local council move really happens, the hunters will not be asked their opinion on which party is most likely to suck up to their demands before 2018.

The hunters are in the palace all right. They are busy exposing the faults in the underlying premises of Malta Taghna Lkoll. They may yet be appeased for another season but we have them to thank if Labour’s hypocritic policies are finally being exposed for what they are.

Bang.

 


There Can Be Only One (Union)

union_akkuzaGordon Brown’s last minute appeal for Scottish voters to vote “No” in the referendum was the highlight of the campaign for me. It was not just that he seemed ever so passionate about the affair but also the reasoning that he gave as to why it was really “Better Together” that struck home home hard. Underlying his message was the assertion that voting against independence did not make anyone any less Scottish and that the identity and spirit could not only be hijacked by the Yes camp. Brown stressed that Scotland has always had a fundamental role in the building of the Union and that it can continue to proudly exist as a nation within such a Union. As one of the four nations.

His appeal also stressed that voting yes would be a vote that abandons Scotland’s crucial role of solidarity through which it has stuck to the Union through thick or thin and been a crucial part of the suffering as well as the achievements thereof. Sure, there may be a few tweaks to be made as to how power is divided and distributed within the Union – particularly to adapt to the modern day schizophrenic nation-state approach but there was much capital to be lost by abandoning the whole. Cliché it may be but “United We Stand” was really and truly hit home by Gordon Brown on that eve of the referendum final call.

Of course the referendum was not only about Gordon Brown – or Alex Salmond, or Alistair Darling. It was about a very defined people coming to terms about their chosen way of government. The stewardship of a sovereign people is at the heart of mechanisms of government and every Scot was being asked whether he preferred bearing the responsibilities of that stewardship alone – without depending or sharing such responsibility with other peoples. They risked abandoning the common path that had been trodden since the beginning of the 1700’s and going it alone.

The result has to be seen in this perspective too. The media hype on nationalistic sentiment as well as the hype and conspiracy theories about the subjugation to Westminster needed moderating in the sense that the Scots have (and will continue) to benefit from being in the Union. There were some telling signs from early figures in the polls. One of these was that middle and upper income voters were more likely to vote No and opt to stay in the Union. Which is rather interesting since if the myth that your average Scot would be richer and more comfortable through independence were true then the ones that would stand to gain the most (trickle down is just that, the drops trickle down but a huge part gets stuck around the waist) did not seem to be that convinced.

Without necessarily making it an issue of class, there could be some truth in the fact that the lower income brackets would be more easily persuaded by a nationalistic ticket accompanied by all the spiel of “get rid of the masters”, “stick two fingers up Westminster” and all that jazz. A young lass interviewed this morning claimed between one hiccup and another while wiping away her tears that “This vote condemns us to more austerity”. In a way it summed up the misunderstanding that somehow independence would shift Scotland into a vacuum utopia sealed away from the economic woes that has hit each and every nation in Europe.

Which brings me back to the “Better Together” theme plugged so passionately (and successfully) by Gordon Brown. In the run up to the referendum I had read an article that kicked off by reminding how kids in the Empire used to take pride in writing their address –  a representation of the concentric circles of society and power of which they formed part. It began with your house, your street, your town, your county, your nation, then United Kingdom, then Europe. Every step, every part of that concentric set of circles reflected a sense of belonging. Each and every step was  useful in its own way.

Scotland and the Scots has voted rather overwhelmingly to stay part of the Union. It is one of the “Home Nations” – a phrase that itself acknowledges the different national identities that form part of the whole. This vote is no threat to Scottish identity and national pride. Rather, it is a decision to continue to grow and function within a wider Union.

One last thing. The irony for the very pro-EU Scots is that the Union will be soon facing an in or out referendum of its own and they might be forced to follow a majority decision to get out of the EU much to their chagrin. What they can hope is that the UK electorate is made to understand the benefit of working in Union much the same way as the Scottish electorate understood this time round.

 


This State of Independence

independence_akkuzaThe festivities have begun in full earnest and Malta is soon to be proclaimed a 50 year old independent state. With the 50th anniversary we also get the reopening of the silly season. There’s a “let’s all love each other” approach by the two main parties – each proclaiming some kind of goodwill about what had hitherto been considered “the other’s” feast day. Yes, we have heard it all – over and over – Independence vs Republic vs Freedom day. Sometimes they throw in the 7th June 1919 for good measure but the heated debate had focused mainly on what are now being dubbed as the “three steps” that were necessary for Malta to become what it is.

To me someone like Muscat finally growing up and clamoring that “Independence day is a feast for all Maltese” is nothing that warms the cockles of the heart. Just because the red tribe of the Maltese jungle suddenly sees the light and begins to faintly understand the meaning behind an achievement as important as independence in the birth of a nation does not mean that we have to stand up and applaud. At most we could sigh in relief as one does when a toddler finally grasps the idea that one plus one does equal two and gives up on the horrible insistence that one plus one can equal carrot. We would sigh in relief were we not also convinced that this sudden show of magnanimous understanding and one-ness is not another show of the Taghna Lkoll style: tanto fumo niente arrosto.

How they applauded Muscat at the unveiling of the Guido De Marco memorial. “Did you hear him? He actually praised Guido. Oh Such a great Prime Minister have we.” Really? What was the alternative? Are we to clap because Muscat had the temerity to call a spade a spade? What kind of rubbish is that?

Now we have the clips being propagated by the National Festivities Commission. Independence is described and couched within terms of a series of steps that unite us. Insultingly it is put on the same pedestal as that humungous farce that is Freedom Day or Jum il-Helsien. This insistence on celebrating that non-event is incredibly naive and ridiculous. It is as though a future government were to begin to celebrate the end of the Beach Concession that the Powers of Brangelina have over Mgarr ix-Xini. Freedom from Brangelina Day could have its own kitsch monument on the beach complete with mini-Hollywood memorial.

In the legal and political growth of a nation there is no greater achievement than the assertion of self-government and sovereignty. That is what the 21st of September 1964 is all about. If you still harbour any doubts about how important a step this is then ask a Scot who will be voting tomorrow on the very issue of independence. Nobody is asking the Scots who they want as formal head of state (it will probably be Bess as Queen of Scots), nobody is getting het up about whether it will be a Scottish Republic. It will be an independent Scotland that can negotiate (or maintain) its status as a member state of the EU – the independence step is more than enough for that.

In all probability an independent Scotland will have to negotiate the rental of one of its estuaries to the English army for the latter to keep its nuclear submarines in. Eventually, at a later date that rental agreement might end but I am sure no Scot will go clowning about yelling “Freedom” like some latter day cross between William Wallace and Dom Mintoff.

No. What around 50% of the Scots are aspiring for is Independence. There is a reason for that. Independence defines the birth of a nation. It puts it on the map as a nation among nations. Inter pares – among equals.

Sure, you can feel proud that at a later stage in the growth of the nation you felt it necessary to remove the house of the Windsors from the position of head of state of the nation and opted for a president that would represent the people instead. Constitutionally though, the big change had long happened. Ridding ourselves of Bess Queen of Malta and opting for Marie Louise President of the People is a cosmetic change that alters little on the world stage. It’s not about party pique but about education and historical relevance. let’s face it, the switch from Constitutional Monarchy to Republic in 1974 was not exactly your storming of the Bastille business in 1789… to deny that would be to ignore historic truths: and that only serves ha’penny historians and the sweet sweet luvvy duvvy propaganda of this current lot.

Education, not fables and fantasies is what would make this nation stronger. Otherwise its all a load of balderdash.

 

Le Roi est mort! Vive le Roi!


Harassing News

harass_akkuzaWho exactly is being served by the news that a University Lecturer has been reported for sexual harassment? What use is there for the publicity of this news other than the fomenting of speculation and haphazard finger-pointing?

Without in any way defending any form of sexual harassment – wherever it takes place, surely it is time to ask questions about the role of the media in such issues. Now the University has confirmed that it has received a complaint and that appropriate action is being taken. I do hope of course that should such sexual harassment have taken place then that real justice is done.

What I cannot ignore though is the manner in which this news has come out and its consequences on the whole lecturing profession. Until the controversy curious public are fed a name, all persons working at the University are suddenly subject to useless speculation. This can have an effect of watering down the very instrument intended to protect students (and lecturers incidentally) by exposing it to possible future abuse. At one stage we heard how the student preferred to register the complaint early “in order that it does not effect her marks”.

I have absolutely no reason to doubt the genuineness of this particular complaint. The way it is being handled though might just about switching on genius light bulbs in the minds of many a slacker student who suddenly sees a possible way out of the “suffering” in University life by concocting a harassment complaint or two. In the least you could get the attention of the media, at most you could blackmail a lecturer just until you get the necessary marks.

Sexual harassment is a serious issue and should not be taken lightly. Had the case been allowed to run its full course then the media would have been within their rights reporting the result – including the name of the person found guilty. As things stand we risk corrupting an important process that is still very slow to seep in to our social way of thinking.


Once Upon a Time in the Republic

once_akkuzaWe are fast approaching the 50th anniversary of our nation’s independence. It’s been fifty years since the sacred instruments were handed over to Prime Minister Borg Olivier in Floriana. And where are we now? Are we a model democracy that can be used as a shining example and beacon among the corrupt and failed states of the post-Fukuyama collapse?

Not if you believe the hype we aren’t. The editorials in the major English dailies are resorting to the use of such terms as “lawlessness” and “laissez-fairism” (they don’t use the last one exactly, they imply it, but they would if they knew it). Fifty years of independence and barely one into Taghna Lkoll’s declared aim of creating a second republic, we seem to be waking up to the gradual break-down of the system of rule of law that invisibly holds a nation together.

Is it really scaremongering? Like hell it is. It was always there for everyone to see. When you have a party that intends to hold on to the thrilling rush of power by way of appeasing as many people as possible as much as possible then you inevitably open the way for the compendium of trickeries that involves turning a blind eye, irrational decision making and more of the sort.

The first blinder that hit the electorate in the face was the sinking of the meritocracy boat. With the nonchalance of a tin pot dictatorship idiots and fools were promoted to high places. If that were not enough they actually invented more high places to accommodate all those who had been promised a piece of the pie. So Taghna Lkoll programmes were to be run by monkeys.

The second blinder was the ransacking of any system of punishment. All the hoo-haa about being strong with the corrupt, all the words about changing a system in order to empower whistleblowers and construct a good government. All well and good for the mass meetings with the faithful and the hypnotised. When push comes to shove though we have seen the proof in the amnesties, in the judges allowed to wriggle free of impeachment and in the “who cares if my latest appointee was also running an illegal hotel” approach. Like meritocracy, the tough talk about being strong with the unjust came crumbling down as quickly as possible.

Now we are hit with the absolutely preposterous notion of playing with elections at whim. This government of the people has arrogated unto itself the power of suspending Local Council Elections while using one “the dog ate my homework” kind of excuse after another to justify the manifestly gross slur upon its democratic credentials. Youngsters promised a first vote in the 2015 elections were brushed quickly under the Labour Carpet of inconvenience and sacrificed as victims to the greater good that is the hunting lobby. Gaddafi and Idi Amin would have been proud.

Then there is the brazen approach to public property that ill-befits any socialist label. The Australia Hall sale to make good for 20-year old debts for furniture is a monumental farce especially when coming from a government party that verbally espouses principles on party financing and good governance. Having already twisted the law in its favour by advising itself as government to return the hall to itself as labour party, the party then went on to sell off this public patrimony to private individuals. Shame? What’s shame? It’s a buzzword that was useful for the Prime Minister’s bromance buddy for a little while before he started giving out Arse Et Gratia payments to the happy people.

Because that is what the people want. Muscat has sussed it out. In this Second Republic, 50 years independent, it is the egoistic cowboys that win the day. That is what they all mean by lawlessness. The law is a mere guideline but if the government sees a few points for itself to be made then the law becomes naught but arse wiping material. It helps us not that the long arm of the law are occupied doing a silly prosecuting bird lovers for displaying illegally shot birds (heaven help us) or proceeding with their obsession with nudity arresting skinny dipping Frenchies.

Our Emperor has long paraded bare before a bewitched populace. Sadly a muddled opposition that keeps shooting itself in the foot (cfr Clyde Puli’s poverty gaffe) will not help much. The opposition actually needs to press hard the obscenity that is this postponing of elections business. Harder than youtube videos. This obscenity have the whole rank and file of the opposition shouting “foul” (and not just shame).

It’s a short step away from a land of cowboys this. Once upon a time in the Republic we had a working constitution and the rule of law. Today we have Labour in government. A round of drinks for all at your local saloon.


Tenderly by Xarabank

tenderly_akkuzaKelli ngħaddi siegħa ċ-Ċirkewwa waqt l-aħħar mawra tiegħi f’Malta. Kien waqt dawk is-siegħat kiefra ta’ wara nofsinhar fejn id-dell isir iktar prezzjuz miż-żejt u fejn kull taħrika ta’ ġismek tkun kawża ta’ gelgul ta’ għaraq ibelġen ma’ tul is-sinsla ta’ darek. Ipparkjajt fejn it-Terminal, kont qed nistenna’ ‘l xi ħadd biex niġbru minn fuq il-vapur. Kelli stennija. Tfajt lenti quddiem is-sigarett u qabad waħdu. Ħa naraw ftit.

Mill-parkeġġ stajt nara u nosserva ir-ritmu alternanti taċ-Ċirkewwa nhar ta’ Ġimgħa. Jinġemgħu n-nies għat-traġitt li jmiss u tiżdied magħhom it-tensjoni u l-kaos. Karozzi fuq xulxin, nies mexjin f’nofs it-triq mingħajr ħsieb għat-traffiku, u xemx. Ħafna sħana u nervi. Dak li suppost qed jidderieġi il-karozzi fir-ringieli ta’ stennija għal fuq il-vapur ilha li qabżitlu. Għalxejn il-biċċa ma għonqu biex tilqa’ il-galluni ta’ likwidu inixxu minn moħħu. Qabżitlu, u bir-raġun.

Ilħaqt rajt ukoll in-nies jinġemgħu fuq l-istand tax-xarabank biex jistennew dik li jmiss. Daż-żmien m’għadux żmien il-45. Valletta-Ċirkewwa via kull raħal li setgħu ideffsu. Le issa hemm diretti mill-Belt, mill-Ajruport, minn Tas-Sliema u iktar. Frott l-Arriva u l-ippjanar ġdid tar-rotot. Imma l-Arriva m’għadhomx hemm. Keċċewhom. Għamlulhom ħajjithom infern u ma setgħux ħlief iparpru.

In-nies jinġemgħu fuq l-istand. Parti mit-Terminal ġdid fjamant dan. X-xemx tispara diretta fuqhom. L-ebda dell ma jwennes. L-istand għandu taparsi saqaf tal-ħġieġ li ovvjament ikun inħareġ tender u rebħu xi perċimes li ipprovda naqra ta’ saqaf trasparenti babaw – trasparenti x’ċuċ hu t-tender. Insomma żgur ma hux xempju ta’ arkitettura prattika u dan jixhduħ il-mijiet ta’ passiġġieri li jispiċċaw jinqlew jistennew il-misħuta Xarabank filwaqt li jgħidu rota rużarju bit-tama li l-erkondixin jaħdem.

N-nies jistennew fuq l-istejġ "fid-dell".

In-nies jistennew fuq l-istejġ “fid-dell”.

 

Iżda laqtuni l-iktar ix-xarabankijiet. Ma kienx hemm waħda bħal l-oħra. Addio l-uniformi ta’ l-Arriva. Ismijiet taż garaxxijiet differenti u numri imwaħħlin ta’ kafkaf bil-kartun. Naħseb għoddejt seba’ kumpaniji differenti tal-kowċis li ipprovdew xarabank għas-servizz pubbliku. Kien hemm minnhom li kont tisma’ s-sħana tidgħi weħidha minn ġewwa qalb is-sedili miksija drapp oħxon u pattern tal-leopard. Basta bil-purtieri imdendla biex taparsi jilqgħu ix-xemx.

Dak il-ħin kien ovvja x’ġara iktar minn qatt qabel. Ta’ Tagħna Lkoll kienu telgħu bl-għajta tar-riforma. L-ewwel qażżu ‘l Alla u oħtu jeqirdu dwar is-servizz li suppost kien tan-nejk u kif telgħu qabdu qabda mat-tedeski sakemm parpru ‘l hemm. Imbagħad biex taparsi “salvaw” is-sistema qabbdu xeba’ karozzi privati u garaxxijiet biex jaħdmu fuq ir-rotot. Sabiħa din. Is-sussidju tal-gvern li qabel kien imur għand kumpanija li għamlet l-għalmu tagħha biex tlaħħaq mal-idjosinkraziji ta’ pajjiż miġnun issa tqassam bħaċ-ċejċa lil numru ta’ kumpaniji privati biex taparsi isoddu it-toqba.

Customer care u ngħid. Kullħadd mgħaffeġġ, vidjos ta’ xufiera li jiġi f’idejhom l-isteering, korteżija li splodiet barra t-twieqi u t-temperatura dejjem tiela. Imma l-ġaħan ferħan għax ir-rivoluzzjoni soċjalista saret għal ġieħ il-poplu. Servizz tagħna lkoll li bih paxxa erba’ prieċem tal-garaxxijiet li ħelsu mix-xarabankijiet li kellhom fuq żaqqhom u qed idawru sold bis-sussidji tal-poplu. Mela żikk. L-aqwa li meta jmurlek id-dawl jidhirlek il-Ministru jitfantas fuq xi ex gratia payment li lanqas tiswa rota ta’ karrellu tal-lidl. U meta jmurlek id-dawl għal erba’ u għoxrin siegħa ftakar li tort ta’ Gooonzi u boiler number 7.

Ara biss taħseb li qed jitnejku bik f’wiċċek u jħalluk tinqela’ fix-xemx ġewwa ċ-Ċirkewwa tistenna x-xarabank sura li donnha ma hi se tasal qatt.


The Psychologist Police

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asbo_akkuzaAfter The Castille MEPA Protest Man we now have The Aggressive St Paul’s Bay Man. I apologise for the weird titles but it seems that this kind of tag is here to stay – we actually have the media ‘tagging’ the poor Kazakh woman who was guilty of participating too enthusiastically in a local festa as The Bikini Dancer (incidentally you have to love how the Times URL  places the title just after the “local” tag in so very much “A League of Gentlemen Fashion”).

My problem today is not about this recent unconscious fad of media tagging that in a way resembles archaeological findings such as Cro-Magnon man and the like. Rather it is about the worrying increase of reports of the police recommendations that persons under arrest be seen to by a psychologist in what seem to be a rather heavy handed manner of dealing with (possible) anti-social behaviour.

In the case of Mr Busuttil of the Castille MEPA Protest I have already spoken about how the resort to psychologists was an extremely worrying case of the police resorting to a Catch-22 scenario that stinks of heavy handed bullying and silencing of anybody with a gripe with the Prime Minister (see Arrested Development). In the case of Mr Snedden we have once again heard reports of the police requesting psychological assistance for an arrested person as seen here in a Malta Independent report:

The police declined to comment for the time being since investigations are still ongoing and a court case being heard. The prosecuting inspector , Godwin Scerri, however did state in court that Mr Sneddon has a bad temper and is a danger to himself and society and should be seen by a psychologist. He also said that Mr Sneddon was injured in a separate incident before the incident ensued between the accused and the police.

I stand by Jason Azzopardi’s position on this particular situation – particularly if the alleged rough-handedness by the police did take place. The issue of the police increasingly insisting on psychological assistance (and we do not know how often this is resorted to since we can safely assume that other cases are not reported) is worrying.

In Mr Busuttil’s case we saw warning signs of dangerous methods that threaten the safety of persons accused of committing a crime during the period of their arrest and detention. The introduction of psychologists who are prepared to sign on the dotted line and commit a person to a mental institution based on a suspicion by the men in blue is extremely worrying and  to say the least.

Without getting too technical we are talking here of the writ of habeas corpus – an institution in criminal law designed to safeguard the personal freedom of an individual even when criminal proceedings are being held against him.  Much noise has surrounded the rights of arrested persons (particularly their right to be assisted by a lawyer) in the run up to the last elections and we have heard much about the great legal reforms being undertaken to improve the laws.

Meanwhile however, the police seem to be relying on the psychological excuse all too often. Mr Busuttil’s case was a flagrant abuse of this factor. If the police advice were to be  followed in Mr Snedden’s case we are entering dangerous territory. Why? Well, Mr Snedden is not the first and by my guessing nor will he be the last to engage in a violent reaction when confronted by the police. Without justifying his reaction at all it should be the case to examine how such persons are dealt with.

If anything what we are facing here is not an extreme solution that tends to deal with persons in the haphazard “off to Mount Carmel” approach – or risks getting them off the hook (if they are guilty) with a few sessions at the psychologist of choice. It may be time to explore the UK road of Anti-Social Behaviour Orders. Cases of violence when confronting public officers are most times a question of behaviour and upbringing.

The ASBO is in itself an attempt at legally defining a behavioural trait – as can be seen in the UK definition:

The Crime and Disorder Act 1998 defines anti-social behaviour as acting in a manner that has “caused or was likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress to one or more persons not of the same household” as the perpetrator.

Of course exploring this avenue is one part of the solution. Unfortunately the comical approach to upholding the law that is evidenced in cases such as that of the poor Kazakh woman, or over-reactions to cases of nudity by the beach for example – do nothing to strengthen the trust that is needed in the police force in doing their work.

Jason Azzopardi’s appeal for an inquiry must also be followed up by a thorough review of the police forces education and role in the process of arrest, detention and prosecution as well as by an examination of the possibility of introducing the concept of ASBOs in our legal system. My biggest concern as to the latter is that there are so many examples of Anti-Social Behaviour in this country that one would not know where to start enforcing it. Still, time is ripe for debate – and above all keep us away from those psychologists.


Of Ice and Men (and ALS)

icemen_akkuzaYou have to have seen one by now. If it is not The Special One, George Bush or Bill Gates then it is Shakira or your favourite singer who is pictured in a short video getting showered with ice cold water (with or without ice blocks in it). The ALS Ice Bucket challenge has taken the internet by storm and the viral quality is aided by the short deadline that is given to people challenged to take it on (within 24 hours you have to have taken up the gauntlet).

The overall effect has been an overnight miracle for ALS research and awareness. If you’d never heard of Lou Gehrig before you were bound to now – and notwithstanding the misunderstandings of many, of which I shall speak here, there has been a substantial spike in research money aimed at combatting this debilitating illness. All good then?

Not really. You see the rules of the ALS Ice Bucket challenge could not have been simpler – when challenged you either chose to donate money to the ALS Foundation (or alternatively to a local charity) or you chose to undergo the ice bucket wetting experience i.e. get a cold shower while being filmed. It’s an alternative – technically speaking all those who do chose to get filmed getting wet are those who are NOT donating money for the cause. Being filmed getting wet was the “punishment” you chose to undergo if you did not want to donate after being nominated.

Which is not really what happened. The Andy Warhol effect of social media contributed substantially to the rush for everyone and his brother to get filmed getting wet – with some spectacularly hilarious results. Granted nobody wishes to be a party pooper and if the ALS Ice Bucket challenge allowed people to get their kicks on video while also donating then, hey, it’s all for a good cause isn’t it?

There comes a point though when the exhibitionistic element eclipses the cause completely. I’ve seen too many videos that emphasised the “challenge” part of the experience without even mentioning the cause – let alone a donation anywhere. The wave hit Malta in the past days and we have seen a crescendo of nominees and participants in what the French press would call the “people” sector. In short we saw a growing circle of nominees who seemed desperate to make sure that they were in the “ring”. After all doing the challenge meant forming part of a new coterie of illustrious individuals. If Steven Spielberg was nominating JJ Abrahams and Mourinho was in the game you felt that our Maltese sense of VIP-ness required instant participation too.

Sure enough it was not too long before we had our Energy Minister nominating Ira Losco while exhibiting himself in an embarassing episode of kow-towing to “il-Prim”. Il-Prim too was on to the game and they seemed to be having a whale of a time bromancing under the ice in what seems to be the Girgenti lawn. Of course they mentioned a donation (thank God for that) but the artificiality of it all was here to stay. Enter Edward Zammit Lewis with a professionally edited video (at least two cameras) complete with cameo wifey appearance killing all sense of spontaneous immediacy.

Here was a sure bet… a great PR stunt that should be uncriticiseable because it is, after all, for a good cause. Really? I am sure I will get more than my share of flak for this but it is there for all to see. Opposition Leader Busuttil was criticised for “chickening out” (or as the Maltatoday grammarians would have it “he foregoed (sic)” the challenge) when he did precisely what was required of him by the rules i.e. no ice bucket but a cheque written out to a local charity. Even Busuttil did not resist adding a little publicity twist by PS-ing a later nomination in which he finally outed a badly kept secret – by nominating his partner, Times journalist Kristine Chetcuti.

Some celebrities have begun setting the record straight on what the ALS challenge is all about. Look at Star Trek’s Patrick Stewart here underlining the either/or alternative in his muted manner.

Charlie Sheen was a bit more theatrical but makes the point just the same:

To really understand what the ALS Ice Bucket challenge is about and see the people who are being helped by this cause watch the next video till the very end. Also you can head to alsa.org to donate directly to the challenge – with or without your own ice bucket video.

 

The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men

Gang aft agley.


Arrested Development

arrested_akkuzaYou cannot really laugh when you read stories like this. The institutions on the European mainland are constantly besieged by protests of all kinds against their decisions – and it is right that it should be so. Farmers from France have been known to drive up to Brussels and dump truckloads of manure to protest decisions by the EU institutions that they disagree with. For as long as I can remember London visits always included an episode where you come across a protester in the street, complete with tents, placards and whatnot monitored from a distance by a bobby or two – but still allowed to continue with his/their protest without being too bovvered by the long arm of the law.

Not in Malta 2014 though. Ignatius Busuttil was arrested for obstructing traffic (in a day and age when traffic is brought to a standstill by the needs of the latest Festa without so much as a by your leave) and for disobeying the police (who were ordering him to stop a peaceful protest). Worse still the newspaper report taken directly from the official statement we read that the police query goes into the questioning of Busuttil’s motives to protest : as though your very motives to complain about the government’s management of affairs require some sanctioning. Yes, it is facile to use the adjective Kafkesque but calling spades spades is sometimes the most simple of explanations.

“In the official statement given to the police and signed by Mr Busuttil, he was asked why he wanted to speak to Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, what he intended to say to Dr Muscat and what his grievances with MEPA are. The police asked him whether he had ever tried to make a formal appointment with Dr Muscat or any other government officials. The police then asked Mr Busuttil whether he has any mental problems.” (The Malta Independent)

It get worse too. The police are apparently hot on psychology now and they will delve into a lovely conundrum taken straight out of Joseph Heller’s leaf.  They have taken Catch-22 and turned it on its head.

“Sure there is a catch,” Doc Daneeka replied. “Catch-22. Anyone who wants to get out of combat duty isn’t really crazy.”

There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, that specified that a concern for one’s own safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn’t, but if he was sane, he had to fly them. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of the clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle. 
“That’s some catch, that Catch-22,” he observed. 

“It’s the best there is,” Doc Daneeka replied.

Much to Ignatius Busuttil’s chagrin the police have come up with their own version of Catch 22. It goes something like this:

1. You’ve got to be crazy to be protesting against this government.

2. Crazy people should not be allowed to protest. They should be in a mental institution.

3. Off to Mount Carmel.

Simple isn’t it? Joseph Muscat’s law is looking more and more like Joseph Heller’s. And it’s all the more a loss for our democracy.