Sunday, 29 June 2008

An argument for the legalisation of all drugs

Whenever this is suggested it generates instant controversy, and most people's gut reaction is to disagree right away, but I think that one of the most vital ways to make life better for people and reduce crime is to legalise all drugs.

Drugs and drug addiction have a horrible and extremely harmful effect on people's lives, and I won't deny that for a second, however their criminalisation of them and the vicious "War on Drugs" being waged worldwide are only exacerbating matters. The continued crackdown on drugs has not done anything to stem the flow, merely given the entire industry over to organised crime, ensured that addicts have extreme difficulty finding help and have to resort to crime to fund their habit, and is tearing the countries where production is centred apart.

In Colombia, the FARC are in bed with the government, corruption is rife, and carnage is an everyday occurence. Poor farmers lose their livelihoods as their crops - drugs or not - are napalmed and destroyed, whilst the drug cartels only grow richer. In Afghanistan, the country'[s economy faces collapse without opium production, and the people are turning to the Taliban that once oppressed them to preserve their livelihoods against the western anti-drugs crusade. On the streets of the UK and US, innocent victims are gunned down by police or gangs on a far too regular basis, families are being torn apart, and criminal gangs grow rich enough to arm their child drug runners.

As well as this, most of the overdoses and deaths that occur from drug use are actually due to poor-quality products cut with all sorts of insane things, such as soap powder.

If we were to legalise drugs and shift production to legitimate producers, the criminal gangs would face the loss of a majority of their income almost overnight, and over time, with gangs unable to afford guns and cars, we would over time see a dramatic reduction in crime. Drugs traders, with their product coming under trading standards regulations, would produce only pure, high quality products that produce less risk of overdose. Addicts, no longer reduced to crime, could feed their habit legally without harming others and find it easier to get help and escape the drugs trap. Drug use would fall, as case studies with cannabis decriminalisation and heroin prescription have shown, and the conflicts in Colombia and Afghanistan, amongst others, will become a lot easier to resolve without drugs and drug money complicating issues.

Criminalisation, crackdowns, "tough" punitive action, and international intervention make the drug problem worse, not better.

Saturday, 28 June 2008

The real scroungers bleeding the UK dry...

I read a story in the Daily Mail today that, were it not for the titles of those involved, would have the anti-immigrant press frothing at the mouth. The family involved are descended from immigrants who came here illegally, don't have proper jobs, don't pay taxes, and - despite each having vast personal fortunes - get to live rent free, charge their shopping to the taxpayer, take expensive holidays abroad for free, and can even go the pub at our expense. As if that wasn't outrageous enough, they're now claiming that they have to "patch and mend" and are demanding an increase in the money they get - to the tune of £32 MILLION!

I speak, of course, of our "Royal Family", the Windsors:
* The cost to the taxpayer of the Royal Family last year was £40million - equivalent to 66p per person per year.
* The Civil List payment to the Queen has risen to £12.7million.
* The cost of royal travel shot up to £6.2million last year.
* Aides claim there is a £32million 'black hole' in the budget for essential palace maintenance.

...

Sir Alan Reid, Keeper of the Privy Purse, admitted yesterday that the cost of the monarchy is now rising at almost twice the rate of inflation, reversing years of falls in real terms.
Last year's bill to the taxpayer of £40million does not include the cost of security provided by the Army and police.
The Queen also received a £500,000 'pay rise' - taking her Civil List payment from the Government, used to fund her official duties, to £12.7million.
That is an inflation-busting increase of 4.1 per cent.
The idea that the Royals deserve more money is made even more laughable by the fact that, on the same day the Daily Mail and Daily Express reported this, the Sun ran the following story:
THE Queen has her own drive-through McDonald’s, The Sun can reveal.

Her Majesty became landlady this month when a retail park down the road from Windsor Castle was bought by the Crown Estate for £92million.

Surely someone who can fork out £92 million to frivolously purchase a McDonald's, of all things, cannot credibly claim to live a "patch and mend" existence?

Why should we pay for these people to have power and priviledge by accident of birth alone? They're an unelected, archaic relic of snobbery and class divisions who, ruling by right of birth, make a mockery of Britain's pretense to being a "democratic" society.

Thursday, 26 June 2008

Let teenagers have sex, the statistics speak for themselves...

On Monday, the Daily Mail published an article revealing that a third of all seconday schools have sex-clinics. With this revelation, they produced some revealing statistics.

According to the Mail, "the Teenage Pregnancy Strategy has spent £138million, mainly in encouraging schools to extend sex education and provide advice and contraception" with the result that "the reduction [in the rate of teenage pregnancies] was actually 10.7 per cent." It also stated that "in 2006, there were 39,003 under-18 pregnancies in England, up from 35,371 in 1995." But, as shocking as this may seem, the Mail itself concluded that "there were more teenage girls than in 1995, so the percentage of them becoming pregnant was lower." [My italics]

However, for what these statistics seem to indicate, the article set them out in such a way as to give the opposite. It emphasised that "critics say giving out contraception in schools increases pregnancy and abortion by signalling that it is all right for young teenagers to have sex" and gave a constant platform to such critics, such as Jill Kirby, of the centre-right think tank Centre for Policy Studies. She asserts that ‘this is the normalisation of sex for pupils without the consent of parents.’ Whilst "Patricia Morgan, a researcher and author on family matters, said: ‘There is no evidence that giving out condoms works."

Thus, the inflection of the article was clear, stating that, despite all the available evidence, the policy of educating children about sex so that they are informed and enpowered rather than ignorant and vulnerable "is acknowledged to be failing." The result, as Ms. Morgan puts it, is that 'children have sex, you get pregnancies and abortions and the spread of infections.' And the conclusion, therefore is that 'if you want progress you should start by telling children not to have sex.’

But let's look at the facts on this. The United States is the best example of a country where encouraging abstinence is the norm, and health classes are complemented by visitations from Christian abstinence groups such as "the Silver Ring Thing," who encourage their members to wear a silver ring as a vow to not have sex until marriage. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Netherlands has an extremely liberal sex education policy, with children first being told about sex at five and practical instruction on things such as putting on condoms given from the start of secondary school. Sex, pregnancy, and STDs are covered in great depth.

The result? The statistics show that the US has a teenage pregnancy rate of 79.8 for every thousand, compared to 8.7 per thousand in Holland. The teen abortion rate is 27.5 per thousand in the US, but only 4.2 per thousand in Holland. As for HIV, the rate in the US is 0.75% for men and 0.30% for women, whilst the Netherlands only face 0.27% in men and 0.11% in women. Further to this, if the sexual health statistics in the US were proportionate to those in the Netherlands, America would see 657,000 fewer pregnancies, 441,000 fewer births, 215,000 fewer abortions, and the public cost in sexual health treatment would be $921 million less.

The evidence is clearly there, then, that when you treat children as intelligent and independent, arm them with the facts to protect themselves, and promote safe sex rather than making sex a taboo, then sex becomes less of an issue and the sexual health of the young increases dramatically.

Why can't conservative voices such as those in line with the Daily Mail see this? Why are they so willing to risk the health of the next generation to preserve their own moral standards?

Saturday, 14 June 2008

42 days detention

The proposal to increase the maximum period of detention without charge from 28 to 42 days has passed through parliament, and the latest nail has been hammered into the coffin of liberty.
The sad fact is that a majority of the public support this authoritarian legislation, and that the bill passed only as a cynical symbol of giving Gordon Brown's struggling cabinet a much-needed victory. As a result, as well as removing from terrorist suspects - the word "suspects" there giving this legislation yet more ominous ambiguity - the rights of due process, a fair trial, and the assumption of innocence until proven guilty, the move has farther reaching implications for the British populace as a whole.

The case of the so-called "lyrical terrorist" - convicted for writing poems because of their content - has already proved that freedom of speech has no meaning any more and that the government views words as weapons to be dealt with rather than an alternative to violence. Thus, we essentially have ThoughtCrime, a rather clichéd phrase that still proves accurate in this situation, enshrined in law. The justification for this is that we have to give up some liberty to preserve security, and that this only affects those suspected of terrorism.

But whatever happened to fighting, risking life and limb, and dying for liberty? "Give me liberty or give me death," as Patrick Henry put it during the American Revolution. If we truly are defending our very way of life against the threat of terrorism, then aren't the terrorists claiming a small victory every time one of the freedoms in which our way of life is defined is rolled back?

As to the maxim of "if you've done nothing wrong, you've nothing to worry about," the very passage of history, and how people in power react to percieved threats, refutes that statement. The government's definition of terrorism is so widely cast that - especially with their obsessive desire to have everybody's DNA, biometric data, and personal history on record and our every move in public watched and recorded - it won't be too long before anybody who holds any form of dissident views is held without charge. From there, it is but a short step into totalitarianism.

Of course, this can be dismissed as alarmist, and it will be pointed out that the intent isn't there. This may be correct now, but once the mechanisms are in place who knows who will wind up with them at their disposal in the future? Human nature where power is concerned gives me great cause to worry about the consequences of this and other legislation that has passed since 2001. We seem to be on a very slippery slope here.

I think it is worth quoting, at length, the words of Pastor Martin Niemöller on the actions the Nazis took against opponents in the late 1930s and early 1940s is quite an apt way to place a final emphasis on this point.
When the Nazis came for the communists, I remained silent; I was not a communist.
When they locked up the social democrats, I remained silent; I was not a social democrat.
When they came for the trade unionists, I did not speak out; I was not a trade unionist.
When they came for the Jews, I remained silent; I wasn't a Jew.
When they came for me, there was no one left to speak out.
The minute we begin to limit freedom is the minute we begin to lose it.