Jason OMahony - Irish political blogger, Irish politics, EU politics
 
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Personal safety matters.

Posted by Jason O on Sep 9, 2020 in Irish Independent, Irish Politics, Politics

Previously published in the Irish Independent.

It’s very easy to understand the recent calls for hate crime legislation that came from many decent people, rightly outraged at the racist attack on a Chinese woman near Dublin’s Royal Canal. 

But would it have helped her if such a law was already on the statute book? 

Would those who attacked her have paused because they would have feared crossing some legal rubicon? 

It’s all well and good having laws in statute books, but what anyone under physical criminal attack needs is help, primarily from either police capable of delivering a speedy and robust defence, or the attackers fearing that continuing the attack will reduce their chance of escape. 

What comes after, how society deals with the crime through its judicial system, is a different matter. 

But for now, we need to focus on rapid response to the crime-in-progress, and it’s simply not logical to expect the Garda to be everywhere. 

Even if we doubled the number of Guards it would have only a limited impact and almost less in public perception than the cost of doing it. 

But I can’t help thinking technology and some imagination might give a better return.

Perhaps highly visible Garda drones should be commonplace, hovering over high-risk areas and connected to a command centre that can automatically feed images into facial recognition software. They can be used to rush quickly to reported incidents, and whilst they can’t physically intervene they can assist in the apprehension of criminal suspects by ground units. 

Indeed, a group of criminals engaged in, say, a mugging, have an incentive to desist and flee because the drone can only track a few of them at a time.

Would putting more Garda on motorbikes (guided by Drone Central) allow for a more rapid deployment?

Should those convicted be required to register their mobile phones with the Garda, and carrying an unregistered device be made a criminal offence for convicted criminals? A sort of digital ASBO?

I can’t claim to have any expertise in law enforcement of course, and there will almost certainly be problems with the above suggestions, but surely some experimentation might help. 

The NYPD cracking down on illegal street windscreen cleaners resulted in loads of warrant jumpers being accidentally located. Many old-guard cops in New York City sneered when the ComStat crime tracking system was first mooted, but it became an important aid in identifying crime patterns and allowing for the better targeting of resources. It played a significant role in the reduction of crime in New York  in the 1990s. 

One interesting point would be that such use of technology would possibly lead to an increase in reported crime, as citizens who currently may not bother to report crime because they have no faith in it being investigated might then do so. Imagine an app where one could report “low level” crime like graffiti or vandalism or flytipping, knowing that every report adds to a better picture of where crime is or more importantly might occur, and allow for better deployment of resources. 

The suggested use of much greater surveillance, through recognition software, data collection and eyes-in-the-sky certainly warrants a debate about what sort of society do we want? 

Do we want to live in a country like that?

What if the choice is between the nominal freedom of less surveillance, where some gang of gurriers can kick your teeth in with both your and their privacy being respected, or a Garda drone either frightening them into stopping or guiding Gardai to your location?

What would you prefer? It probably depends on whether your mouth is filled with the slight metallic taste of your own blood. 

To paraphrase one of fiction’s most hardline lawmen, who do you want to see arriving when you’re being mugged? A policeman or your attacker’s human rights advocate?

Of course we must have human rights. 

We have to be very careful about not accidentally stumbling into a police state. 

I’m also very much a sceptic about throwing anyone in prison and throwing away the key. 

It’s incredibly expensive and for the most part it doesn’t work. 

Nor am I certain what the alternative is.

But I do know one thing for certain. 

My personal safety, my liberty and right to walk this country without fear of assault is at least as equal as the rights of the people who might assault me, and if the defence of those rights involves living in a society with a greater level of public surveillance, I can live with that.

I get that putting young people into a brutal prison system is almost guaranteed to make them criminals. 

We should not see prison as primarily some sort of old testament form of revenge. We should also recognise that the likes of Norway has had great success in reducing juvenile crime by taking a more liberal and enlightened approach to incarceration. 

I’m willing to look at all that and yes, if necessary, fund it with my taxes.

But what I’m not willing to tolerate is that I have to sacrifice my physical safety to reach that point. 

Yes, prison should be about rehabilitation, but primarily it should be about keeping violent people physically away from the rest of us, and yes, that should be its primary function. 

As part of that debate, there’s much talk in recent times about the phrase Defund the Police. 

As slogans go, it’s hard to imagine one which is so damaging to the cause it purports to advance. In fairness, for many of its advocates, Defund the Police isn’t about abandoning our law enforcement-free streets to thugs, but proactively spending on things that might prevent crime in the first place.

It’s a perfectly noble aim. 

I just prefer the slogan in its original form: Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime.   

 
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Does the United States need to emulate the European Union?

Posted by Jason O on Sep 6, 2020 in European Union, US Politics

Previously published in the Irish Independent.

America is an exceptional nation. I know it’s not fashionable to say so, given how the phrase has been hijacked by the huckster ruling family of that country, but it is true. The next human to step foot on the lunar surface will do so not less than 60 years after an American first did it. 

Imagine it had been left up to the EU to put a man on the moon? We’d still be talking about it, although the European Mission Control building would be a massive money spinner for whatever country got it. The French would build the rocket, the Germans the lander, the Italians the spacesuits. 

We’d get The Corrs to write the theme song. Well, until Jim put his hand up to ask a question…

But we still wouldn’t actually be there.    

To me and many of my generation the United States was an inspiration, the country where the future came from. Growing up, watching sheets of rain coming down in Ireland amid the sideburns and crumbling quays of Dublin, one could watch Jon and Ponch on “Chips” patrol the highways (not dual carriageways, highways!) of California, a place so perfect that you could leave the house without a duffel coat or fear of getting soaked and the same coat doubling in weight as it absorbed the rain. 

Farrah Fawcett and her giant beautiful hair made me feel things as a young boy that even Thelma Mansfield didn’t, and don’t get me started on Colonel Deering from “Buck Rogers” bet into her white shiny lycra. Bet in.  

America was where hope and promise came from.

Which is what makes today’s America so heartbreaking. I’m a liberal, so I’m biased, but watching the Republican National Committee teeming with people who seem to really hate half their country, you have to ask yourself. 

Not only if the US can survive, but why should it?

Don’t get me wrong: I find some on the American left insufferable too, and yes, there is a difference between rioting and looting and protesting. 

The first two should get you arrested. 

A whole heap of them hate the other side of America so much they’re effectively campaigning for Trump. 

But how does a country survive when every election isn’t like a baseball game, where passions are strong but both sides accept the other side wins occasionally? How does it survive when every election leads to half the country believing that they are being run by an alien culture?

Where election results are no longer the absolute decider, but merely another “fact” to be disputed.  

Is it time for the United States to disband, or at least, to reform into a new form of union?

Enter Europe!

There’s a lot of things we don’t do well. But building a robust continental-size model for political consensus? We invented that.

At the heart of the American discourse is a fear, on both sides, that the other side will impose their values on them. 

We know something about that fear, and designed a union that is the sum of its parts without dissolving those diverse parts. 

Is it time for an American Union which recognises that many American values have now diverged and perhaps states should be allowed recognise that. 

Of course, there are many who will say the US has been here before, and it was pretty ugly. 

States Rights became code for the Jim Crow laws of segregation and voter suppression. It’s a fair point. Popular and democratically elected (by white people) segregationist state politicians were overruled by the federal government and sometimes federal troops and US Marshals, and rightly.

Segregation was abolished at times by force, and a righteous use of force it was too.

But there was effectively a political consensus, between Republicans and Democrats, that segregation had to go. 

There’s no consensus between Trumpism and moderation.     

What if the November election descends into chaos or even violence? 

What if it doesn’t, but the country stuck remains divided and paralysed?

As Europe can always learn from the United States, perhaps the United States can learn from Europe? 

Imagine an agreement to devolve more power back to the states, with a transition period of a few years (another European innovation) to allow liberals in Texas or conservatives in California to basically move house. 

Yes, it’s all a bit Mountbatten in India, but gives states the powers to have their culture match their state. 

Let the south ban abortions. Better it be banned in Alabama than a republican Supreme Court ban it everywhere.   

Let New York and California ban guns and introduce an American State Health Service. 

Let governors, as in the EU, negotiate the federal budget with taxes raised in their states. 

Let states have proper borders, as EU or Australian states have, and let 

Americans have the four European freedoms: the right to live, work, study and vote in any state.  

As for federal decisions, copy the EU’s Qualified Majority Voting: no bill can pass the senate unless it has the support of 55% of states representing 65% of the population. That way neither side can ram stuff down the others throat.  

Finally, recognise that there are more than two political choices: use the Single Transferable Vote in elections. 

Would it be tricky? Yes. Would it be divisive? Oh yes. 

But if things get bad, it might be a choice between this and Fort Sumter.  

Copyright © 2020 Jason O Mahony All rights reserved. Email: Jason@JasonOMahony.ie.