Mar 272012
 

I’ve been reading the transcripts of and commentary about the US Supreme Court arguments taking place this week about the constitutionality of the “individual mandate” and associated penalty contained within the provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (2010).

Before I get into any analysis, a seeming triviality: many of the news reports about this case are noting the fact that its opponents refer to the act as “Obamacare,” as if this were some kind of novel piece of slang. It’s not. What’s new is that, ahead of these oral arguments, the Act’s supporters have started embracing the term instead of discouraging its use, as if Barack Obama himself has delivered this manna to the unhealthy. Frankly, I don’t think Obama has even read the full text of this legislation, so I refuse to give him sole credit (or blame) for it, and will refer to it by its acronym PPACA, which is the norm when referring to legislation of the American Congress. (What, did you think PATRIOT Act was capitalised because it’s a big deal? No: it’s because it’s the Uniting (and) Strengthening America (by) Providing Appropriate Tools Required (to) Intercept (and) Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001. American politicians are nothing if not massively cheesy.)

Now let’s address why I’m writing this blog post. This case is an extraordinarily big deal, and you will have a hard time understanding why if all you read is the news media accounts of the arguments. The American media does not want to go into any great analysis of the issue, for fear that you might draw your own conclusions, and the British media does not understand the significance. In the British media in particular, you will find reporters utterly baffled by what appears, to them, to be a sneaky, underhand challenge of the president himself under the pretext of a legal technicality.

Whether or not a law, or a part of a law, is constitutional is simply not a legal technicality. The Constitution is the basis for all federal government in the United States. The federal government simply may not make laws that contravene, or surpass, what the Constitution allows it to do. The law, or the provision within the law, cannot be imposed upon the American people if it is not constitutional. And one of the basic rights Americans have is to challenge the federal government about the constitutionality of its laws. That British journalists don’t seem (or want) to grasp this, simply because they personally think the PPACA is a good thing, makes them shitty journalists.

So. What is the issue at stake?

The challenge to the PPACA is about the provisions in section 5000A, which require Americans to be covered by health insurance (whether purchased individually or through their employer) or incur a penalty. These parts of the law are collectively referred to as the “individual mandate” or the “minimum coverage provision.”

The challengers, in this case, are a number of American states and some associated individuals. Their basic contention is that the US Constitution does not permit the federal government to compel people to purchase health insurance when they are not purchasing health care services.

In this case, you have two participants: the challengers, and the US federal government (as represented by the Solicitor General). This case has gone through the federal courts already, and the Supreme Court agreed at the back end of 2011 to hear it. This is significant: the Supreme Court can choose not to hear cases, so the fact it has chosen to hear this one means the Court believes that there is enough doubt about the matter, or enough importance about the question at hand, to make it an issue worth settling. The Court’s decision is binding and, in this case, may also be precedent-setting. (This is kind of what puzzles me about the position of many British journalists; if the high court of the US thinks it’s important enough to discuss, who are you to call it a trivial technicality?)

But enough about British journalists. Part of the reason reportage about this case is so crappy is that there are lots of different strands of argument involved, not all of which make a lot of sense if you consider them in isolation.

For example, yesterday’s arguments centred around whether or not the Court could even hear the case. Here’s the background: as the case has made its way through the lower levels of courts, the government’s position has been that the penalty for not purchasing health insurance is, effectively, a tax, and taxes do not come under the jurisdiction of any court until the complainant has paid the tax, requested administrative redress, and been refused. Then, and only then, can the complainant bring suit. (Challenges to tax are covered under a law called the Anti-Injunction Act.) The government’s argument has been that, since the mandate and penalty/tax do not come into force until 2014, the law cannot be challenged on those grounds in 2012, because nobody has yet paid the tax and therefore nobody can at this point bring suit.

Interestingly, once the Court agreed to hear the case, the government switched positions, and yesterday argued before the justices that the penalty is not a tax subject to the Anti-Injunction Act. Because the challengers were making the same argument, the Court had to appoint independent counsel (the amicus curiae) to argue that the penalty is a tax. Ultimately, yesterday, the Court appeared to accept that the penalty is not a tax subject to the Anti-Injunction Act. Nobody was surprised by this; why would the Court schedule three days of argument about the matter if it envisioned recusing itself after the first day?

So. We proceed to today’s arguments, which were about the constitutionality of the mandate itself. I have read the transcript, but I am not a lawyer, so take what I am about to describe with the understanding that I am both ignorant and naive to a certain extent. However, you can read the stuff yourself on the SCOTUS website; the arguments were very accessible to the layman.

The government argued as follows. In the Constitution, the federal government is allowed the power to regulate commerce, and issues affecting commerce, between the states (the “Commerce Clause”). There are two commercial markets at issue: one is for health care services, and one is for health insurance. All people in the US are participants in the health care market, because all people in the US will require health care at some point. Health insurance is the method by which people finance their health care in the US, and therefore all people are technically participants in the health insurance market also. Ergo, Congress has the right to regulate both, as both constitute interstate commerce, even to the point of requiring people to purchase health insurance at a given point in time, because their failure to do so is an issue that affects commerce within that market.

(There is also a whole bunch of stuff about how the penalty for not buying is a tax, but I didn’t follow that part too well, and since the government argued yesterday that it is only kind of a tax, I’m not sure how germane the point is anyway.)

What it is important to understand about the government’s position is that, in the US, even if you do not have health insurance, you cannot be refused health care. So what happens is that people without the means to pay for their health care nevertheless receive it, which drives up the cost of care, which in turn drives up premiums for those people who are insured. So the government is arguing that because some people’s failure to insure themselves affects the price of everyone’s health care and insurance, Congress has the right to interfere in the purchasing (or not) of health insurance under the justification of the Commerce Clause.

By compelling people to purchase insurance (and penalising/taxing people if they don’t), the government’s aim is to reduce the free rider problem and thus lower the cost of care and insurance premiums.

If you read the transcript, Solicitor General Verrilli does a lot of waffling about the “40 million Americans who don’t have access to care,” but the upshot of what he’s saying is this: actually, these people can get care, they just don’t pay for it. So in order to cover the cost of people who can’t pay for the care they definitely do get, everyone has to be insured. That way, the insurance companies can use the premiums paid by the healthy to subsidise the cost of the care for unhealthy people who can’t pay for it themselves. Thus, because everybody is affected by this way of ensuring poor people can still get health care, Congress can do what it chooses, including compelling purchase, to deal with the problem.

So far, so clear. The system envisioned in the PPACA is one of the healthy subsidising the unhealthy.

The challengers argument was somewhat more complicated.

First, they disputed the “everybody is a participant” claim. Many of the Americans who do not have health insurance are young, healthy people who choose to spend their money on something else, believing themselves to be at low risk of requiring health care. Thus, these people are not, at a given point in time, participants in either the health care or health insurance market. The Commerce Clause, they say, does not give the government the right to compel people to participate in these markets when they otherwise would not choose to do so.

Second, they disputed that the health care and health insurance markets are so intertwined as make eventual participation in the one the justification for forced participation in the other. There are, they said, other means of subsidising the unhealthy who cannot pay for their care than compelling the purchase of health insurance. Social Security was brought up: a general tax, linked to income, levied on everyone, which the federal government then disburses to those requiring the payments, would be constitutional in a way the mandate is not, because the Constitution does give the federal government the right to levy taxes. (This is, in fact, how Medicare and Medicaid work at the moment.) The challengers also pointed out that the problem the provision is attempting to solve is one created by the government in the first place: namely, the government forces emergency rooms to treat those who cannot pay, and it forces insurance companies to insure high-risk individuals. If it did not do those things, there would not be a free rider problem, and so there are other solutions than the mandate imposed by the PPACA.

During the arguments, the justices focused particularly keenly on two problems with these issues: (1) are the health markets unique, and if so, what specifically is the limiting principle that will stop the federal government from engaging in compulsory purchase in other markets? and (2) if the challengers concede that the federal government can force people to purchase health insurance at the point of purchasing health care itself (which, apparently, they do concede), what is the problem, precisely, with moving that point of compulsion forward in time, when it will have the most beneficial effects?

A lot of today’s commentary was along the lines of “Obamacare in danger of being struck down,” because the justices seemed particularly pointed and hostile in their questioning, but I think this is premature. The mandate may be ideologically horrific to the average American mindset, but that does not mean it is unconstitutional. And the role of the justices is to pick holes in the arguments and expose the weaknesses; that doesn’t mean those weaknesses are fatal. The most aggressive questioning came from Justice Scalia, and I admit the Solicitor General didn’t seem particularly articulate in his answers—at one point, Justice Sotomayor summed up his argument for him much better than he had done, and he didn’t seem to notice—but that doesn’t mean his points are invalid.

There were a lot of other issues and sidelines in the arguments, but there was one point that came out pretty strongly to me, and it was made by Michael Carvin for the challengers. What he argued, in effect, was that the government’s own argument is self-contradicting. At the moment, people with insurance effectively subsidise those without. Under the PPACA, people with insurance will effectively subsidise those without. There is no difference in where the cost is borne; it is always borne by the people with insurance. What the PPACA proposes to do is to increase the pool of insured people to pay the subsidy, thereby spreading the cost over a larger base. The PPACA itself, and the government, admit this is the entire purpose of the mandate: to make healthy people who do not currently purchase health care purchase insurance in order to cover the cost of those people who cannot pay for the health care they purchase.

Therefore, the government is implicitly admitting that there are some people who are outside the market, who need to be drawn into the market in order to spread the cost of subsidy around—and since that is the whole purpose of the mandate, the existence of the mandate demonstrates that not everybody is a participant in these markets, and therefore are not engaging in commerce that can be regulated in this way by Congress.

It’s a neat little argument, and I wish he’d been more explicit about how circular it is. He does call it “bootstrapping,” though, and it’s true. If everyone was a participant in these markets, which is the government’s justification for this falling within the power of the Commerce Clause, there would be no need for the mandate; but because the point of the mandate is to make everyone participate, it is itself an admission that not everyone does, and therefore it can’t be justified by the claim that everyone is already a participant, because if they were, the government wouldn’t need to mandate that they participate.

The only other interesting thing to point out is that, although everyone involved seems keen not to get into the merits of the law as a whole, with the whole, y’know, making sure people don’t bankrupt themselves in order to stay healthy, the people who are most prone to talking about the merits of the law appear to be the justices themselves. This is why I think the commentators are premature: while it’s nice to think that Supreme Court judges are impartial, they’re not. They’re perfectly capable of allowing their approval of the aim of the PPACA to bias their views on its constitutionality—and by the same token, of allowing their repugnance at the methods of the PPACA to affect their judgment of its intention.

And that’s true of a lot of people right now, I think. Health care in the United States is totally fucked up, and I don’t think it’s really possible to dispute that. However, the PPACA is not the only possible solution to the problems, and my personal view is that it’s about the worst one, in fact. But people on the right are in danger of defending a really shitty situation when they attack this law, and people on the left are in danger of defending a really shitty law when they attack the current situation.

This is why, going back to the beginning, the label “Obamacare” is so pernicious. Would people really be as blindly and tribally partisan about this law if it didn’t involve a cult of personality and were, instead, the boring old PPACA?

Read the transcript for Monday’s arguments.

Read the transcript for Tuesday’s arguments.

Dec 082009
 

As some of you may remember, I have had tremendous difficulties navigating my way through the UK Border Agency’s Byzantine bureaucracy in my attempts to maintain settlement here this year.

First, I was told in February that, because of the change in immigration laws, I would no longer qualify for renewal of my sponsored work permit. Teaching had been classed as a shortage occupation, obviating the need for employer-sponsors to justify hiring non-EU employees. After the change in laws, this applied only to teachers of maths and sciences – and, as a result, my school informed me they would not be able to continue employing me after my work permit expired.

Second, I decided to apply for a Tier 1 (Highly Skilled Migrant) permit, which would not be tethered to a particular job or employer. The application was tremendously complex, involving 50 pages of guidance notes, the provision of innumerable documents proving my recent earnings, educational attainments, mastery of the English language, maintenance of funds, and an £820 ‘processing fee.’ The endeavour was so complex that I had to call the Immigration Enquiries Bureau to clarify that I was doing it correctly.

Meanwhile, in the hope that I would receive this Tier 1 permit, I applied for a job at a different school and was offered the position.

I finally submitted the application in May; at the beginning of June, it was returned, marked ‘Refused,’ because, as it happened, the Immigration Enquiries Bureau didn’t know what they were talking about. When I rang them again, the same day I received the refusal notice, to clarify the same point that had resulted in refusal, they gave me the same incorrect information.

I wrote a pleading letter to the UKBA asking for reconsideration, and a pleading letter to my MP asking for advisement. My MP replied quite quickly to tell me he had taken the matter straight to Alan Johnson, the then-new Home Secretary. UKBA…didn’t reply at all.

Meanwhile, I contacted the new school where I was to start work in September and asked them to pursue a sponsored work permit. They told me they’d have to rescind the contract we’d signed and re-advertise the position in order to prove there were no qualified British/EU applicants.

At the beginning of July, my MP forwarded on to me a letter he had received from the Deputy Chief Director of UKBA. The DCD and his caseworkers had, according to the letter, reviewed my case and decided to stand by the original refusal. The same day I received this communication, the new school wrote to inform me that, alas, there were many qualified British/EU applicants for my position, and they were going to have to hire one of them instead of me. So, no sponsored work permit would be forthcoming (as I had suspected would be the case anyway).

Devastated and facing ‘voluntary repatriation,’ I travelled to the US for a week for a friend’s wedding. Upon re-entry to the UK at Heathrow, I was detained by the immigration officials, even though I had done nothing illegal and my work permit was not due to expire for another 28 days. Their justification for detaining me, they said, was that I might overstay my visa at some point in the future. They could also see, on their passport database, they the Tier 1 permit I’d applied for had been refused; but as their database didn’t tell them the circumstances of that refusal, I looked doubly suspicious to them. Since, however, they could not get away with further detaining me or deporting me, given they had no evidence of actual wrong-doing, I was allowed back into the country.

Which I then left again, almost immediately, with DK to get married in Cyprus. When we returned, the border agent seemed inclined to detain me again and questioned me pretty searchingly, but ultimately decided not to make an example of me.

At that point – with 4 days remaining on my work permit – I applied for a spousal visa, at a cost of producing more innumerable proofs of probity and a £465 ‘processing fee.’

Some weeks later, I received a letter commanding me to present myself for biometric enrolment – a condition of evaluating a spousal visa application. As I should have expected given their laughable identity management, the biometric enrolment officers were unable to tell me what would be done with my fingerprints and facial scans should my visa application be refused (again).

Here’s the new part – the shameful, jaw-droppingly incredible part – of the story.

Nothing further took place until mid-November, when I received, out of the blue, an email from the Tier 1 office which said:

Thank you for your letter of 5th June 2009 asking for a reconsideration of the decision to refuse your/your client’s leave application under Tier 1 (General) of the Points Based System.

Please accept our apologies for the delay in responding to your letter.

Due to you receiving the incorrect advice from the Immigration Enquiry Bureau I am exceptionally able to accept additional evidence to support your claim for previous earnings and will reassess your Tier 1 (General) application.

This, then, was the response to the pleading letter I’d written to the UKBA five months beforehand; and here it was also coming four months after my case had been reviewed at the special request of my MP and definitely refused by the Deputy Chief Director himself. What, I wondered, is all of this?

I sent along the additional evidence, of course, with a curious question about why the DCD had changed his mind. This was the UKBA’s reply:

Having spoken to Managers and checked our system we are unable to find any record of the MP’s correspondence or your application being reviewed.

Therefore, can you please send me the following documents:-

********** to cover the period stated in my previous email
Your passport
Copy of the MP’s correspondence you received.

Um, what? No record of my MP’s correspondence? So I posted my copies of those letters along, too.

Less than a week later, another email from the UKBA:

I can confirm that we will be overturning our initial refusal decision as I have sufficient evidence to award points for previous earnings.

As soon as I have received your passport I will ensure your leave is endorsed ASAP.

As you Tier 1 (General) application is now a grant what would you like to do regarding your spousal visa application. If you are no longer wishing to continue with the spousal visa application please let me know and I will arrange for the application to be withdrawn and the relevant fee refunded to you.

Result! I get the Tier 1 permit after all (only costing me £820, seven months of stress and anxiety, one job, and to date loss of four months’ earnings) and a refund for the spousal visa application! And yet, what about this correspondence of which there is no record?

The MP’s letter does state that someone has reviewed your application and decided to uphold the initial decision. However, having discussed your case with my Manager and the department who deal with MP’s
correspondence we could find no record of the response you received. It appears that its an administration error in the fact that this letter or the review haven’t been logged on the system. I am currently taking this forward with the relevant department.

Okay, so… neither the letter my MP wrote, nor the review it resulted in, nor the response he received from the DCD were logged into the system. Because of ‘administration error.’

Riiiiiiiight.

Don’t get me wrong; it’s worked out well for me. The visa itself arrived, shiny in my passport, last Friday. (That the visa is now firmly in my sticky paws is the reason I feel able to describe the climax and denouement of this whole sorry business.) But I can’t help suspecting that the complete absence of any kind of record of my MP’s involvement means something vaguely dodgy has gone on.

The MP in question is a well-thought-of guy, clean on expenses, and generally praised as being a model of integrity (as much as a politician can be such a thing). I doubt very much that he fabricated a review that never took place and forged a letter from the Deputy Chief Director of the UK Border Agency. Which leaves me wondering: did the DCD, or his minions, bullshit my MP? Because it mos def looks that way from where I’m sitting. And I’m certainly wondering if I should contact him again and tell him all of this. I imagine he’d like to know.

Especially given what Phil Woolas has been shooting his fucking mouth off about today: £295,000 in bonuses for UKBA senior officials! I wonder if the Deputy Chief Director and his non-existent reviews administration errors will be receiving some of that money.

Mr Woolas told presenter John Humphreys: ”I think the UK Border Agency should be praised – they are very brave men and women who protect our borders and they are getting on top of the situation.

”The chair of the (Home Affairs) Select Committee has said we are not yet fit for purpose and I’m defending my staff who put their lives on the line for us.”

Yeah, okay. Whatever. The UK Border Agency is a clusterfuck of gargantuan proportions and its officials patently couldn’t organise a piss-up in a brewery. And Phil Woolas is a colossal asshole who should be first against the wall when the revolution comes.

And for the record, I still don’t know what’s happened to my fingerprints and facial scans…

Sep 272009
 

And so, as part of my on-going attempts to continue living and working in this Promised Land, yesterday I had my appointment to be branded get my biometrics enrolled for an ID card.

The process revealed some flaws in the system. First of all, the Border Agency still has my passport, because it is still considering my visa application. So when I showed up yesterday to provide biometric proof of my identity, I did not actually have any ID, nor was I asked to present any. I could have been anybody. The Border Agency will have to go through the time-consuming process of making sure the pictures and signature I sent them match the picture and signature I gave yesterday. Handwriting analysts must finally be having their day in the sun.

Second, although their website states that the enrolment process takes 5-10 minutes, this is not strictly true. I showed up the requisite half-hour before my appointment time; two hours later, I finally had my five minutes of fingerprinting and facial scanning. The waiting room was packed full of people, like a slightly more civilised version of a refugee camp, most of whom were asleep. I kid you not; that is how long people were made to wait. I myself had a lovely hour-long nap, read the newspaper front to back, and managed a couple of chapters of a novel as well. However, as the Border Agency is quick to assure us, tougher checks mean longer waits. And we will all sleep soundly in our beds at night as a result.

Third, and most important, the people taking my biometrics had absolutely no idea what was going to be done with them. My primary concern since being told to go and give my biological data has been that the Border Agency may still refuse my visa application. If that happens, what is going to be done with my data? Will it be removed from their database? If not, what justification does the UK government have for retaining the fingerprints and facial scans of a non-resident foreign national? Unfortunately, my enrolment officer could not answer the question. Neither, it seems, can the Border Agency website. I find it difficult to believe nobody has asked this question. The Home Office has been enrolling foreigners on its biometric identity database for nearly a year now; a significant proportion of those are going to be people who never did get a visa. Is the Home Office removing their data from the database and destroying it? I doubt it.

The upshot of this whole tagging process is that I may, in the end, never get the visa, and a foreign state will end up possessing more of my personal data than my own government, with far less justification. It’s a worst-case scenario, I know, but still: the bastards.

Aug 202009
 

Yes, that is how the universe is divided up these days; or if not the universe, at least the immigration queues at Gatwick South Terminal.

When the Devil and I arrived back in the UK this morning–three hours late because Thomas Cook Airlines make the Titanic seem like a pleasant transport option–from our lovely trip to Cyprus, we were greeted by the sight of two separate corridors at the border. Not just two separate queues, you understand: the Rest of the World now are now directed by a sign (helpfully footnoted with the legend ‘This includes US citizens’, in case we’re too stupid to realise we’re not part of the EU) down a cattle chute of their very own, beneath exposed piping, drop cloths, and alongside bare sheetrock walls, twice the length of the EU corridor, to meet with surly border agents next to another sign that proclaims, reassuringly, ‘Tougher checks mean longer waits’ and ‘We catch 2,100 immigration criminals a year.’

After some further surly misdirection, I was made to join the EU queue anyway, as one of the only three representatives of the Rest of the World in the terminal at that time. And was duly questioned, although fortunately not detained again, probably because I had associate firepower standing next to me.

Quite apart from being pigeon-holed into Sneeches-with-Stars-Upon-Thars and Sneeches-Without-Stars by Angus McFergus McTavish Dundee Border Agent, what also peeved me was being questioned about the Refused Tier 1 Application (see here and here). The Border Agents can see on their little passport-reading computer that I was refused that visa but they can’t, apparently, see why. Evidently, this innocent piece of data makes me out to be quite the shady customer. So even though the refusal was entirely document-related, and due entirely to the Border Agency’s own misinformation, its presence on the database paints me with the brush of Immigration Criminal–they might as well slap a sticker on my forehead that says ‘Undesirable! Treat with suspicion!’ Because that’s exactly how the Border Agency are now treating me.

Somebody ought to relay to them that (a) living in Britain has now become so repulsive to some of its own citizens that they feel no shame in asking me ‘Why in the name of all that is holy and pure do you want to stay here?’ and (b) the United States is not yet such a shithole that its productive class are now fleeing in droves to the sunnier shores of the UK. It’s not as if I’m here to start a new life in a better land where all are free to pursue prosperity and happiness. All I wanted was to carry on enjoying my nice job and my nice home with my nice now-husband, fulfilling all the responsibilities of living in Britain without having access to any of the privileges. I don’t see why that’s so much to ask, or why it means I must not only put up with being shepherded about, marginalised, and interrogated like the sneakiest crim in history, but also be expected to feel safer and grateful for it at the same time.

That said, Cyprus was wonderful, and interestingly enough, provided a tremendous contrast: we went to the American Embassy in Nicosia to have a document notarised by the consul, and from start to finish, I was treated like royalty. Admittedly, royalty that has to be metal-detectored and patted down three times before being allowed into the Inner Sanctum, but royalty nonetheless. Everybody was polite, nay, downright friendly; they ushered me to the front of all the queues, no appointment necessary; the consul himself congratulated me in paternal fashion on the impending nuptials; and the guards were kind enough to arrange transport back to Larnaka for us–all because of my shiny blue American passport. Sometimes being part of the Rest of the World is quite pleasant.

Aug 052009
 

…what all my immigration struggle is for; because having picked up yesterday’s Guardian rather lazily this evening, I appear to have forgotten in the midst of my spluttering, outraged indignation.

The story, on page 4, is headlined ‘Canvass for a political party to win points for a British passport, says immigration minister‘ (the headline on the website is sneakily different) and begins:

New migrants willing to canvass for Labour or another political party could get a British passport within a year under citizenship proposals announced today by the immigration minister, Phil Woolas.

They also face being sent on compulsory “orientation days” where they will be taught British values, social norms and customs – and be charged for the privilege.

What? What? What the fuck is this? Canvass for Labour! Pay under compulsion to learn to be British! This is the country that gave the world Locke, Mill, and its most cogent expressions of liberty. Are these ministers not listening to themselves?

A Home Office consultation paper, Earning the Right to Stay in Britain, proposes a new “points test for citizenship” and confirms that ministers are looking at ways of penalising those who demonstrate “an active disregard for UK values” when they apply for a British passport.

The Home Office refused to specify what might be covered by the phrase “active disregard”. Woolas said migrants would be expected to show their commitment to Britain. He declined to discuss refusing passports to those who protest at army homecoming parades, a policy idea attributed to Home Office sources over the weekend.

Ooh, and migrants can enjoy the pleasure of being penalised for showing ‘active disregard’ for UK values, without ever being told quite what that entails. Except that the juxtaposition of information in this article suggests that ‘active disregard’ for British values might include, oh I dunno, not canvassing for Labour.

Probationary citizens are to be given temporary residence for five years. They can accelerate or delay the process of becoming full citizens depending upon the pace of their integration into British life. The Home Office paper says a central pillar of this approach will be active citizenship. Those who take part in voluntary work such as becoming a school governor, or “contributing to the democratic life of the nation” through trade union activities, or by actively campaigning and canvassing for a political party, could get their citizenship within 12 months rather than the expected average of three years.

Voluntary organisations have protested that such voluntary work could be seen as compulsory in these circumstances. Concerns have also been voiced about the possible abuse of offering a passport in return for political canvassing.

Fucking right, there could be possible abuse. Wait – possible abuse? Surely not – the very purpose of this proposal is its abuse. Nor will it be called ‘abuse’ – because enshrining it in immigration law makes it legal.

Local authorities are to have a greater role in integrating migrants, including verifying the points accumulated by each applicant. They will also offer orientation days on British values and customs on top of the existing citizenship ceremonies.

The Home Office suggests these could be voluntary or compulsory, and that completing a course could contribute to the points total, but the cost will have to be paid by the migrant. A citizenship application this year costs £720, including £80 for a ceremony. The money is non-refundable in the event of refusal. More than 9,000 refusals were made last year, nearly a third owing to failing the “good character test” – mostly because of a criminal record. Only 610 were turned down because of lack of knowledge of English or of life in the UK.

Voluntary or compulsory, hmm? Cost to be paid by the migrant? No shit. I am astonished by my total lack of astonishment. Applications that cost buttloads, but the fee is non-refundable even if the application is refused? I am bowled over, truly I am. Let’s do the math: £720 per application, with at least 9,000 applications refused, equals £6,480,000 free and clear, for the acquisition of which the government did no work, but simply allowed desperate foreigners to donate to the revenue and operation of a country the citizenship of which they were subsequently denied.

Make that £6,480,820, actually, to include the fee from my own refused application.

Woolas said earned citizenship would give the government more control over the numbers of people permitted to settle in Britain permanently, with the bar raised or lowered according to need.

According to need? Is that some silly joke? You have to have wheelbarrows of cash sitting around just to apply for visas or citizenship in Britain, plus an earnings history the requisite size of which defies all sense, plus enough cash stored away to meet the maintenance requirement, plus fuckloads of spare time to devote to citizen orientation courses, compulsory volunteer work, and political canvassing – and they’re going to raise or lower the bar according to need? What need?

Oh, right: the need for more Labour voters.

Kill me now; I’m no longer sure I can stand the idea of living in a world like this.

UPDATE: Wow, nobody else seems to like this development either. Surprise!

Here’s Shazia Mira, commenting in the very same issue of the Guardian:

Scratch the surface even slightly, and what you find is the truth about how this government would like all its citizens – new applicant or not – to behave. Do not complain. Do not question authority. Do not protest. This government is behaving worryingly like an online predator who grooms children. It is grooming a population for unquestioning compliance. Not just migrants – everyone is being groomed.

And a Guardian editorial, again in yesterday’s issue:

“Once you’ve got a British passport you can demonstrate as much as you like. Until then, don’t.” If ever a caricature of a policy sounded designed to provoke a slap-down, then you might have thought this was it. But when a BBC interviewer yesterday described plans to overhaul the citizenship rules with these words, the immigration minister Phil Woolas signalled she had put it in a nutshell. The topsy-turvy idea of immigrants being made to respect supposedly British values, such as free speech, while being excluded from these themselves did not seem to faze Mr Woolas at all.

Of course it didn’t faze him. Guess what I’m going to say next.*

Finally, Chris Huhne, a man I never thought I’d gaze upon with anything approaching approbation, slaps down these proposals. It’s kind of a girly slap, without much power behind it, but it’s a slap nonetheless:

In this case, the good ideas are obscured by the statement from Alan Johnson in the News of the World that points could be docked for bad behaviour. This is understandable if the government is referring to people committing criminal offences, but the notion seems to go further. The home secretary seems to want to be the chief constable of the thought police. In insisting that people demonstrate a commitment to Britain, they are suggesting that people could be barred from citizenship for engaging in “unpatriotic behaviour”. This strikes me as being distinctly un-British.

Britain has a proud history of freedom of expression and of citizen protest. Despite recent government attempts to curtail such freedoms, it is precisely this tradition that attracts many people to this country in the first place. It is paradoxical to suggest that migrants could be prevented from acquiring citizenship for engaging in behaviour that British citizens take for granted. People should not be barred from becoming British citizens merely because they have the temerity to criticise government policy. If that were the case, I would have failed any citizenship test many times over. Even some members of the Labour party would find it hard to pass.

Perhaps the government will set up a House un-British Activities Committee. I’d find that fitting.

The government will find itself facing difficult decisions and inevitably making mistakes in a system that will be both subjective and bureaucratic.

Mistakes? Subjective and bureaucratic? No, no, no, my naive Lib Dem. Guess what I’m going to say next.*

*That’s not a bug, IT’S A FEATURE.

It occurs to me that if the Border Agency discover this blog, I’m fucked…

Jul 032009
 

Even when repeating his own shit ad nauseam, Alan Johnson finds honesty a skill beyond his capabilities:

I know that some of you have real concerns about the government’s motives for introducing the card. When I announced this week that I would make identity cards wholly voluntary it was because I believe that there are real benefits that will make the card an attractive proposition for many people. I think the case for identity cards has been made, but understand that getting a card will be a big decision for some people. Easy or hard, I think it should be a voluntary decision, one that people choose to take, because they agree and welcome the benefits an identity card will provide.

The Guardian is cocking a snook, because the links in that section of Johnson’s piece take the reader to a comment post by Henry Porter that can by no stretch of the imagination be considered supportive of ID cards, the associated database, or a government that misrepresents the purpose of both and cannot tell the difference between ‘wholly voluntary,’ ‘voluntary,’ and ‘compulsory.’

As a matter of fact, Alan, to say that you would make identity cards ‘wholly voluntary’ is a big fat fucking lie, as I pointed out a few days ago:

It will remain compulsory for foreign nationals staying the UK long term to have an ID cards but Britons will only have one now if they request it.

Cheers, y’all. Rejoice in your newfound freedom from this travesty. I’ll just sit quietly over here in the corner, PAYING FOR YOUR FUCKING STATE, and wait my turn to be branded.

In the New Labour lexicon, ‘wholly’ means ‘mostly’ or even ‘partly’ or even – dare I suggest it – ‘not at all’?

The fact that a significant portion of the population of Britain (note I didn’t say ‘the British population’) will be required by law to have identity cards – guess what, peeps, immigrants can’t get a visa without one – means that they are not in any way, shape, or form ‘voluntary.’

I seem to recall, as well, that there were two justifications for issuing non-British people with British-government-mandated identity cards: one was terrorism, now scrapped as a justification apparently, and the other was that, oh, you know, ID cards will help you prove your right to work and live here – don’t you want that? Isn’t that fantastic? No more need for you to produce a passport containing your visa when applying for a job! Just show your ID card! What’s that? Will you still need that passport with the visa in? Oh, of course – we’re not giving up the fucking £820 per person we get from that little scheme! We’re just maximising profit, ’cause now you’ll be paying £820 plus the cost of an ID card, whenever we get around to finally admitting what that amount will be.

Dude, Alan, you’re just trotting out the same old shit as your predecessor, only much less sympathetically because Jacqboot, unlike you, did seem to understand the difference between subject and object pronouns in English.

As a final and rather despairing aside, so far Alan Johnson has not impressed me as Home Secretary. This bodes not at all well for the visa appeal I’m hoping he’ll agree to in the case of my Tier 1 application. Perhaps he’d look on me with a little more favour if I offered to proofread all of his future newspaper columns…?

Jun 302009
 

What the fucking fuck (emphasis mine):

He said the cards will now only be issued to Britons on a voluntary basis meaning no one will ever be forced to have one, effectively paving the way for the scheme to be scrapped altogether.

Mr Johnson even admitted the suggestion the cards would help combat terrorism was exaggerated as he accepted the Government should never have allowed “the perception to go around that they were a panacea for terrorism”.

It will remain compulsory for foreign nationals staying the UK long term to have an ID cards but Britons will only have one now if they request it.

Cheers, y’all. Rejoice in your newfound freedom from this travesty. I’ll just sit quietly over here in the corner, PAYING FOR YOUR FUCKING STATE, and wait my turn to be branded.

Feb 032009
 

Going over some visa paperwork this morning on the UK Border Agency website (the loading of which sucked up my computer’s entire capacity to do anything for four minutes), I found myself slogging through stupid shit and remembered, with considerable fury, this fucking abomination from a couple of months ago.*

Jacqui Smith, Home Secretary and total whore, announced in November that all foreign nationals wishing to live and work in the United Kingdom must acquire an ID card containing, among other things, their fingerprints and facial-scan data. This includes foreign nationals already living and working in the UK, who will need to apply for their ID cards when they seek to renew their visas.

She had this to say about it:

Foreign nationals living, working and studying here legally want to be able to prove that easily. We want to prevent those here illegally from benefiting from the privileges of Britain.

Erm… I do not care about being ‘able to prove’ my legality ‘easily.’ As far as I’m concerned, the reason I apply for (and pay through the nose for) my visa and work permit is to put the onus on the government: it is their job to prove I am here illegally. Unless there is some reasonable cause to believe otherwise, the assumption should be that I am a law-abiding member of the public whose presence in the UK is perfectly legal.

Businesses, other employers and colleges want to be confident that those they are employing or taking onto courses are who they say they are, and have the right to work or study in our country.

I am certain this is true, but the reason businesses, employers and colleges want to be confident of this fact is so that the government does not investigate and/or fine them for paying/admitting ‘illegals’ to work/learn.

Immigration officers and police officers want to be able to easily verify identity and detect abuse. We all want to see our borders more secure and human trafficking, organised immigration crime, illegal working and benefit fraud tackled.

What kind of ‘abuse,’ exactly, would this be? Never mind the fact that most of the humans trafficked into the UK or committing benefit ‘fraud’ are from within the EU. The EU, of course, does not count as ‘foreign’ because one of the purposes of the EU is to ensure the free movement of labour. Can we please, please also acknowledge that, for instance, the 7/7 bombers were ‘”ordinary British citizens“‘, and the common excuse for these ID cards (the safety of the public and prevention of terrorism) is a complete prevarication?

The remark about benefit fraud particularly amazes me. If this government is so stupid, ineffectual, and incompetent that it cannot keep track of who is who and what benefits they should be getting, perhaps the solution is not ID cards but instead (a) to throw out the present government, or (b) dispense with the benefits system.

Along with the new points system starting this week, ID cards for foreign nationals will bring real changes to how we control migration by locking foreign nationals to one identity – using fingerprints and facial images.

Fingerprints and facial images, eh? And this data is going to be oh-so-secure, isn’t it, o Mighty and Wise government who lost the personal and bank details of 25 million (yes, million) people on a carelessly-posted disk, lost 17,000 asylum-seekers’ data, lost the details of 3 million learner drivers on a hard drive left in the USA, and left a wodge of Foreign Office briefings on the seat of a fucking train? Even those shits at the Guardian are unimpressed.

Within three years everyone coming here from outside Europe for more than six months will be given a card showing they have the right to be here and work or study.

I’ve already got a bloody document that shows I have the right to be here and work! Why must I be issued with another one?

The National Identity Scheme will deliver a secure and simple proof of ID for all those legally entitled to live and work in the UK – and the majority of people say they welcome identity cards and the benefits they will bring.

Is this for fucking real? The majority of people what? Where is the survey in which over 50% of people claim to welcome these ID cards? Who are these lunatics? They certainly aren’t the poor foreign nationals who will be forced to carry them around.

Let us also keep in mind the salient fact that foreign nationals, the first people in Britain for whom this identity ‘scheme’ will be mandatory, are in fact the only people living in the bloody country who are not allowed to vote. Coincidence? Je pense que non.

That is why I will be inviting those who want the chance to get one of the first UK identity cards to pre-register their interest.

Yes, let us see how many takers you get on this one.

I am confident the small group of volunteers chosen for these first cards will quickly realise, like I already do, that identity cards are secure, convenient and here to help protect us all.

This final paragraph is particularly galling. A small group of ‘volunteers?’ Presumably these are the lunatics who will be ‘pre-registering their interest.’ And yet the selection of the word ‘chosen’ suggests either (a) these may not necessarily be volunteers, or (b) this is the government’s pathetic attempt to make it sound as if the pool of ‘volunteers’ will be so big that they’ll be stymied by their surfeit of options.

Either way, I am fucking floored by the characterisation of the ID cards as ‘secure, convenient and here to help protect us all.’ How is giving all ten of my fingerprints ‘convenient’? Surely I will have to take myself to a special face-scanning station to get my face scanned; it’s not as if there will be booths for it in Tesco (as there are for passport photos). And there is no question of ID cards being free, surely? Will I have to pay another £90 for it on top of the £800 I already pay for my visa and work permit?

‘Secure,’ hmph. Vide supra.

‘Helping to protect us all’ is another good one. From what – benefit fraud?

The assumptions being made in this ‘article’ are astounding. First, that I as a foreigner am happy to surrender my privacy, and to pay for the privilege of doing so, to protect the British public. Not being able to vote, I have been given no choice in this matter whatsoever. And the British public I’m surrendering my privacy to protect are, if Ms Smith is to be believed, in favour of this scheme, which will save us from the scourge of ‘illegal working and benefit fraud.’

Second, let us not forget that I already possess two documents that prove I am living and working here legally: my visa and my work permit. These documents do not, of course, contain biometric data. They also do not need to be carried on my person at all times. How long will it be, I wonder, before it is announced that ID cards must be carried always and produced upon demand? And of course, the demand will require reasonable cause, but here in the UK, where the police can (or so I’m told) ‘demand’ your DNA when they question you, even if you have done nothing wrong, or lock you up for, what is it now, 28 days? without charge, how ‘reasonable’ is the demand to see my ID card going to have to be?

I object to being scanned, printed, and tagged like a piece of fucking livestock.

*It really ruined my afternoon, all right?