Bullyboy 9: Authority Without Borders

"Be Quiet!  I order you to be quiet!" 
- Arthur, King of the Britons, (Monty Python and the Holy Grail).
As I wrap up the "Bullyboys" case for exoneration of African traders, we are left with a simple question of authority.  Jim Puckett told me directly, a few years ago, to "stop referring people to Annex IX of the Basel Convention."  (the section that makes export for recycling, and repair, legal - so long as it isn't dumping).   It was in the form of an order.  Basel Convention was his "turf".   He drew a line and told me not to cross.

"The Magna Carta Action Group."
"The Declaration of Independence Action Network."
"The Bill of Rights Action Center."

There are lots of authoritative names a small, underemployed environmentalist can bestow himself.  Most Americans wouldn't fall for the "Associations" above.  But if you select the name of a Swiss Treaty, and say "international law" enough times, you may even get an informed journalist to report your press release as something from an authority.

Ill defined legal systems produce bullyboys.
King Arthur: I am your king.  Woman: Well I didn't vote for you. King Arthur: You don't vote for kings. Woman: Well how'd you become king then? [Angelic music plays... ] King Arthur: The Lady of the Lake, her arm clad in the purest shimmering samite held aloft Excalibur from the bosom of the water, signifying by divine providence that I, Arthur, was to carry Excalibur. THAT is why I am your king. Dennis: [interrupting] Listen, strange women lyin' in ponds distributin' swords is no basis for a system of government. Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony
The difference between an authority and a bullyboy?  Law. Courts. Constitutions.  Consensus.   And the problem in this whole case is that there is little in the way of an international court system.  Lacking international law, and fed fake numbers by BAN.org, Europeans have reverted into bully justice.

Granted, true international law is more orderly.  I've been to the the Hague, I've been to Strasbourg.  But these are very busy places to get into.  If you are arrested in Britain for a crime you are not even accused of committing where it didn't occur in Nigeria, and think you can find a place on the International Court Docket, go buy a Megabucks lottery ticket, right now.

Laws only "happen" inside borders.  The police or Stewards or regulators who enforce international "law" are enforcing something that is extra-juridicial.   That's why treaties have to be "ratified", to give them status of law inside the borders of a nation with laws and courts and police.   Inside a border, giving "international" law to a policeman, there is otherwise no constitutional basis for appeal.

Your sole appeal is to the bully-boy.

If I sell a copy of  the Dalai Llama's biography to a person in Guangzhou, I may or may not understand that the Chinese government can arrest my customer for buying my used book.    But to say I've violated international law is false.  Just untrue.  China has a law, and China is "international", but it is not a violation of international law to sell a banned book to a person in China.

And Nigeria has a law against dumping, but not a law against reuse and repair.  So Joseph Benson and others did not violate any international law, and people who repeatedly claim they were arrested for that are defaming them, and need to correct it publicly.

The claims of people purporting to represent international law, with the exception of Interpol and the United Nations Security Council (and theirs are pretty weak, actually), can be hysterical.  UN General Assembly?  Chaos.  The humans who attend, raise their hands and vote, are notorious for not having any backing at all from their constituent governments.  And when Jim Puckett circulates a memo in the back room of a subcommittee meeting he called, and issues it as a press release with "Bamako Convention" in the title, he doesn't have attendee names or government names... it's laughable, except even good journalists like Dylan de Thomas at E-Scrap run the story as if some "international law" occurred.  "The Declaration of Independence could not be reached for comment".
Dennis: Oh, but you can't expect to wield supreme executive power just because some watery tart threw a sword at you. 

  • Conventions not ratified by nations with laws are not laws (e.g. Basle Ban Amendment)
  • Notes taken in back rooms at meetings about convention are not laws.
  • National laws in another country are not international laws.

The third case, however, does raise ethical questions.  Is it ethical to sell an orange object to a person in country which has formally banned the color orange?

None Shall Pass.
The "orange laws" have been a subject of debate at R2 Solutions (the group responsible for implementing the 2013 Standard of the "Responsible Recyclers" certification.   

If a nation bans the color orange, for whatever reason, I better not set foot in that nation wearing orange, but have not done anything "immoral" (or even done anything illegal until I step over their border).  When one group of countries bans an activity that is allowed in other nations, it often becomes the subject of treaties and conventions.

When we make "doing something illegal" the equivalent of "moral", we are trodding old ground for ethics, but new ground for environmental ethics.

If the USA represenative to an international convention raises his hand at a meeting and votes that selling orange objects to nations with bans on orange should be illegal, it is still not against the law, but it raises the moral stakes to most orange vendors.  When the USA congress ratifies the convention, and the president signs it, it is sent to EPA to promulgate regulations on orange sales.  EPA can even promulgate regulations on trade of "waste" under past passed acts, like RCRA, as it has done with the CRT Rule.  But I've found there are not many political science majors in e-waste, and groups like Basel Action Network frequently get away with tricking journalists (like Dylan de Thomas) into running stories with words like "convention" or "law" in the title.  When I object, I'm looked at like Dennis questioning the authority of Arthur.  It's Pythonesque.

Conventions are words on paper which different countries may ratify, and in so doing adapt as their own laws, to the extent those nations can enforce as the nations can constitutionally.  When the USA Congress ratifies a Convention, it becomes USA law.   When the USA ships to a country which has ratified the Convention, the law of the country binds the people with terra firma, feet inside that country.  When I sell a CRT monitor for reuse to someone who pays 10 times the price of scrap, who knows how to fix a tuner, and who rejects 3 other monitors of the same brand based on a test they have to predict repairability, I'm not transporting waste at all.  Not under Basle Convention, not under USA Commerce law, not under RCRA, not under Bamako.  Yet if Reed Miller of MIT were to survey 1,000 people in the trade, a majority might recognize violation of Basel Action Network amendment standard international gobbledy-gook.

When R2 chose the "must be legal" path, I had problems with it, but I can see a value in not subjecting a partner overseas to potential arrest under his nation's law.

That's profound, please reread.

Morally and ethically, if I sell an object of the color orange to a person who lives in a nation which bans the color orange, I have subjected a (downstream) business partner to arrest.  But I've also failed to guarantee delivery of the Orange "o-waste" delivered to me, under civil contract, by my (upstream) domestic clients.

For that reason,  Orange sales (0-waste) are banned under R2.    The seller cannot guarantee the supplier a proper downstream.  Under Fair Trade Recycling, we are more concerned with the fate of the buyer who may be arrested for "brokering orange 0-waste".  They are two different legal issues, based on one's concern, for the seller or for the buyer.  Arresting people who've done nothing wrong is shameful.

Gee, that's intense.  So much easier to say the orange color is toxic and is burned by children.

BAN has told the press that the people I write about, Gordon and Hamdy and Joseph, were arrested for dumping.  FALSE.  Nigerians know that the kids at the dumps whose pictures BAN raises money with are burning, for the most part, junk generated by the 6,900,000 households around Lagos who owned - and discard - televisions.  Nigerians met the Interpol and UK people who came to them with the "news" that the Africans were dumping the TVs, investigated it, and found it to be baseless.  They ignored BAN.

 "Bloody peasants."

As well they should.   Because Basel Action Network has no authority, and Interpol has no authority, over the purchase and sale of used computers and televisions which are not being dumped.  BAN has tried to make the case the TVs are being dumped, and have fooled a lot of people.

Dennis: Oh but if I went 'round sayin' I was Emperor, just because some moistened bint lobbed a scimitar at me, they'd put me away. 

Basel Action Network was an obscure offshoot from Jim's former employment at Greenpeace, after most environmental organizations lost interest in the obscure international treaty Jim had been assigned to participate with.  And Jim is still singing by the 1980s playbook.  Jim is to Environmental Politics what Chuck Berry is to pop music.  He's an icon, and he's good at what he does.  Putting innocent Africans livelihood at risk is a byproduct, they are collateral damage in his crusade to pass his 1980s Amendment.

He has a campaign, and Joe Benson was collateral damage.

Knowing someone like Jim Puckett, as I have, for years, having dinner and drinks over a decade of conferences with someone amicably frien-emy, you gather a lot of memories and anecdotes.

"You have a problem with authority", he told me once.   I called him the "Ayatollah of E-Waste" to mock his claim to represent a greater authority.   Is it the Basel Convention, or the Amendment to that Convention (not passed) which  he was citing?   He replied, matter of factly, that the Basel Ban Amendment was imminently going to pass and become international law.  That was 2005.  And I found a document quoting Jim as saying it was imminently going to pass in the 1990s.   And here we are, 2013... No amendment.

A man who thought a bill to amend a Convention was a higher authority than the law...  He might do other things.   He might take a committee document on mobile phones (MPPI) and state that it applies to CRT refurbishing (he did, 2009).  He might circulate a piece of paper at a meeting in Africa, with no names of attendees, and circulate it to the press as a "Bameko Convention Document".

Well, it is a document.  A "Google Document".  It's unsigned,

BAMAKO CONVENTION Conference of the States Parties
First Session
Expert Group Meeting
DRAFT 0 DECISION I/13 – Decision on the Prevention of Hazardous e-Waste and Near 
End-of-Life Importation and Dumping in Africa
It's  undated.  It says "Draft".  It's in Google Docs, it has no names or attendees on it.  And E-Scrap News ran it as a headline stating that Bameko Convention was "urging" something.   I told Dylan de Thomas that "The Bill of Rights could not be reached for comment".

Bullyboy.  Bully. Bullying.  It's a title we give to people who convince other people they have some kind of authority, due to their ability to threaten.

BAN threatens accusation, allegation, insinuation, and slander.  They have scared R2, scared EPA, scared E-Stewards, and even scared the Basel Secretariat.  They have intimidated African environmental officials.

It turns out not to be so funny after all.

The accusations against my Indonesian, Egyptian and Nigerian acquaintances are untrue.   Puckett has responded by selecting my more crude retorts ("Ayatollah of E-Waste), for which I can be labelled an "ad hominem" attacker, and refuse to respond to any of the criticism, of the fake statistic, the Basel Convention Annex IX citation, domestically generated African e-scrap, or the status of semiknockdown and contract manufacturing factories.

Puckett has people convinced he's an authority on electronics exports.  Who put him in charge?  The press.  Solly Granatstein gave him a bully pulpit, which he used to string a rope around the neck of a Nigerian television repairman, Joseph Benson.  As he had done with internet cafe traders in Senegal, hospital IT consultants in Egypt, southern Chinese contract manufacturing takeback factories, and Mexican barrio dwellers.  He takes water samples from textile dye mill rivers, and photos of slumdog scavengers on the outskirts of major cities.  He has people convinced India imports e-Waste, which is ludicrously false.

It's a modern day Environmentalist Jacobin Club, which has instituted a Reign of Terror for tinkerers, internet entrepreneurs, and electronics repairmen without voices, without English, protesting in Cantonese, Mayan, Pidgin or Solo-Jogja (Javanese)... never interviewed.  Never quoted.  But corralled and their goods seized in a Pieter Hugo test of firehosed white guilt.   It has corrupted environmentalism, and Puckett is trying to cover it up with weasel words of "future tensed" e-waste allegations, obscure Bameko coffee table discussions.  It's time to stop being polite to Seattle's Robespierre.

A claim of authority external to a national geographic border is a curious thing, indeed.

The Bill of Rights could not be reached for comment.

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