Friday, January 28, 2005

Withdraw or become a federal superstate

According to Ken at EU Realist, in response to a comment I made to his post on the report on the BBC's EU coverage, one of the main eurosceptic complaints about the BBC is that the case for withdrawal is rarely aired. My reply ended up lengthy, but may (at a push) be of interest:

Seriously? Now I can't give you any specifics here, but I've got the impression that most times the BBC holds any kind of EU based debate they generally call in people from the two furthest extremes. Most of the pro-EU lot they get in do no service to that side of the debate, usually painting eurosceptics with the broadest of "little Englander" and "xenophobe" brushes, sounding utterly patronising and making us all look like self-righteous arseholes, and the anti-EU vox pops often seem to be chosen for being hardcore pro-withdrawal voices.

The impression I've got of the majority of eurosceptics is that they largely object to further integration, and think that in certain areas we've already gone too far - not that the basic idea of a European trading and co-operation union is a bad thing. Plus I can - to an extent - see their point.

The withdrawl arguments seem utterly insane to me - other eurosceptic stances hold a lot more water and could, if the withdrawal question could be sidestepped, actually be an area where the pro and anti camps could find common ground.

As I've said many, many times, the majority of pro-EU folk know full well that there are major flaws with the current system (Common Agricultural Policy, Common Fisheries Policy, lack of democratic accountability etc.), and want sweeping reforms of (almost) the entire thing. There are also plenty of pro-EU people (myself included) who aren't convinced that the UK should join the single currency for the forseeable future.

But whenever any EU-based arguments are raised (in the UK at least), they always seem to end up boiled down to the most extreme viewpoints: pro-EU = federalist, anti-EU = withdrawalist etc. It's just not that simple, and is preventing us from having a real and constructive debate. Any government attempts to claim that a "No" vote in the constitutional referendum is a vote to withdraw will simply give fuel to the more extreme eurosceptics, and distort the debate further.

It's not helpful for either side for the debate to be so polarised - after all, even pro-EU people (again, myself included) are fully aware that the proposed constitution is flawed. It's just we also don't buy the claims that it is a final settlement, so reckon that - if everyone who wants reform can finally start acting together - we can make the best of its good points and get rid of the bad. (And yes, I know that we've been trying to do that when it comes to the EU for 30 years, but I reckon we've failed because we haven't presented a coherent and united reformist front - we're too busy bickering among ourselves to tackle the problems head on.)

In short, the argument between the UK pro and anti camps shouldn't be boiled down to the utterly simplistic "withdraw or become a federal superstate" dichotomy, as it has often been. It should be over the extent to which reforms of the UK's existing relationship with the EU are necessary - both camps agree that they are, just not how much. Only a minority on either side would argue for the most extreme options available.

Stupid liberals and their so-called "human rights"

"Hey - whatever it takes to defend our fundamental American values!!"

Histologion has some disturbing links. But the Iraqi election's this weekend, and then it'll all be fine! Nothing to worry about!

Is there anything to be cheerful about? Other than that I'll be in the pub in an hour, that is?

The election, EU, US, BBC, Kilroy, history and Murdoch

Forgot to blog this the other day - a great analysis of seven factors that could change the election by Anthony Wells - essential reading.

Martin Stabe quotes from what sounds like an interesting Financial times article which seems to explain American attitudes to the EU, while Bush buddy and intelligently rabid neocon maniac Richard Perle gives his considered opinions about the European project and warns: "Bush is straightforward, honest and says what he thinks. When he visits Europe in February he’ll say some reconciliatory things but he won’t change the thrust of his policies – policies with which he is completely comfortable."

Also, the full report on the BBC's alleged pro-EU bias is now available online. It unsurprisingly hasn't done much to calm down those who object to their license fees...

Speaking of a waste of license fees (although I suppose they did have the decency to sack him eventually) looks like our old mate, TV's Robert Kilroy-Silk, has put in an application to the Electoral Commission to register the Veritas Party after all.

Elsewhere History teachers aren't too impressed with the Tories' contradictory ideas to make the study of history compulsary.

Oh, and Manic's latest anti-Rupert Murdoch rant is also definitely worth a look.

Sorry, that was a tad bitty, wasn't it?

Thursday, January 27, 2005

BBC = filthy propaganda merchants (again, apparently)

The wording's interesting - "there is a widespread perception that the BBC suffers from certain forms of cultural and unintentional bias".

The report into the BBC's so-called bias will no doubt be much appreciated in some quarters, but all it's actually saying is that some people perceive the corporation to be biased in favour of the EU. As I discovered earlier today, people's perceptions can be severely flawed if they've already got set opinions and agendas.

If you're pro-EU, you'll probably have little to complain about beyond the lack of coverage by the BBC; if you're anti-EU, every mention of what's going on in Brussels that isn't critical can be interpreted as slavish support. If you have no opinion one way or the other, you'll probably not particularly care.

Anyway, Toby's already done a better summing-up job than I can manage. Might return to this at some point though...

Update: EU Realist has a round-up of reactions to the report.

The great EU conspiracy

Now I'll confess to not having read this through, but it strikes me as the rabid ramblings of someone with far, far too much time on their hands. It's all somewhat reminiscent of TimeCube...

By the way, I'm still very angry and scared...

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

It's for your own good, you know...

I'm not sure if I have words to express just how angry, exasperated, disgusted and terrified I am about our lovely Home Secretary Charles Clarke's latest wheeze.

Following the government's official pronouncement that anything they do is fine because WE SHOULD ALL CONSTANTLY BE SHITTING OURSELVES WITH FEAR, and the ongoing arguments that IF YOU'VE GOT NOTHING TO HIDE YOU'LL BE FINE, our dear government have demonstrated that, despite the party dropping Clause Four, they still haven't forgotten all the lessons they learned from when they toed the line of the Soviets' Comintern.

Yep, having been told by the Law Lords that the detention without trial of foreign terror suspects is illegal, Clarke has interpreted their ruling in such a way as to justify the adoption of a truly wonderfully Stalinist policy. Because, hey - what the Law Lords were obviously objecting to most of all was the discrimination, right? So if you end the discrimination it'll all be fine!

Yes, if Clarke's plans go ahead, then ANYONE - including British citizens - whom the government suspects of having links to terrorism can be locked up, just like that. For ever. (Or put under house arrest to ease the strain on the prisons or some other guff to keep the Guardian readers voting the right way...)

I hate giving historical quotes out of context, especially from this man, but here's old Churchill from November 1943:

"The power of the Executive to cast a man into prison without formulating any charge known to the law, and particularly to deny him judgment by his peers for an indefinite period, is in the highest degree odious, and is the foundation of all totalitarian regimes, whether Nazi or Communist... Nothing can be more abhorrent to democracy than to imprison a person or keep him in prison because he is unpopular. This is really the test of civilisation."
And yes, I did leave a bit of that quote out - it is this:
"It is only when extreme danger to the State can be pleaded that this power may be temporarily assumed by the Executive, and even so its working must be interpreted with the utmost vigilance by a Free Parliament. As the danger passes, persons so imprisoned, against whom there is no charge which courts and juries would accept, should be released … Extraordinary powers assumed by the Executive with the consent of Parliament in emergencies should be yielded up when and as the emergency declines."
When exactly will the threat of terrorism decline? After we've finished "liberating" Iraq? After we've "liberated" Iran? Zimbabwe? North Korea? China? Russia? When Churchill said that stuff he was leading the country in a regular war. One that would one day - one way or another - come to a definite end. The war on terror will go on precisely for as long as those who wage and define it want it to. It could be declared over tomorrow; it could last another century. Considering how broad is the definition of terrorist, it could go on for ever.

What threat IS there, in any case? Since September 11th 2001 there has been precisely ONE terrorist attack in Britain - a failed car bomb in Birmingham on 3rd November that year, by the Real IRA. We've had fewer terrorist attacks in the last 40 months than any time in the last thirty years.

Of course, according to Clarke, this is falling into the trap. We're all underestimating THE DAILY THREAT OF IMMINENT DOOM THESE EVIL TERRORISTS POSE. He said as much, in almost those words, in an interview on Channel Four News this evening - including mentioning the possibility of the London Underground being "poisoned", explosions and the like. Because, hey - the government doesn't want to be alarmist, right?

As Clarke also said, we, the public, need to be educated about the INTENSE DANGER WE'RE ALL IN. That way we'll happily sign up for biometric ID, and be phoning the government to shop our suspicious neighbours, relatives and friends for their subversive, terrorist-supporting ways before you can say "oh, we'd better have a few show trials to make it look like we give a shit".

As Clarke also told Channel Four News presenter Jon Snow, it is the media's job to help the government spread "the truth" about the terrorists lurking around every corner, in the wardrobe, under the bed and behind the curtains (gotta love the Murdoch press). If the media carries on questioning the government, people might start to think that our wondrous leadership is doing things wrong. We can't have that now, can we?

Oh... Hey... Would you look at that? There's a General Election coming up! You don't think that - just possibly - the government might want to remind us of all those people who they say want to kill us so we vote for our brilliantly strong leader, dear Mr Blair, and his big, powerful buddy George, do you?

Come, come - as that nice Mr Clarke says, you can trust the government not to abuse its position... Those silly old ideas of "checks and balances" and "the rule of law" are so outmoded and quaint...

And if you say otherwise, you're effectively supporting the terrorists - so off you go and report to the nearest gulag police station so that they can lock you away for ever for the good of society, there's a good chap.

Update: More reactions - to be added to as I find 'em:

  • "there goes the scam folks. they get rid of one fascist law ending detaining terror suspects indefintely without trial and then add new fascist laws to replace them"
  • "fuck that for a joke"
  • "a rigorously legal recognised zone of indistinction between legality and illegality"
  • "If we're forced to surrender our own morals and humanity in the War on Terror - then what the bloody hell are we fighting to save?"
  • "The death-knell of democracy in the UK, as we have known it, was sounded today"
  • "The Home Secretary's proposal flies in the face of natural justice - the presumption of innocence, the right to challenge prosecutorial evidence, the right to fair trial" - Amnesty International
  • "According to normal principles of British criminal justice (built upon the presumption of innocence), 'reasonable suspicion' is the basis for initial arrest for a short number of days up to the charging of a suspect. It is not a foundation for a potential lifetime of incarceration." - Liberty
  • it is an abuse of power to place people under house arrest without evidence of criminal activity... The Government has said that prosecuting suspects is their preferred option. It should be the only option when individuals face losing their liberty." - The Law Society
  • "I don't care if it's in Belmarsh, my own home, or a fucking budgie cage... detention without trial is detention without trial."
  • "Who chooses these suspects? Will their evidence be as reliable as the fabled WMD?"
  • "Between the present Government and Michael Howard the general election is going to come down to who has the shiniest jackboots."
  • "The importance of this power of protective custody was set forth in Das Archiv, 1936"
  • "does anyone care about the safety of ordinary British people? Not Charles Clarke, apparently. He's too busy trying to please the a bunch of left-wing lawyers." - erm...
  • "Why are so few voices raised in defence of the principle of habeas corpus? Isn't it blindingly obvious that if the state has enough evidence against a man to incarcerate him, it must have enough evidence to put him on trial?" - Tory MP Boris Johnson
  • It's "a difficult issue" - 10 Downing Street
  • "I pay great attention to the civil liberties of the country. But..." - Tony Blair
  • "The whole point of having to go through a legal court procedure is precisely so that politicians and faceless petty officials cannot impose ever changing Kafakaesque rules and regulations which cannot be challenged by the defendant."
  • "Many less enthusaistic than [civil liberties groups] about the often spurious ‘human rights’ claimed today might well prefer to risk falling foul of arbitrary detention than risking becoming victim of some Islamist terror bomb." - Civitas' blog
  • "Oh my, the poor, let's-kill-everyone-in-sight terrorist babies, for the plight they are finding themselves in." - ...
  • "At this rate, we'll all become terrorists simply to reassert the fundamental freedoms we thought we had."
  • "David Blunkett’s hatred of judges was not an aberration, but a principle of New Labour. Soon they’ll be calling trials 'bourgeois' and 'reactionary'."
  • The BBC's "Have Your Say" - including the wonderful comment "If we have the slightest doubt about any foreigner they should be deported immediately"

  • Question

    Should the United Kingdom approve the treaty establishing a constitution for the European Union?

    Nosemonkey edit: For those who think this sounds a tad familiar, the wording was originally set at the start of December (although the article linked in that post is now behind a subscription wall). It is now, however, as final as these things get. You'll also notice that it cunningly leaves room for future maneuverings should this particular constitution prove not up to scratch, as it's only "the treaty" which is to be approved, not necessarily the constitution itself, which in any case is referred to only as "a" constitution... Not quite as dodgy as the 1975 referendum, but no doubt the more hardened Eurosceptics among you can find some ammunition here.

    By the way, here's a summary of what changes the constitution will bring, and a quick look by Martin Stabe at a major problem with the referendum which today's bill should be addressing.

    Tuesday, January 25, 2005

    Europe vs. America - again

    There's a top-notch article/review of a few books looking at the relationship between the US and Europe in the latest issue of the New York Review of Books. Interesting stuff. Apologies for the overly excessive quotation (done in case it goes to subscription):

    "It is becoming clear that America and Europe are not way stations on a historical production line, such that Europeans must expect to inherit or replicate the American experience after an appropriate time lag. They are actually quite distinct places, very possibly moving in divergent directions. There are even those—including the authors of two of the books under review—for whom it is not Europe but rather the United States that is trapped in the past."
    There are some interesting statistics on offer to boot (and no, before anyone starts leaping to the wrong conclusions again, this isn't another example of "anti-Americanism"):
    "Americans live shorter lives than West Europeans. Their children are more likely to die in infancy: the US ranks twenty-sixth among industrial nations in infant mortality, with a rate double that of Sweden, higher than Slovenia's, and only just ahead of Lithuania's—and this despite spending 15 percent of US gross domestic product on "health care" (much of it siphoned off in the administrative costs of for-profit private networks). Sweden, by contrast, devotes just 8 percent of its GDP to health. The picture in education is very similar. In the aggregate the United States spends much more on education than the nations of Western Europe; and it has by far the best research universities in the world. Yet a recent study suggests that for every dollar the US spends on education it gets worse results than any other industrial nation. American children consistently underperform their European peers in both literacy and numeracy."
    The article's author, NYU Professor of European Studies Tony Judt, also has perceptive things to say about the EU:
    "The European Union is what it is: the largely unintended product of decades of negotiations by West European politicians seeking to uphold and advance their national and sectoral interests. That's part of its problem: it is a compromise on a continental scale, designed by literally hundreds of committees. Actually this makes the EU more interesting and in some ways more impressive than if it merely incarnated some uncontentious utopian blueprint...

    "Europe is facing real problems. But they are not the ones that American free-market critics recount with such grim glee. Yes, the European Commission periodically makes an ass of itself, aspiring to regulate the size of condoms and the curvature of cucumbers. The much-vaunted Stability Pact to constrain national expenditure and debt has broken down in acrimony, though with no discernible damage to the euro it was designed to protect. And pensions and other social provisions will be seriously underfunded in decades to come unless Europeans have more children, welcome more immigrants, work a few more years before retiring, take somewhat less generous unemployment compensation, and make it easier for businesses to employ young people. But these are not deep structural failings of the European way of life: they are difficult policy choices with political consequences...

    "The European Union is almost too attractive for its own good—in contrast with the United States, which is widely disliked for what it does, the EU appeals just by virtue of what it is. Refugees and illegal immigrants from half of Africa periodically drown in their desperate efforts to cross the Straits of Gibraltar or beach themselves on Italy's southernmost islands —or else they land safely, only to get shipped back. Turkey had been trying for nearly forty years to gain admission to the European club before its application was (reluctantly) taken up last month. Ukraine's best hope for a stable democratic future lies inside Europe—or at least with the prospect of one day getting there, which would greatly strengthen the hand of Viktor Yushchenko and his supporters in the aftermath of their recent victory. And the same of course is true for the remnant states of former Yugoslavia. But while Brussels is all too well aware of the risks entailed in ignoring Africa or leaving Ukraine or Bosnia to fes-ter at its gates—much less casting 70 million Turkish Muslims into the fold of radical Islam—Europe's leaders are deeply troubled at the pros-pect (and the cost) of committing the EU to extending itself to the edges of Asia."
    Judt also provides one of the best summaries of the EU constitution I've yet seen:
    "This document arouses paranoia and anxiety in Washington (and London); but it is actually quite dull and anodyne. Much of it consists of practical prescriptions for decision-making procedures in a cumbersome body of twenty-five-plus separate sovereign states. The constitution also strengthens the role of European courts and extends the EU's cross-border competence in criminal law and policing (a wholly laudable objective for anyone serious about fighting terrorists). But otherwise it just gives substance and application to the EU's claim to "coordinate the economic and employment policies of the member states." It is not a very inspiring document—its leading drafter, Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, is no Thomas Jefferson—but it will do much practical good... Above all, it will enable Europe to continue playing to its international strengths in spite of American obstruction".
    Big, big hat tip to for the link.

    EU 1 - 0 Bill Gates

    Looks like Microsoft has backed down in is attempts to claim that it doesn't hold a monopoly on PC software, which goes against various EU regulations. A Microsoft spokesman has apparently agreed that "Rather than seeking to suspend the Commission's remedies, Microsoft's focus now is on working constructively with the Commission on their full and prompt implementation".

    In other words, Gates' massive company is going to have to release details of the Windows code to competitors to enable them to better produce compatible products, as well as release a pared down version. This will be available "in the coming weeks".

    The basic complaint was that the bundling of MediaPlayer with Windows (a key part of Microsoft's strategy according to this interview with Gates) is buggering up Quicktime and RealPlayer's attempts to compete. Speaking as someone who has to use a Mac at work, it sounds fair enough, as .wmv files seem incapable of playing on my machine. then again, this could just be because I know nothing about technology...

    Either way, monopolies are annoying. Especially when the product is so riddled with problems as much of Microsoft's stuff is. What happened to Acorn, eh? They were always good... But then again, I do love my xbox. Hmmm...

    Meanwhile, to remind everyone what a nice chap he is, Bill gates has announced he is going to donate £400 million for child vaccines in the third world, and has praised Gordon Brown and Tony Blair for their efforts to promote the cause:

    "I have spoken with Tony Blair and Gordon Brown about their commitment and I am very excited about the leadership they are bringing.

    “The Prime Minister has talked about Africa as one of his big priorities and I think it is pretty novel that a world leader of a developed country is giving so much visibility to these issues.

    “The idea that governments could do a pretty dramatic step-up in their health spending is something I am very excited about."
    Bill Gates owns in the region of $29.5 billion of Microsoft shares, so that makes his pledge about 3% of his approximate worth. I could point out that he could probably manage a tad more (I mean, who needs THAT much money?), but that would just be petty...

    By the way, today is my birthday and I want praise. Offers of money to the usual address... Or vote for this blog - it's currently losing out to Ceteris Paribus, Versac and Crooked Timber in the Best Political Weblog category, and to in the Best UK Blog one. Which is probably fair enough - BUT IT'S MY BIRTHDAY, DAMN IT.

    Monday, January 24, 2005

    Votes please!

    Fistful's European blog awards has reached voting stage, and Europhobia's up in two categories - Best Weblog From the United Kingdom and Best Political Weblog. How about bunging some votes in this direction?

    As per usual with these things, it's a fairly tough field - in some categories I genuinely can't decide to whom to give my vote - and the range ensures that there are plenty of blogs worth checking out. Have a shufty.

    How to read a blog

    Columnist and former Nixon speechwriter William Safire has today announced his retirement from the world of political punditry. One of his last columns has some great advice on How to Read a Column which naturally enough applies just as much to bloggers as to the "proper" press. A few which seem relevant to recent online debates:

    Beware the pundit's device of using a quotation from a liberal opposition figure to make a conservative case, and vice versa. Righties love to quote John F. Kennedy on life's unfairness; lefties love to quote Ronald Reagan. Don't fall for gilding by association.

    When infuriated by an outrageous column, do not be suckered into responding with an abusive e-mail. Pundits so targeted thumb through these red-faced electronic missives with delight, saying "Hah! Got to 'em."

    Scorn personal exchanges between columnists. Observers presuming to be participants in debate remove the reader from the reality of controversy; theirs is merely a photo of a painting of a statue, or a towel-throwing contest between fight managers. Insist on columns taking on only the truly powerful, and then only kicking 'em when they're up.

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