Friday, October 14, 2005

Don't panic over bird flu, UN says. Fair enough. The article does, however, contain the wonderful information that the UK's chief vetinary officer is called Debby Reynolds. Which considering the name of the anti-Bird Flu drug means I've now got this stuck in my head:
I hear the cottonwoods whisp'rin' above
Tamiflu! Tamiflu! Tamiflu's in love!
The ole hootie owl caught Bird Flu from the dove
Tamiflu! Tamiflu! Tamiflu's in love!
I'm sorry... Friday afternoon and all that...

A Charles Clarke policy "rather alarming"? Surely not... - Once again the courts make a sensible decision in the face of rabid Labour nonsense; once again, the utterly unelected prevent our elected leaders from being dicks.

Thanks to this cheeky bastard I have felt obliged to install "Backlinks" - Blogger's new sub-par alternative to Trackbacks, where clicking on the new little "links to this post" bit below will utilise the power of Google's sub-par Blogsearch to find, erm... Links to this post. Apparently. Bollocks knows if it'll work.

The Bush Administration - saviour of the EU?

It's not often you'll find a Frenchman slagging off EU farm subsidies, but that's precisely what World Trade Organisation Director General (and Peter Mandelson's predecessor as European Commissioner for Trade) Pascal Lamy is doing. Is international pressure to scrap the God-awful Common Agricultural Policy finally going to see some progress in the EU's internal deadlock on reform/abolition of this outdated, unfair and - frankly - stupid system of subsidies and protectionism? We can but hope.

The Bush administration's offer to cut US farm subsidies by 60% was at first met with incredulity - largely because it's precisely the sort of deal which could at one stroke undermine the limited justification for the CAP and allow the global market finally to adjust itself sensibly to changing times - it seemed too good to be true. Now it has been met by Mandelson offering to cut EU subsidies by 70% in return. Something France is not at all happy about, what with being the biggest recipient and having a powerful farming lobby and all - hence accusations the other day that he exceeded his mandate in initial negotiations.

In the unlikely event that France is eventually made to bow to global pressure to cut farm subsidies - and assuming we don't all die from Bird Flu in the meantime - this joint US/WTO pressure could be precisely what is needed to solve many of the EU's current woes.

The CAP sucks up half the EU's budget. Even if the end result of these current negotiations is only a compromise, any reduction in CAP spending would greatly aid the rethinking of the EU budget, still stuck in deadlock despite the high-profile pronouncements from the Blair government in the early stages of the current UK EU presidency, and still desperately in need of a complete overhaul since enlargement to 25 member states last year. To top it all, better economic minds than mine would argue that the reduction in subsidies would open up fairer/more free competition in the global market, bolstering third world economies and various other Good Things.

Of course, the difficulty is - as pretty much always - France. Last night she called for an emergency meeting of EU foreign ministers ahead of next week's WTO talks in Geneva, and has managed to get 12 other member states to support her - most of which could almost certainly be talked around if they thought there was any chance of a sensible reform actually taking place. But with a French veto, that's decidedly unlikely...

Mandelson's response to all this is typically vacuous - "We are rapidly approaching the choke point where the different pieces either fall together or fall apart" - but he may well be right. This US offer will not remain on the table for ever, not least because once Bush ends up in the second half of his second term, he won't be as willing to risk pissing off the midwest farming belt in what is sure to be a hard-fought and close-run 2008 presidential election, and it's highly unlikely that any first term President would try anything as potenially alienating to domestically-obsessed voters. Already the midterms are beginning to loom - another month or two, if not sooner, the offer is likely to be withdrawn.

If the US and EU could drop their farm subsidies then many of their farmers will end up screwed - after all, stopping them from being screwed is precisely what the subsidies are all about. But there surely must come a point when propping up failing industries is no longer viable. Whether that time is now or not is hard to tell - but the current US offer is an opportunity the EU would be stupid to pass up.

At some point CAP spending will simply have to be reduced. Especially since expansion it is unsustainable at its current levels, and unfair in its current workings. The longer it drags on, the more the resentment will build. The CAP is the festering sore at the heart of the EU - the longer it stays the more irritation with it will spread, causing divisions and factional splintering throughout the EU, weakening the union from its core. At some point it will have to be either severely reformed or utterly abolished - that much is certain. So why not take the chance to get the US to drop its subsidies at the same time? The offer may not be there again for years...

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Yaaaaaaaaay! We're all going to die!

Turkish bird flu confirmed as "the highly-pathogenic H5N1 strain that scientists worry could mutate into a human virus and spark a global flu pandemic likely to kill millions".


Here we go again...

I was wondering what the next area for Blair's EU presidency to fail in would be. They've already buggered up sorting out the budget, the constitution aftermath, CAP reform, data retention, very nearly Turkey, and doubtless numerous other less prominent areas of dispute which I've missed thanks to them being discussed behind closed doors or in Brussels corridors.

Next step? EU/US military relations - specifically that ongoing spat over the long-suggested European Defence Force (first proposed by Winston Churchill back in the 40s, and still no closer to becoming a reality).

The US position? What's the point if we've got NATO? (You can kind of see their point...)

The position of a good chunk of our EU brothers and sisters? Erm... We don't seem to agree with US foreign policy much at the moment and rather object to the idea that we could be forced via NATO ties into getting involved in wars with which we don't agree - we want our own little club, thanks. (You can kind of see their point too...)

The UK position? Almost exactly the same as that of the US.

Yep - we're the IDEAL people to be the middle-men on this one, aren't we? We can't speak for the rest of the EU because we don't agree with or understand the positions of a decent section of them - and those that disagree with the British position will likely refuse to be bound by any deals the UK presidency proposes out of suspicion that we're acting as Bush's lapdog rather than honest brokers - whether this is true or not.

On top of that we also can't shake off the ongoing competition between European military manufacturers (a decent percentage of which are British) and those of the US. So the US is going to be suspicious that all our boys are trying to do, nominally on behalf of the EU, is secure NATO contracts for British arms dealers conflict resolution hardware suppliers.

Can't see this one going tits up...

Bird flu confirmed in Romania. Tomorrow the test results on the virus found in Turkey should reveal whether it's the deadly H5N1 strain - with its 50% fatality rate. And still the government has only 900,000 doses of the vaccine.

Go on, everyone - sign the pledge - we haven't had a good old-fashioned mass panic opportunity for - ooooh! at least a couple of months now...

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Blair government in complete policy U-turn following "turns out it wasn't either popular or properly thought through" shocker! - This time those stupid data retention proposals they were trying to push through the EU to avoid having to have a vote in Westminster on the things.

Now, I wonder, will they start pushing for EU-wide biometric ID as an alternative? They've only got a couple of months left with the presidency - are they really going to achieve NOTHING with it?

I do hope so...

Christ, I'm busy...

As such, things put here to remind me to read them later:

"Is there anything left to argue about in economics? Anything interesting, to be more precise, or important?"

"A couple of days spent clicking around the economics blogosphere last week gave me the feeling of walking through a maze of corridors, as in a dream, academic passageways giving way suddenly to corporate swank and back again to think-tank threadbare."

Are Today's Authoritarian Leaders Doomed to be Indicted When They Leave Office? The Russian and Other Post-Soviet Cases

"'peak oil' doom-and-gloom fantasists are talking a load of nonsense"

Carnival of Revolutions

More, possibly, to come, if I can find a spare few minutes.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

France attacks Peter Mandelson for "going beyond the principles of his mandate" in trade talks with the US. Mandelson has a mandate? Mandelson has principles?

Italy: Rupert Murdoch lies out of his arse, and a bit on electoral reform

(I hate migranes by the way - I've been out of action for eight hours today...)

Tax-dodging media mogul Rupert "I really shouldn't say this, but" Murdoch has announced that he won't be taking sides in the Italian elections expected in May next year, at which anyone with any brain desperately wants Silvio "rabid, corrupt maniac" Berlusconi, whom Murdoch met for lunch today, to be booted out on his unpleasant arse.

Murdoch says of his Sky Italia channel that "I believe that in TV one is using a public licence to disseminate the news and it is important that you should remain absolutely fair," while admitting that "If I were publishing a newspaper or magazine [in Italy] I would consider that quite differently".

Murdoch and Berlusconi used to be good mates - but that was before Sky started branching out into the Italian market. As Silvio owns 45% of Italy's free-to-air TV channels and a good chunk of the country's printed media, he was always going to be a rival - but since he became PM he's been pissing about with government subsidies for digital services, undermining Murdoch's satellite base.

Is this enough to make Murdoch swing behind Belusconi's rival for power, former European Commission head Romano Prodi? God knows - he did meet him for a chat yesterday though. But even if Prodi did get Murdoch's backing, Berlusconi's half-Nelson on the country's media ensures that his propaganda machine will still easily dominate.

And then, of course, there's Berlusconi's attempt today to reform Italy's voting system ahead of the elections:

"'This law would reduce the margin of the opposition's likely victory,' said Maurizio Pessato, a political analyst and chief executive officer of Trieste-Italy based SWG Srl polling company. 'It's a return to the past where each party defends its own interests rather than the general interests of the country.'"
Sounds great, eh? The basic plan seems to be to return to a version of the voting system Italy had before 1994 - the one that produced such unstable governments that Italy has had over 50 of the buggers since the war. The benefit to Berlusconi? Well, under that system you voted for a party alone. Romano Prodi - and here's a reason to love the guy - has not only never joined a political party, making it rather hard for him to get elected if the system changes again, but is also leading a coalition made up of lots of little parties which may get wiped out under the proposed changes. Coincidence, eh?

Paul at Make My Vote Count is my bitch, so has more on the dodgy vote changes. Worth keeping an eye on, this - Silvio got so excited about it in the debates today that he twisted his ankle. He knows that without some kind of dodgy dealing even his propaganda advantage won't be able to help him cling on to power - this is not something he's going to be prepared to let slide.

I feel a migrane coming on, so will shortly be unable to see. So in the meantime check out how much just one government department is forking out on consultants via our Justin and the generally top chap that is blogging Grimsby MP Austin Mitchell. I was reading it just as my vision began to go/ It made me cross. As usual.

Update: An alternate perspective, well worth a look.

Bloggers are wankers

Ha ha ha! Thanks to Amazon's "Customers who shopped for this item also shopped for" thingie, I've just had my suspicions confirmed - bloggers are all self-obsessed onanists. On the page for our man Worstall's anthology of British blogging (in which I will apparently be making a couple of appearances), one of the items listed is The Big Book of Masturbation...

Monday, October 10, 2005

Public Service Announcement: Human Rights group Liberty has organised some potentially interesting public meetings this week as parliament returns to discuss Blair's mental anti-terror legislation. On Wednesday at Central Hall, Westminster, 6:30pm they've got an interesting line-up of speakers to discuss the statement "Only united communities will defeat terrorism and protect civil liberties" (which you can sign up to here), while tomorrow from 7pm in the Grand Committee Room at the House of Commons there is a meeting titled "Defend Our Liberties! - No To The Politics Of Fear!" with another load of interesting, if not quite so prominent, speakers. May be worth a look for London-based people.

Defence Secretary John Reid: "Iraq has achieved in 14 months what it has taken this country several centuries to achieve"

Eh? I know this country's gone to shit recently, but I still don't seem to recall car bombs and suicide bombers killing tens of people daily, having to spend months with only intermittent electricity and running water, or having to keep an eye out for foreign troops rumbling around our towns and cities in armoured vehicles, guns at the ready, due to our police force having been inflitrated by terrorist insurgents determined to overthrow democracy and the rule of law. Or maybe I haven't been paying attention and the New Labour project to destroy everything good about Britain has got a lot further than I thought...

.eu domain pre-registration now open, prior to the launch of the new web address wotsit in the new year.

Bad news for Eurosceptics though - someone's already booked - although,, and are all still available.

I'm currently pondering, or, more seriously, or But any of those would involve forking out a tenner to register...

Blair government in "ill thought-out legislation" shocker! Yep - once again a supposedly bold initiative is being dropped because they didn't think it through properly - this time the pub smoking ban. Which for those of us who like a fag with our pints is good news, as we get a bit of a reprieve before the near-inevitable blanket ban on smoking in public places. Although quite why they couldn't leave it to market forces, perhaps offering incentives to pubs along the lines of reduced licensing fees for those which voluntarily ban smoking, I have no idea...

Bird Flu hits Europe, and who's to blame?

Why! It's the Blair government!. Yep, much as with the whole mad cow disease thing - and bovine TB, for that matter - rather than fork out on funding vaccination research and production they've sat on their fat city-based arses and done tit all. So now Turkey and Romania are desperately culling poultry in a bid to stop the bloody thing spreading to the rest of the continent, chicken farmers look set to go bankrupt and - if it turns out to be the H5N1 strain - we could all die slow painful deaths. Hurrah! Thanks Tony!

Update: The Guardian - "authorities across the EU were yesterday preparing for a worst-case scenario: that the H5N1 virus could mutate into one that spreads easily among humans, creating a catastrophic pandemic. The Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 killed between 20 and 40 million people."

Well, except for the British government, that is - nowhere near enough vaccine, and not enough time to churn enough out to protect us all on the off-chance this is the nasty stuff. The English Channel may be a handy barrier that's saved this country from invasion on countless occasions - but unlike our current threat the Spanish Armada couldn't fly.

And so we have to rely on our continental cousins to deal with this crap, as otherwise we could be screwed. Hurrah!

Update 2: Blogcritics has a Bird Flu blogging roundup to help get you up to speed on the latest thing that's going to kill us all.

Update 3: Just to heighten EU/Turkish tensions even more after last week's accession talk nonsense, the European Commission has announced a ban on Turkish bird imports - somewhat neglecting to realise that this thing doesn't just affect domesticated animals and that wildfowl is rarely documented observing international borders.

Elsewhere, The Independent has a review of a book on the whole Avian Flu business, again pointing out that "so far the Department of Health in the UK has taken delivery of just 900,000 doses [of anti Bird Flu drug Tamiflu]. So, if the pandemic arrives this winter and you were thinking of relying on the state to protect you and yours - forget it. It will be every man, woman and child for themselves."

Update 4: Hot off the email - a new Pledgebank wotsit to try and get our dear government to finally get their sodding arses in gear.

Update 5: Scare yourself even more shitless with the Personal Pandemic Preparedness Plan - "Since December 2003, 112 people have been infected with H5N1 and 62 have died. Although it is possible some minor cases of H5N1 infection in humans may have gone undiagnosed and unreported, a mortality rate approaching 50% is frightening in its implications especially considering that the Spanish Flu Pandemic, with only a 2-5% mortality rate, resulted in 50 million deaths globally... When people do begin to take the threat seriously, there is apt to be panic and frenzied buying as worried individuals rush to stores to begin their own stockpile purchases. Avoid panicked crowds and stockpile necessities NOW."

Yaaaaaaaaaaaaay! It is the end times!

Looks like the balance of power in europe has shifted - Angela Merkel to take over the German Chancellorship.

So, the left(ish) anti-war, pro-France leader of Europe's largest economy is replaced with a right-wing, pro-war, pro-Busher who has hinted at trying to break up the old Franco-German axis within the EU - quite possibly by looking to the new member states to the east, what with Merkel's East German origins and recent attempts to befriend Putin and all. This could alter things significantly. Or it could all just collapse as soon as the cobbled-together coalition falls apart and leave Germany impotent and unstable for a while - a tad early to say... especially as under the terms of the deal four of the major ministries - foreign, finance, justice and labour - will remain under the control of the SPD. All very interesting...

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