Saturday, August 25, 2007

Kurdish muslim editorial on Jihadists

Via British blogger Mick Hartley

comes this item from a liberal Muslim commentator.

In Wake of Massacre of Yazidis: Iraqi Kurdish Liberal Hussein Sinjari on Minorities in Iraq and Middle East

"In Kurdistan, and in… Kirkuk, Sinjar, and Khanaqin, the vile terrorists are trying to reserve front-row seats in Paradise, which is becoming more crowded day by day with scum, murderers, and conscienceless, malicious fanatics. This has reached the point where it will be perplexingly [difficult] for the management of Paradise, in this state of affairs, to provide the overwhelming numbers of female angels and boy-servants to these barbaric criminals who are so hungry and thirsty for sex…

"They want to buy a ticket to Paradise with the blood and agony of innocents. What teachings, of what belief system - what verses permit all of this killing, destruction, and hellfire, with all its agony? The obscurantist suicide bombers, who hate life, hope, beauty, love, happiness, construction, and development in this life, hate those 'others' who do not resemble them in their religion, habits, customs, ways of thinking, ways of worship, and in their robes and beards.

Earlier, in a July 4, 2007 article in Al-Ahali, Hussein Sinjari wrote on the fate of minorities in Iraq and in the Middle East in general:

"Religious minorities in the Middle East - Jews, Christians, and Baha'is - played a pioneering role in the blossoming of the sciences, philosophy, music, song, linguistics, lexicography, the press, and in ideological associations and parties… as well as in spreading the call for gender and ethnic equality and democracy, as well as in banking and in the economy - and I could go on. Whether in carpentry, metalwork, education, or medicine, the religious minorities made pioneering, creative contributions in all walks of life in the region.

"Today, the Christians are leaving these countries - their countries - after having lived in them generation after generation, with open minds, open hearts, and open arms. And before them, [it was] the Jews [who] left the Islamic countries.
"Following the Islamic Revolution in Iran, the Jews, Baha'is, and Christians left the country, and those who are left are still trying to get out, because of the discrimination, the racism, and the repression.

"In Turkey, following the Turkish genocide against the Armenians in 1915 and the other massacres and repression of Christians [and] Yazidis, the Assyrian and Chaldean Christians emigrated from their villages in their historic regions, just as the Yazidis emigrated, to the extent that today they no longer have any significant presence in the Turkish Republic.

"The emigration of the religious minorities is an indication of the decline of the culture of tolerance and the rise to prominence of its opposite: religious fanaticism, hatred of the other, and the spread of ideologies of obscurantist extremism.

"Religious or nationalist fanaticism is a grave epidemic that affects individuals as it affects societies. The virus causes the death of its carrier and transmitter and [anyone] who contracts it, whether an individual, a group, or a people (umma). The fanatics who claim a monopoly on the truth, on Allah, and on Paradise, are dead in their hearts, their brains, and in their humanity. Their consciences are dead.

The fanatics spread this most dangerous of epidemics, this fatal virus, in our [Middle] East, just as they spread it all over the world.

"Whose responsibility is it to stop this madness? Al-Azhar? [The seminaries in] Najaf? Qom? The muftis? The school curricula? The political leaders? The Friday preachers and the mullahs?

"Who is responsible for the premeditated suicide of entire peoples and for deciding that they will live outside of history, outside of civilization, and outside of humanity?..."

Friday, August 24, 2007

The asymmetry of Anti Americanism.

James Forsyth in the Spectator records Sarko's advice to Condoleezza Rice:

When Sarkozy met Condoleezza Rice, she said, ‘What can I do for you?’ And he said, bluntly, ‘Improve your image in the world. It’s difficult when the country that is the most powerful, the most successful—that is, of necessity, the leader of our side—is one of the most unpopular countries in the world. It presents overwhelming problems for you and overwhelming problems for your allies. So do everything you can to improve the way you’re perceived—that’s what you can do for me.’

The reigning culture of abuse for the US depends critically on an undeclared democratic discount. America is disproportionately abused because it is a democracy operating under a rule of law whilst its most conspicuous opponents get a free pass from America’s fiercest domestic and European critics precisely because they have no such constraints. The glib excuse that we should hold America in Iraq to a higher standard then the resistance is no more than a tacit admission that America is the only party that can be held to any sort of standard at all.

The notion that an intelligent response to the explicit challenge of ruthless fascisms is to ratchet up the moral barriers for democratic military response and to leave the fascists themselves unmolested by anything other than pro forma censure is the self destructive impulse that underlies anti Americanism and undermines the Western liberal project itself.

Therefore this process isn’t about talking truth to American power so much as us telling ourselves lies about real and existing fascisms. It’s an internal dialogue in which the opposition literally plays no part. Only American actors and actions are the proper object of censure and Americans are to blame not only for their own conduct in the field but for the indiscriminate slaughter practised by their enemies. All casualties in Iraq are American casualties. All 14 (chapter 7) UN resolutions against Saddam are legally void except for the one that wasn’t passed. A 40 nation coalition is American unilateralism. Guantanamo is compared to the gulag, deposing a genocidal dictator (a two time regional invader) and replacing him with a democratically elected government is imperialism. Providing twenty billion in reconstruction aid is exploitation and of course America is the greatest threat to world peace.

The fact that all of these anti American propositions are both false and prejudicial has not prevented their Goebbels like repetition and this is because the attractions of a safe prejudice easily trump the attractions of a dangerous integrity.

The self evident falsity of this delusional thinking will, in time, come to be regarded as one of the great follies of history. A lemming like determination to make the best the enemy of the good will be seen by our successors as emblematic of the lazy prejudice and cowardice of our shallow, self regarding and superficial era.

Condi Rice should have told Sarkozy that if he couldn’t find a political vocabulary that challenges cheap anti Americanism in France then he also lacks a vocabulary to defend the pillars of French democracy itself. Anti Americanism is western moral cannibalism – and if westerners eat themselves only fascists at home and abroad will prosper.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Make Poverty History

Pommygranate has a post on what steps should really be taken to make poverty history.

Read it....

Saturday, August 18, 2007

A new use for old absolutes?

Chris at “mixing memory” has unearthed a study conducted on Princeton undergrads which provides an insight into how much weighting of “objective truth” we assign to our ethical positions. Read it all here

The surveyed respondents established a scale from agreed objective fact (Mars is the smallest planet in our galaxy) through matters of opinion (CNN better for news than fox) and matters of convention (wearing pajamas to lectures) to matters of ethics (discharging a firearm on campus) against which to measure the objective content of their ethical judgements.

It turns out that we are much more likely to believe our ethics to be objectively true if we are Religious then if non Religious.

“In sum, then, there don't appear to be very many (if there are any) ethical beliefs for which everyone believes there is an objective justification. Instead, for some beliefs, a majority of people believe they have an objective justification, but for others, very few believe that to be the case. It would seem, then, that while some people are more objectivist than others, few if any are objectivists about all ethical beliefs. Religion is the most reliable predictor of objectivism, though even it can't turn people into objectivists with regard to all ethical beliefs. Pragmatism and "self-identity" also lead to some level of ethical objectivism.”
Western religious people are therefore more likely to define some (though never all) of their ethical positions as objectively true whilst non Religious people tend towards subjectivism i.e. they see ethics as being more a matter of opinion.

History – mother of ironies, now provides us with a religious group who have no objective basis for their belief retaining a strong bias in favour of the objective truth for their ethics whilst Atheists who have a strong objective basis for their non belief but who nonetheless exhibit a strong bias in favour of subjectivity in their ethics.

At a time when Dawkins, Grayling and Hitchens have renewed the assault on God and the objective falsity of Religious belief this is an interesting confirmation of the second line Religious defense – the risk of a great ethical unmooring.

G.K. Chesterton’s tag “Those who don’t believe in God don’t just believe in nothing they will believe in anything” is the opening line of many of the replies from the western religious to the new militancy of atheists.

Roger Scruton has isolated the human need for the “sacred” which cannot and will not be provided by an exclusively rational construct but which underlies (inter alia) this anchored ethical foundation.

Norman Geras has countered that such a sense of anchored ethics can be generated out of the (a – religious) solidarity of humanism.

If the evolution of aesthetics is any guide to the future evolution of ethics then Scruton may have won the point. God may not have the best arguments but he still has all the best tunes.

British Socialist Humanists of a previous era assembled singing Blakes “Jerusalem” – Christians have never generally felt the need to open proceedings with the “internationale”. The aesthetic achievement of Mozart and Bach’s masses have no discernable equivalent in the humanist movement and nor do the paintings of Michelangelo, El Greco and Caravaggio.

As a prototype for the benefits of dissolving the sacred (and with it the objective criteria of excellence) and replacing them with the secular (and therefore a subjective criteria of excellence) Aesthetics offers little encouragement to the development of a Godless but “anchored” ethics of the type Norman Geras posits.

This doesn’t mean that retaining an objective core to ethical criteria is dependent on the “sacred” but it is suggestive of a strong connection in my opinion.

Of course a final judgement cannot be pronounced on what is after all an unfolding process. The historical interlude in which Humanist ethics have had a significant role to play is tiny when compared to the long stretch in which Christian ethics has dominated. Even in aesthetics it is hardly true that the art of the early church matched the glories of the Rennaissance centuries later.

Perhaps the ceasefire between believers and non believers in the West was based therefore on no absolute victory but rather an unacknowledged contract. In this settlement the Religious tacitly abandoned revelation as the sole and final source of truth. Most conceded not only the truth of scientific discovery they even accepted the absolute human value of its predicates in rationalism and free enquiry as well as in its methods of falsification. Meanwhile non religious humanists were happy to concede the ethical basis of much of the Mosaic law and even to publicly endorse the ethics contained in the Beatitudes.

Thus a constructive “respect” opened a safe historical space for the development of the storm proof anchorage for the godless ethics that Humanists were aspiring to create.

But the matter has become both urgent and divisive once more because of the rise of extraneous obscurantism both religious (Islamic pre modern) and secular (secular post modern). Whatever fond hopes may have been held by liberal humanists for the future of godless, but objective truth, the present is clearly not that time.

The wrath of Jihadist Islamism has no contemporary equivalent in Western Christianity (unless fundamentalist Christians conducting suicide bombings or beheadings in the American mid west are unreported). Osama specifically proclaimed the inevitable victory of his armed assault on the West precisely because the West believes in nothing but life and his followers believe in dying for God. He says that an objective belief in a something will always win in a fight with a subjective belief in a nothing. This view and the violence it has underwritten provides an exhibition of the inhumane lunacy of absolutist religious belief. This has only confirmed the prejudices of the humanists even if it has also horrified most Muslims and Christians.

The response of Grayling, to take but one example, is to kick the domesticated Christian dog for the farting of the feral jihadist wolf. So Grayling is, in the end, only a very timid sort of iconoclast - safely harsh on the Pope and prudently silent on the Ayatollahs. The object lesson of Salman Rushdie, Theo Van Gogh and the Danish cartoonists has been quietly absorbed in both common room and editorial suite. This fear has generated the unwarranted silence and even "respect" inadequately concealed under the newly minted pseudo doctrine of "islamaphobia". Hitchens, Geras and others honourably excepted, this cowardly misdirection of abuse is all too emblematic of the Western humanist response to the Jihadist challenge.

Simultaneously a systemic attack on objective truth has been successfully mounted from within Western academe itself. Cannibalising it’s greatest achievement, sections of Academe have proclaimed Scientific truth to be a myth and (worse) a “power construct” and has supported the claims of the "disciplines" of the "dispossessed other", including the hocus pocus of herbal remedy, which are "re-evaluated" and pronounced to be the full equals of the demonstrated scientific valour of “western” medicine.

Meanwhile the same slippery tropes are used to invalidate liberal and humanist ethics. The beliefs of the jihadist “other” are not only beyond criticism by liberals but they are even placed beyond legitimate academic examination or exposition as these formerly sacred enterprises of knowledge in liberal education are now properly to be seen as an “imperialist plot” to subjugate the “other”.

Ethics are thus rendered entirely subjective and situational (with no objective content whatsoever) and by and large the liberal humanists have proved amazingly defenseless against what, on the face of it, is an absurdly lightweight attack. Liberal Subjectavists are defenseless against post modern relativists. They seem to lack any vocabulary of conviction with which to defend their own liberal achievement. Whilst this generality certainly does not include Norman Geras it is nonetheless true that “right on” liberal humanists, in their tens of thousands resemble cattle gently ruminating their way through this post modern pap on their way to the abbatoir.

Meanwhile Western Religious believers contemplate this partial collapse of the humanist project not with satisfaction at the discomfiting of their old tormentors but with horror and mounting rage. Not for them the equivocations of the humanists, they have a ready made vocabulary and they not only know but can give the name to both evil and heresy when they see them.

So as the premodernists of Jihadist fundamentalism join in alliance with the post modernists of the West the liberal consensus of science and ethics is under strong obscurantist challenge. If we were to make an (inadmissable) extrapolation of Chris's findings above it may be that the majority of the vigorous defenders of the liberal tradition are either religious or from a religious background.

Dawkins and Grayling may think the religious are “small of brain” but they may yet have cause to be grateful for the fact that they are also “strong of arm”.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Respecting Caplan but defending democracy.....

I've seen a few references to Bryan Caplan's book "The Myth Of The Rational Voter" from Chris Dillow and Tim Worstall among others. It has even been hurled against me in the Europe debate on the Economist site. I've now read the pdf supplied by the Cato Institute and here are my amateur thoughts....

Being neither a trained economist nor a trained statistician I can only offer a layman’s challenge to Caplan’s thesis.

Caplan states here that democracy delivers sub optimal policy results but not because the “wisdom of crowds” thesis is untrue.

He accepts that despite a great preponderance of uninformed voters the process of aggregation can provide optimal policy outcomes and that this process of aggregation can be explained and justified statistically.

However he does go on to state and demonstrate that in practice the beneficial mean of aggregate judgment is counterproductively shifted by a strong secondary effect - namely systemic bias.

In other words the process of aggregating the decisions of millions of voters assumes that bias is randomly distributed among them and that the beneficial outcome of the democratic process is that the irrational random biases exhibited by millions of voters effectively cancel one another out so that like the housewives favourite brand of washing powder democracy washes whitest because it cleans all known biases.

However if the bias is systemic (i.e. common to millions of voters) it is not random and it survives this beneficial “washing” process because it can’t be cancelled out and it emerges intact from the aggregate wash at election time to inflict biased and therefore sub optimal outcomes in policy.

Caplan highlights four systemic biases which contaminate democratic effectiveness in this way. He says:

“People do not grasp the "invisible hand" of the market, with its ability to harmonize private greed and the public interest. I call this anti-market bias. They underestimate the benefits of interaction with foreigners. I call this anti-foreign bias. They equate prosperity not with production, but with employment. I call this make-work bias. Finally, they are overly prone to think that economic conditions are bad and getting worse. I call this pessimistic bias.”

His exposition of these biases and their effect on policy is masterful in my opinion. He is particularly strong in his description of the persistent irrationality and inconsistency of these biases.

But he also more or less states that these biases are not only a systemic feature but that they are ineradicable. They are like Edward Said’s magic kingdom of the oriental “other” in that, like Said, he perceives them to be culturally hard wired and immune to either external understanding or correction.

I would humbly suggest therefore that his own exhibited bias is cultural pessimism rather than the economic pessimism he attributes to the “crowd”.

I think that his pessimism is an irrational bias because it takes no account of time. His conclusions and the data set which supports them is a statistical snapshot and a snapshot distorts by suggesting that what it shows is fixed when in reality it is fluid, it misleads precisely because it takes a dynamic and converts it into a constant.

In other words the biases his snapshot identifies may indeed be systemic but that does not mean that they are either permanent or ineradicable. After all history shows an economic progress in democratic societies that simply could not exist if these biases were always operable and everywhere as decisive in their impact as Caplan claims.

Therefore whilst I obviously accept that his identified biases do exist and that they are systemic I don’t think that it necessarily follows that they are always exhibited but that, to the contrary, it is possible that they are only intermittently exhibited.

In addition my optimistic guess would be that over a long timeframe the biases themselves will modify and change and that in a democracy this modification will be in the direction of greater rationality.

In the short term I believe they be overruled entirely. To take one instance - the Thatcher revolution in Britain can be seen as having operated in the teeth of nearly all of the biases Caplan identifies.

The context of pre Thatcher economic failure clearly operated as a powerful suppressant of Caplan’s systemic biases insofar as voters abandoned their default biases and the party that represented them (Labour) because they accepted the emergency was a great one. They were shocked (or terrified) into a temporary rationality. As outgoing Prime Minister James Callaghan noted – something fundamental had shifted in the political landscape and maybe that something was the abolition or at least the suspension of Caplan’s systemic biases. A shift back to the beneficial mean?

So in a shorter timeframe these biases may vary in their effect from decisive to marginal and this variance may owe more to economic context and to the public’s need to concentrate their minds. In other words in comfortable times a tertiary hot house effect could apply which may permit these orchids of irrational bias to flourish as decorative illusions that the “crowd” believes it can afford. The biases will here be decisive in voting outcomes. In times of emergency however, the frost sets in and the hot house effect is gone and more robust considerations are brought to bear which diminishes, suspends or abolishes these biases altogether. Here the biases become marginal to voting outcomes.

Caplan states in his piece that economists now only disagree on the margins. Perhaps the crowd is only “irrational” at the margin (or within as yet not understood tolerances).

Secondly: Tim Worstall (in his Telegraph review) endorses Caplan's proposal "to move decisions from the political realm, where we are irrational, to the market one, where we are rational." But how are markets formed? Particularly markets in second tier demand i.e. luxury markets? Could demand not form around what a snapshot shows to be bias? Could the persistence of these biases not be seen as the pre articulate stage in the formation of a new demand and therefore a new market?

As Lord Salisbury once said of a mid Victorian Indian famine “the market in corn may correct itself in the long run but the Indian peasant starves and dies in the very short run”.

Life and money are both short and a rational long term decision may not only be irrational but also immoral (letting the Indian Peasant die)in the short term. Perhaps an understanding of this immorality provides a clue as to how these biases become systemic.

All of Mr. Caplans identified Biases could fairly be described as Biases of trust. People do not trust the rich to make their money honestly. People do not trust foreigners. People do not trust that “the invisible hand” of the market will provide a better job after they lose their current “make work” job. People do not trust the future.

Whilst in the aggregate this distrust is irrational in the particular it certainly is not. The broad river of market progress is full of such eddies in which altered local conditions apply to those which apply to the river as a whole.

However since those caught (and thereby disadvantaged) by these eddies are relatively few in number their bias against beneficial economic change should not affect the aggregate “wash” at election time. However if millions feel an empathy or solidarity with the plight of the disadvantaged minority then this solidarity acts as a multiplier and it will deliver the systemic bias that Caplan describes.

But might not this solidarity be better seen as a contract payment – the necessary consideration paid in return for the maintenance of the general culture of trust without which markets could not operate at all?

Trust formation in markets is not covered in Caplan’s survey. What makes us trust one another and therefore operate dependently but remotely from others for the same economic object? Without this trust surely the zero sum (lose lose) model of economic relations remains the default option?

Mostly it is experience, our own and that inculcated by family, that enables us to trust others. Trust is therefore learned behaviour and it may be counterintuitive in that our instincts may prompt us to be less trustful then we have in fact learned to become.

Creating solidarity with those outside the family has been the incremental achievement of centuries. So if widespread trust provides a fundamental economic benefit what is its premium? Could the motivation behind these irrational voter biases be a rational attempt to signal the price of trust itself? Could the voter’s systemic bias not be the first steps towards forming and growing a market in trust?

If the outcomes are economically sub optimal it may be because the rational demand for solidarity is expressed in the irrational language of bias by the “crowd”. As a consequence of this bad communication the “crowd” politically rewards supply failure.

The policy outcomes are therefore damaging to the general economic health and often even directly damaging to the interests of those they are intended to help but they still meet the minimum criteria of the solidarity demand i.e. they prevent Lord Salisbury’s Indian peasant from starving to death.

If so might this moral minimum not provide sufficient (though not efficient) incentive for the crowd to persistently renew its badly articulated demand for solidarity?

Might this not be an immature, even embryonic market, in which demand signals are strong but confused and supply solutions are consequently clumsy and expensive?

Perhaps the systemic bias Caplan has identified is only a prelude – baby talk for what will ultimately become a mature market that efficiently prices trust and solidarity into the economic equation?

If we assume that the basic market drivers of economic prosperity are now understood and that, as Caplan states economics is now only controversial at the margin then what value does the current consensus place on this trust? Is this an understood but negligible factor or is it not yet understood and therefore still outside the authoritative statements of the consensus?

Even if, as Caplan says, the economic consensus around markets is final - the knowledge of markets themselves is still far from complete. To paraphrase the satanic Donald Rumsfeld maybe what is an unknown to the consensus is a “known unknown” to the crowd and, with these biases, they are only performing their historical role of developing the signals & information necessary for the consensus to later integrate into formal knowledge.

Certainly it may not be irrational in times of plenty to select sub optimal economic solutions (reducing the profit in the national P&L account) in order to extend or repair this solidarity (rebuild the national balance sheet). In prosperity a strategy of income discount that optimises underlying capital assets may be an optimal economic outcome and it could certainly be described as a rational decision.

Thirdly: Even in the (likely) event that my speculations above can all be adequately addressed by those with greater expertise, I would still argue that in a tiny historical time span democratic societies have in fact developed a form of mass solidarity or trust which is unparalleled in any other system. So even if these voter biases are only an expression of irrational recidivism towards a more primitive economic logic, this is not necessarily surprising given the shortness of the period in which the current economic consensus has been fully established. Caplan’s study may therefore be demonstrating a “lag effect” or a “long tail” rather than (as he suggests) a permanent condition.

Fourthly: In addition Caplan’s new consensus does not enjoy a monopoly hold over either the media or the message that is necessary to transform it from being the consensus of economists into being the consensus of the public at large. After all it is only 20 years since the Marxist challenge was finally and absolutely discredited within the economics faculties of the academy. Meanwhile, down the corridor, in those conservative outposts of the humanities and social studies departments, the Marxist critique is actually still dominant. Caplan’s economic consensus is therefore daily denied in the scripts of plays, documentaries and soap operas written for the mass audience by the products of this unreconstructed Marxism.

Caplan has made a fascinating case but, in my opinion, his indictment of democracy has failed to demonstrate that his identified biases always operate decisively rather than conditionally, or that they might be an embryonic market of the type he calls for, or that they are always and necessarily irrational or that they are a permanent or “hard wired” feature rather than a ‘lag effect” distortion which will diminish over time.

But in the end all of the above may simply reflect my own irrational bias & belief that the building of public trust around the economic consensus is the job of democracy. To use the consensus as a lever to overthrow democracy is just way too counterintuitive for me.

Mind the gaps...

Well this is better – a substantive post by the Economist and not a lazy flick of the wrist dismissal of sceptics as types inhabiting a hysterical freak show. The Economist has at least taken up Richard North’s trenchant challenge.

The Economist states that, in law, the claim of eurosceptics that Britain is going to lose control of its foreign policy is false. The Economist states that the “unanimity lock” means that member states agreement is necessary before an EU foreign policy initiative can commence (point 34 according to Richard North).

Richard North & Helen Szamuely at EU referendum do not contradict this – they merely point to the new foundational principles which the treaty does embody and they suggest that these can be used to alter this legal status in the future. They also point out that the treaty permits the EU to "borrow" the British and French permanent seats at the UN and that whilst this does not mean (as some sceptics have claimed) the abolition of the French and British security council seats it does oblige them to stay silent and defer to the high representative on matters of agreed EU policy.

The EU foreign policy then is to be a “foreign policy of the gaps”. A “no objections” mandate is granted to develop foreign policy where the member states prior, unanimous and specific agreement is obtained. In this innocuous form and with fond wishes from family and friends a baby is born unto the world and his name will be High Representative.

We are hastily reassured that he will only ever be the high representative of low tasks – tidying up foreign policy lacunae, presenting a united EU front at harmless international boondoggles such as the conference of the regions etc. He will be just another pointless speechmaker in that home of pointless speechmaking – the UN.

But he is proud successor to a race of giants - Presidents of the European Commission, EU trade Commissioner, President of the European central Bank, President of the European Court of Justice and others whose modest beginnings have not prevented them from becoming mightier than their now anaemic nation state progenitors. He is a prince of the same incremental kingdom that gave us the “trade policy of the gaps”, “judicial review of the gaps”, the “currency oversight of the gaps” and so on, and on….and on.

In practise the gaps are quickly filled and the principles of “harmonisation” start to be urged. The helplessness of the puny nation state in a new world of hostile giants is the preferred rhetoric of dread. To this background orchestration of fear and loathing the clear note of a trumpet is sounded – salvation! The great ring of power can be forged by the high representative if the nation stations melt their puny rings of power in the sacred and cleansing flames of the European “pool”.

Here is where the currently anodyne words of article 9 cease to be aspirational and become the very bread and butter of practical power politics. They provide a legal basis to undermine, subvert and finally overthrow point 34 and with it the independence (inter alia) of British foreign policy.

And under the “ratchet clause” the Constitution (sorry treaty) provides the means to accomplish this without any of those troublesome summits with their “red lines” and vulgar brinksmanship. Now it can all be wrapped up elegantly and quietly by the “colleagues” behind closed doors - just business as usual – nothing to see here.

The Economist can claim that mine is only a forecast – and a pessimistic one at that. But it cannot do so with the sanction of history. It cannot deny that the EU “has form”. The words “ever closer Union” were an aspiration when they were written. Today they are a real and existing fact.

The Economist tells us that the gap between the “legalese” of the treaty and the “real politik” of nation state dominated power politics means that the treaty’s words are irrelevant. However the history of the European Union teaches us that these gaps between the de jure claims of the “project” and their de facto realisation are quickly closed and always in favour of the EU centre at the expense of the Nation State periphery.

I am also reminded of a tragic and romantic episode in the history of Ireland’s absorption into the Kingdom of England. Henry VIII persuaded the powerful chiefs of Ireland to acknowledge his suzerainty over them and granted them the anglicized rank of “earls”. At the time this was presented to the Irish chiefs as a harmless diplomatic formality as their power was greater in Ireland than his. But as Henry’s daughter, Elizabeth I, proceeded to make flesh his words against these overmighty subjects, one by one, she effectively relied on their “loyalty” oath (and heavy bribery) to keep them disunited. The end of Gaelic glory came when the last victims (O’Donnel & O’Niell) were forced to flee Ireland in the “flight of the Earls”. As they departed they may have ruefully reflected on their ancestor’s folly in accepting unenforceable legal claims of power instead of countering Henry’s de jure claim of authority with their united de facto power from the very outset.

The critics must fix the Treaty

Observer Editorial “The Tories have not said how they would change the treaty to make it acceptable. And if they think no treaty would be acceptable, they might as well be lobbying to quit the EU completely.”

This is the sort of cretinous circularity that routinely disfigures Europhile arguments. Unless you want more Europe you have to get out. Was the Observer demanding that France be expelled after the Non? – No it was not.

The critics of the treaty have no obligation to improve it. It is as valid for the British to say no as it was for the French & Dutch. It is also valid for them to state that no to “more Europe” really does means no and is not a flirts signal that can be cynically recast to mean “we really want more Europe please try again”. This rapists charter does greater harm to the image of the EU then any “myth” generated by the Sun could achieve.

The public in Europe are fed up of the EU claque pushing these dishonest options. It is a self destructive tactic since if they continue with it they will build a bigger “better off out” constituency then they will ever be able to handle.

They have come to bury Democracy – not to praise it….

According to the Commission in 2005 the EU adopted 1,691 regulations, directives and decisions. According to the Office of Public Service information, in 2005 Britain enacted 3,326 statutory instruments (secondary legislation via which all EU legislation is adopted) and according to Wikipedia just 23 acts of primary legislation were passed (those quaint acts of Parliament that we used to be governed by).

As a matter of straight arithmetic therefore the EU is responsible for fully 50% of the total enacted law of the UK in 2005. This flatters the domestic contribution since a great proportion of domestic statutory instruments deal with the alteration of the status of individual schools hospitals etc. and is therefore not law binding on the land as are all EU directives.

Since 1965 fully 22,000 individual acts of enforceable law have been promulgated by the the EU and passed into British law via secondary legislation. In that time the British Parliament has passed just 2355 Acts of Parliament. In other words British primary legislation (the kind that's debated and modified by our elected representatives) comprises an average of 10% of the law passed in Europe over a forty year period. In 2005 the figure was 1%.

Observer leader on the Referendum (I)....

Observer Editorial:
Any agreement on co-operation between governments - membership of Nato or the World Trade Organisation, for example - requires some compromise on national autonomy. The new EU treaty is no different,

This is a completely false statement.

The differences between the treaties for WTO, NATO etc. and the treaties and institutions of the EU are not differences of degree but differences in kind.

Within an exponentially growing number of areas the EU institutions are a superior policy and law making body to the UK (German, French etc.) government and legislature. According to the German Ministry of Justice 80% of all German law originates in Europe.

In (again an exponentially growing number of areas) the EU court is a superior judicial body to the British (German, French etc.) courts. The definition of whether an area is within its competence is exclusively a matter for the European court to decide.

For members of the Euro the European Bank has supreme authority over interest rates and the Ecofin and commission have superior authority over elected finance ministers over spending and borrowing levels.

There is simply no comparison between these sweeping and expanding powers and the intergovernmental arrangements or treaties such as NATO or the WTO.
Our laws are not made by the IMF or NATO.

We do have free trade and arbitration obligations imposed by the WTO but these are not currently highly controversial and could be repudiated (without even an Act of Parliament) by any government so minded. Any judgement of the WTO arbiters is binding in honour on the government but it is not enforceable against the government or individual companies (or citizens) under British law. British courts do not have to accommodate regulations or judgements of the WTO into British law – it is entirely an intergovernmental matter.

Kyoto obliges us to deliver targets for greenhouse gas reductions. This has economic and regulatory implications but these are entirely for us to construct and deliver. No international agency other than the EU presumes to pass whole bodies of law direct, unchanged and undebated into British law. No other international agency can promulgate law that binds the British government, the British courts and British citizens.

Referenda not a cop out...

The government’s Constitutional powers are not government property but the property of the whole nation. If the government wishes to change the rules under which we are governed then it is obliged to obtain our permission first. Governments are leaseholders exercising functions delegated to it by us (the freeholders) on a limited term contract. They cannot sell our property simply because they are not the owner.

This basic principle was publicly acknowledged over the devolution issue and the government duly applied for permission. They promised to do the same on the European treaty.

Their doomed argument now is that no new powers have been transferred – an impossible claim that will bring them very great trouble indeed if they persist with it.

The belief that controversy is something that must be removed from direct public judgment is not one I share. This “not in front of the children” attitude to the public infests both the explicit and implicit argumentation of most Europhiles. Representative democracy is strengthened not weakened when the public are directly consulted on controversial matters. Certainly calling referendums is not an act of political cowardice.

More to and fro on the treaty.....

An exchange with d-jones on the Economist thread

D jones: “In the meantime, we should appreciate the (charter of) rights that we have protected for ourselves by creating an EU that we can be citizens of..”

With respect if we wanted a “charter of rights” then we are perfectly capable and have all the means at hand to enact one. A European tier is wholly redundant in this regard.

d- jones”..and seek to improve its democratic accountability further - making the council more transparent, increasing the powers of the parliament and working to develop a European polity.”

This is the problem – The entrance price for the EU compels us to trade our existing rights as voters to whom our rulers are accountable in order to obtain the privileged position of becoming petitioners to our new rulers in Brussels. “Please reform yourselves” we may plead - but like residents of the Hotel California we can never demand.

I am not interested in a fool’s mission of trying to make a European polity work. It is not anti democratic by accident - it is anti democratic by design and that is the way it will stay because anti democratic is exactly the way our rulers want it.
D-jones –“The advantages of regional collaboration are too great to throw away due to a lack of ambition.”

The notion that there cannot be (and has not been) regional collaboration without the EU is one of the most ridiculous fallacies of this debate. The EU may claim “collaboration” as a fully owned proprietary brand of Brussels inc. but this no reason to take its ludicrous monopoly claims seriously. Extra EU collaboration exists in the European space agency, the European Court of human rights, Nato etc. etc.

The “colleagues” in Brussels deeply resent these autonomous agencies of course – hence their attempt to claim the jurisdiction of the European Convention via this pointless charter. Or to absorb the most cost effective Space programme in the world into that wasteland of unaudited and failed programmes that it already runs. As for NATO the progenitors of the “praline alliance” are very anxious indeed to supplant that and even get their sticky hands on French and British defense capacity just as they got control over the Deutsche Mark via the Euro.

The EU does is not about “collaboration” it is about “compulsion”. You do not need a central power to ensure voluntary collaboration – because it is voluntary it will occur continuously and spontaneously. But you do need a central power if you are to compel states into ‘Collaboration” that they would not otherwise choose for themselves. The EU is all about removing such inconvenient choices. “conformity” and “compliance” are the watchwords of EU collaboration.

If your “ambition” is only to be told what to do and who you can do it with - then the EU is definitely for you.

Anti democratic argumentation for "Europe"

Recent Encounters at the Economist with commenter Stone Monk.

Stone Monk: “Secondly, regarding the referendum, I really don't see the need for football-watching-Sun-readers to express their "balanced and informed" opinions and turn everything in another example of how wrong Churchill was about democracy.”

Well I take the old fashioned (and no doubt Churchillian) view that if Sun reader’s taxes count then so does their vote. If they are to be disenfranchised surely they should also be exempt from tax? Or is taxation without representation the cry for a brave new European order?

One of wonders of our time has been the enthusiasm and effectiveness of the “Europe project” to treat both sovereignty and democracy as obstacles to building a better Europe. Instead of the messy conflicts and policy shifts of National democracies they offer the panacea of permanent rather than transitory government, consistent rather than changeable policy, with power exercised by an oligarchy of experts rather than by a bunch of unqualified crowd pleasers.

Nor does comprehensive failure seem to dent this faith in government by “experts”. European fisheries policy has converted the abundance of our Northern waters into a vast marine desert. The Common agriculture policy, in a postmodern inversion of the Robin Hood ethos, has robbed both the African poor and the EU taxpayer alike for the benefit of a tiny landed class of parasites.

Of course the beautiful part of being of being an oligarchy with no elections to win is that failures such as these don’t have be either acknowledged or fixed – which is also why these massively destructive policies are still with us.

Democracy, as Churchill would point out, is only superficially chaotic – as an open system it responds to failure and changes policy. When measured by outcomes democracy will always beat an oligarchy precisely because the oligarchy has no feedback loop with which to improve its policies.

Instead of this Churchillian wisdom we are told by EU defenders that if people properly understood their own interests they too would embrace the need for oligarchy. The public’s persistent refusal to accept this truth is clearly a product of their ignorance and a testament to their wilful stupidity.

Nonetheless the continuing affection of the European public for both country and democratic liberty has meant that the European project has had to proceed cautiously by paying lip service to the vulgar competition for power in the open democratic marketplace whilst furtively detaching the hand of the democratic “circus” from its historic grip on the levers of power.

In this enterprise they have been astonishingly successful – elections will still come and go and they will still be full of sound and fury. Politicians will still strut their hour upon the stage but it will all signify nothing because decision making is no longer subject to the outcome of these arcane public festivals. Behind closed doors the important decisions will already have been made, the key policies will already have been decided and the government in power will never change.

Of course the Euro elite would argue that their success is not really astonishing because it simply confirms the truth of their belief that the people really are too stupid to understand what’s going on.

Maybe they’re right?

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Mea Culpa - Not bloody likely!

On demands on CiF that those who supported the war apologise….

Lets be clear here – all those demanding recantation from liberal interventionists were and are happy to provide alibis for fascist and theocrat mass murderers in Iraq. It’s a free world that they are lucky to live in but they might at least have the decency to be less pleased with themselves.

To which comes the reply: “I guess secular mass murder gets a pass in your moral universe, does it?”

No, as indicated (and unlike Neil Clark) I am appalled at Stalin’s, Milosevic’s and Saddam’s torture chambers and mass graves too. All of these are a standing rebuke to the lazy and complacent guilt exhibitionists in the west who think that their attention seeking mea culpa’s give them a moral edge when all it demonstrates is their moral bankruptcy.

I am then told that “Criticizing yourself for picking a fight you've lost isn't the same thing as exculpating your opponent. "

Well it does excuse the enemy if like the other denizens of creepy hollow you think there is some magic formula which converts all Iraqi excess deaths into the victims of evil America instead of the victims of those who actually do target and kill them.

It does excuse the enemy if you make the claim, routinely retched up from the SWP vomitorium onto CiF, that the motive of those who blew up 19 Iraqi children this week are the same as the French resistance rather than the SS.

It does excuse the enemy if you make the "right on" but racist assumption that the insurgents can be infantilised by our vogue for pity and guilt out of a moral identity of their own.

Exempted from having evil motives and excused moral responsibility for their own crimes because as mere objects of pity in our narrative they are only provided with the motives that we select i.e. "blowback" against the "root cause" (singular) of American evil and not credited with the motives they themselves proclaim Jihad, Caliphate, restoration of Baathist dictatorship and/or genocidal ethnic supremacy as the case may be.

The actual motives and the actual actions of the insurgents are also not "culturally legitimate" even in that land of lesser breeds called "the other" that we are continuously commanded to "respect" because we are culturally forbidden from understanding it.

The “other guys” aren't in a silent movie they have voices of their own – listen to them and see if making respectful excuses for them whilst demonising "Bushitler" is really the only acceptable response.

We can only lose in Iraq if we decide to. That decision may have already been made but history won't end there, with vindication for the righteous westerners who opposed the war. They are the only one’s who think that this is all about them and their low rent exhibitionist “morality”. In the real world it’s also about the other guy and, after such an easy triumph in Iraq, our enemies will deliver their own distinctive reward in carnage and chaos to their silly, dilettante allies in the West. They certainly don’t look like the types to stay at home and take up social work.

Sarkozy wants the reins of economic power

Sarkozy has tried to make eurozone economic policy more reform friendly – i.e. extend deficits beyond stability pact limits and reduce euro interest rates. He has succeeded in the first objective but not (yet) succeeded with the second.

The ECB is bound by its incorporating treaty to target inflation only. This means that it has no remit to adjust rates to reduce unemployment or stimulate growth. The US fed has a looser remit and it has explicitly included growth and unemployment as part of its rational for setting interest rates. The low dollar policy is designed to be growth friendly.

Sarkozy has pointed to the essential benefits of a looser monetary policy to absorb the painful impact of substantial structural reforms i.e. extending the working week, reducing employment protections etc. This pressure valve is now seen by many as being fundamental to the growth actually achieved from the structural reforms in Britain.

A tight monetary policy at a time of comprehensive labour market reform resulted in the record unemployment of the late Callaghan and early Thatcher era in Britain. Conversely the liberation of the pound from the ERM, and the subsequent cut in interest rates was the trigger for the longest sustained growth cycle in British history.

Sarkozy understandably wants to skip the pain of early Thatcherism by loosening both the monetary and fiscal corset imposed by the EMU. Nor is this uniquely a problem for right of centre reformers. Oskar Lafontain found (to his great cost) that a socialist policy also required a looser monetary framework and that this was impossible to achieve under EMU. "Political control" of monetary policy was deemed to be anathema to the founders of EMU.

The electorates of Europe can vote for any policy they like as long as it is ECB policy. European electorates cannot however change ECB policy - it is set in stone by treaty and designed to be independent of electoral interference.

So the elephant in the room neither mentioned by Sarkozy or others is that the Eurozone is not merely a sub optimal currency area but without a Euro fiscal policy (Euro taxes and borrowing) the eurozone is not even a viable currency area in the long term. Hans Tietermayer said of EMU that absent a European central tax and borrowing capability the single currency was "a house without a roof".

The stability pact was tacked on to cover this gap so that countries could not recklessly import inflation to the whole Eurozone by increasing their domestic deficit in the knowledge that the inflationary consequences would be everyone’s problem and not just theirs. This pact has been serially violated by the bigger Eurozone economies notably Germany, France, Italy and the Netherlands. As Sarkozy has again demonstrated it no longer even serves as anything more than an aspiration.

As Sarko points out these annual borrowing targets are not realistic at national level but they are still essential for the survival of the Euro. To repeat - the Euro cannot bridge the asymmetric impact of 18 untethered fiscal policies. The pact no longer has teeth and has swiftly loosened its targets so that chronic instability threatens the Euro itself as Eurozone economies diverge. This is no laughing matter.

So an ostensibly left of centre government in Germany under Schroeder had to fire Lafontain and implement labour law reforms and cut taxes in order to boost German growth. An ostensibly right of centre government in France will be unable to enact labour reforms because the dead weight of ECB policy will rob those reforms of effectiveness and make them politically impossible.

Sarkozy will now have no option but to cut taxes and to follow Germany in "the race to the bottom" via "fiscal dumping" which we are always being told by our European masters is such a "bad thing". This will further blow out the French deficit and increase the breach of the now pointless stability pact.
As inflation is fed into the system by reckless debt on the part of large economies Euro interest rates will rise and likely so will the exchange rate thus prompting a further spate of fiscal irresponsibility as the one legged man of Eurozone economic policy is trapped in ever tightening circles.

So glad we're still out....

Conor Foley stamps on Clark

Neil Clark in his piece on denying Asylum to the Iraqi translator “Quislings” used by British troops in Iraq wasn’t justifying attacks against Brit troops he was justifying the murder of Iraqi non combatants. No matter what “stance” you take - that is incitement to a crime in international law……

From Conor Foley on the “Quislings” thread:

Since Clark rests part of his incitement to murder on international law (and clearly the terms in which he has described these civilian staff as 'legitimate targets' does constitute such an incitment), it is worth explaining one point here.

There is an overwelming consensus that the invasion of Iraq was illegal. However, the notion that people 'collaborating with the occupation' are war criminals is rubbish. On the contrary, the statute of the International Criminal Court, which is largely based on the Geneva Conventions, specifically states that what Clark is advocating is a war crime. You can find the link here:

It is worth reading Article 8 on war crimes. Amongst the crimes that it lists are:
'Intentionally directing attacks against the civilian population as such or against individual civilians not taking direct part in hostilities'.

The second half of that sentence was specifically written to protect those whom Clark calls 'collaborators'. He goes on to argue against a basic principle of human rights law (enshrined in the UN Convention against Torture, the Refugee Convention and the European Convention on Human Rights) that people fleeing persecution should be denied sanctuary in Britain, so we can assume that his commitment to international law is fairly selective.

What is more interesting is whether or not this article, through its clear incitment to people to commit war crimes (his repeated refusal to distinguish between military combatants and civilians), would actually make Clark himself liable to criminal prosecution. The Rwanda radio case springs to mind and war crimes have universal jurisdiction. I think that the police and attorney general might want to have a word here.

British sceptics "hysterical"

From the Economist again:
Feeding British voters unserious nonsense about coups d'état only serves to whip people up into a hysteria—and that makes other Europeans look at British voters and call them hysterical. It is hard to see how that is in Britain's national interests.
Well I suppose "Hysteria" is an improvement on "swivel eyed" which epithet this correspondent recently used about British Eurosceptics.

It is notably British euroscepticism that is always highlighted in this pejorative way but this is surely perverse given the results of the French and Dutch referenda. Not to mention the fact that according to Open Europe 75% of the total EU population (83% in Britain) also want a referendum on the reform treaty. The British public are certainly still the most sceptical but the Germans are fast coming up on the inside post. Not only would a 52% majority of Germans vote against this treaty but 54% would also vote to repeal the Maastricht treaty, abolish the Euro and restore the Deutsche Mark. All of this demonstrates yet again that British eurosceptics, whilst well ahead of the curve, are hardly the isolated "awkward squad" of legend.

Let us take another instance - was Roman Herzog the former President of Germany being "hysterical" when he stated in Welt Am Sonntag on 14 January 2007 that:
"By far the largest part of the current laws in Germany are agreed by the Council of Ministers and not the German parliament ... Therefore the question has to be asked whether Germany can still unreservedly call itself a parliamentary democracy."

He was referring to the pre treaty dominance of European legislation in Germany (80% of all German legislation originates in Europe according to the German Ministry of Justice). He didn’t use the expression “coup d’etat” but his sentiments hardly contradict the general thesis of British critics in the Telegraph or elsewhere.

This is all relevant in considering the charge made by the Europe correspondent above that parts of the British press are being "hysterical" when they are not only reflecting the concerns of their own readership but also the majority of not only British but European public opinion as well.

In fact the boot is entirely on the other foot. The Economist’s Europe correspondent should be questioning why the media in the Netherlands and France turned out to be so massively unrepresentative of Dutch & French public opinion? He or she should be demanding to know why there are not more papers like the Telegraph in Europe since there is clearly a large, growing and underrepresented demand in Europe for eurosceptic views.

Triumph of the "Tankies"

Well it’s been tankies* week with a vengeance at the old Grauniad.

*tankies is the slang referring to members of the Socialist Workers Party.

Next week s exclusive : David Duke and the KKK give us their views on Iraq (identical with the tankies actually – funny that!)

First we had Neil Clark who has set aside his usual brief as an equal opportunity genocide denier – and used this high moral platform to instruct us that leftists who supported the war should be indicted for thought crimes (aah Stalin dontcha just miss the big guy Neil).

Then we had Seumus Milne telling us that every dead American was a good American because otherwise the war will not be won by the “resistance”. Not so much stop the war then – more a plea for the victory of the Caliphate/ Baathist rape room operatives/ Shia end of timers – or of anybody else who’ll just kill lots and lots of Americans (& Brits).

Back came Neil with this charmer – Iraqi translators are quislings who deserve to die at the hands of the mosque bombing, market bombing, children butchering “resistance”. Very classy that one - it even had some of the “hard core” gagging up their breakfast and had to have comments stopped after only three hours. Truly Neil is the one man Reeperbahn of political pornography.

Now the “nice” tankie Andrew Murray comes among us to shed some obligatory tears over British casualties and tells us that resistance to the resistance is futile.

But who can deny this freak show their moment of glory – after all they conned the entire praline left into supporting their campaigns. They founded and ran the “stop the war” movement. They founded the respect party as a coalition of unreconstructed soviet nostalgics and unreconstructed religious absolutists. The “religion is the opium of the people” crowd marching arm in arm with the “God is great” brigade would still be funny if it weren’t for the fact that it was this reactionary coalition of genocide deniers who formed the command structure of the Stop the War coalition. They provided the parameters of the anti war argument and they were its spokespeople. For progressives this was farce replayed as tragedy.

They set the terms of the discourse that every useful idiot from Maddy Bunting to the Archbishop of Canterbury has faithfully parroted. The broad complacent hinterlands of the left have lazily volunteered to be the “useful idiots” of two of the most anti progressive forces in British politics.

The complacent left have happily repeated as both argument and slogan doctrines which completely cannibalise the whole progressive project.

A global apartheid of rights is now proclaimed under the grotesquely inappropriate rubric of “respect” so that now feminism and gay rights are only to be defended in the west (and even there not amongst citizens of non western origin). They are to be abandoned elsewhere as “culturally incompatable” & “western artifacts”. The preposterous claims made by a gaggle of reactionary, bearded patriarchs to a monopoly of cultural authority in these lands of the “other” are also completely unchallenged by progressives.

As for the war the surreal swiftly succumbed to the downright sick as mainstream feminists declared Saddam’s Iraq to have been a middle eastern haven for women’s rights thereby awarding the author of “rape rooms” an accolade which ( to even that megalomaniac) must have been somewhat unexpected.

Environmentalists legitimately denounced Bush over Kyoto but found no room to denounce the Saddam’s destruction of the Iraqi marshes or his ignition of the Kuwaiti oilfields.

As for Human rights NGO brigade Abu Ghraib was only spoken of as the site of American abuses not the industrial scale torture and death centre that it was for decades under Saddam. It is also self evident to many right thinking progressives that Guantanamo is directly comparable to Stalins gulag.

For realists Saddam was the guarantor of Iraqi unity so recklessly destroyed by culturally ignorant imperialist Americans – the troubling fact that Saddam maintained Iraqi integrity by copiously digging and filling mass graves was not as large a source of concern to them as it might have been.

And nearly everyone embraces the lopsided accounting that places all Iraqi victims of both Baathist and Jihadist bombs against the account of “American imperialism”. Thus those who intentionally blow up mosque and market are awarded a free pass in the greater cause of demonising America. After all, everyone knows that the “other” has no moral autonomy whatsoever and all his atrocities are only “blowback” - a predetermined and programmed response to the “root cause” (not plural) of American imperialism.

This intellectual and moral slurry is not confined to the wilder reaches of the “respect” coalition but is the text and subtext of mainstream left of centre commentary.

So as the helicopters airlift the last personnel from the “green zone” the headline in the Socialist worker will be –


And who could argue with that?

Article 9 and the new loyalties of the European Council

The Economist takes Christopher Booker to task for claiming that via Article the new treaty subordinates the European Council to EU objectives and alters it fundamentally.

Mr Booker makes a second big assertion, in which he falls into the wood-for-trees trap of so many Eurosceptics, of seizing on some arcane detail of wording, and assuming that it has legal force of a nature to trump the political realities of Europe. He writes:
Christopher Booker: “But only now is the council being formally incorporated into the EU's structure. This is not least significant since, as the new treaty makes clear, when the heads of government meet in council they are no longer to represent their own countries. Like the members of all other "Union institutions", their first loyalty will now be to the EU. To "promote its values, advance its objectives, serve its interests" takes precedence over any national loyalty."
Economist European Correspondent: “Oh, come on. To believe that, you have to believe seriously that the likes of Mr Sarkozy, Mrs Merkel, the new British PM, Gordon Brown, the Polish twins, the Czechs and the Dutch are all going to abandon their national interests at the first summit governed by the new treaty.”
If the real politik of National interests will always trump the obligations of the new treaty then why have this treaty provision at all? If the wording is merely so much “arcane detail” then why is it there? Why incorporate the European Council into the formal structure of European institutions if it can never be made to dance to an EU tune?

Probably because, as Booker rightly says, via this article the Council can and will be made to dance to a “European” rather than a “Nationalist” tune.

All of the powers exercised by EU institutions were hitherto secondary powers delegated from the member states and the only mantle of democratic accountability these institutions have ever had rests absolutely on the primary authority of National democratic legitimacy. EU institutions were subordinate to the council precisely because their authority proceeded entirely from the consent of the democratically legitimate intergovernmental Council of nation states.

As Christopher Booker points out, the Council was not itself an EU institution but an independent supervisory board which governed the subordinate EU institutions (notably the unelected Commission). This means that although the Council has been the dominant force throughout the history of the EU the council itself was never an institution of the EU. Richard North on his blog EU Referendum notes that the Council first received legal notice under EU treaty law at the time of Nice ( in ’01) where under article 4 it’s mandate was defined as providing

".. the Union with the necessary impetus for its development" and to "define the general political guidelines thereof".

The European Council has always governed the EU institutions and has thereby provided the EU with its “democratic cover”. In the both the failed constitution and the current “reform” treaty this relationship is reversed.

The supervision of EU institutions by an independent Council is now to be changed with the incorporation of the council as just another EU institution now made itself the subject of the rulings of the ECJ. Its primary objectives are now redefined as being the promotion and support of EU policies and its fellow EU institutions. It is no longer tasked with supervision but with support.

If, for example, an electricity supplier in the UK could effect an exercise in “vertical integration” that would permit it to absorb the regulatory body Ofgen into its own management structure with a remit to support other departments within the company and make it primarily answerable to the company’s shareholders then clearly Ofgen would no longer be what it was before – namely an independent supervisory body answerable to the public.

This is precisely what has happened to the European Council.

It is a sad comment on the state of our debate that what would be universally condemned as an unprincipled power grab by an electricity company is seen as a perfectly acceptable “reform” of our national government. How has it come to pass that our standards for the governance of our electricity industry are higher than our standards for the governance of our country?

So – the current “reform” treaty transforms the ministers in Council from being the agents of the Nation states tasked with governing the EU institutions into agents of the EU institutions tasked with governing the nation states.

In the reform treaty the Council can now only act within “the limits of the powers conferred on it in the treaties”. The terms of its incorporation specifically subordinate it to treaty law i.e. its actions are now subject to veto by the European Court of Justice. Its objectives are now to primarily support EU policy and ensure the “consistency, effectiveness and continuity of its policies and actions.” It is further obligated to practise “mutual sincere cooperation’ with the other institutions.

In future any minister who is deemed to be obstructive by the “colleagues” will, no doubt, be reminded of his paramount legal obligation to “advance the objectives of the EU” and to “ensure the consistency, effectiveness and continuity of its policies and actions”. His binding duty of “mutual sincere cooperation” with the other institutions will be gently raised.

If this doesn’t bring him or her into line the European Court of Justice, that most activist of courts, may extend it’s jurisdiction to arbitrate on whether his or her claim of National interest is a legitimate “process” given the ministers treaty obligations to the EU. I don’t think it’s hard to guess which way the Court will go – Euro Turkeys don’t vote for Nation state Xmas.

So the EU tail gets to wag the nation state dog and the accountability of ministers to their electorates via mandate has been reversed by treaty into an overriding accountability to the EU and its institutions.

National democracy is thereby rendered as obsolete as National Sovereignty.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The war and thought crimes

The baying for blood of those traitors of the left who supported the Iraq war continues unabated on the Guardian CiF pages.

Below is an extract from a recent exchange with commenter longsword on International law.

Longsword: “When Rumsfeld stated that the resort to law was "the strategy of the weak", he uttered the classic statement of fascism. Power trumps law.”

That is certainly true and I for one am happy to join you in your “howl of protest”.
Longsword: “Quite the contrary. The left-liberal hawks only reinforced, by their writings, contempt for the rule of law. In that, they were complicit and provided ideological cover for what has to be one of the most bizarre episodes in the life and times of liberal democracy (and certainly no over yet).”
Perhaps because the conflict between the principles of sovereignty via Westphalia and the mandate of the UN Convention that sovereignty is no legal defence against intervention on humanitarian grounds introduces more complexity to the matter than your amateur but categorical legal pronouncements acknowledge.

Perhaps because the lack of one additional resolution did not mean that 14 others (many of them chapter 7 & therefore mandatory) had not already been illegally disregarded by Saddam.

Perhaps because so narrow a principle of law merely operates as a preservation order for dictatorships. L’etat c’est Moi says Saddam – and a clutch of legal bureaucrats rush in to the breach to agree with him.

Perhaps because the ceasefire mandated by the UN after Gulf War 1 was only a conditional suspension of legitimate military action against Saddam - and he violated the conditions.

Perhaps because the basis of an international law that rests on the arbitrary arrangement of the governments represented on the Security Council at any one time (many of them undemocratic and repressive regimes) doesn’t command the automatic respect in others that it clearly does in you. Particularly as four of them (Germany, France, China and Russia) were actively subverting international law via their abuse of the “oil for food” programme. Especially since the independent guardian of “international law” the permanent officials of the UN itself were also actively and personally profiting from the abuse of Oil for food programme.

No doubt you howled yourself hoarse at these abuses of international law – if not then perhaps international law needs a better class of “respect” then your shallow opportunism would seem to permit?

Longsword: “And there were certainly precedents set at Nuremberg for such savants de service. And had the notorious Houston Stewart Chamberlain survived long enough, he would no doubt have been in the dock at Nuremberg."

Really – on what charge?

Nuremberg had enough real crimes to deal with without introducing bogus thought crimes to its agenda.

God does play dice

A recent discussion on the Guardian CiF site showed that people (particularly people of faith) are still having problems assimilating Quantum theory. Not its weirdness mind you (everyone struggles with that) but it’s very existence is taken as an affront to the natural order.

The problem for those who think that the “Copenhagen interpretation" is a blip, a temporary usurper of universal order, and that the indispensable norms of causality, symmetry etc. will soon be restored via string theory is that (as Peter Woit says) – string theory is so unscientific that it isn’t even wrong! As knowledge deepens it may well be that the weirdness of the revealed Universe will grow, not diminish.

Maybe God (as Capra has suggested) is a Zen Buddhist and has not provided us with a coherent universe of natural laws which harmonise one with another but with a koan – the universe as riddle.

The knowledge gained from our scientific attack on this riddle is beautiful in itself and is also incredibly useful (Copenhagen = computers) i.e. it satisfies both aesthetic and utilitarian requirements. What it is does not do (and perhaps can never do) is resolve all of its own contradictions. This may violate Plato but it vindicates Lao tzu and since Plato was a hyper authoritarian and Lao tzu was the prophet of tolerance what real harm is there in that?

Habemus Papa!

The European Summit is over and the “Constitution” is reborn as a “treaty”.

All of our destinies have been decided in secret conclave over an unpublished text which is now revealed and simultaneously proclaimed to be an absolute mandate totally binding on the IGC conference who must rubber stamp it and pass it unaltered to the National Parliaments who also cannot amend it by a jot or tittle but must accept or reject the whole package tout court. No public ratification - the people are cattle to be milked, not citizens to be consulted.

These are processes which would have brought a blush of shame to the cheek of a tridentine Pope. How reassuring it is to know that the challenges of the 21st century are going to be met with the sophisticated political processes of the 14th century.

Oh brave new Europe that has such leaders to fearlessly lead us from the dark chaos of government by the elected to permanent government by the elect!

Don't talk about the Referendum & Browns "Constitutional Conversation"

If the EU provides as much British law in Britain as it does in Germany (80%) then addressing its legitimacy and accountability is the overriding Constitutional priority. The sudden enthusiasm to discuss the (admitted) deficiencies of the British Constitution also has the look of a tactic – coming as it does in the precise period when the treaty is to be reviewed. For instance our dear leader Mr. Brown recently published a government discussion paper on the Constitution and said he wanted to start a “National conversation” on our Constitution. Europe (or English devolution) was not mentioned.

Why this sudden interest in moving all the deckchairs noisily around the deck of the good ship Great Britain at just the time when Brown wants to quietly hand over the keys, the wheel and the engine room to EU institutions? Could this be a diversionary tactic dressed up as "a constitutional conversation".

If Brown were serious about kick starting a real "constitutional conversation" he would honour his existing pledge and hold the referendum on the treaty. Inviting us to a theoretical constitutional conversation instead of delivering on his actual constitutional pledges is an exercise in crude manipulation and misrepresentation.

As mentioned above - Brown could kick off his “constitutional conversation” by explaining to us that he, as a member of the "reformed" European council of ministers, is now bound by articles 1-19 (of the defeated Constitution but fully restored in the "reform" treaty) to offer his highest loyalty to the EU and not to the British State. His allegiance to the peoples of Europe now comes before his former allegiance to the British people (who are no longer referred to as a distinct people). His allegiance to the institutions of the EU comes before his former allegiance to Crown, Cabinet or Parliament (and the electorate don't even get a mention). His allegiance to European law overrules his former allegiance to British law.

In better times he would have been made to register with the foreign office as the representative of a foreign power. But in our brave new European world of keeping up national appearances whilst obeying EU directives we will still have a foreign office but we won't have a foreign policy. We will still have elections but we won't change direction.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Trade not aid

The theory that the western “obsession’ with corruption is a threat to destitute Africans hardly marries with the facts. We are urged to look away from the corruption at every Blair/ Brown/Bono Africa fest. It won’t do – not because of the cost to us (which is minimal) but because of the cost to Africa.

Africa’s poor are poorer and shorter lived despite forty years of direct western aid and soft western loans. They have worse education and health expectations today then they did in the 60’s. In fact they were relatively wealthier before five times the Marshal aid monies were spent (notionally on them) then they are today.

Corruption, in particular, is not a marginal activity nibbling away at the edges of these aid monies – it is the core activity whereby tax monies from poor people in the west are transferred directly into the bank accounts of the rich in Africa. Additionally it is western aid and soft loans that provide the motor for the zero sum politics which destroy Africa. All the loot goes entirely to he who is in power and this provides a counter incentive to compromise, partnership or retirement and is an absolute barrier to the formation of competitive pluralist politics of the kind that are associated with better economic outcomes. Therefore the aid has comprehensively failed to reduce African poverty but has done much to support African dictators and thereby retard constructive political development.

Furthermore the wholesale corruption involved is not confined to Africa. In common with other trans national institutions the World Bank uses western taxpayers money without the tedious but necessary accountabilities provided by democratic oversight. The notion quickly forms in these institutions (the EU comes to mind) that they are entitled to taxpayer funding but immune from taxpayer scrutiny. The higher the purposes of these institutions the less likely are their accounts to be audited. This corrupts not only the officials directly concerned but the host of agencies and NGO’s who are have acquired a similar sense of entitlement to taxpayers money and a similar contempt for suggestions that they should be held accountable for it’s dispersal. Hence War on Poverty is happy to campaign alongside Mugabe and others against western “interference” in Africa whilst simultaneously demanding more western funding. “Your money belongs to us” is just not that appealing a proposition to western taxpayers.

As you travel through the colonial era gates of the Muthaiga club in Nairobi you will have difficulty finding parking amongst the state of the art Chelsea tractors from Unicef, Oxfam etc. as the Jeremy’s and Jemima’s gather for a bit of white mischief. “Doing good” pays very well indeed for the new class of western dilettante who gather on Africa’s verandahs for sundowners.
Edward Pierce has this comment in the July 1 Guardian – CiF:

Edward Pierce

"If the Brussels treaty is the old constitution, it is so only because the old constitution, at its core, was a treaty! And despite some florid aspirational rhetoric, it was a very sensible treaty, asserting certain obvious standards of social morality and judicial rights, and concerned otherwise chiefly to establish limited majority voting. The purpose of that was to free the EU from a clogging immobility, best defined as stasis tempered by blackmail ”
Edward, the European Union is not clogged – it gallops through its business unhindered by current voting arrangements. If Edward Pierce did his homework he would know that this treaty is a solution in desperate search of a problem. Of course it has nothing to do with “efficiency” and everything to do with centralisation of power. According to the Economist:

‘Overall, the EU has been adopting new rules and regulations some 25% faster since enlargement, says a study published by Sciences Po in Paris. Its authors have tracked thousands of proposals, large and small. “Contrary to much received wisdom,” they conclude, “the data gathered shows that enlargement has not...brought Europe's machinery to a halt.”

When eurocrats call for more streamlined decision-making, what they mean is making life more frightening for laggards. Hans-Gert Pöttering, president of the European Parliament, is admirably frank: “If you have majority voting, you can overrule those who don't want to move ahead.”

If only everybody were so honest. There is a legitimate political argument to be had about picking out all or parts of the EU constitution to make Europe work in a different way. But it is dishonest to disguise this argument as a technical one about getting Europe to work at all.”
Edward Pierce obviously is happy to subscribe to the managerialist myths that contaminate both domestic and European politics but he needs to explain why (if these central organisations are so efficient) can’t their accounts be signed? Why does their policy product (agricultural policy, fisheries and yes the Euro) set the global standard for stupidity and failure?

“The old EU document was not rejected because it threatened liberties. It failed in France largely because a troublemaking politician, Laurent Fabius, campaigned, by way of a stunt, for a "No" vote, proclaiming "Europe is being weakened!" In the Netherlands, voting against was a handy way of raising another issue, an utterly unrelated and wholly national problem: Asian immigration. Both failures demonstrate the malignity of referendums.”
Apparently the French voted no for the wrong reasons as did the Dutch- interestingly no such complaint arises over the Spanish who voted he other way. Edward Pierce and others have decided that the French and Dutch have failed a comprehension test so they must now have their votes confiscated. It never occurs to the Pierces of this world that socialist voters and conservative voters combined against the constitution for the same reason – it removed powers from their domestic political structures and they were overwhelmingly opposed to that removal. Indicting the French and Dutch electorates with “false consciousness” and using that shibboleth as a justification for cancelling their past vote as well as abolishing their future vote is all very Soviet and clearly appeals to many unreconstructed nostalgics for that grim slave state.

“As for the "European threat", the problem is bumbling and lack of cohesion, not surveillance and super-state bullying. Leave that to Blairite home secretaries, wanting, as the EU doesn't, to know the colour of your iris, seeking, as the EU would not think of, to hold you incommunicado for 90 days after arrest.

Oddly, very few people doing outrage about Europe's totalitarianism offer significant resistance to New Labour's New Tsarism (although David Cameron, coming out against ID cards, is an honourable exception).”
Actually a great many of them do so – repeatedly. The press clearly has you in it’s thrall but the blogosphere is full of Eurosceptics opposed to the Security state – see Richard North and Tim Worstall and many, many others. Typically as an authoritarian you cannot concede any principled opposition to the removal of national powers to an unaccountable central committee; you can only see what your prejudices permit you to see - the unprincipled opposition of press barons. Yours is the sort of lazy bad faith which has cost the European project its public support over many years now.

Edward, suck it up – the French didn’t say no because of Rothermere or Murdoch. The Dutch didn’t say no because of Goldsmith. It is you, a midget Englander, who measures world affairs solely against your local preoccupations and prejudices (fired by Murdoch were you?). The French and Dutch opposed the treaty because of what it was and what it represented – a power grab by the unelected at the expense of the electorate itself. Given the choice the British will do precisely the same. That, of course, is the sole reason why you don’t want the British to have their say.


The occasional comments of Tony Maher on matters political, economic and cultural.