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The Voice Of 40-Something Cynical Optimism!

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Poetry corner

WB Yeats was buried in Sligo, my dad's hometown, so there is a connection.

"A statesman is an easy man,
He tells his lies by rote;
A journalist makes up his lies
And takes you by the throat;
So stay at home and drink your beer
And let the neighbours vote."

Marx damn the SWP

The Socialist Workers Party is a subject I've wanted to blog in depth about for a while (for non-British Isles people, the SWP are the British section of the International Socialists, who sell "Socialist Worker"- they have lot of overseas sections, but the SWP here is the sun around which its satellites orbit).

I could go on forever about how thick the average SWP member is (I once had a semi-conversation with some in Nottingham years ago, who apparently thought the Houses of Parliament were a form of direct democracy!!) but I'll limit myself to saying something about the SWP's trajectory over the years. For most of its history the SWP (or as it as known from the 1960s until 1977, the International Socialists) operated outside the Labour Party, but always called for a Labour vote at General Elections ("Vote Labour But Build A Fighting Socialist Alternative"). As other socialists pointed out, during the 1980s the SWP spent half its time saying how bad a Labour government would be, while spending the rest of the time telling people to vote Labour. This continued until the late 1990s. Tony Blair's becoming Labour leader and Labour's adoption of Thatcherite policies was something the SWP (and nearly all the rest of the non-Labour left here) had great problems in coping with. I remember the SWP poster "Why Won't Blair Fight the Tories?" in the mid-90s. "Because he is one!" seemed the most plausible answer!

At the very end of the 90s the SWP changed tack. There appeared to be a gap in the political market to the Left of Labour. The SWP took over (through sheer numbers- but we are talking the low thousands here) the Socialist Alliance, which was an umbrella body of various left groups outside the Labour Party. I remember going to a couple of meetings, handing over a bit of money and even leafleting for the London Socialist Alliance in early 2000. Ken Livingstone was standing as London Mayor, after leaving the Labour Party, and the Socialist Alliance/SWP were hopeful that they could win a seat on the London Assembly on the back of a Left backlash against New Labour. It didn't happen. I remember the SWP going on about the need to "struggle", when I think most people don't want to struggle more than they have to! ("Socialism will be a right struggle" is not a great slogan, is it?) Also the answer to any economic problem was to nationalise it, which may help with the railways, but with everything?

Anyway, the SWP/SA announced that the 2000 London campaign had been a great triumph (mind you, every SWP campaign is hailed as a great triumph, and there'll be another one arriving soon anyway!). The whole project was based on the belief that many traditional Labour voters and party members were chomping at the teeth to join a Socialist alternative to the Labour Party. That was the logic behind the Socialist Alliance campaign at the 2001 General Election. However, the Socialist Alliance only got 5% of the vote in 2 out of around 100 constituencies. The Red tide it was not.

However, the SWP at this point noticed the ethnic polarisation which was taking place during the spring and summer of 2001 in many northern English urban areas. The BNP was starting to pick up votes (particularly Oldham and Burnley) on a "Rights for Whites" platform, while the SWP, under its Anti-Nazi League front, was able to mobilise many Muslims to go out and confront the BNP (when they turned up). Then we had Sept 11th, which polarised things further. Many Muslims took part in anti-war demos in the Autumn of 2001, and the SWP saw a way of mobilising support (or at least selling copies of "Socialist Workers") to a new audience.

At the end of 2001 the SWP was able to centralise decision making in side the Socialist Alliance. This led to the Socialist Party (the ex-Militant tendency) leaving the SA, and with it virtually all its elected councillors. The SP has many faults, but at least it is able to get itself elected (at local council level) in the sort of working class areas the BNP are found increasingly sniffing around for support. From late 2001 the SA was gradually wound down by the SWP, and there was no SA presence at the large Stop the War demos in 2003. The SWP put the SA out of its misery in early 2005, but by then it was fully engaged in the Respect project, which seems mainly to consist of getting "Socialist Worker" sellers standing outside Mosques telling people to vote for George Galloway (and buy the paper!).

Let's say if the SWP, George Galloway and the Respect project are the future of socialism in this country, Marx help us!!

I will burn in hell

This article I saw in this month's Free Thinker & found on the net at The Smirking Chimp website No prizes for guessing who the Smirking Chimp is. This can be read as a pessimistic companion to the Frank Rich article I blogged earlier.

'The religious right: An Anti-American terrorist movement' Saturday, May 14th 2005 by Carolyn Baker

When I was in college, I wrote a research paper that changed my life forever. I had grown up in a fundamentalist Christian family living in the buckle of the Bible Belt where I was fed a steady diet of racism and Cold War anti-communism. My grandfather had been a member of the Klan in the 1920s, and as a high school student, I was saving money to join the John Birch Society. Most personally detrimental to me, however, was the denigration by my high-school-educated parents of higher education. "A little knowledge is a dangerous thing," they exhorted from the Book of Proverbs in the Old Testament. And, when I insisted on attending college, they reminded me incessantly that the wisdom of man is foolishness in the eyes of God. However, getting an education from a fundamentalist, Bob Jones University-like institution would be acceptable. I did not attend Bob Jones, but almost miraculously, given the fact that I was attending a similar institution, I started to think critically, and therefore, from their perspective, my parents' caveat that "a little knowledge is a dangerous thing" was validated.

In the second semester of my freshman year, I chose to write a research paper on race. It was 1964, and that summer, Congress would pass the Civil Rights Act. Throughout my high school years, Martin Luther King was becoming a household word, and few people in my world held anything but contempt for the "colored communist sympathizer."

As I reflect on my innocence at that age, but more importantly, my thirst for knowledge, I recall the hours of reading and research invested in the topic. Specifically, I set out to discover if African Americans were genuinely equal with whites. Pathetically, I was actually seeking evidence for the humanity of blacks. On the one hand, that I needed to research the topic in order to grasp that African Americans were my brothers and sisters was tragic, but on the other hand, that particular research project at that particular time in my life opened one door and closed another permanently, forever, and there was no turning back. I didn't get an A on the paper, but it launched for me a journey of social justice that I have been on ever since.

Today, as I witness the possibility of losing the last shreds of liberty to a fundamentalist theocracy, I am reminded once again of my college research paper and how "dangerous" research, critical thinking, and asking the right questions can be. All those years ago, I extricated myself from the fundamentalist Christian programming of my family and subculture, and now I am watching it threaten to engulf my entire country.

To even attempt to understand the religious right, which many are now naming "Dominionism", one must grasp the mental duress it holds on its followers. I should know; I was one of them. Axiomatic in the worldview of the fundamentalist, born-again Christian is: "I have the truth, I'm right; you don't have the truth, you're wrong." As a result, critical thinking, research, or intellectual freedom of exploration are not only unnecessary, they are dangerous and potentially heretical. Paul Krugman noted in a recent article that while the religious right bashes academia for its "liberal bias," studies of the political persuasions of college and university professors indicate that persons who prefer academia as a lifelong career tend to be more liberal, just as those who prefer the military as a lifelong career tend to be more conservative. The halls of academia do not spawn the likes of Tim LaHaye or Pat Robertson. Remember, "a little knowledge is a dangerous thing."

But simply shunning critical thinking does not make one a terrorist. What does, however, is the notion that because one "has the truth" and everyone else who believes differently is "wrong", those individuals will be condemned to spend eternity in hell and must be incessantly reminded of their fate and their "inferior" status in the eyes of God. Moreover, because of one's "superior" spiritual status, one has the so-called "divine authority" to subvert, by whatever means necessary, the very machinery of government in order to establish a theocracy in which one's worldview is predominant.

When sufficiently pressed, Christian fundamentalists intractably argue that people are poor because they have not been born again. Like the Puritans of seventeenth-century America, wealth is a sign that one is following the will of God, and poverty indicates that one is not. People are poor because they are doing something to cause themselves to be poor, and whatever that may be, the underlying cause is that they do not have a "personal relationship with Jesus Christ." Increasingly, one sees many faces of color in fundamentalist congregations, but those individuals are almost without exception, born-again Christians who tow the dominionist line with other people of color.

Dominionism deplores the mental health system. Like those who are poor, the mentally ill would not be so if they were born again Christians. After all, mental illness is a label given by the Dr. Phils of the world to people whose minds have been devoured by Satan. What they really need is Christian conversion and of course, a great deal of medication from the pharmaceutical lobby. The only valid therapist is Jesus; down with Oprah, God bless Joyce Meyer. Obviously, according to Dominionism, government should not be financing mental health programs.

And what about addictions? In case you haven't caught on to the drill yet, Jesus is the answer to that one as well. Who needs a Twelve-Step program? There's only one step: Accept Jesus Christ as your personal savior as soon as possible, and your addictions will be erased faster than those eighteen minutes on the Richard Nixon tapes. (Remind me to write another article on the religious right AS an addiction.)

Christian fundamentalism in "cafeteria style" has chosen which parts of Jesus' teachings it chooses to honor and which not. Preference is always given to the "I am" passages such as those in the Gospel of John in which Jesus says, " I am the door; the bread of life; the way, the truth, and the life; the light of the world; the living water," and so on, supposedly claiming to be God and commanding his listeners to accept him as the only way to live forever with God in heaven and escape eternity in hell. Little attention is given to the Sermon on the Mount and the many passages where Jesus condemns the wealthy and the religious leaders of his time for their callous, hypocritical, mean-spirited absence of compassion. In fact, theologians who pay much attention to Jesus' teachings on compassion are viewed as bleeding hearts, unorthodox, and not really Christian. For this reason, Pat Robertson stated on his 700 Club program, January 14, 1991: "You say you're supposed to be nice to the Episcopalians and the Presbyterians and the Methodists and this, that, and the other thing. Nonsense. I don' have to be nice to the spirit of the Antichrist."

Let us not overlook the obvious: Dominionism is about dominion -- over women, children, the poor, people of color, alternative sexual orientations, and the earth. It fits so nicely with fascist tyranny.

Christian fundamentalism is fundamentally UN-American. Dominonists clearly desire a revised United States Constitution that will institute a fundamentalist Christian theocracy. As Katherine Yurica has so assiduously reported, the Dominionist agenda would shred the Constitution and end the democratic republic our Deist founding fathers hammered out for five grueling months in 1787 in Philadelphia.

In fact, Pat Robertson believes that only Christian people should interpret and benefit from the Constitution. Again, on his 700 Club, December 30, 1981, he stated that, "The Constitution of the United States, is a marvelous document for self-government by Christian people. But the minute you turn the document into the hands of non-Christian people and atheistic people they can use it to destroy the very foundation of our society." Never mind that most of the founding fathers did not consider themselves Christian and clearly, adamantly, and unequivocally defended the right of everyone in America to believe -- or not believe, as he/she chooses.

Replacing this republic would be the Dominionist theocracy which pronounces itself above the rule of law and claims to be directed by the "higher law" of the Bible. In that society, abortion would be illegal, even in cases of rape or incest; capital punishment would be mandatory in every state, and for some Dominionists, it should be extended to anyone with a sexual orientation other than heterosexual; the nation's entire infrastructure and economy would be privatized; public schools would be turned into essentially Dominionist parochial schools, and no social services would exist except those of faith-based charities. The fastest-growing industry in the nation, the prison system, would undoubtedly find itself at the top of the financial markets as hordes of "unbelievers" were incarcerated. However, given the multitudes of fundamentalist Christian organizations now proselytizing in the nation's prisons, the heathen masses would be given "one more chance" to be born again, hence sending them to prison would be doing God's work and society a favor.

Most egregious, and certainly paralleling terrorism's culture of death is the fundamentalist Christian contempt for life -- I repeat: contempt for life. As Benedictine Sister, Joan Chittister notes, being "pro-birth" is not the same as being pro-life. Forcing females to have children without providing what they need financially, emotionally, and educationally is a pro-birth agenda that murders countless bodies and souls. Because they don't think the Sermon on the Mount is really very important, these individuals have an appalling disconnect, fawning over the decaying body of a woman in a permanent vegetative state while praising the demise of over 100,000 innocent Iraqi citizens and touting the patriotism of some 1,600 dead U.S. troops.

The religious right of 21st Century America is anti-American, inherently violent, and a cruel, tyrannical, punitive, force of death and destruction. In its mindset, adult human lives do not matter because the human condition itself is inherently evil resulting in eternal and everlasting punishment in hell unless its members are redeemed in a prescribed manner by the fundamentalist God/man/savior, Jesus Christ. Moreover, with an embarrassingly adolescent flamboyance, Dominionists shamelessly rape, pillage, and desecrate the earth because in the first place, their Bible has given them authority over all things human and in the second place, their "imminent" apocalyptic rapture, transporting them from the human "veil of tears" to live happily ever after in heaven, entitles them to do so. Meanwhile, we the unredeemed, the unbelievers, the poor, the feminists, the gay and lesbian, the disabled, the homeless, the mentally ill, the addicted, and those who are conscientiously following divergent spiritual paths of their choice, are suffering in the wake of Christian fundamentalism's devastation of the economy, the earth, and the human race. But this is what we deserve for not becoming born-again devotees of their Jesus. And we deserve even worse -- to burn in hell for all of eternity. Hence, we are expendable, inconsequential, and a force to be conquered, broken, imprisoned, or killed.

In his article, "Feeling The Hate," in the May 2005 issue of Harpers Magazine, Chris Hedges conjectures that we may well see a civil war in America between the religious right and everyone else who does not identify as such. I do not know if this will happen, but I do know that the demented logic and circular reasoning of "the Bible says" fundamentalists must be challenged and exposed at every turn for what it is: Intellectual, emotional, and spiritual terrorism -- un-American, un-democratic, inhuman. Furthermore, I wouldn't be surprised if some of their children, somewhere, sometime, write research papers that prove to the world that "a little knowledge is a dangerous thing."

Carolyn Baker is an adjunct professor of history living in Southern New Mexico. She can be contacted at:

Reprinted from Dissident Voice:

More Kevin C & Larry G

First some Neo-Con bashing from Kevin Carson's blog...

Monday, June 13, 2005
A (Partial) Neoconservative Lexicon

Neocon. Code word for Jews like Jeanne Kirkpatrick, Bill Bennett, and Scoop Jackson.

Moral Relativism. Aka historicism. The denial of any unified, objective standard of value. The diametric opposite of Moral Equivalence (q.v.).

Moral Equivalence. Judgment of the United States government by the same unified, objective standard of value as the governments of other countries. The diametric opposite of Moral Relativism (q.v.).

Moral Clarity. The Zen-like state of mind from which it is possible accuse the same political enemy, simultaneously, of both Moral Relativism and Moral Equivalence.

Elites. Latte-sipping, brie-eating, Volvo-driving, little magazine-reading, effete snobs who live on the coasts, whom it is entirely permissible to attack for their privileged lifestyle. Such attacks are entirely different from the heinous crime of Class Warfare (q.v.), which no decent person will engage in.

Class Warfare. Demagogic attacks based on the entirely specious ground of unearned wealth, a sin up with which the neocons will not put. Entirely different from demagogic attacks based on cultural characteristics like the kind of food and entertainment one likes (see Elites).

Blame America First. Blame the lying, mendacious gang of swine in Washington and Wall Street who own most of America, and who claim to speak and act on behalf of the people who actually live and work in this country.

Now some comments on the no votes to the EU Constitution from Larry Gambone's blog:

Monday, May 30, 2005

As you all know, the French voted against the EU Constitution by a significant margin. Trade unions and other popular movements campaigned hard against a yes vote and were pleased to succeed. With the presumed rejection by Dutch voters in a couple of days, the Constitution should be a dead fish. Contrary to the pimp media, which is whining about “the selfish French”, what angered the left is not the European Federation, but the reactionary neoconservative economics smuggled into the Constitution. The French do not wish to have their living standards further destroyed and the EU turned into a carbon copy of the USA.

A little background on this. Not content with having the UK as its Trojan horse, US imperialism cultivated gangster capitalism in the ex- Eastern Block countries. Rather than converting Stalinist state capitalism into social democracy as many Europeans wished, the US imposed its “crash course” in so-called free markets which enabled some former apparachiks to grab huge chunks state of state property converting themselves into a particularly nasty breed of capitalist. Eastern European countries ruled by such capitalists promote neoconservative economics as well as pandering to the US attack on Iraq.

The idea was to lower the EU to the level of Eastern Europe, thereby shifting much German, Italian and French investments East and fattening the pockets of both the local greed creeps, as well as enriching the Western capitalists with cheap-labor and poor working standards. Now that the French (And soon the Dutch) have rejected this pig in a poke, this scam seems a lot less likely to be pulled off.

Hopefully the victory of the popular movements will encourage further revolt, both in France and in the rest of Europe. The Europeans need a “hot summer.”

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

The French Business Federation is crying about the No vote. They wanted to impose Thatcherism across France, which they claim would increase employment. (As though that were their main concern and not profits!) British unemployment figures (5.2%) are contrasted with France (10.3%) In terms of working class living standards these figures might not mean much. If most of the “extra” jobs in the UK are minimum wage or are of a precarious nature, then the only people to benefit are the rich minority who hire these slaves. Workers may well be better off on the dole in France than working for peanuts in the UK. There is also the problem of how that low unemployment came about - and this is certainly frightening to the average French worker. Thatcherism devastated scores of communities and ruined thousands of lives. In the heyday of the Iron Lady - in the 1980's - the unemployment rate in the UK was 12% and France only 2%. Hundreds of thousands of real jobs - i.e. making things - were destroyed and these were replaced by McJobs. Is this what the French workers want? Sure, stagnation is a drag, but the deliberate creation of misery is far worse.

The same is also said about Canada - our employment rate is always higher than the US. But who in their right mind would trade the Canadian situation for that of the American worker? US workers work longer, have far less vacation time, are overwhelmingly non-union, their UI is even worse than here, and in most states, thanks to the totalitarian "at will" law have no rights whatsoever.( See my Blog, March 23 for information on the evil "at will" law)

Some commentators have said that while “the French” find the Constitution too Thatcherite, “the British” find it too social. How do these commentators know what “the British” think? And which “British” ? Opposition to the constitution in France was working class. Would workers in the UK be much different in that regard? Perhaps this claim about what the British think is linked to the fact the progressive opposition in the UK does not have the resources that the French opponents have. The reason for this is that France is in many ways a more libertarian society than Britain. The authoritarian “first past the post” electoral system excludes all those Greens, Communists, and Trots who make up an important part of the opposition. The democratic press laws make sure that opposition papers get a wide circulation. French political parties are not petty dictatorships, thus Fabius and Hollande of the Socialist Party took opposite positions on the referendum, without the bullying, threats and expulsions that such opposition would incur within the Labour Party. (Think only of what the Blairites did to George Galloway for opposing the conquest of Iraq.)

Kevin Carson points out in the comments section of the previous article on the EU referendum, that while he is pleased for the Europeans, a weakened EU is not as strong a rival to US imperialism. I agree that the US should not be able to totally dominate the world and that a block composed of the EU, Russia and Latin America, would be a good thing. But the EU would be a much better rival to the US if it also provided a different model of society. The present Constitution was an attempt to import US style capitalism into Europe. The popular forces are pushing to create that alternative Europe, it might take a while to succeed and defeat the neocon reaction, but if it does, the whole world will turn to Europe and the US State and its corporate creatures will be in for a real shock.

Waste of tax payers' money

The above phrase is one of the great cliches of modern political language. It's up there with "it's political correctness gone mad". Of course, only certain forms of government spending are "a waste of tax payers' money" to the MPs, journalists and local councillors who use this phrase. The monarchy and nuclear weapons aren't a waste. Neither are religious initiatives, such as the one below, which made my blood boil when I read it.

Kelly angers secular group by pledging £500m to rebuild faith-based schools
By Richard Garner, Education Editor, The Independent,07 May 2005

The Government has pledged around £500m to rebuild every faith-based secondary school in England - overturning a 60-year-old rule requiring churches to contribute towards all school building costs.

The decision, the first major concession to faith schools made by the staunchly Catholic [read "member of Opus Dei", Da Vinci Code fans]Education Secretary, Ruth Kelly, has outraged secular groups who claim taxpayers' money should not be used to aid selective, church-based education.

Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, has already announced that every secondary school in the country would be rebuilt under a £5bn refurbishment programme by 2015.

Under existing rules, that would mean voluntary-aided church schools - of which there are just over 500 in the country - having to contribute 10 per cent of the cost.

However, representatives of the Anglican and Catholic churches protested they would not have enough funds to cover the cost of such a programme. As a result, Ms Kelly agreed to waive the rule in a one-off deal to treat faith schools, which educate around 500,000 secondary school pupils, the same as the rest of the maintained sector.

Marilyn Mason, education officer of the British Humanist Association, said she was "annoyed" by the deal. "The BHA is opposed to faith-based schools in principle and one of our grievances is that they're not open to all pupils," she said. "If you don't happen to be of the right faith, you can't get your children into these schools.

"If they obeyed the same rules as other schools with the same admissions and employment arrangements, then the situation might be different."

The decision will benefit 350 Roman Catholic schools, 130 Anglican and 23 run by other Christian groups. Five Jewish schools, two Muslim and one Sikh school would also benefit.

Mr Brown also announced plans to rebuild half the country's primary schools under a separate programme during the election campaign and officials signalled the Government could waive the 10 per cent rule for the 3,800 church primary schools as well.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Education said ministers would reduce the capital grant made to church schools for other urgent repairs by £17m as a result of the deal. However, they would still receive £440m under this programme next year. She added: "All pupils deserve 21st-century facilities and the decision to include the voluntary-aided sector equally ensures we will deliver on that commitment."

Tony Blair and Ms Kelly have always signalled their support for faith schools - trying to encourage church groups to back the flagship programme to set up 200 privately sponsored academies to replace struggling secondary schools in inner cities.

PS "Now the two greatest faiths, the Catholic Church and Islam must join forces to oppose secularism which is spreading across Europe." Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster after the recent Papal funeral.
(Source: this month's Free Thinker ).

For the Anti-Christ in your life

If I burn in hell for eternity I will remember this afternoon! Seriously I saw this mentioned in the Freethinker magazine ( and comes from the Raving Atheist website ( I'll start saying my hail Mary's now...

Sainthood for Pope Not to Involve Cynical, Preposterous Fraud - Mon, Apr 11, 2005
The Vatican, Rome, April 10, 2005
Special to The Raving Atheist

Despite the pressure of popular demand for the immediate canonization of the late Pope John Paul II, Vatican officials have vowed not to perpetrate a massive, cynical fraud to bestow sainthood on the late pontiff. Saint-candidates must perform two posthumous miracles to earn the title.

"We will not stoop to shameless, crowd-pleasing trickery to fill our pews and coffers," announced Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. "More particularly, we will not exploit an illiterate, delusional third-world peasant by bribing a team of phony doctors to declare that she was cured of some unspecified grave illness after praying to a bedside picture of Pope John Paul II."

Ratzinger added that if the deceased pontiff does fulfill his miracle quota with medical cures, they will be of an unreproachable sort -- fully befitting of an omnipotent being, and performed on live television. "Severed limbs regrown, decapitations undone, the Twin Towers depulverized, Christopher Reeve risen from the wheelchair and the grave to host the Oscars in front of an audience of a quarter-million resurrected tsunami victims," Ratzinger vowed. "Not some questionable third-hand anecdote about the "unexplained" remission of leukemia at the hidden, microscopic cellular level in the body of a mud hut-dwelling Brazilian commoner."

Another Cardinal reaffirmed that Vatican stooges are not meeting as we speak to plot an unconscionable global scam that, in a sane world, would be prosecuted under the criminal racketeering statutes of every civilized society. According to His Eminence Edward Cardinal Egan, the sophisticated minds responsible for managing the Church's vast financial empire are not currently chortling over a scheme to con the gullible masses with a transparent faith-healing ruse barely worthy of a snake-oil-selling carnival sideshow revivalist. "Nor will such deceit be practiced with the hubris of an organization accustomed to decades of immunity for child-rape due to its infiltration of the highest level of the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government," Egan pledged.

Blogger and radio host Hugh Hewitt also applauded the Vatican's decision not to trivialize itself by stooping to the level of lesser, primitive voodoo-religions. "The mainstream media will try to convince us that medical miracles by dead popes is nonsense that nobody can believe in 2005," Hewitt said. "But aided by the Holy Spirit, His Holiness will prove the supremacy of Catholicism with a display so dazzling it will make Mother Teresa's coffin-based canonization miracles look like a child's toy store magic tricks."

Optimism about America?!

If i had started by blog before Xmas 2004 I would have definitely put this article on it. The US elections were depressing for anyone who has not got a ticket for The Rapture (then again, who would want to share Heaven with a bunch of sanctimonious self-righteous God botherers?); however, it was a damn close thing. The only thing you have to remember as a non-American is that the Republicans are Reds- oh the irony.

Is that red-state vote really so red? By Frank Rich The New York Times Saturday, November 13, 2004

Farewell to Swift boats and "Shove it!," to Osama's tape and Saddam's missing weapons, to "security moms" and outsourced dads. They've all been sent to history's dustbin faster than Ralph Nader memorabilia was dumped on eBay. In their stead stands a single ambiguous phrase coined by an anonymous exit pollster: "Moral values." By near universal agreement the morning after, these two words tell the story of the U.S. election: it's the culture, stupid.

There's only one problem with the storyline proclaiming that the United States swung to the right on cultural issues in 2004. Like so many other narratives that immediately calcify into the 24/7 media's conventional wisdom, it is fiction. Everything about the election results - and about American culture itself - confirms an inescapable reality: John Kerry's defeat notwithstanding, it's blue America, not red, that is inexorably winning the culture war, and by a landslide.

Kerry voters who have been flagellating themselves since Election Day with a vengeance worthy of "The Passion of the Christ" should wake up and smell the chardonnay. The blue ascendancy is nearly as strong among Republicans as it is among Democrats.

Excess and vulgarity, as always, enjoy a vast, bipartisan constituency, and in a democracy no political party will ever stamp them out. If anyone is laughing all the way to the bank this election year, it must be the undisputed king of the red cultural elite, Rupert Murdoch. Fox News is a rising profit center within his News Corp., and each red-state dollar that it makes can be plowed back into the rest of Fox's very blue entertainment portfolio. The Murdoch cultural stable includes recent books like Jenna Jameson's "How to Make Love Like a Porn Star" and the Vivid Girls' "How to Have a XXX Sex Life," which have both been synergistically, even joyously, promoted on Fox News by willing talk show hosts. Fox remains the go-to network for Paris Hilton ("The Simple Life") and wife-swapping ("Trading Spouses: Meet Your New Mommy").

None of this has prompted an uprising from the red-state Fox News loyalists supposedly so preoccupied with "moral values." They all gladly contribute fungible dollars to Fox culture by boosting their fair-and-balanced channel's rise in the ratings.

The 22 percent of voters who told pollsters that "moral values" were their top election issue - 79 percent of whom voted for Bush-Cheney - corresponds almost exactly to the number of voters (23 percent) who describe themselves as born-again or evangelical Christians.

But the distance between this hard-core red culture and the majority blue culture is perhaps best captured by Tom Coburn, the newly elected Republican senator from Oklahoma, lately famous for discovering "rampant" lesbianism in that state's schools.

It's in the Republicans' interest to pander to this far-right constituency - votes are votes - but you can be certain that a party joined at the hip to much of corporate America, Murdoch included, will take no action to curtail the blue culture these voters deplore. As Marshall Wittman, an independent-minded former associate of both Ralph Reed and John McCain, wrote before the election, "The only things the religious conservatives get are largely symbolic votes on proposals guaranteed to fail, such as the gay marriage constitutional amendment." That amendment has never had a prayer of rounding up the two-thirds majority needed for passage and still doesn't.

Wittman echoes Thomas Frank, the author of "What's the Matter With Kansas?" [In England published as "What's the Matter With America"?]- by common consent the year's most prescient political book. "Values," Frank writes, "always take a backseat to the needs of money once the elections are won." Under this perennial "trick," as he calls it, Republican politicians promise to stop abortion and force the culture industry "to clean up its act" - until the votes are counted. Then they return to their higher priorities, like cutting capital gains and estate taxes.

Murdoch and his fellow cultural barons - from Sumner Redstone, the Bush-endorsing CEO of Viacom, to Richard Parsons, the Republican CEO of Time Warner, to Jeffrey Immelt, the Bush-contributing CEO of General Electric (NBC Universal) - are about to be rewarded not just with more tax breaks but also with deregulatory goodies increasing their power to market salacious entertainment. It is they, not Susan Sarandon and Bruce Springsteen, who actually set the American cultural agenda.

But it's not only the Republicans' fealty to its financial backers that is predictive of how little cultural bang the "values" voters will get for their Bush-Cheney votes. At 78 percent, the nonvalues voters have far more votes than they do, and both parties will cater to that overwhelming majority's blue tastes first and last. Their mandate is clear: The same poll that clocked "moral values" partisans at 22 percent of the electorate found that nearly three times as many Americans approve of some form of legal status for gay couples.

When Robert Novak writes after the election that "the anti-abortion, anti-gay marriage, socially conservative agenda is ascendant, and the G.O.P. will not abandon it anytime soon," you have to wonder what drug he is on.

The abandonment began at the convention. Sam Brownback, the Kansas senator who champions the religious right, was locked away in an off-camera rally across town from Madison Square Garden. Prime time was bestowed upon the three biggest stars in post-Bush Republican politics: Rudy Giuliani, John McCain and Arnold Schwarzenegger. All support gay rights and are opponents of the same-sex marriage constitutional amendment. Only McCain calls himself pro-life, and he's never made abortion a cause. None of the three support the Bush administration position on stem-cell research.

If the Republican party's next round of leaders are all cool with blue culture, why should Democrats run after the red?

According to some, the values voters the Democrats must pander to are people like Cary and Tara Leslie, archetypal Ohio evangelical "Bush votes come to life," apotheosized by The Washington Post right after Election Day. The Leslies swear by "moral absolutes," support a ban on same-sex marriage and mostly watch Fox News. Cary Leslie has also watched his income drop from $55,000 to $35,000 since 2001, forcing himself, his wife and his three children into the ranks of what he calls the "working poor." Maybe by 2008 some Democrat will figure out how to persuade him that it might be a higher moral value to worry about the future of his own family than some gay family he hasn't even met.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Credit where credit is due

I forgot ages ago to give the source of my lightbulb joke about the Bush Admin. It was from Lobster magazine, and it was thought up by Jeffrey Bale, who has written a lot of good stuff on conspiracies (oneof his articles is on the Lobster website). Saying that has eased my conscience about plagiarising other people's ideas!

God can look after himself you'd think

If ID cards get on my wick, so does current legislation which will make taking the mick out of religion here a criminal offence. Whatever happened to "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me?"

In defence of bigotry

The Religious Hatred Bill will only feed prejudice and lawyers

Henry McDonald
Sunday June 12, 2005
The Observer

Pastor Clifford Peoples is an anti-Catholic sectarian bigot and I will defend his right to continue to be so.
For stating the above, however, I could theoretically be risking seven years in jail; paradoxically, Pastor Peoples could be joining me behind bars if he keeps up his anti-Catholic tirades both from the pulpit and the pages of the ultra-loyalist hate sheet known as Romewatch.

Under New Labour's Racial and Religious Hatred Bill, which was unveiled last week, the abuse of one's religion or belief might lead to prosecutions and, ultimately, a prison sentence for those causing offence. Given the myriad of fundamentalist religious Christian sects in Northern Ireland, the new legislation is in danger here of becoming a cranks' charter for the Most Oppressed Peoples Ever.

Pastor People's anti-Catholicism was laid out all for all to see 48 hours before the new bill was introduced. The Shankill Road preacher and convicted loyalist terrorist agreed to take part in an unintentionally hilarious BBC Northern Ireland Spotlight investigation into a bust-up between him and other parishioners belonging to a born-again Christian micro-church known as 'the Bethel'.

The row centred on People's decision to distribute copies of Romewatch, a newssheet written by his friend, mentor and extreme loyalist, Pastor Alan Campbell. Some members of the church objected to this because it was deemed overtly political and therefore non-biblical. Mirroring the schismatic trend of secular loyalism since the ceasefire, the church then divided into warring factions, with each side seeking to defeat the other through the courts rather than using handguns and rifles.

It was apposite that the shadowy figure of Alan Campbell emerged in the Spotlight film, because it was his old friend, the late, loyalist paedophile John McKeague, who was one of only three people prosecuted under Northern Ireland's unique incitement to hatred laws. Think about it. We had 30 years of incipient civil war accompanied by a constant, nagging soundtrack of sectarian abuse and vituperation and what did our incitement to hatred law produce? One single prosecution that led to an acquittal.

Campbell's protoge, Pastor Peoples, leads a dwindling flock that believes, among other things, that the Ulster Protestants are the lost tribe of Israel. Now anyone who believes in the power of reason and the necessity of historical inquiry knows this is patent nonsense.

Yet to point this out, to ridicule what is blatantly ridiculous, runs the risk of breaching Tony Blair's new legislation. Conversely, Pastor Peoples has the right to counter this critique by alleging his opponents are inciting hatred against his church. Moreover, anyone from the Catholic community who picks up and reads the revolting bigotry of Romewatch has the right to attack Peoples, Campbell and other fundamentalists through the new law. And given the litigious nature of Northern Irish society, it's a safe bet the legal profession will gladly offer their services to the slighted, the offended and the 'concerned'.

It is worth highlighting the extreme example of Peoples, Campbell and the British Israelite wing of Protestant fundamentalism in order to expose the absurdities and dangers inherent in this new law. What they have to say about Catholicism and Catholics is undoubtedly bigoted, sectarian bilge. However, where does society draw the line between the right of free speech for Peoples and his supporters and the free speech of liberal opponents and critics? Those who believe in free, open discourse cannot have one standard for themselves and another for those they disagree with.

On my newly found spiritual home, the sane left, robustly secular, anti-fundamentalist website Harry's Place, there is a legend that reads: 'Liberty, if it means anything at all, is the right to tell people what they don't want to hear.' One of the inherent problems of the north of Ireland is that there are far too many people who shut down all five senses when confronted with truths they want to avoid. After Thursday in the country of the blind, deaf and dumb, hordes will rush to the courts to shut down any questioning of faith and unreason.

The new bill exposes the hollowness at the centre of the New Labour project. For in order to win back Muslim support, the Blair government has bowed to Islamic activist pressure and risked curbing one of the key liberties in a free society. In the first verse of that global hymn to the socialist movement, 'The Internationale', the words of the fifth line urge workers 'away with all your superstitions'. Under the new legislation, to denounce theistic theocracy as a 'superstition' runs the risk of being accused, in turn, of inciting hatred against Islam, Christianity or Judaism or, for that matter, Satanism or Jedi.

In theory, 'The Internationale' could be deemed an anthem to incite hatred against the religiously devout. It is the politics of ethnic rage gone mad and, given the Northern Ireland experience, the only certain result will be some lawyers getting a whole lot richer than they already are.

Nick Cohen is one of those Liberal Imperialists who supported the invasion of Iraq (bringing civilisation to the barbarians). However, I think his defences of secularism on the Home Front are well worth reading.

A freedom to oppress

Far from eradicating illiberalism, anti-blasphemy laws actually encourage it

Nick Cohen
Sunday May 29, 2005
The Observer

Anyone who has seen the films of Michael Moore or read the vaguely leftish books which pour out of America might imagine that they don't need to be told the background to the Workplace Religious Freedom Act currently before the US Congress.
After the loud campaigns to allow prayers and creationism into US schools, a working assumption would be that Republicans, probably in the pocket of Halliburton or Exxon, were once again playing on the ineradicable paranoia of the religious by claiming that Christians were being persecuted by employers. With the votes of the credulous sewn-up, they would be free to concentrate on destroying rainforests and dining on seals. But not a bit of it. The act is sponsored by those great liberals, Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, who maintain that it is the logical extension of the movement to uphold the rights of women, blacks and homosexuals.

The same pattern is being repeated across the democratic world. In Italy, a journalist, Oriana Fallaci, faces trial for writing a book which is 'unequivocally offensive to Islam'. The alleged crime of The Rage and the Pride is to insist there is an unbridgeable divide between the Islamic world and the West. What she says may not be true, although it certainly is true of Islamism and the West, which have armies at war to prove it. It's also the case that even by the standards of Italian journalism, Fallaci is a raging prima donna. Still, since when has it been a criminal offence for prima donnas to sing, however tunelessly?

If Tony Blair has his way, his government will soon be censoring critics of each and every religion for the crime of inciting religious hatred. As I write, the radio reports that the Sunni Muslims of al-Qaeda are slaughtering Shia Muslims in Iraq. As true believers, they kill because they necessarily believe that every other religion incites hatred against them. In these circumstances, a universal blasphemy law is an oxymoron as well as an assault on the victories of the Enlightenment, but the government either doesn't know or doesn't care. The wise course for a centre-left party is to prosecute ideas.

In the Queen's Speech, the government went further and announced it would create a new Commission for Equality and Human Rights, which sounds liberal and cuddly. It's only when you get to the detail you find that the commission will fight all those who have prejudices about 'gender, race, disability, sexual orientation, age, religion and belief'.

Belief? What beliefs? Are the censors planning to take their ideas to the conclusion and prohibit the incitement of hatred against all other beliefs. It makes as much sense (or as much nonsense) to have a law preventing offensive attacks on Blairism or romanticism or Europeanism as Judaism and Hinduism and satanism. Unless, that is, you somehow imagine that religious beliefs - all of them and all at the same time - are truer than the ideas of mortal men.

Corporate Britain is mooing along with the political herd. Human resources managers from BT, Accenture, Barclays, the Royal Bank of Scotland, B&Q, Shell, the Co-operative Group and the BBC came together last month to form the Employers' Forum on Belief. It will 'recognise the religious needs of employees and promote good business practice toward religious belief'. Allowing Sikhs to wear turbans at work or the devout to celebrate religious holidays sounds innocuous, although the National Secular Society has asked whether irreligious employees will have to cover for them during prayer breaks and festivals. To date, it hasn't had a reply.

The idea behind the upsurge in demand for benefit of the clergy is that the religious are the victims of injustice in developed countries rather than of a long, slow intellectual defeat in the free exchange of ideas. The cries from the persecuted are hard to square with the following story.

A condom used by the boyfriend of Kerrie Gooch, a respectable woman from Swindon, broke while they were making love. She went to the local Lloyds Pharmacy, where the Catholic chemist refused to sell her the morning-after pill. After six hours of searching, she managed to find a chemist who would help her. 'I don't want someone else making a decision like this for me,' she protested.

Women have complained about chemists at Asda stores in Stockport and Sheffield which refuse to sell the morning-after pill and a Muslim chemist at a Boots in the East End of London who refused to sell contraceptives. At least he had the virtue of consistency. You don't have to be happy about the number of abortions to know the difference between taking the morning-after pill and killing a 20-week-old foetus. If you don't, you may as well believe that every sperm is sacred and ban contraception.

Ms Gooch asked: 'What gives the pharmacist the right to play God?' As good a question is: who else is playing God? We don't know how many women slink off after a public scene and have an unwanted child or an abortion.

My guess is that not very many in our secular country. In the US by contrast, chemists who refuse contraception are so commonplace that Governor Rod R Blagojevich of Illinois has introduced an emergency order to make it illegal for pharmacists to turn away women with a prescription for birth control. 'No delays. No hassles. No lectures,' he demanded. His law may not survive because chemists in Britain and America can refuse to act against their consciences and big businesses have the right not to offend religious pressure groups, which is why Wal-Mart refuses to stock the morning-after pill.

Clinton and Kerry are not therefore proposing to give rights to people who must presently go naked into a godless world. Since 1977, American employers have had to make 'reasonable accommodation' for the religious beliefs of employees and allow them to follow religious fashions and observe festivals. The American Civil Liberties Union made a good guess at what would happen if Clinton and Kerry got there way by looking at the claims which have failed under the existing law but may have a chance of success if privileges were extended.

Many were from police officers who wouldn't protect abortion clinics. But the majority were from devotees who complained about their employers' refusal to allow them to express their religious beliefs: a nurse from Connecticut who was reprimanded for telling an Aids victim and his boyfriend that their homosexuality was contrary to God's will, for instance; a social worker who was disciplined for treating a captive audience of prisoners to exorcisms.

They complained their freedom of conscience had been infringed. In a sense, they were right. A truly fundamentalist theory has to hold that a believer can no more accept the separation of private and public than the separation of church and state. Their life and faith must be one and no compromises can be made. In the past, most people who lived outside theocracies either compromised or withdrew into communities where they found sanctuary from the profane by living and working with co-believers.

Now, in the name of tolerance, the institutions of the profane are agreeing to compromise with fundamentalism and, in the process, multiculturalism is manufacturing culture. American civil libertarians fear that nurses who want to denounce gays or social workers who want to cast out prisoners' demons but don't because of the restraints of the rest of society will be emboldened by their new rights. What was a private conviction would become a public act.

It's not necessarily a hysterical fear. We saw the multicultural production line at work in the protests against Jerry Springer: the Opera. The show had run at the National Theatre without any trouble, but after a religious rabble silenced a young Sikh playwright in Birmingham and Blair promised a universal blasphemy law, they thought it was worth attacking the BBC. A British religious right was created. Its members were always there, but our strange liberalism made them a visible force in public life.

Everyone knows that the contradiction of liberalism is that its commitments to tolerance and freedom conflict when the intolerant demand the freedom to be illiberal. It's also the case that liberals can become ugly and intolerant when they use force to make others become liberal. None the less, you might have expected that the governments of the countries which send young men and women to fight fanaticism on foreign fields wouldn't be using the majesty of their laws to nurture fanaticism at home.

For more info, check the National Secular Society's website at

A few more websites

A journal of para-politics, covert ops and conspiracies. I've been reading it for 15 years and I heartily recommend it to any English speaker who finds the papers and TV occasionally on the boring side.

An EU-critical website well worth visiting.

I won't be going to the G8 summit...

...nor Live8, and I am not losing a lot of sleep about attending neither. Even if a million people turn up in Scotland to protest, will it change anything? How many people here protested about the war in Iraq? Also Band Aid/Live Aid was supposed to have saved Africa 20 years back, and what has changed for the better in Africa since then? Plus I think Bob Geldof is a talentless, bombastic, scruffy nonentity...

Anyway, here's the thoughts of Naomi Klein, who does not correspond to any of Bob G's aforementioned characteristics.

A noose, not a bracelet

Africa is a rich continent made poor by rapacious western corporations. G8 leaders must be forced to deliver justice

Naomi Klein
Friday June 10, 2005
The Guardian

Gordon Brown has a new idea about how to "make poverty history" in time for the G8 summit. With Washington so far refusing to double its aid to Africa by 2015, the chancellor is appealing to the "richer oil-producing states" of the Middle East to fill the funding gap. "Oil wealth urged to save Africa," reads the headline in the Observer.

Here is a better idea: instead of Saudi Arabia's oil wealth being used to "save Africa", how about if Africa's oil wealth was used to save Africa - along with its gas, diamond, gold, platinum, chromium, ferroalloy and coal wealth?

With all this noblesse oblige focused on saving Africa from its misery, it seems like a good time to remember someone else who tried to make poverty history: Ken Saro-Wiwa, who was killed 10 years ago this November by the Nigerian government - along with eight other Ogoni activists, he was sentenced to death by hanging. Their crime was daring to insist that Nigeria was not poor at all but rich, and that political decisions made in the interests of western multinational corporations kept its people in desperate poverty. Saro-Wiwa gave his life to the idea that the vast oil wealth of the Niger delta must leave behind more than polluted rivers, charred farmland, rancid air and crumbling schools. He asked not for charity, pity or "relief", but for justice.

The Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People demanded that Shell compensate the people from whose land it had pumped roughly $30bn worth of oil since the 1950s. The company turned to the government for help, and the Nigerian military turned its guns on demonstrators. Before his state-ordered hanging, Saro-Wiwa told the tribunal: "I and my colleagues are not the only ones on trial. Shell is here on trial ... The company has, indeed, ducked this particular trial, but its day will surely come."

Ten years later, 70% of Nigerians still live on less than $1 a day and Shell is still making superprofits. Equatorial Guinea, which has a major oil deal with ExxonMobil, "got to keep a mere 12% of the oil revenues in the first year of its contract", according to a report on the CBS news programme 60 Minutes - a share so low it would have been scandalous even at the height of colonial oil pillage.

This is what keeps Africa poor: not a lack of political will but the tremendous profitability of the current arrangement. Sub-Saharan Africa, the poorest place on earth, is also its most profitable investment destination. It offers, according to the World Bank's 2003 Global Development Finance report, "the highest returns on foreign direct investment of any region in the world". Africa is poor because its investors and its creditors are so unspeakably rich.

The idea for which Saro-Wiwa died fighting - that the resources of the land should be used to benefit the people of that land - lies at the heart of every anti-colonial struggle in history, from the Boston Tea Party to Iran's turfing out of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company in Abadan. This idea has been declared dead by the EU's constitution, by the national security strategy of the US (which describes "free trade" not only as an economic policy but a "moral principle") and by countless trade agreements. And yet it simply refuses to die.

You can see it most clearly in the relentless protests that drove Bolivia's president, Carlos Mesa, to offer his resignation. A decade ago, Bolivia was forced by the IMF to privatise its oil and gas industries on the promise that it would increase growth and spread prosperity. When that didn't work, the lenders demanded that Bolivia make up its budget shortfall by increasing taxes on the working poor.

Bolivians had a better idea - take back the gas and use it for the benefit of the country. The debate now is over how much to take back. Evo Morales's Movement Toward Socialism favours taxing foreign profits by 50%. More radical indigenous groups, which have already seen their land stripped of its mineral wealth, want full nationalisation and more participation - what they call "nationalising the government".

You can see it too in Iraq. On June 2 Laith Kubba, spokesman for the Iraqi prime minister, told journalists that the IMF had forced Iraq to increase the price of electricity and fuel in exchange for writing off past debts: "Iraq has $10bn of debts, and I think we cannot avoid this." But days before, in Basra, a historic gathering of independent trade unionists, most of them with the General Union of Oil Employees, insisted that the government could avoid it. At Iraq's first anti-privatisation conference, delegates demanded that the government simply refuse to pay Saddam's "odious" debts and opposed any attempts to privatise state assets, including oil.

Neoliberalism, an ideology so powerful it tries to pass itself off as "modernity" while its maniacal true believers masquerade as disinterested technocrats, can no longer claim to be a consensus. It was decisively rejected by French voters when they said no to the EU constitution, and you can see how hated it has become in Russia, where large majorities despise the profiteers of the disastrous 1990s privatisations and few mourned the recent sentencing of oil oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

All of this makes for interesting timing for the G8 summit. Bob Geldof and the Make Poverty History crew have called for a million people to go to Edinburgh and form a giant white band around the city centre on July 2 - a reference to the ubiquitous Make Poverty History bracelets.

But it seems a shame for a million people to travel all that way to be a giant bauble, a collective accessory to power. How about if, when all those people join hands, they declare themselves not a bracelet but a noose - a noose around the lethal economic policies that have already taken so many lives, for lack of medicine and clean water, for lack of justice.

A noose like the one that killed Ken.

I Don't Need an ID Card, Thanks

One of the things that is good about living here is that I don't have to carry an ID card about. However the government is thinking of implementing an ID card scheme in the next few years- another idea that has come from the bowels of Whitehall in the aftermath of September 11th. There is talk of it costing 300 quid per person for one of these cards, and a 2 & a half grand fine if you don't register!! This is outrageous. We didn't need ID cards when the IRA was bombing the British mainland, so why do we need them now?

The main anti-ID card campaign can be found at, & if they replied to my e-mails to join in I would be very happy. For some food for thought, I came across the following article in a recent New Statesman:

When the eyes don't have it
Christina Zaba
New Statesman, Monday 30th May 2005

With its built-in iris measurements and fingerprints, the high-tech ID card is held up by the government as the answer to everything from terrorism to benefit fraud. Not so, reports Christina Zaba. This card will open the door to disaster

Just over a year ago, David Blunkett declared his belief in magic. "The ID card system will make identity theft impossible," he said. "Not nearly impossible: impossible." Security geeks everywhere shook their heads and groaned, but the Home Secretary wasn't listening.

Now that the Identity Cards Bill looks likely to become law, however, at an estimated cost of £5.5bn, and with compulsory biometric registration and criminal penalties for non-compliance, it is time to listen. Cryptographers can read the technology that so dazzles the government. They can see that the Home Office's plans are founded on hubris and heading for disaster. They also know there is an ethical way of rescuing the project.

"Public opinion likes the idea of ID cards because it seems like the ultimate solution to all known problems," says Brian Gladman, retired director of strategic electronic communications at the Ministry of Defence. "But actually, the way this bill is designed enables a police state. You're not going to be allowed to opt out of having an ID card, the linked databases make detailed tracking feasible, and a system with this combination of complexity and scale is way beyond the state of the art. It won't be reliable or safe. Anybody with access to the database will be able to target anybody. It's horrendous what you'll be able to do."

The National Identity Register is the less-publicised part of the government's ID cards strategy. Bigger than any such scheme anywhere in the world, it will hold detailed information on roughly 46 million people, and it is meant to work like this.

You will be summoned (with up to a £2,500 fine for non-attendance) to visit a clerk, who will take your biometrics: the iris pattern in your eye, a fingerprint and a digital photograph. They will go into the system along with your name and other information, and you will hand over £85 and get a passport, ID registration number and card. From that moment, every use of your card will be automatically added to your government record, or "audit trail", whether it's at the social security office, your bank, Sainsbury's, the sexual health clinic, your office or on the way to your Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. Over time, a detailed and permanent account of your activities will build up.

The state will own this information. You won't get to see it, but it will be available to the police, the Inland Revenue, other public bodies and any commercial concerns the Home Secretary chooses. These visitors won't leave their own audit trail saying that they've called. We won't know who is observing us.

The government wants to reassure us. It says it's trustworthy; it says there's a lot of scattered data out there about us anyway - surely it's just common sense to link it up? Yet security experts know that the linking and aggregation of detailed personal information on this gigantic scale will be unstable and dangerous to everyone, because of the depth of what it reveals, because of its secrecy and because it will present a vulnerable target for electronic attack, whether by hostile governments, by international terrorism, or by your spiteful colleague.

Once compiled and linked, detailed data on tens of millions of people can't easily be separated out or destroyed. In March, a team of academics from the London School of Economics, together with technical and policy specialists from Europe and the US, noted in The Identity Project: an assessment of the UK Identity Cards Bill and its implications that the bill includes potential violations of Article 8 (privacy) and Article 14 (discrimination) of the European Convention on Human Rights. They also found it to be in direct conflict with the UK Data Protection Act 1998 - to which the government's solution is simply to lift the scheme out of the data protection regime.

Jamie, a black-clad young mathematician in a Manchester basement cafe with a black silk rose in his ponytail, is a master of the art of prising open electronic security systems, earning £1,000 a day for the trickier jobs. "If I wanted to steal someone's identity, so-called, it wouldn't be hard under the new scheme," he says.

He explains: "Analytically, what's a biometric? It tells you that this card matches that iris. It doesn't tell you who I am, though. I'd just take someone else's life details - people's true information is mostly a matter of public record, and it's surprising what else you can find out from what they throw or give away. Then I'd register those details with my own biometric and name. There, I've faked an ID. Easy. Falsifying data from scratch is trickier, but not impossible. You'd buy a birth certificate - using the name of someone who died young is good. Then you'd join a temp agency; get a P45 and P60; get your manager to sign and certify your photo using the false name; open a bank account with it. It'd take about a month." Unsurprisingly, Jamie is unimpressed by government rhetoric. "The off-the-shelf systems they're using are easy to break. Tying so much information together in one place will make it very insecure. If I wanted to circumvent it, I could. Half the members of every university maths department in Britain probably could. Most won't, but one day someone's going to say: 'It's a computer system - let's break it!' And then you might find the whole UK benefits system disabled by someone sitting at a terminal in North Korea."

Among those concerned about the outlook is the Information Commissioner for the UK, Richard Thomas, who wrote last year: "As the full magnitude of the proposals starts to emerge, my previous healthy scepticism has turned to increasing alarm." The LSE report, meanwhile, summarises the bill as "too complex, technically unsafe [and] overly prescriptive".

Even its overt aims don't stand up to scrutiny. In a study last year, the human rights watchdog Privacy International found no evidence that ID cards really do combat terrorism. Terrorists typically move across borders using legitimate tourist visas (as in the 9/11 attacks) or have a valid ID (the Madrid bombings). You can't read someone's intentions in their fingerprint. The scheme won't prevent identity theft either: US experience shows that using widely known numbers to link personal information with identity actually increases such theft. It won't really detect or prevent crime, in which evidence-gathering is more important than identity. It won't stop benefit fraud: identity falsification amounts to less than 1 per cent of such offences. What it will do, in its ponderous devouring of civil liberties and its naively old-fashioned, lock-step, Seventies-style design, is open up the possibilities for new kinds of national and international crime on a grand scale.

It could all be so different. A hundred ways exist of establishing personal identity and connecting it with safely separated databases. As the geeks point out, when you change where the information is kept, and how it's kept, you change everything.

"The government's design could hardly be worse for privacy, with the agencies that'll have access, and its vulnerability to being hacked into," says Ian Brown of University College London and the Foundation for Information Policy Research. "There are lots of technical alternatives."

You begin with a statement of requirements. What is the system really for, and what are the democratic trade-offs between privacy, efficiency and security? Solutions follow. A scheme being considered in France, for example, would retain all your personal information on the ID card itself, with no external database. A unique "master identifier", securely embedded within your card, would allow good governance of data-sharing for legitimate public policy reasons, while limiting infringements of privacy.

Real biometric identification doesn't require a card anyway: just a small electronic device that recognises, say, your fingerprint. By placing your finger on it, you yourself would release encrypted, accurate, unique information to any authenticated computer: in a bank, at the doctor's, anywhere. The receiving computer would be assured of your data; but it would not be able to trace who you were. Confidential, elegant, cheap, simple - and no database or audit trail needed.

"People have been experimenting with this technology for at least ten years," remarks Dr Brown. "Privacy-protecting personal biometric ID readers are nothing new. But is there the political will to use them?"

History determines imagination. "They constantly try to escape/From the darkness outside and within/By dreaming of systems so perfect that no one will need to be good," wrote T S Eliot in the 1930s. The organising mechanisms of the police states whose rise he was chronicling were, in themselves, every bit as morally neutral as today's technology, but that didn't stop fascism locking everyone down in the end.

We need not sleepwalk into a mass surveillance system this time around. If we want an ID scheme - and there are arguments for having one - then the technology itself offers a way forward. The machines don't have to oppress us, encouraging disobedience and crime; they can instead civilise, educate and empower. Privacy and security need not be opposites; they can and should be mutually reinforcing. There's no magic about technology. The magic is in people, their creativity and willingness to change.

Europe 2- European Union 0

Well... it looks like the wannabe United States of Europe has been derailed for the moment by the French and the Dutch. Lots of wailing and screaming from the "My EU, right or wrong" brigade all round the EU. Oh dear, I can't stop smirking thinking about it. For those who don't want this part of the world to play Isengard to the Mordor over the Atlantic, it has been a good few weeks. Anyway, here's a few articles I've seen which are very much to the point.

Scaremongering and delusions

The claim that without the treaty neoliberalism and racism will engulf us is the opposite of the truth

Janet Bush
Saturday May 28, 2005
The Guardian

With opinion polls pointing to rejections of the EU constitution in France and the Netherlands, the yes side in Britain has increasingly resorted to scaremongering. Denis MacShane, the former minister for Europe, was at it on the BBC's Question Time, hinting about the triumph of the dark side, about fascism and racism and the inexorable rise of the totalitarian right.
Fear is a tactic used by politicians of every hue, but it remains deplorable and, I suspect, counterproductive. Europe's electorates are not stupid; we tend to react very badly to threats from the political classes, and we don't like being patronised.

Labour's Chris Bryant, in a Commons debate on whether Britain should have a referendum on the constitution (before Tony Blair was forced to concede one), said that it was fine for people to vote for a Pop Idol but not on something as complicated as the EU. Blair's government has told us that this constitution is just an exercise to "tidy up" existing treaties - and then we discover that it abolishes national vetoes in 63 new areas and that our fellow Europeans are hailing the document as "the birth certificate of a United States of Europe". Maybe that's a good thing; but if so, why aren't its supporters honestly arguing for their vision? The fact that they take refuge in smear and fear arouses my suspicion.
We are told that a no vote would result in the rise of the right in Europe. But isn't it the case that the right is on the rise because of economic stagnation and mass unemployment, exacerbated by the rigidities of the euro, and a feeling of disenfranchisement as Europe has become less accountable and more politically centralised? In any case, out-and-out opponents of Europe such as Ukip got nowhere in the election (its anti-immigration message didn't resonate, perhaps because New Labour's policy was tough enough).

We are told that voting no will make Europe more racist. It is certainly deeply distasteful that Turkey's potential accession to the EU has been presented as a plus for the no side in France (I declare an interest; I work on promoting Turkey's case for EU membership). But opposition to Turkish membership is not the preserve of the no side; it was Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, in charge of the convention that drafted the constitution, who said that Turkey's accession would spell the end of the EU - a view endorsed by the new Pope.

Another argument against voting no is that it would bury Europe's social model under a neoliberal tsunami. This argument is scarcely credible. Yes, the constitution contains a charter of fundamental rights but what protection does the charter actually offer us? For one thing, it is highly uncertain how the provisions of the charter will pan out in reality because they are subject to legal interpretation by the European court of justice. What do the judges (political appointees) think? Are they leftwing or rightwing? Indeed, just who are they?

The yes side is often motivated by nothing much more than a distaste and mistrust of everything about America. I have always seen the Manichean choice offered by the European yes campaign between America (evil) and Europe (good) as woefully naive, patronising and downright dangerous. Is it sane to try to counter an imperial bully by creating another imperial bully, but not quite as well-funded? Yes, let's build a counterweight to America, but not an economically stagnant, undemocratic, inward-looking one.

Back to economics: Europe's political classes have never shown the slightest interest in turning back the Anglo-Saxon economic tide. The euro project has been built on the foundations of sado-monetarism - a European Central Bank with no mandate to pursue growth and jobs, and a set of fiscal rules known as the stability and growth pact outlawing Keynesian deficit financing, however great the economic need. The constitution not only pronounces that the euro is the currency of the European Union (however awful it has proved to be for the European economy, as Blair himself has now admitted), but also includes the pact wholesale despite the fact that it has been entirely discredited. (Remember Romano Prodi, the former commission president, calling it "stupid"?) What is dumber than to include it in a constitution? Even worse, why is the common agricultural policy also enshrined in the text, despite the fact that, the French government and the farming lobby apart, it is accepted that it is inefficient, iniquitous and must go?

There is a difference between being anti-European and rejecting a constitution that is a dog - and, like Blair's dodgy dossier on Iraq, a document designed not to inform but to further an already agreed, covert political agenda, in spite of the views of the people. Europe is precious; peace in Europe is precious; our democracies, national and European, ruled by left or right, are precious; and democracies are being hollowed out without the consent and active participation of the people. This constitution does not have their true consent (even if the peoples of France and the Netherlands, in the end, concede to fear and vote yes).

For me, Herman Daly, the progressive environmentalist and economist, sums up why this constitution - and the integrated European polity it is designed to develop - is fundamentally flawed. In Steady-State Economics, he writes: "Human institutions should not be allowed to grow beyond the human scale in size and complexity. Otherwise the economic machine becomes too heavy a burden on the shoulders of the citizen, who must continually grind and regrind himself to fit the imperatives of the overall system, and who becomes ever more vulnerable to the failure of other interdependent pieces that are beyond his control and even beyond awareness. Lack of control by the individual over institutions and technologies that not only affect his life but determine his livelihood is hardly democratic and is, in fact, an excellent training in the acceptance of totalitarianism."

· Janet Bush is director of Advocacy International and former director of the No Euro campaign.

One thing which gets me about debate on the EU in Britain is the myth put forward by the "My EU right or wrong" brigade that only people on our sceptred isle are the only Europeans opposed to the EU and the way it is going. Never mind that over recent years the Danish, Swedes and Irish have all voted against various aspects of further EU integration (and the Swiss & Norwegians have voted to stay out altogether). Furthermore, the EU fan club like to say that all opposition which does exist to the EU is "right-wing" and probably neo-fascist in nature. So it gives me great gloating pleasure to publish the article below on my blog.

Thwarted by a surge of democracy

Under cover of unification, free market liberals hijacked Europe

Serge Halimi
Thursday June 2, 2005
The Guardian

There is one tiny problem with most of the analysis of last Sunday's vote in France. Those who probe the motivations of the large majority who voted no (54.87%) forget to remind us that they, overwhelmingly, voted yes.
For more than six months, all the leading commentators in the media heaped praise on the constitutional project. France's two biggest media owners (and weapons manufacturers) endorsed the yes side: Serge Dassault, a conservative senator, did so in an editorial in one of his many magazines; Arnaud Lagardère spoke to a pro-yes rally, cheered by Nicolas Sarkozy and most of the cabinet.

Most commentators have observed that Jacques Chirac has been stung by this defeat, but the rout of France's mainstream media is even more impressive. From the rightwing television channel TF1 to the "leftwing" weekly le Nouvel Observateur, and including le Monde, Libération, the business press, the major radio stations, even women's and sports publications - they all warned and railed, they all censored and twisted. Yet, their propaganda was blunted by an unexpected surge of democracy. Thousands of well-attended meetings discussed the constitutional treaty. And, bit by bit, the sense of inevitability that it would be easily ratified by a mildly interested electorate was torn apart.
Indeed the outrage about media bias became a leading issue of the campaign - not least because it encapsulated so many of the things that this referendum came to be about: representation, the elite and class.

The problem is obvious on the political side. Last February more than 90% of French deputies had backed the constitution; it garnered the support of only 45% of the voters. The gap is no less obvious when it comes to informing the people: the leading journalists, who often live in Paris, an increasingly bourgeois city, seem to write and speak for the affluent. And the rich did vote yes by a healthy margin, just like 66% of the Parisians.

But elsewhere it was quite another story: whereas 74% of the voters earning more than €4,500 a month backed the constitutional project, 66% of the voters earning less than €1,500 a month voted against. In ultra-wealthy Neuilly (a Paris suburb where many industrial and media tycoons reside, and whose mayor is the presidential hopeful Sarkozy) 82.5% voted yes. Mining cities of northern France and the poorest districts of Marseille were equally lopsided: 84% of Avion (Nord-Pas-de Calais) and 78% of Marseille's 15th district voted no.

Granted, Chirac has lost. Yet it should not take long for the Socialists to wonder how well a party of the left is doing when 80% of the workers and the unemployed, 60% of the young and a large proportion of its own voters desert its official position on such an important issue.

Four years ago Pierre Moscovici, then the French minister for European affairs, wrote in the Financial Times that Tony Blair's triumph was "excellent news for the left and for Europe. For the left, it shows that a good leader, good results and a good programme can win elections. From that point of view, Mr Blair is an admirable example to other social democrats." Yet a few months after Lionel Jospin had been inspired by this "admirable example" he was humiliated in France's presidential election and sidelined by Jean-Marie Le Pen. The cause? A gulf between the Socialist party and its working-class constituency, who rarely read the English business press.

The party did not learn its lesson. By backing a constitution enshrining free-market liberalism, it again made the wrong choice and lost.

Business leaders and the wealthy journalists who write for them may bewail this: the French regularly reject Anglo-Saxon-style capitalism, and the left electorate does not want the "third way". Every new election makes this clear. Yet nothing seems to change. Chirac was first elected president 10 years ago because he had denounced a "social divide". Today it is greater than ever. In the meantime, a series of free-market reforms has hit pensions, education and industry. Unemployment has kept on rising and poverty has spread.

Some politicians - and the employers' federation - had hoped to use the constitution's obsession with markets (the word appears 88 times) and competition (29 times) as a legal wedge against France's "social model".

"Why am I pro-European?" said Sarkozy a few weeks ago. "Because I think it is a powerful lever to force France to modernise and reform. If France has twice as much unemployment as other countries it is not because we are too liberal, it is because we have the 35-hour week." But France is not yet safe for liberalism. Sarkozy's line of argument triggered such a backlash that the Socialists - but also Chirac - swore that he had misunderstood it all. "The constitution is a child of 1789," Chirac argued.

But by voting no, many French people have understood that their choice was the truly European one - that, contrary to what they were told, the constitutional treaty was not the tool that could end Europe's free-market drift. In the last 20 years, the project dreamed up by the European commission and most governing coalitions of the member states has appeared obsessed only with economic reform, an ever-expanding free-market zone, the dismantling of the welfare state, lower corporate taxes and business-friendly legislation - such as a proposal to liberalise Europe's market for service industries.

France's landslide rejection of the treaty is likely to embolden many of the progressive forces of the EU, bringing about the rethinking of a once-worthy ideal that gradually became distorted into a single market and a military junior partner for the US. Such a reappraisal bears no resemblance to the "federation of fear" that European commission president José Manuel Barroso saw unfolding after Sunday's vote.

All along, "Europe" has been an elite process with shallow roots. In France, a large turnout (70%) has tackled the constitutional project with seriousness and passion. Many politicians in Paris and Brussels probably regret this surge of democracy and will look for ways to pressure the French to hold another vote. But it is unlikely that an informed electorate will change its mind now that it has understood the links between the social devastation at home and the neoliberal policies that spread under the cover of European unification.

· Serge Halimi writes for le Monde diplomatique ( and is the author of Le Grand Bond en Arrière: Comment l'ordre libéral s'est imposé au monde (The Great Leap Backward: How the liberal order was imposed on the world)

The next piece is from Larry Elliott, the Guardian's EU-critical economics editor. One of the reasons I am a Guardian, not an Independent, reader, is the former is a genuinely liberal paper, allowing a wide range of political ops on its comment pages, while the Indie is boringly "My EU right or wrong" in its commentaries. I would not be surprised if the Indie tells its readers to boycott the south of France this year as a protest about France voting "Non" (& cut out those Amsterdam stag parties as well...).

The week the monster turned on its creators

Eurocrats had a vision of integration that would never work. But now there is a chance to rewrite the script

Larry Elliott
Monday June 6, 2005
The Guardian

The dream is over. For the past 17 years, large parts of the left and centre-left in Britain have believed in the vision presented by Jacques Delors at the TUC conference back in 1988. Fed up with Thatcherism, Delors said to the assembled brothers and sisters: do you want an alternative to mass unemployment and attacks on the working class? Then sign up to my vision of Europe.
What might be called the "sensible left" duly signed up. It liked the talk of solidarity and internationalism, but there was more to it than that. The Delors vision also appealed to some of the less attractive traits of the left - the worship of power, the notion that there is always a big solution to the smallest of problems, and the feeling, identified by Orwell long ago, that there is something unseemly about loving your own country.

Ever since, it has been urging that Britain fulfil its destiny and whole-heartedly back the "project". It has berated Gordon Brown for allowing the Treasury to put economic obstacles in the way of political engagement. It has turned a blind eye to sky-high levels of unemployment, seen simply as transitional costs on the way to the promised land. It has contented itself with the comforting thought that euro-scepticism, fanned by the Murdoch press, is something peculiar to Britain.
The events of the past week have shattered this cosy little fantasy. In France and the Netherlands, opposition to the constitution was strongest among the poor, the young and the excluded. Even with Europe's political class scuttling around looking for scapegoats, nobody had the chutzpah to claim that it was the Sun - by some kind of cross-Channel infection - "wot lost it".

The vote in France could just about have been shrugged off as the last roar of a nation of luddites against the inevitability of globalisation. But the Dutch? For these model Europeans to vote by almost 2-1 against the constitution was a hammer blow. The Netherlands is one of the countries the British left has always admired: liberal, tolerant, prosperous, generous. And now in open revolt against its political masters.

The response from Brussels and the European capitals last week was to pretend that nothing had really changed. It was all a bit reminiscent of Eric Honecker hailing the brave socialist dawn as the Trabbies spluttered their way towards the iron curtain in the last days of East Germany.

Some big lessons now need to be learned. The first is to understand how it was that in France and the Netherlands last week, and in Sweden in 2003, a big initial lead for the yes camp was turned into a resounding no vote by polling day. The reason is that those making the case for the euro and ever-closer union do so with the arguments and language of management consultancy. They talk of "the project" making markets more efficient. The "no" camp does not talk of "projects". It taps into the things that matter to people: the urge for security, identity, a sense of belonging. Like it or not, people love their own country more than they love the abstract notion of the European Union.

A second lesson is that unless the prime minister is a secret masochist, there will be no referendum on the constitution in Britain. If the government were stupid enough to hold one, it would be lost by a landslide dwarfing that in the Netherlands. The odds on Britain joining the euro are longer than the odds on monetary union collapsing.

The sensible left should stop whingeing about that and admit that Brown did us all an enormous favour when he came up with the Treasury's five economic tests. His argument has been vindicated by the anti-euro sentiment evident in the Netherlands last week. The chancellor said that joining the single currency when the economics were not right would foster a massive backlash when things went wrong, as they assuredly would. If voters in the loyally pro-European Netherlands have turned against the single currency and the European Central Bank, just imagine what it would be like here if the economic brown stuff hit the fan.

Thirdly, the left has to wake up to the fundamental reason for the unpopularity of Europe. It is that the Delors model was perhaps appropriate for the Europe of the 1940s but not the Europe of the 21st century. Europe's social model, which was rightly envied from this side of the Channel in the 1980s, was only affordable if there was strong enough growth to generate the tax revenues to pay for the welfare state. Delors, with his rigid, inflexible command and control model, ensured that unemployment would be high, growth low and the costs of the social model unaffordable.

Europe today is only socialist to the extent that the Soviet Union in the last years of Brezhnev was socialist. This, lest it be forgotten, is what the Keynesians, the greens and the anti-globalisers have long predicted.

The non-sensible left has always had its doubts about the "project". The Keynesians said that the euro, far from leading to stronger growth, would actually become a job-destruction machine. Setting up a central bank with an inbuilt bias towards price stability in a world of low inflation would be like the British guns at Singapore in 1942 - powerful weapons pointing out to sea when the enemy was closing in from the opposite direction.

The greens said forcing the pace of integration from the top down was not only economically daft but also anti-democratic. It would, they said, lead to political disengagement. The argument of the anti-globalisers was that despite all the talk of creating a social Europe, monetary union was actually a Trojan horse that would be used as a means of spreading neo-liberal ideas and big business values across the continent.

The events of the past four years, culminating in the no votes of the past week, suggest that the Keynesians, the greens and the anti-globalisers were right. Europe has not grown; it has stagnated. Unable to see the damage wrought by the Frankenstein's monster they have created, Europe's elite argues that the solution to the problem of mass unemployment is for people to work longer hours and accept less generous benefits. Those on the receiving end have hoarded their money and nurtured their resentment.

Finally, the left needs to realise that the priority now is a set of policies that will raise Europe's derisory growth rate. There is a lot of talk about Britain taking over the leadership of Europe, much of which sits oddly with a £5bn a month visible trade deficit and the loss of a million jobs in manufacturing since 1997.

In macro-economic policy, however, there is no doubt that the British model is superior. Take Italy, which would be far better off outside the eurozone, with the flexibility to set its own inflation target and a floating currency to compensate for its lack of competitiveness. It turns out that there was a point to all those small currencies after all. They were the shock absorbers that allowed countries that were structurally very different to rub along together.

Expansionary macro-economic policies should be combined with active labour market policies that have been shown to work in keeping the jobless total down in countries such as Denmark, Sweden and, until recently, the Netherlands. But that means accepting European countries should be able to pursue the goals of full employment and prosperity in their own way, rather than submit to a catch-all blueprint that lacks economic sense and political legitimacy.

Those who say a retreat from the integrationist approach would mean Europe failed to punch its weight globally could not be more wrong. Influence is a function of success, not size. The only time Europe has had a real impact on American policy was in the 1960s, when Lyndon Johnson's Great Society was a homage to the generous welfare state made possible by rapid post-war growth in the nation states of western Europe.

Europe will only wield influence once more when it gets its economy right. It now has the chance to do just that.

Now an American in Paris view. This comes from the ezine Spectre run by those well known right wing xenophobes, the Socialist Party of the Netherlands...

Why they voted No

June 12, 2005 18:51 | by Matt Reichel

The French and Dutch "Non" and "Nee" weren't votes against Europe or against progress or "togetherness" argues American in Paris Matt Reichel. Reichel made a valiant attempt to explain the No vote to the folks back home: "That's what the political elite has wanted you to think, but, in all reality, the 'no' vote is little more than a demonstration of European capacity to see through the lies that have been constantly slung at them by politicians and their pals in the media."

Lie #1: "A "no" vote will throw Europe into complete chaos.

This is one of my favorites: like the political elite would offer a vote where one of the possible options would result in anarchy, confusion, and complete disorder. My friend at Spectrezine, Steve McGiffen, phrased this one fittingly in conversation by evoking the metaphor of the "four horsemen of the apocolypse" to describe what presumedly happens if one votes "no" in this referendum.

This is democracy in the neo-liberal era: "get out there and vote everyone!, and, most importantly, vote correctly! nothing stupid!"

Lie #2: "A "no" vote is stupid."

The image left by this oft-flung accusation is something like this: The "yes" supporters have spent long hard working hours in libraries poring over thick volumes of legal and trade documents followed by rigorous application of the appropriate scientific methodology to arrive at the perfect cartesian conclusion that: "we need this constitution."

Meanwhile, the "no" supporters are the base, idiotic masses. Images of Marx's "rural idiocy" are conjured up: where all of the French farmers arrive in Paris with shovel and hoe in hand, half their teeth missing, making wild proclamations about French "Grandeur": seemingly lost on all the Euro-progress that has gone on over the last few decades.

Lie #3: "This constitution strikes the perfect balance between market and social principles."

Firstly, the word "market" appears over 100 times in the text, trumping the words "social," "environment," "welfare," and any of their cognates some ten times over.

Secondly, either one of these principles is the stuff of politics: to be decided by democratically elected representatives. Why the hell is the constitution having this discourse? Even the constitution presiding over the Land of the Free doesn't make mention of market. America's capitalism is not pronounced in its constitution: nor should it be. Leave it up to right wing nut jobs who manage to receive a governing mandate by skillfully putting themselves in bed with big business and the media to institute free market reforms to their own glorious benefit. Don't need the constitution to make these decisions.

Thirdly, the constitution proclaims that Europe will be defined by open markets, minimal government interference, and free trade. The first two have generally come to mean shrinking social benefit packages, and greater fiscal constraint on the welfare state. Already, France has been feeling the squeeze on its prized Social Democracy: as the Eurozone cap on defecit spending has forced blanket cuts on rent and housing assistance, holiday time and pay, and even threats of putting a fork in the ol' 35 hour work week. By locking countries in to "shrinking government" commitments, eventually the squeeze will win, and voila! we have a brand spanking new Land of the Free ready for mass consumption by whoever manages to pull off a decent wage.

Fourthly, the language with the market reforms tends to be exact and well nurtured: marking the accumulation of decades of trade treaties driven by market logic. Meanwhile, the social protections that exist tend to be watered down and vague. Take the one on environmental protection: "Union policy on the environment shall aim at a high level of protection taking into account the diversity of situations in the various regions of the Union. It shall be based on the precautionary principle and on the principles that preventive action should be taken, that environmental damage should as a priority be rectified at source and that the polluter should pay."

Terms like "high level of protection" and "diversity of situations" are never explained, nor is the spirit of "priority." In sum, this safeguard acts like it has a lot of meaning, but, in the legal sense, it doesn't mean a god damn thing.

Lie #4: "Europe needs to be stronger in order to counter balance American hegemony."

Wait. I'm suddenly horridly confused. Is Europe supposed to go to war with the United States? Is this going to be happening soon? Because, I will re-locate myself to somewhere safe like, maybe, Japan if this comes to fruition.

The constitution also commits countries to increasing their military capacity in order to pursue a common military policy. Technically, it says "foreign policy," but I've noticed through several years of being on this planet that there is little difference between foreign and military policy when we are talking about Great Powers. If countries strictly abide by this regulation, then they will all eventually spend 100% of their resources on military: increasing their expenditures year after year until they are eventually perfectly fascist.

Lie #5: "You can't turn your back on Europe now!"

This sort of argument is laced with the Catholic commitment logic: once you find a girl you like, you stick with her for life. I tend to operate more under the logic of: "If the girl goes crazy, then it's time to move on."

Either way, politics tends to work quite differently than romance. In politics, there is generally a handful of sneaky bastards roaming underneath ready to take advantage of whatever framework they can in order to institute more power for themselves. There's never just two: "us" and "Europe." In fact, there's the hodge podge of "us" that mostly don't know each other but can pretend, and "Europe" which is a political construction vaguely resembling a geographical entity in the physical universe, then the wide array of interests that want to make "Europe" work for their own good while pretending to be working for "us." Because the latter have begun to really fuck things up between "us" and "Europe," I really think that we are going to have to break things off for the time being.

Lie #6: "The No Campaign is led by right wing nationalists."

I am not a right wing nationalist, the "Association pour la Taxation des Transactions pour l'Aide aux Citoyens" (ATTAC), a wildly popular group pushing for a redistributive Tobin tax in Europe, is not a group of right wing nationalists, France's largest trade union, the Confédération Général du travail (CGT), is not a right wing nationalist group, the European Social Forum (ESF) is not an enormous collection of right wing nationalist groups, and over 50% of France and the Netherlands are NOT right wing nationalists.

Sore losers tend to make arrogant remarks like this out of desparation. It's time that the power elite realize that the problem is not the opposition, but rather themselves.

So the French people have picked through the lies and voted their conscience, and produced a fairly unpredictable result on the heels of hard effort by grassroots groups through France.

The apocolypse will never come, Europe will not disintegrate, Europe will not be obliterated by the American military machine any time soon, and quality of life will not suddenly plummet.

Europe will keep on truckin' as it has since the last round of treaties: sans constitution, and packed full of hope for a progressive future. The constitution will be re-worked, and the power elite will attempt to take into consideration what voters are concerned about, and then a re-vote will likely occur in France, and maybe in the Netherlands where the vote is not binding, but "consultative."

They could possibly decide to take a page from previously existing constitutions wherein the dense political language is left out, and what remains is some psuedo-inspiring dribble drabble about Posterity, Freedom and Liberty: three things discovered on this very land by White Men with a flare for the dramatic.

More likely, a few more watered down passages guaranteeting social protection will be added, and all of the same problems will remain.

What needs to happen now is a concerted effort by ATTAC, the CGT, and other trade unions and grassroots groups throughout Europe to band together and make clear what changes they want: staying principally opposed to all language demanding the "removal of government" from the economy, and vanishing barriers to trade. Those are not healthy things to have locked into a constitution: it is the job of governments to responsibly suit tariffs and monetary policy to the constantly changing reality of the world around them.

Furthermore, it must be remembered that no compromise can be made between social and free market guarantees at the constitutional level: thus grassroots groups need to accept absolutely no language on the market and trade barriers.

Then, Europe will be well constituted and suited to take care of her children for the coming centuries. This is where the only guarantees are those that protect the citizenry from soiled interests: from the heavy hand of government, from the greed of corporate interests, from the tragedy of inequality, from the fickleness of war, and from the cliche nature of consumer-driven society. Education, housing, health care, safe and sound working conditions, and a thoughtful political discourse driven by concerns of equity ought be the focus of a constitution. These are the needs of society that governance has the capacity to help with.

Enormous corporations need no further guarantees than those already contained by their extroardinary wealth and power.

Now that the Right-wing assault on liberties termed the "European Constitution" has been justly shot down, let us begin work on something resembling an equitable construction of principles grounded in concern for human dignity for a Europe that is strong in the moral sense of the word.

Matt Reichel is a postgraduate student who lives in Paris.

Finally, a Dutch Socialist perspective on the votes, also from Spectre.

Nee means No!

June 12, 2005 19:11 | by Kartika Liotard, MEP

The overwhelming Dutch NEE against the European constitution is a serious 'wake-up call' for The Hague, Brussels and as it now seems, London. It's a wake-up call for Europe: time to stop dreaming, time to face reality. Years of ignoring the discontent of the people about the pace and direction of European integration have led to derailment and stagnation of that process. The only way out is to listen to the worries of the people and act accordingly, argues Kartika Liotard, Member of the European Parliament for the Dutch Socialist Party

A resolution put forward by the Socialist Party in the Netherlands and supported by the Dutch parliament calls for an immediate and broad civil debate on the question of what we want with regard to further corporation in Europe, and what the goals and means of the EU should be. Before these questions are resolved, there is no room for further forced integration.

The Dutch NO was not a NO against Europe or European co-operation. On the contrary, stalling the constitutional process and slowing down the pace of the process of integration as well as questioning the direction it was going were the only ways to guarantee a stable future for Europe. The NO was a NO against the further development of an arrogant neo-liberal super-state that would inevitably lead to disintegration of the Union.

After the French and Dutch NO, there is no way back. The only way is forward, but this time with the people. The Netherlands will not accept a new referendum on the same proposal. Any attempt to repeat the vote would represent total disrespect of the loud outcry of the people who voted by 62-38 percent against the constitution.

Focussing on simply negotiating some minor benefits or special protocols for our country, as our minister of finance will certainly attempt in the near future - trying, for example, to bargain his way to a reduction of the Netherlands' EU contributions - would also completely ignore the reasons behind the massive NO-vote. The message is: it's too much, too soon and too fast. The way forward for Europe is to take it easy.

The day after the referendum, the Dutch government withdrew it's proposal to ratify the treaty. There was no need for parliament to vote on it, because the negative outcome was all too obvious. The UK will not have a referendum, the Czech referendum will be postponed and the Portuguese referendum is pending on the outcome of the Council meeting next week. Maybe it's time for the European Council to withdraw it's proposal for a European constitution as well, because after the Dutch and French NO, there's no way this proposal will ever become the European constitution. If you take the member states and it's people seriously, you can't simply allow them to vote on a proposal that no longer exists.

Kartika Liotard was elected to the European Parliament last year.

See also
More gloating on request!!