donderdag, maart 31, 2005

Remember Archbishop Romero

'Ending a long homily broadcast throughout the country, his voice rose to breaking, "Brothers, you are from the same people; you kill your fellow peasant . . . No soldier is obliged to obey an order that is contrary to the will of God . . . "'

'There was thunderous applause; he was inviting the army to mutiny. Then his voice burst, "In the name of God then, in the name of this suffering people I ask you, I beg you, I command you in the name of God: stop the repression."

'Romero's murder was a savage warning. Even some who attended Romero's funeral were shot down in front of the cathedral by army sharpshooters on rooftops. To this day no investigation has revealed Romero's killers.' -
Renny Golden

Twenty-five years ago today, Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador was assassinated.

Today, when there are bigots who, believing themselves of the Left, challenge those who ally themselves with people of a Muslim faith (the MAB, and others) to fight imperialism as having abandoned the struggle for social justice, let us remind ourselves that there is in fact a long and proud history of people of faith who have died fighting imperialism and other injustices.

But, in any case, where are the remembrances for Archbishop Romero?

You expect it from Johann, but Tariq should know better

I was going to expound on the wretched attack on Respect by Johann Hari (he really, really is just awful, isn't he? How amongst these dark satanic mills did he get a job at the Independent? It's not as if the article is even especially well written or researched, is it? Who the Hell did he have to suck off to get that job?...All right. I'm sorry about that last comment. Out of order. But I mean, really. How does someone like him get an £80,000 a year gig at a national newspaper while NUJ members are toiling away in the provinces for Newsquest on literally a tenth of that salary?) and the mollusc-like level of analysis that has pushed the occasionally, but quite often not, spot-on Tariq Ali to announce in the pages of the Guardian that he is to vote Lib Dem.

But Meaders, of Dead Men Left, who - despite my decidedly good friend Refusenikboy's not liking him very much, I don't think - has had quite a superb last fortnight's worth of postings (really, really quite good, in the way that Hari is not) - has beat me to it, so you might as well just go there instead.

Now, I have my issues with Respect, and how the 57 varieties of Trot organisations in the UK have mutated into 57 varieties of (separate) 'socialist unity' projects, but there are certainly constituencies where I would feel it appropriate to vote for them, in all their Gallowegian indefatigability.

The Universal Soldier

Interesting article by Sharon Smith, of the International Socialist Organisation, on the Counterpunch website today: 'Left Apologists for the Occupation' - in which she takes to task certain leaders of the anti-war movement for their equivocation or outright hostility to the Iraqi resistance.

If you are familiar with the writing of Naomi Klein or Christian Parenti - two of the best writers on the left at the moment and both regular contributors to the Nation and also both hardly apologists for US imperialism - you'll have read what are probably the most accurate assessments of the nature of the resistance. Obviously, neither author succumbs to the bullshit stereotypes of the resistance as a gang of Islamist and revanchist Baathists, but they are also careful not to paint them as the Zapatistas of the Middle East. Both Klein and Parenti have spent considerable amounts of time in Iraq, and, in Parenti's case, among the resistance.

Nonetheless, Smith goes after Klein for her words at a United for Peace and Justice (the main anti-war umbrella group in the States) teach-in last week, wherein she responded to an audience member who argued: 'The antiwar movement should take up...Iraqis' right to resist the occupation.' Klein responded by saying: 'We shouldn't get involved in offering blanket cheerleading for the resistance...There are dueling fundamentalists in Iraq...and [some] are enemies of the Iraqi people.'

Now, I think Klein is right to a degree. Plainly there are Baathist and Islamist elements involved in the resistance, but more than anything else, there are great swathes of illiterate lumpen petty criminals whose commitment to the resistance is contingent upon the level of remuneration they can squeeze out of their constellation of scattershot thefts, kidnappings and other violent delinquencies. Any 'blanket' cheerleading is indeed out of the question.

But this is not representative of the whole of the resistance, and, indeed, should Shiite expectations that the occupation will end in short order not be met, a much, much wider and more coherently organised resistance can be expected.

I would agree that tactically it does not make sense to have the anti-war movement adopt as principle solidarity with the resistance. The anti-war movement requires the maximum adherence for the minimum demand: Troops out now. Demanding that anti-war groups adopt positions of solidarity with the resistance would instantly exclude thousands of people who don't agree with such a standpoint but who are still opposed to the occupation. That said, there does need to be a strong, pro-resistance element arguing its case within the anti-war movement, and, more importantly, amongst the general population in the US and UK (and, um, Tongo).

I apologise for the repetition, but it must be said - the inhabitants of Iraq have the right morally and under international law to resist with arms. I may mourn every death amongst US and UK forces, the bulk of whose troops are there as a result of the economic draft of the working class and now, in the case of American soldiers who have already served their previously committed tour of duty, the back-door draft via unconstitutional stop-loss orders, but if the UK or US or any other country were occupied by anyone, they would have the same right and would anybody really care about the deaths amongst the occupiers? On the contrary, they would be cheered, no matter who they were.

Buffy Sainte-Marie was being a little ultra-left when she sang that The Universal Soldier is ultimately responsible for war:

And he's fighting for democracy,
he's fighting for the Reds,
he says it's for the peace of all,
he's the one who must decide,
who's to live and who's to die,
and he never sees the writing on the wall.

And without him, how would Hitler
kill the people at Dachau,
without him Cesar would have stood alone,
he's the one, who gives his body
as a weapon of the war,
and without him always killing can't go on.

He's the universal soldier,
and he really is to blame,
his orders came from far away, no more,
they came from here and there,
and you and me ain't brothers,
can't you see,
this is not the way we put an end to war.

Buffy went too far: Soldiers are indeed workers in uniform, unlike the pigs and the screws, they don't have a choice. Often the military is the only option out of the ghetto or rural wasteland, and we rightly mourn when any soldier from our side is killed, but we must be frank here: we are the occupiers and they will resist with arms. How else are they to defeat the occupation? With papier maché puppets and guerilla theatre?

We are beyond games here: this is war. They have the right to resist. It isn't pretty, and there are Islamists and Baathists within the resistance, but still they have the right to resist.

The racist hypocrisy of the liberals in the anti-war movement is breathtaking. If we were occupied, would they have such qualms? Would they really care so much about the deaths amongst the occupiers, even knowing that the foot soldiers would have been recruited from amongst the poor?

Without reservation, then: Victory to the resistance!

zaterdag, maart 26, 2005

Another victory for the Black Bloc

It is imperative that you go and have a listen to Doug's amusing interview at If there is hope about the seven-person anarchist split from the main anti-war march in Ottawa on the weekend.

Of particular interest are the Black Blockers' three-hundred-dollar Rossignol ski-goggles, and Doug's theory of how Rossignol, other ski paraphenalia companies and anyone involved in lubricants are all complicit in this war for oil.


Well, it's been a bit of a battle, but we are now, officially, the biggest apostate in all cyberspace, bigger even than Julian, apostate of apostates, whose attempt to defy the Gospel and rebuild the temple at Jerusalem was brought to nothing by fire and earthquake, according to the online Catholic Encyclopedia, which also reports that 'Some of Julian's many controversial writings, orations, and letters have been preserved, showing his discordant, subjective character.'

But see, Julian probably never wrote about dirty Swedish bum sex (a posting that, to this day, is still delivering a considerable portion of the traffic to the blog). Which is why he's number two.

So ner.

donderdag, maart 24, 2005


Mum, sorry I used bad words like 'fuck' in my last-but-one posting. Really, I'm not as foul-mouthed as that normally.

Happy Easter. Hope you like the tulips.

European social movements - 1; Bolkestein - Nil

Good news for once, of a kind: The Bolkestein directive ('Eeek! It sounds like Frankenstein!' screamed Mary-Lou. 'That's because it is indeed a monster of law,' answered Dr. McBride ominously while tugging on his pipe, squinting and peering off into the distance.) has been defeated. Sort of.

The EU services directive ostensibly aimed at 'opening up' the service sector in Europe has run up against the seemingly immoveable confidence of French trade unions and social movements.

As I mentioned in a recent post, the directive would have imposed the 'country of origin' principle to EU member state worker, environmental and other regulatory protections, meaning any company need only adhere to the legal restrictions of the country in which it was based, producing a race to the bottom as all European companies clambered over each other to establish headquarters in, say, Bulgaria.

Bolkestein produced a renewed wave of protest across Europe, in particular in France, but culminating in the massive 100,000-strong demonstration for 'a social Europe' in Brussels on the weekend.

The campaign against the directive has had a noticeable impact in France, and has more than rubbed off on people's attitude towards the proposed European Constitution. This week it was revealed that a slight majority in generally Europhiliac France are to vote against the ECT.

French president Jacques Chirac, petrified that a no vote in the country's upcoming referendum on the European Constitution will damage France's authority in Europe, has come out swinging against the directive and for Europe's 'social model'. EU leaders meeting here on Tuesday agreed to a compromise on the directive.

While the directive is not exactly completely deadfully dead yet, and will undoubtedly rematerialise in some other guise like a neo-liberal TARDIS, the privateers of Europe are skittish and disoriented, having been surprised by the ferocity of the anti-Bolkestein campaign.

Interestingly, the Eurocrat who remains most bullish on the services directive is the president of Hartlepool United FC, Peter Mandelson, of the UK, where there is effectively no campaign for a social Europe at all…

Welcome Mr. Peter.

[This is about the time that a troop of fifty patchouli-drenched British anarchists dressed up in hand-knitted hemp Frankenstein costumes take a ferry across La Manche and descend on Commissioner Mandy's offices here in BXL. Oh waaaait - there's an idea. You can find Mr. Peter at: 200 rue de la Loi, B-1049 Brussels, Belgium. His phone number is: +32-2-298 56 15 and his telefacsimile machine number is: +32-2-299 60 87]


Not terribly impressed with Hot Hot Heat's new single, Goodnight, Goodnight. If this is the lead single, it doesn't bode well for the new album.

So check out Oh Yeah, by the Subways, instead.

woensdag, maart 23, 2005

Fuck me, World Pride's being held in Israel.

Well, that tells you just how far we've all come since the days of the GLF, comrades. Pathetic fucking queerocrats.

Mark at Jews Sans Frontieres has the details on the boycott of World Pride 2005, which is being held, astonishingly, in Jerusalem this year. QUIT (Queers Undermining Israeli Terrorism) is calling for a worldwide boycott of the events, correctly arguing that 'the civil rights victories gained by some LGBTIQ [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer] people within Israel do not justify or excuse the oppression of the Palestinian people or the occupation of their lands.'

Hallucinatorily, the theme for this year is 'Love without borders'.


V. into 'Stand up to your mother' by Young and Sexy at the moment, who also, fascinatingly, do a song that starts off sampling the distinctive sound of the Vancouver Skytrain and which does a lyrical check of the demise of the Bowmac sign on Broadway. A young woman and dear, dear friend of mine whose field is Victorian poetry at, frighteningly, an Alberta uni, sent it me illegally. You can find out more about them here, although you'll have to trawl Soulseek or visit Mint Records for the track in question, which is of a twee piece with the offerings of Belle and Sebastian, Camera Obsura, the Concretes, et al, if you like that sort of thing, which I do.

Right. Enough superfluous adverbs for one evening.

vrijdag, maart 18, 2005

For a social Europe!

Parce que l'Europe n'est pas une marchandise.

Hipster filmmakers go to Baghdad

'Omigod, Jeremy, my old-school Chuck Taylors are, like, totally getting massacred by the sewage flotsam floating around Baghdad. Pass me my Dunhills, dude. What do you mean "we smoked the last one an hour ago"? I am sooo not in the mood for arch Simon and Garfunkel references right now, my nigga.'

Two new docs about Iraq are out in the States: Gunner Palace and Occupation:Dreamland. I haven't seen either (and, given that all foreign films that come to the Benelux have to be subtitled in both French and Dutch and thus take on average eleven years after their original release to get here, I probably won't be seeing them for a while), but I was frittering away some moments at work watching movie trailers on the Grand Distractometre and came across them.

Both look like quite good day-in-the-life-type stories about 'average' American soldiers, with Gunner Palace in particular edited and soundtracked in the style characteristic of the post-MTV generation of documentary filmmakers. Fine, fine, fine. I don't get as hopped up as some do about ADD filmmaking (More so than MTV, the kinetic editing of Sesame Street, did you know, is responsible for much of the contemporary diminishment of contemporary attention spans? So says my mum, a psychologist. So she should know. Don't let her catch you drinking straight out of the milk jug either), although I do also appreciate a nice, sedate, meandering film that really challenges one's attention span (cf. Gus Van Sant's Gerry). No, the aspect that bothers me here is the worrying development of a cynicaller-than-thou [Do not let me get away with that egregious neologism. I await your appellatory condescension in my comments box] sort of attitude regarding the war creeping into the worldview of the inhabitants of hipsterdom, of which some of the marketing bumf for the two films are typical.
From the blurb about Occupation: Dreamland in the
Rotterdam International Film Festival (Great festival; crap city, FYI):

'The soldiers operated from their camp that was christened Dreamland; they regularly went into Falluja in order to maintain order, even if they had no idea of the city, its inhabitants, the language, culture or religion. They may not be the smartest, but they are ordinary guys. They played in a band, but didn't become famous or were too impatient to finish school. Or they had a boring job in a shoe store, and the army recruiting office just happened to be next door. They have received little training and have often never set foot outside America before. Now they are in the sandpit around Falluja twiddling their thumbs. And spewing their gall to the camera. No, it's not a propaganda film. And Occupation: Dreamland does not have the tiresome message of many anti-war films. It provides a sober picture of the situation and that turns out to be effective.'
Then we have an interview with the directors of the two films in the Village Voice, which starts off seemingly critical of the corporate media:

'The filmmakers were also aware of how previous embeds had packaged the war for viewers back home. Tucker stresses that he never wanted "to end up in these kind of clusterfucks where there's like 10 cameras all fighting for the same shot. A lot of what you see on the news, that's what's happening. When they pool people and whatever, they're kind of all shooting the same thing."'
But which then takes a hipster swipe at the Fahrenheit/Outfoxed/Hunting of the President/Super Size Me/Fog of War/Daily Show/Air America liberal media zeitgeist of 2004:
'[I]f the filmmakers wanted to avoid the pitfalls of mainstream news media, they were also equally uninterested in crafting 2004-style docu-screeds. "I was completely opposed to the invasion of Iraq," [Garrett] Scott [the co-director of Occupation: Dreamland] states bluntly. "But I wasn't interested in bringing what I thought to something that didn't have anything to do with me. I was much more interested in what was actually happening there." [Ian] Olds [the film's other director] says they aimed for "something that we would have wanted to see about Vietnam or Korea or any of those wars. Not topical or activist, but something that would sustain itself as a historical document."

'Similarly, Michael Tucker [the co-director of Gunner Palace] sought to restore the emotional punch that images of war have lost. "I'm kind of beyond rights and wrongs, at this point. I'm really more like, we're two years into a war, and it's a very painful thing. And that people need to pay attention to what's happening to these soldiers and their families. I think people have seen the war so politically, when they should see it emotionally, because emotions are good for action. Politics are a very dry thing."'
The trailers also make a point of how 'non-political' the movies are.

It's beyond politics, man. This is real.

Certainly we do need to see images of war that go beyond the hyper-patriotic sanitisation of Iraq that Fox, CNN and even the BBC and the Guardian offer. As one soldier in Occupation Dreamland puts it: 'People want that steak, but they don't want to know how that cow gets butchered.' But in posing this 'truth about war' to be in opposition to both the White House and Michael Moore, as if both are equally distorting what is going on in Iraq, is akin to the pox-on-both-your-houses, six-of-one-half-a-dozen-of-the-other, Oprah-fied, factually ignorant morality that asks 'Why can't Israelis and Palestinians just get along?'

Undoubtedly, such attitudes are at least partially a result of the failure of Moore and Co. to defeat George Bush. There is always a retreat from - even a backlash to - ideology and partisanship in the wake of such setbacks.

But impartiality at such times can only result in lending support to barbarism.
Let's transpose the words of these hipster moral eunuchs from being about the current Arabian imbroglio to concerning something some magnitude more diabolical. From a WW2-era edition of Time Out Munich [Reductio ad absurdum? You knows it]:

'But if the filmmakers wanted to avoid the pitfalls of mainstream news media, they were also equally uninterested in crafting 1942-style docu-screeds. "I was completely opposed to the systematic murder of millions of Jews, Gypsies and homos," [Garrett] Scott [the co-director of Smells Like Birkenau] states bluntly. "But I wasn't interested in bringing what I thought to something that didn't have anything to do with me. I was much more interested in what was actually happening at the death camps." [Ian] Olds [the film's other director] says they aimed for "something that we would have wanted to see about Ypres or Gallipoli or any of that shit. Not topical or activist, but something that would sustain itself as a historical document. Those White Rose dudes, they're waaaay not objective, beyotch!"

'Similarly, Michael Tucker [the co-director of Lost in Treblinka] sought to restore the emotional punch that images of the Holocaust have lost. "I'm kind of beyond rights and wrongs, at this point. I'm really more like, we're a few years into a genocide, and it's a very painful thing. And that people need to pay attention to what's happening to these SS officers and their families. I think people have seen the gassings and labour camps so politically, when they should see them emotionally, because emotions are good for action. Politics are a very dry thing."'

Grrr. Hipster ninnies. It's almost enough to make me to rip up my membership in the International Brotherhood of Hipsters, Local 1977.

dinsdag, maart 15, 2005

Walthamstow Rifles

While I'm at it, I might as well also add that right now I am loving v. much 'Tendency' by Battle, which blatantly rips off not just any old Peter Hook baseline from New Order, but very specifically that of 'What do you want from me' by Monaco, Hooky's short-lived New Order side-project (although it's actually a bit darker. And actually a bit, gasp, better.). It may be thoroughly derivative, but there could be a hundred New Order rip-off bands on the charts and all the critics screaming how unoriginal it all is and I would still be happy. Just as there cannot be too many mushrooms in a sauce (Try it: try and put too many mushrooms in a sauce. It can't be done.), there cannot be too many bands attempting to be New Order.

…just as there can't be too many bands attempting to be the Jam, a mon avis. Apropos of such an imitation, we find The Rifles, of Walthamstow, (not to be confused with the identically named and generally okayish Rifles of north Yorkshire), whose 'Peace and Quiet', released last Monday and streamable here, is on repeat on the Apostate Windbag stereo. No points for guessing the Jam track that inspired the band's name. [Ah, in looking for their homepage, I have just found out I am a little late to the cotillion. Apparently Zane Lowe is already all over them. Teach me to attempt to be trendy indie-band recommending person]. Anyway, they're playing Blow Up at the Metro Club on Oxford St., London, on the 24th.

Kathleen Edwards

For those Americana/Alt-country fans amongst my readership, I have to just quickly say that Kathleen Edwards' second album, Back to Me came out last week, and it's a fucking corker.

I know this isn't supposed to be a music blog, so I'll shut up about this shortly, but if you're a fan of Hayden - and I know quite a few of you are judging by the response to my post on him a while back - then give Ms. Edwards a spin. She's gained a certain level of notoriety in Canada and to some extent in the States, but is largely unheard this side of the large wet bit. This album's a little less depress-o than her first album, Failer, but just as smartly small-town feminist (and I know she's from Ottawa, but you know what I mean*) in her lyrics about relationships [From 'Copied Keys', a song about moving away from her home-town to that of her new husband: 'This is not my town and it will never be/ This is our apartment filled with your things/ This is your life; I get copied keys'. It doesn't express a rejection of the move, but does acknowledge that she is the one that had to make the change, like every other woman in a million other different scenarios] and as authentically expressive of the thousand minor disappointments of not-quite-mid-adulthood as the last. I'd say she's like a female Neil Young, but that would measure her in terms of how much she's like some guy, when she's just great all by herself without any comparisons, as far as I'm concerned.

*But if you don't, I'm talking about that admirable, effortless, self-discovered DIY feminism that seems to just ooze from small-town divorcees and the like. You know who I'm talking about. She's the one who organised the campaign to save the local hospital, or is the secretary-treasurer of the local labour council, or has one shoulder that is markedly larger than the other because she's been waitressing for twenty years. And she is the one that is going to lead the feminist revolution, even though she doesn't have a fucking clue whatever the hell a 'patriarchy' is.

donderdag, maart 10, 2005

Watt Tyler

An old friend of mine, who is also a journo and also interned at the New Statesman and a fellow Trot to boot, has just launched his own blog.

However, he is ginger, while I am not (although, inexplicably, my whiskers are) and he is quite a bit more keen than I in his Trottage.

In any case, check out The Ghost of Watt Tyler. He's posting daily, the trooper.

Yes to the European Constitution (but only in the UK. No to the Constitution of the Bosses in continental Europe!)

I'm not a big fan of George Monbiot. It's not really anything to do with his politics, which are broadly admirable, if a little wet. It's just that I tend to find his writing style exceptionally bland. I also don't think he holds himself up well in debates, conceding here, politely acquiescing there, as he does. And he's as posh as a mother-of-pearl caviar spoon. But in the end he's not so bad. I guess it's a bit like Rush. I recognise that they're very good musicians, and should probably be allowed into the canon of Good Bands, but I just can't get past Geddy Lee's voice. You know?

However, yesterday in the Guardian he wrote a very good article indeed (George Monbiot, not Geddy Lee), covering a subject which, for shame, almost the entirety of the British left is handling as well as I can handle three martinis.

Since moving to Brussels last February, I've spent quite more than a quart d'heure on anti-Bolkestein demonstrations, one of which was quite large (for Brussels, admittedly), and the draft directive and reactions to it certainly have given rise to any number of continental newspaper column inches, often even creeping onto the front pages. But if you're reading this from Britain, I'd wager no small amount that even if you consider yourself to be the most Right On and 'conscious' person in your circle of friends, with your collective guerrilla turnip garden and a civil disobedience rap sheet as long as a roll of toilet paper, you won't have the faintest clue what this Bolkestein business is. (I can't speak to the discussion in Ireland, I'm afraid. I hope the level of debate is healthier than in the UK)

If the Bolkestein directive becomes European law, and this really is no exaggeration, many of the social gains, and in particular the advances the workers' movement has made in Europe since the birth of trade unionism, will be destroyed legally, as Lord Monbiot points out:

'[The directive] impose[s] on member states a compulsory commercialisation of public services, while destroying their ability to defend us from corporate exploitation. It is - or was - due for approval by the end of this year.

'The gremlin inhabits a clause called "the country of origin principle". Companies, it says, "are subject only to the national provisions of their member state of origin". What this means is that if a construction firm based in Lithuania is working in the UK, it need abide only by Lithuanian laws. Every enterprising corporation will want to relocate its HQ to the state with the weakest regulations.'

Even worse,

'The state responsible for enforcing the rules will be the one in which the company is based, not the one in which it is working. If, for example, the Lithuanian company forced workers in the UK to risk their lives on dodgy scaffolding, our Health and Safety Executive wouldn't be able to do a damn thing. Instead, the Lithuanian equivalent would have to send its inspectors over here, and, hampered by any number of translation problems, seek to defend the lives of British workers.'

This is no small bit of fuss about courgettes that are too bendy or how much cocoa butter needs to go into a Mars bar for it to qualify as chocolate (and as far as I'm concerned, the answer there is: a hell of a lot more). It is no wonder that activists across Europe have plowed almost as much energy into defeating the directive as they have into opposing the war.

But because of the British left's provincialism and soft nationalism, there has been little in the way of even information campaigns, let alone protest. The veritably Arctic lack of interest is so thoroughgoing that even the English pages for the Stop Bolkestein campaign website had to be written by someone for whom English is a second language.

I don't think I'm going to make any friends here, but I have to say that I am seriously leaning towards voting in favour of the European Constitution simply because of the failure of the UK far left to mount a serious campaign against it. Instead, they have been half-silent cowards not wanting really to touch the issue, leaving the anti-constitution campaigning to the xenophobes and nationalists.

The progressive arguments against the Constitution are sound. Where historically, conceptions of freedom ran as themes through bourgeois constitutions, being born for the most part in times of anti-feudal revolutions, the organising theme of the European Constitution is the free market.

From Alternative Libertaire's English pages (yes, I had to go to the English pages of a French anarchist magazine to find a coherent English analysis of the document - that's how pathetic this all is) about the Constitution, we find:

'For example article 1-2 declares that "the Union is based on indivisible and universal values of human dignity, equality and solidarity, it rests on the principles of democracy and the rights of the State." But this wonderful declaration is contradicted in the following articles 111-69, 70, 77, 144 and 180 all identically repeating that the. Union will act "in conformity with the respect for the principles of an open economic market where competition is free".'

'In their pursuit of anti-social policies, different EU governments have shown no hesitation in hiding behind the constraints of the UE treaties. Consequently, a fundamental treaty like the constitutional project stipulates as obligatory a whole range of [neo-]liberal dispositions (including certain clauses that specifically correspond to demands made by certain big bosses lobbies), to demand unanimity voting for any measures that might go against capitalist interests, is to block all political attempts in that direction. This is the certainly case for measures against tax fraud, or taxation of companies, the very measures that should require a unanimous vote and above all "they are necessary for the functioning of the internal market and to avoid distortion of competition." (111-63). The same applies to controls of the free circulation of capital, under article III-46-3: "Only a European law or framework law of the Council of ministers may enact measures which constitute a step back in Union law as regards the liberalisation of the movement of capital to or from third countries. The Council of Ministers shall unanimously after consultation with the European parliament."'

'…on the question of the break up of public services, it is allowed that a member state can be in favour of maintaining a public service. But public services have: "the effect of distorting the conditions of competition in the internal market, [and] the Commission shall, together with the state concerned, examine how these steps can be adjusted to the rules laid dawn in the Constitution. By derogation of common law procedure, the Commission or any member state can apply directly to the Court of Justice which will sit in secret..." (III-17)'

'As for the rest of the constitutional project, nearly everything that the bosses' union wants, the Union of the confederation of industry and employers in Europe (UNICE, MEDEF of France is a member) is set out in Part III. On the other hand, there is no mention of the rights of wage earners concerning questions of remuneration, rights of associations, strike action, etc.'

While there are social and environmental provisions, the language gives away the intent: member states 'may' do things, where when it comes to the market, they 'shall' do them.

Then there is the militarisation of Europe that finds its place in the document (again from Alternative Libertaire):

'"member states shall undertake progressively to improve their military capacities." (1-40-3). Article 1-40-2 stipulates that European defence policy shall be compatible with members' NATO obligations, a direct recognition of the superior judicial status of that military organisation. Furthermore, the article continues with even greater precision that "participating member states shall work in close collaboration with NATO". Even in situations of "internal serious disturbances affecting public order, in cases of war or of [...] the threat of war", member states are obliged to work together in order to avoid "affecting" the functioning of the "internal market"! (III-16)'

And finally, the existing undemocratic - nay - anti-democratic structures of the European Union - in which the institution that is elected, the parliament, has no power and those institutions that are appointed, the Commission, the Council and the presidency - will be enshrined forever.

The European Union is not in any way responsibly democratic (in the sense that it is responsible to electors), and the European Constitution is a naked attempt to advance deregulation, privatisation and militarisation and to undermine social services and workers' rights. So how can I possibly vote in favour of this?

Because the British people, overwhelmingly so, are not opposed to the Constitution for the above reasons, but simply because it's European and it's foreign. The causes of racism, xenophobia, nationalism and even fascism will be profoundly strengthened by a No vote in the UK.

If the British far left, like the continental far left, had mounted a coherent campaign opposing the constitution for these reasons, distinguishing themselves from the far and nationalist right, then I would vote No. But, if anyone from the far left in the UK at any point does actually begin campaigning against it, are they really going to correct someone they come across while handing out leaflets outside a tube station who says she's going to vote No to protect the pound, or because he believes Britain's sovereignty is being eroded?

Realistically, even the limpest of campaigns is unlikely to be mounted. Why waste valuable activist energy on something that is certainly going to go down to the most legendary of defeats?

To be honest, I am bending the stick a bit in the opposite direction in order to straighten it out (to steal a phrase): I cannot actually bring myself to vote in favour of this wretched, wretched document, despite the fact that my vote will not be seen as it should be - as a rejection of a corporatised and militarised Europe - but as a rejection of Europe in toto.

In the end, I will have to vote No.

Nonetheless, the UK far left is being unquestionably criminal and cowardly in the way it is dealing with Europe.

vrijdag, maart 04, 2005

Defend the BBC; Death to the privateers!

As some of you already know, for my day job, I am a journalist who covers European technology and telecoms news - a business journo, in truth (quite far from the professional revolutionary I used to imagine I'd be). As such, I really have to bite my tongue while reporting on privatisation issues. I try to insert as much of a progressive perspective as I can - which often can only take the form of reports of lay-offs due to various liberalisation measures, or covering the recent meeting of Balkan telecoms unions, for example. But I am certainly not able to offer any overtly anti-privatisation perspective, and this can be extraordinarily frustrating when I am writing about neo-liberal shenanigans almost daily.

There is almost nobody within the sector who is anything other than a libertarian fundamentalist. Most other tech journos, the major parliamentary parties in every country in the union and, obviously, the companies themselves are so thoroughly committed to the supposed good that comes from competition, in this sector in particular, that deregulation and privatisation have become not merely policies which they support, but political axioms. One might more easily suggest that the moon is made of green cheese than question the idea of privatisation and deregulation in telecoms. At the same time, because most progressives have little interest in the subject area - especially as there are far more sexy issues such as the war to get stuck into - the privateers in member state governments and in the Commission are given free rein to cut the heart out of what remains of public broadcasting and regulated telecommunications, safe in the knowledge that not only will no organised opposition be mounted, but most of the population will not even be aware that any of this is going on.

In one thoroughly typical example, last July, hidden in an otherwise bland and not especially noteworthy Commission communication on the roll-out of mobile broadband (3G telephony and the like) throughout the union, was a handful of paragraphs (Section 3.7, COM(2004) 447 [30 June, 2004]) that said essentially, in typically fustian bureaucrat-speak, that member states must eliminate local barriers to the roll-out and expansion of mobile base stations and masts. Specifically, member states must somehow get rid of restrictive local anti-mobile-mast by-laws and re-educate their populations of nimbies as they don't know what’s good for them. Now, personally, I think the jury's still out on the potential health side-effects of mobile phones, masts and base stations, but I certainly believe that local communities have the right to invoke the precautionary principle in this regard and ban the placement of mobile masts near schools and hospitals. But this is not merely an environmental issue: It is perfectly illustrative of the anti-democratic imperative at the heart of the European Union. Sadly, this particular issue has barely been touched by campaigners, not even by the local nimby groups themselves.

I hope the same indifference will not greet this week's news of the dagger pointed at the heart of public broadcasting in Europe, and indeed the world. Two weeks ago a brief story appeared in the Guardian about the launch of a European Commission investigation into the use of television and radio licence fees by the German public broadcasters, ARD and ZDF, to fund internet content provision and other new services.

The competition commissioner, Neelie Kroes, has said that while the licence fee does not amount to an illegal subsidy under EU rules, the use of such funds to develop internet content and services is indeed unlawful.

Undoubtedly because of today's release of the
UK government's green paper on the future of the BBC, the Guardian published the story again, but this time on the front page and beefed up a little.

Public broadcasting - heck, public anything - sticks in the craw of the capitalists. With poor rates of return on investment dating back a generation in almost every industry and little expectation of growth anywhere, these vultures slaver over the trillions spent globally in the public sector and are absolutely ideologically committed to its wholesale sell-off.

In the age of hundred-channel digital television, Tivo, broadband TV and video on demand, public broadcasting is seen as particularly vulnerable, and neo-liberals see public broadcasters' internet activities to be the soft underbelly.

Last July, the UK government released its review of BBC Online, which criticised the BBC's expansive and award-winning website as harmful to competition. Essentially the argument goes: 'The BBC Online is simply too good. There is no way that most private internet publishers can compete with it.'

At the time, the vampirically named Hugo Drayton, chair of the anti-BBC British Internet Publishers’ Alliance and managing director of the Telegraph Group, was approving of the report: 'On balance, I'm very glad that something positive has come out. It's taken a long time. BIPA has been banging this drum for six years and there's been no response…The British consumer and taxpayer are being cheated by the BBC...The bottom line is there's no regulation, no remit and no recognition of the damage their activities have done to the commercial market.'

In response, the chastened BBC shuttered five of its sub-websites and pulled back from its mobile internet plans.

The decision of the Commission to investigate the German public broadcasters will not in the short term end the licence fee in the UK or Germany, and today's green paper argues that the BBC licence fee is safe for another ten years. But there is no doubt that the investigation will find that ARD and ZDF are illegally using public funds to deliver internet content. After two and half years of covering this sector, I am absolutely certain this will be the conclusion. This will in turn result in public broadcasters throughout Europe being shorn of their internet enterprises, to the delight of the Hugo Drayton and the rest of the vultures.

But it won't stop there. The neo-liberals have their eyes set on the entirety of public broadcasting in Europe. Within ten years, probably sooner, television and the internet will have converged completely. There will not just be hundreds of television channels, but millions. In such a context, the privateers will feel even more confident of the superfluity of public broadcasting.

However, the contrary will be true. Public broadcasting/internet content provision will be more necessary than ever. Already in the current environment most newspapers are finding it incredibly difficult to compete with the free provision of news. While online advertising has taken off in the last year, it is spread across hundreds of thousands or even millions of sites, rather than just thousands of newspapers and magazines, as it was for the last century and a half. There is not enough advertising money to keep afloat an internet version of a broadsheet, with its dozens of bureaus around the world, forcing many, such as the Financial Times, the Wall Street Journal and the Economist to charge for access, charging sums that are out of bounds for all but upper management. The New York Times and Washington Post are currently playing chicken to see who go first in charging for access, worried that whoever goes first will lose customers to the other, but they will both likely make the shift this year.

As a result, most internet users will simply go to other, free sites for their news, sites of poor quality, with no sub-editors, editors or fact-checkers (sites like this, actually). Furthermore, without editors compiling a collection of news and other content that updates the reader on the latest developments in 'the national/international conversation', an individual's awareness will become increasingly compartmentalised, visiting just those sites that interest him or her, not necessarily ones that inform. Indeed, this latter process is already underway. This makes for poorly informed citizens and ultimately undermines democracy, dependent as it is on a populace that is aware.

This effect will be amplified after TV-internet convergence is complete: as expensive as it is to publish a newspaper, it is vastly more expensive to produce television programming. Even with a significant reduction in costs resulting from technological advances (which in any case will not be as much as the tech-geek pollyannas predict), the labour is, as ever, the most expensive part. It has never cost a penny to write a poem or a play, but not everyone is a poet or a playwright. For fifty years or thereabouts, it has cost relatively little to take a photograph but not everyone is a photographer. Building a website is essentially free, and there is an ocean of shit out there. However cheap broadcasting becomes eventually, we will not all be broadcasters.

Already in North America, cable has delivered a televisual experience of hundreds of stations. However, the amount of funding available from advertisers has not commensurately expanded. Thus the pie is now shared amongst some three hundred niche channels (more or less, depending on the particular market), resulting in few that can afford to produce their own content. Most channels prefer to show repeats of older shows or, if they do actually develop original content, it will be reality programming showing the viewer, say, what not to wear or how to spend eleven bucks down at the hardware store on some twigs, glitter and a glue gun in order to transform their unfinished basement into a home cinema. Moreover, there has been an explosion of 'paid programming', selling George Foreman Grills, Girls Gone Wild videos and - now here I must say this is impressive, although thankfully I have no use for it - instant back-hair removal cream (Doesn't sound that impressive? You haven't seen the infomercial. They get this, like, gorilla man to squirt the stuff on and then, voila, he's hairless. It's truly remarkable).

In this environment, far from public broadcasting becoming irrelevant, it acquires an even greater relevance. As the market becomes increasingly segmented, one of the few remaining providers of edifying, democracy-expanding, quality content will be the public sector.

Furthermore, it is vital that there be provision of media content that is free from the distortions of the market, free from commercial imperatives. The liberalisation and subsequent corporate consolidation of the media in the United States has, amongst other things, killed off rock and roll and hip hop. The real shit simply does not exist anywhere on mainstream radio in the way that it still does at least to some extent in the UK and elsewhere. In the States, community and campus radio are the last islands of independent music, and even they are under unremitting attack. And let's not even talk about talk radio.

Additionally, the market, by its very nature, cannot overcome the so-called digital divide without help from the public sector: there is no financial incentive. Telecoms and private satellite broadcasters are loath to roll out new technologies to poor and rural regions, as such enterprises are as loss-making as rural public transportation provision is. The public broadcaster fills this gap because its remit is public service, not private profit, hence we see in Britain the BBC’s stonkingly successful roll-out of digital television following the private sector’s abysmal failure in this regard. Digital TV penetration in the UK has increased from 1.2m homes to 4m in the last two years, making it the country’s fastest-growing consumer electronics product in history, and the BBC has achieved this from annual revenues of €4.2bn - just two thirds of the €6.75bn BSkyB earns.

In the face of assaults from the likes of the Commission, we must go on the offensive, saying: Far from the public sector being redundant - the private sector is undermining democracy. We can get rid of the licence fee, which is a regressive tax, but it must be replaced by public funding derived directly from taxation. Public broadcasting and public internet content provision must not merely be defended, but expanded. Not only that, but there must be publicly funded newspapers and magazines and journals and books as well, and a gigglingly silly and profligate expansion of arts funding! Museums and galleries must be as cathedrals! Opera houses should have to wonder what ever will they do will all the money they receive! Theatre should be free! The private media near-monopolies such as News Corp and Clear Channel must be broken up and the resulting companies must be heavily regulated to deliver content in the public interest. Bring back the guillotine just for Rupert Murdoch and strap Michael Eisner into an electric chair with mouse ears!

I mean really. It is a scandal that the European Comission is investigating ARD and ZDF for putting up some websites while Silvio Berlusconi, who has his orange, over-tanned, proto-fascist little sausage fingers in every major media outlet in Italy, is left alone.

As bad as the BBC is, Fox is so, so, so much worse.

[While we're at it, how about the public funding of a few bloggers? Dude, that would be sweet. But only if it were me and some other kids in the anti-war neighbourhood. Then I could stop working for the Man and writing about digital rights management in Lithuania or whatever it was I did today]