A daily blog on the thrills, spills, and frequent absurdities of the world's one and only 'non-imperial empire' - as Barroso himself called it - the European Union.

Anything to say? Contact me at europeandisunion@yahoo.co.uk

Monday, 26 December 2011

The 'Three Millions Jobs' Claim is a Massive Lie

Tony Blair is known for his exaggerated claims.

If you're thinking that the pages of the Guardian are looking a little bare of fiery pro-euro commentary at the moment, you're right. They are. It seems it all the avowedly pro-euro commentators that produced them are giving up on the British electorate, In their efforts to escape a world of unashamed and unabashed 'nationalism' and 'xenophobia,' some, such as Richard Cohen, go to America. Others go to Oman. Adrian Croft has written a piece for the Oman Daily Observer, which almost sounded neutral until he wheeled out the phrase 'vocal band of EU-haters.' He goes on to make some familiar pro-euro claims for the benefit of the Omani readership, repeating the somewhat accurate but nonetheless misleading claim that 'half our trade is with the EU' assertion, before dragging out the oldest and most roasted chestnut of all: that over three million jobs depend on our EU membership.

This is a claim that anyone who's waded so far as ankle-deep into the EU debate will have heard more times than they can care to count. But there's a problem with it. No-one actually said it. The original statement, made by the National Institute for Economic and Social Research on behalf of Britain in Europe, a think-tank of high-flying politicians including Tony Blair and Kenneth Clarke, was that three point five million jobs were involved with trade with Europe, which, including every piece of paid employment that's in any way to do with a product exported to or imported from the Continent, is a different thing entirely. The NIESR's then-head, Dr. Martin Weale, was so outraged by how the pressure group twisted his words that he likened them to Nazi propagandist Goebbels. His exact words were 'in many years of academic research I cannot recall such a willful distortion of the facts.'

He, of course, was only referring to how they'd disfigured his statements: even if it was true that three point five million jobs depend on trade with the EU, that says nothing about the pros and cons of EU withdrawal. There is no reason to believe that if we left the EU this trade would cease. There are one hundred and sixty-two reasons to believe the opposite: the countries of the world, who, although they are neither members of the EU nor the European Economic Area, still manage to trade freely with both. Often, the trade that countries in this group generate is, in most instances, much smaller than that between the EU and the United Kingdom. It includes Afghanistan, Sierra Leone, Haiti, for example. Plus, many of them have a trade surplus with the EU - i.e. they make more money from trading with the European Union than the EU makes from trading with them - whereas the UK is currently running at a deficit of £48,000,000,000.

It is inconceivable that EU countries would cease trade with us if we left - one, most countries on the planet have never been members of either the EU, or even the single market, and yet they can import and export as they please. Two, they'd lose a lot of money from lucrative export markets. There is a historical precedent for those who still aren't convinced: an island, a part of Denmark with the population of a small town, left the EU's predecessor, the EEC, in 1985 following a popular referendum. Yet they still trade with the EU and EFTA.

And if you still aren't convinced, here's a quote from Tony Blair himself:

'Of course Britain could survive outside the EU...we could probably get access to the Single Market as Norway and Switzerland do'

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

More Debt Does Not Solve Debt Problems

The Sun: go four million miles past it, and you'd come to the end trail of a trillion one-dollar bills that started in your garden.

Let's take a moment to review the principle behind the bailouts: taking a country that cannot afford to pay off its debts, and giving it loans. As every homeowner - and every schoolchild beyond the age of five knows - one thing you do not do when faced with mounting debts is take out more loans to cover it. At best, you're delaying the inevitable collapse: you've just switched one load of unrepayable debts with another. At worst, you've made the situation a whole lot worse. What if the improvements in your financial status you'd banked on to deliver you out of the duldrums refuse to materialise, and you're left with an even bigger pile of debts than you had before? Businesses know this as a well-attested spiral to fiscal doom.

Yet, for some reason, high economics fancies itself immune from the problems that ordinary people encounter when they try to do something patently against fundamental logic, and clings fervently to the belief that debt can be solved with more debt. It is a wild fallacy, and it has already been proven that it doesn't work - they've doubled the ESFS once before, and there have been no fewer than four bailouts, each of which was supposed to stop the crisis in its tracks yet failed utterly to make a blind bit of difference. And where does this money come from? Us, of course - it's from the public funds of member states, which are skimmed off the proceeds of your working week.

That's why we should react with concern when they bandy about any numbers that you instinctively skips over rather than attempt to read. Such as 1,261,066,015,761.89. That is, in US dollars, what they intend to pour into the European Financial Stability Fund. That's double the size of the national economy of the Netherlands, one and a half times that of Australia, and almost equal to that of Spain, and it's about to be sent down the tubes like billions of other euros before it. Oh, and just to add insult to injury - rating agencies have said that they might downgrade the ESFS because the countries that put the money up are themselves at risk of financial trouble as part of the wider eurozone crisis. It just gets better and better, dohn' it?

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

How Can the Government Tackle 'Honour Crime?'

What lies behind conservative Islam's veil of secrecy?

It's amazing what you learn from the Guardian. For instance, I didn't know that Islam allowed gay marriage. But, in a list of religious groups opposed to gay marriage in the States, it wasn't mentioned. All the white western faiths were - Baptist, Catholic, evangelical, Protestant etc. - were. Admittedly, the list made no claim to being exhaustive. But, still, when it comes to religions who 'don't like the gays,' Islam is a big one to miss - especially considering that numerically smaller religions, such as Presbyterianism, did make the grade. Isn't it about time we dropped the unwritten rule that no-one can portray Islam as anything other than sweetness and light, and started examining it for what it is - an ideology? And a repressive one at that?

The article in the Guardian came out on the same day as statistics showing a marked rise in the number of 'honour-related' violence in the UK. The government didn't publish these statistics - they were obtained from most UK police forces, using the Freedom of Information Act, by the Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation (which, for anyone waiting to slap the 'racist' label on me, is ran by Iranian and Kurdish women). There were almost three thousand reported attacks in 2010 - an increase on 47% in 2009. One a day, in the West Midlands alone. In Northumbria, the number trebled. And this is likely, as Diana Nammi, IKWRO's director, says the 'tip of the iceberg' - the most likely to be affected, and the least likely to report it, are the women and girls in inner-city ghettoes, with little understanding of English and an ultraconservative upbringing. Some police constabularies refused to divulge this information - or were incapable of doing so - due to the reluctance of 'communities' to talk.

Other commentators tentatively point out that it's not a 'race issue.' No-one's saying it is. It's a cultural one. Conservative (predominantly Bangladeshi and Pakistani) Islam being that culture. Compare how many instances of it there are in the 'white community' as opposed to the 'South Asian' one and the correlation becomes obvious. But it does affect everyone, as this makes quite clear (well worth a read - even includes quotes from Jack Straw). So what is our government, or the police, doing about it?

So far, they have no national strategy - that's precisely what IKWRO is calling on them to introduce. As for the police, 'we have reviewed every force with a questionnaire and the 2008 strategy has been completed,' said Mak Chishty, North Area Commander in the Metropolitan Police. 'We're now in consultation on a new strategy. All frontline staff have received awareness training and every force has a champion on honour-based abuse. I'm confident that any victim who comes to us will receive the help they need.' Trouble is, 'awareness training' doesn't make a blind bit of difference: being 'aware' of the problem just means that you know it exists and implies have some level of understanding about it. Awareness needs to be applied before it can actually help you solve it.

Furthermore, there is precious little information on how the police intends to reach out to victims: their overall strategy seems to be to wait for the abused to come to them. But that's unrealistic: such a feat on the part of a victim, especially a young one, would be incredibly difficult. As Diana Nammi points out, the abusers are often hailed as heroes, and the victim is often forbidden to leave the house. In addition to this, many are monolingual and have poor command of English: others may be from an ultraconservative upbringing and believe that the abuse inflicted upon them is just what a Muslim woman is subjected to.

What could the government do? It doesn't help that many of these women have entered the country on spousal visas, which makes it incredibly difficult to receive legal aid. As many of them are unemployed or financially dependent on their husbands or male family members, this money is not a luxury: they need it to be able to fight their case. Surely it would not break the bank if some of the legal aid money spent on convicted paedophiles and murderers was instead used to help abused women escape violent and possibly murderous relationships? In the longer term, it could enforce the knowledge of English and literacy in ghettoised communities - thereby affording all who live within recourse to the protection of the law and the safety of wider society if they need it, and exposing fundamentalist Islam to mainstream society. All forms of extremism react negatively to a healthy dose of normality.

In the meantime, until enough people tell the government to pull its finger out, the most that anyone can do is lend a helping hand. Charity, after all, begins at home: we should never rely on the state to sort out all the ills of the world. Here's IKWRO's website, if you're interested, with advice on how you can help out and get involved, as well as further information about the charity and its work.

Democracy Is Worth Defending

Even the EU's liberals are arguing against democracy

That is Guy Verhofstadt, former Belgian Prime Minister and now leader of ALDE - the alliance of liberals and centrists in the European Parliament, the largest supra-national assembly of parliamentary liberals anywhere on earth - arguing for the abolition of the current German government. In his view, the needs of the people - and, more importantly, the euro - could be adequately serviced not by elected politicians, who have a tendency to bow to public demand, but by a panel of experts - technocrats is the fashionable term - selected by unelected officials. There, in the flesh, is a senior liberal politician in Europe railing against the existence of democracy as we know it.

It may look like a one-man rant, but it's really not. Mr. Verhofstadt's ideas of crushing democracy in an attempt to save the euro project are reflected by policy decisions of all manner of European institutions, both national and supra-national. We've already seen how easily the elected governments of Greece and Italy can be replaced with wholly unelected cabiners of commissioners and economists, without seventy million inhabitants getting a say in the matter. We've already seen the European Commission and the European Court of Justice - tell me, when was the last time you saw the name of anyone in either institution on a ballot sheet? - meddle with national budgets before the elected parliaments ever get the chance to see them. And now there is talk of the Commission being able to set the budgets of member states itself, and impose economic and fiscal reform from afar.

If you were Greek, Irish, or Portuguese, you'd now be reading about how your taxes could be set thousands of miles away in Brussels by people you've never ever heard of, much less voted for, who you have absolutely no power over nor ability to remove from office. How much you get in your pension pot could be determined by unconcerned functionaries who owe nothing to any electorate, and whether a local road-building project goes ahead hinges on the flick of a pen several clouds higher than any democratic process. But you're probably from the UK or America, in which case, I hope you're astounded.

We often hear quotes about democracy or how precious it is. Well, for once, those quotes aren't bumper stickers. We genuinely do stand to lose much of our democracy if we don't get our act together now. The Greeks and the Italians have already lost it, and look what's happening to them. If you're a Tory, would you want someone like Gordon Brown to stay in power in perpetuity? Or George Osborne, if you vote Labour? The only thing that makes either tenure worth enduring is the prospect of voting them out at the end of it. What if you couldn't, and what if the pain they inflicted was ten times harsher? That's exactly what will happen, if we don't pull our fingers out, and declare that the erosion of democracy can go no further.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Another National Scandal

Do law-abiding fathers have less rights to see their kids than convicted criminals?

It's long been a refrain of the right that abusers have more rights to see their children than law-abiding fathers, and now it appears to be broadly accurate. A report produced jointly by the probation service  union NAPO and Protection Against Stalking has found that up to six hundred convicted criminals have used legal aid - paid for out of public funds - to try and re-establish contact with their children. Many are serving sentences for domestic violence and other family-related crimes. There is one instance of someone convicted of paedophilia fighting for the right to see their own children - the ones that they abused.

However, divorced fathers who have committed no crime have recently had their legal right to see their offspring taken away from them, on the grounds that it would be 'too disruptive' to the children. The courts have enshrined what Louis de Berniers calls a 'divine right of mothers,' which awards custody of children to the mother as a default option. There are ninety-nine thousand five hundred and fifty divorces in the UK each year. In ninety-one per cent of these, the father or the man will lose custody. Half of all men who get divorced in the UK can expect to lose all contact with their children within three years.

There's no way that almost all men who go through the divorce courts are a threat to their children, so why are hundreds of thousands of them losing access for no good reason? And why are the ones that genuinely do present a danger fighting to force their children to visit them in prison out of the public pocket! Such a dichotomy is a national disgrace, in the proper sense of the word: a stain on the concept of fair and equal justice.

There are so many levels to this - criminals getting legal aid, not victims; caring fathers feeling like they have the entire system arrayed against them, whilst equally-caring mothers breeze through; law-abiding and loving parents having to spend everything they have on the right to see their children to no avail, whilst dangerous and abusive ones get it for free - and the law is wrong on every single one of them.

The Latest IPCC Report is A Lot of Hot Air

US researchers. Basingstoke. 1953.

I don't usually come out in support for one side or the other for the climate change debate. Both warmists and deniers have been caught out fiddling their statistics on numerous occasions. Both of them receive billions of pounds of funding from governments, green energy firms, and big oil, respectively. There is little sense in calling for a colossal reduction in economic output on the off-chance that it might make a dent in CO2 levels in a relatively small part of the world, but nor is there any in doing nothing at all, either, given that we know - whether through man-made reasons or natural cycles - that the earth will warm up or cool down at some point.

All either camp has achieved with all the public funds and petrodollars poured into their campaigns in the last thirty years is finding ingenious yet wholly impractical ways to piss into the wind. It would be far better to take all the money that both camps fritter away each day on pointless research and PR, and invest it in technologies that genuinely help us cope with the climatic changes that we know for a fact have occured at various points throughout the earth's history.

That said, sometimes one side or the other does produce some outrageous research that really deserves to be put to rest, before it gains any traction in legislatures around the world. The IPCC - that assembly of UN scientists set up to study and warn governments of the effects of global warming, and now warns them of climate change instead - has reiterated its claim that the Himalayan glaciers are melting, two years after it was forced into an embarassing climb-down when a similar claim - that they would all melt by 2035 - was exposed as false. It measured ten glaciers in the Himalayas between 2002 and 2005, and found that they were all shrinking.

It's impossible to call the study's findings 'wrong' until you've undertaken a similar study yourself - something unfortunately beyond the capabilities of this blog. But their methodology certainly leaves something to be desired. Their sample size, for instance: ten, out of fifty-four thousand. That's 0.018518518518518517%, a ridiculously small percentage on which to base a conclusion. Also, the World Meteoroligical Foundation defines climate as the trends in weather over a period of thirty years, not three.

The climate is changing. It always has been, always will be. Whether or not humans are causing it, and whether or not we should turn the clock back half a century in an attempt at mitigating a small part of the damage, is besides the point. But hot air like the Himalayan report isn't helping anyone: it's only prolonging the tribalist divisions and the resulting inertia.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

BBC Sports Coverage Is Down to Popularity, Not Gender

Women's Gaelic football. Not big in non-Olympic years.

Television presenter Clare Balding - one of those chosen by the BBC to cover the Olympic Games in London next year - has criticised its coverage of female sport during non-Olympic years, saying that it is possibly 'sexist.' She accused the Beeb of failing to devote enough time to female events and female participants, asserting that excellent sportswomen are often overlooked due to the amount of resources spent on rugby and football and other big international championships.

It's not the first time that the BBC's sports coverage has courted controversy. Earlier this week, it was criticised for an all-male shortlist of contenders for Sports Personality of the Year. Notable feminists made much hay out of that particular ray of sunlight, including Harriet Harman (deputy leader of Her Majesty's Opposition, in case you'd forgotten).

There is a lot to criticise regarding the BBC's decision: why are there no fewer than three golfers in the top ten? Why do tit'n'bum mags get to put forward candidates when abs'n'stubble ones don't? Why do people who've had quite average years by their standards still make the cut? But to assume 'sexism' as the default explanation is to miss the vital issue. Which sports are covered on which television channels depends on their popularity - not the gender of the participants.

Few men would say that Chrissie Wellington, arguably one of the best endurance athletes in the world and current Ironman Triathlon World Champion, should be automatically excluded from the running because she is female. It is a matter of popularity. How many people watch the triathlon world championships, compared to those who watch the Premier League? The difference is well into the hundreds of millions.

Let's take a look at some of the (eminently deserving) candidates that Ms Harman put forward, other than the Chrissinator: Jessica Ennis, Rebecca Adlington, Keri-Anne Payne, Sarah Stevenson. Most people know the first two, but many do so because of their appearance on advertisements or an unfortunate encounter with a comedian. Not many who've heard either name can claim to be avid watchers of the sport. And it's not just women who miss out because their sport isn't as popular as others. Does Harriet Harman know who the current male athletics champion is? Or the taekwondo one, for that matter?

The BBC, for as long as everyone has to pay for it, ought to cater for everyone. Considering that everyone with a television pays the license fee, their sporting preferences notwithstanding, they should all be able to flick on and see their favourite sport given due time and attention. But to expect less popular sports to be given undue time and attention just because they happen to have excellent female participants is unrealistic and unfair.

Friday, 2 December 2011

Federalists Have Gone Too Far for the Polish Opposition

Radek Sikorski: overstepped the mark?

Just when you thought that European politics couldn't be any more unstable, Poland's main opposition party, Law and Justice, has called for Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski to be summoned to the State Tribunal - the Polish equivalent of impeachment - after a controversial speech on European integration. The speech, in which Mr. Sikorski extolled the virtues of a greater German role in dealing with the eurozone crisis - on the grounds that 'no-one else can do it' - and called for the Commission to be given greater powers over national budgets, has been interpreted by Law and Justice as a call for a reduction in Polish national sovereignty - an act that many consider tantamount to treason.

In a interview on public television, conservative liberal Law and Justice party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski stated his intention to bring the Foreign Minister before the State Tribunal - which decides whether or not politcians have overstepped the bounds of the country's post-war constitution. He also added that 'most Poles do not want Polish independence to be a twenty-year interlude,' and declared that he would hold a 'march for independence' later in the month, following the sabotage by federalist activists of protests by smaller, fringe groups, on November 11th.

The State Tribunal has the power to remove politicians from office, to bar them from any other senior positions, and even render them ineligible to vote. But far more importantly than that, the spectacle of a federalist politician going before it is likely to fuel anti-federalist protests in other countries, who have long called for their politicians to be impeached, and bring discussion of treason trials - hitherto reserved for the hardline elements and the comment board commentariat - into mainstream thought. This could have a chaotic effect on politics in the Adriatic, the Balkans, and Greece, where major media outlets have already taken to denouncing politicians and lawmakers as traitors and saboteurs. If the European Union opposes measures, if brought against Greek politicians, then it could put the Greek people and their technocrat rulers in direct conflict. That's one recipe for disaster.

Of course, all this is why Mr. Sikorsi isn't likely to go to the State Tribunal - at least not because of the opposition leader. But it has underlined the limits of what federalists can do in their traditional heartland, and indicated that they want to go much, much further.