Blacknell.net

Politics, technology, and society. And the seasonal incursion of pro cycling.

Category: EU (Page 2 of 5)

Scandanavian Socialism Run Amok!

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Police not only stop cyclists and give them helmets, they hug the cyclists.

(actually, I suspect this is a clever bit of viral capitalism.)

Another Pint, Gordon?

I have so little good to say about the UK's Labour Party these days that I might as well get in a compliment where I can.  Prime Minister Gordon Brown has, against all reasonable expectations, struck a blow for common sense and decency:
Gordon Brown today rejected controversial proposals from the chief medical officer to establish a minimum price for alcohol, which would double the price of many beers and spirits. The prime minister said that he would protect the interests of the "sensible majority of moderate drinkers" when responding to proposals from Sir Liam Donaldson for a minimum charge of 50p per unit of alcohol to be imposed on beer and wine.
And Scotland, well, how do you like that devolution now?
The Scottish government is planning to introduce minimum prices for alcohol and these could come into force by the end of the year. It would make Scotland the first country in Europe to introduce minimum pricing, which would be accompanied by a ban on certain drinks promotions.
Cheers.

House of Lords Looks at Privacy in the UK

The House of Lords released a report on state surveillance in Britain, last week.  Among its findings:
Britain leads the world in the use of CCTV, with an estimated 4m cameras, and in building a national DNA database, with more than 7% of the population already logged compared with 0.5% in the America. [ . . . ] "The huge rise in surveillance and data collection by the state and other organisations risks undermining the long-standing traditions of privacy and individual freedom which are vital for democracy," [Lord Goodlad, the former Tory chief whip and committee chairman] said. "If the public are to trust that information about them is not being improperly used there should be much more openness about what data is collected, by whom and how it is used."
While many of the findings are themselves troubling (e.g., powers granted in the name of combating terrorism are in fact used to snag people for not cleaning up after their dogs), the existence of the report itself is encouraging.  First, it illustrates that the UK government isn't marching in lockstep toward more surveillance.  In the past decade, it's been alarming how easily the government has gained the ability to monitor its citizens' most mundane activities without reason or permission.  Second, it should give some hope to those who - like me - regard Britain as a leading indicator for state surveillance and privacy policy in Europe and the United States.   If the House of Lords is sounding the alarm before the over-broad practices of the current Labour government have emigrated outward, those practices will be less likely to be met with a presumption of validity in the US and rest of the EU.

Friday Notes: Please No More Snow Edition

Surprise, surprise, people are still dumping money into Obama's coffers.  It appears that the inaugural committee raised about $8 million more than it had budgeted.  Aim your dollars at more important things, folks. ~ Iceland on the fast track to the EU?  Probably a good idea overall, but its a pretty sad circumstance that brought us to that:
The conservative government in Reykjavik, in power for 18 years, collapsed this week, the first government to fall as a result of the financial meltdown which has wrecked the Icelandic currency, the krona, wiped out savings and pensions, required a massive IMF bailout, sparked unprecedented riots in Reykjavik, and forced the formation of a caretaker centre-left government until new elections can be held, probably on 9 May.
~ Gov. Rod Blagojevich is gone, but let's not forget that he wasn't the only one behaving badly.  As I've written, the Senate refusal to seat Roland Burris was a bad idea - you don't get to refuse someone just because you don't like them.  And that bad judgment seems to have extended to the House, where Adam Bonin found - buried in the stimulus bill - the following:
SEC. 1112. ADDITIONAL ASSURANCE OF APPROPRIATE USE OF FUNDS. None of the funds provided by this Act may be made available to the State of Illinois, or any agency of the State, unless (1) the use of such funds by the State is approved in legislation enacted by the State after the date of the enactment of this Act, or (2) Rod R. Blagojevich no longer holds the office of Governor of the State of Illinois.
Yes, that says what you think it says.  Adam explains:
Got that, Illinois Senate?  If you want the money, remove Blagojevich from power or otherwise pass a bill making clear that you trust him with the money.  This provision was inserted by Reps. Bill Foster (D-IL) and Mark Kirk (R-IL), and could cost the state $50 billion in federal aid. Beyond the general yuck factor, does anyone else remember the Bill of Attainder clause in the Constitution?  It basically says that Congress can't pass a law punishing an individual without judicial trial; that's the courts' job.  Similar concerns rest here: it's not for Congress to decide who's fit to be Governor of Illinois; that's something to be handled in Springfield.
A circus, it seems, and everyone wants in on the action. ~ Rep. Peter King of the GOP - party of limited government, remember - wants to save you from camera phones. ~ Ugly:
[A] CNN investigation has uncovered evidence that for hundreds of Rohingya refugees -- members of a Muslim minority group -- abuse and abandonment at sea were what awaited them in Thailand, at the hands of Thai authorities. Extraordinary photos obtained by CNN from someone directly involved in the Thai operation show refugees on their rickety boats being towed out to sea, cut loose and abandoned. One photo shows the Thai army towing a boatload of some 190 refugees far out to sea.
And who will speak for these refugees?  No one, I'm guessing. ~ Once a Nazi, always a Nazi. ~ 13 year old girls can rock:

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The Euro at Ten

I'm a few days late, but it's still worth noting that we've just passed the 10 year anniversary of the emergence of the Euro. It was the subject of an enormous amount of speculation and debate, with many predicting its failure as a currency. SuperFrenchie does some dancing on the graves of those predictions here.  Jerome a Paris, a banker with no shortage of opinions, provides a useful exploration of the place of the Euro - especially in comparison with the US Dollar - in a global economy:
The dollar is increasingly money backed by financiers-manipulated debt. The euro is fundamentally money backed by real economic activity. The distinction will matter. And the finance industry will follow.
Interested?  Read more. (The kid in me misses the Deutsche Marks, the Pesetas, the Guilders.  My interest in currency fluxuation began when we moved to West Germany, and I discovered the wonderful thing that was aribtrage - I could get so much more when I turned my dollars into marks (and that's not even touching the experience of turning dollars into East German marks on the black market).  Of course, with the current exchange rate being €1 = $1.40, I now have some appreciation for the other side of that.  )

Czechs Take On the EU Presidency

Today marks the official start of the Czech Republic's six month turn in the EU Presidency.  For those unfamiliar with the EU structure, it's probably easiest to think of the EU Presidency as something of a chairmanship on a committee of equals.  Having the Presidency will allow you some ability to set the agenda, host major meetings, and be treated as an important voice on matters of concern to the EU.  At the same time, the short term of office and generally consensus-focused tradition limit any raw exercises of power.  (In true EU fashion, it's much more complicated than that - if you're interested in the details, start here.) The transition of the EU Presidency from France (the incumbent, until yesterday) to the Czech Republic has been the subject of much apprehension.  First, it's only been five years since the Czech Republic officially joined the European Union, and the Czech Republic's own government isn't exactly an example of the sort of solid and steady hand many would prefer at the helm.  Second, the current Czech President - Vaclav Klaus - is a solid "Eurosceptic" (something of a catch-all term for those who oppose further accrual of power to the EU, away from the member states).  That pictured car with the No EU sticker?  That's his.  That sort of naked rejection of the EU leads to scenes like this recent meeting of ambassadors from EU countries in Prague:
[A] recent such lunch proved very awkward, thanks to its guest of honour: the country’s Eurosceptic president, Vaclav Klaus. He was politely asked about EU policies and how they might be handled when the Czechs take over the rotating EU presidency on January 1st. Each time the president growled that he was against the EU, so had no reason to answer such questions. The Czech presidency was an insignificant event, he added, because the EU is dominated by its big founding nations. Mr Klaus turned to the envoy from Slovenia, a former Yugoslav republic that was the first ex-communist newcomer to hold the rotating presidency, earlier this year. Everybody knows the Slovene presidency was a charade, he ventured. It was scripted by big countries like France or Germany.
Awkward, indeed.  Klaus' distrust of the big EU members is somewhat mutual:
A mood of impatience with the enlarged Europe helps to explain a mysterious plan, briefly floated by senior French officials, for France’s president, Nicolas Sarkozy, to continue hosting European summits after his country’s shot at the EU presidency finishes on December 31st. Such summits, it was briefed in Paris, would be reserved for heads of government from the inner core of countries that are in the single currency, the euro (possibly with Britain added). The Czechs, of course, are not: a detail that would allow Mr Sarkozy to continue running things in 2009, in case Czech leaders “sabotage” the EU during their presidency, as an official from the Elysée Palace tactfully put it to French reporters.
While I've long thought that the EU's rapid expansion was a bad idea, ignoring the system after it's been put in place is an even worse one.  Undermining the Czech Presidency will only serve to reinforce the suspicion that EU governance is largely a Franco-German affair, with the occasional assist from Britain.   With that perception out there, there will be little chance that the EU can move beyond being mired in struggles over organizational matters.  It would be far preferable to be able to focus on the merits of the Czechs' stated goals for their term - financial deregulation, energy diversification/security, and reapproachment with Russia - than internal squabbles over who's backyard will host the next EU summit on carbon emissions.

Friday Notes: Cold & Rainy Edition

The bitingly cold part of DC winter came a lot earlier this year.  I blame that, in advance, for my increasingly bitter mood over the next three months. Majel Barrett, Gene Roddenberry's wife - and voice of Star Trek ship computers - died yesterday.  I had no idea.  She just finished up the voice work for the upcoming movie a few weeks ago. ~ Here's another illustration of why South Carolina is one seriously screwed up place that no person should have to live in, voluntarily.  Short version of the story at the link: batshit insane South Carolina state politician thinks he's entitled to his seat, despite losing the election, and the South Carolina legislature appears to be considering giving it to him.  I am not even half joking when I say we should set up an Underground Railroad system to help kids escape from that whackjob state. ~ Speaking of batshit insane and kids who don't deserve it, here's a story about three undercover cops who bumrushed a 12 year old girl on her front lawn, calling her a prostitute and generally manhandling her.  She fought back, of course, and her parents finally got the police to release her.  You know what comes next, right?  The girl is arrested for assaulting a police officer.   Full story and court case (against the police officers) here.   Great job, guys. ~ BoingBoing DDOS'd itself.  Amusing.  (And if that isn't reason enough to follow the link: more Iraqi Shoe Tosser Animations!) ~ It's not the most technical of explanations, but this is still a neat walkthrough of how Google Earth images are constructed. ~ We're coming up on the ten year anniversary of the adoption of the Euro.  Nice summary history of it here, along with a look at the impact of the adoption of the Euro on Ireland.  A few of you will have noticed (quite painfully, in some cases) that the Pound and Euro have been dancing around parity, lately.  I wonder if Brown's brave enough to change course and move Britain onto the Euro in such a chaotic economic time. ~ James Fallows has a meandering - but quite informative - interview with one of China's top bankers.  The take away?  "Be nice to the countries that lend you money."

Friday Notes: Monday Edition

You've almost certainly heard the news already if you're interested in Virginia online politics, but I'll repeat it here - the New Dominion Project is open for business.  It's a collaborative effort by three  . . . hmm, I can't exactly call them "fresh" voices, considering that each of them has been at this for a while.  Let's go with "refreshingly youthful" voices.  I expect good things from them. ~ Ah, the holiday season, where we all get to reflect upon and celebrate our priorities and values. ~ I had forgotten that Italy will be taking the EU G8 Presidency [ed. note - d'oh] in short order, making the corrupt disaster that is Silvio Berlusconi [slightly] more relevant to our lives
Italian president and media baron Silvio Berlusconi said today that he would use his country's imminent presidency of the G8 group to push for an international agreement to "regulate the internet". Speaking to Italian postal workers, Reuters reports Berlusconi said: "The G8 has as its task the regulation of financial markets... I think the next G8 can bring to the table a proposal for a regulation of the internet."
Thanks, Italy. ~ Vivian Paige laments the loss of her weekly milk & eggs delivery from Yoder Dairies.  I'm with her, if only in spirit.  The last place I had milk delivery was in Nottingham in the mid-80s. ~ I am shamed to say that I didn't lift a glass in celebration of the 75th anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition last Friday (to be clear, I was lifting several glasses in celebration of other things - the anniversary just got lost in the shuffle).  Amit Singh had a brief note about it up at Bearing Drift.  That post kicked off a discussion that turned into an amusing reminder that the (remaining) Republican rank and file are more concerned with the fact that someone somewhere may be enjoying themselves than actually living up to that small government and personal freedom gloss they love to claim. ~ Oh, and a begrudging congratulations to the dolts in Louisiana's 2nd Congressional District, who finally ousted that crook, Rep. William Jefferson (D).  It's begrudging because that district's voters apparently weren't smart enough to do it the last time they had the opportunity.  Anyway, it's good to see him gone, and terribly amusing to see Minority Leader Rep. John Boehner hold up the Republican winner of that race as "the future" of the Republican Party.   If relying on the Democratic incumbent to get found with a freezer full of cash and indicted is the Republican plan to win, well, I can live with that.  Note also that the winner - Ahn Cao - will be gone in two years.  He may be an entirely competent and decent fellow, but there's no way a Republican wins reelection in a D+28 district.

EU Evolution

The European Union (finally) comes to its senses:
If there has been one truly effective stick to beat the EU with over the years, it has been the bizarre and Byzantine reams of regulation it is accused of promulgating. The classic anti-EU story is that "faceless eurocrats" were banning the curved cucumber. It was all the more powerful for having a solid basis in truth. Namely, Commission Regulation (EEC) No 1677/88 of 15 June 1988. Class I cucumbers must "be reasonably well shaped and practically straight (maximum height of the arc: 10 mm per 10 cm of the length of cucumber)". Class II "slightly crooked cucumbers may have a maximum height of the arc of 20 mm per 10 cm of length of the cucumber". These are allowed to have some blemishes and discolourations. Any cucumber more crooked must be packed separately and must be otherwise cosmetically perfect. So if a cucumber is crooked and has a blemish on it, it cannot be sold in a shop or market. It is allowed to go for processing, but often the cost of transport to a manufacturer is prohibitive and the produce is simply allowed to rot.
As of next summer, this regulation (for cucumbers and 25 other similarly regulated fruits and vegetables) will be repealed.  And it only took 20 years!

Belgium Sponsors DC Cyclocross

This is such a great story that I'm just going to cut and paste the press release without shame:  1801126844_deee674918_medium

The organizers of the October 26 City Bikes DCCX, the only cyclocross race held within the city limits of the U.S. Capital, have announced that their "Lil’ Belgians" Free Kids Race will actually be sponsored by the Belgian Embassy. "Lil’ Belgians" racing, a traditional part of every BikeReg.com MABRAcross event, is a free fun-race for young children that occurs just prior to the Elite races, and it’s not unusual to see Elite and Amateur racers "assisting" their training-wheel -equipped youngsters by pushing them around their own special course.

Until now, the Lil’ Belgians moniker had been just a cute tribute to the homeland of cyclocross. But at the City Bikes DCCX, Belgium will be involved in an official capacity as the Belgian Embassy will be offering all participating kids a special (and tasty) prize. The kids won’t be the only ones getting a tasty Belgian prize, however, because the City Bikes DCCX organizers will keep the Belgian ambience rolling by serving free Frites to riders and spectators alike. For more information, see BikeReg.com

(Oct 26th. I'll be there (watching, not racing, I'm afraid.))

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