Information Landmine

"The Americans keep telling us how successful their system is. Then they remind us not to stray too far from our hotel at night." - An un-named EU trade representative quoted during international trade talks in Denver, Colorado, 1997.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

An Open Letter to Barack Obama

As discussed in the previous post, Information Landmine happily endorses this open letter to Barack Obama from The Nation magazine and a cohort of respected figures from the political left. We encourage our readers to go over to The Nation and co-sign the letter themselves.

Dear Senator Obama,

We write to congratulate you on the tremendous achievements of your campaign for the presidency of the United States.

Your candidacy has inspired a wave of political enthusiasm like nothing seen in this country for decades. In your speeches, you have sketched out a vision of a better future—in which the United States sheds its warlike stance around the globe and focuses on diplomacy abroad and greater equality and freedom for its citizens at home—that has thrilled voters across the political spectrum. Hundreds of thousands of young people have entered the political process for the first time, African--American voters have rallied behind you, and many of those alienated from politics-as-usual have been re-engaged.

You stand today at the head of a movement that believes deeply in the change you have claimed as the mantle of your campaign. The millions who attend your rallies, donate to your campaign and visit your website are a powerful testament to this new movement’s energy and passion.

This movement is vital for two reasons: First, it will help assure your victory against John McCain in November. The long night of greed and military adventurism under the Bush Administration, which a McCain administration would continue, cannot be brought to an end a day too soon. An enthusiastic corps of volunteers and organizers will ensure that voters turn out to close the book on the Bush era on election day. Second, having helped bring you the White House, the support of this movement will make possible the changes that have been the platform of your campaign. Only a grassroots base as broad and as energized as the one that is behind you can counteract the forces of money and established power that are a dead weight on those seeking real change in American politics.

We urge you, then, to listen to the voices of the people who can lift you to the presidency and beyond.

Since your historic victory in the primary, there have been troubling signs that you are moving away from the core commitments shared by many who have supported your campaign, toward a more cautious and centrist stance—including, most notably, your vote for the FISA legislation granting telecom companies immunity from prosecution for illegal wiretapping, which angered and dismayed so many of your supporters.

We recognize that compromise is necessary in any democracy. We understand that the pressures brought to bear on those seeking the highest office are intense. But retreating from the stands that have been the signature of your campaign will weaken the movement whose vigorous backing you need in order to win and then deliver the change you have promised.

Here are key positions you have embraced that we believe are essential to sustaining this movement:
§ Withdrawal from Iraq on a fixed timetable.
§ A response to the current economic crisis that reduces the gap between the rich and the rest of us through a more progressive financial and welfare system; public investment to create jobs and repair the country’s collapsing infrastructure; fair trade policies; restoration of the freedom to organize unions; and meaningful government enforcement of labor laws and regulation of industry.
§ Universal healthcare.
§ An environmental policy that transforms the economy by shifting billions of dollars from the consumption of fossil fuels to alternative energy sources, creating millions of green jobs.
§ An end to the regime of torture, abuse of civil liberties and unchecked executive power that has flourished in the Bush era.
§ A commitment to the rights of women, including the right to choose abortion and improved access to abortion and reproductive health services.
§ A commitment to improving conditions in urban communities and ending racial inequality, including disparities in education through reform of the No Child Left Behind Act and other measures.
§ An immigration system that treats humanely those attempting to enter the country and provides a path to citizenship for those already here.
§ Reform of the drug laws that incarcerate hundreds of thousands who need help, not jail.
§ Reform of the political process that reduces the influence of money and corporate lobbyists and amplifies the voices of ordinary people.

These are the changes we can believe in. In other areas—such as the use of residual forces and mercenary troops in Iraq, the escalation of the US military presence in Afghanistan, the resolution of the Israel-Palestine conflict, and the death penalty—your stated positions have consistently varied from the positions held by many of us, the “friends on the left” you addressed in recent remarks. If you win in November, we will work to support your stands when we agree with you and to challenge them when we don’t. We look forward to an ongoing and constructive dialogue with you when you are elected President.

Stand firm on the principles you have so compellingly articulated, and you may succeed in bringing this country the change you’ve encouraged us to believe is possible.

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It May Already Be Too Late, But...

... this campaign from The Nation magazine is worth supporting:

In an Open Letter posted today at and running in the next issue of the magazine, progressive supporters of Barack Obama urge him to stand firm on the principles he so compellingly articulated in his successful primary fight.

The letter praises the dramatic grassroots movement that has built up around Obama's candidacy, but expressed concern that he may be "moving away from the core commitments shared by many who have supported his campaign" and which are critical to maintaining that movement's energy and passion.

The Open Letter appears as the lead editorial in The Nation this week. It will be posted on a range of blogs and websites with an open call for more signatures. People are invited to sign on at

The letter lists ten positions of crucial importance to Obama's progressive base, including withdrawal from Iraq, a response to the current economic crisis that reduces the gap between rich and poor, universal health care, an ambitious climate change agenda, restoration of civil liberties, and commitments to abortion rights, racial equality and political reform.

Please join Phil Donahue, Barbara Ehrenreich, Studs Terkel, Walter Mosley, Gore Vidal, Bill McKibben, Jane Hamsher, Tom Hayden, Zephyr Teachout, Juan Cole, Katrina Vanden Heuvel, Matt Stoller, Robert Greenwald, Howard Zinn and many others in signing this open letter which will be delivered to the Obama campaign before the Democratic National Convention begins on August 25.

Read the full letter and add your name today.

Needless to say, Information Landmine supports this effort wholeheartedly although remaining sceptical as to whether the candidate himself will simply take liberal and progressive voters for granted anyway.

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Tuesday, July 29, 2008


Mute magazine has a review of Clay Shirky's new book, Here Comes Everybody. It's another of those books about why the internet changes everything and leads to collaboration and citizen journalism and enhanced democracy and all kinds of wholesome fruity goodness. Unreformed liberal that I am, I tend to be a bit of a sucker for claims like that, and so I was quite interested to read it. Felix Stalder, the reviewer, does make a quite startling point, though: "Tussle over copyright? Reading Shirky, you wouldn't know there is one. This is probably the most glaring absence. Number of entries for copyright in the index of the book? 0!"

For those unfamiliar with debates about internet technologies, this is kind of like trying to explain the boom in the US economy in the early forties without reference to the Second World War. I exaggerate, but you get the picture - so much of the develpment of Web 2.0 applications has been shaped by the copyright-holder vs. filesharer arms race (my favourite example is the reincarnation of Kazaa in Skype, but it's everywhere you look) that trying to cut it out the picture must make for an incredibly artiticial book.

Stalder puts this down to Shirky's making his living off consulting contracts:

Of course, Shirky knows about it, so the omission must be deliberate. To me, this is an indication of how constrained discourse has become, particularly in the US and particularly for the set of activist academics who like to think of themselves as progressives yet covet their positions as consultants to conservative business and government. To them, p2p poses an ugly challenge. It is clearly one of the most potent mass movements driving the deep transformation of the media industry and contributing considerably to the fabled increase in individuals' expressive capacities. But coming out against file sharing makes you sound like a dork on the payroll of the mafia. Very unprogressive. Yet, the media conglomerates and their surrogates have succeeded in establishing such a climate of copyright maximalism that even appearing in favour of copyright infringement removes you from the mainstream. Thus, if you want to play it both ways – be part of the revolution and earn money as a consultant – you better avoid the whole issue. That, at least, would explain why neither Shirky nor anyone else in the US mainstream even dares to talk about file sharing anymore, with the exception of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Self-censorship at work.

This seems fair enough as an explanation for Shirky's glaring ommission, but as a statement against the general "US Mainstream" I think it's a bit pessimistic. It depends how you want to define "mainstream" of course, but most of the usual suspects of US law professors and technology policy wonks seem to me to be making about the same noises as they always did. Jonathan Zittrain, who's just written the other big Wired crowd, "Ooohhh, look at the internet" book of the summer, doesn't seem too worried about pissing off copyright holders. I've yet to read my copy of The Future of the Internet and How to Stop It, but I understand the basic argument to be that if we adopt the policies being advocated by Big Copyright, we're going to spoil the party for everyone. Certainly copyright seems to feature fairly prominently in his index.

It might be the case that everyone talks less about filesharing than they used to, but that seems to me to be because the big court cases are over, and it's all settled into a pretty staied dynamic of filesharers-invent-new-technology/copyright-holders-go-after-them-tooth-and-claw-sweeping-aside-useful-technological-innovations-and-privacy-in-the-process/filesharers-switch-to-new-technology. The battle over the legalisty of filesharing having been lost, people have moved on to looking at some of the collaterel damage. Cory Doctorow (also, it should be noted, a pretty mainstream figure in the technology debate, and a guy who probably makes a non-trivial amount from consultancy) has a column in the Guardian out today, expressing sentiments to that effect:

This month's announcement of a back-room deal between ISPs (internet service providers) and the big record companies to spy on suspected copyright infringers and reduce the quality of their internet connections is just the latest paragraph in the record industry's long, self-pitying suicide note, and it's left me wishing they'd just pull the trigger already and stop beating their chests and telling us all how unfair it all is.
Not much hedging for consultancy contracts going on there.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Green New Deal

This seems an eminently sensible bit of big-think. I'll write more about it when I've got time, but the premise of a broadly Keynsian, internationalist approach to diminishing resources, climate change and financial turmoil is a fundamentally good one.



Tuesday, July 22, 2008

How America Destroyed Itself

The fact is finally dawning on the press and the American people that terrible things happen when fascists are allowed to take over your country.

And make no mistake: they were allowed to take over and destroy the Constitution because the vast majority of people either actively supported Bush and his gang of criminals; were cowed into deference through the fear of terrorist boogeymen or the ridicule of Fox News and the Rush Limbaugh blackshirts; didn't have the moral courage to stand up and say "No more!"; or, probably most often, were lost in a make-believe world of American Idol and Monday Night Football.

Even if we can escape the nightmare and restore the Constitution and the rule of law, what will we tell future generations about the shame and horror of the last eight years? How will we explain doing nothing of consequence in opposition while two presidential elections were stolen via massive-but-targetted electoral fraud and a war of aggression was waged in our name?

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Saturday, July 19, 2008

War, Climate Change, Energy Crisis, Economic Meltdown...

... but still, it's good to see the "President" has his priorities in order.


Ashcroft as a Moderating Influence?

Surely there is no greater - or more damning - illustration of the degree of right-wing extremism within the Bush administration than the fact that John Ashcroft once found himself serving as the voice of semi-moderation in a battle with then-White House counsel Alberto Gonzales over the use of torture in prisoner interrogations.

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Thursday, July 17, 2008

From the demographic that brought you the Ron Paul Revolution...

... comes the Sean Tevis campaign. (Cheers Alan).

Monday, July 14, 2008

Pulling US Democracy Back From the Brink

Faced with ruthless GOP fascism on one side and cowardly Democratic collaboration on the other,'s Glenn Greenwald lays out the case for an urgent effort by Americans from across the political spectrum to unite to restore the rule of law and drag our Constitutional democracy back from the brink.

To quote Greenwald:

While there are substantial, important differences between Republicans and Democrats, critical political debates are at least as often driven not by the GOP/Democrat dichotomy, but by the split between the Beltway political establishment and the rest of the country... [A]ll of these assaults on our core civil liberties and the rule of law are not Republican attacks with Democrats fighting against them. They are attacks launched by the political establishment against the citizenry, and they ought to be responded to as such. That's the core premise of the Accountability Now/Strange Bedfellows campaign we've launched -- that these battles have to be waged by an ideologically diverse group of citizens devoted to a defense of the Constitution and the rule of law against a political establishment which has proven it is hostile to those values.

Hear hear! Information Landmine says this new organization deserves the support of all true US patriots of whatever stripe and anybody else concerned by the national descent into madness, barbarity and lawlessness over the past seven years.

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Sunday, July 13, 2008

Latest Idiocy from P.M. Carpenter

BuzzFlash's P.M. Carpenter just can't figure how Barack Obama has slipped from a 15-point lead over John McCain to a mere 3-point lead in the latest polls, despite the alleged strategic genius of switching his positions on a number of touchstone issues from the FISA bill and public finance of his campaign through to gun control, faith-based initiatives, Israel and Iran. Rather than face the probability that Obama's slide is exactly because of these betrayals of what many of us on the left had hoped were matters of basic principle, ol' P.M. instead speculates that this has to be attributable to either incompetent polling or racism amongst the electorate or even some kind of misinformed Islamophobia.

Thankfully, many of those leaving comments below Carpenter's column seem a lot more clued up than P.M. himself. It really does seem as if the Democratic establishment is, on a daily-if-not-hourly basis, exposing itself as just as out-of-touch with the mood of the country as the Republican establishment has been.

Polls have shown that the majority of Americans, after eight dark years of encroaching fascism, are demanding substantial change. Moving towards positions that, by all appearances, offer the country pretty much more of the same thing but with different packaging frankly will not cut it.

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Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Onion: Once Again Reporting Real News

Bush Tours America To Survey Damage Caused By His Disastrous Presidency

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Change Fewer People Do Believe In

Larry Lessig sees the ever-increasing danger of the Obama campaign snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, the candidate discrediting himself via (though Lessig doesn't see it this way) right-shifting policy positions on a variety of issues from FISA, Isreal, Iran and gun control through to the public campaign finance boondoggle and his backtracking on a promised series of debates with Republican rival John McCain.

Indeed, Lessig - and Obama - should be concerned. For such mis-steps have served to strip much of the gloss from candidate Obama and have recently made him appear like just another politician rather than the enlightened being that so energized and enraptured his supporters just a short time ago.

In particular, Lessig warns that dampening the enthusiasm of those who have hitherto been Obama's greatest supporters is likely to end up with many of those erstwhile voters staying home on the first Tuesday in November rather than going out to the polls. Worse, as punk troublemaker and ever-astute political commentator Jello Biafra warns, the emerging Obama betrayal may have even more severe negative consequences for the Democrats - and what passes for the American left - in the longer-term:

"It’s not as though a President ‘Barack-star’ is going to wave his magic wand and suddenly Iraq is all better. My biggest worry about him is that if he wins, he’s just going to turn around, pull off the mask, and be the creature of the corporate establishment that his voting record indicates. And a whole generation inspired to get off their asses and participate will become so disillusioned that they don’t vote again."

Biafra's fears appear well-founded: 'Barack-star', it seems, has chosen to start removing the mask even before the general election.

What consequences this will have overall for Democratic chances in November remain to be seen, but this correspondent has decided to vote Green. The Republicans are hateful and loathesome, certainly, but the Democrats are arguably even worse for pretending to be righteous and just and then kneeling down before the worst, most evil and despised administration in US history anyway to help them shred the Constitution and rule of law that our forefathers fought and died for. As the last week has shown, the fascist Republicans couldn't even do it without the assistance of Democratic collaborators, including those at the top of the party hierarchy in Congress.

Enough is enough: this correspondent will no longer compromise core beliefs by voting for the lesser of any evils. A vote for the establishment, whether red or blue, is a vote for more of the same, and what's left of our Constitutional democracy can no longer afford that.

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Friday, July 11, 2008


As expected, David Davis wins easily, the BBC sneers and the Greens come in second. This all seems to me to be to the good - the fact that prominent politicians can take a stand on these issues and come out of it looking pretty good is a very useful signal to send to MPs thinking about the political value of scare-mongering: apparently, the Daily Mail crowd will still vote for you even if you're doing things that could be protrayed as "soft on terror", and you might pick up a few civil libertarians along the way.

Also, from a far less cynical-political-horse-race-watching point of view, Rachel from North London, who was campaigning for Davis, has the text of her speech up. Awesome stuff:

Three years ago I was on the way to work when a 19 year old British man detonated a suicide bomb in the carriage I was travelling in, killing 26 innocent people and wounding over a hundred more. So I understand first-hand how terrifying terrorism is. But I now know that the real aim of the terrorists is not to kill hundreds but to terrify millions. To terrify us so much that we forget who we are and what we stand for and become like frightened children begging only to be kept safe. To use our own nightmares against us and to amplify them through the media and news cycle's endless feedback loop of fear. But as any parent knows, it is not always possible to keep those you love safe, and a person who is always safe is a person who never knows freedom - and who has no life.

Tony Blair once said that the freedom not be to be blown up on the way to work was the most important freedom - and that sounds temptingly true, until you unpack it. For no government can keep us safe, even if they watch over us and film us and listen to us and check our emails and internet use and hold our most intimate data and fill hundreds of prison cells with people who are merely suspected of - but not charged with - any crime at all.

When terrorists attack us, they try to divide us. They want a panicked reaction and a divisive, draconian response. It plays into their propaganda machine and by deeming them our terrible enemies against whom we must wage all-out endless, limitless war, we dignify and glorify their hateful - and hopeless - cause.

Now go and read the whole thing.

Glenn Greenwald Smarter Than P.M. Carpenter

Unlike BuzzFlash's wannabe Machiavelli P.M. Carpenter,'s Glenn Greenwald clearly gets it.

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Thursday, July 10, 2008

Obama and the Betrayal of US Constitutional Democracy

Once again, BuzzFlash's P.M. Carpenter just doesn't get it.

Thankfully, others who have commented on Carpenter's latest apologist act for Barack Obama's spineless surrender to the fascists of the Bush administration do seem to get it, however. This comment, in particular, from "Clemsy Diggs" really hits the nail on the head:

Well PM, there's just one flaw in your argument that's like a bad taste I just can't get out of my mouth: The assumption that digging in against the FISA bill would have hurt his campaign.

I don't buy it. If this is his reasoning than he's a bit out of touch with what's going on in the street today. The only people not fed the hell up with Bush and his policies are hardcore brown shirts and congenital, reality-challenged idiots.

Congress is down to single digit approval ratings for the first time ever and a lot of that sentiment comes from frustration at a Democrat controlled Congress that keeps playing a shell game with the Bushies and losing every goddamn time.

After almost eight years of watching them walk out of the store, smiling, with all those little details that make America, well, America, people, yes even moderate people, are salivating over the image of someone standing up and saying, "No more!"

Yes, we get that politics in America is a dishonorable, septic tank affair.

But that's another assumption that needs to be put to the test... that this is the way it is and some things will never change.

Obama's initial appeal to many of us was that he was going to challenge this assumption. However, with the FISA bill he's climbed into the septic tank with the rest of them.

That he should know better is bad. That he may know better is worse.

One thing he probably does know is that he has us by the proverbial short hairs. MacCain will drag America into the long dark, and probably take a lot of the planet along with it.

What will Obama do? I really don't know. But I do know that it's way past time for the American people to take the power back from those who have convinced us we don't have any.

And I'm sick to death of politicians "keeping us safe." Their job is to keep the Constitution safe.

Americans need to remember we are willing to make our own sacrifices to preserve our own Revolution. We also need to remember who has the power.

We do.

Well said, Clemsy! If allegedly-smart campaigning now means shredding the principles of our Constitution then US democracy is in even greater peril than most of us already feared to be the case.


This bitterly tongue-in-cheek comment from Yman puts all of this in an even more terrifying light:

PM is absolutely RIGHT! Suck it up, people!!!!

What the hell do you people expect? It's about WINNING, damn it!!! And doing whatever it takes to WIN, no matter what the cost!!!

Yeah, yeah .... Fourth Amendment blah, blah, blah ........... who the hell cares! It's not like he's adopting conservative positions on the the Second Amendment and expanding the gun nuts' rights. Or lowering the wall between church and state. Or the Eighth Amendment and expanding the death penalty to crimes not involving killing. Or the Fifth Amendment (and a few others) and restricting a woman's right to choose to have an abortion.

C'mon! All you childish, pollyanna progressives who are criticizing Obama need to get over yourselves! Be PROUD of Obama's FISA support like PM!

Besides ........... there's still a whole bunch of Amendments left.


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Wednesday, July 09, 2008

She should know

Spyblog has the Hansard transcript for Baroness Manningham-Buller's maiden speech to the House of Lords. Long story short, she's the former head of of MI5 and she thinks 42 days is a bad idea.

Money quote:

But arguments can be made to justify any time of detention, just as in other countries, although mercifully not here, they can be made to justify any method of interrogation.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Take your sides...

Daniel Altman at the International Herald Tribune does some big joined-up thinking about the snatch-and-grab efforts of US oil companies in Kurdistan as part of the start of a larger global scramble for resources:

I’m not going to get into the he-said, she-said of whether the State Department sufficiently discouraged the Kurds from signing the deal with Hunt Oil or not. As James Glanz and Richard Oppel write, this is another example of some fairly cynical dealing by Washington on the question of Iraqi oil. To play the devil’s advocate, though, I wonder if the American government isn’t just playing the same game as so many other countries that are worried about their energy supplies.

Venezuela nationalized foreign oil companies’ holdings. Russia is making its joint venture partners uncomfortable, even stripping TNK-BP executives of their visas (you may recall, loyal readers, that I asked what they were still doing in Russia back in March). Brazil is jealously guarding its enormous new oil find. China happily does business with Sudan. And now, the United States is trying to secure as much of Iraq’s oil as it can, by hook or by crook. Given such high oil prices, isn’t that something that American voters can support? Sure, it may go some ways to showing that the second Gulf War was really about oil… but is now the right time to complain?

Well, if that's a serious question, I'd say we're all fucked. Obviously before the war would have been a better time to complain, but you'd have to hope that it'd do some good now. If, as Altman seems to, you see Iraq as part of the way that states are adapting to the scarcity of global energy, you'd think it'd be even more important to object to achieve international co-operation on these matters. Or maybe it's all too late and we'd just better dig in for a the coming international resource war.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Vive la revolution!

A nice editorial over at BuzzFlash to mark US Independence Day, and a worthwhile reminder of what the Spirit of 1776 is all about.

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Thursday, July 03, 2008

McCain Brings in the Attack Dogs

With a key Karl Rove disciple now running the show, expect the McCain campaign to start playing a nastier brand of political hardball shortly. A fairly tepid campaign is about to get a whole lot uglier, a whole lot dirtier and a whole lot more divisive. But can a divisive political strategy win again or are Americans finally sick of such manufactured discord? We'll find out in November but in the meantime, to his credit, Obama still largely appears to be running his own campaign on more positive themes.

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Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Religious Rights

Johan Hari notices that the government's new Equality Bill doesn't make any reference to protection from religious discrimination, and applauds heartily. Being a damned-to-Hell atheist myself, I agree with the sentiment, but I think it's a more complicated issue than he lets on.

He's basing his argument on the idea that: "You don’t choose your race, sexuality, or gender... But you do choose your religion..."

This has a common-sense feel to it, but as soon as you start to think about it, there's a host of problems. In the first place, even if we want to concede that you can choose your religion - it's not like just opting for a latte instead of an espresso, is it? If you've been brought up as a God-botherer all your life, and all your ideas about truth, morality etc are tied up with this, I imagine it feels a bit rich to be told that you could simply choose to believe something else. Yes, in theory you can, but only at the expense of feeling that you're denying important aspects of who you are, cutting yourself off from the community you feel at home in and feeling immoral in the process. And if we're prepared to concede that people should do that, then why are we worried about other sorts of discrimination?

If you're happy about the self-denial, removal from your chosen community and basic dishonesty with yourself, then discrimination on the grounds of sexuality shouldn't worry you too much. And there's always surgey if we're worried about discrimination on the grounds of gender...

More generally, there's a long and ugly tradition on politics of declaring whatever you think is right to be "natural" (or "biologically determined" or whatever) and declaring what the other side are doing to be the result of some willful and capricious choice that they made.

Along these lines, Johann's worried about the tendency of sexists, homophobes and racists to hide behind their religions and thus get around other anti-discrimination laws - "But Jesus said I have to hate the gays, your honour":

To give one example logged by the GPA: a gay man recently approached his police station to explain he was being harassed by religious fundamentalist neighbours. They were screaming the most barking verses from the Bible at him every day, and they had scratched a crucifix on to his front door. To his astonishment, he was told by the police that "homosexuality is a sin in the Bible, so it's a legitimate religious view and it's protected by the law". Whenever homophobia is exposed in a police station, the offending officers now plead that they are just following their religion, and that is the end of that.

Religion has become a get-out-of-jail-free card for homophobic officers. Since 85 per cent of police officers claim to be religious, this renders the equality legislation meaningless. While obviously individuals have to be free to be homophobic in their homes in their spare time, when they are working for us, they have to treat us all equally and right now, they are refusing to do so, with the full protection of the law.

That's sickening, but it's not so much a problem with the notion of religious rights as a with the police using a ridiculously broad interpretation of them in a rather cynical way. More broadly, just because one right sometimes competes with another is not a good reason to declare it invalid. Free speech always conflicts with anti-discrimiation laws, and I assume that if the police had said that everyone is entitled to express their political opinion and that the lunatics thus had the protection of the law, Hari wouldn't have been calling for the abolition of free speech laws. Same thing seems to apply here - your right to religious freedom is limited by my right to be safe from harassment.

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Legalized Watergate?

Here is a more direct and, hopefully, persuasive reason as to why Barack Obama and the Bush-appeasing Democrats need to think again about their cowardice over FISA.

Richard Nixon could only have dreamed of possessing this kind of legal carte blanche to tap the telecommunications of the Democratic National Committee, thus avoiding the need to dispatch G. Gordon Liddy and Co. to break into the Watergate Hotel. The sad and infuriating thing is that if Tricky Dickie had faced a Congress as weak-willed and spineless as the current one, he would certainly never have faced impeachment proceedings to hold him and key members of his administration accountable for their crimes against the republic.

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Random thoughts about ID Cards

On Monday 30th June, nine members of NO2ID were arrested for protesting outside a consultation about ID cards with Meg Hillier, Minister in Charge of Trying to Sell ID Cards to the Public (I don't think that's the official title). There's a good first-hand account about this at James Hammerton's blog, another on the NO2ID forum, and a nice write-up at Spyblog, which does a nice job of pointing out the genius of the NO2ID strategy here.

The government's been having a period of "public consultation" about ID cards, which has consisted largely of trying to avoid any actual cotact with the publc. As far as I've ben able to make out, this as been a process of telling interested businesses and local bureaucracies that ID cards will be a magic bullet for every single administrative problem they face at the moment or can imagine in the future, and trying to keep everyone else the hell out. Then, once the consulation process is over, the fact that there's been "public consulation" becomes a nice gotcha for anyone making further protests - "Don't like ID cards? Well, you should have mentioned it in the consultation process. Oh yes, we had one. All the serious people turned up - didn't see you there, though." Whereas, if the most widely publicised thing about the "public consultation" is that members of the public were arrested when they showed up to express their opinions, well...

Also worth pointing up either the both the blinding arrogance and duplicity/stupidity (can't tell which) of Meg Hillier's comments on the incident:

"I offered to meet NO2ID in Edinburgh but they declined. They are stuck in the past and need to realise that the majority of UK citizens are supportive of identity cards, which start being issued to foreign nationals later this year."

So they did show up, and she had them arrested! There's a woman interested in productive dialogue with all affected parties. Also, the "stuck in the past" comment is beyond satire. Is anyone still buying the idea that this is a fight where a bunch of Luddite engineers, privacy experts and IT professionals face off against technologically savvy government ministers?

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Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Required: 1 Strucutral Transformation of the Public Sphere

Emmanuel at IPEZone is worried that Europe's flying off the rails since the Irish referendum, and that even as deep a thinker as Jurgen Habermas seems to have been swayed by the anti-Euro rhetoric:

It is slightly dismaying though that such an influential figure seems to rehash the usual Murdoch-esque arguments against the Lisbon Treaty--national sovereignty is being transferred to Brussels; democratic representation is being sacrificed in the process; the EU is a cover for American-led neoliberal globalization, etc. If this sort of thing sounds familiar, that's because it's the message that's relentlessly pounded day in and day out by the likes of Rupert Murdoch's Times of London and the Sun. Topless women on page 3, apocalyptic visions of European unity elsewhere pretty much sums up the level of sophistication of much of the debate.

Leaving aside the fact that this seems a bit of a mis-characterisation of Habermas (and possibly Murdoch - "the EU is a cover for American-led neoliberal globalization"? Has any Murdoch paper ever tried that argument?), I'm inclined to agree with all this as far as it goes. I'll go toe-to-toe with anyone on my hatred of The Sun, and spend far more time than is healthy worrying about media concentration. But saying that Murdoch's poisoning public opinion is not an argument for closer EU integration against the inclinations of the public, it's an argument for sorting out the press.

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