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The Art of The GM Deal

Friday, 27 July, 2018

Last Sunday, Reuters headlined an article thus: “EU approves Monsanto, Bayer genetically modified soybeans.” On Wednesday, US President Donald Trump met Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission president, and both sides claimed that they’d prevented a (trade) war and struck a great deal.

Juncker praised the US agreement not to impose any additional tariffs (including the president’s threatened levies on European car exports) as “a major concession by the Americans,” while Trump called it “a big day for free and fair trade,” and highlighted Juncker’s promise that the EU would import more American liquid gas and soybeans.
And it’s in that context that the European Union’s approval of genetically modified (GM) Monsanto/Bayer soybeans becomes interesting and that under-reported Reuters story becomes significant. Were the GM restrictions removed to placate The Donald? If so, there will be ructions when the euro Greens return from their holidays in September.


A German writes about Germany and Trump

Wednesday, 20 June, 2018

Jochen Bittner, a political editor with the German weekly Die Zeit, addresses the enormous hypocrisy of Europe and, especially Germany, in a New York Times op-ed titled What Trump Gets Right About Europe. Snippet:

“Mr. Trump’s anger at America’s allies embodies, however unpleasantly, a not unreasonable point of view, and one that the rest of the world ignores at its peril: The global world order is unbalanced and inequitable. And unless something is done to correct it soon, it will collapse, with or without the president’s tweets.

While the West happily built the liberal order over the past 70 years, with Europe at its center, the Americans had the continent’s back. In turn, as it unravels, America feels this loss of balance the hardest — it has always spent the most money and manpower to keep the system working.

The Europeans have basically been free riders on the voyage, spending almost nothing on defense, and instead building vast social welfare systems at home and robust, well-protected export industries abroad. Rather than lash back at Mr. Trump, they would do better to ask how we got to this place, and how to get out.

The European Union, as an institution, is one of the prime drivers of this inequity. At the Group of 7, for example, the constituent countries are described as all equals. But in reality, the union puts a thumb on the scales in its members’ favor: It is a highly integrated, well-protected free-trade area that gives a huge leg up to, say, German car manufacturers while essentially punishing American companies who want to trade in the region.

The eurozone offers a similar unfair advantage. If it were not for the euro, Germany would long ago have had to appreciate its currency in line with its enormous export surplus.”

What sort of lives do people/nations, who pose as being moral, lead? Jochen Bittner has posed the question and answered it, too.

Language note: The word “hypocrite” came to English from the Greek hypokrites, which means “actor” or “stage player.” Hypokrites is made up of two words that translate as “an interpreter from underneath,” and that makes sense when you know that actors in ancient Greece wore masks to represent the characters they were playing, and so they interpreted the story from underneath their masks.

Hypokrites took on an expanded meaning to refer to anyone wearing a figurative mask and pretending to be someone they were not, and this meaning was imported into medieval French and then into English, where it appeared with the spelling, ypocrite, in 13th-century religious texts to refer to those who pretend to be pious to deceive others. By the 16th century, hypocrite had gained its initial h-.


The GDPR monster

Friday, 25 May, 2018

BBC headline: “GDPR: US news sites unavailable to EU users under new rules.” What’s up? The BBC again: “GDPR gives EU citizens more rights over how their information is used. It is an effort by EU lawmakers to limit tech firms’ powers.”

The Twitter debate about the GDPR monster has been won by the inimitable joe.

GDPR


The Unintended Consequences of the GDPR

Thursday, 17 May, 2018

The blogger Yeats, as opposed to the poet Yeats, might say that the “rough beast” of the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation), “its hour come round at last,” slouches towards us to be born on 25 May. For Rainy Day, which runs on WordPress 4.9.5, this will have implications. Our hosting service, WP Engine, had this to say earlier today:

“With WordPress 4.9.6 coming this week, we will be seeing a few new features built around GDPR compliance. This release is different in that it is introducing new features in a Maintenance/Security update, and that it applies only to websites already running WordPress 4.9 and higher. While this is atypical of a release, it is important to include these new features because they provide an essential toolkit for handling GDPR compliance. We have weighed the risk in introducing these new features and since they are not manipulating or impacting existing WordPress features, we feel that this release is not only safe but also important in enabling you to make your site GDPR compliant.”

The Law of Unintended Consequences lays out three outcomes: Unexpected Benefit, Unexpected Drawback or Perverse Result. Which one the will the GDPR deliver? Well, the reality is that the EU can only enforce the GDPR against entities that do business in the EU. Any website hosted outside the EU doesn’t have to comply with the GDPR and the EU cannot compel China, say, to accept its notion of privacy. Companies that want to keep tracking users will either ban EU customers and visitors, or move outside the EU and do business elesewhere.

And, if a company’s servers are in the US and if it doesn’t have any EU assets, it can keep tracking EU visitors. Brussels can’t do anything about this because US courts are not going to uphold EU law against US citizens who have not broken US law. In other words, because the web is worldwide, one consequence of the GDPR will be the creation of a false sense of privacy.


JavaScript vs. GDPR

Monday, 7 May, 2018 0 Comments

“Simply paste our JavaScript snippet into your website’s code. We’ll check every visitor of your site and will block access to users located within the EU.”

That’s the USP of a startup called GDPR Shield. Its sole product is a snippet of JavaScript that simply blocks EU users, so that websites don’t have to deal with GDPR compliance. The entrepreneurial coders in the service of Dr. Nikolaus Fischer, with an address in Düsseldorf, describe their offer thus:

“The European Union’s new GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation), which takes effect on 25th May 2018, creates uncertainty and risk for website owners. It applies to businesses world-wide, because it protects all users accessing your site from the EU, regardless of where your business is located. GDPR threatens website owners with fines of 4% of turnover or €20 million (whichever is higher). If you don’t have an in-house legal team, complying with the law requires you to consult with a lawyer specializing in data protection law. In addition, you’re at risk of vindictive reporting from no-win-no-fee legal firms.”

Looks like it’s time to add JavaScript to the list that includes coffee and bacon and answers the question: Is there anything it cannot do?

GDPR


Autocrats have a very high friend in Brussels

Wednesday, 10 January, 2018 0 Comments

“If @FedericaMog didn’t exist, the world’s autocrats would be trying to invent her.” So tweeted @EliLake yesterday. Background:

“As the European Union’s high representative for foreign affairs, she is a tireless advocate for engaging rogue states. Few diplomats though have pursued this kind of engagement with such moralizing puffery. In Mogherini’s world, diplomacy with dictators should not aim to transition these countries to open societies, but rather to prevent conflicts at all costs.”

That’s from Europe’s High Representative for Appeasement, in which Lake highlights the disgraceful conduct of Federica Mogherini, the EU’s High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. Snippet:

“Just consider her trip last week to Cuba, a plantation masquerading as a nation-state. Did Mogherini use her visit to call attention to the struggle of human rights activists or to comfort the families of political prisoners? No, Mogherini was in Cuba to reassure a regime that Europe will not go along with America’s trade embargo.”

Shabby and all as Mogherini’s behaviour in Cuba was, her position on Iran is horrifying:

“Mogherini’s ideology is a particular tragedy in the case of Iran. The West can help aid Iran’s freedom movement by linking the regime’s treatment of its people, and particularly its political prisoners, to economic and political engagement. The U.S. has some leverage here, but Europe — because so many of its businesses want a piece of Iran’s economy — has far more.

As Suzanne Maloney, an Iran expert at the Brookings Institution, told me this week: ‘This is the European moment on Iran.’ Europe’s response to the regime’s violent suppression of protests after the stolen election of 2009 was firm. The EU should send the same message today: ‘We are not going to sustain political and economic engagement with a country engaged in the suppression of peaceful protests,’ she said.

So far Mogherini and the Europeans have delivered the opposite message. On Monday, the high representative invited Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, to Brussels next week for more discussions on the Iran nuclear deal. Alireza Nader, an Iran expert at the RAND Corporation, told me this week that Mogherini’s statement on Iran was ‘saying both sides are equal, when it’s Iranian security forces that are shooting and killing people.'”

Iran, Cuba, Russia and North Korea have a friend in very high places in Brussels. That’s bad news for everyone, apart from autocrats, of course.

Federica Mogherini


The unmasking of the overrated Martin Selmayr

Friday, 29 December, 2017 0 Comments

This is deft and devastating: “The Selmayrs are by origin Bavarians, who have always seen themselves as European rather than Germans — except during the Third Reich.” That pause there is masterful and it’s the work of Daniel Johnson in the current issue of Standpoint magazine.

Martin Selmayr is the latest scion of this ancient family to make news and he bears the capital title of “HEAD OF CABINET” in what the Brussels bubble calls “President Juncker’s team“. The admiration of the young bureaucrat ends at the English Channel, however. Selmayr has few friends in London as he is “blamed for a series of malicious leaks during the Brexit negotiations, ranging from unflattering remarks about Theresa May’s appearance to preparatiosn for the fall of her government,” notes Daniel Johnson, who sees him as a combination of “gatekeeper, enforcer and eminence grise in a manner reminiscent of the Merovingian emperors of the Dark Ages, who were ruled by the mayors of the palace.”

For Johnson, much of what makes the junior Selmayr what he has is and what he has become can be found in the ‘journey’ of Josef Selmayr, a truly opportunistic, amoral piece of work. Snippet:

“Martin’s grandfather Josef was a professional soldier during the Weimar Republic and later rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel in the Wehrmacht. He was imprisoned for war crimes in the Balkans, but only briefly. Josef Selmayr’s experience made him useful in the Cold War and led to his rehabilitation: first as a member of the shadowy Gehlen Organisation, a CIA-funded group of former Nazi intelligence officers, then from 1955 to 1964 as the first director of MAD, the German Military Counterintelligence Service, with the rank of Brigadier. His career paralleled that of Kurt Waldheim, whose role in war crimes in the Balkans did not prevent him later becoming UN Secretary General and Austrian President.”

Daniel Johnson points out that the Selmayrs are a family of public servants in an long-standing German tradition of an elite offering its skills for the development of an idealised sate. “Fatally, they conflated the Nazi state with the rule of law.” To make amends for this blot on the copybook, as it were, Martin Selmayr “has always seen Europe as a source of redemption from Hitler’s toxic legacy.”

For these people, Britain was, and Brexit now is, the nemesis. It threatens their vision of Utopia and no amount of Utopian Europe, with its killing fields, bloodlands and mass barbarism, can deter them. The Project must be completed.

Martin Selmayr


Trump in Poland: The Three Seas vs. Nord Stream 2

Thursday, 6 July, 2017 0 Comments

The election of President Donald Trump was an existential shock for Poland’s liberal elites. And, like their pals the world over, they remain in grief and denial, unwilling and unable to comprehend what has happened to their certainties. That said, Poland’s conservative government didn’t appear thrilled by the change in Washington, either. Trump’s reputed admiration for Putin suggested that an emboldened Moscow would have a free hand to increase its intimidation of Warsaw, but the increasingly frosty climate between America and Russia has put that nightmare to rest. And that’s why President’s Trump speech today in Warsaw is so important, and it explains why Poland is greeting the US President as a hero. When the speech ends and Air Force One flies off to the G20 Summit in Hamburg, however, the success or failure of the visit will depend on President Trump’s position regarding the competing visions represented by the Three Seas initiative and the Nord Stream 2 project.

Poland

The Three Seas Initiative: This aims to unite twelve countries in Central and Eastern Europe by creating a North-South infrastructure, between the Baltic, Adriatic and Black Seas, in the telecommunications, transportation and energy sectors. The main goal is challenge Russian influence in the European energy sector, and prevent Moscow from using energy as a weapon against neighbouring states.

Nord Stream 2: This is a second pipeline being built by Russian energy giant Gazprom and Germany’s BASF and E.ON energy companies. It will run in parallel to the first Nord Stream pipeline, which was completed in 2011, and it will carry gas under the Baltic Sea directly from Russia to Germany. Adjoining states regard this as a move by Russia to bypass traditional transit countries (Ukraine, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Belarus and Poland) and see it as part of a long-term plan by the Kremlin to exert political influence over them by threatening their gas supply without affecting supplies to Western Europe.

As one can see, some of Europe’s oldest fault lines are exposed here. By calling their project the Tree Seas Initiative, the founders have revived memories of the Intermarium — a Polish-led bloc in Central and Eastern Europe as a bulwark between Germany and Russia. Some also regard it as a challenge to the EU and an act of potential separatism. Anything the US says and does, therefore, will be seen as hostile by some in Berlin and Brussels but all those who have been crying “Isolationism” since last November might admit that keeping this US administration interested in the affairs of Central and Eastern Europe is of value.

But, but, but… Last month’s vote by the US Senate to expand sanctions on Russia has rocked the boat. Part of that expansion will target European countries that cooperate with Moscow’s efforts to build out its energy infrastructure in Europe and the most prominent target is the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. The proposed sanctions would affect those who “…invest or support the construction of Russian energy export pipelines.” The Wall Street Journal has the details.

Europe and America. Russia and Poland. Oil and gas. It’s complicated.


Brexit: The Big Decision

Friday, 8 July, 2016 0 Comments

The poem Che fece… il gran rifiuto has appeared in publications with the title translated simply as “The Big Decision.” C. P. Cavafy took the heading from Dante’s Inferno and the original couplet refers to the decision of Pope Celestine V to abdicate the Papacy in 1294 and allow Dante’s enemy, Pope Boniface VIII, to gain power:

Vidi e conobbi l’ombra di colui
che fece per viltade il gran rifiuto.

(I saw and I knew the soul of him,
who cowardly made the great refusal.)

A fortnight on from the historic Brexit referendum that resulted in an overall vote for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union, that Big Decision has upended British politics and sent shockwaves around the globe. Deciding to declare “the great Yes or the great No” has consequences, whether in the 13th or the 21st century, says Cavafy.

Che fece… il gran rifiuto

For some people the day comes
when they have to declare the great Yes
or the great No. It’s clear at once who has the Yes
ready within him; and saying it,

he goes from honour to honour, strong in his conviction.
He who refuses does not repent. Asked again,
he’d still say No. Yet that no — the right no —
drags him down all his life.

C. P. Cavafy (1863 — 1933)


The toxic elites combined

Monday, 4 July, 2016 0 Comments

“In shorthand, Britain’s EU problem is a London problem. London, a young, thriving, creative, cosmopolitan city, seems the model multicultural community, a great European capital. But it is also the home of all of Britain’s elites — the economic elites of ‘the City’ (London’s Wall Street, international rather than European), a nearly hereditary professional caste of lawyers, journalists, publicists, and intellectuals, an increasingly hereditary caste of politicians, tight coteries of cultural movers-and-shakers richly sponsored by multinational corporations. It’s as if Hollywood, Wall Street, the Beltway, and the hipper neighborhoods of New York and San Francisco had all been mashed together. This has proved to be a toxic combination.”

Peter Mandler teaches British history at Cambridge University. According to Dissent, which published Britain’s EU Problem is a London Problem, Mandler “voted Remain, so he is probably part of the problem.” In an admirable example of fairness, however, he takes his own side to task for its arrogance:

“Rather like the New York Times’ attitude to Trump, Remain thought it could laugh off Leave, or dazzle it with ‘facts.’ A very large part of the Remain campaign was focused on troupes of ‘experts’ — investment experts, science and university experts, fiscal policy experts—signing collective petitions and open letters declaring their loyalties to Europe. This played directly into anti-elitist sentiment. A very telling point late in the EU referendum campaign came when Michael Gove, one of the right-wing Conservative leaders of the Leave side, was quoted as saying that ‘people in this country have had enough of experts.’ Much fun was made of this remark. But it touched a nerve. The next day a leaflet came through my letterbox from Remain. ‘Find out what trusted experts say’: a range of views from left to right backing Europe, including a trade unionist, a military chief, a scientist, a banker, and a billionaire entrepreneur. All live in London and the southeast except for one Scot and the billionaire, who lives in the tax haven of the British Virgin Islands. That billionaire, Sir Richard Branson, took out full-page ads in all the major papers in the last days of the campaign, extolling Europe.”

A powerful new caste has come to believe it deserves to rule the world. It combines a brazen devotion to self-preservation with contempt for ordinary people, who are increasingly set against one another in a battle for survival. It ignores the declaration made on this day in 1776 in Philadelphia that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”


When will the e-people be allowed to vote?

Monday, 27 June, 2016 0 Comments

On the surface, at least, the world was still in order on 31 May. Yes, it was World No Tobacco Day, but it’s been that since 1987 and smoking remains popular in many parts of the world. Change comes dropping slow, as the poet said. But quiet can be deceptive; it can lull us into a false sense of security and that’s why very few noticed a draft motion “with recommendations to the Commission on Civil Law Rules on Robotics” (PDF) drawn up by the European Parliament’s committee on legal affairs that was discussed on 31 May in Brussels. People should have paid more attention, however, because it is revolutionary.

No taxation without representation! That slogan led to violent change 250 years ago and what the European Parliament is asking the European Commission to do is equally radical. According to the draft motion, the commission should consider “that at least the most sophisticated autonomous robots could be established as having the status of electronic persons with specific rights and obligations, including that of making good any damage they may cause, and applying electronic personality to cases where robots make smart autonomous decisions or otherwise interact with third parties independently.” The motion also says organizations should have to declare any savings they make in social security contributions by using robotics instead of people, for tax purposes.

Robots voting On the face of it, then, while Europe’s robot workers would be classed as “electronic persons,” with rights and obligations, they would still be regarded as property (slaves?) and their owners subjected to additional taxes for having the initiative (temerity?) to deploy them. The realities of a new industrial revolution suggest that different thinking and terminology is needed.

Today, robots are being used in ever-greater numbers in factories and they are also taking on tasks such as personal care and cardiac surgery. The result is that all kinds of fears about unemployment, wealth inequality and alienation are being raised. The growing intelligence, pervasiveness and autonomy of robots demands a debate involving citizens, lawyers, accountants, ethicists and legislators. In the end, e-votes by e-people might play a decisive role in any referendum on these tectonic changes.