Posts by Simon Gibbs

Editor of the Libertarian Home blog and meetup organiser.

EU Copyright Directive Protests

I am hearing there are big protests planned internationally to oppose the EU Copyright Directive. The directive is similar to ACTA which you will recall sparked similar international protests which we covered in a break from our holiday in Amsterdam.

From the Open Rights Group newsletter:

The European Conference of Presidents will vote this Thursday in Brussels on a request to fasttrack the final MEP vote on the EU Copyright Directive to 12 March. If successful, international protests against upload filters planned for 23 March will become obsolete. Stay tuned for ORG’s call to action.

More information about protests is listed at Save the Internet. For some reason, however, there is no planned demo in London. From afar my estimate is that copyfighters are predisposed to support Remain and the feel of the ORG newsletter is that they would really rather not have to go ahead with this right before the Article 50 Brexit deadline.

Brexit: What is going on?

On the eve of the commons vote that Theresa May has now tried to defer, we gathered to work what is going on, what we want and what is happening next.

The panel included:

Christian Michel – Philosophy and Economics Meetup Organiser
Lucy Harris – Leavers of Britain
Catherine McBride – Senior Economist, IEA Trade and Competition Unit

In their opening statements the panellists gave their point of view. I started by asking Christian why “people” wanted to be part of the EU in the first place?

Christian does not know why “people” want to Remain, but knows why he wants to Remain. This is because he feels that the EU destroys respect for the concept of a state. There is no love for the EU in the same way that there is love for nation states. States that are remote and undemocratic lack moral authority and the end result, he says, will be that the EU exerts less authority than would be wielded nationally.

Catherine, was working in Australia as the EU developed from the EEC into the EU. For her, the institution was an “OPEC for developed nations”. In particular this is what it was presented as in Australia, making its evolution into a sovereign entity with broad and deep powers a bit of a surprise. Such was also the experience of people here, she felt. Catherine also feels that had the EU stuck to the 9 first countries (Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, West Germany, Denmark, Ireland and the UK) it might have worked out better. However the UK in particular was the “oddball” and had different economic needs and alignments, tending to develop ahead of the EU nations thanks to US influence. This meant the UK was incompatible from the the beginning.

Lucy, laments the rapid “twitter feed” progression of events in the current climate. Lucy felt that what the country needed now was a new leader from the Leave side who would be able to be braver and more bold than Theresa May and deliver the result of the vote. This deal, she says, is not Brexit and not the will of the people because it leaves us in the Customs Union. She says the Brexit we need must include “no connection” with the ECJ, freedom of movement, the customs union or single market. The reasons for Brexit are not especially tied to immigration and is not a racist phenomenon.

The panel went on to discuss, in some depth, the nature of democracy and the attitude of the Remain camp toward Brexit voters, and the likely direction of events.


Brexit looking shaky

So, in case you had missed it, a Brexit deal is now on the table. It introduces a transition phase while the new relationship is being discussed and keeps us in the Customs Union (and much else besides) while that process continues. After 2 years of negotiating an exit it crucially fails to assure Britain that a meaningful exit is possible at all. Since the passage of the Lisbon treaty there has been the Article 50 get out clause, but bizarrely, no such mechanism to leave is contained in the withdrawal agreement.

This is a ludicrous version of Brexit and cannot really be given the name. It has been described as capitulation, giving Britain the status of a vassal state. Regardless of your views on Brexit, or participation in politics generally, the passage of this agreement would be a disaster.

The question must now be asked: what should be done?

If the choice on the table is between Remain and this deal, then the only sensible decision is to Remain. Exit on WTO terms seems to be an incredibly unpopular option at present, and seems even likely to pass the necessary Commons vote. I greatly prefer No Deal to the present option, but the task of campaigning for it seems quixotic. It is perhaps made possible by the fact it is presently the default in law, but there are attempts underway to change that fact also.

There does seem to be some momentum behind the idea of creating an alternative deal, either by making small but important changes to this deal, or invoking the Norway option (EFTA / EEA membership). There are even a few people in the cabinet working on a fix.

The conventional wisdom is that there is no time for a second referendum, but there does seem to be a degree if political will in favour it. Should libertarians aim to begin influencing that process?

Perhaps it is better, since we are ourselves divided, to avoid taking a corporate libertarian view on the matter. This might be reasonable, but a concern is that this means sitting out one of the largest political controversies of our time.

Facebook purges libertarian(ish) accounts

Libertarians, mostly Americans, on Facebook are frantically working through the details of a mass ban of Facebook Pages maintained by organisations in the libertarian-conservative part of the spectrum.

One user posted this “working list” of affected accounts to another libertarian’s wall:

The Free Thought Project – 3.1 million fans
The Anti-Media – 2.1 million fans
Police the Police – 1.9 million fans
Cop Block
Filming Cops
Policing the Police
Cop Logic
Rachel Blevins
End the Drug War
V is For Voluntary
Legalizing Cannabis Hemp
End the War on Drugs
Anonymous News
Get Involved, You Live Here
Dan Dicks – 350,000 fans
Political Junkie News Media – 300,000 fans
Murica Today – 180,000 fans
Choice & Truth – 2.9 million fans
You won’t see this on TV – 172,000 fans
Modern Slavery Hilarious Vines – 129,000 fans
Fuck the Government – 168,000 fans
Punk Rock Libertarians – 190,000 fans

Also blocked were Peaceful Anarchism, Liberty One and The Truth Is Viral.

I am not personally subscribed to these pages, I am not vouching for them or identifying them as libertarian or as anything else. I prefer to limit my consumption of social media, but I have certainly heard of many of them.

Some sound a bit bonkers, others seem to have been doing important work which anyone should recognise as valuable in a democracy. It is possible Facebook has some evidence that they were up to something? There seems to be an issue with pages being “forced” to spam for reasons related to Facebooks algorithms.

I’m asking you a question: have you been tuning into these pages and what do you think is going on? Are some of these legit targets based on some criteria of public safety that you feel is valid? Or are they legitimately operated venues of dissenting opinion which is being squashed?

Speaker Profile: Tom Walker

Many libertarian activists will know Tom from his consistent presence at think tank and meetup events and his writing at Backbencher, the ASI Blog and Telegraph Refresh. He helps the European branch of the Ayn Rand Institute to arrange events in communication with the other UK objectivist organisations.

Professionally Tom is a planning consultant and is therefore well placed to speak on the prospects for New Towns under consideration in England. Tom speaks at the Two Chairmen tonight in Westminster.

#DrowningInPlastic fails to address economics or human needs

I watched Liz Bonnin’s Drowning in Plastic documentary as I have heard plenty, through headlines and punditry, about how evil and disgusting plastic is and how it must be banned. I was sceptical that plastic could be as bad as depicted and wanted to listen in a bit more depth.

Like most I found the various depictions the impact to sea life disgusting and saddening. One bird, for example, had eaten its weight in plastic which had become stuck in its stomach and it was unable to fly to hunt. Seals had vicious cuts to their necks and majestic whales were entangled with an ungainly mess of ropes.

Consistently, however, the economics of the situation for humans were missed. The most thorough coverage of the impact on humans came very late in the program where organised fishermen from Cape Code were permitted a voice but only alongside coverage of their own efforts to solve the problem themselves. This was all very thin and was arranged very late into the program. This was not a a case of plastic being put on trial, it was an emotional and largely one-sided tirade.

There was nodding coverage of the fact that plastic sachets in the remote Philippines had enabled a dramatic improvement in the local people’s way of life. Later in the program Bonnin emerged from the sea frustrated holding a clutch of the sachets in hand. That fact the sachets were revolutionary for humans was not reintroduced. Nor was it noted that the sachets, a very irksome part of the problem for Bonnin, seemed to be a problem exclusively in non-western non capitalist societies where, as a consequence, dirt and flies were prolific. In fact, of the problems discussed, only that of lobster fishing was associated with a developed western economy.

When Bonnin did try to describe the arrangements in depth she failed to pick up on interesting questions.  In one broad stretch of river floating plastic had formed a dirty boom across its width. We were shown how locals in long shallow boats bent on their knees to pick valuable plastic from the water for recycling. We were also shown that the plastic came from impoverished rural communities who were throwing plastic in heaps down river banks. What was not explained is why the two groups had not managed to connect themselves together. If plastic is so valuable that people will bend over the side of a boat to filter it out, then why can they not organise themselves to do that on land? What barriers exist between these peoples?

When Bonnin went to visit entrepreneurs working to solve the various problems she was similarly shallow in her economic questioning. For example, she showed a frankly amazing floating device in a Canadian harbour. It was powered by the flow of water, supplemented by solar energy. It was able to pick tons of plastic from the water in a day. It was, apparently, far too expensive for many “local authorities” to afford. You won’t be surprised to learn that there was no mention of tax payers at this point or their competing needs, but there was also zero discussion of whether this plastic recovery could actually be profitable.

Likewise, the amazing edible sea weed packaging material was described as having great potential with great interest from corporations. You would not catch me eating it, but it was still an impressive product. Bonnin omitted any discussion about the challenges the seaweed entrepreneur faced commercially, therefore stifling any efforts her impassioned audience might exert to solve those specific problems. Instead, we were told there was some lingering concern about the impact of seaweed farming. Facepalm!

There was some other discussion, finally, very late in the program of an island community organising to profit from sea borne plastics. But the fact is that Bonnin consistently failed to pick up on interesting economic questions, failed to interview entrepreneurs in any real depth on economic issues and in doing so offered little to support the audience in coming to a balanced view.

Predictably the #DrowningInPlastic hashtag is drowning in emotive calls to action to ban plastic and save the cute animals. It is as if we have forgotten what it is that makes our lives possible, and the role of plastic products in making human beings comfortable.