Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Going privately postal

/ letters to nowhere /
The EU commission warns over "ploys" to protect public postal services, meaning attempts to minimize public cost. These ploys include apparently wildly unreasonable demands:

...Finland has in theory opened its market to full competition but insists on a fee from new entrants if they won't offer their service across all the territory, the official said.

"That, for us, is a freedom of establishment issue," the official added, referring to a plank of EU law that can be mobilised to stop a country hindering competition.

Brussels is also concerned about "protectionist thoughts" in Belgium where a plan is mooted to make all new entrants offer a service across the entire country, a costly undertaking...

Any attempts to "impose" universal service, are thus deemed unacceptable by the folks in the EU commission (the sensitivity of whom to public sentiment and common sense in the EU will virtually guarantee that any EU related issue put to referendum will fail). As the Apostate Windbag has explained some while ago:

So if the directive supposedly guarantees universal service provision, how exactly will the market provide?

The answer is it won’t, as, again, the Commission admits. In order to ensure universal service provision member states ‘may choose’ from a range of different options: state aid (subsidizing private businesses), public procurement, compensation funds or cost-sharing. In other words, recognizing that private providers will be extremely reluctant to provide loss-making services, the Commission has concluded that to continue to ensure universal service provision, governments will still have to pay for it.

Essentially, we are selling the goose that lays the golden egg. While still having to fund universal provision of service, governments will no longer have the subsidy for this service that business-originated and parcel post previously provided.

But what's the empirical evidence regarding the mythical beast called "benefits to the consumer" the appearance of which precedes but rarely follows privatisations the world over? In the British case, a recent report is rather unequivocal, and I'll let the impeccably unsocialist Telegraph, summarize it as "'No benefit' to opening up mail market":

Opening up the postal market to competition has undermined the future of the Royal Mail and provided “no significant benefit” to consumers or small businesses, a report has said.

It found that since liberalisation individual customers had no more choice in who delivered their letter, but were now faced with a complicated sizing and pricing system.

The review, by a Government-appointed panel, also warned that ending the Royal Mail’s monopoly posed a “substantial threat” to the financial stability of the company and the universal postal service in general.

The Telegraph puts it even more explicitly in a related article eloquently titled "Royal Mail privatisation 'hurts customers'":

Posting a letter has become more expensive and more difficult since the market was opened to competition, a government-backed report said yesterday.

Individual Royal Mail customers now have to contend with higher stamp prices and a complicated sizing system as a result of liberalisation, which has provided them with "no significant benefit".

Seumas Milne notes in the Guardian that:

"...The farce of [Labour's] claims [about the effectiveness of its policies] couldn't have been more clearly demonstrated than in the liberalisation and creeping privatisation of Britain's postal service. Far from "working" or delivering the goods, the corporate-skewed opening up of the market is progressively destroying a publicly owned network at the heart of Britain's social and business life. When New Labour came to power, the Post Office was an effective public monopoly handing over more than £100m profit a year to the public purse. Public and political support saw off successive attempts by the Tories and, more tentatively, Tony Blair to privatise what had become Royal Mail.

But eight years after New Labour began exposing the network to private competition and two years after Royal Mail's 350-year-old monopoly was finally abandoned, the postal service is in crisis and the universal service which guarantees delivery of mail anywhere in the country at a single price is in peril..."

Failures however can always be explained by arguing that reforms haven't been deep enough, or that any shortcomings are temporary etc - while governments are advised to leave the services up for privatisation to rot for a while, so that a demand for reform will make privatisation seem sensible. Local developments of course couldn't be allowed to trail behind.

Monday, June 23, 2008

George Carlin, comedic genius, dead at 71

/ fuck /

"...But we have flamethrowers. And what this indicates to me, it means that at some point, some person said to himself, "Gee, I sure would like to set those people on fire over there. But I'm way to far away to get the job done. If only I had something that would throw flame on them..."

A few days ago in a rather absurd debate in the Greek blogosphere, I posted in an aggregator forum a link to George Carlin's "euphemism" sketch, the first time I've posted anything about my favorite stand-up comedian (comedic philosopher, really). It didn't help [around 9:05]. He died anyway. Apparently the simple act of my quoting him didn't relieve his heart problems as I learn today, to my utter grief. So in memoriam, Euphemisms:

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Did the United States Create Democracy in Germany?: The Independent Review

/ the raw story from an idealized past /

This Independent Institute review by James L. Payne, casts doubt on claims, current around the time of the invasion of Iraq all over the mainstream media and published by both scholars and think tanks (see this [pdf] on the subject; the whole report was critiqued by Le Monde Diplomatique at the time) in the aftermath of Iraq, that the US had successfully exported democracy to Germany in WWII:

Both advocates and opponents of nation building say that the United States played a key role in helping post-war Germany become a democracy. In fact, a close look reveals that, from the standpoint of democratic nation building, the U.S. occupation of Germany is actually a lesson in what not to do.

The full report can be found here, in PDF format: Did the United States Create Democracy in Germany?. Note that the report is written from a libertarian perspective and it shows in certain criticisms regarding the handling of the German economy and its view of the Marshall plan. However a lot of the facts mentioned are surprising and quite interesting and it seems like a valid case is being made. Quite interesting reading.

via monochrom

Monday, June 9, 2008

The eXile shutting down?

/ in fact I was amazed they got away with all that for so long /
According to the Moscow Times the english language Moscow entertainment (in the broadest possible sense) daily, the eXile, is being "inspected" "to check whether the newspaper had violated media laws or its license". The newspaper's editor Mark Ames, has said that "I get the general sense that they have decided it's time to shut us down, that they're not going to tolerate us anymore". I'm not sure if it has any bearing on the situation, but the last Feature Story - a review of the newspaper's misdeeds over the past 11 years - is currently missing from the newspaper's site (google cached here). [Correction June 11: It's up and working now]

I "discovered" the paper's site in 1999, while in the US, as the Kosovo war was starting. I remained a loyal reader (and in fact a buyer of Taibbi's and Ames' books) ever since. They seemed to offer one of the few sane descriptions of the feeding frenzy of the Yeltsin years - in fact the only western source people I met from or residing in Russia could recognize as having any relation with the reality of the times. Beyond that a mega-dose of cynicism and political incorrectness that was definitely missing from the media on everything in the world. I've been reading more or less regularly, stuff ranging from the infuriating to the sublime from the eXile for nearly a decade now (always expecting its demise - in fact the aforementioned Moscow resident told me that they must be CIA agents or something, because it's amazing they're not dead, much less still in press).

Hopefully they'll weather this one out too.

Update: And you can help them too! Apparently they need money to relocate and they're asking for donations.