Monday, February 27, 2017

Annals of Derp: Point of parliamentary privilege

Illustration by Ken Priebe for his poem "The Parliament of Owls", a very nice lyrical treatment of collective animal nouns.
A little fake news from Jazz Shaw of the aptly named Hot Air website:
This is a story which would never take place in the United States, at least not yet and not with the official permission of the government. The European Union has obviously become increasingly alarmed over trends in popular sentiment rippling through their member countries. This started with Brexit, but has more recently cropped up with the candidacies of Marie Le Pen and Geert Wilders. Clearly such rabble rousing is not to be tolerated in the largely socialist paradise so something had to be done. The solution? The EU has passed new rules which will allow them to cut the broadcast of any “hate speech or offensive material” and then purge such speech from the official record. (Associated Press)
One of the reasons this sounds so alarming is the unclarity of the writing (and Le Pen's name is "Marine".) The official record of what, Mr. Jazz?

That's the key: It's the official record of debates in the European Parliament, the elected body that governs the EU, which, like other parliaments, has an absolute and unquestioned right to set the standards of acceptable speech inside the body and to suppress unacceptable language—including, obviously, the houses of Congress in the United States, where we're all familiar with the idea of representatives' remarks being "stricken from the record" or having their "words taken down".

It's the European Parliament that's passed the rules, not "the EU" (Jazz wants you to picture those faceless bureaucrats taking time out from emitting rulings on acceptable cheese shapes or whatever the current urban myth is to levy censorship on the particular countries, though he probably knows nothing of the sort will happen), doing something all parliaments do. And it's in response to a series of incidents like:
  • English MEP Godfrey Bloom (UKIP) interrupted a speech by German MEP Martin Schulz (SPD and with any luck chancellor after the coming elections) by singing "Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer" in a debate of November 2010;
  • Polish MEP Janusz Korwin-Mikke (Coalition for the Renewal of the Republic) said that "the minimum wage should be destroyed as we would be treating 20 million young Europeans like niggers" (he later explained he had meant to say "negroes" and put the blame on his poor command of English and an earache) in a debate of July 2014—he had also told the parliament that Hitler was unaware of the Holocaust and that women are prevented by evolution from being too intelligent;
  • Greek MEP Eleftherios Synadinos (Golden Dawn), who described Turks as "dirty and polluted" and "like wild dogs" in a debate of March 2016
The parliament already had the power to remove members from the house for such offensive behavior, or expel them altogether, and used it in these cases. The new rules are issued in the hope that it will help make such extreme measures needed less often, through a kind of prior self-restraint.

And that's pretty much it. The rightwing noise machine (drawing, as it often does, from the anti-Europe Telegraph and Sputnik) is whipping up this scandale du jour like a giant meringue, out of practically nothing, as if to create a fog while the relations between the Trump political-entrepreneurial enterprise and the Russian rulers become clearer.

Incidentally, a 1997 study by Kathleen Hall Jamison for the Annenberg Center found the peak use of "taking down words" in the history of the House of Representatives since World War II was in 1946 and 2005, both times when Republicans had taken over the House during a Democratic presidency, suggesting either that Republican rule inevitably brings incivility, or that Republican leadership is more likely to use this form of "censorship" to silence Democrats than the other way around.

Cross-posted at The Rectification of Names.

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