Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Freedom's a Loser, Didn't You Know?

Germany's way of ringing in the New Year should bring a shudder of familiarity to fans of online poker. Faced with pending complaints in the EU from some major European online gambling firms, Germany decided that rather than be a good European citizen, they were going to mount the ramparts and ban online gambling in its entirety.

The votes were conducted in each of Germany's 16 member states and reached a legal majority in time for Jan. 1st, meaning that right now, in the wink of an eye, in governmental terms, Germans have lost a chunk of their online freedom. It's a shame, really, from a country that's had historical reasons to be one of the world's most open and tolerant toward its citizenry.

We could, of course, take the high road here, and simply wring our collective hands over Germany's failure to heed history's lessons. But what would be the fun in that, when nasty ol' cheap shots are so easy to take? With online gambling now technically banned, German citizens will have to turn to a few other pastimes, such as...

Playing volleyball (during daylight hours, naturally):

Mouse races:

Sneaking over to the Russian camp to watch the women:

And when all that gets tiresome, at least there's the holiday dance to look forward to:

We keed. We keed. But from small losses, bigger losses erupt, and liberty's been taking an extended hit the world over.

Nearly two years ago, in this blog, we mentioned the possibility that online gambling could be a 'flashpoint' issue in the battle between governments' desires to control and individuals' desires for knowledge and information and freedom. We're a bit cynical here, so we were never going to pretend that government was anything but a heavy betting favorite in these battles, yet as the World Trade Organization battles and a passel full of new laws from seemingly progressive Western countries have shown, these countries' governments are going to grab theirs first, and to hell with anything that threatens the concept of government as big business.

Anything that threatens a government monopoly -- or the potential thereof -- is always going to be attacked. Governments existing for the good of the people they govern is true only in an idealistic sense, not a real one. Governments are really about continuing the flow of power and money. And that's the weak point of the online-gambling business; by its very nature, it challenges that flow.

So freedom and liberty and all that noble-sounding stuff is invariably the loser, whether it comes in the form of the U.S.'s UIGEA, the new German law, France's new President Nikolas Sarkozy imposing his agenda upon that country, in part by allowing online-gambling company officials from other countries to be arrested (and doesn't that sound familiar?)... or any of a half dozen similar examples.

While the enactment of the new German law is already being challenged in the European Union's Court of Justice, other news reports suggest that with both France and Germany erecting UIGEA-style blockades against Internet-based gambling, and both countries also among the leaders in defining EU policy, that EU law governing international access about online gambling will itself be rewritten. And in the rewriting, that access is expected to go away, restoring the monopoly and revenue streams that these governments assume by divine right. One must pay the proper homage to be able to sin.

Of course, the strength of any system of codes is what happens in its most crucial tests, and as we've seen in the case of the World Trade Organization, it fails utterly. As one of the U.S. Trade Representative officials quite openly said a few months back, in discussing the Antigua complaint against the U.S., the WTO itself was designed to give countries such as Antigua a voice, but not to give them a real vote. He may as well just have said, "We'll tell you what your place is, Antigua. Didn't you know?"

International, extraterritorial bodies are invariably toothless beasts, dating all the way back to the League of Nations, which fell apart before World War II. The United Nations has existed since then but was rendered all but useless after the Korean War. None of the current international organizations have any bite beyond the natural convenience that brings them together.

We just find it to be tiresome. And disappointing. And very, very human. Online gambling? It's still very viable in the short term, but its long-term prognosis is somewhat more grim in light of recent worldwide events. It's grim because you and us, we're not free; none of us are. And not being free means having to pay the government piper, whatever that government happens to be.

1 comment:

CSuave said...

The saddest part is that all of those "International, extraterritorial bodies" you have written about are idealistically setup to protect rights and to bring justice to those that are denied it. Yet even as they fail in their designed task, so much funding is still directed into their coffers. Perhaps it is to make those that take away the rights in the name of protection (ie nanny states) feel as though they have done something noble since they fund such organizations. The US government being one of the largest funders doling out many billions per year.