Saturday, September 11, 2004

All Quiet on the Western Front

Most US news sources seem, understandably, preoccupied with coverage of the third anniversary of the World Trade Center disaster. Having said that, there is a good deal of coverage of other major events, from scary rumours of an imminent North Korean nuclear test on the New York Times to the sentencing of a culprit / scapegoat in the Abu Gharib prison scandal in the Washington Post.

Of course, the other big story in the Atlantic at the moment is Hurrican Ivan, predicted to ravage te Cayman Islands and Cuba but currently doing its worst to Jamaica. Hurricane season is pretty much the only time the Carribean (with the exception of Cuba) gets global news coverage. Indeed, the only stories from this region to really wash up on British shores have been the usual debates about Jamaica's attitude towards the death penalty (which appears to have softened in recent months) and over the homophobic lyrics of dancehall stars such as Beenie Man. As a James Bond enthusiast I was gratified to see that The Daily (now Jamaica) Gleaner is still in existence. When the currect storm passes, it might be worth making a 3/4 of the year resolution not to totally disregard this region when it isn't suffering rampant devestation.

This has been a rather erratic post, which I attribute to the stinking head cold I am currently nursing. By way of apologies, for anyone in London tomorrow, why not check out a free screening of Battelship Potemkin with live score by the Pet Shop Boys in Trafalgar Square.

Friday, September 10, 2004

A fight with the whole of Europe

Poor old Gordon Brown. First he sees a bunch of his ministerial allies disappear back to the backbenches, then he sees the return of Alan Milburn to the Cabinet in an apparent challenge to Brown’s control over Labour’s election strategy, now he’s gone and started a fight with the whole of Europe.

This is all kicking off because of Britain’s infamous rebate, thanks to which we get given back a sizable chunk of the money we pay to the EU, and which threatens to bugger up a number of the new member states as we are getting money back which should, by EU standards, be redirected to them. Strangely, the rebate is never mentioned when the eurosceptic press rants about how much money we’re paying (and as I mentioned yesterday, we’re not paying nearly as much per head as certain countries), it only ever gets mentioned when it looks like we might have to renegotiate it… I wonder why that is?

I also have to wonder why Gordy is starting to slag off Europe the day after the government has kicked off its campaign to promote the benefits of the European constitution (download the White Paper (pdf) here).

A piece of good news amongst all this confusion is that, as I suggested should be the case ages ago, it looks like Blair might keep away from any pro-Europe campaign thanks to his current low personal popularity ratings.

One thing that is for sure, despite the lack of any kind of serious opposition party, Labour needs to stay united if the party is to have any hope of achieving anything between now and the General Election, and especially if they are going to win the EU Referendum vote Blair foolishly (and undemocratically) promised.

Robert Kilroy-Silk: Twat

The man’s quite possibly the biggest tit in Britain. The UK Independence Party (I refuse to call them UKIP on principle, and certainly refuse to pronounce it in the particularly stupid way they seep to prefer) is a pathetic enough organisation, but Kilroy really takes the biscuit.

I’ll confess here that I have hated the man for well over a decade – ever since I first had the misfortune of watching his chatshow (the one from which he got fired for writing a stupid article and being an offensive, self-satisfied, racist moron).

Having gone to Brussels as an MEP (yep, voters are stupid), announced he’s going to “wreck” Europe (prompting incoming Commission president José Manuel Durao Barroso to laugh out loud), “get our country back” and all sort of other headline-grabbing populist crap, he’s now said that he aims to “change the face of British politics forever”.

Well, that’s nice and patriotic, isn’t it, you fake tanned buffoon?

At the same time, as if to confirm my non-revelation that the Tories are idiots from the other day, it looks like they're going to team up with the UKIP to campaign against the EU Constitution. They've changed their tune a bit... Not to mention the fact that this puts the Conservatives in the same camp as the fascist British National Party, with whom the UKIP have an informal pact not to compete in elections to avoid splitting the anti-EU vote.

More on the UKIP being fascist, racist scum who would do more harm to the country they profess to love than any number of Brussels bureaucrats here and here.

Doing the math

Was having a chat in the pub last night with a friend of mine, who seems pretty upbeat about Kerry's chances come November. He's been 'doing the electoral college math' and finds the good senator from Massachusetts coming in with 276 of the electoral college - 270 being the magic number assuring the presidency.
So what is the electoral college? Like the British first past the post system, the nationwide tally of votes (the popular vote) is not the factor that decides elections (as any Democrat will tell you, Al Gore received around 500,000 more votes nationally than George Bush). If a party secures the majority vote in a state, it then secures that state's number of electoral college votes. These are weighted according to population, so North Dakota (for example) carries only 3 electoral votes as opposed to 34 for Texas. On election night, as the states' results come in, the totals are added up and first man to 270 wins.
Things get interesting when it comes to the weighting and to the swing states. an old article from thecarpetbaggerreport points out that the GOP enjoy a natural constituency of some 199 electoral votes from 21 states with solid Republican voting records. The Democrats have only one 'firm' state - Minnesota (. However, they also have strong support in New York, California and Illinois - three key states, with California wielding a whopping 55 votes.
Then come the swing states. As this handy NYtimes interactive map shows this is where the balance of power lies. National polls show Bush with a strong lead after his New York convention, but in these key states opinion is more evenly split.

EDIT: Moves in Colorado to change the state constitution could have far-reaching implications. Colorado would then become the third state (with Maine and Nebraska) to award only the first two electoral votes to the overall winner, with the other votes being allocated on the basis of the results from the state's congressional district. A major headache for pollsters perhaps, but also a way to get closer to a democratic resolution.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

The World vs. Bush

One in five non-Americans want Bush out. Hardly a surprise, I know...

"The only countries where Bush was preferred in the poll of 34,330 people that was conducted mainly in July and August were the Philippines, Nigeria and Poland. India and Thailand were divided."

This news comes the day after I suggested elsewhere that the citizens of any country with US troops in it should get to vote in the US elections...

Meanwhile, does this explain Bush's absence from the national Guard?

(Thanks once again to Manic for the links - I really ought to stop pinching stuff off him now he's linking here permanently, nice chap that he is...)

Euro News Update

A bit too much focus on the US and Russia for the last few days means I've neglected to mention that:

The EU has appointed a new ambassador to the US, the former Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) John Bruton. He will have a staff of 80, and his appointment apparently "reflects the joint wish of the Commission and the Member States to raise the profile of the European Union in the United States." This is as the EU/US battle over the Byrd Amendment looks set to get nasty, possibly making the EU a bone of contention in the US elections, and as the Coca-Cola Corporation tries to get out of EU-based trouble.

Britain's finally had a cabinet reshuffle which sees the return of key Blair ally Alan Milburn. "If Mr Milburn is identified with a poor campaign in which Labour loses much of its huge majority - outright defeat is barely conceivable - Mr Brown can expect to rapidly move next door." - more on the significance of this later, probably...

Tony Blair claims that opting out of EU Workers' Rights legislation is to save the NHS. "The working time directive set out rules for a maximum working week of 48 hours for employees across Europe - rules that have been championed by former EU employment chief Anna Diamantopoulou. But Britain has been singled out for its 'abusive' interpretation of the opt-out clause- negotiated in 1993 - which allows workers to opt-out of the law and work longer hours."

This is as various fiscal regulations are slackened in the wake of Germany's budget difficulties. "Prodi said the proposed reforms were intended to 'make the pact more intelligent.' And the Brussels chief, who famously denounced the stability pact’s rules as “stupid” in 2002, appeared to accept a political reality where national government’s ignores Brussels budget edicts."

After all the fuss about Britain losing its EU rebate earlier this summer, now the actual figures have been released so we can all make proper comparisons. "Four countries - Ireland, Portugal, Greece and Spain - were revealed to receive more money from the EU pot than they pay in... At the other end of the scale, Dutch citizens each paid in 120 euro to the EU coffers. Other net contributors were Sweden (106 euro per citizen), Germany (93 euro), Belgium (75 euro) and the UK (46.5 euro). The French pay 32 euro each."

We've also got the latest EU fraud league table, which is topped by Belgium...

Thanks to my sideline as a film journalist (plug, plug, plug), I found this encouraging. The plans to double the EU's financial aid to the European film industry to nearly a billion euros per year can only be a good thing - the EU currently doesn't do anywhere near enough high-profile funding of cultural projects, which I'm convinced could help raise the profile and spread knowledge of the benefits.

France casts aside party politics to ensure a "yes" vote on the planned EU Constitution - a good thing, considering how divided the country is: "France's last European referendum on the Maastricht treaty in 1992 saw voters split by the narrowest of margins, with 51% voting for the text and 48% against." However, according to some sources there's not as much unity as all that...

And in Britain, yet another anti-Europe think tank launches, this time a centre-left one, the "Centre for a Social Europe". They have some good points, so probably more on them later as well...

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

The Presidential race starts hotting up

By now we all know about Bill Cinton's hospital bed advice to Kerry to focus on the economy. He's paid attention: "$200 billion for Iraq, but they tell us we can't afford health care for our veterans. $200 billion for Iraq, but they tell us we can't afford to keep the 100,000 new police we put on the streets during the 1990s. Well, we are here today to tell them, they are wrong and it is time to lead American in a new direction."

Kerry has also given a great speech in Cincinnati: " You know, the President said one thing in his convention speech that’s true. He said we all need to challenge the soft bigotry of low expectations. But you know, it’s George W. Bush who has set low expectations -- and met them. He doesn’t believe that America can be strong in the world while we also make progress here at home. He believes we have to choose one or the other. That’s a false choice – and I reject it. I believe we can lead in the world and lead our own land to greater progress and prosperity than we’ve ever known before.”

Kerry's also trying to highlight that "Yesterday, George Bush said the economy was great, and today George Bush is celebrating a record budget deficit".

This as Alan Greenspan voices serious concerns about the deficit, even if the economy finally seems to be recovering: "Re-establishing an effective procedural framework for budgetary decision making should be a high priority. But it is only a start... As we prepare for the retirement of the baby-boom generation and confront the implications of soaring expenditures for medical care, a major effort by policymakers to set priorities for tax and spending programs and to start making tradeoffs is long overdue."

This is all as Dick Cheney announces: "It's absolutely essential that eight weeks from today, on November 2nd, that we make the right choice, because if we make the wrong choice then the danger is that we will get hit again, and we'll be hit in a way that will be devastating from the standpoint of the United States. And then we will fall back into the pre 9-11 mindset, if you will."

The White House has been suitably evasive when asked to clarify what Cheney meant; the Kerry campaign has been suitably outraged, John Edwards pointing out "Dick Cheney's scare tactics today crossed the line. What he said to the American people was, if you go to the polls in November and elect anyone other than us, then another terrorist attack occurs, it's your fault. This is un-American."

The response of House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi was particularly good: "The Vice President receives the same intelligence briefings that I do, and he knows full well that if the United States is attacked by terrorists before the next President is inaugurated, it will be because this President was so focused on Iraq that he was distracted from getting the job done in dealing with the clear and present danger that al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden pose to our country."

After the anti-Kerry Swift Boat veterans' questioning of the Democratic hopeful's Vietnam record come some hints about Bush's supposed absence without leave from the National Guard: "'The record clearly and convincingly proves he did not fulfill the obligations he incurred when he enlisted in the Air National Guard,' writes Gerald Lechliter, a retired Army colonel who has made the most meticulous examination I've seen of Mr. Bush's records (I've posted the full 32-page analysis here). Mr. Lechliter adds that Mr. Bush received unauthorized or fraudulent payments that breached National Guard rules, according to the documents that the White House itself released."

Plus questions continue to be asked about the findings of the 9/11 Commission: "The White House, in a preemptive move, told the commission that Bush would not testify under oath, and insisted that he appear along with Vice President Cheney. The main partisan division within the commission, I was told, was over how hard to press the White House for information that it was holding back. In its effort to achieve a unanimous, bipartisan report, the commission decided not to assign "individual blame" and avoided overt criticism of the President himself. Still, the report is a powerful indictment of the Bush administration for its behavior before and after the attacks of September 11."

And in the meantime, the commentators on both sides start getting all tetchy:

Anti-Bush: "I really had to take a deep breath after Bush declared that he wants to "get government on your side." Where has he been for the last four years? Almost every program he mentioned, saying he wanted to build them up, he has already cut, including job training. And I am truly dazzled by "the noive of him" in claiming that No Child Left Behind, which is massively underfunded, has somehow mysteriously become a great success."

Pro-Bush: "The majority of liberals are nothing but whining hypocrites. If you can't take the heat and answer without crying-- then get out of the kitchen. The American people have had enough of your double tongued, two faced radical tantrums."

Oh, and apparently realising that Kerry's verbal dexterity is somewhat superior to his own, Bush looks to be trying to back out of taking part in too many debates with his opponent.

(Blogger was on the blink all day, hence the crammed post - much of which is thanks to Manic at Bloggerheads - there was a bunch of other stuff I wanted to put up, but I've foolishly lost the links. Must get more organised at this blogging business...)

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Even my father's funeral contributed...

"Throughout that long, stately, overtelevised week in early June, items would appear in the newspaper discussing the Republicans' eagerness to capitalize (subtly, tastefully) on the outpouring of affection for my father and turn it to Bush's advantage for the fall election. The familiar "Heir to Reagan" puffballs were reinflated and loosed over the proceedings like (subtle, tasteful) Mylar balloons... People were treated to a side-by-side comparison—Ronald W. Reagan versus George W. Bush—and it's no surprise who suffered for it."

Considering the current President's opposition to stem cell research, which many (including former First Lady Nancy) hope may provide a cure for Alzheimer's, the Reagans not being fans of Bush Jr. is hardly that surprising.

What is surprising is that Ronald Reagan's son would write a long article for Esquire about what he doesn't like about George W Bush. This is, considering the source, biting, and should be read by as many Americans who plan to vote Republican (thinking that somehow this makes them good patriots) as possible:

"The Bush administration can't be trusted. The parade of Bush officials before various commissions and committees—Paul Wolfowitz, who couldn't quite remember how many young Americans had been sacrificed on the altar of his ideology; John Ashcroft, lip quivering as, for a delicious, fleeting moment, it looked as if Senator Joe Biden might just come over the table at him—these were a continuing reminder. The Enron creeps, too—a reminder of how certain environments and particular habits of mind can erode common decency. People noticed. A tipping point had been reached. The issue of credibility was back on the table. The L-word was in circulation. Not the tired old bromide liberal. That's so 1988. No, this time something much more potent: liar."

(With thanks to Scratch & Sniff, which I came across entirely by accident earlier this evening.)

Russia: land of the free!

There's the vague coverage, claiming it all to be rumour and that it was a resignation: "An editor of a Russian newspaper has resigned... Some journalists say Russian authorities prevented them from going to southern Russia to cover the crisis."

Then there's the more accurate but still fairly vague coverage: "The editor of the Russian newspaper Izvestia has been fired over its coverage of the Beslan hostage tragedy... Izvestia, controlled by businessman Vladimir Potanin through the Prof-Media publishing house, has a reputation for steering clear of overt criticism of the Kremlin and President Putin."

You can have a Russian view: "sources close to Izvestia’s owners told MosNews that Shakirov’s firing was initiated by the Kremlin, infuriated by the newspaper’s coverage of the Beslan hostage drama."

You have slightly broader fears: "The importance of the media as a check on the executive is all the more important in the absence of a proper parliamentary opposition. During his four years in office, Mr Putin has created what one commentator calls "a political desert" based on strong presidential power and a loyal bureaucracy. Yet if the Russian people are to respond to his call and unite against the scourge of terrorism, they deserve to be taken into his confidence by an honest presentation of the facts. The curate's egg of the Beslan coverage suggests that old habits of disinformation die hard."

This was all predicted in the issue of Izvestia which resulted in the paper's editor being sacked: "I'm sure that when the official version of what happened is worked out and approved on high, we'll be showered with more lies and muck. I'm also sure that those who used their own understanding of professionalism and reported things which they should not have done will be reprimanded."

There are more stories:

"Two of Russia's leading journalists with independent views on Chechnya were not even able to get to Beslan, it emerged yesterday.

"Andrei Babitsky, of Radio Liberty, was arrested at Moscow's Vnukovo airport on Thursday and stopped from flying south as police searched his bag claiming he might have explosives. After they had finished, two strangers came up and started a scuffle. They and Mr Babitsky were detained and Mr Babitsky was charged with hooliganism. The next day he was sentenced to five days in prison.

"Anna Politkovskaya, a reporter for Novaya Gazeta who received death threats for her reporting on Chechnya and has denounced the Russian forces for atrocities, was mysteriously taken ill on a plane from Vnukovo to Rostov.

"After drinking tea supplied by the stewardess, she fainted. Doctors said she had been poisoned."

Plus we have another journalist arrested: "Russian authorities have detained the Moscow bureau chief of the satellite TV channel al-Arabiya on his way to Moscow from Beslan, where he was covering the hostage crisis.

"Amro Abdel Hamid, an Egyptian who holds Russian citizenship, was stopped at the airport in the southern Russian city of Mineralniye Vody, according to reports.

"Al-Arabiya was informed the journalist would be held for two days, but has not been told why he is being detained."

And then it turns out that a BBC camera crew working on a holiday programme have been taken in for questioning.

Oh joy...

The Tories: Idiots

Why oh why can't this country have a decent opposition any more? As much as we may moan about the state of the US, at least America has a proper two-party system. Britain has no opposition party, and no viable alternative party of government, as the Tories have proved yet again.

Yep, the silly bastards have once again found themselves having to battle off claims of racism.

What has happened to the views of Benjamin Disraeli, the effective founder of the modern Conservative Party? Whether you think he was sincere or not, Disraeli argued that poverty and lack of education were the root causes of Britain's domestic problems, and that it was poverty and ignorance which had to be tackled first if crime were to be reduced and harmony restored. His views were almost Marxist, yet he was coming from a right-wing perspective. Michael Howard is more than happy to liken himself to Disraeli, but the only similarity which is thus far apparent is their shared Jewish heritage.

If Ken Clarke had got in as Tory leader three years ago, despite his rather unpleasant links to the tobacco industry and suspect record as Chancellor, perhaps we'd actually have an alternative to Blair's "ideologically united" yet largely discredited bunch of thugs, hangers-on, liars, and fascist adulterers.

Monday, September 06, 2004

Le président américain sortant

Le Monde seems to be engaging in a spot of wishful thinking. In an article about Bush's current apparent lead over Kerry in the polls, dear old W is referred to as "sortant".

This, according to both my basic grasp of French and Babelfish, means "outgoing"...

Sunday, September 05, 2004

Europe is reaching crisis point?

Will Hutton, former Observer editor and author of the 1995 best-selling (though highly flawed) political analysis The State We're In - a genius or pretentious arse depending on your point of view - argues in his old paper that Europe is in severe trouble.

"It could all turn ugly; an unratified European Constitution, stagnating economies, new dark nationalist politics and a fragmenting European Union.

"To imagine that Britain will be immune from this is absurd; what happens in mainland Europe will directly impact upon us as it has throughout our history. What is needed is an understanding that if European states don't hang together they will hang separately - and that because the European Union is the best we have, we'd better make it work."

Oh, and more Russian aftermath - a sensible question from Dutch Foreign Minister Bernard Bot about how the massacre was allowed to take place prompted rabid vitriol from his Russian opposite number, Sergey Lavrov, who accused Bot of "blasphemy". The rest of the EU's foreign ministers currently seem to be scrabbing around to salvage the situation. Joy.

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