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clegghat.jpgFounded as a centrist party in the late 1970s to "keep the bastards honest", the Aussie Democrats' last Parliamentary representative quit in October last year. 

During the 1980s and 1990s they regularly held the balance of power, but their handling of one issue effectively killed them off: the Goods and Services Tax, an Aussie version of our old friend VAT.

Having campaigned against the introduction of a GST during the 1998 election, the Aussie Democrats then quickly swallowed their principles, worked with the rabidly right-wing John Howard to introduce it, and duly split. 

Their decline mirrors the rise of our friends and colleagues in Australia, now up in the mid-teens in the polls and with a real prospect of winning seats under AV. Labour's decision to throw out Kevin Rudd (who needs to change his Twitter handle) won't help us in the short term, but the trends are all in the right direction.

So, a centrist party, founded relatively recently by merger, seeking the balance of power, does an unpopular compromise over a regressive sales tax rise they had committed to oppose, and ends up in the wilderness, superceded by Greens. An inspiring story.

A further update from Greece.

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greek_riots.jpgI passed the recent tale of woe and schadenfreude from Eugenides to my Greek correspondent, Marinos Antypas, and got the following response:

Yesterday our Minister of Economics made a most interesting statement. Asked once again about the debt crisis and the looming prospect of bankruptcy, he said: "The rumours of Greece leaving the eurozone are not precise." 

Note, not false, not invalid, but not precise ... the truth is, sydrofe, that the Socialists could not have chosen a worse time to win the elections. Apparently the economy is in such shit that they have money to pay pensions only till March. 

As the Minister of Labour said: "on Tuesday we run out of money, on Thursday we have nothing to pay you with, there is nothing, nil, not a drop of saliva, how else to put it?". How indeed.

At the same time huge labour chunks are deserting the PASOK unions to form ad hoc militant committees - like the small farmers who showed the finger to the party controlled unions and have closed all highways and even the Bulgarian-Greek railway, as well as Igoumenitsa, the fourth biggest harbour in the country. 

The government would have sent the MAT in other times to smash those stubborn tractors, but who dares to do that now? It would mean an uprising of poor farmers at the symbolic centenial of the Kileler uprising that abolished serfdom in Thessaly (yes, only 100 years since that glorious day around here). 

On a more urban terrain, Athens is keeping warm with its weekly bombs against ministries and even the Parliament's main yard - a total blow to the credibility of PASOK. Nea Dimokratia is lost in a grand move to embrace the extreme right that has alienated everyone who still voted for it, while the SYRIZA people are fighting over some bizarre issue of inner party representation. 

Oddly, in the whole mess the KKE is the only ones to be looking concrete in an "I told you so" way. In one phrase, everyone are holding their breath, the shops are empty (despite the 60% discounts), violence is spreading in weird and often horrid spirals, and the tunnel seems to have no end. Any ideas? If you see our mutual friend the revolution, tell her to hurry up!

Left behind in Copenhagen.

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climateshame.jpgLate on Friday I read a document linked to from Twitter, supposedly the near-final agreement at Copenhagen. It had flaws, but many of the key demands were still there, and was certainly better than the expectations at the time. 

By Saturday morning it was clear that the good bits had been excised. What was left was a sham and a carveup, not a credible deal worth a signature. The expectations had been right after all.

It's not hard to see why. Almost two hundred governments met in Denmark, but not one was led by a Green*. Most thought they were in the negotiations throughout, but almost all were excluded at the end. The final document was instead delivered by a small cabal - the US, China, India, Brazil & South Africa - with the poorest states cut out, the island states cut out, and Europe itself entirely excluded.

This betrayal was therefore delivered by the most left-wing American president since FDR, a notionally communist regime (although more accurately an authoritarian capitalist one), the more left of the main Indian political blocs, the most left-wing Brazilian government in modern times, and a South African president promoted by the South African Communist Party over his predecessor. 

Gordon Brown wasn't in that room, but no-one could imagine he'd have improved it. After all, he's part of that same market-obsessed post-left soggy consensus, and his Panglossian review claimed that:

Clearly none of the various forms of vague leftism on offer are going to save us. Last week they stood together as they abandoned the environment, they abandoned the planet's future, and they abandoned social justice too. They are not part of any progressive consensus worth supporting: they are just another of the obstacles to progress.

Incidentally, if you want to know what Obama's priority really was during Copenhagen, his Twitter account gives a hint. From the start of the summit to Saturday lunchtime, his staff (one presumes) posted twenty-five comments. Just two were about Copenhagen, and thirteen, a narrow majority, were about healthcare reform. An important issue, sure, but should selling out the public option really come ahead of saving the world?

Update: I just spotted this on Jon Snow's blog, predating the failure of the talks.

"Not one of these world leaders is an elected Green. These are all mainstreamers - Communists, Social democrats, Islamic Revolutionaries, Christian Democrats and the rest, conventional mainstream politicians with no environmental power base.

"And the issue that has brought them together, once the preserve of open toed sandal wearing green protesters and green politicians, is climate change. They have taken a collective decision for mankind to attempt to preserve the ecology of the planet we all live on."

Or so it would have been, if they hadn't taken a collective decision to shaft us. 

* Pop quiz: which country was the world's first to have a Green Prime Minister?

First, swallow a fly.

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talibanfighters.jpgThe US Government's Afghan policy follows a clear pattern: identify who you dislike most and arm their enemy, then rotate and repeat. During the Russian occupation, arm the mujahideen, even if some of them have some funny ideas. Then arm the Northern Alliance to help take on the Taliban.

That worked fine for getting the Talibs out of power, but now they're an insurgency, best pay them to let you get the weapons through to fight them. Who else can you rely on? 

That story also features a security/mercenary company called Four Horsemen International, which is brass neck on an almost admirable scale.

Finally, if paying insurgents not to fight you so they can buy bigger guns doesn't work, and who knows, it might not, you're going to need some new militias, also known as "pockets of tribal resistance". How long before American foreign policy-makers are swallowing a cat to go after this latest crowd?

We've arrived. Last night on Rush's radio show he had a go at us over golf balls (even if Patrick was described as "a US lawmaker"). I kid you not. You can listen to the craziness below - the golf item is from 11 minutes 45 seconds, with Patrick quoted from about 14 minutes 10 seconds.

It's hard work, setting up a political party. The hard days and long nights, the tiny meetings, the repeated electoral failures and the years hoping for a breakthrough, the funny looks and the sheer thanklessness of it all. 

That's how I imagine it, at least in Europe. By the time I joined the Scottish Greens we were just nine months away from our first elected parliamentarian, so I missed the tough phases up to that point. 

It's the process our Hungarian friends are in the midst of, although they seem to be moving more quickly towards that first election success.

In other parts of the world it's much harder still, especially to set up a Green party, an organisation able to challenge gross unsustainability as well as economic injustice and undemocratic practices. Bravely, people do it, most recently in Rwanda, despite local bureaucrats trying to prevent Greens even meeting, and in Kyrgyzstan, where the party leader (pictured above) went on trial for having caricatures of the President in his office, and where effectively he's now being held hostage by the state.

My political commitment will almost certainly never put me in situations as hard or as dangerous as those faced by my colleagues in other countries, but I am proud as hell to be part of the same global movement as them. 

From our Greek correspondent.

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(This is a guest post by Marinos Antypas about the weekend's Greek elections.)

Well the results that have rocked the country can be analysed thus: Pasok has won its second biggest victory in its history with a 10% head from Nea Democratia and a 5% head over N.D. and LAOS (the Greek BNP) combined. It now holds 160 out of 300 Parliament seats.

Nea Democratia scored its lowest percentage ever and its most bitter defeat. Karamanlis resigned immediately as party leader, and a chain of leading ministers have announced they are dropping out of politics altogether....what a relief! Amongst them the forest-eater mental anti-green minister of the environment and public works. ND now holds only 90 seats, a plunge of 60.

This was a completely unexpected outcome as all surveys had fixed a 4% lead with a still lingering inability for Pasok to form a strong government, even if it achieved autonomy. Pasok has now promised landslide changes, starting with the founding of a Ministry of the Environment in itself and a change in the electorate system to mirror the German model (pr?). Oh and in a nice Orwellian twist it has renamed the ministry of public order as the ministry for citizen protection...

The small parties now:

KKE easily won the third position, however due to the great leak to Pasok it did lose 0,60% and one Parliamentary seat from last time, that is to 21 in total. The General Secretary of the Central Committee of the KKE has announced that the results do not reflect the real existing popular anger etc etc.

The Fascists (LAOS) were crestfallen... they had promised and threatened to get the third position, they hoped for 9% and all they got was a fraction more than last time, (about 50,000 voters) which in weird Greek politics amounts to 1,60% up to 5,5%. Their fuhrer called it "a night of sorrow" and he is right: ND had its biggest leak in history, and its "co-workers on the right" got nothing out of it. Statisticians estimate that the percentage reflects the highest possible for LAOS, a 2,3% down from their euroelection results. Common people just agree that 5% of Greeks are and always be fascist so no big deal. LAOS now holds 15 seats in Parliament instead of its 12 last time.

The Radical Left (Syriza) managed a miracle. All the media were predicting its death, its inability to make it past the 3% limit to enter parliament. And to be honest, the leftists did all they could to guarantee such an effect. But alas, the Maoist Greek soul never dies...despite the massive leakage to Pasok they got 4.6%, only 0.5% down from 2007, getting 13 seats (instead of 15) in the parliament. 

The left is super-happy, because according to the statisticians, this 4.6% can now be considered as their hard-core base, on which they can build. It was also the first time a left leader has called the new PM to congratulate him. Papandreou offered Tsipras to "change the country together", but Tsipras replied he would rather work towards change by constructive opposition. These men are deep in love...

Your Greens managed to double their percentage from 2007 to 2,7% or something a mere fraction away from entering Parliament. It is possible that Papandreou will include them nevertheless in some ministry or sub-ministry if they agree, reflecting his scheme of a wide progressive government. Despite the defeat in terms of getting those seats, the percentage reflects that the common scene of radical left and ecology can get a decent 8% if they cooperate in a civil way. Wish they did!

In terms of abstention, the national total is 30%, rather high for national elections, reaching really high levels in urban areas (45% I think in Athens) and in some border areas (68% in NW Macedonia). The importance of this has been downplayed by the media, but it reflects a reserve army of voters that could just rock the boat. Municipals next year, or nationals again in March if there is no consensual Presidental candidate, will be fun.

Update: The Greens have honoured their fame as honest people: Papandreou offered their leader the new Ministry of Environment and Climate Change, and they refused - claiming they remain critical of power and that they can not cooperate when there are no clear programmatic agreements.

Also Ms Damanaki, Pasok MP, ex-leader of Synaspismos (Radical Left) and the voice of the embattled Polytechneio illegal radio station during the 1973 uprising has refused to head the newly named "ministry of citizen protection" i.e. the riot police ministry of public order, which now goes to Mr Chrisochoidis, the mastermind behind the capture of the November 17 in summer 2002. 

Otherwise, sadly most ministries with added adjectives or not have gone to old Pasok cadres, killing hope in the cradle. The ministry of education has gone to Ms Diamandopoulou, famous as an arch-enemy of academic asylum... storms lie ahead if she dares infringe on the constitution by letting the police into the campus.

Watching the wingnuts.

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The "birthers" are getting a lot of coverage as August drags on - for those of you who live in reality-based communities, these are the bizarro people who think Obama wasn't born in the US, and therefore isn't really President.

Kos fanned the flames with a poll showing only a minority of Republicans and Southerners believe the evidence, but this video takes the biscuit. HuffPost describes it as an interview with an angry Fraggle, which seems about right. Thanks to the inimitable Chez for the spot.

Interesting times in Moldova.

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moldova.jpgYesterday's election appears to have turfed out Moldova's ruling Communists, perhaps disproving the view that the country has a "managed democracy" along Belarusian lines, or indeed Russian or Iranian lines. 

As with Belarus, the end of the Soviet Union left Moldova poor and dependent on the Russians, a situation aggravated by rapid "market reforms" instituted in the early 1990s.

These proved so unpopular that the Communists came back in 1997, although they've been more or less new-style, with a record of continued privatisation and alleged corruption. 

There are plenty of other problems, too. The country has been a major source of trafficked women for Western Europe and elsewhere. Grimly, if you type Moldova into Google, the top suggestion from autocomplete is "Moldova girls".

Human rights violations have been rife, especially after the post-election riots earlier this year. In addition to torture and other mistreatment, one person died in disputed circumstances. That'd never happen here. A new administration will also want to make some progress about the long-running dispute over the Transdniestra, something my former boss has taken a close interest in

Curiously, the opposition, presumably soon to be the government, is made up of four parties, with the three larger groups almost evenly sized. They are the Liberal Democratic Party (16.6%), the Liberal Party (14.4%) and the Democratic Party (12.5%). I guess Western-leaning Moldovans want both Liberalism and Democracy, but if pressed, they prefer the Liberalism.

More seriously, even the fourth opposition party, Our Moldova Alliance, is large enough to keep the Communists in power if they did a deal. Wikipedia explains their heritage here. They're an amalgamation of four other parties, one of which was confusingly also called the Liberal Party, which was itself a merger between three parties, one of which in turn derived from yet another merger between two parties.

With this convoluted family tree, stability looks like it'll be hard to achieve, but even though Moldova may be a faraway country about which we know little, it borders the EU and its people deserve better.
almedalen.jpgEvery July since 1982 the scenic city of Visby on Gotland has held an unusual type of political conference at Almedalen (link in Swedish). 

Rather than the usual political conferences, where all the parties retreat to their own ghettos to talk to themselves, it's a properly cross-party week. The event traces its history to speeches given there by Olaf Palme in 1968, incidentally.

In addition to the 1,000+ free events, the leaders of the seven parties in the Swedish Parliament each have a 30 minute speaking slot, which the other leaders sometimes go to. Just because, y'know, it might be interesting. 

Working in Holyrood is less partisan than many people imagine from the outside, and there are people I like and get on with in all parties. I'm sure minority government helps that, but there's still nothing quite like this in Scotland, no place where ideas get regularly discussed between parties without a vote on them at 5pm.

Last week, while out for drinks with a couple of other bloggers, we discussed whether something like this might work in Scotland, and we think it could be a goer. The initial idea is for something short and simple, perhaps including a dinner, to be held next summer: we're also short of social events with the demise (?) of the Scottish Political Journalists' Association dinner. 

If that works, then we might look at a longer event in August 2011. We'll all be out of election mode and rested, and there'll certainly be a lot of interest in how the new balance of power at Holyrood works, whatever it is.

Any thoughts? Feel free to tell me it's mad. Sure, Almedalen is also a lobby-fest, which isn't exactly what any of us want to see, but would you find something like this interesting? How would you make sure it's for the public, activists and civic Scotland as well as the political classes? 

Scotland's certainly spoilt for suitable venues, and in need of smarter and more open discussions about the problems that face our country. We have to draw the line somewhere, though. Talking about Almedalen, Anna Wramner says:

".. it's very informal, it's probably the only time each year you'll see the Prime Minister walking the streets in a swimsuit."

My eyes! They burn!
mcnamara.jpgIt's odd, feeling a pang to hear of Robert McNamara's death. As US Defence Secretary during the 1960s he presided over some of America's worst international crimes, in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, and in WWII he had a hand in the firebombing of Japan, also surely a war crime.

Nevertheless, it's hard to see Errol Morris's extraordinary documentary The Fog of War and not have a more nuanced view on the man. 

It contains a powerful sequence where he shakes the hand of a former North Vietnamese Army general, apparently achieving a moment of reconciliation. In the interviews which are the basis for the film, McNamara comes across as thoughtful and conflicted, if cold in places. 

It's a great flick for anyone interested in the period, and you are now instructed to watch it. A low-res version is on Google Video, or it's less than £6 on Amazon.
cuckoldgesture.jpgBack in the 1950s, when policemen called you Sir and Wimbledon was contested by adults, the Crichel Down affair led to the resignation of Sir Thomas Dugdale

He was not personally responsible for the problems with the case, and it is now widely cited as the classic example of the doctrine of Ministerial responsibility.

Nowadays, Ministers responsible for egregious failures cling on, bleating about needing the opportunity to fix their own mistakes. Opposition spokespeople fiddle taxes while preparing for high office. The Prime Minister's own fingerprints are all over various government disasters, from deregulation of the markets to the privatisation of the Tube, yet he will not go until the electorate drag him out of the door to Number Ten.

How much more impressive, therefore, is this news from Portugal. The Economy Minister made the sign of the bull to an opponent, implying someone else had got become very good friends indeed with his wife, and duly quit
blairberlusconi.jpgAccused of "frequenting minors" by his wife, hiring call girls, and under fire, at least Blair's old friend Silvio Berlusconi can rely on his friends in the media (he's impotent, so it didn't happen) and his lawyer (he was only the "end user" of the women, and besides he can "have them in large numbers for free"). 

That's that cleared up then.

Via Climate Progress, here’s a little bit of quality speed-reading from the US House of Representatives’ discussion of the Waxman-Markey climate change legislation. If Stage 2 starts to drag in the committee Patrick chairs, perhaps something similar can be worked out.

And yes, that’s the Moustache of Justice you can see there.

Who would Jesus torture?

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crownofthorns.jpgApparently the more Americans go to church, the more inclined they are to believe suspected terrorists should be tortured. I know there's more to Christianity than one man being nailed to a tree for saying how great it would be to be nice to people for a change, but even if I gloss over my disbelief in him, I struggle to see Kiefer Sutherland playing Jesus next time round.

To paraphrase Kingmissile, Jesus could have waterboarded anyone he wanted to. His dad, sure, wicked temper on him, but the Lamb? Not so much. More on the other end of it, so the stories go (see left). 

So are these flocks sitting in church ignoring the preachings and fulminating in their own heads about the evil terrists? Or are they listening to warped "kill 'em all and let God sort them out" theology? Either way, as Gandhi said, "I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ."

Democracy Bulgarian style.

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zelenite.jpgJust over two years ago Bulgaria joined the EU, and a year later ЗЕЛЕНИТЕ (Zelenite) was founded, part of the global spread of Greens which brings such cheer to my heart. They're well organised, and now have an impressive 7000 members. 

A deposit of €7,500 (already one of the highest in Europe) to participate was bumped up in March to €25,000, more than twice the level anywhere else in the EU. Bear in mind Bulgaria is Europe's poorest country, with an income little more than a third of the Union average, and the differential is even higher.

The Bulgarian government's track record on corruption is pretty poor, and it now looks like their commitment to democracy is also limited. Our Bulgarian colleagues already have to gather 15,000 signatures to vouch for their legitimacy: that should be more than sufficient in a democracy.

Update: anyone wishing to help who is permitted to do so under Bulgarian electoral law, please donate here.

A Specter is haunting Congress.

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arlenspecter.jpgThose of you still missing the drama of the US election season, head back over to your favourite sources and follow the switch of Arlen Specter to the Democrats

What difference might his new party affiliation make? Nate Silver at 538 does what he does best - numbercrunching, while Wonkette has the top headline (plus the pic).

Politico on the demise of the Republicans is also recommended if you like that sort of thing, and there's Metafilter for smart discussion.

Remember, it's just 552 days to those crucial mid-terms. Going back to 538, there's definitely a gap in the UK market for some good statistical wonkery (aside, of course, from betting analysis, which is definitely covered). Anyone?

No bloody use.

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We've long said Trident was utterly useless, a weapon we can't afford, and one we certainly can't afford to fire. I'm sure retired general Sir Hugh Beach doesn't see eye-to-eye with the Greens on some other stuff, but we can't argue with:

It's not just that he's against buying a new one: he thinks we should decommission the existing system right now too.

The classic argument against nukes as a deterrent is made here:

teaparty.JPGToday's G20 has been built up by the Prime Minister into the most important event of the decade, the point at which the world's most important political leaders come together and fix the world economy.

It's starting to look like a sequel to the 2005 G8 summit, where we were told that debt across the developing world would be lifted and a new era of international equity would dawn. 

Hundreds of thousands marched, bands played, while the churches and the NGOs got us all wearing white. Of the $375bn to $2,900bn in bad debt, just $88bn has been cancelled, $43.5bn through the G8 process.

These big events get Gordon as giddy as a three-year-old about to host a really big tea party. He's the centre of attention, and that weird half-smile plays over his lips as he thinks about how important he'll look. He'll have the big plastic teapot in his hand, and he'll be able to say who gets more trifle and who doesn't. It's brilliant, even if some tantrums look inevitable from the usual suspects.

At the end, all his guests will stand up and say what a wonderful time they had, whether it's true or not, and how they're going to be good boys and girls over the coming year. You can call it a communique, but in real life it's just a longer press release, devoid of any actual commitments, leaving nothing but disappointment.

Withdrawal method.

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havesomeliberty.jpgThe BBC had a misleadingly promising headline today - "UK troops begin Iraqi withdrawal". I assumed they were handing over to local people, but no, they're handing over to the Americans. 

Glad as I am to see British involvement diminishing at last, will this actually feel any different to those occupied in Southern Iraq? Reuters suggest the Americans may be even less popular because of their "fearsome, and sometimes trigger-happy, reputation".

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