International: September 2008 Archives
The Austrians had yet another election yesterday, and it wasn't a pretty sight. Just like Germany, the centre-left and centre-right were in a grand coalition, and if I were in the German SPD or CDU I'd be looking over the border in alarm.
The equivalent centrist parties are down, although they are still the largest parties. Depressingly, the main winners were two extreme rightwing groupings. There's also a strong Green vote, just short of 10%.
There are also, unusually for Europe, no leftists and no liberals, which reduces the options significantly. The results are above - click for a larger image.
92 seats is a majority, and the permutations are grim. Again, a grand coalition is the only way two parties can get to that number. There are no other options to make a majority without the hard right, and for the centre-right to make any other majority they'd need both lots of extremists.
Anyway, it's a mess. Werner Faymann is the social democrat leader and the likely Chancellor, and there's an obvious way out for him - minority government. The Greens will be sensible ad hoc partners, and on budgets and other key legislation he'd need to woo the centre-right.
There is a silver lining - the two extremist parties hate each other, and may well vote opposite ways just to spite each other. Sometimes they will win votes, sure, but only if they overcome their animosity to each other, and bring the centre-right in as well.
It's the only answer to a grim question. Come over, Herr Faymann, have a chat to Salmond and see how you too could learn to stop worrying and love minority administration.
Update: my calculations above were wrong, and the SPD could get to 93 seats with the FPÖ - that's the only other two-party coalition that could work. Except for the ideological gulf, of course.
I don't think I've ever done that before. Let's see: war, homophobia, racism, climate change denial, fraud, hypocrisy. Nope, never agreed with them on any of that. Yet the $700bn plan to nationalise US banking losses put Obama on the wrong side, backing Bush despite the cost to his own plans, while the only congressional opposition came from the Republicans, specifically Senator Shelby, who said:
"What troubles me most is that we have been given no credible assurances that this plan will work. We could very well spend $700 billion or $1 trillion and not resolve the crisis. Before I sign off on something of this magnitude, I would want to know that we have exhausted all reasonable alternatives. But I don't believe we can do that in a weekend."
Now, they've got absolutely the wrong end of the stick about the plan. Republican Senator Jim Bunning said the plan was "financial socialism, and it's un-American". I always thought socialism was about giving money from the rich to the poor, not the other way round as per the Bush/Paulson/Bernanke plan, but perhaps I misread Uncle Karl. While their specific concerns are not the same as mine - 180 degrees away, in fact, given my sympathies are with this lot - the conclusion was the same. This plan is bonkers and it won't work.
But now even the Republican opposition has collapsed - presumably they finally worked out that the plan was a massive give-away to their pals - and it'll all go through. Will the credit ratings agencies now do what they'd do to anyone else picking up these toxic debts, and mark down the US Government for the first time from AAA? If you're looking for signs of the impending end of the American imperial phase, that would be a pretty clear one.
Incidentally, over here, the New Labour response is as weak and captured by the markets as the Obama response. Will Hutton wrote today, backing the scheme, that "Once again, the left is coming to capitalism's rescue". Is this a model of capitalism the left should really want to rescue, even with his sea of caveats?
Brown's response was also a mass of absurdities and inconsistencies. He decried the "age of irresponsibility" which he himself has sponsored, then in the next breath said:
"I have told President Bush today that facing global turbulence Britain supports the US plan. Whatever the details of it, it is the right thing to do."
Isn't it irresponsible to support a plan like this irrespective of the details? It's the classic failed politician's response, and it goes like this. Something must be done, and this is something, therefore this must be done. We should perhaps be grateful that this time he's not recommending wasting our money. Nevertheless, this whole scenario feels as though the Joker or the KLF have been put in charge of the global banking system.
It sounds like tree-hugging taken to the next level - rights for forests, rivers, and even air?
Yet this constitutional proposal before the Ecuadorian people promises exactly that (detailed wording here), to help Ecuador take on the multinationals who currently use the rivers as open sewers for their industrial waste, amongst other egregious behaviour.
Ecuador has extraordinary natural riches to protect, including the various iconic inhabitants of Galapagos (like the sealion cub pictured above). Constitutional rights might not be the most immediately obvious way to deliver those protections, but it's an interesting idea, and I hope we get a chance to see how well it works.
I like this anti-McCain impromptu jpeg below, but then again I am not exactly the target audience. Might the cult of material aspiration in the States blunt what seems like an obvious message to the likes of me? Given that folk buy into that attitude elsewhere, at an emotional level, might they not do so in an election as well? The test would be: how did Diddy's shout out to his brothers and sisters in Saudi Arabia for cheap oil for his private jet go down?
The BBC ran a story today about the "ethical failure" at the American Department of the Interior, entitled US oil officials in sex scandal.
Earl Devaney, the investigator, found that officials rigged contracts, moonlighted as private contractors, and had sex with workers they were meant to be overseeing. All in the name of market intelligence.
The line I particularly noticed was "Sexual relationships with prohibited sources cannot, by definition, be arms-length". It might just be me, but is there a good reason why he appears to have exempted spanking?
I also mistakenly read the second word of the headline, seeing it as "oiled", while a wag here imagined a future Green government being exposed to the opposite sort of scandal, as per my title above.
You may think I'm slow on the uptake, and here's some proof. Sarah Palin's speech last week included the following dig at Obama:
"I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a community organizer, except that you have actual responsibilities."
Here are the two best responses:
That should resonate with what the Republicans call "The Base", which incidentally translates into Arabic as Al Qaeda.
Apologies for the American spelling throughout. I am bilingual, and I like to practice. I do think it provides a little local color, though.
It turns out that Sarah Palin used to back the Alaskan Independence Party, logo: polar bear. Presumably she left because they were too pro-polar bear and insufficiently in favour of warming the globe. Or maybe they believed in sex education.