Posts Tagged ‘American politics’

Weekend reading: Italy and Spain and more

April 28, 2013

Italy gets a government that surely cannot last, led by a ‘left-wing’ politician whose uncle is the chief of staff to Silvio Berlusconi. Front up  a younger guy and put more women in the cabinet so the Germans think we’ve grown up, seems to be the plan. FT (sub needed) has a sensible leader about how political reform may be the only way to unlock the door to economic reform.

Meanwhile, in The Guardian Simon Hattenstone writes about his long correspondence with Amanda Knox, who faces a retrial for failing to be guilty of murder when everybody in Perugia knows she’s a witch.

In Spain, Almodovar has a new movie out about his country’s economic crisis. It sounds dark, funny and uplifting — whereas Italy has become shallow, unfunny and boring.

I quite like Krugman’s habit of leavening his blog with some decent music. And he has this very funny take-down of the Reinhart-Rogoff controversy over the relationship between debt and GDP from Colbert (you may need a VPN set to the US to view this). The theme of picking your data points to fit the hypothesis you already decided on is entirely consistent with what How Asia Works describes happening in World Bank reports about east Asian development in the 80s and 90s. Harvard, eh? Martin Wolf (sub needed) has a nice reminder of British industrial revolution history when debt was twice GDP. The best thing in How Asia Works on the non-linear relationship between debt and GDP growth is the financial history of South Korea, set out in Part 3. South Korea was more indebted than any Latin American state in the 1970s and 1980s but, unlike them, didn’t go bust because of what the debt was spent on.

If you are in London, this is superb. And very much on the theme of development.

Need more mirth?

Have a look at the curious tale of the Management Today review of How Asia Works…

Twenty-two years old

March 1, 2013

Bradley Manning was 22 years old when he was arrested. Today he entered his plea in military court after almost three years in US military detention. His long statement was read with composure and, at face value, reflects a person who stands by the logic of what he did.

Manning’s story is well-reported in The Guardian (and this is tangentially important). This 20-minute video is a useful introduction if you are not in a mood to read, but the idea that he was mad rather than rebellious does not stand up for me.

It remains for the USG to prove that Manning endangered national security. In the court of public opinion, I do not think this will be possible.



One way to think about what Manning did, and the significance of it, is to watch this documentary about the US dirty war in Iraq. (It builds on a celebrated New York Times magazine cover story from 2005.)

Stuck in the middle with you

August 14, 2011

The English riots story runs and runs. There have now been something like 1,700 arrests — which is equivalent to about 2 percent of the entire United Kingdom prison population. The courts are meting out quick justice, which is a good thing (magistrates have been sitting through the night in special sessions), but they are also meting out retributive justice, which is not good. One man who walked into a shop that had been broken into and took £3.50 of bottled water has been given six months in jail. That is nothing more than a magistrate responding to the calls of Brave Dave Cameron and the moronic right that everyone involved be given a good caning.

England is stuck in the middle with its underclass problem. On the one hand it could go the American route, have a bigger underclass, but use much higher levels of state violence to keep it in place. That means more ghettoisation and more police with guns. In essence, it would mean that every time you arrived in an English city (like an American one) the taxi driver would tell you which part of town you can’t go to ‘cos they might kill you’. It doesn’t matter that this isn’t necessarily true (Among others, I have survived the south side of Chicago, south-east DC and some bad bits of NYC), the taxi driver’s advice is a short-hand for the political choices that have been made.

The other route is the continental European one. We should clarify at the outset that we are not talking here about the continental European immigrant underclass, which definitely exists and is nicely down-trodden. The immigrant underclass has rioted in France, but for the most part immigrants live on sufferance and their very low expectations keep them from going over the civil unrest brink. What we need to talk about in continental Europe is the treatment of the least fortunate part of the indigenous population, including (usually second generation) naturalised immigrants.

This latter group has never, to my knowledge, rioted because of what can be called ‘inclusion’. Since the Second World War, continental Europe has implemented policies designed to maintain society as a single unit. The most important of these, I believe, is nationalised education. There is no educational ghettoisation in continental Europe that can act as a stepping stone to social ghettoisation. In towns throughout the European mainland, the children of the wealthiest entrepreneurs grow up going to school with the children of mechanics and barbers. This is overwhelmingly the case, and it is absolutely overwhelmingly the case at a primary level of education. Largely as a result, people growing up in continental Europe in the past 50 years have largely been denied the sense of exclusion and jealousy that pervades the Anglo-American underclass.

It is interesting that Ed Milliband, the Labour leader, is talking at every opportunity — in the wake of the riots — about the need to give people a stake in society. He even plans his own ‘enquiry’. But the Labour Party (the true party of bullshit in British politics) won’t go near the socially cancerous education issue. Boarding-school educated Tony Blair would not touch it and the new ‘lefty’ Labour leader will not do so either.

In consequence, Britain is destined to remain stuck in the middle. We have a sub American-scale underclass but we don’t have the guns to keep it in the ghetto. Once in a generation the underclass rampages down English high streets nicking whatever consumer durables its miserable existence has led it to crave. This generation is worse than the 80s one in that it is utterly bereft of any political consciousness. It appears to have been neutered by a combination of television, the moral cesspool of Premiership football, and the apparently limitless selfishness of reproductive underclass males.

Joe Strummer used to sing that anger can be power. But these days the only thing that anger can be is a flat-screen tv and a pair of new trainers — which most of the looters probably had anyway.



Bob the Builder must be fuming. After Obama already stole his ‘Can we fix it? Yes, we can!’ refrain for the US election, Brave Dave Cameron is making another raid on Bob’s core IP with his new ‘Can we fix Broken Britain? You jolly well bet we can, matey’, campaign.

To be fair, Brave Dave has some reasonable points, but in the end I reckon he’s a fiddler not a fixer — a Polyfilla Blagger as Bob might say.

On the US copper — Bratton — to run the Met saga I am instinctively on Brave Dave’s side. But then he appointed Theresa May Home Secretary, so whaddya do? Remember that he also cut the political legs off Fatty Clarke, having first promised to be sensible about punishment issues. Brave Dave just can’t decide whether to hug a hoodie or lash one to a post and thrash him. It is so very hard being a modern Tory.


Unrelated, but quite funny: 

I had not realised that Giulio Tremonti, Italy’s finance minister who used to work as a tax law expert and this week imposed a ‘solidarity tax‘ on high earners, also worked in the past as a university lecturer in ethics. He currently stands accused of paying a fast-living political aide who is under investigation for serial corruption €1,000 a week in cash to live in his apartment in Rome. It would be fun to publish Mr Tremonti’s course notes, if someone has them.

Is Obama an idiot?

July 31, 2011

There is a very powerful leader out in The FT about the likely US debt deal this week, which you should read if you have a subscription. Clive Crook has a knife in either hand for Obama, accusing him of leading ‘from behind’ and landing the US with fiscal cuts just when the country needs fiscal stimulus to offset a stuttering recovery. In essence, the argument is that Obama has caved to the moronic right, known officially as the Tea Party.

I suspect Crook underestimates Obama, as almost everyone in the US seems to do. It looks like the cuts that Obama is promising the Prozac Party are very heavily backloaded over a ten-year period. In other words, almost no impact over the next, critical 12-18 months. Meanwhile the Adderall Party have agreed there will not be another debt ceiling negotiation before the presidential election, next November. That, for me, is the key thing. In another 18 months, when Americans go to the polls, unemployment will be very high but signs of recovery will be such that people can draw sufficient breath to remember that it was actually not Obama, but a combination of Bill ‘Grinning Idiot’ Clinton and George ‘Not As Smart As Bill’ Bush who landed them in this mess. Either that, or the masses really do tend to the right every time, and we should all give up on democracy.

My disaster-waiting-to-happen politics bet remains on the UK chancellor of the exchequer George Osborne. Fiscal stimulus-wise, I reckon he needs to do more than Obama, and will do less. I am also completely flummoxed by his Liberal running dog Treasury minister Danny Alexander, who is the subject of a fawning profile in today’s Observer. The weekend papers tell me that Obama’s a flake and Danny Alexander has got his hands round the British problem. I’m not so sure.

Beloved irony

February 8, 2011

Isn’t life a bitch? Just when you have good use for a few tens of billions of dollars to support a bit of old-fashioned modernisation in north Africa, it turns out you spent your whole budget for the next decade on a pointless war in Iraq. Dang, America’s Mr. Obama be kickin’ himself under the table.

It is the fifteenth day of protests in Egypt and the Arabs — despite much media conjecture to the contrary — show no sign of going home and being quiet. Cash-strapped Washington doesn’t know what to do. Hilary Clinton has said she would like the (ex-intelligence service boss) vice-president to run the country until scheduled elections in September. Obama’s special advisor on Egypt says that Mubarak must stay until the election. The crowd appears to be backing outlandish demands for a representative transitional government.

Cripes. ‘Representative’ in the country that is the intellectual birth-place of Islamic fundamentalism and al-Quaeda? ‘Transitional’ in the country that has ‘Remember Algeria’ written all over it in CIA spray paint? No wonder we backed a dictator and encouraged economic policies that consign Egyptians to poverty and to an 80 percent youth unemployment rate. Why can’t we just have the same deal again?

It is really very tedious how unprincipled foreign policy comes back to bite you in the arse, like some whacked out dog you once threw a bone to. Much more of this and the Arabs will start to resemble the Persians, who are still hung up on us getting rid of their silly Mr Mossadegh, who thought he could nationalise our oil companies.

I am not terribly well read on Arab history, particularly the modern stuff, but if I were to recommend a single, highly readable and well researched tome to put contemporary Egypt in perspective it would be The Looming Tower. The Guardian contains a brief history of the main Islamic opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood; it isn’t great and contains a very taciturn interview with a current MB leader, but it is readily available.

Obama versus Osborne

January 27, 2011

If you would like a bit more compare and contrast (in the wake of Perugia versus Bristol, try Barack Obama and George Osborne in the sphere of economics. The former just gave a State of the Union speech (video or text in which he made a forthright case for America to expand fiscal expenditure in order to invest in infrastructure, in new commercial technology and in education. He grounded the case in the context of a rising geopolitical challenge from China (following the recent visit of Thunderbirds cameo Hu Jintao) and a US unemployment rate of 10 percent. He indicated the requisite funds ought to come from (in relative international terms) a less absurd fiscal subsidy for US oil companies and reduced tax breaks for the distinctly rich (following 40 years of decisions in their favour). Perhaps most important, he said all of this in the country which already has the world’s most competitive large industrial companies.

Over to Blighty. George Osborne, our to-the-manor-born Chancellor of the Exchequer, this week greeted the news that the British economy shrank in the fourth quarter with a promise not to entertain any expansion of investment. Instead, George’s plan for economic rejuvenation and job creation is to suck a boiled sweet and see what happens. Britain has fearfully few world-beating corporations outside of finance and legal and accountancy services (which largely serve the finance sector), but George can’t see a case for investment to nurture more of them. New world-beating corporations will arise from the vapours, according to the 101 neoclassical economics that George was spoon-fed at school and university. He says the Q4 shrinking economy was the result of bad weather, and one assumes he thinks the unemployment rate is the result of indolence and immobility among the lower classes.

Still, methinks it won’t much matter that George understands little about the world. The British government does need to cut recurrent expenditure after the excesses of Blair’s champagne socialism. Meanwhile, my bet is that George’s failure to make strategic investments in infrastructure and technology will be remedied later this year when Britain follows in Obama’s wake and increases capital spending. Where America leads, we follow. When was the last time that Britain influenced US policy? Keynes?

Worth reading: Robert Reich makes some good points about the pieces of the puzzle that Obama did not address in his SOTU speech in the FT (subscription likely needed):  Reich, who was part of a government that as I remember did sfa, is a little too harsh: Obama did touch (lightly) on the income distribution question.

After writing this, I see that in the FT Martin Wolf seems to have reached the same conclusions about George.

Go and wait for me in the big bed

June 30, 2009

I am not a big fan of newspaper editorials, most of which are underreported and worth even less of your time than regular newspaper copy. And I am not a big fan of the regular newspaper copy of The New York Times, which I think is overrated by people who think The New York Times must be good cos it’s the NYT (notwithstanding occasional brilliance). Yet I am a fan of the editorial content of The New York Times. Strange? Here is a reasonable example of what their columnists do well, week-in and week-out. It’s a nice wrap, and a nice rap, about Our Silvio as opposed to Dear Obama. But before you Fedex Obama a cigarette, read Clive Crook in The FT who fears, as I have since long before he was elected, that Obama is destined to do what the left does best: disappoint. It might make you think that shagging a teenager or somesuch is the sensible middle road. Or not… (Apologies if you require a subscription to access the FT article; I have one and so cannot tell you.)

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