The Futility Monster

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Posts Tagged ‘US politics’

12 For 2012

Posted by The Futility Monster on January 2, 2012 @ 20:23

Continuing a fine annual tradition, it’s time to lay down a few markers for the coming year. It’s going to be a busy one, methinks…

  1. Starting at home, with yet another boring prediction, the Coalition will last the whole year. Get used to it, Labourites. It ain’t going anywhere.
  2. The Lib Dems will take a pounding in the local elections, especially in Scottish councils, where they will be wiped only for the saving grace that is a truly proportional electoral system. Predictably, it will all be dismissed, and the Lib Dems will accept it and carry on.
  3. David Cameron will finally conduct a proper reshuffle, though it still won’t be particularly far reaching. Osborne isn’t going anywhere and neither is Michael Gove. Lansley may be moved if the NHS reforms pass successfully to give someone else a chance. He will definitely be removed if they fail. The Lib Dems have such a paucity of front bench talent that there is very little room for manouevre… but maybe Nick Clegg will at least get a real portfolio at last, now the “political reform” agenda has vanished.
  4. Ed Miliband will remain Labour leader, in spite of generally underwhelming election results and another defeat to Boris in the London mayoral election.
  5. In Europe, the Euro crisis will be resolved with a “treaty”. The treaty will not get the UK’s blessing, and the EU will proceed into a closer union without the UK, creating overwhelming calls for an in-out referendum. If it starts looking tempting, expect Labour to back the idea.
  6. France will get a “Socialist” President as Sarkozy plunges to inevitable defeat.
  7. Rick Santorum will win the Iowa caucuses, but Mitt Romney will be the Republicans nominee for President.
  8. Barack Obama will squeak a narrow re-election against Mitt Romney.
  9. The Democrats will either lose control of the Senate or it will be an exact 50-50 tie, with Joe Biden, VP, suddenly finding a reason to exist. The Democrats will not re-take the House, but it will be close. This disastrous deadlock will result in two more years of pathetic governance in the States.
  10. Syria will continue to make a mockery of the West – and the uprising will eventually be brutally suppressed. Meanwhile, the rest of the Arab Spring becomes stillborn, and the tendency towards strong, authoritarian governments in the region will persist.
  11. Iran will successfully navigate the year without there being any progress on disarmament, and there will be no military activity of any sort. However, the West will begin sounding the war-drums, and the useless public will buy it.
  12. And all the while the schizophrenic public will continue to ignore the fact that Afghanistan has been, and will continue to be, a catastrophic failure. More lives will continue to be lost, though Obama will, mercifully, confirm a long, slow, drawdown over the next few years.

And the usual bonus prediction… Manchester City will win this year’s Premier League.

See you at the end of the year!


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11 For 2011

Posted by The Futility Monster on January 2, 2011 @ 11:11

OK, so it’s hardly the return of the Futility Monster, here, but two posts in two days does mark something of a minor miracle. Even so, it’s unlikely to be repeated. Maybe I will try and write something at least semi-frequently. Maybe once a month or something.

But for now, more to get it down in writing than anything else, here comes my top 11 predictions for 2011.

  1. The AV referendum will pass. Call me a hopeless optimist, but I believe Ed Miliband will drag the Labour Party, kicking and screaming, behind the campaign as a show of his authority and capacity for “change”. This will encourage the Lib Dems to give it their full support. It will scrape home. Just.
  2. The “Other” 2011 referendum – in Wales – will also succeed, but with a larger majority in favour.
  3. Following that, Welsh Labour will win. But perhaps not as big as they will hope. I predict an extremely close finish, with them just falling below the magic 31 seats for outright majority control.
  4. The Scottish Nationalists will lose power in Scotland’s May general election, but they will only be replaced by an enfeebled Labour minority, who may struggle to find partners to get its legislation and budgets through.
  5. Meanwhile, in London, the Coalition will last the whole year, without too many hiccups, despite sluggish economic data.
  6. Somewhere during the year, the Liberal Democrats will hit another low in their post-2010 election opinion poll woes.
  7. In the post-May reshuffle, Nick Clegg will receive a real portfolio in a bid by David Cameron to shore up support for the coalition amongst demoralised Liberal Democrat MPs. Home Office, anyone?
  8. Also to boost the Lib Dems, House of Lords reform (defined here as anything 80% or more elected), will pass the Commons, but die a sad death in the Lords itself.
  9. Looking abroad, Silvio Berlusconi will finally reach the end of his woeful Prime Ministerial career. Having said that, his replacement will hardly be any better.
  10. Barack Obama will have a traumatic year: under fire from the hostile House of Representatives, a ceaseless war in Afghanistan, and unable to achieve anything of great significance. This will seriously damage him running into the pivotal 2012. And if that happens, expect Sarah Palin to run for the Presidency. Whether she gets the nomination, however, will have to wait till next year’s prediction…
  11. Finally, North Korea will come back to the negotiating table at long last. But will a deal be reached? Extraordinarily unlikely. Unless Kim Jong Il croaks it, and his son is, to everyone’s shock, slightly less of a lunatic than his father…

As for who wins this year’s Premier League, alas, it’ll be no one other than Manchester United.

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It’s All In The Timing

Posted by The Futility Monster on August 24, 2010 @ 11:47

Yes. It is.

To me, the beauty of the American political system is in its enforced renewal. Every two years, the populist House has to be re-mandated. It is this very nature that makes it populist. Meanwhile, their ultimate leader and national figurehead, the President, gets a little longer, but is not allowed to stick around for more than eight years, lest he (not yet a she) start to get ideas above his station, and become a little too attached to the trappings of office.

There aren’t many other Western political systems that have such rigorous time and term limits on everything. The rest of us, especially Westminster inspired systems, have a lot more flexibility regarding the calling of elections. And that’s where the problem begins.

Take Australia. In January, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd looked in an extremely powerful position. The opposition had just replaced its leader, in a fractious contest that split the party down the middle. His personal approval ratings were sky high. The opposition controlled Senate had just blocked a key plank of his legislation – environmental regulation – for the second time. This opened the door for Rudd to engage in some constitutional jiggery-pokery: a “double dissolution” election, which, most probably, would have resulted in a sweeping Labour victory in both chambers of the Parliament.

Instead, he decides to tough it out. And then sees everything go wrong, getting chucked out and replaced by Julia Gillard.

Julia Gillard doesn’t want to repeat Rudd’s mistake. While the polls see her arrival as positive, and the Labor Party improves its standing, she decides to seize upon the honeymoon and go straight to that election. The net result: Labor on the brink, courtesy of a terrible, back-biting campaign, and an opposition that had had eight months to prepare for this very moment.

Then there’s Gordon Brown: clinging on by his fingernails till the very last moment. If only he’d gone straight away, like so many commentators (including me) thought he should. His first job, after accepting the invitation of the Queen to be the Prime Minister, should have been to say, “And now I’d like an election to mandate this change”. He didn’t. He didn’t want to be one of the shortest ever PMs. And yet all the omens were good for them. Tories still not ready. Old election boundaries. Honeymoon period. The rest is history.

Recent evidence seems to be that politicians are not very good at choosing the timing of elections. They either worry that they’re about to sign their own death warrant, or are hopelessly optimistic about what’s lurking around the corner.

Since we should only trust politicians as much as is necessary, we should do them all a favour and back the idea of fixed election dates. Let’s take the stress off them, and in return, remove a major element of political fiddling from the system.

Though I still think five years is too long…

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Are US Politicians Lower Grade?

Posted by The Futility Monster on August 23, 2010 @ 09:59

Gohmert in better times...

On fairly regular occasions, I watch The Daily Show. Now, it can hardly be described as an unbiased source of “news”, but satire always has a stinging level of truth behind it. More than mere truthiness.

Whenever I watch, there is invariably a segment where host Jon Stewart plays clips of US politicians, either delivering sermons in the House or the Senate, or holding forth on Fox or some other news network. The clips are usually of someone talking utter bullshit, saying something truly outrageous and being allowed to get away with it.

One recent example was the case of Representative Louie Gohmert, a Texas Republican who appears to have no brain whatsoever. He talked up the ludicrous notion that terrorists were coming to America to give birth, so that their offspring could claim US citizenship under the 14th Amendment, only to return decades later as a legitimate citizen and blow themselves up.

Where this batshit crazy man got this idea from no one really knows. And when challenged to give any proof to his assertion, he just got mad instead.

Allowing lunatics like him to be elected will always remain the great flaw of democracy. But what concerns me a little about America is that he is by far not the only example. Day after day, week after week, on The Daily Show, more and more politicians are put in the limelight displaying absolutely zero intelligence whatsoever.

While Britain too has its fair share of politicians who arguably lack the brainpower to stand up and make a coherent, logical speech, backed by evidence as they see it, it seems to me that the US has a lot more of them, despite actually having fewer politicians at the national level. From Michele Bachman to Jim Bunning. And plenty more.

It seems like a harsh question to ask, but there is definitely something different about American democracy versus British democracy. I’m not saying that our voters look for intelligence in their politicians either, but for whatever reason, there is a cultural difference. US politicians have historically won elections by being more “one of us” – despite not being “one of us” in the least. Whereas in Britain, historically it has not always been like that, though we’re heading in that direction.

For those who disagree, let’s hear it. I raise the question simply because I’m genuinely interested…

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When Congress Doesn’t Work

Posted by The Futility Monster on June 18, 2010 @ 09:22

Poor communicator, yes, but I guess that wasn't why he was made BP's CEO...

Anyone watching the tedium of the BP CEO attending the House Committee on Energy and Commerce session on the oil disaster could probably have only managed five minutes at best before turning off. And that’s coming from a political junkie.

I’ve seen US committees in operation in the past. They are powerful bodies, often conducting very interesting and intensive scrutiny of the evidence and their witnesses. Their power comes from the fact that all bills and appropriations have to be examined by the relevant committee. This means a seat on them is very prestigious indeed, especially if it can be used to deliver pork to one’s constituents…

This multiple role means that its members get frequent opportunities to make a name for themselves. And none of them missed the opportunity to indulge their populist fantasies yesterday. Well, all except Representative Barton (R), who licked Tony Hayward’s boots clean.

But, to me, it just doesn’t work. The way the committee works in these situations is almost embarrassing to watch. One by one the Representatives (or the Senators for a Senate committee) take their turn to deliver a pre-prepared nasty speech, full of rhetoric and invective, which the witness has to sit in silence and listen to in silence. They get a chance to reply at the end, but not before more than a dozen people have cast judgement on them… before the witness has even had the opportunity to set out their stall, no matter how unconvincing they are.

That is very uncomfortable to watch. It is not an in-depth probe, getting to the truth. It is a witch-hunt, a kangaroo court, carried out in the full glare of the media for the benefit not of the country, but for the Congress members themselves, in order to get some cheap headlines and show off their prowess to their constituents.

Such is democracy, I suppose.

Only later does it come to questions, a real opportunity to have a conversation with the witness, but even then they have all already made their minds up.

In truth, it looks more like a blood-letting than a proper investigation, with a ritualistic sacrifice from some contemporary hate-figure.

Not that Tony Hayward doesn’t deserve a thorough grilling, you understand. But the acid test must always be: did it generate anything useful? Are we any closer to solving the problem? Is America any closer to leading the way to end its addiction to oil?

The answers are simple: no. But at least it got the Congress some good headlines in the battle to rescue its shocking approval ratings, eh.

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Democrats Throw Away The Baby And The Bathwater

Posted by The Futility Monster on November 4, 2009 @ 16:04


Chris Christie (R) may indeed be corpulent, but it probably shouldn't be an election issue...

Over in the US, it’s been a pretty remarkable off-year election season.

The three races that became nationally significant were gubernatorial battles in Virginia and New Jersey, and a Congressional seat in the House of Representatives in the 23rd district of New York. The first two slots were previously held by Democrats, and the final one was held by a Republican.

The results are now in, and every seat has flipped. New Jersey, traditionally seen as rock solid for the Democrats, now has a Republican governor. Virginia, a state critical to the Obama tidal wave, also has a Republican governor, delivered in a landslide.

Meanwhile, in perhaps the result of the night, rural upstate New York now has its very own Democrat representative, after a spectacular implosion in the Republican field when a third party right-wing crank going by the name of Doug Hoffman managed to split the vote between the mostly moderate electorate. Oh, and he caused the official Republican to drop out, with the blessing of the national Republican party.

There is much to digest from these results, but in truth, the lessons to be learned are simple.

In Virginia, the Democratic candidate spent almost the entire electoral cycle running away from popular Democratic ideas, like, I dunno, improved access to healthcare. He seemed to forget that Obama carried his state on that very same agenda. Sure, everyone wants their own man, but perhaps the Democrats really picked the wrong candidate here. After all, exit polls from the state suggested that were the 2008 election to be rerun, Obama would still win with the same percentage…

Meanwhile, in New Jersey, the incumbent Democrat suffered a disappointing defeat when it had seemed he’d done so well to bring himself back in the game. I suspect the key thing that brought him down was a rather miserable governing record, the usual level of anti-incumbency during a recession, and a relentlessly negative campaign that even enjoyed a joke at the expense of his opponents fatness. In any case, it is a very poor loss: New Jersey is a solid “D” state, and to see it being thrown away again suggests that the candidate not wise. Perhaps he should have been “retired” before the voters did it for him.

Finally, NY-23 delivered the coup de grace of the evening. In a place which hasn’t elected a Democrat for an enormous length of time, they now have one. Why? Largely because the Republicans haven’t shown themselves as fit to govern. What a shamble, to tear their own party inside out and end up backing the third-candidate.

What they demonstrated was that there is no room for moderate Republicans in the new GOP. The Party of Palin and Limbaugh is now well on course for nominating a religious variant on a Barry Goldwater style candidacy for 2012, which will achieve a very similar electoral outcome. Pariah status is imminent. It’s all the logical conclusion of the George W. Bush playbook that brought the economic capitalist die-hards into bed with the religious right. Their funeral, I suppose.

In summary, Democrats have gotta find that spine that I wrote about last week. They need to be brave enough to be a truly progressive Democrat, because that is where the mainstream of America is, regardless of how much the corporate dollars and the talking heads on Fox News try to insist otherwise.

If they can’t do that, and instead sacrifice themselves to the lobbyists and see themselves held to ransom in the Senate by the fringe of an increasingly radical and suicidal Republican party, they’ll piss off the entire coalition from young to old that brought Obama to power.

And then they won’t see government again for a very long time.

Finally, for the record, in the immortal words of Meat Loaf, two outta three ain’t bad.

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Newsfelch: 27/08/09 – Life. Oh, Life.

Posted by The Futility Monster on August 27, 2009 @ 06:36

What is the significance of this picture to this post? A prize for the winner!

What is the significance of this picture to this post? A prize for the winner!

This morning I’m too busy to write anything substantial. This has been caused by – would you believe it – having an oversupply of work. How excellent.

But I just thought I’d pass some comment on a few of the things that caught my attention…

  • Very sad news about Senator Kennedy. I hope America gets his dying wish of true healthcare reform soon. From a practical perspective, it’s going to be even more difficult though with one less vote in the House.
  • Unsurprising news from Scotland: the polls haven’t really shifted all that much despite there being a slight majority against the Lockerbie bomber release. Nevertheless, I stand by my prediction that the SNP won’t be damaged by this. This is the kind of polling data that the opposition will need to weigh up before they decide to topple a government. If I were a Scottish Labour strategist, this wouldn’t convince me at all.
  • Amazingly, I found someone more cynical about politics than me. I always read Daily Kos to see what the left are up to in the USA. But this post really summed up why many people find politics such a difficult profession to maintain interest in. It’s long, but well worth it.
  • Should Cameron start opposing the Afghan War? Tough call. Wouldn’t be very Tory to do so. But that, in typical Blair fashion, could be exactly what he needs to show how different he is from Conservatives of the past. He’s got to be considering it.
  • Meanwhile, Clegg is pandering to the Telegraph by trying to stir up their indignation over the expenses debacle again. A decent idea… as it is extremely important that people don’t forget exactly why it is we want to bring about the changes we do. But maybe the time to do this is after the Queen’s Speech and in the run up the  election.
  • Finally, yet another reason why Dan Hannan is a huge liability for the Tories. Headlines like this aren’t good. Yes, this is the Guardian. But it hasn’t gone unnoticed in the Telegraph either. He may be an intelligent, erudite man, but I think his public relations sensors are a little off.

Time for work. Well, at least I have a job. Who knows what the long term implications of one-in-six households being completely jobless are going to be…

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All Hail Senator Franken

Posted by The Futility Monster on July 7, 2009 @ 19:44

George Galloway enjoyed himself at the US Senate. Would we ever see a similar piece of political theatre here?

George Galloway enjoyed himself at the US Senate. Would we ever see a similar piece of political theatre here?

We’re still finding our feet around these parts. So far we’ve mostly covered Westminster politics, but that isn’t all the Monster is interested in. You got a brief taste of that yesterday – social and educational policy are particularly high on my personal agenda.

But another thing that fascinates me is American politics – as my various friends from years gone by can attest. And as this is my gaff, it’s going to be something we’ll cover. But sort of from a UK comparative perspective – if you see what I mean.

Today marks the conclusion of an election campaign that began almost two years ago; but even worse, a counting process that began on the 4th of November 2009. Eight whole months. And it could have gone on longer.

I’m talking about today’s swearing-in ceremony of Senator Al Franken. I’ve always been something of a fan of Al ever since I read his books Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot and Other Observations, The Truth (With Jokes) and Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them. He’s a genuinely funny political satirist, but one who has used that to outline his own progressive agenda. That’s quite unusual – since most satirists are in it just to attack anyone they can. Much as it’s fairly clear what Rory Bremner’s agenda is, he never actually sets it out and his arguments in favour of it…

But Al Franken is the perfect example of what American politics is all about: name recognition and celebrity. Especially in the Senate. 100 individuals, good and true, who are some of the biggest political celebrities in American politics. After all, the big three candidates in the last US Presidential election all came from there. John Kerry in 2004 as well. And at each election cycle, Senators are always in the mix. Though Obama is the first Senator to be elected President since JFK, it is a central part of American political culture, and definitely one path to the Presidency.

His election demonstrates once again the way Americans are more at ease with allowing the individual personality of candidates to shine through, compared to our almost entirely party-orientated system here. Though we like to make much of the so-called incumbency factor of Lib Dem MPs, the individual level of politics in the USA allows for true incumbency to shine through, when usually upwards of 90% of politicians at the federal level are re-elected.

But here we’re far more cynical. When someone tells you they’d like to become a councillor or an MP, the first response is usually “Why would you want to do that when they’re all such liars?”. The idea of going into politics as a public service is dead in this country. But, in America, it is a highly desirable profession. Why else would a comedian, or any businessman, or any number of other professions, be so interested in pursuing political office? Yes, maybe some of it is an ego-trip, just because they can (for example, Mitt Romney’s campaign to be US President in 2007/8).

On the whole, however, it is genuinely seen as a noble and honourable thing for someone to do – to want to serve their community. That’s why there is so much respect for people like Senators John McCain, Robert Byrd, Ted Kennedy, Richard Lugar, etc.

Do British politicians get the same respect? Of course not. But I’ve no doubt that the majority of them have the same interests of their constituents at heart. But we don’t hear all that much about it.

I wonder why.

Then again – at least we don’t have to wait eight months to find out who won an election.

Some you win, some you lose.

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