Monday, May 15, 2017

A not so little election in Germany 

The Nordrhein-Westphalia Land election was held on Sunday. 
The slight shift to the right continues with all the same trends. Gains for the Social Christians, the Free Democrats and the Alliance for Germany and losses for the Social Democrats and Greens. 
In this case, the Free Democrats came back into the Landtag assembly as the third largest party.  They will go on to be government partners with the Social Christians and the former Red-Green government has been voted out. 

The ultra-right comes into Landtag with a small, isolated caucus. 
This highly populated, industrial Land is, or was, a bastion for the Social Democrats and Greens.  To lose it shows that the Social Democrats really don’t stand a chance in the Federal election in September. 
Note that each of the three right wing parties, have been gaining about 5-7 percent each.  A total of a 15-21 percent shift to the right would change politics anywhere. 
With Germany’s proportional representation it does not lead to an artificial majority as it does in the UK, Canada and to a lesser extent the US.  It also does not lead to the losing parties being shut out of the parliamentary public debates as it does in the US.  Trump, May and Trudeau were all elected with a majority voting against them. 
In Germany the Conservative Merkel will start her fourth term with a majority mandate for her party and its probable ally, the Free Democrats.    
In France a president was just sworn in who won two thirds of the runoff vote. 
There is certainly a shift to the right in world politics, but the mandate of conservative majority rule stops at the English Channel.  In no case is the right wing shift artificial, but it is not quite as overwhelming as the electoral results might indicate.
As much as elections reflect real public sentiment, one could also make a case for the left shifting from moderate to more traditionally socialist with small “s” and away from Social Democrats. 
The smart money would be on the German national results in the fall and the governments for next five years in Europe being some close variant of the government and legislature that Sunday’s election gave us in Nordrhein-Westphalia.

Friday, May 12, 2017

The drought is only “sort-of” over

The politics of the drought makes the drought need to be over.

It is a win for Jerry.

And some small bits of progress in water and infrastructure management.

From the heavily limited US view of the “politically realistic” the drought management has been a roaring success and I would be stunned if certain political resumes are not now decorated with the bureaucratic medals of valor that will advance careers.

The hydrology of the state of California still suffers some major inconvenient truths.

The aquifer is depleted and still not well managed.

Under California is, or maybe was, a giant fresh water lake where agribusiness takes well water.

Up here on the surface we have full, or fuller dams, green hills, a high snow pack and in a way the drought is over. Underground our largest water reserve is way down and there is no plan to replenish it or even do that much to keep the agricultural sector from drilling where they wish, as deep as they wish and pumping beyond any sustainability.

Aquifer water is normally among the cleanest. Ours is not. Water filters down through the soil and arrives at the aquifers without biological contamination. Chemical contamination on the other hand travels all the way down. In California that includes the aftertaste of MTBE gasoline additive still in the system, industrial farming chemicals, contamination from everyday combustion engine vehicle use, other industrial chemicals and chemicals used in fossil fuel exploitations, especially in hydraulic fracturing.

Our Central Valley was once mostly wetlands where industrial farming did not need to drill very deeply to exploit pristine, clean, groundwater. A century later those wells run ever deeper to water ever drying soils that are accumulating metals and salts.

Recent droughts have made things worse, and many hand-to-mouth actions were taken by agricultural businesses to fix their problem for themselves that made our collective problems much worse and harder to repair. We have no serious plan to replenish that aquifer or bring ourselves to any kind of water cycle sustainability.

California had a structural problem with water use before most of us were born. With the dams, channels, canals and pipelines around out state we have one of the largest water infrastructure systems in the world and yet it is not enough for our 40 million people nor reliable for our agriculture and fish hatcheries. 

The Oroville Dam scare woke a lot of people up to what some people have been saying for a long time only to be stonewalled by state water management. We should give thanks for what Friends of the River attempted to make right before there was a disaster. We should listen to what such expert groups are saying now and we should figure out how obvious problems were allowed to fester and how legitimate, fact based, public concern was ignored.

A lot of what we have in water infrastructure is not in good shape, and some of it was conceptually bad from the start. Right now the drought is “over” and most of the dams are full, but some are not. To jump into Lake Shasta would probably still kill you from the fall, and things are better. Two years ago the fall would have certainly killed you. In many places we are taking too much out of the dams, spending the reserves in good times, lacking the reserves in bad times. Governor Edmund Brown Jr. would be well advised to think of water the way he thinks of money. (Water really flows, for dollars it is just an expression). We have an average amount of supply of water. There are ways to budget it, save it for a non-rainy day, and think of how to collect up more of it.

Right now we have surpluses of water in many places and no serous way to get it into our largest water reservoirs, the aquifers. We also have still have dams where we still ask too much of them and cannot use them to capacity for the hydroelectric power that would abate fossil fuel use.

Now that we are facing climate change, we need to think about how these already bad averages and cycles will be affected. It is called Global Warming for a reason. That does not mean consistent warming everywhere, or consistent drying everywhere.

Describing our water resources in a way that is simpler than it really is we have most of our central valley reserves in the snow pack and the aquifer, with the dams in the east mostly catching snow pack run off creating a second tier storage and the dams in the north west being more part of the Pacific North West higher rain pattern. To the east we take water out of a larger, multi-state river system.

The snow pack, the Great Basin and the areas around Humboldt and Del Norte will all be affected by climate change and we should make our plans to deal with the worst case estimates. In good years we will not use everything we have, but on bad years, that conservative planning will pay off, and bad years are part of the natural cycles of weather. Climate change certainly means that the ups and downs will get more extreme.

One of the reasons we don’t catch what we need is deforestation. Deforestation includes brush, undergrowth, smaller trees, wild lands and one should not just think of big sequoias and other pines.

Reforestation does not increase the water supply or cause more rain unless there is so much of it that it causes a cooling effect. Reforestation DOES affect how long the water stays around and where it goes and what kind of impact it has on infrastructure.

There is a thing called the run-off rate, (or flood speed) in watershed management. When the area uphill from a river system and its feeder streams is only farmland and housing, then the water rushes off quickly, usually taking precious top soil with it. When the river is high and looks muddy, that's an unhealthy watershed without proper forest cover. We lose topsoil creating dirty water that is bad for marine life and it carries with it all the toxins and trash of our agribusiness/industrial society causing even more damage.

When an area has better ground cover it takes longer for water to make it from rain to river, it is filtered by the forested areas and comes in cleaner. Look at a stream in a redwood park for example. The water is clear, even after the rain. In certain geological areas, that rain water that is being held up in forest cover never goes to the stream, but instead seeps into the ground and goes to the aquifers.

So, we have a state that is currently wet and green, but letting good water rush off while underground we have a serious shortfall and some contamination problems and in the mountains we have a snow pack that may now melt at a faster rate. 

There are some things that can be done and can be done quickly.

We can move from drought consumption thinking to environmentally sustainable thinking in our water use. This drought showed that we know how to save water, there is no reason to stop. 

The Brown administration has called the drought “over” but called on us to keep up the water saving efforts. I agree wholeheartedly.

Moving to a form of water use more in keeping with the different climate areas of our state and its different local biomes should include some changes in what we grow, how we make parks, home landscaping, gardens, etc.

The drought measures should not end, they should become our new normal. 

The use of native plants and low water landscaping would help a lot and we Californians would stop having front yards that look like New England and start having green spaces around us that look more like Mexico, of which we were once a part.

Greywater use needs to become the required standard, the zoning and the code and the State should step in and just make it legal everywhere and mandatory in most places. Our shower, sink and cleaning water can increase our urban and suburban tree coverage at the same time we will be returning tap water to the environment in a way that it can use.

There are ways to make ground water capture zones. Fresh water can be pooled into wetland reserves over deep well perforations, with sand and rock for filtering, in a way that can speed up clean replenishment of the aquifers. Probably the best way to do this is spread out around the state in many small projects, some of which would be fed by diverting water that cannot be held in Sierra Nevada dams. Probably the worst way to do this is with some high energy injection pump systems.

It would be very interesting to ask the hydrology experts and environmental biologists for some aquifer replenishment plans that were based more on science than political expediency or economic opportunism, try out a few models, and then repeat the more successful ones around the state. It will take years, but they will be years well spent. The rewards will be decades long.

Reforestation that targets the watersheds, controls soil erosion and helps aquifer replenishment needs to be a priority. There need to have woodland buffer zones around the water ways and on sharp slopes. Rain that falls needs a chance to soak in keeping that water around a while longer and letting it flow cleanly into the streams and rivers where our salmon run. The top soil needs to be protected.

Global warming is going to change which plants thrive where, and since plants don’t walk, swim or fly, reforestation might be a big part of how we keep our forest communities with a healthy mix and protect part of the spectrum of trees and plants from extinction.

At some point sooner or later we will learn to pipe our sewage back up hill and put it back into the environment. Instead of being a waste that we treat and dump, it needs to become a resource that we put to use. There are ways of treating sewage using natural plants in ponds. From there waste water can be used to grow lumber, fiber for paper, cotton etc. and then join the rest of the water cycle evaporating, seeping down to the ground water or becoming part of the healthy run off. 

Again, a lot of work has already been done on exactly this kind of natural methods to treat waste water right here in California. The government of California needs to be putting out requests for proposals for some small scale tests and eventually build up to where we make use of the sewage from our large urban areas.

As an avid hiker, I am enjoying the lush green of my favorite parks and the lands around them. But even as my boots are getting muddy, I know that our drought isn’t really over, all we have now is a moment of respite. 

More dry times are coming. We need to be ready for them.

Yet another little election in Germany

Count down to Merkel's third reelection.

As the world was watching the predictable election results for the French presidency, the predictable results for the German Land of Schleswig-Holstein went less noticed. 

Just like in Saarland, the German electorate went slightly to the right and less to the hard right than was expected last year.  Again the Social Democrats are the relative losers, but nothing like the loss their Socialist Party sister party just suffered in France. 

If anything is in common among the voters of England, France and Germany it is a loss of support for the traditional moderate left led by Labor, The Socialists and the Social Democrats respectively. 

A similar shift took place in Spain where the left won the election, but could not form a government without the support of the farther left Podemos movement, so their “Socialists” abstained and allowed the right wing Nationalists to form another government. 

In Austria it was a Green who edged the ultra-right out for the presidency. 

Maybe this is a trend, maybe not.  But member parties of the Socialist International have not been winning European elections recently. 

But back to Germany. 

This time the Free Democrats, a center right liberal party usually referred by their German initials FDP, have received over 5% of the popular vote and came back into the Landtag with proportionally assigned seats.  They got 9 seats, so together with the Social Christians 25 seats they come just short of the 37 needed for a majority.  Five seats short. 

That probably means another Red-Yellow-Black coalition, similar to the one that ran Germany before the FDP fell under the 5% needed to qualify on the national level. 

Red is for the Social Democrats who the yellow Free Democrats and black Social Christians would rather not have in the government, and won’t if they get the votes. 

Another real option is the “traffic light coalition” of the Greens, FDP and Social Democrats.  But again, the votes don’t really show that as probable. 

The only reason the Social Christians don’t get a majority of right wing votes is because the of the 6.6% ultra-right votes going to the Alliance for Germany giving them 5 seats.  Now it is not clear that those people would have voted for a moderate right wing.  That has not been the tendency.  Most polls show that the ultra-right wing voters have a contingent of possible hard left voters, and vice versa. 

With its anti-foreigner rhetoric and newly elected hard line national leadership, we should not expect any party in Germany to be willing to form a coalition with the Alliance for Germany. It is starting to look like 7% is their upper limit. 

And the moderate Social Democratic left, the Greens and the Left Party?  The Social Democrats lost a bit dropping to 27%, the Greens held their 13% and the Left Party came up a small bit, but were over a percent too low to qualify for seats.  Together they could never form a government. 

The French newspaper Liberation calls this a personal defeat for Social Democrat leader Martin Schulz, and they know a Socialist defeat when they see one, which they did on the same day. 

For some reason, Martin Schulz has not caught on.  This is the man who had such a successful career in the European Parliament that he was drafted to come lead up the federal branch of the party.  He is not sparking enthusiasm and frankly, the left seems caught in a slight slump, just bad enough to keep them out of power. 

We will probably see much more of the same vote spreads in Nordrhein-Westphalia in a week.  That Land is much more industrial, unlike Saarland and Schleswig-Holstein, and should be better ground for the Schulz and the left. 

But maybe not, with the low unemployment and the calming of the tensions around Merkel welcoming a million refugees, the listless showing for the left and the ultra-right will probably continue to favor the Social Christians and their Free Democrat friends. 

Probable outcome is that on September 24th we will get a new government of Germany that looks a lot like the old one, maybe without any need to have the Social Democrats involved. 

As France and Germany lead Europe, especially now that the UK is leaving the Union, this coming election shows that the status quo economic and social policies will have inertia.

With or without the Social Democrats in the governing coalition, expect Merkel in Germany and Macron in France to keep pushing austerity for the common people and fewer rules for the rich ones. 

Europe will be stable, but it will be a private sector dominated Europe.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

A journalist and I message back and forth about other views of the French election

Ann, I'm just a guy who listens and reads in French most days, as does she, but what she is saying is above my pay grade on both counts. That said, I think it's pretty clear that Macron was put up to running, there is no doubt that the neo liberals wanted their own Obama, Trudeau, symbolic package for the old policies. As to the FN not being fascists, well, no-one says that. They are ultra right, with some neo fascists in their movement. They may be for national sovereignty and some good left ideas, but so were the Nazi's. The racism of that movement is pretty clear. As to mass hysteria. Well, I don't think so.

Ann Garrison
No one says their fascists?
I heard that everytime I herd this story reported and a friend of mine in France has been screaming at me that Le Pen and the FN are fascists every day.
Ann Garrison
Not sure what you mean by "above my pay grade."
I mean that my skills and expertise are not up to a social analysis of the Front National. I'm just a French speaking news junkie.
Ann Garrison
You're too modest. Everyone else here seems quite sure that she's a fascist and or "far right" even though many of her policies are not. I don't think the words "right" and "left" are descriptive anymore myself.
Ann Garrison
I listened to the archive of Mitch's Monday show last night and he was stuck on the labels but it was otherwise pretty interesting.
Well, that has been the hallmark of the extreme right in Europe from day one. The fascist movement is not really a full on capitalist one, it is mixed. I think people who see strong parallels with the left, especially the authoritarian left, have a point. a point.
the argument your guest to use that the FN is not fascists is the same one Liberation uses to say that they are.
But it is obvious that we are also in a post fascists post communist world and that even those who claim those labels, are not what they were any more than the tories are the same people who burned the white house.
Ann Garrison
Authoritarian is more descriptive. Le Pen does favor the return of mandatory minimum sentences and increased prison capacity, as have plenty of prominent liberal Dems like Jerry Brown and Bill Clinton.
Ann Garrison
Macron also favors increased prison capacity, though she's reported to want 40,000 more cells and he's reported to want 15,000.
Popularism is the word being thrown around. The implication is playing to the public needs and fears.
Ann Garrison
That used to be a positive term, but yes it is being used with that negative connotation now.
But no one uses it on Hillary Clinton, despite her statement that she has a public and private persona.
The ability to move the masses isn't Hillary's main gig.
Do you know the 5 Star Movement in Italy? They blur the lines in a big way.
Ann Garrison
Never heard of them but I'll look it up.
The Wikipedia makes them sound pretty cool.
In certain ways they are. Italy needs a renewed political cast in the way we do.
Ann Garrison
This is an example of the distortion re Le Pen. "She denied Vichy France’s complicity in the deportation of French Jews." (LA Times). What she actually said was that Vichy France was not the Republic, which was then in exile, which is the same thing Mitterand and De Gaulle said.

As I understand it, Fascist generally means the movement started in Italy, and adopted by the German National Socialists.  To say Le Pen is not a fascist is technical.  She is certainly part of that European nationalist far right that pushes many popular economics.  One of the sad facts of history is that many of the social reforms we leftist like, came from this period of their history.  Hitler had a program that made sure Germans worked, could buy an affordable little car and have roads to drive it on.   So, are the FN Nazis?  No.  Do they follow a line of national chauvinism and economic well being for the common people thinking close to that of the traditional fascists?  Most would agree with that.  Are they accused of both in an election year?  It would be surprising if they did not.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Hillary elected president of France

In US equivalents the French presidential election could be viewed as Hillary winning, Trump losing with Romney, Kucinich and Sanders already on the sidelines.

It is a good thing that Le Pen has lost. It would have been a better thing if she had lost by more votes. When her father brought their ultra-right National Front to the final presidential run off the first and only other time in 2002, he only got 20% of the vote against President Jacques Chirac.
Marine Le Pen had 35% this time. When one third of French voters cast their ballots for a neo fascist it is hardly good news. The only good news is that there wasn’t a Trump-like or Brexit-like election surprise. In fact, her final vote was a little bit less than predicted.

A president Le Pen would have made President Trump seem moderate and multi-cultural.
After the first round vote, the French public was left with the poor choice of an inexperienced liberal with views akin to Bill Clinton and Tony Blair, including their dedication to Wall Street and throwing military power around in imperial style or a Neo Fascist who put a new face on an old ultra-right wing movement that she inherited from her father.

Those who voted for the new left represented by Mélenchon felt that they had no choice but to vote for the Liberal against the Fascist and some of them felt it was better to spoil their ballots, abstain or not vote at all. Mélenchon is sort of the French Sanders if Bernie was really a socialist.

The arguments in the French press looked a lot like the ones in our press calculating that Hillary was a lesser evil than Trump. Sometimes the difference was more than we faced in the US and at times it was less.

The French Democrats and Republicans had less trouble voting for Macron, which says a lot more about the former “Socialist” finance minister than it does about the French right. 

The analogy with US politics ends right about there. In France the ultra-right is an established movement that has functioned and won local elections for many years. Same can be said for the new left, who come from the Eurocommunist and Trotskyist traditions.

All five of the loosing groups are traditional movements and all of them are represented in their equivalent of congress, the National Assembly, along with some local mayors, town councilors, regional governments and any number of other local government elected posts...

The current legislature is dominated by the Socialists who saw the biggest drop in support in this presidential election.

The big losers were the Republicans, Democrats and Socialists who had won every presidential election since their current constitution was approved (The Fifth Republic) as none of them made the final cut.

The new president does not have a political party yet. His movement was just put together in this last period and does not hold a single seat in either house of the French legislature.

Fewer French people voted in this second round of their presidential election reaching an historic 50 year high of 25% nonvoters. The rate of US eligible voters who do not participate is normally double France's all time worst. So maybe there is one other parallel between their election and ours in the fact that the final two candidates were both extremely unpopular. But remember that the French participate in their elections in much higher numbers than we do and have more accurate polls.

Note that in France they have a direct popular vote with a runoff. If we had that system in the US, Hillary Clinton would have just finished her first hundred days.

For the US, this election means that France will remain France in Europe, France helping with NATO, France as the Wall Street of the European Union. In many ways, it means status quo with some slight movement towards an economic policy in sync with what our government has been asking for.

For Europe it means that Brexit is over. There will be no French part two, the Frexit, and Europe will now look forward to some stability and more French leadership.

Germany’s elections later this year will reelect the center right there and confirm Germany as France’s main partner and the European Union will move forward with its founding Franco-German core united, intact and stable.

Macron’s election also means that the power struggle between those who advocate spending and growth and the pro austerity factions led by Merkel's Germany will continue to tilt in favor of public spending cuts. The new French president says he will be Merkel's partner advocating austerity budgets.

For France we can expect some “reforms” along the lines of more space for the private sector to dump employees and more free trade, tax cuts and deregulation as incentives for investors.

Don’t expect French society to suddenly turn away from the increasing anti-Muslim, anti-foreign sentiments or the hardening of their migration laws. The security measures imposed after the terrorist attacks in Paris will stay in place. French military participation on the US side in Syria, Afghanistan, Mali, Chad, Libya and many other countries will continue and France will continue to spend on its armed forces along NATO guidelines.

If any of this leads to a higher quality of life or lower rate of unemployment among the common French working people, it would be a surprise.

The next big step for France politically will be the legislative elections later this year. That will decide who holds the very powerful post of Prime Minister, which is a major part of the French version of checks and balances.

The only hint we have now to guess how this upcoming parliamentary election might turn out, would be to look at how the parties fared in the first round of the presidential elections this year. In that poll, no group got as much as a quarter of the vote. Six political movements were within ten points of each other. The same two round system will be used. Only a few points will decide who makes it to the second round. We should expect all the current groups to get some seats, probably not in proportion to the popular vote.

The new President Macron might well try to form a coalition government with center left and center right deputies, if there are enough of them.

The time for a proportional representation system in the French National Assembly may have arrived as their traditional left-right polarization has become less relevant.

Whatever the final result, this presidential election and the upcoming legislative election could define the French government for about the next five years.

But with a new president that has no political party and the traditional parties in so much trouble, any prediction now would have a high chance of error.

That the majority would vote against the fascist was the easy part, and it should have been easier.

The part of France that is not neo fascist is changing and will continue to do so. France is still in business as before, but it is not business as usual. 

Thursday, April 13, 2017

 What to expect from Russia and what to expect from the USA

 What to expect from Russia and what to expect from the USA.

We should expect any government of Russia to defend its interests, especially near its own territory and for their government not to trust our government most of the time.

We should expect our government officials to feed us a very skewed and one sided version of international affairs and paint Russia as “Putin and the bad guys”. (Great name for a punk rock band?)

The reason why most Americans have a distorted view of Russia, Putin and what is going on in the Ukraine, Syria and about a dozen other places was on full display on NPR’s Morning Edition in an interview with an expert named Jon Finer.

Who the hell is Jon Finer? A former State Secretary John Kerry senior staffer back when it was the Obama administration who was busy with a number of very aggressive actions against Russia and its allies. In other words, he is one of the people responsible for creating the mess we are in with Russia and in Syria. 

Jon Finer, as interviewed by David Green, was supposedly telling us what the current Secretary of State, oil exec turned Trump official Rex Tillerson should expect from those (rascal) Russians.

First off, expert Finer talked as if the Russians were all of one mind and were categorical about everything their government might want from ours. Putin and “the Russians” are synonyms given a character of a cagey personality that is up to something making Boris and Natasha seem like the sophisticated portrayal of Eastern Europe. 

Let’s hope that Rex Tillerson, who as an oil exec knows a lot about Russia, might be more nuanced than this “objective expert” and knows that it depends very much on which Russians he talks to as to what their priorities are.

Finer gets to his worse when he starts to pigeon hole all Russians saying that they will come up with all kinds of outlandish points to obfuscate the Syria issues implying that these Russian complaints are without value because they are old or unrelated. For these two “way back then” means last year.

What did he mention as off topic or out dated in Russian-American international affairs? 

  • Cold War actions by the United States. 
  • The invasion of Iraq claiming weapons of mass destruction. 
  • US and Saudi involvement in backing armed groups in Syria. 
  • Other actions along the Russian border itself, such as overthrowing the government of the Ukraine or placing missiles in Poland claiming that they protect Europe from Iran. 
Finer’s discourse could be summed up in two words: pooh-pooh.
And Greens journalism with the two words: yuk-yuk.

They agreed that it was over the top for the Russian foreign affairs department to demand that the United States “show us the proof” about the gas attacks as if having proof before sending 80 million dollars’ worth of missiles against an air base in Syria was a trifling formality.

(This is where the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq story stops being faded old news)

Far from being outlandishly obscure arguments distracting talks from the subject at hand, these are the reasons most of the Russian government does not trust our State Department and are not willing to join the latest US government demand that the Russian government drop its decade’s old support for the current Syrian government.

It's probably good to hear one of these pseudo journalists talk to one of our pseudo experts playing down what officialdom does not want to address. It is not fake news, it is pseudo news that informs us of where our officialdom wants limit and guide public debate and what they want to talk about. In this case Finer also gave away what he does not want to talk about.

For more realistic and professional reports one should go to independent media talking with more independent analysts. 

The same morning you could find exactly that on Democracy Now. Amy Goodman talking with Allan Nairn is just as much two like-minded individuals expounding on their views as the Green-Finer show, with the exception that Allan Nairn is bringing up some of the facts that Finer finds irrelevant, such as the fact that the United States has already been bombing Syria for a while and has killed more civilians than were ever gassed.

As an admitted news junkie taking in news from several different sources in a few different languages each week, I will report that the NPR report was playing down exactly what everyone else is reporting as the main issues in play. It is frightening to see how far our mainstream press is from covering the outstanding issues and how often what we are told is simplistic and loaded with the most deadly and successful of all lies: the half-truth. 

Allan Nairn is not the best Middle East expert that Democracy Now puts on the air, nor is he meant to be. The Nairn story was meant to be an editorial interview, yet it had more news than the NPR story that claimed to be information.

A visit to the Democracy Now website would bring you to interviews with some very informed people, left right and center on our current relationship with Russia and our current involvement in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Ukraine and Afghanistan (to name the main ones with shooting right now). Listen to the whole Nairn interview for some insights to other issues such as NATO expansion and our New Right.

One interview that struck me in the past couple months was a former US ambassador who said that if any Russian leader did not oppose the eastward expansion of NATO, they would probably be overthrown. (Subject for a different blog). 

The NPR story was called “What To Expect As Tillerson Travels To Moscow”.

I doubt that we got what it promised, but we did get an idea of what to expect from Democrat and Republican officials and their domesticated press.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Two years of Brexiting begins, a long road ends

Two years of Brexiting begins, a long road ends

One of the things that is ending with Brexit may well be two speed Europe.

Two speed Europe was a concept to explain how some countries used the Euro currency and some did not and that some countries dropped border controls and some did not.  And so on, but currency and border controls were two of the big ones, maybe biggest.

Another way of explaining Two Speed Europe was: England lagged behind. 
The French and the Germans were leading the European Economic Community, as it was called before it became the European Union, and the chair was out for England to be a leader too, but England never sat down in that chair.  England was late to join, only joined halfheartedly, and now is the first to leave.
Under both ‘two speed’ and ‘Franco-German leadership’ visions of Europe our press treated membership as if there only one thing that being part of Europe meant and somehow whole nations were treated as if they were only one person. 
Of course each of these nations are way to complex, multifaceted and politically divided to begin to speak of “what England wants” or “what the Germans will do”.  That is sort of treating the United States as if we all made the decision to have Trump as our leader.  The Europeans do not do Thanksgiving dinner, but European families do have to set politics aside when they sit down to eat together.   
Different parts of British, French and German society want different things and the relative influence of different people in those three nations over the European Union is now going to evolve.
European’s as individuals support political movements that are a lot more different from each other than our semi-official two party state.  
The two year exit negotiations deadline is only one of the factors that will shape a changing Europe. 
Other large factors will be the extent of anti-EU sentiment inside other nations, the successes and failures of different sectors of the economies, the ongoing flood of political refugees and desperate economic migrants, the relationship with Russia and the results of austerity politics. 
Brexit negotiations starting does not mean it will take the full two years to complete.  It just means that official membership will end in two years at the latest.  Some things will get worked out beforehand and some negotiations will always be somewhat open.
Elections will be held soon in France and Germany.  Both will probably result in a pro EU, pro NATO center right government with Germany’s right more stable and France’s extreme right more influential. 
Spiegel, a German news magazine of reference, had an op-ed for Brexit Day that states British Prime Minister May has a five front struggle that she cannot win.  According to Markus Becker the five fronts are:
·         Brussels, meaning the social-economic divorce negotiations.  
·         Scotland, meaning a nation that decided to stay in the UK based on promise that Brexit breaks.
·         Northern Ireland, where staying part of the EU may mean reunification with the south.  
·         The British Economy, which will have many Brexit winners and losers.  
·         British Internal Politics, as there will be another election, and Labor might win.   
The front page of the leading Spanish newspaper site, EL PAÍS, was an op-ed by British writer John Carlin called Brexit: The will of the people.  On the day the UK triggers Article 50, many are wondering whether the shot will be fatal, or whether there is still hope that the patient will recover.
Between the one comment about British internal politics and the other about how the people are not a single item there is also the fact that the United Kingdom is not very democratic. 
The current Tory government was elected with only 37% of the vote. Two thirds of Britons voted against the conservatives and at the time, the conservatives were in favor of staying in the EU and lead by a different Prime Minister, David Cameron.  
The Brexit vote itself did not require a minimum voter turnout, a larger than 50% +1 majority, nor did it allow young people to vote at age 16, as the Scottish independance referendum did. 
With Scotland and Northern Ireland voting in a decisive majority for “Remain” (to stay in the EU) there is some constitutional question of if England and Wales have the right to take this move without the agreement of their “Union” partners of the United Kingdom. 
The bitterness is only made worse because the Brexit vote comes so soon after the Scottish national referendum where it is fair to say that Scotts voted to stay in the UK in large part because if they didn’t, they were threatened with exile from the European Union.  No wonder the Scottish government has asked to hold another referendum and no wonder that the London government, representing only a third of Britons, made up an excuse to turn them down.  That excuse was the need for “unity during these important negotiations” the Scotts have voted twice to never have. 

The President of France will be elected by a majority vote in a runoff between the top two placing candidates in the first round to be held on April 23rd. The Chancellor of Germany will be elected by the Bundestag, where all political parties with more than 5% of the national vote, or the plurality of the vote in a district are represented.  The leaders of most nations of Europe, and the commissioners of the European Union will all have a much more legitimate mandate than Prime Minister Theresa May as we go through these Brexit talks.  Despite that, there will be very little chance of the UK undergoing any constitutional reform at the same time as they are working out a new trade deal.  If the UK held its next election following the Brexit under representative rules, which would be an unexpected surprise. 
Which part of the UK economy benefits from Europe and which needed to not be “all in”?
The first place to look would be the Euro.  Why did some in the UK so adamantly fight to keep a separate currency?  The UK equivalent of Wall Street is “The City” and it lead the part of the British economy that is more international, focused on banking, insurance, investing, shipping and commodities trade. Like our US “investment sector” there are parts of the UK economy that thrives despite high unemployment, loss of industrial jobs and agricultural subsidies. 

That the UK international investment sector needs an independent Pound Sterling seems obvious, but there are probably some exceptions to that. Some of the big firms are now setting up satellite companies on the continent, especially in Paris.  Some of that investing was making good use of EU membership, but that may be easily fixed for the stockholders.
The Brexit negotiations are getting media attention for two major issues. 
First is the three million odd EU citizens living in the UK and the only slightly less number of British citizens living the European Union life in Spain, Ireland and scattered around the other 27 EU states.  Brussels has made resolving this issue their perquisite that needs to be agreed before even starting on the second major issue: Trade. 
EU membership means (for the UK meant) free movement of people, goods and services around the member states under EU standards, but basically tariff free. 
So now Prime Minister May is asking to have controls over immigration and still have open trade with the EU on a bilateral basis.  Sort of a deal where they keep the Poles out, but still get to send their sheep to France.  Brussels has said that if Britton wants to have free trade, there needs to be free movement of labor. That is what we members of the public are called in economic trade negotiations: ‘labor’. 
On the other side of the channel, different groups feel differently about UK membership with some being happy to see an end to Anglo-Saxon capitalist sociopathy, others who will miss it and all kinds of different reactions to the economic changes including wanting to trade their own goods in the absence of English competition.  We should expect a lot of talk about free movement of the people and a lot of back room dealings that are less friendly to the free movement of goods and services. 
The UK has ironically now put forward the incorporation of EU rules into British law “for the transition” so that they can have the stability of the EU regulations that they are supposedly now ‘freeing’ themselves from. 
So, if they want to keep some, or most of the foreign workers, keep their own ‘labor’ moving freely inside the other 27, want to keep selling their sheep and Rovers to France, then why Brexit? 
There has been an anti-European drumbeat in the UK ever since De Gaul and Adenauer broke with Franco-German historic antagonism at a time when the rubble of the Second World War had not yet been all picked up. 
That discourse has been strong in the British press, much of which is tabloid and sensationalist, in a tone that was at times anti-German, anti-French or anti-social-welfare-state, or all of the above.  The two political parties that benefit from forming governments with a majority of the seats with a minority of the votes also chimed in with cheap critiques of proportional representation pointing shallow ridicule at Italy.  This has been part of British chauvinism in popular culture for so long, much of the British public does not doubt the truth of it. 
In British popular culture France is a failed state with a failed economy, Italy is an unstable nation, both are failed military powers, and the social contract ideas of German and other continental governments are some kind of oppressive poverty akin to England’s own housing projects that they call “housing estates”.  This same kind of reporting would have one believe that the Eurozone and the continental open boarders are some kind of failure.  Thought-out these reports that pass for journalism there has been an aftertaste of disparaging characterization of whole nations and of course a sense of British superiority. 
We Americans can compare the UK media ‘discussing’ Europe to our own media on the subject of Canadian health care or anything related to Mexico.  We can also see British chauvinism as a cousin of American Exceptionalism. 
Fortunately there are many people in the US and UK who do not drink the Kool-Aide.
But many do.  In the UK our Donald Trump has a kindred spirit in the person of Boris Johnson.   He was almost Prime Minister, but instead stepped aside for May, who appointed him to hold the foreign affairs portfolio called Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs.  This guy has been something of a belligerent buffoon in British politics for a while.  He served as the anti-everything-progressive Mayor of London who never saw any private property rights he did not want to “unleashed”.  During the ‘Leave’ campaign he ran around with a bus spouting off whopping lies about how much money the EU was costing National Health every day and describing the EU regulations as coming down from ‘faceless bureaucrats’ in Brussels who he made sound post Nazi and post Soviet.  Like The Donald he comes from the wealth of elite to which he adds title and privilege (and a long string of names) of the old British class system.  He is part of the privileged elite that former Prime Minister David Cameron belonged to. He even has funny looking blond hair. 
So the May administration has a Trump like character at foreign affairs.  This is the guy who leads the new relationship with Europe. 
The UK had nuttier, further right wing extremists than the ‘Eurosceptic’ right wing Tories.  The main group today is UKIP, the UK Independence Party, who led the main part of the ‘Leave’ campaign.  They also score high in national elections, but the unfair voting system keeps them out of parliament for the most part.  Ironically, UKIP is a large part of the UK delegation to the European Parliament, which is elected more democratically. 
UKIP has been playing the anti-immigration card and flirted with the British harder right, once represented by a National Front and now splintered into some smaller group for whom UKIP is too moderate.  This is a smaller fringe, but let’s remember that the UK is one of the original homes of the right wing skinhead movement, part of which had a history of violence against visible minorities when they were called ‘Paki-bashers’.  Not too long ago this faction would have been vehemently anti-Irish.  An American white nationalist, militia member, clan member or border Minuteman could find friends in the UK. (Some do and some minimal relationships between these groups exists)
Back in the mainstream, there has been a lot of opportunism.  Different groups had an interest in feeding enough of this chauvinism and xenophobia to carve out a special deal for themselves.  The existence of a Eurosceptic wing of the Conservative Party along with an even more anti-Europe fringe made it easier for special deals to be cut for the UK, which has Europe’s largest banks, some of the largest productive economy, free access to the European market for everything from sheep to North Sea Oil and Western Europe’s largest military. 
Two speed Europe has been good for the UK. 
So, in order to win an election, David Cameron promised to hold a referendum on leaving the EU that he never expected to lose.  There has been no move to hold that vote over again even when there was some constitutional justification, so the UK elites do not seem to be upset about the outcome enough to do something about this.  So maybe they find that they can cut their own deal and continue to be in Europe on their own terms.    
How badly this will hurt the people of the UK is still to be seen.