Menu

13.02.11

Wanted: leadership in the western world

I had this on Labour Uncut recently.

Francis Fukuyama is best known for confusing the period between the falls of the Berlin Wall and Lehman Brothers with the end of history. This was to be defined by the global triumph of liberal democracy and market economies. He recently conceded:

READ MORE

03.03.10

Two Sorry Tory Stories (or some differences between the UK and the USA)

James Crabtree has written a fascinating and much commented upon Prospect piece on the role that an apology might play in a quick return to Labour government should the Conservatives win the General Election later this year. This has set me thinking about the role of contrition in politics in general and two sorry Tory stories in particular. These sorry stories are: First, seeing (tacit and non-formal) apologies for being slow to make peace with the 1960s and for the excesses of the 1980s as being integral to the rebranding of the Conservatives sought by David Cameron (a project that is now threatened by a sense that the credit crunch and the scale of public debt have caused the Conservatives to renew their marriage vows to Margaret Thatcher and the 1980s); and, second, conceptualising the Republicans as being split between those who see a need for some kind of apology for the years of George W Bush as necessary to their political renewal and those who do not.

Some recent events – the reaction to the attempted Christmas day terrorist bombing in the US; the election to fill Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat in Massachusetts; the tea party protests; the spike in retirements from Democratic Congressmen; and President Obama’s approval rating – would seem to strengthen the position of those who are unapologetic for the Dubya years. But my default sense – which I am increasingly having cause to question – is that in the long-term more contrition than that which the likes of Karl Rove are presently prepared to offer will be required for the Republicans to fully recover. That said; there are signs, which are worrying to a European and (in the American sense of the word) liberal, that an unreconstructed Republican party might return to the White House in 2012. An example of such a sign is that when I departed Dulles airport, just outside DC, 48 hours ago I noted lots of t-shirts on sale like the one below.

READ MORE

03.03.10

Two Sorry Tory Stories (or some differences between the UK and the USA)

James Crabtree has written a fascinating and much commented upon Prospect piece on the role that an apology might play in a quick return to Labour government should the Conservatives win the General Election later this year. This has set me thinking about the role of contrition in politics in general and two sorry Tory stories in particular. These sorry stories are: First, seeing (tacit and non-formal) apologies for being slow to make peace with the 1960s and for the excesses of the 1980s as being integral to the rebranding of the Conservatives sought by David Cameron (a project that is now threatened by a sense that the credit crunch and the scale of public debt have caused the Conservatives to renew their marriage vows to Margaret Thatcher and the 1980s); and, second, conceptualising the Republicans as being split between those who see a need for some kind of apology for the years of George W Bush as necessary to their political renewal and those who do not.

Some recent events – the reaction to the attempted Christmas day terrorist bombing in the US; the election to fill Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat in Massachusetts; the tea party protests; the spike in retirements from Democratic Congressmen; and President Obama’s approval rating – would seem to strengthen the position of those who are unapologetic for the Dubya years. But my default sense – which I am increasingly having cause to question – is that in the long-term more contrition than that which the likes of Karl Rove are presently prepared to offer will be required for the Republicans to fully recover. That said; there are signs, which are worrying to a European and (in the American sense of the word) liberal, that an unreconstructed Republican party might return to the White House in 2012. An example of such a sign is that when I departed Dulles airport, just outside DC, 48 hours ago I noted lots of t-shirts on sale like the one below.

READ MORE

03.03.10

Evil Superman is back … and he is driving a truck! (Or is he?)

My wife tells me that when she first moved to the UK in the early years of the presidency of George W Bush her European friends would introduce her by saying: “This is Monica. She is American … But she’s not mental.” Obviously, this was impolite and unnecessary; as if 300 million citizens of a democratic state could be made mad purely by statehood.

At that time, however, as Charlie Brooker noted, “watching America at work was like watching the scenes in Superman III where Superman, under the influence of red kryptonite, goes ‘bad’”. It was thought, presumably, that people needed to be reassured that Monica wasn’t similarly bad, mad or dangerous to know. Then came President Obama and Americans were welcomed back into polite European society, without caveats or health-warnings.

READ MORE

29.12.09

Yes, we still can (but leadership and disciplined support are needed)

The striking thing about the most powerful person in the world, as he approaches one year in office, is how, err, lacking in power he appears.

Disappointed and, according to Mark Lynas, insulted by the Chinese in Copenhagen.  A Health Care Bill that isn’t yet on the statute; is much delayed on his original timetable; and, by his own admission, is only “nine-tenths of a loaf” – some would say that half a loaf is nearer the mark and it comes with lashings of pork barrel whatever way you look at it. An Afghan strategy that even he doesn’t seem wholly convinced by and the backdrop to which Andrew Sullivan commented upon by saying:

READ MORE

03.06.09

China and contested modernity

I think I am noticing something of a theme in the Economist of late. On 28 May they noted:

“How times change. When George Bush’s treasury secretaries first visited China, Wall Street was booming, America’s economy was growing and the president’s emissaries routinely lectured their Chinese hosts on the need for freer financial markets and a more flexible yuan. But as Tim Geithner, the current treasury secretary, prepares to make his maiden trip to Beijing on May 31st, Wall Street is synonymous with greed and failure, America’s economy is on its knees and it is the Chinese who have been doing the lecturing. With America’s budget deficit soaring and the Fed’s printing presses running at full speed, China is complaining loudly of the risks that inflation and depreciation pose to its huge stash of dollars, and arguing for an alternative to the greenback as the world’s reserve currency”.

READ MORE

20.05.09

I am a European … What does that mean?

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, a former French finance minister, argued that “on Saturday 15 February (2003), a new nation was born on the street. This new nation is the European nation”.  This conclusion was drawn, notes Timothy Garton Ash, “from the simultaneous demonstrations across Europe on 15 February 2003, protesting against the Bush administration’s advance to war with Iraq … That summer there (also) appeared in many European newspapers an appeal for ‘the rebirth of Europe’, co-signed by Jacques Derrida and Jurgen Habermas, two of the continent’s most famous living philosophers”.

“What Habermas argues with philosophical density”, Garton Ash went on to note, “and Strauss-Kahn with eloquent political hyperbole, is that Europe is different from the United States, that in these differences Europe, is on the whole, better than the United States, and that a European identity can and should be built upon these differences – or superiorities. Europe, in short, is the Not-America”, as the David Bowie below song almost goes.

READ MORE

05.05.09

Good idea from Julian Le Grand

Interesting set of book reviews from Julian Le Grand in the latest Prospect. He comments intelligently on The Spirit Level by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett – a book which David Aaronovitch has also recently commented upon. Le Grand also reviews Unjust Rewards by Polly Toynbee and David Walker.

It’s worth a look. He advocates a policy on inheritance tax – also, wrongly, known as the death tax – that I previously been sympathetic to myself. This is to “hypothecate the revenues from inheritance tax to the new Child Trust Fund. In true Baconian fashion, the wealth of one generation would thus be used to fertilise the growth of the next. It might also make inheritance tax more popular, or at least less disliked”.

READ MORE

06.04.09

No amount of sex videos will turn it into a death tax

I often find the Economist to be a beacon of sanity in an increasingly mad world. “When governments raise money”, they note in a fashion that demonstrates a grasp of Adam Smith’s principles of taxation, “they should first get rid of deductions and reverse unmeritocratic measures (such as George Bush’s repeal of America’s death tax) rather than jacking up income-tax to punitive levels”. Smith’s fourth principle stated that, “taxes should not discourage enterprise”.

Punitive income-tax discourages enterprise, while inheritance tax – that’s what it is, not death by a thousand cuts or some such, as even the Economist, disappointingly, suggest by use of the inappropriate “death tax” term – is a tax on unearned wealth. It, therefore, discourages enterprise and encourages Paris Hilton-like and other trust-funded behaviour. Nigella Lawson understands this – and she’s married to Charles Saatchi! So, why does the Adam Smith Institute find this so hard to understand?

READ MORE

02.11.08

What's at stake in the US presidential election?

The New York Review of Books has an absolutely wonderful feature on what is at stake in the US presidential election. Fourteen leading thinkers give their views.

Darryl Pinckney is amongst those who see parallels between Barack Obama’s campaign and Robert Kennedy’s bid in 1968. “Kennedy was on his was to the nomination and if he had survived the country could have taken a different path. This election has the same feeling, the sense that we are at a fork in the road, and must go one way or the other”.

READ MORE

02.11.08

What’s at stake in the US presidential election?

The New York Review of Books has an absolutely wonderful feature on what is at stake in the US presidential election. Fourteen leading thinkers give their views.

Darryl Pinckney is amongst those who see parallels between Barack Obama’s campaign and Robert Kennedy’s bid in 1968. “Kennedy was on his was to the nomination and if he had survived the country could have taken a different path. This election has the same feeling, the sense that we are at a fork in the road, and must go one way or the other”.

READ MORE